Posts filed under 'Pelf'

1951: John Dand

Add comment June 12th, 2020 Headsman

John Dand hanged at Manchester’s Strangeways Prison on this date in 1951 — because of spat over £3.

Dand and his victim, 72-year-old Walter Wyld, lived near one another in York. When Wyld was found stabbed to death with no sign of forced entry late the night of January 27, 1951, correspondence in his home indicated that he’d been expecting a visit from John Dand, the son of a former neighbor who owed him the sum in question. The equivalent present-day value of that sum is a bit under £100.

Dand had bloodstained trousers, a fake alibi, and no capacity to keep to a story under interrogation. It wasn’t long before he admitted the murder, which he then tried to un-admit. As the the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page notes,

Dand withdrew his confession and pleaded not guilty at his trial at Leeds before Mr. Justice Gorman on 23rd to the 26th of April. His defence was that he was not physically capable of killing Mr. Wyld, who although much older, was a very fit ex Rugby League player. Unsurprisingly the jury were not impressed with this argument as Dand was 5′ 9″ tall and of average build.

The hanging was carried out by Albert Pierrepoint and Harry Allen. Prisoner 10117, Dand, weighed 147 lbs. and was given a drop of 7′ 7″. The LPC4 form records that there were no physical peculiarities that would affect the drop, but that it was given at the “discretion of the executioner”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf

Tags: , , , , ,

1868: Thomas Griffin, gold commissioner

Add comment June 1st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1868, disgraced Australian gold commissioner Thomas Griffin was hanged for murdering two police escorts in the course of a robbery.

He was an Irish-born constable who parlayed decorated service in the Crimean War into emigration to Australia.

There he lodged himself in the policing ranks and by dint of energy and charm worked his way up by late 1863 to the administrative post of gold commissioner in the emerging gold rush boom town of Clermont, Queensland.

“During his four years’ residence at Clermont, Griffin became widely known in the district,” according to The Early History of Rockhampton by a working journalist who knew Griffin, J.T.S. Bird.

In addition to being physically a fine manly-looking fellow, he had a very suave and attractive manner, and readily gained the favour and friendship of those whom he desired to stand well with.* To those under him he was as a rule distant and overbearing, and was by no means well liked … Ostentation and vanity, with a fondness for display, were leading traits of his character, and were noticeable to all who knew him.

One index of his no means well-likedness was the community petition that deposed him from his post in September 1867. It seems that Griffin had formed a reputation as “despotic, arbitrary and partial,” made himself a fixture of gambling dens, and had been investigated for embezzling mining revenues that he was supposed to hold in trust.

Demoted to a lower position in the same bureau in nearby Rockhampton, Griffin immediately vindicated his critics by arranging to accompany the next “gold escort” transporting valuables between Clermont and Rockhampton, along with troopers Patrick Cahill and John Power. En route, Griffin gunned the two men down by surprise on the Mackenzie River, making off with about £4000 in notes (not gold). He then unconvincingly presented himself back in Rockhampton as having separated naturally from the party, surprised as anyone that the other two hadn’t returned. Although he participated in the initial search, he was arrested within days.

Bird has a lengthy narrative of the investigation and trial; one notable aspect was early forensic experimentation with shooting sheeps’ skulls in an attempt to model the damage done by the gunshots received by the unfortunate guards — further to demonstrating that they were murdered execution-style at close range rather than shot from a distance as a wilderness brigand might do.

Suffice to say that no matter the spattering of ruminant brains, Griffin’s foul reputation made his pretense of innocence completely untenable, even though he continued it all the way to the gallows.

After a prayer at the foot of the scaffold, Griffin stood up and Mr. Smith said:

I shall meet you at the judgment seat of God; you have but a few minutes to live, and in the sight of God who is to judge between us all, I ask you will you not acknowledge your guilt?

Griffin drew himself up and said in a resolute voice, “No!”

He went up the first of the scaffold steps two or three at a time, finishing the remainder with a firm step. Stepping on the drop, he came promptly to “attention.” Griffin told the executioner [John Hutton] he had nothing to give him, but if he saw Mr. Brown he would give him something. The hangman then asked if Griffin had anything to confess.

Griffin replied in a firm voice: “No, I have nothing to confess!”

The white cap was placed in position, and Griffin, as though impatient at any delay, said: “Go on, I am ready!” The bolt was drawn, and death followed instantly.

Griffin had frequently told Dr. Salmond and others that he would die with calm firmness, and he was as good as his word.

His was the first of nine executions recorded at Rockhampton Gaol. A week after the hanging, Griffin’s grave was robbed and his head stolen.

* One early indicator of the man’s character was his seduction of a wealthy widow on the very ship he took to Australia. After quickly dissipating her fortune, he parted ways with her by publishing a fake death notice in the newspaper.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Theft

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1701: Captain Kidd

Add comment May 23rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1701, the pirate William Kidd hanged at London’s Execution Dock; his body was afterwards gibbeted at Tilbury Port.

Alhough his famous buried treasure and its subsequent literary afterlife has helped make Kidd one of history’s best-known buccaneers, the man more closely resembles a startup entrepreneur … just a monumentally unlucky one.

The Scotsman had done well enough as a relatively legitimate privateer raiding enemy French ships to settle down in colonial Manhattan in the 1690s. He made a prosperous marriage to a wealthy widow, and for several years he dwelt as a respectable burgher who helped underwrite construction of the still-extant landmark Trinity Church.

Induced by whatever reason of restlessness or cupidity, Kidd in 1696 came to captain the venture that would be his undoing: the voyage of the aptly if unimaginatively christened Adventure Galley. Backed by a who’s who of Whig worthies up to and including the king himself, Kidd set out for the Indian Ocean bearing letters of marque that authorized him not only to prey on the French, but to attack “Pirates, Freebooters, and Sea Rovers,” which is like when Willie Sutton explained that he robbed banks because that’s where the money is.

The adventure flopped owing to the galley’s singular infelicity with locating suitable prizes. As 1697 stretched into 1698, there grew the prospect of ruin and the discontent of the crew — who, like Kidd’s investors, would only be paid out of such loot as their ship could capture. Desperation drove Kidd to increasingly reckless attacks against unauthorized targets, most notoriously an Armenian-owned merchantman called the Quedagh Merchant, heavy with trade goods owned by an Indian nobleman well-connected to London through the Mughal court. Kidd would argue that French passes purchased by that ship’s English captain made this a legal prize, but you can’t muddle high statecraft and big business on legal chicaneries. In English eyes he had by this and several other incidents gone the full pirate himself; on top of that, he also fatally bashed a truculent gunner about the head, which added charges of murder to his eventual indictment.

Kidd’s career ended in the New World where his reputation as a criminal hunted by the English Navy precluded protection — everywhere from the Caribbean to his own former haunts in the North American colonies. Eventually it was the Earl of Bellomont (who was also governor of New York) who clapped Kidd in irons, possibly concerned to display a profligacy of zeal lest his own early sponsorship of Kidd’s disastrous mission redound against Bellomont himself. Kidd’s unsuccessful attempt to bargain with his patron turned jailer using the promise of hidden pirate booty is one source of the legends that have followed his name down the years.

Another source is the public and greatly protracted nature of the proceedings against Captain Kidd. It was nearly two years from his arrest to his execution, an age that saw him returned to England and examined personally by Parliament — product of an attempt by Tories to tar their political rivals with the association.

Kidd for his own part pleaded innocence and wrote plaintive letters to the king from his stinking cell in Newgate, to no avail. “It is a very hard Sentence,” he reproached the judge upon hearing his fate. “For my part, I am the innocentest Person of them all, only I have been sworn against by perjured Persons.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Infamous,Murder,Pelf,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions

Tags: , , , , ,

1935: John Stephenson Bainbridge, ten-minute alibi

Add comment May 9th, 2020 Headsman

The defense attempted to show that Bainbridge could not have committed the crime because Mr. Herdman’s daughter stated in court that she and Bainbridge left her father in the house at 7.55pm and testified that the clock was 10 minutes fast. Herdman was supposed to be murdered between 7.50 and 9.50pm. The judge noted that if that were true and the clock were not fast then Bainbridge was innocent. The is why the case was known as the “Ten Minute Alibi”.

-From the May 9, 2020 Facebook post of the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page. Click through for a lovely photo in the comments of the crime scene, in present day.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Soldiers

Tags: , , ,

1328: Pierre de Remi, royal treasurer

Add comment April 25th, 2020 Headsman

French royal treasurer Pierre de Remi was hanged on the Montfaucon gibbet on this date in 1328.*

A commoner made good, Pierre de Remi ascended, descended, and finally depended with the chance fortunes of his courtly protectors.

He couldn’t say that he ought not have seen it coming. As the trusted aide of Louis of Navarre, our Pierre took the helm of the royal treasury after that man ascended the throne as Louis X, upon which occasion the new king executed dad’s faithful treasurer on spurious charges to appease his factional rivals.

Death came at this crowd fast, for Pierre de Remi had only a few months in his post before Louis X also shuffled off the mortal coil — and the treasurer was promptly sacked (but at least not killed) by his successor. No problem: Pierre de Remi just cozied up to the new king’s younger brother and waited for a bout of dysentery to turn over the succession card once again.*

When this young man attained the crown as Charles IV at the age of 27 and immediately reinstated Pierre de Remi as Treasurer of France, the latter must have clapped himself on the back for playing the long game expertly. Now to reap the rewards: a lucrative seigneury, sinecures for his kids, lands and luxuries of every description. Under the aegis of his royal patron, he’d set up his family for a good long — wait, it says here that King Charles died suddenly in February 1328.

With the surprise executive turnover, all of Pierre’s easily peculation became the indictment to hang him — to offer him to the ire of a populace whose currency he had painfully devalued. Per the Chronique latine de Guillaume de Nangis, he

had been accused by many people of having in many circumstances made unfaithful use of the king’s property and of several pieces of furniture and buildings; so that many and important people maintained that his prodigious spoliations had raised the value of his goods to more than twelve hundred thousand pounds. As he possessed an immense treasure, he was summoned to account for his management; and having been unable to find any satisfactory answer, he was condemned to be hanged. Being near the gibbet, in Paris, he confessed that he had betrayed the king and the kingdom in Gascogne; that is why, because of this confession, he was tied to the tail of the horse which had brought him to the gallows; and immediately dragged the small gibbet to a large gibbet which he had recently had himself made, and of which he is said to have given the workers the plan with great care, he was the first to be hanged there. It is by just judgment that the laborer collects the fruit of his work. He was hanged on April 25, the feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist, in the year 1328.

* While the boys in this family kept dying young, their “she-wolf” of a sister, Isabella, cast a long shadow over England.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Pelf,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,The Worm Turns,Theft

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1577: Eight English Gypsies condemned

Add comment April 18th, 2020 Headsman

The influx into Great Britain from the start of the 16th century of itinerant Romani — also known as Romanichal, English Travellers,* or (for their supposed Egyptian ancestry**) Gypsies — began the outbreaks of racism and moral panic that continue to this day.

April 18, 1577 marks the condemnation of six Gypsies: the date that sentence was executed — there’s little reason to suppose it would have been stayed — is not specifically recorded.. They’d forged official documents, which made them liable to a treason charge; but, merely being a Gypsy in England had been criminalized by a 1530 Act and the penalty of this crime upgraded to death in 1554.

“[A]n outlandish people, calling themselves Egyptians, using no craft nor feat of merchandise, who have come into this realm, and gone from shire to shire, and place to place, in great company; and used great subtlety and crafty means to deceive the people — bearing them in hand that they, by palmistry, could tell men’s and women’s fortunes; and so, many times, by craft and subtlety, have deceived the people for their money; and also have committed many heinous felonies and robberies, to the great hurt and deceit of the people that they have come among,” runs the description of the 1530 Act. Similar legislation was being promulgated all around continental Europe in this same period.

In practice neither law triggered wholesale genocide or expulsion, but lurking at the fringes of settled English habitation and bearing the stigma of crime and deviance, Romani stood in perpetual precarity. Little wonder that many became buyers in a black market of forged documents confirming their legitimate occupation. In this case, six Gypsies were apprehended in Berkshires in March 1577 making use of the counterfeit products of a Cheshire schoolmaster named Richard Massey.

Massey was lucky himself not to swing for this offense. The Gypsies, less so; according to David Cressy

Their leaders were tried to Aylesbury for high treason, for falsifying warrants under the Great Seal, though one, Philip Bastien, was set aside ‘because he may give evidence against others’. Roland Gabriel, Thomas Gabriel, William Gabriel, Lawrence Bannister, Christopher Jackson, George Jackson, Richard Jackson, and the widow Katherine Deago were all found guilty of ‘counterfeiting, transferring, and altering themselves in dress, language, and behaviour to such vagabonds called Egyptians, contrary to statute’. All were sentenced to be hanged, though whether all went to the gallows is uncertain. Katherine Deago was most likely reprieved, for a Gypsy with that name appeared in Essex a year later.

* Not to be conflated with Irish Travellers, who are of different heritage. The distinction is fraught political terrain in the U.K.

** Actually, this ethnic group hails from India, migrating thence around the 11th century.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Uncertain Dates

Tags: , ,

1892: Louis Anastay, “I wish to mount the scaffold”

Add comment April 9th, 2020 Headsman

Louis Anastay was guillotined on this date in 1892.

The young army lieutenant, catching word of a windfall coming to a wealthy benefactress of his named baroness Dellard, assailed and left for dead both the lady and her servant in December 1891. (The servant survived; Dellard did not.) As the accused described it to a courtroom all aghast:

Yes, I entered; — I chatted with her; — and then I struck, –. Ah! you do not know what it is to have struck your fellow creature with a knife. I have always Madame Dellard before my eyes. I have committed a crime; — not only as an officer have I committed faults, but I have committed a crime against society; — I demand to expiate it; — I accept the responsibility; — I wish to mount the scaffold.

Sensational enough in its time that “the scum of Parisians” were jostling for sightlines to the guillotine for full two days before the blade fell, Anastay rates a passing reference in the anarchist Ravachol‘s secret courtroom address among several criminals notorious for their cupidity. (“We will no longer see men like Pranzini, Prado, Berland, Anastay and others who kill in order to have [gold].”)

According to medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris, Anastay invited his brother to attend his beheading and attempt to interact with his severed head as part of the age-old quest to prove that life subsists a few moments after decapitation. There’s no indication that any such experiment actually took place, however.

As a strange coda of compounded tragedy, that very brother, Leon Anastay by name, was himself murdered in a lovers’ quarrel in 1907.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Soldiers

Tags: , , , ,

1689: Gabriel Milan, Danish West Indies governor

Add comment March 26th, 2020 Headsman

Gabriel Milan, the governor of the Danish West Indies, was beheaded on Copenhagen’s Nytorv Square on this date in 1689.

Born to an emigre family of former Marranos that had resumed open Judaism, Milan (English Wikipedia entry | Danish) was a cavalryman turned merchantman married to the daughter of one of Europe’s most prominent Jewish scholars.

Well-connected in the court of Prince George of Denmark, Milan in 1684 was tapped to govern the struggling nascent sugar colony of the Danish West Indies — the islands of Saint Thomas, Saint John, and Saint Croix that have comprised the U.S. Virgin Islands since Denmark sold the money pits off in 1917.

There he proved to be a pettifogging despot who was noxious to the island’s planters and conspicuous about exploiting his office to fatten his own coffers. His incompetent predecessor, who was only supposed to be sent back to the mother country, Milan instead clapped in a dungeon. Even his brutal treatment of slaves — using impalement for an execution! — shocked peers accustomed to a different spectrum of cruelty.

“I wish for my part that your Excellency could have been here a single day and heard what thundering there has been in the commission, with howling, shouting, and screaming, one against the other,” the official reporter noted. “God be thanked it is over.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Politicians,Public Executions,US Virgin Islands

Tags: , , , ,

1889: Jessie King, the last woman hanged in Edinburgh

Add comment March 11th, 2020 Headsman

Jessie King, the last woman executed in Edinburgh, was hanged on this date in 1889.

She was a practitioner of that distinctive late Victorian industry of baby farming: for a few pounds (literally just £2 to &pound5;) King adopted illegitimate children from pregnant working-class girls who couldn’t bear the financial or reputational cost of rearing them, with the promise of moving them on to loving homes that was often a reality of shuffling them off this mortal coil — either via neglect or outright homicide.

This particular operation was detected when some youths found a bundle where she’d hidden one such body, and a raid upon the apartment King shared with the much older Thomas Pearson revealed two more dead adoptees. Pearson, who could have easily been construed as the prime mover in this operation, was suffered to turn crown’s evidence, and save his own neck by stretching his lover’s. That wasn’t all she was up against in the courtroom: she also faced the adverse medical testimony of Dr. Joseph Bell, notable as the inspiration for the literary Sherlock Holmes character.

Contemporaries doubted King’s mental health, and she attempted suicide to cheat the hangman. Her Catholic confessor unsuccessfully appealed for clemency with the suggestion that she’d been steered into her crimes by the domineering Pearson.

To save Pearson she made the statement which has done her so much injury. She now declares that he in one of the cases did the deed and in the other two, he stood near directing and guiding her in the administration of the [whisky] …

It seems a more likely solution of this terrible crime that this hard-hearted man and unfaithful husband — an aged man! was there directing the unsteady and clumsy hand of a poor woman he had made his slave.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Pelf,Scotland,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1892: The People’s Grocery Lynchings of Memphis

Add comment March 9th, 2020 Ida Wells

(Thanks to the nails-tough journalist Ida Wells for the guest post on the March 9, 1892 triple lynching in Memphis, Tennessee, of African American grocers Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart. Born a slave in Mississippi, Wells was in Memphis at this point running the black newspaper Free Press, which figures in the story; the victims, too, were personal friends of hers, particularly Tommie Moss to whose daughter Ida Wells stood godmother. The event is known as the Peoples’s Grocery Lynchings or the Lynchings at the Curve, and as will be seen from Wells’s piece it’s a rich cross-section of American pathologies. It’s also one that reshaped Wells’s entire life: she became the nation’s most ferocious anti-lynching crusader. This text is excerpted from a long address Wells delivered in Boston on February 13, 1893 titled “Lynch Law in All its Phases” — which was also the title of an anti-lynching pamphlet she was circulating. (Find the address and much more in this Ida Wells document archive.) She never returned to Memphis. -ed.)

We had nice homes, representatives in almost every branch of business and profession, and refined society. We had learned that helping each other helped all, and every well-conducted business by Afro-Americans prospered. With all our proscription in theatres, hotels and on railroads, we had never had a lynching* and did not believe we could have one. There had been lynchings and brutal outrages of all sorts in our own state and those adjoining us, but we had confidence and pride in our city and the majesty of its laws. So far in advance of other Southern cities was ours, we were content to endure the evils we had, to labor and wait.

But there was a rude awakening. On the morning of March 9, the bodies of three of our best young men were found in an old field horribly shot to pieces. These young men had owned and operated the People’s Grocery, situated at what was known as the Curve — a suburb made up almost entirely of colored people — about a mile from city limits. Thomas Moss, one of the oldest letter-carriers in the city, was president of the company, Calvin McDowell was manager and Will Stewart was a clerk. There were about ten other stockholders, all colored men. The young men were well known and popular and their business flourished, and that of Barrett, a white grocer who kept store there before the “People’s Grocery” was established, went down. One day an officer came to the “People’s Grocery” and inquired for a colored man who lived in the neighborhood, and for whom the officer had a warrant. Barrett was with him and when McDowell said he knew nothing as to the whereabouts of the man for whom they were searching, Barrett, not the officer, then accused McDowell of harboring the man, and McDowell gave the lie. Barrett drew his pistol and struck McDowell with it; thereupon McDowell, who was a tall, fine-looking six-footer, took Barrett’s pistol from him, knocked him down and gave him a good thrashing, while Will Stewart, the clerk, kept the special officer at bay. Barrett went to town, swore out a warrant for their arrest on a charge of assault and battery. McDowell went before the Criminal Court, immediately gave bond and returned to his store. Barrett then threatened (to use his own words) that he was going to clean out the whole store. Knowing how anxious he was to destroy their business, these young men consulted a lawyer who told them they were justified in defending themselves if attacked, as they were a mile beyond city limits and police protection. They accordingly armed several of their friends — not to assail, but to resist the threatened Saturday night attack.

When they saw Barrett enter the front door and a half dozen men at the rear door at 11 o’clock that night, they supposed the attack was on and immediately fired into the crowd wounding three men. These men, dressed in citizens’ clothes, turned out to be deputies who claimed to be hunting another man for whom they had a warrant, and whom any one of them could have arrested without trouble. When these men found they had fired upon officers of the law, they threw away their firearms and submitted to arrest, confident they should establish their innocence of intent to fire upon officers of the law. The daily papers in flaming headlines roused the evil passions of the whites, denounced these poor boys in unmeasured terms, nor permitted them a word in their own defense.


Headline and excerpt from the Appeal-Avalanche of March 9, 1892.

The neighborhood of the Curve was searched next day, and about thirty persons were thrown into jail, charged with conspiracy. No communication was to be had with friends any of the three days these men were in jail; bail was refused and Thomas Moss was not allowed to eat the food his wife prepared for him. The judge is reported to have said, “Any one can see them after three days.” They were seen after three days, but they were no longer able to respond to the greeting of friends. On Tuesday following the shooting at the grocery, the papers which had made much of the sufferings of the wounded deputies, and promised it would go hard with those who did the shooting, if they died, announced that the officers were all out of danger, and would recover. The friends of the prisoners breathed more easily and relaxed their vigilance. They felt that as the officers would not die, there was no danger that in the heat of passion the prisoners would meet violent death at the hands of the mob. Besides, we had such confidence in the law. But the law did not provide capital punishment for shooting which did not kill. So the mob did what the law could not be made to do, as a lesson to the Afro-American that he must not shoot a white man, — no matter what the provocation. The same night after the announcement was made in the papers that the officers would get well, the mob, in obedience to a plan known to every prominent white man in the city, went to the jail between two and three o’clock in the morning, dragged out these young men, hatless and shoeless, put them on the yard engine of the railroad which was in waiting just behind the jail, carried them a mile north of city limits and horribly shot them to death while the locomotive at a given signal let off steam and blew the whistle to deaden the sound of the firing.

“It was done by unknown men,” said the jury, yet the Appeal-Avalanche, which goes to press at 3 a.m., had a two-column account of the lynching. The papers also told how McDowell got hold of the guns of the mob, and as his grasp could not be loosened, his hand was shattered with a pistol ball and all the lower part of his face was torn away. There were four pools of blood found and only three bodies. It was whispered that he, McDowell, killed one of the lynchers with his gun, and it is well known that a policeman who was seen on the street a few days previous to the lynching, died very suddenly the next day after.

“It was done by unknown parties,” said the jury, yet the papers told how Tom Moss begged for his life, for the sake of his wife, his little daughter and his unborn infant. They also told us that his last words were, “If you will kill us, turn our faces to the West.”

All this we learned too late to save these men, even if the law had not been in the hands of their murderers. When the colored people realized that the flower of our young manhood had been stolen away at night and murdered, there was a rush for firearms to avenge the wrong, but no house would sell a colored man a gun; the armory of the Tennessee Rifles, our only colored military company, and of which McDowell was a member, was broken into by order of the Criminal Court judge, and its guns taken. One hundred men and irresponsible boys from fifteen years and up were armed by order of the authorities and rushed out to the Curve, where it was reported that the colored people were massing, and the point of the bayonet dispersed these men who could do nothing but talk. The cigars, wines, etc., of the grocery stock were freely used by the mob, who possessed the place on pretence of dispersing the conspiracy. The money drawer was broken into and contents taken. The trunk of Calvin McDowell, who had a room in the store, was broken open, and his clothing, which was not good enough to take away, was thrown out and trampled on the floor.

These men were murdered, their stock was attached by creditors and sold for less than one-eighth of its cost to that same man Barrett, who is to-day running his grocery in the same place. He had indeed kept his word, and by aid of the authorities destroyed the People’s Grocery Company root and branch. The relatives of Will Stewart and Calvin McDowell are bereft of their protectors. The baby daughter of Tom Moss, too young to express how she misses her father, toddles to the wardrobe, seizes the legs of the trousers of his letter-carrier uniform, hugs and kisses them with evident delight and stretches up her little hands to be taken up into the arms which will nevermore clasp his daughter’s form. His wife holds Thomas Moss, Jr., in her arms, upon whose unconscious baby face the tears fall thick and fast when she is thinking of the sad fate of the father he will never see, and of the two helpless children who cling to her for the support she cannot give. Although these men were peaceable, law-abiding citizens of this country, we are told there can be no punishment for their murderers nor indemnity for their relatives.

I have no power to describe the feeling of horror that possessed every member of the race in Memphis when the truth dawned upon us that the protection of the law which we had so long enjoyed was no longer ours; all this had been destroyed in a night, and the barriers of the law had been thrown down, and the guardians of the public peace and confidence scoffed away into the shadows, and all authority given into the hands of the mob, and innocent men cut down as if they were brutes — the first feeling was one of utter dismay, then intense indignation. Vengeance was whispered from ear to ear, but sober reflection brought the conviction that it would be extreme folly to seek vengeance when such action meant certain death for the men, and horrible slaughter for the women and children, as one of the evening papers took care to remind us. The power of the State, country and city, the civil authorities and the strong arm of the military power were all on the side of the mob and of lawlessness. Few of our men possessed firearms, our only company’s guns were confiscated, and the only white man who would sell a colored man a gun, was himself jailed, and his store closed. We were helpless in our great strength. It was our first object lesson in the doctrine of white supremacy; an illustration of the South’s cardinal principle that no matter what the attainments, character or standing of an Afro-American, the laws of the South will not protect him against a white man.

There was only one thing we could do, and a great determination seized upon the people to follow the advice of the martyred Moss, and “turn our faces to the West,”** whose laws protect all alike. The Free Speech supported by our ministers and leading business men advised the people to leave a community whose laws did not protect them. Hundreds left on foot to walk four hundred miles between Memphis and Oklahoma. A Baptist minister went to the territory, built a church, and took his entire congregation out in less than a month. Another minister sold his church and took his flock to California, and still another has settled in Kansas. In two months, six thousand persons had left the city and every branch of [white] business began to feel this silent resentment of the outrage, and failure of the authorities to punish the lynchers. There were a number of business failures and blocks of houses were for rent. The superintendent and treasurer of the street railway company called at the office of the Free Speech, to have us urge the colored people to ride again on the street cars. A real estate dealer said to a colored man who returned some property he had been buying on the installment plan: “I don’t see what you ‘niggers’ are cutting up about. You got off light. We first intended to kill every one of those thirty-one ‘niggers’ in jail, but concluded to let all go but the ‘leaders.'” They did let all go to the penitentiary. These so-called rioters have since been tried in the Criminal Court for the conspiracy of defending their property, and are now serving terms of three, eight, and fifteen years each in the Tennessee State prison.

To restore the equilibrium and put a stop to the great financial loss, the next move was to get rid of the Free Speech, — the disturbing element which kept the waters troubled; which would not let the people forget, and in obedience to whose advice nearly six thousand persons had left the city. In casting about for an excuse, the mob found it in the following editorial which appeared in the Memphis Free Speech, — May 21, 1892:

Eight negroes lynched in one week. Since last issue of the Free Speech one was lynched at Little Rock, Ark., where the citizens broke into the penitentiary and got their man; three near Anniston, Ala., and one in New Orleans, all on the same charge, the new alarm of assaulting white women — and three near Clarksville, Ga., for killing a white man. The same program of hanging — then shooting bullets into the lifeless bodies was carried out to the letter. Nobody in this section of the country believes the old threadbare lie that negro men rape white women. If Southern white men are not careful they will overreach themselves, and public sentiment will have a reaction. A conclusion will then be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women.

Commenting on this, The Daily Commercial of Wednesday following said:

Those negroes who are attempting to make lynching of individuals of their race a means for arousing the worst passions of their kind, are playing with a dangerous sentiment. The negroes may as well understand that there is no mercy for the negro rapist, and little patience with his defenders. A negro organ printed in this city in a recent issue publishes the following atrocious paragraph: ‘Nobody in this section believes the old threadbare lie that negro men rape white women. If Southern white men are not careful they will overreach themselves and public sentiment will have a reaction. A conclusion will be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women.’ The fact that a black scoundrel is allowed to live and utter such loathsome and repulsive calumnies is a volume of evidence as to the wonderful patience of Southern whites. There are some things the Southern white man will not tolerate, and the obscene intimation of the foregoing has brought the writer to the very uttermost limit of public patience. We hope we have said enough.

The Evening Scimitar of the same day copied this leading editorial and added this comment:

Patience under such circumstances is not a virtue. If the negroes themselves do not apply the remedy without delay, it will be the duty of those he has attacked, to tie the wretch who utters these calumnies to a stake at the intersection of Main and Madison streets, brand him in the forehead with a hot iron and —

Such open suggestions by the leading daily papers of the progressive city of Memphis were acted upon by the leading citizens and a meeting was held at the Cotton Exchange that evening. The Commercial two days later had the following account of it:

ATROCIOUS BLACKGUARDISM.

There will be no Lynching and no Repetition of the Offense.

In its issue of Wednesday The Commercial reproduced and commented upon an editorial which appeared a day or two before in a negro organ known as the Free Speech. The article was so insufferable and indecently slanderous that the whole city awoke to a feeling of intense resentment which came within an ace of culminating in one of those occurrences whose details are so eagerly seized and so prominently published by Northern newspapers. Conservative counsels, however, prevailed, and no extreme measures were resorted to. On Wednesday afternoon a meeting of citizens was held. It was not an assemblage of hoodlums or irresponsible fire-eaters, but solid, substantial business men who knew exactly what they were doing and who were far more indignant at the villainous insult to the women of the South than they would have been at any injury done themselves. This meeting appointed a committee to seek the author of the infamous editorial and warn him quietly that upon repetition of the offense he would find some other part of the country a good deal safer and pleasanter place of residence than this. The committee called on a negro preacher named Nightingale, but he disclaimed responsibility and convinced the gentlemen that he had really sold out his paper to a woman named Wells. This woman is not in Memphis at present. It was finally learned that one Fleming, a negro who was driven out of Crittenden Co. [the Arkansas county facing Memphis across the Mississippi River -ed.] during the trouble there a few years ago, wrote the paragraph. He had, however, heard of the meeting, and fled from a fate which he feared was in store for him, and which he knew he deserved. His whereabouts could not be ascertained, and the committee so reported. Later on, a communication from Fleming to a prominent Republican politician, and that politician’s reply were shown to one or two gentlemen. The former was an inquiry as to whether the writer might safely return to Memphis, the latter was an emphatic answer in the negative, and Fleming is still in hiding. Nothing further will be done in the matter. There will be no lynching, and it is very certain there will be no repetition of the outrage. If there should be —

Friday, May 25.

The only reason there was no lynching of Mr. Fleming who was business manager and half owner of the Free Speech, and who did not write the editorial, was because this same white Republican told him the committee was coming, and warned him not to trust them, but get out of the way. The committee scoured the city hunting him, and had to be content with Mr. Nightingale who was dragged to the meeting, shamefully abused (although it was known he had sold out his interest in the paper six months before). He was struck in the face and forced at the pistol’s point to sign a letter which was written by them, in which he denied all knowledge of the editorial, denounced and condemned it as slander on white women. I do not censure Mr. Nightingale for his action because, having never been at the pistol’s point myself, I do not feel that I am competent to sit in judgment on him, or say what I would do under such circumstances.

I had written that editorial with other matter for the week’s paper before leaving home the Friday previous for the General Conference of the A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia. Conference adjourned Tuesday, and Thursday, May 25, at 3 p.m., I landed in New York City for a few days’ stay before returning home, and there learned from the papers that my business manager had been driven away and the paper suspended. Telegraphing for news, I received telegrams and letters in return informing me that the trains were being watched, that I was to be dumped into the river and beaten, if not killed; it had been learned that I wrote the editorial and I was to be hanged in front of the court-house and my face bled if I returned, and I was implored by my friends to remain away. The creditors attacked the office in the meantime and the outfit was sold without more ado, thus destroying effectually that which it had taken years to build. One prominent insurance agent publicly declares he will make it his business to shoot me down on sight if I return to Memphis in twenty years, while a leading white lady had remarked she was opposed to the lynching of those three men in March, but she wished there was some way by which I could be gotten back and lynched. I have been censured for writing that editorial, but when I think of five men who were lynched that week for assault on white women and that not a week passes but some poor soul is violently ushered into eternity on this trumped up charge, knowing the many things I do, and part of which tried to tell in the New York Age of June 25, (and in the pamphlets I have with me) seeing that the whole race in the South was injured in the estimation of the world because of these false reports, I could no longer hold my peace, and I feel, yes, I am sure, that if it had to be done over again (provided no one else was the loser save myself) I would do and say the very same again. The lawlessness here described is not confined to one locality. In the past ten years over a thousand colored men, women and children have been butchered, murdered and burnt in all parts of the South. The details of these terrible outrages seldom reach beyond the narrow world where they occur. Those who commit the murders write the reports, and hence these blots upon the honor of a nation cause but a faint ripple on the outside world. They arouse no great indignation and call forth no adequate demand for justice. The victims were black, and the reports are so written as to make it appear that the helpless creatures deserved the fate which overtook them.

A few books about and by Ida Wells

* Just six months prior to the events described in this post, a labor conflict in Lee County, Arkansas — just down the Mississippi and involving some Memphis workers — had been, in the words of an Arkansas Gazette headline, “Settled with Rope”.

** Many migrated to Oklahoma, which opened formerly reservation land to non-Indian settlement on April 19, 1892.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Lynching,No Formal Charge,Other Voices,Pelf,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Summary Executions,Tennessee,USA

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Previous Posts


Calendar

July 2020
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!