Lewis Leary, John Brown Accomplice, from Fayetteville

Marines attack the Harpers Ferry arsenal after it was taken by Brown’s forces.On October 17, 1859, Lewis Leary was fatally wounded during John Brown’s raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

Originally from Fayetteville, Leary was a free mulatto who came from a family of saddle-makers. Leary moved to Oberlin, Ohio, in search of economic opportunity and because the town was considered to be among the most racially progressive in America. Once there, he gravitated toward the growing abolitionist movement and joined the Anti-Slavery Society.

In 1859, John Brown, a vehement anti-slavery advocate, was looking for men to spark a slave insurrection on the East Coast. Leary joined him enthusiastically. Unfortunately, Brown’s men lacked the resources needed to mobilize local slaves who had not been properly notified of the insurgency.

LearyLocal militia held off the raiders until Robert E. Lee’s Marines formally intervened. Brown’s men were unable to stockpile the weaponry or to escape. While attempting to flee, Leary was wounded and died several hours later.

Though the raid failed, Leary’s death was not in vain. Brown’s raid threatened the South by proving that a slave insurrection was possible, and the seizure was lauded in the North. The episode marked the obvious division between North and South, which would shortly culminate in the Civil War.

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