Shields Green, sometimes reported as Greene, was an African-American man. He participated in John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in October 1859.
Green was born a slave in Charleston, South Carolina, probably in 1836. Green eventually gained his freedom, but it remains unclear how he did this. Upon Green gaining his freedom, abolitionist Frederick Douglass befriended him. Douglass supposedly introduced Green to John Brown. Upon gaining his freedom, Green spent time in Rochester, New York and in Oberlin, Ohio. He also became actively involved in the abolitionist movement.
In 1859, John Brown was responsible for one of the most important events that led to the American Civil War. On October 16, Brown led a group of twenty-one men, including Green, on a raid of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia). A federal arsenal was in the town, and Brown hoped to capture the buildings and the weapons stored inside of them. He then intended to distribute the guns and ammunition to slaves in the region, creating an army of African Americans that would march through the South and force slaveholders to release their slaves. Brown and his men succeeded in capturing the arsenal, but local residents surrounded the buildings, trapping the abolitionists inside. A detachment of United States Marines arrived and stormed the arsenal on October 18, capturing seven men, including Brown and Green.
The state of Virginia charged Brown, Green, and the other detainees with treason. During this time, slave states commonly accused people who encouraged or led slave rebellions of treason against the state. The court found Brown guilty and sentenced him to death. On December 2, 1859, Brown was hanged. Green was also found guilty, and he was executed by hanging on December 16, 1859. Brown and his followers became martyrs for many Northerners. Some of these people feared that the United States had become a government dominated by Southern slave owners. Many white Southerners became convinced that all abolitionists shared Brown’s views and his willingness to utilize violence. Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry raised issues for the presidential election of 1860. It was also one of the events that led to the eventual dissolution of the United States and the civil war that followed.
Green’s family never recovered their loved one’s remains. Students at the Winchester Medical College in Winchester, Virginia, dissected Green’s body for medical practice. In December 1859, Oberlin residents held a memorial service for Green and two other residents who gave their lives in Brown’s raid. They also erected a monument in honor of these men.