About Lewis Sheridan Leary
Lewis Sheridan “Shad” Leary accompanied John Brown on the raid of the Harpers Ferry arsenal (October 1859), where he was killed during the gun fight with federal troops. Leary was said to be handsome and to wear his wide-brimmed hat.
Lewis Sheridan Leary (March 17, 1835 – October 20, 1859), a mixed-race harnessmaker from Oberlin, Ohio, joined John Brown's unsuccessful raid on Harpers Ferry, where he was killed. He was the first husband of Mary Patterson. By her second marriage to Charles Henry Langston, she became the future maternal grandmother of poet Langston Hughes.
Leary's father, a freeborn African American of mixed race, was a harnessmaker. Lewis Leary was born at Fayetteville, North Carolina. His paternal grandparents were an Irishman, Jeremiah O'Leary, who fought in the American Revolution under General Nathanael Greene, and his mixed-race wife of African, European and Native American descent.
In 1857, Lewis Leary moved to Oberlin. There he married Mary Patterson, a mixed-race woman who was an Oberlin College graduate. Leary became involved with abolitionists in Oberlin, which had an active community. Later, he met John Brown in Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1858, Leary participated in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, when fugitive slave John Price was forcibly taken from the custody of a U.S. Marshal, to prevent his being returned to slavery in the South. Leary was not among the 37 men (12 of them free blacks) who were indicted and jailed for their actions. As a result of negotiations between state officials (who had arrested the US Marshal and his party) and federal officials, only Simon Bushnell and Charles Henry Langston were tried; both were convicted, and served light sentences, in part because of Langston's eloquent speech in their defense.
Leary may have been the first recruit from Oberlin to join Brown's army. He left Mary and their six-month-old daughter Louise at home. Accompanied by John A. Copeland, Leary went to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to join Brown. Leary died eight days after the attack from wounds suffered in the conflict at Harper's Ferry. Copeland was captured, tried and later executed. After Leary's death, the abolitionists James Redpath (editor for the New York Tribune) and Wendell Phillips helped raise money for Mary and Louise Leary's support and the girl's education.
In 1869 the widow Mary Patterson Leary married again, to the Ohio abolitionist Charles Henry Langston. The family moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where they remained for the rest of their lives. In 1872 Charles and Mary's daughter Caroline Mercer Langston was born. She would become the mother of the renowned poet Langston Hughes.
During the Harpers Ferry raid, Leary was mortally wounded. He survived his terrible wounds for eight hours after the capture of Brown's men, during which he was well treated and able to send messages to his family. His wife had not previously known of the planned raid. He is reported as saying: "I am ready to die." He may be buried in a common grave with other raiders near John Brown in North Elba, New York.
Legacy and honors
A memorial service was held in Oberlin for Leary, John A. Copeland, and Shields Green, on December 25, 1859. The latter two had been executed after being convicted at trial following the raid.
In 1865 after the Civil War, a monument was erected in Westwood Cemetery at Oberlin to honor the three. The monument was moved in 1977 to Martin Luther King, Jr. Park on Vine Street. The inscription reads:
"These colored citizens of Oberlin, the heroic associates of the immortal John Brown, gave their lives for the slave. Et nunc servitudo etiam mortua est, laus deo (And thus slavery is finally dead, thanks be to God). S. Green died at Charleston, Va., Dec. 16, 1859, age 23 years. J. A. Copeland died at Charleston, Va., Dec. 16, 1859, age 25 years. L. S. Leary died at Harper's Ferry, Va., Oct 20, 1859, age 24 years."