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John Anthony Copeland Jr. (American National Biography)

Scholarship

Aimee Lee Cheek, "Copeland, John Anthony, Jr.," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-00146.html.

White northern opinion of the raid was initially divided between Republicans who largely disavowed it and Democrats who pronounced it an abolitionist-Republican conspiracy. Federal marshal Matthew Johnson of Cleveland visited Copeland in jail and emerged with a purported "confession"--actually fabricated from letters found in Brown's hideout--that implicated in Brown's plot prominent figures connected with the Oberlin-Wellington case.

Copeland was convicted of murder and of inciting slaves to rebellion and, like the other captured raiders, was sentenced to death. But just as the imprisoned Brown's eloquence and stoicism helped to transform his own image from madman to Christian martyr, Copeland's conduct challenged racist assumptions of black inferiority. Even the presiding judge and the special prosecutor at his trial, both white Virginians, later would vouch for Copeland's courage and poise, with the latter adding intelligence as well. "There was a dignity to him that I could not help liking," the judge would confess. "He was always manly." The eulogy at a funeral service for Copeland in Oberlin on Christmas Day praised the Supreme Being for granting African Americans a "not less firm, heroic and Christlike champion" at Harpers Ferry than whites had in "the immortal John Brown." African Americans throughout the North applauded, in the words of the Ohio State Anti-Slavery Society, "the noble and Christ-like John Brown and his compatriots."

How to Cite This Page: "John Anthony Copeland Jr. (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/18824.