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John Anthony Copeland, was a member of The Vigilance Committee a pseduo, miltia. The Vigilance Committee was a cross between the NAACP and The Black Panthers. The Copeland Brothers were vigilantes on the prowl looking for bounty hunters. They fought with John Brown in the Bleedy Kansas Raids, Oberlin Rescue, and in the John Brown's Raid On Harper's Ferry.
Copeland's exposure to anti-slavery activity at Oberlin College no doubt influenced his decision to join the Oberlin Anti-Slavery Society. In 1858 Copeland was one of 37 men that was arrested for their role in the John Price rescue, also known as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue . In 1859 Copeland was recruited to join Brown's Harpers Ferry.
During the Raid, a slaver Holt pursued Copeland. They both attempted to shoot each other, but their wet weapons didn't discharge. Copeland threw down his gun and became a captive in the middle of the river. Copeland probably would have been lynched right on the back of the river if it were not for townsman Dr. John D. Starry, who exclaimed, that only cowards would "want to kill a man when disarmed and a prisoner."
In his trial Copeland was found guilty and was sentenced to be hanged on December 16. On his last day of life the 25 year old wrote to his parents. "Why should you sorrow?" he asked. "Why should your hearts be racked with grief? Have I not everything to gain and nothing to lose by the change? I fully believe that not only myself but also all three of my poor comrades who are to ascend the same scaffold- (a scaffold already made sacred to the cause of freedom, by the death of that
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