Harpers Ferry, W.V.
John Brown’s Fort
Shenandoah and Potomac Streets
On a recent trip to the Harpers Ferry area, I didn’t expect to find any “queer places.” But sure enough, there was a tangential one.
Among the men who joined abolitionist John Brown in his famous raid on Harpers Ferry on Oct. 16, 1859, was Lewis S. Leary, an African-American harness-maker from Oberlin, Ohio. Brown’s plan was to seize the federal arsenal, arm African-Americans for an uprising, and rid the country of slavery.
At first the plan seemed to work, as Brown’s “army” stormed the town and took captives. But then the U.S. Marines, under the command of J.E.B. Stuart, were called in, and Brown and his men holed up in this “fort” (above), which was actually the town fire house. The raid was squelched, Brown was executed, and Leary died at age 24 of wounds he suffered during the raid. The event, which has its sesquicentennial this year, is widely considered a prelude to the Civil War.
So what’s the queer part? Leary’s widow, Mary Patterson Leary, went on to marry a second time, to abolitionist Charles Henry Langston. Among her grandchildren was queer poet Langston Hughes, who lived with her in Lawrence, Kansas, during his early childhood.