Harpers Ferry Raiders descendants at John Brown Day

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May 19—LAKE PLACID — Capt. John Brown Raiders John Henry Kagi and Lewis Sheridan Leary were represented by their descendants at John Brown Day 2023, dedicated to the late Russell Banks in Lake Placid.

JOHN HENRY KAGI

"I actually came here because I'm part of the Seagle Festival, and we brought one of the singers up for the piece that Russell Banks wrote the libretto for," Richard Kagey, 76, of Glens Falls said.

"But, I'm also here because my distant cousin was John Henry Kagi, who was one of the Harpers Ferry Raiders. He was killed in Harpers Ferry, shot in the Potomac River as he was trying to escape. He was with John Brown from Kansas through Missouri, all the way to Harpers Ferry."

SWISS DESCENT

Born in Bristolville, Ohio on March 15,1835, Kagi was the second child of blacksmith Abraham Neff Kagy and Anna Fansler, who were of Swiss descent.

Kagi adopted the Swiss spelling of the family name.

"Kagi moved to Kansas Territory in 1856," according to mayhewcabin.org

"It was during this year that he became acquainted with the famous abolitionist, John Brown. In Kansas, John served as a newspaper correspondent, writing for the New York Tribune and the National Era. He also enlisted in Company B 2nd Reg't, Kansas Volunteer Army and became good friends with Aaron Dwight Stevens, a follower of John Brown.

"Kagi found a kindred spirit in John Brown and eventually became the Secretary of War in Brown's "Provisional Government" and one of John Brown's most trusted advisors. For the abolitionist cause, John endures beatings, a gunshot wound, harassment, poverty, and several imprisonments,

The Kagy families' views on slavery and John's newly-formed association with John Brown is likely the reason that his sister's cabin was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad."

HID CONNECTION

"It's very interesting because as a kid, I didn't know about him until I was 18 years old," Kagey said.

"My family dates back further than that and when Harpers Ferry happened, it was an insurrection by citizens of the United States against the government. It was the first time it happened, and people were frightened by that and people were outraged by that.

"My family was afraid, so they changed the spelling of the name. John Henry Kagi is spelled the traditional way, which is the Swiss-immigrants that they were, which is Kagi."

A branch of the family changed their name to Cagey. Another branch changed the surname to Kagy.

"There are not very many of us left," Kagey said.

It's a family that sort of shrunk down. I have two grandsons, which is kind of cool. It's interesting to me because I know how little I know of my ancestor and this history, and I know that many of other (descendants) of the Raiders are much the same way, who don't know who they are."

Kagi, an attorney and abolitionist, was 24 when he died at Harpers Ferry.

HARPERS FERRY RAIDERS

Brown's Raiders — 16 white men, three free blacks, one freed slave and one fugitive slave — included: Jeremiah Anderson, Osbourne Perry Anderson, Oliver Brown, Owen Brown, Watson Brown, John E. Cook, John Anthony Copeland, Jr., Barclay Coppoc, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, Albert Hazlett, John Henry Kagi, Lewis Leary, William Leeman, Francis Jackson Meriam, Dangerfield Newby, Aaron Stephens, Stewart Taylor, Dauphin Thompson, William Thompson, and Charles Plummer Tidd.

"I think it's important that we start to look and see who they were as well," Kagey said.

"They had the same kind of dedication to what was going on and believed in it enough to go there and many of them to die there.

Kagey took a picture of the bronze plaque listing the names of the Raiders and sent it to his mom.

"I believe she's going to come back for this Long Table Dinner that we're doing in August," he said.

The Long Table Dinner, John & Mary Brown's Dream, will be held August 5 at the John Brown Farm.

LEWIS SHERIDAN LEARY

Chef Lewis Sheridan Hughes, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, will be creating the food for The Long Table Dinner.

"I have found myself focusing more on events that have more of a social impact, so that's kind of why I decided to do this," Hughes, 42, of Beacon, NY, said.

"That's where we are now. I have been meeting with Martha (Swan, executive director of John Brown Lives!) and few of the board members since March."

By happenstance, Hughes brother, Richard, posted about Lewis Sheridan Leary on Facebook, which caught the attention of their friend and local resident, John Cottom, who told them about the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid.

"Lewis Sheridan Leary is my great-great-great uncle," Hughes said.

"My mom named me after him. He died at Harpers Ferry. I actually went to college for my first two years in Shepherdstown, West Virginia because of his death and connection to Harpers Ferry. Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry are about eight miles away from each other."

His great, great-aunt, Dorothy I. Miller kept track of his family's lineage throughout her life.

"So, she lived in Oberlin, Ohio," he said.

"We have a historic home in Oberlin, Ohio. We started a nonprofit called Wilson Bruce Evans Home Historical Society."

Evans, an abolitionist, married Lewis Sheridan Leary's sister, Sarah Jane Leary.

In 1858, Evans took part in the famous Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, an incident that has given rise to Oberlin's reputation as "the town that started the Civil War," according to evanshhs.org.

"So, her efforts and her husband's efforts," Hughes said.

"This home is called the Wilson Bruce Evans Historic Home. It's named after the husband, but the mother, Sarah Jane, had a lot to do with the efforts that happened."

NORTH CAROLINA ROOTS

Leary was born to free parents in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on March 17, 1835. In 1857, he moved to Oberlin, Ohio, hoping to escape the racism of the American South. In Oberlin, Leary worked as a harness maker. He also became actively involved in the abolitionist movement, according to ohiohistorycentral.org

In 1858, Leary participated in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Case. On September 13, a federal marshal in Oberlin arrested a runaway slave named John Price. A federal grand jury indicted thirty-seven of the people, including Leary, who freed Price. Following the dropping of charges, Leary became involved with John Brown, a famous abolitionist and resident of Ohio. Leary recruited his nephew, John Anthony Copeland, Jr., to join Brown.

In 1859, Brown was responsible for one of the most important events that led to the American Civil War. On October 16, Brown led a group of twenty-one men, including Copeland and Leary, on a raid of Harper's Ferry, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia. A detachment of United States Marines arrived and stormed the arsenal on October 18, capturing seven men, including Brown.

Leary was shot during the storming of the arsenal by the Marines. He died on October 18 (sometimes reported as October 20), several hours after the assault.

Leary's family never recovered their loved one's remains. In December 1859, Oberlin residents held a memorial service for Leary and two other residents who gave their lives in Brown's raid. They also erected a monument in honor of these men.

FAMILY LOSS

Hughes attended John Brown Day 2023 with his wife, Deanna, and their children, Harper and Leon.

"I didn't know he was buried here," Hughes said.

"I thought he was buried in Harpers Ferry. I knew about him my entire life. I knew my connection between my name and him. On Saturday, when I was given the wreath I was in tears.

"It was the special treatment that was taken by the individuals. It was just everything. It was the wreath. It was the flowers from John Brown's birthplace in the wreath. Then also, there's actually been a tragedy in our family. I lost my sister, Candyce Hughes Coulidaly, in December.

"Our sister was really a pillar in our family. She was socially justice focused as well. She knew that we had found the grave. She knew I was going before all this happened."

Email: rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

Twitter@RobinCaudell