He was a printer on The Provincial Freeman newspaper, edited and published by Mary Ann Shadd, the first black woman newspaper editor on the continent of North America.
When the liberation was postponed due to vacillation by his white New England funders, it became obvious to many of the Chatham Convention delegates that going to the South to liberate slaves would be deadly without full support and commitment from the abolitionists. When John Brown finally got the momentum and funds in late 1859, only Osborne Anderson from the group of black men in Chatham came to the staging area near Harpers Ferry, then in the state of Virginia (now West Virginia).
Anderson helped to capture the slaveholding hostages, especially Lewis W. Washington, the grand nephew of President George Washington. After John Brown was surrounded, Anderson escaped with a white comrade, Albert Hazlett, who was also a native Pennsylvanian. They separated in Pennsylvania, and Hazlett was captured and returned to Virginia, where he was tried and hanged a few months after John Brown (who pretended not to know him). Anderson was aided at the Underground Railroad stations in Chambersburg (Henry Watson), York (William Goodridge, who owned a photography studio), and in Philadelphia (William Still).
In publishing A Voice From Harper's Ferry with editing assistance from Mary Ann Shadd, the shy and unobtrusive printer was outraged at the coverup of the support of local slaves for John Brown at the time of the action, where he was present as a witness-participant. All the other members of Brown's original army were killed or captured. The Civil War had not yet begun, and the lives of those who helped were in great danger. He was in the position of trying to set the record straight without saying too much, so that local people, both free and enslaved Africans, would not be personally identified. He attended the first memorial to John Brown at his farm in North Elba, New York, on July 4th, 1860, and was recognized by Annie Brown, who was with her father at the Kennedy Farm in Maryland in the summer of 1859.
Osborne Perry Anderson continued his militant commitment to end slavery by recruiting slaves for the United States Colored Troops in Indiana and Arkansas, still in association with the Shadd family -- Mary Ann Shadd was commissioned by Martin R. Delany, and then by the governor of Indiana to be an activite recruiter -- and although biographers have stated that Osborne Anderson served as a noncomissioned officer, the actual regiment record has not been found. He may have served under a pseudonym, as did Charles Tidd, a member of Brown's army who escaped from Maryland with four other white raiders who were moving the captured arms.
After the Civil War, he moved to Michigan and participated in a Black Convention as a delegate from Battle Creek in 1866. He became associated with another recruiter of slave troops, A. M. Green, and lived with him in Philadelphia, then in Washington DC. Osborne Anderson visited Harpers Ferry in 1871 and pointed out the scenes of battle to Richard Hinton, another of Brown's active army who was just outside the area (where he had been stationed by Brown) of the fighting during raid, the crossroads town of Hagerstown, Maryland. Hinton wrote a history, John Brown and His Men, published in 1894.
Osborne Perry Anderson died in Washington DC on December
10, 1872, at the age of forty-two. His funeral was at the 15th Street
Presbyterian Church; pallbearers were the active leaders of both the Civil
War and Reconstruction period: Hon. Josiah Walls (a member of Congress),
Lewis H. Douglass, who served in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and edited
the New National Era, taking it over from his father, two members
of the Purvis family of Pennsylvania, early staunch abolitionists, and
George T. Downing. The eulogy address at a memorial service on December
19, 1872, was made by D. A. Straker, who asked that Anderson be "remembered
to the latest generations."
author of Black Voices From Harpers Ferry; Osborne Anderson and the John Brown Raid (1979).