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John A. Copeland Jr., Participant in John Brown’s Raid

John A. Copeland Jr. Image from the Kansas Historical Society.On December 16, 1859, John A. Copeland Jr., was executed for his participation John Brown’s raid on the United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

Copeland, a free mulatto, was born in Raleigh in 1834. In 1843 his family moved to Oberlin, Ohio, and became involved with the abolitionist movement. In 1858, Copeland assisted in the rescue of a man who was arrested for being a fugitive slave and was arrested for his actions, but never tried.

Remaining an ardent abolitionist, Copeland and another North Carolinian, Lewis Leary, joined with John Brown in Ohio in September 1859. When Brown attempted to cause a slave revolt by taking the arsenal in October 1859, Copeland, Leary and another man were assigned the task of taking the Hall’s Rifle Works at the arsenal. When surrounded, the three raiders attempted to flee across the Shenandoah River. Only Copeland survived but he surrendered, and was put on trial for murder and slave insurrection.

Upon his conviction, Copeland was sentenced to death at the gallows in Charleston, Va. At his death, Copeland was reported saying “If I am dying for freedom, I could not die for a better cause – I had rather die than be a slave.”

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