Levi (also spelled Levy) Charles Meyers Harby, naval officer, was born in Georgetown, South Carolina, on September 21, 1793. He was the son of Solomon Harby and Rebecca (Moses) Harby. In the War of 1812 he served as a midshipman in the United States Navy. He left Charleston on the privateer Saucy Jack and was involved in many naval battles. When the Saucy Jack captured the British ship Providence, he was one of the officers placed aboard the prize ship. When the Providence was recaptured by a British vessel in September 1812, Harby was taken prisoner and interned at Barbados until his release in July 1813. During 1823 to 1824 he was an officer who held an acting appointment in the West India squadron. He reportedly obtained a leave of absence from the United States Navy about 1825 and traveled to South America to participate in the Bolivian war for independence under Gen. Simón Bolívar, but these actions have not been confirmed with primary source documentation. Though records indicate that Harby resigned his U. S. Navy commission in late 1827, he was again listed as an officer in the navy in 1832, when he accepted a commission as a first lieutenant in the Revenue Cutter Service. He left the Cutter Service in early 1836 and apparently sailed on the schooner Brutus to Texas at that time to serve in the Texas Navy. In July 1838 he was once again listed as an officer in the Revenue Cutter Service, with which he was commissioned a captain three times—in 1846, 1852, and 1857.
On January 31, 1842, he married Leonora Rebecca DeLyon (or De Lyon) of Savannah, Georgia. She was the teenage daughter of Judge Levi Sheftall DeLyon, a prominent Jewish attorney in Savannah. They were married in St. Mary’s, Georgia. They had three children and resided in Savannah. The 1850 census listed Harby and his family in Chatham County, Georgia. At that time he also owned thirteen slaves. He was the postmaster of St. Mary’s, Georgia, in 1853.
Harby arrived in Galveston in 1857 and took command of the H.A. Dodge for the Revenue Cutter Service. Galveston’s Civilian and Gazette for August 11, 1857, printed that Harby had been reportedly “in command of the Texas man-of-war Brutus, during the revolution.” Harby’s wife Leonora established the first Jewish Sunday school in Texas, and she also founded the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society in Galveston. While in Galveston, when Harby’s native South Carolina seceded, he turned in his cutter, resigned his commission, and joined the Confederate States Service as a heavy artillery captain. In 1862 he served on the steamer Rusk and captained the Bayou City. In the fall of 1862 he was an artillery training officer at Harrisburg.
Harby was artillery commander of the guns on the Neptune at the battle of Galveston when he engaged with the Union steamer Harriet Lane. Eight of his fifteen gunners were killed in that battle along with his lieutenant, Harvey Clark. During the fight the Neptune was sunk, and Harby, nearly seventy years of age, was the last off the boat.
At the end of the war he was in command of Galveston harbor. He resided in that city until his death on December 3, 1870. His obituary was short and made no mention of service other than commanding a cutter in Galveston Bay. He was buried in Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery in Galveston. His tombstone read, “And with my last breath on the threshold of death, I proclaim my faith in Israel’s God.”
He had two sons and a son-in-law who served in Texas units during the Civil War. The youngest son, Jacob, was very active in the United Confederate Veterans in Texas and New York.