Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Tag: John Brown

One of the insurrectionists.

LEWIS S. LEARY, a free negro, one of the insurrectionists, who was shot at Harper’s Ferry, was a native of Fayetteville, an infamous scoundrel who ran away from justice, and thereby cheated the rope of a deserving compliment. His father still lives in Fayetteville and is a very exemplary citizen — and his brother has a saddle and harness manufactory.

North Carolina Argus (Wadesboro), 17 November 1859.

John Anthony Copeland Jr.

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John Anthony Copeland, Jr. (1834–1859) was born free in Raleigh, North Carolina, to John Anthony Copeland, who was born into slavery in 1808, and Delilah Evans, born free in 1809. Copeland, Sr. was emancipated about 1815. The family lived near Hillsborough, North Carolina, until 1843, when the family migrated to Cincinnati and then Oberlin, Ohio, where some of his wife’s brothers and their families also lived.

John Copeland, Jr. worked as a carpenter and briefly attended Oberlin College. As a young man, he became involved in the Oberlin Anti-Slavery Society.  In September, 1858, with his uncles Henry and Wilson Bruce Evans, Copeland was one of the thirty-seven men involved in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue to free John Price, a runaway slave who had been captured and held by authorities under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. The men freed the slave and helped him escape to Canada.

In September 1859, Copeland was recruited to John Brown’s armed group by his uncle, Lewis Sheridan Leary. Brown led twenty-one followers, sixteen white and five black men, and captured the armory guards of Harpers Ferry, then part of Virginia, where they took control of the Federal arsenal. The raiders were soon pinned down by Virginia militiamen until U.S. marines led by Robert E. Lee arrived to apprehend them.

At Harper’s Ferry, Copeland and John Henry Kagi, a white raider, were to seize control of Hall’s Rifle Works. Kagi and several others were killed while swimming across the Shenandoah River to escape. Copeland was captured alive, and he, John Brown, and five others were held for federal trial.  Copeland was found guilty of treason and murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

Six days before his execution, he wrote to his brother, referring to the American Revolution:

“And now, brother, for having lent my aid to a general no less brave [than George Washington], and engaged in a cause no less honorable and glorious, I am to suffer death. Washington entered the field to fight for the freedom of the American people – not for the white man alone, but for both black and white. Nor were they white men alone who fought for the freedom of this country. The blood of black men flowed as freely as the blood of white men. Yes, the very first blood that was spilt was that of a negro…But this you know as well as I do, … the claims which we, as colored men, have on the American people.”

Copeland’s family continued his struggle by taking up arms during the Civil War. His father served as a cook for the 55th Ohio Infantry, and his younger brother Henry E. Copeland served as a first sergeant in Douglass’s Independent Battery of Colored Artillery in Kansas.

Adapted from http://www.nccivilwar150.com/history/john-brown-nc.htm. Photo courtesy of Kansas Historical Society.

Lewis Sheridan Leary.

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Lewis Sheridan Leary (1835–1859), a harnessmaker from Oberlin, Ohio, joined John Brown’s unsuccessful raid on Harpers Ferry, where he was killed.  Leary was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Matthew N. Leary, also a harnessmaker, and Julia Memril Leary.  His paternal grandfather was an Irishman, Jeremiah O’Leary, who fought in the American Revolution under General Nathanael Greene. A paternal great-grandparent, Abram Revels, a free man of color, was also a Revolutionary War veteran. His mother’s grandmother was “French Mary,” a freed West Indian who was a well-regarded cook in Fayetteville.

In the mid-1850s, Leary moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where two of his sisters had settled. One sister, Sarah, had married Henry Evans, whose sister Delilah Evans Copeland, the mother of John A. Copeland Jr., another John Brown follower.  Leary married Oberlin College graduate Mary Patterson, and had a daughter, Louise.  Leary became involved with abolitionists in Oberlin, which had an active community. Later, he met John Brown in Cleveland, Ohio.

In 1858, Leary joined 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 . He was not among the 37 men (twelve of them free men of color) who were indicted and jailed for their actions.

Accompanied by Copeland, Leary joined John Brown at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  Leary died eight days after the attack on Harper’s Ferry from wounds suffered in the conflict. Copeland was captured, tried and later executed.

Leary’s family remained in Fayetteville during the Civil War.  During Reconstruction, his father and a brother served as city councilmen and county commissioners, and his brother Matthew Leary Jr. was an early trustee of the college that became Fayetteville State University. Leary’s youngest brother, John Sinclair Leary, graduated from Howard University in 1871 and was one of the earliest black attorneys admitted to the bar in North Carolina. He served in the state legislature for two terms as a Republican representative for Cumberland County during Reconstruction, and in 1884 was sent as a delegate to the National Republican Convention. He later founded and served as the first dean of the Shaw University Law School, and in the 1890s moved his family and practice to Charlotte. Today the Charlotte chapter of the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers is named the John S. Leary Bar Association in his honor.

 Adapted from Tar Heels at Harper’s Ferry, October 16-18, 1859,”  http://www.nccivilwar150.com/history/john-brown-nc.htm, published by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Photograph, c. 1850s, courtesy of Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio.

In the 1860 census , Fayetteville, Cumberland: Matthew Leary, 48, wife Julia A., 42, Matthew, 17, Lewis S., 15, Julia A., 12, John S., and Mary E., 13.