Posts filed under 'Tennessee'

1856: Six Tennessee slaves, election panic casualties

Add comment December 4th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1856, the white citixens of Dover, Tennessee hanged at least six black slaves in the midst of a regional panic.

They could well sense, as could all Americans, the hollowing authority of slavery in the 1850s with the Civil War looming ahead in 1861. Conflict over the issue had split the country sectionally over the disposition of the huge territory annexed in the Mexican-American War; the matter came to literal blows on the western frontier in the “Bleeding Kansas” bush war.

On the cultural plane, these are the years that germinated the definitive anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852); on the legal plane, they produced the the notorious pro-slavery Dred Scott Supreme Court case (1857).

And on the political plane, the slavery issue tore apart the old Whig Party — and so the 1856 presidential election for the first time featured the new anti-slavery Republican Party as the chief opposition. The very first Republican presidential nominee, John Fremont, carried 11 states on November 4, 1856: not enough to capture the White House, but enough to put the Slave Power in fear for its human chattel and catalyze, in the weeks surrounding the vote, paranoid reactions in various southerly locales to the effect that Fremont-inspired blacks would be coming to dispossess all the masters.

Now it only takes a glance at Twitter to evidence the capacity of a presidential ballot to dominate the public mind, so there can hardly be doubt that seditious rumors of liberty fell from black lips which had never been so close to tasting emancipation. “Wait till Fremont is elected, and den I guess as how, missess, you will have to dew de pots yourself,” a Memphis kitchen-slave supposedly told her mistress on the eve of the election. (New York Herald, December 11, 1856) The masters too would have spoken of the same topic, but with trepidation; nobody knew but what the future could hold, and words overheard would have worked their way to and fro across the color line to shape hope, terror, anticipation. The newspapers from the last weeks of 1856 have reports of rumored insurrections and white vigilance committees in Missouri, in Texas, in Arkansas, in Louisiana.

As is usual in slave rising panics no firm evidence exists that black plots consisted in this moment of anything more substantial than whispered hopes. Whites in scattered localities saw Nat Turner everywhere — and nowhere was this more the case than in western Tennessee. There, slaves around the Cumberland River were believed to be organizing a Christmas Day rising* to cut their masters’ throats, run amok, and rendezvous with an imagined army of Fremont liberators. One correspondent described for northern papers how

the credulity of these poor people is such that, in the belief of the whites who excite them, they imagine that Col. Fremont, with a large army is awaiting at the mouth of the river Cumberland … Certain slaves are so greatly imbued with this fable, that I have seen them smile while they are being whipped, and have heard them say that ‘Fremont and his men can bear the blows they receive.’ (via the Barre (Mass.) Gazette, Dec. 19, 1956)

Against such hope — more blows. A truly horrifying and widely republished editorial in the Clarksville (Tenn.) Jeffersonian that Dec. 3 proposed an overwhelming bloodletting to crush this prospective jacquerie.

It is useless to shut our eyes and deny the facts, or sneer at the developments which have been made. Every hour multiplies the proof and corroborates previous discoveries. It is no Titus Oates affair, but a solemn, fearful and startling reality, and must be dealt with accordingly.

The crimes contemplated should be atoned for precisely as though those crimes had been attmpted and consummated. Fearful and terrible examples should be made, and if need be, the fagot and the flame should be brought into requisition to show these deluded maniacs the fierceness and the vigor, the swiftness and completeness of the white man’s vengeance. Let a terrible example be made in every neighborhood where the crime can be established, and if necessary let every tree in the country bend with negro meat. Temporizing in such cases as this is utter madness. We must strike terror, and make a lasting impression, for only in such a course can we find the guaranties of future security …

The path of future safety must be wet with the blood of those who have meditated these awful crimes. Misplaced clemency, and we believe that any clemency would be misplaced, may at no distant day bring upon this people, the horrors and the inexpressible crimes which marked the enfranchisement of St. Domingo. While retributive justice, sternly and unbendingly enforced, will certainly remove the cause of the evils we now suffer and prove our sure protection against their repetition in all time to come.

So far as this writer can establish it is not certain how many people overall in Tennessee and throughout the Slave Power met the guns and nooses of white vigilantes, but some of the best-established are a sextet hanged at Dover on December 4, 1856. This town on the Cumberland was roiled by rumors that slaves from nearby communities intended to march, armed, on Dover itself, an idea that seems not much less fanciful than that of deliverance by Fremont; it became thereby an epicenter of the suppression, and favors us from a sea of unreliable timelines and misstated figures with a concrete eyewitness description.

Tuesday morning [sic — the writer means Thursday, Dec. 4, having narrated Wednesday, Dec. 3 immediately prior], I went to Dover, and arrived there about 2 o’clock. The people had hung four negroes at 11 o’clock that morning, and two more then in town to be hung. I got to the place of execution in time to see the last one go off. Of the six that were hung, three had been preachers. They were all proved to be ring-leaders. I learned that the men at the forge were at work whipping the truth out of their negroes, so I rode out there that night, and was up with them all night. I never had such feelings in my life. I saw a list of negroes that had been whipped, and was told what they all had stated, and then I heard the balance examined — some taking five and six hundred lashes before they would tell the tale … One of the negroes at the forge died from whipping that night, several hours after the operation.

We are at work here to-day. We have one negro in chains, and will hang him I think, certain; if the committee will not the community are determined to do it. I think we will have quite an exciting time here before we get through. I have no doubt but that it is a universal thing all over the Southern States, and that every negro fifteen years old, either knows of it or is into it … (Louisville Daily Courier, Dec. 29, 1856)

Two key academic sources on this affair are:

  • Harvey Wish, “The Slave Insurrection Panic of 1856,” The Journal of Southern History, May, 1939
  • Charles Dew, “Black Ironworkers and the Slave Insurrection Panic of 1856,” The Journal of Southern History, August 1975

* Shades of Jamaica.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,Summary Executions,Tennessee,Torture,Treason,USA

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1879: Anthony Blair

Add comment September 26th, 2018 Headsman

From the New York Times, September 27, 1879:


ANTHONY BLAIR HANGED
TEN THOUSAND SPECTATORS TO SEE HIM DIE — THE HISTORY OF HIS CRIME.

Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 26. — A Morristown (Tenn.) special to the Banner says: “Your reporter to-day witnessed the execution of Anthony Blair, colored, for the murder of his step-daughter, Maggie Blair, a girl of 16 years, on the 30th of July last. The crime for which he suffered death was looked upon in this community as a most atrocious murder; there was no seeming cause or provocation, no excuse for it. This execution is pronounced by all as just.

Blair was perhaps 30 years of age, an African in every lineament, brutal and sensuous in appearance, and looked to be capable of any crime. At 12 o’clock, Sheriff Loop, with 28 guards, went to the jail, and with your reporter entered Blair’s cell. Blair seemed callous, and without feeling. He submitted quietly to the manacles, and walked with a firm step to the wagon on which he rode to the gallows.

After religious service by the Rev. George Blainer, colored, the prisoner was allowed to talk. His harangue was such as would be expected from such a man. He admitted his guilt, but developed a state of facts leading to the crime which are unfit for publication.

At 1:30 the rope was tied, the black cap arranged, and, at 1:35, the wagon moved from under him. In nine minutes no pulse could be distinguished; in 10 minutes his heart had ceased to act; in 15 minutes he was pronounced dead, and in just 22 minutes after he swung off he was lowered into his coffin. This was the first hanging in Hamblen County, and the crowd present was estimated to number 8,000 to 10,000.

Blair lived in Washington County, near Jonesboro. From some cause Maggie had left his house, and came to this county some time in May last, and when killed was in the service of Esquire William Donaldson, and was represented as a very smart, industrious girl.

Blair, hearing of her whereabouts, came down to Russelville July 29, and immediately made his way to the residence of Esquire Donaldson. He entered the kitchen where the girl and Mrs. Donaldson were engaged in preparing dinner. He asked the girl, looking savagely at her, to come outside the house, that he had something to say to her. The girl refused to go out, telling him that if he had anything to say, he should say it before Mrs. Donaldson.

About this time Esquire Donaldson rode up, and Blair immediately left the house, and was seen no more until Wednesday, July 30. That night the girl, in company with others, went up to the colored church near Russelville to prayer-meeting.

Returning, Blair was met in the road by parties who had been at the prayer-meeting. After some conversation Blair passed on to Russelville, but upon going a short distance, he turned back and took another road, which the young folks, including Maggie Blair, had taken. He overtook the party, and immediately walked up to Maggie, who was walking in the rear by the side of a colored by named Taylor.

Pressing Taylor away, he caught her hand, and said: “You must go home with me on the train to-night to your grandpa,” and pulled her along the road 150 or 200 yards, saying she should go. Maggie struggled to get loose from Blair’s grasp, saying that she would rather die than go, whereupon he drew a pistol and shot her twice, from the effects of which she died the following Saturday.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Tennessee,USA

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1878: George Howell, family arbiter

Add comment September 5th, 2018 Headsman

From the Morristown (Tenn.) Gazette, September 11, 1878:


EXECUTION OF HOWELL

THE CONFESSION OF THE GUILTY WRETCH

From the Knoxville Chronicle

Yesterday Greeneville was astir with the bustle of unusual excitement consequent upon preparations for the execution of the negro George Howell for the murder of Joseph Martin, near Fullen’s station, December 28th, 1877.

A strong police force was sworn in by the town authorities, and Sheriff A.J. Frazier had summoned a large guard to preserve on the occasion. There were no anticipations of attempted rescue of the prisoner, though frequent rumors to that effect had reached the officials, but it was deemed best to be prepared for any emergency, and though the crowd was large, yet no serious disturbance arose.

HOWELL’S CONFESSION.

Some time after sentence of death was passed on him, the prisoner, Howell, made a full confession of the crime and its antecedents to Mr. J.R. Self, proprietor of the Journal, which, if true, put the family of the deceased in the worst possible light, he having declared in the plainest language that the widow and children of the murdered man, by bribes and threats, instigated him to do the deed.

Your reporter, accompanied by several others, visited the prisoner the day before his expected execution, Aug. 9th, expecting to see a burly black ruffian, but entering the cell, beheld confined in the cage, a negro lad, with a remarkably good countenance, holding a book in his hand. In one corner was a small pallet on which he slept, which was the only furniture it contained.

The prisoner seemed gratified at the entrance of visitors and answered all questions freely, even the frivolous one of whether Martin’s ghost ever appeared to him in the still hours of the night, to which he replied in the negative.

HIS ANTECEDENTS.

The unfortunate boy, George Howell, was born in La Grange, Ga., in October, 1861, his owner being Mr. Arch. Howell, who subsequently operated a steam furniture manufactory. His father’s name was Ephraim and his mother’s Mary, the former of whom is living, but the latter died when the prisoner was five years old. His father was a painter, and after his mother’s death both made their home in Atlanta, Ga., for six or seven years, the former pursuing his avocation of painting, while the boy waited on stores, confectioneries, etc. From thence they afterwards removed to Smyrna, Ga., where the prisoner remained a year in the employ of a Dr. Bell. He went from there to Cartersville, Ga., and by that time having become imbued with the spirit of unrest, visited Dalton and proceeded thence to Cleveland and Knoxville, and drifting as far east as Christiansburg, Va. But not liking the Old Dominion he returned to Bristol the day before the Presidential election in November, 1876. A few days after he entered the employ of J.B. Fitzgerald, near Fullen’s Depot, and remained there about seven months. He then worked a short time for Wm. Durman, perhaps two weeks, when he received a better offer and began working for Joseph Martin on the 19th of June, 1877.

The prisoner, in his interview, reiterated the confession previously made to Mr. Self and others regarding the complicity of Martin’s family with the murder, and avowed his intention, he said:

I had been at Martin’s for some time, perhaps a month, before I discovered any misunderstanding between Martin and his family and this occurred between him and his daughter Tennie. She upbraided him for his staying away from home so late; he kicked her over and struck her with a chair.

The next difficulty occurred between Martin and his wife, she accused him of visiting a house of ill fame near by, he went to his trunk, took out a pistol, and swore he would shoot her.

These wranglings and domestic quarrels continued all along through the summer, I remember of one, which at the time I thought would result seriously; it occurred some time in the fall, and late at night, I was asleep in the barn, little Bob woke me up, I went to the house and found Martin in a terrible rage, he said to me that his wife had refused to occupy his bed, that she had taken a separate room and that he would kill her, or any woman, bearing the name of wife, that would treat him in this manner. Bob and I set up the entire night.

THE BLOODY BARGAIN.

The following narrative of events immediately preceding the tragedy seems almost too horrible for relief, because if not the phatasmagoria [sic] of a disordered brain, the prisoner was but the hired tool of an unnatural wife and children. In this connection it should be stated that an attempt was made two days before the executions, by a member of Martin’s family, to induce Mr. Self, the publisher of the “confession,” to suppress the same, which, however, he declined doing. Continuing, the prisoner said:

Some two months before Christmas the family were all in the sitting room — perhaps some of the smaller children were in bed — when Mrs. Martin commenced abusing her husband (Mr. Martin was away from that night, I think he was at his mother’s or brother’s.) The girls, Margaret and Tennie and their brother Bob, all joined with their mother in denouncing the deceased. Mrs. Martin said that ‘Joe had threatened to kill you, (me) twice, and if I was you (me) I would kill him,’ she said that ‘Joe had followed you (me) one day in the railroad cut with the intention of killing you (me) and that if I did not kill him he would certainly murder me, and, if I would kill him she would bake me some cakes for Christmas.’ Bob spoke up and said that he ‘would give me two calves and a pig if I would kill his father.’ I do not remember my reply, but from that time on it was well-understood in the family that Mr. Martin was to be killed, and that I was to do it, and the family were to swear me out of it.

Mrs. Martin baked the cakes for the prisoner on Christmas, he said, reproaching him at the same time for his failure to perform his promise. Three days later, however, he endeavored to do so, and a runaway team, which diverted his attention, was the means of prolonging Martin’s life a few hours. The same evening after being informed that the gun, with which the fatal deed was committed (an Enfield rifle) was loaded, the prisoner made a new ramrod for it the iron rod being too short, and while cutting it the right length at the wood pile, according to his statement, Bob, a son of Martin’s about thirteen years old, brought him the gun, and told him to go around the house and shoot his father. Bob then went into the house, and the prisoner thus describes the

MURDEROUS DEED.

I went round in front and looked through the window, and saw Mag sitting on one side of the fire-place, Tennie on the opposite, Mr. Martin out in front and Bob sitting away back next the back door. They were all out of range. I stepped up to a plank at the edge of the portico took aim at Martin’s ear and fired. I then ran out at the front gate, next the railroad, poured some powder in the gun, put on a cap as I run, went into the barnyard. At this time I saw Martin and his son in the meadow. I fired my gun into the air, shouting to them that there were some robbers going through the field. I did this for the purpose o making Martin think he had been attacked by ‘tramps.’

I then went to Martin and kept with him until he reached the ‘Ridge’ road, some four hundred yards from his house, and at this point, Mr. Thomas stokes, having heard the firing and Martin’s cries for help, come to us. Mr. Stokes took Martin home with him, and deceased, not having at this time, the slightest suspicion that I was the one who shot him, requested me to go back to his house and see what had become of his children. I did so, little Bobby accompanying me. We returned to the house. I went in the large front room, and from there into a small bed-room and set my gun down and came back in the large room, when Miss Mag. gave me a clean shirt and told me I had better leave the country; that it would be all over the country by next morning, that her father was killed, and I would be in danger.

Howell told how he combatted Miss Maggie’s advice, saying “if they stuck to him he would be in no danger,” and acting on that idea the results was disastrous, for the next morning, he was arrested near Fullen’s depot by James F. Dobson and taken before the jury of inquest, where he denied all knowledge of the deed, but under cross-examination his answers were contradictory and he was arrested and taken to Rheatown, where he was examined before Justice G.A. Shoun. On the way the prisoner made a full confession to D.C. Dukes and Wm. T. Mitchell.

He was lodged in jail at Greeneville, Dec. 29th ult., and the case came up before the February term, 1878, of the Circuit Court, but the trial was postponed till the June following, when a verdict of guilty was rendered.

In his “appendix,” the publisher says:

The ‘confession,’ proper, was written at the suggestion of the prisoner, Howell, and after some hesitation we undertook the task: … The language is our own, but we have adhered strictly to the substance of the matter as detailed by him.

IN PRISON.

During his imprisonment, Howell has been visited frequently by clergyman [sic] and others who have conversed and prayed with him, but apparently with out producing any impression to the last. Many think him obdurate, though others more leniently think he could not comprehend the gravity of his situation. He appeared resigned to his fater and expressed deep regret for the crime.

Our reporter visited Howell in his cell yesterday morning, accompanied by Messrs. Dukes and Self. He was reading the 4th chapter of John, and in response to the question, said that he hoped he was prepared to die. He also said that he derived great pleasure from reading the Scriptures, especially a chapter in Revelations regarding the Great Wonder in Heaven.

The statement having been made by Messrs. Frank and Sevier Martin, brothers of the murdered man, that Howell had been prevente4d by Messrs. Dukes and Self from recanting his charges against the Martin family for complicity in the crime, Mr. D. asked the prisoner to state if such was the fact, who replied that it was not, and so far from it that both these gentlemen had repeatedly urged him to make a clean breast of it, and tell the truth.

Howell’s health has been very bad for some time, and last week his life was considered in danger. He stated that he wished to see the Martin family at the scaffold, where, if they came, he would charge them with having brought him. Howell requested that his body should be given to Dr. J.R. Boyd, who wished to make some slight surgical examination, though he objected to out-and-out dissection.

The crowd in attendance was small as compared with that which assembled on the 9th of August. There is, too, considerable change of public sentiment in regard to the complicity of Martin’s family in his murder.

As is generally known, Howell was respited on the 9th of August last, the day first designated for his execution, by Gov. Porter, through the exertions of W.F. Yardley, Esq., who afterwards unavailingly attempted to procure a commutation of the death penalty to imprisonment for life.

THE GALLOWS

Was erected one mile west of Greeneville, on the Knoxville road, and is the first one on which a “drop” has been used in East Tennessee for many years, and was constructed at Howell’s own request, he not wishing to die by strangulation.

A little after 12 o’clock the black cap and shroud were placed on the prisoner in his cell, and the procession left the jail at 12:40, p.m., reaching the gallows, near the fair ground, at 1:10, p.m. Silence was requested when Howell made a rambling, incoherent talk of thirteen minutes, exhorting the young people against bad advisers. He charged the Martin family with being the cause of his death to the last. He acknowledged his guilt, and the justice of his sentence, and forgave the court, jury and officers.

The devotional exercises were conducted by Judge A.W. Woward.

At 1:49 p.m. the black cap was drawn and the prisoner stepped on the trap. One minute after the cord was cut, and he

FELL FOUR FEET.

In forty-seven minutes he was dead, and, the body being cut down, was given over to Dr. Boyd to partially dissect. The crowd was very orderly during the execution.

Sheriff A.J. Frazier was assisted in the performance of his unpleasant duties by ex-Sheriff W.S. White. Having been in office only four days, this was of course, his first execution, but he evinced a coolness throughout.

PREVIOUS EXECUTIONS.

The last man hung by civil process in Greeneville was Archibald Brown, for the murder of Malinda Hinkle, about twenty-six years ago. But the beginning of the war, there were two victims of drum-head court martial executions, Hinchey and Fry, well known Union men, for the alleged crime of bridge burning.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Tennessee,USA

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2006: Sedley Alley

Add comment June 28th, 2018 Headsman

A gentleman with the interesting name of Sedley Alley was executed by lethal injection in Tennessee on this date in 2006, for the positively horrific rape-murder of Lance Corporal Suzanne Marie Collins.

True crime writer John Douglas has explored this case in Journey Into Darkness and Law & Disorder.

The ghastly crime occurred in 1985, when the 19-year-old Collins went for a jog at Millington Air Force Base; her attacker stabbed her about the head with a screwdriver and raped her with a tree branch so violently that the branch tore the young woman’s lung.

Alley’s next-day confession followed by his shifting accounts of the events led him to try a hail-mary insanity defense at trial … a surprising contrast to the innocence claim he floated late in his appeals process.

The generation-long labyrinth of judicial appeals between homicide and execution led Collins’s parents, Jack and Trudy, to become outspoken victims’ rights advocates. “There never will be closure,” Jack Collins once told a filmmaker. “What you get is a modicum of peace. You get a feeling that somebody cares. The state of Tennessee cared enough about our daughter that it carried out an execution on her killer. But no closure until the day we die.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Rape,Tennessee,USA

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1863: Not Nathaniel Pruitt, reprieved deserter

Add comment June 10th, 2017 Headsman

On this date 150 years ago, according to Larry Daniel’s Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee, a middle-aged man was all set to be shot for deserting the Army of Tennessee, and the much-resented command of Gen. Braxton Bragg.

In a well-documented incident, a soldier received a reprieve as a result of a dramatic incident. Forty-seven-year-old Nathaniel Pruitt of the Nineteenth Tennessee was found guilty of desertion and on June 10, 1863, was taken to a field beside his regimental camp, his coffin placed beside an open grave. A minister cut a lock of hair to give to Pruitt’s wife. The firing squad was positioned and ordered to take aim, but just then an officer came galloping up with a special order to suspend the sentence. The prisoner began crying. “I was truly glad [of the reprieve], but must say some of the boys were disappointed,” a Mississippi diarist noted. Incredibly, the very next day, Pruitt again deserted and was never heard from again.

One takes the author’s point here about Pruitt’s risk-seeking second flight, but even so it might not really be all that “incredible” that one would desert the company of armed men who had recently shown open disappointment about being prevented from shooting one dead.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Desertion,Execution,History,Last Minute Reprieve,Lucky to be Alive,Military Crimes,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Shot,Soldiers,Tennessee,USA,Wartime Executions

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1863: Lawrence Williams and Walter Peters, bold CSA spies

Add comment June 9th, 2017 Headsman

From the July 4, 1863 issue of Harper’s, as digitized by sonsofthesouth.net.

THE EXECUTION OF WILLIAMS AND PETERS.

We are indebted to Mr. James K. Magie, of the 78th Illinois Regiment, for the sketch of the execution of the two rebel spies, WILLIAMS and PETERS, who were hanged by General Rosecrans on 9th inst. The following account of the affair is from a letter written by the surgeon of the 85th Indiana:

HEADQUARTERS POST, FRANKLIN, TENNESSEE

Last evening about sundown two strangers rode into camp and called at Colonel Baird’s head-quarters, who presented unusual appearances. They had on citizens’ overcoats, Federal regulation pants and caps. The caps were covered with white flannel havelocks. They wore sidearms, and showed high intelligence. One claimed to be a colonel in the United States Army, and called himself Colonel Austin; the other called himself Major Dunlap, and both representing themselves as Inspector-Generals of the United States Army. They represented that they were now out on an expedition in this department, inspecting the outposts and defenses, and that day before yesterday they had been overhauled by the enemy and lost their coats and purses. They exhibited official papers from General Rosecrans, and also from the War Department at Washington, confirming their rank and business. These were all right to Colonel Bayard, and at first satisfied him of their honesty. They asked the Colonel to loan them $50, as they had no coats and no money to buy them. Colonel Baird loaned them the money, and took Colonel Austin’s note for it. Just at dark they started, saying they were going to Nashville, and took that way. Just so soon as their horses’ heads were turned the thought of their being spies struck Colonel Baird, he says, like a thunder-bolt, and he ordered Colonel Watkins, of the 6th Kentucky cavalry, who was standing by, to arrest them immediately. But they were going at lightning speed. Colonel Watkins had no time to call a guard, and only with his orderly he set out on the chase. He ordered the orderly to unsling his carbine, and if, when he (the Colonel) halted them they showed any suspicious motions, to fire on them without waiting for ano rder. They were overtaken about one-third of a mile from here. Colonel Watkins told them that Colonel Baird wanted to make some further inquiries of them, and asked them to return. This they politely consented to do, after some remonstrance on account of the lateness of the hour and the distance they had to travel, and Colonel Watkins led them to his tent, where he placed a strong guard over them. It was not until one of them attempted to pass the guard at the door that they even suspected they were prisoners. Colonel Watkins immediately brought them to Colonel Baird under strong guard. They at once manifested great uneasiness, and pretended great indignation at being thus treated. Colonel Baird frankly told them that he had his suspicions of their true character, and that they should, if loyal, object to no necessary caution. They were very hard to satisfy, and were in a great hurry to get off. Colonel Baird told them that they were under arrest, and he should hold them prisoners until he was fully satisfied that they were what they puported to be. He immediately telegraphed to General Rosecrans, and received the answer that he knew nothing of any such men, that there were no such men in his employ, or had his pass.

Long before this dispatch was received, however, every one who had an opportunity of hearing their conversation was well satisfied that they were spies. Smart as they were, they gave frequent and distinct evidence of duplicity. After this dispatch came to hand, which it did about 12 o’clock (midnight), a search of their persons was ordered. To this the Major consented without opposition, but the Colonel protested against it, and even put his hand to his arms. But resistance was useless, and both submitted. When the Major’s sword was drawn from the scabbard there were found etched upon it these words, “Lt. W.G. Peter, C.S.A.” At this discovery Colonel Baird remarked, “Gentlemen, you have played this damned well.” “Yes,” said Lieutenant Peter, “and it came near being a perfect success.” They then confessed the whole matter, and upon further search various papers showing their guilt were discovered upon their persons. Lieutenant Peter was found to have on a rebel cap, secreted by the white flannel havelock.

Colonel Baird immediately telegraphed the facts to General Rosecrans and asked what he should do, and in a short time received an order “to try them by a drum-head court-martial, and if found guilty hang them immediately.” The court was convened, and before daylight the case was decided, and the prisoners informed that they must prepare for immediate death by hanging.

At daylight men were detailed to make a scaffold. The prisoners were visited by the Chaplain of the 78th Illinois, who, upon their request, administered the sacrament to them. They also wrote some letters to their friends, and deposited their jewelry, silver cups, and other valuables for transmission to their friends.

The gallows was constructed by a wild cherry-tree not far from the depot, and in a very public place. Two ropes hung dangling from the beam, reaching within eight feet of the ground. A little after nine o’clock A.M. the whole garrison was marshaled around the place of execution in solemn sadness. Two poplar coffins were lying a few feet away. Twenty minutes past nine the guards conducted the prisoners to the scaffold — they walked firm and steady, as if unmindful of the fearful precipice which they were approaching. The guards did them the honor to march with arms reversed.

Arrived at the place of execution they stepped upon the platform of the cart and took their respective places. The Provost Marshal, Captain Alexander, then tied a linen handkerchief over the face of each and adjusted the ropes. They then asked the privilege of bidding last farewell, which being granted, they tenderly embraced each other. This over, the cart moved from under them, and they hung in the air.

What a fearful penalty! They swung off at 9:30 — in two minutes the Lieutenant ceased to struggle. The Colonel caught hold of the rope with both hands and raised himself up at 3 minutes, and ceased to struggle at 5 minutes. At 6 minutes Dr. Forester, Surgeon 6th Kentucky Cavalry, and Dr. Moss, 78th Illinois Infantry, and myself, who had been detailed to examine the bodies, approached them, and found the pulse of both full and strong. At 7 minutes the Colonel shrugged his shoulders. The pulse of each continued to beat 17 minutes, and at 20 minutes all signs of life had ceased. The bodies were cut down at 30 minutes and encoffined in full dress. The Colonel was buried with a gold locket and chain on his neck. The locket contained the portrait and a braid of hair of his intended wife — her portrait was also in his vest pocket — these were buried with him. Both men were buried in the same grave — companions in life, misfortune, and crime, companions in infamy, and now companions in the grave.

I should have stated in another place that the prisoners did not want their punishment delayed; but, well knowing the consequences of their acts, even before their trial, asked to have the sentence, be it by hanging or shooting, quickly decided and executed. But they deprecated the idea of death by hanging, and asked for a communication of the sentence to shooting.

The elder and leader of these unfortunate men was Lawrence Williams, of Georgetown, D.C. He was as fine-looking a man as I have ever seen, about six feet high, and perhaps 30 years old. He was [a] son of Captain Williams, who was killed at the battle of Monterey. He was one of the most intellectual and accomplished men I have ever known. I have never known any one who excelled him as a talker. He was a member of the regular army, with the rank of captain of cavalry, when the rebellion broke out, and at that time was aid-de-camp and private secretary to General Winfield Scott. From this confidence and respect shown him by so distinguished a man may be judged his education and accomplishments. He was a first cousin of General Lee, commanding the Confederate army on the Rappahannock. Soon after the war began he was frank enough to inform General Scott that all his sympathies were with the South, as his friends and interests were there, and that he could not fight against them. As he was privy to all of General Scott’s plans for the campaign, it was not thought proper to turn him loose, hence he was sent to Governor’s Island, where he remained three months. After the first Bull Run battle he was allowed to go South, where he joined the Confederate army, and his subsequent history I have not been able to learn much about. He was a while on General Bragg‘s staff as Chief of Artillery, but at the time of his death was his Inspector-General. When he joined the Confederate army he altered his name, and now signs it thus: “Lawrence W. Orton, Col. City P.A.C.S.A.” — (Provisional Army Confederate States of America). Sometimes he writes his name “Orton,” and sometimes “Anton,” according to the object which he had in view. This we learn from the papers found on him. These facts in relation to the personal history of Colonel Orton I have gathered from the Colonel himself and from Colonel Watkins, who knows him well, they having belonged to the same regiment of the regular army — 2d U.S. Cavalry. Colonel Watkins, however, did not recognize Colonel Orton until after he had made himself known, and now mourns his apostasy and tragic fate.

The other victim of this delusive and reckless daring was Walter G. Peter, a lieutenant in the rebel army, and Colonel Orton’s adjutant. He was a tall, handsome young man, of about twenty-five years, that gave many signs of education and refinement.

Of his history I have been able to gather nothing. He played but a second part. Colonel Orton was the leader, and did all the talking and managing. Such is a succinct account of one of the most daring enterprises that men ever engaged in. Such were the characters and the men who played the awful tragedy.

History will hardly furnish its parallel in the character and standing of the parties, tne boldness and daring of the enterprise, and the swiftness with which discovery and punishment were visited upon them. They came into our camp and went all through it, minutely inspecting our position, works, and forces, with a portion of their traitorous insignia upon them; and the boldness of their conduct made their flimsy subterfuges almost successful.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Soldiers,Spies,Summary Executions,Tennessee,USA,Wartime Executions

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1886: A day in the death penalty around the U.S. South

Add comment June 4th, 2017 Headsman

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 5, 1886.


Execution of Alfred Taylor at Opelousas.

Opelousas, La., June 4. — [Special.] — In accordance with Gov. McEnery‘s proclamation, Alfred Taylor, colored, was executed at 1:30 o’clock, P.M., to-day, by Sheriff Duson, the condemned man dying of strangulation about fifteen minutes after the springing of the trap.

He preserved a very firm and unconcerned mien until he saw the gallows, not seeming to realize or to believe that he would be hanged. He protested his innocence of the crime to the last. Once when the supreme moment arrived, he lost his usual stolidity and called on God to have mercy upon him and begging [sic] the Sheriff not to hang him.

Taylor was 23 years years old, griff in color, of medium height and weighing about 145 pounds. He was tried at the March term of our District Court, and the jury was composed of nine white and three colored men. He was defended by able counsel, and after an impartial trial was found guilty as charged on the indictment.

On Monday, Feb. 8, 1886, at about 11 o’clock in the morning, Taylor called at the residence of Mrs. Latreuille, a white lady, residing on the old Dr. Moore place, near Moundville, some four miles above Washington, and asked if her husband was at home. Not suspecting anything wrong, she replied that he was not. The negro then told her that some one was trying to steal her chickens in the woods near by and that she had better see about it.

The unfortunate woman went to the place to look after her fowls, when the negro followed her, and drawing a pistol threatened to shoot her if she made any outcry. She fainted away through fright, when he accomplished his diabolical purpose. He fled, and a posse was immediately organized and began searching for him. Had he been caught then he would undoubtedly have been lynched. He evaded arrest, however, until the week before his trial and conviction. The evidence adduced at the trial was crushing, and the jury promptly returned a verdict as above.

Since his conviction he has manifested no sighs of contrition, but, on the contrary, has always affected the most stoical indifference, and constantly indulged in the most revolting profanity.


A Double Execution.

Winchester, Va., June 4. — Wes Honesty and Tabby Banks were hanged at 9:22 A.M., for the murder on the night of Nov. 14, 1884, of Joseph McFaul, a youth of 18 years. A large Democratic procession took place here on that night, and the prisoners walked through the streets making threats that they would crack the skull of some Democrat before morning.

McFaul was a slightly built, peaceable young man, while Honesty and Banks were powerfully grown negroes.

They waylaid McFaul at the mouth of an ally on Main street. He had nothing with which to protect himself but a light walking stick. The negroes pressed upon him and he ran from them, ordering them to keep away. They then rushed upon him. Honesty collared him and pushed him against a house at the mouth of the alley, and Banks cried out, “stick it to him.”

McFaul defended himself as best he could with his walking-stick. Honesty was facing McFaul, and Banks got behind him. Honesty drew back and hurled a rock at McFaul, striking him in the left temple. As he reeled and staggered across the street Banks struck him with some weapon he held in his hands. McFaul went to his boarding-house, and was found dead in his bed next morning, with his skull crushed.

As the criminals marched to the scaffold Banks began to tremble violently, but Honesty stood firm on the trap. The Moody hymn, “There is a Light in the Valley,” was sung by request, both joining in loudly.

Honesty said: “I thank God I am converted. I am going to heaven. No man’s blood rests on my soul. I have not to answer for it. I thank all the officers and ministers for their kindness.”

Banks said I am not guilty of what is put on me. I want to meet all my friends in heaven.

Their arms were then pinioned, the black cap drawn over their heads, and in a loud voice, both cried out “good-bye,” “good-bye.” The trap was then sprung.


John Davis Hanged in Assumption.

Napoleonville, La. — [Special.] — At 12:30 o’clock to-day a colored man, named John Davis, was hung at Napoleonville for the murder of his wife, two years ago, on the Jones plantation, three miles above the town. He confessed the crime, and said he was willing to die for what he had done. The execution was without incident.


Launched from Lebanon.

Lebanon, Tenn., June 4. — Jim Baxter, colored, was hanged at 11:32 this morning. His last utterances were: “I did not kill Mrs. Lane. Dat’s the God’s truth.” His neck was not broken. He was dead in fifteen minutes.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Louisiana,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Tennessee,USA,Virginia

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1882: Samuel and Milton Hodge

Add comment November 10th, 2016 Headsman

From the Lebanon Daily News, Nov. 11, 1882:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., Nov. 10 — Samuel and Milton Hodge, both colored brothers, were hanged here to-day in the presence of about 8,000 persons. The doomed men spoke for about ten minutes, each saying they were prepared to die and were “going home to glory.” They warned those present to beware of their fate. As the black cap was pulled over Milton’s face, he sang in a strong voice “Going Home on da Even’ Train,” and Samuel was singing “Going Home to Die no More,” when he was choked by the rope.

The crime for which the Hodge’s [sic] were hanged was the killing of their brother-in-law, James McFarland, over a year ago.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Tennessee,USA

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1912: George Shelton and John Bailey

Add comment July 26th, 2016 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1912, George Shelton and his brother­-in­-law John Bailey were executed in Nashville, Tennessee for the murders of Ben Pettigrew and his two children. One of them can be identified as a daughter named Pearl. The other child’s identity is unclear; it may be another, unnamed daughter, or a son named Fred.

This is an unusual case because, in the Jim Crow South, these two white men had faced the death penalty for killing black victims, and their crime was characterized by many as a lynching.

Ben Pettigrew was a successful cotton farmer from Clifton, Tennessee. He had a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness, “unequaled among the colored population of this section of the country.” In fact, he was “regarded as highly as any member of his race in the south.”

Philadelphia Inquirer, July 27, 1912

On December 5, 1911, Ben and his two children were taking a load of seed cotton to a cotton gin in Savannah, Tennessee when their wagon was ambushed on the road by four white men.

Accounts about the murder differ as to what exactly occurred: one story is that Ben was shot and his two children hanged, and their bodies put on top of the wagon and set on fire with the cotton. Another has it that all three victims were tied, alive, on top of the load of cotton and then it was set on fire.

Also unclear is the motive for the crime, if there was any motive at all. According to some stories, the killers may have been white land tenants angry that blacks were occupying their former homes. It’s possible that they were jealous of the Pettigrew family’s respectability and economic success.

Other farmers in the area saw the fire and hurried to extinguish it, arriving just in time to see the four suspects run off into the woods. A posse assembled to hunt down the killers; it started out with 50 men and quickly grew to over 300 volunteers, with bloodhounds. In due course two people were captured; the others got away.

Little is known about Shelton and Bailey, farmhands described by the NAACP as “friendless, ignorant white boys” — a label borne out by the garbled written confession they made:

To the, Publick, and the, honer, cort, of decaturville, Tenn; we was assoated with Mr. J.M. Hill he read the Bible, to us, and talked to us, about our soles, and, all so Read To Us in St. Mathews the 10th Chapter and the, 26 Verce, that thire was nothing covered but, what would, be uncovered and nothing hid what would, be knowen and, he talked to us about telling the truth at the blessed Jesues, said that to tell the truth and, bleave the truth and it would make us, free and we do know that we did a great rong but god has forvie us, as Mr, Hill, had us us to go to god and, he has forgive us, and now we with up stretched, ormes, ask the clemences, and mercies, of, the, People, and, the, cort, to do all the cane, for, us, as we, air both maried boyes and, i Georg Shelton aire onley 18 yares, old. and, never, Had, the, chence, to go to school and raised up by a Good Fother. And, Oh, My, Der, ole, Mother, and my, Wife, and, Little, Baby! If, i, Had Onley of, Knowen at the start what all this would of, cause, me, i would Not, of done, it, for aney amount, of, Money, But, Mr, Lige Scott, tole, me to; That ole Ben ort to be, Killed, and got, out, of, the neighborhood. And John Bailey, is, A Brothernlaw of, George Shelton, and, is 24, yares, old, and His Parints, Died, when he was a Little Boy, and, he, was raised up heare and, yonder, and, kik from Piller, to Post and, we Both, have, no Egacation, and never relised what a black Path, of, sin we have been travling, till Mr. J.M. Hill, Read, the Bible to us, And Praid, for and with us, and then we begin to Relise what we had done.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,Pelf,Tennessee,USA

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1882: Sandy Mathews, in Memphis

Add comment June 2nd, 2016 Headsman

From the June 3, 1882 Chicago Tribune:

Six Thousand People Present at the Execution of Sandy Mathews.

MEMPHIS, Tenn., June 2 — Sandy Mathews, colored, who murdered Essick Polk, colored, twele miles north of this city last October, was hanged in the county-jail yard this afternoon at 1 o’clock. The execution was witnessed by fully 6,000 people, a majority of whom were colored. The condemned man made a speech from the gallows, in which he confessed the killing, and implored his hearers to repent of their sins and go with him to Heaven. His neck was broken by the fall.

THE GALLOWS

had been erected in the southern portion of the jail-yard and was built high enough to give a full view to the ccrowd that jammed the streets running parallel with the jail. Matthews [sic] slept well last night, and partook of a hearty breakfast this morning. He bade farewell to his wife about 11 o’clock, and began making preparations for the hanging. A few weeks ago he embraced Catholicism, and was attended in his cell by the Rev. Father Lucius, of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. He called for his dinner at noon, and ate heartily, and afterwards smoked a cigar. At half-past 12 o’clock he was brought from his cell and conveyed to the scaffold, where he addressed the crowd for twenty minutes in

A DISCONNECTED SPEECH,

confessing to having killed Polk, and at the same time imploring his hearers to repent of their sins ere too late, and be forgiven, as he had done. He then knelt and repeated the Lord’s Prayer, after which the Rev. Father Lucius said the prayers for the dying. The condemned man was handcuffed, and his arms, and legs, and ankles strapped. The black cap was adjusted, and, as he uttered the words

“FAREWELL FRIENDS, FAREWELL WORLD,”

the drop was sprung, and his body shot down. His neck was broken by the fall, and ther was but very slight convulsions of the body. During the speech many of the colored people responded to his implorations by shouting, “Bless the Lord, Amen.” Sandy Mathews killed Essick Polk for having enticed his wife from him. He struck him three blows with an ax. Several hours afterwards he took the dead remains and buried them in a field near his house. The hole not being large enough, he chopped the dead body in pieces, and thus buried them. The crime was kept concealed for five months, but revealed by a stepdaughter of Mathews, who was the only witness to the killing, and upon whose testimony he was convicted. Gov. Hawkins was appealed to, but declined to interfere with the sentence of the lower court, which was afterwards confirmed by the Supreme Court.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Tennessee,USA

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