On this date in 1882, William Hamilton “Ham” Yeatts was hanged in Chatham, Va., for the murder of his friend Pressley Adkerson.
When a fellow lures you to a deserted stretch of rural train-track and pops a cap in your head, it’s a given that he’s nursing some manner of grievance.
In the case of Ham Yeatts, that grievance is said to have been a rivalry with Pressley Adkerson — really, we couldn’t make these names up — over the affections of the local knockout, Fanny Rorer. This here page claims that Yeatts, having just wed the girl, was aghast to discover that his friend had deflowered her premaritally.
But we take note of this report of the hanging in the Richmond Daily Dispatch to the effect that the provocation was merely the victim’s nasty prophecy that Yeatts was liable to end up in a penitentiary, the stronger cuckolding allegation arising as the doomed youth made a desperate play for clemency.
Yeatts’s hanging was delayed by a week when he raised these claims of offended manhood — resulting in a bid on his life by a lynch mob, “defeated of their laudable ambition by the alertness of the guards”* — but it was all to no avail.
He requested that he be executed in a blue flannel suit, and that his body be encased in a metallic coffin with a glass face and be placed in an upright position in a cemented grave with steps leading down into it so that those who wished to see him “lying in state” could do so.
So … add vanity to wrath, envy, and lust on Ham’s cardinal sins register.
After the execution the crowd turned their attention to the circus, which had just entered the town, and Yeatts and his crime were for the time forgotten.
Though sometimes described as the last hanging in Pittsylvania County, it apparently wasn’t.
Yeatts was only one of four men hanged in various places around the U.S. that August 4, as the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle described in its next day’s edition …
FERNANDINA, Fla., August 4. — Merrick Jackson, colored, was hanged here to-day, at 1 o’clock, p.m. He murdered a colored boy, named John Thomas, near King’s Ferry, on November 19, 1881. On the scaffold he offered up a prayer, and thanked the Sisters of Charity for their kindness to him. He met his fate with composure. He died by strangulation.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., August 4. — Harrison Carter, colored, who murdered Lewis Adams, colored, at Baldwin, in this county, on January 6, 1882, was executed in the ail hard here to-day.
MOBILE [Ala.], August 4. — Armand Coleman, colored, was hanged, to-day, at West Point, Miss., for the murder of Georgia Bright, on May 13, 1880. He was sentenced to be hanged on May 4, 1881, and the case was carried to the Supreme Court, where he was resentenced, but respited by the Governor till to-day. Three thousand persons were present, a large number of whom were negro women. The prisoner ascended the scaffold with a firm step, smiling pleasantly. He said he was willing to go and trusted in God. He denied his guilt to the last.
It was not all the hangman’s day, however. Louisiana Gov. John McEnery respited the scheduled August 4 execution of Jack Chapman in Bossier parish. (Chapman still hanged, on September 22.)
* The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Ill.), July 31, 1882.