On August 30, 1899, a funeral was held for 8 of John Brown’s men who were killed or soon died after the October 1859 raid in Harper’s Ferry, in North Elba, New York. Two additional men who were killed by hanging in March 1860, were also memorialized during the funeral.
Lewis Sheridan Leary, who was with John Brown during his infamous raid in Harper’s Ferry, was one of the men killed at the Ferry. Leary was born free in Fayetteville, North Carolina on March 17, 1835 and met John Brown in Cleveland. During the Brown party’s retreat across the Shenandoah River after the raid, Leary was shot and died several hours later from his wounds. Several weeks before the raid, John Brown sympathizers living in Philadelphia, sent great “blanket shawls” to the Kennedy farm as gifts.
“On the night of the raid each man had taken one of these shawls and used it instead of an overcoat. … The men had evidently been buried in these shawls, for great masses of woollen (sic) texture were found enveloping each body.”
From The New England Magazine, March – August 1901.
Ten of John Brown’s men were killed during the raid (Watson and Oliver Brown, William and Dauphin Thompson; Stewart Taylor; John Henry Kagi; Jeremiah G. Anderson; William H. Leeman; Dangerfield Newby and Lewis Sheridan Leary. Those who survived either escaped or were captured. Those captured were tried, convicted and executed in Charles Town. Two of John Brown’s men who were killed during the raid, Jerimiah Anderson and Watson Brown, were considered “fine anatomical specimens” and were sent to a Winchester, Virginia medical school for anatomical study. Watson Brown’s body was later recovered in 1881 and was buried next to his father in North Elba, NY. Anderson’s body was never recovered.
The remaining eight bodies which were recovered from near the Potomac or Shenandoah rivers, were denied burial in any of the local Harpers Ferry cemeteries. Soon after the raid, James Mansfield (who, at the time of a 1901 article in The New England magazine, still lived in Harpers Ferry) was given instructions to bury the bodies. He bought two boxes and divided the bodies between them and ultimately buried them about .5 miles from Harpers Ferry along the Shenandoah river where they remained until 1899, when the two boxes were found and transported for burial at North Elba, NY.
On August 30, 1899, there was a funeral held for John Brown’s men in North Elba.
Leary was married to Mary Patterson, whom he met at Oberlin. Mary Patterson Leary later married Charles Henry Langston. They had a child named Caroline, who married James Nathaniel Hughes. They had a child, James Mercer Langston Hughes, known as Langston Hughes, in February 1902.
In 2013, a book was published, entitled “My Dear Boy : Carrie Hughes’s Letters to Langston Hughes, 1926-1938” which reproduced dozens of letters by Carrie (Caroline) Mercer Langston Hughes Clark, mother of Langston Hughes. While Carrie was not the daughter of Sheridan Leary, Langston Hughes had a special attachment to the shawl worn by him during the raid. Langston Hughes lived with his grandmother, Leary’s widow, for several years and it was with this shawl that she covered him while he slept.
According to the book, “Former president Teddy Roosevelt honored [Mary Leary] at a commemorative ceremony in Osawatomie, Kansas, where he delivered his re-nowned ‘New Nationalism’ speech, on August 31, 1910.” p. 45 FN 2.
Langston inherited the shawl from his grandmother and he put it into a safe deposit box in New York City in 1928. In about 1930, Langston’s mother was in dire need of money and suggested that he sell the shawl.
Say here in Cleveland Antiques are all the rage and I was just wondering if we could not sell the Harper’s Ferry Shawl? I almost know we could and it would give us all a few dollars. Do you know where it is or do you have a receipt or anything for it. A man told me here last week I ought to get $500.00 for it. I have been in some of the antique shops here and they have old rugs, spreads, quilts &ct. I don’t know just thought I’d ask about it.
My Dear Boy, at p. 51.
He didn’t sell it. On April 30, 1943, he donated the shawl to the Ohio Historical Society, where it remains.
The original 1901 article, “The Final Burial of the Followers of John Brown” by Thomas Featherstonhaugh in The New England magazine, is available for purchase from Steam at Harper’s Ferry. Please inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.