Sunday, May 8, 2011

Lyman Leach: A Raider and Rebel Hangs

After the executions of four Hunter raiders in Kingston on January 4, 1839, weeks passed without additional hangings. The remaining 150 prisoners in Fort Henry, who'd seen their comrades taken away to die every week or two, began to believe that the hangings had ceased. The Upper Canada public was tiring of the brutal executions. The time was right to show some mercy.

The colonial boss, Lt.-Governor Sir George Arthur, never intended to hang every Hunter, despite the death sentence almost every prisoner faced. He had a list of Hunter officers who the colonial government believed had to die as a deterrent against future raids. After 10 executions, he had one more name on his list: Lyman Leach (a.k.a. Lyman Lewis).

There is no record that Leach was a Hunter officer at the Battle of the Windmill. He had commanded a company during the occupation of Hickory Island; so, he may have had a leadership role. But that is not why Arthur hanged him. He had information that Leach helped burn the Sir Robert Peel with Bill Johnston in May 1838.

Leach may have plotted with Johnston but he never set foot on the Peel. He was one of many who got lost in the woods that night. True or not, people believed it. In its February 12, 1839, edition, the Upper Canada Herald stated that "Lewis" was second in command to Johnson in the burning of the ship. And the Upper Canada authorities desperately wanted to punish the Peel raiders.

Lyman grew up in the village of Cicero Center on Oneida Lake, New York. His father was one of the earliest settlers there and ran a tavern in a log building. At about 15, Lyman enlisted in 1813 to fight the British in the War of 1812.

At the start of the Patriot War, Lyman was 40 and lived in the village of Liverpool on Onondaga Lake. He ran a brick works, and was an early member of the Patriots and then of the Hunters.

Lyman was not shy about his anti-British sentiments and, according to stories in the Liverpool Telegraph, he use to antagonize an English immigrant named Dr. Petit.

"The doctor was a firm believer in John Bull, and during the [Patriot War] espoused with ardor the cause of the British. He and Leach were often brought face to face in wordy combat and many battles of this kind were fought between them during the period of the struggle along the Canadian border. During the heated controversies, neither could find the words corresponding to their hot tempers and their feelings toward one another. The village Post Office was usually the scene of these encounters, which often ended in the doctor's prediction that if Leach ever ventured across the border he would be caught and hanged, and 'damn you, Leach,' he would declare, 'I hope they will string you up without judge or jury'."

The doctor's prediction played out, February 11, 1839. Lyman Leach, died in the Kingston jail, the eleventh and last captured windmill raider to face the gallows. Lyman was also the twentieth and last of captured Patriots and Hunters executed by the colonial government. Everyone else received pardons, a prison term, or transport.

In his memoirs, Daniel Heustis wrote a paragraph about Lyman that must serve as his epitaph as none other exists. His words sum up both Lyman's strengths and failings.

"He was one of the most daring and fearless men I ever saw. He was so perfectly reckless of danger that nothing could intimidate him. Not having finished his breakfast when the officer came to escort him to the gallows, he insisted on being allowed to enjoy his last meal, and kept the officer waiting till he had coolly and deliberately concluded his repast. This heedless indifference in regard to his fate was characteristic of the man. Aside from his bravery, there were not so many attractive points in his character as were exhibited by the other martyrs."

Like most of the executed Hunters, the British buried Lyman in a grave that is long lost and forgotten.
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