1797: Abraham Johnstone

Add comment July 8th, 2020 Abraham Johnstone

(Thanks for the guest post to Abraham Johnstone, who is … also the subject of the guest post. This was originally published, posthumously of course, as The Address of Abraham Johnstone, a Black Man, Who Was Hanged at Woodbury, in the County of Glocester, and State of New Jersey, on Saturday the the [sic] 8th Day of July Last; To the People of Colour. To Which Is Added His Dying Confession or Declaration. Also, a Copy of a Letter to His Wife, Written the Day Previous to His Execution. The original can be found here or here. -ed.)

TO THE PUBLIC.

As the trial, condemnation, and execution of Abraham Johnstone, a Black man, for the murder of Thomas Read, a Guinea Negro, has of late been the general subject of conversation, and is really what may be called a singularly uncommon and peculiar case, as there was not positive evidence of the fact; the proof being founded entirely on presumption, and that even not the most violent, it is presumed that the following pieces will not be unacceptable to the public. The more so as the address to his colour is a series of wholesome admonition, together with some general observations on the present situation of those of his colour &c.

His dying confession is a full and impartial account of himself from his birth unto the time of his execution. He having handed it out of the dungeon he was confined in, on the morning of his execution; before a number of truly respectable persons, and declared that all that was therein contained was the truth, and nothing but the truth, it among other par[ti]culars contains many circumstances respecting the crime for which he suffered not hitherto generally known, and which in justice both to society, and the deceased could not be suppressed: The copy of his letter to his wife is inserted merely to gratify the reader’s curiosity, and that by his having the whole of the pieces left by the unfortunate convict, before him, he may be enabled to form an opinion of the true character, and guilt of the man independent of the malignant assertions, and innumerable falsehoods that have been propagated on this occasion by prejudiced persons.

It must also be remarked that the account of his life is strongly corroborated by a Mulatto man and his wife, both of respectable characters, and now living in Haddonfield.

We must further add, that juries ought to be extremely cautious how they admit evidence founded solely on presumption to affect the life of a fellow creature and deprive society of a member: Proof of so vague and indeterminable nature, being too dangerous to be admitted in this country where I am sorry to say there is but too little regard paid to oaths, and the most glaring perjuries are suffered to pass with impunity; But it is also true that presumptive proof is necessary to be admitted sometimes, but then it should be the most violent, that ought in any wise be admitted to affect life, for that, once gone — can never be recalled. —

THE ADDRESS OF ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE.

Brethren,

IT is with a heart overflowing with love and humble hope in my God and Redeemer, and general benevolence, charity and good will to all mankind that I address you at this (to me, and not only to me but to all mankind) solemn important and truly aweful and momentous time, a time when I am on the verge of eternity, and that there is but a few short fleeting hours for me to remain in this world, and of that short time every moment spent by me even in addressing you my dear brethren, shortens.

Consider my dear friends, and brethren what a miserable and unhappy fate awaits me in a few days, consider what a truly unhappy miserable and melancholy spectacle I in a few short hours shall and inevitably must exhibit Being now a devoted victim to the just resentment of the laws of my country and the rules of society — just resentment — because, after a candid and impartial trial I have been convicted by a jury of my peers, twelve truly good and worthy men whose integrity and love of truth I so well know that had they not conceived themselves clear of all doubts and scruples, they would not have consigned a fellow creature to death, and to so ignominious a death — therefore their verdict having established a presumption of my guilt and my having not only transgressed the positive rules of society, but committed a crime of the blackest dye, a crime justly hateful odious and horrid in the sight both of God and man, I am to suffer death. —

Whether guilty or not guilty is a question that I will not enter upon or attempt to assert at this time, but will wait for a more tremendous and aweful moment, that moment when I am going to be ushered out of this vain frail world and to leave all earthly considerations and affections behind, and enter into a state of immortality, into a world where I shall meet my great Creator face to face, and there must answer for my transgressions while in this world of crosses and vexations before that all merciful almighty and omnipotent Judge who knoweth all hearts who knoweth all actions, and before whom no mortal prejudies nor delusory or malicious suggestions or representations can avail. It is then at that very moment when standing on the precipice from which at the very next instant I must be launched into a boundless eternity where I shall meet that all righteous and omnipotent Judge — then when my pitiable situation and the solemnity and horror of the spectable I shall be exhibiting shall add weight, and death shall give a sanction to my assertions, assertions that shall be sealed with my life, which the law claims forfeit and which to the law I give up as an atonement for any offence I may have been guilty of — Then at that aweful moment shall I declare my guilt or innocence in such a manner as to put it either [b]eyond all doubt or controversy: For tho’ at, this moment I declare my innocence, prejudiced people conceive such assertions to originate in subtuity saying that hope a pardon or reprieve while others attribute it to an unwillingness to confess the fact — both are alike mistaken for as to the first I neither hope, wish nor desire a pardon, being fully satisfied and prepared to die and death might perchance come at some other time when I should not be as well prepared to attend the summons of my dear Creator. Neither is there any thing in death so terrible on a nearer view. Who amongst you all that had a clear and just cause which you were honestly confident that ye should gain would be concerned at meeting before a magistrate on the day and time appointed in the summons? How much less can I regret the being summoned before my heavenly father and judge on the day and time appointed. Yes dear brethern with joy will I rush into the presence of my God and claim from him the reward that is due to my suffering in this life and which I firmly but without presumption hope to obtain, so that on that head I am perfectly at ease and have nothing to fear. As to the second head I have too perfect a knowledge of the attributes of my great Creator and Redeemer and too great a care for my salvation and future bliss, ever to rush into the presence of my Creator with an untruth gushing from my lips, and I must add without resentment or prejudice that my love for truth may have been as great as their’s that question my veracity. — And conceiving it a duty incumbent on me at this time to admonish and counsel you with respect both to your present and future welfare, which God knows has always been next my heart, for I ever and always took a lively interest and pride in forwarding the affairs and assisting all those of my colour, that I could, and had God been pleased to have spared me and granted me a length of days I fondly tho’ alas! vainly hoped to have rendered myself useful to all. But all these vain delusions those phantoms of the brain are now totally evanished, and on one side an horrid and ignominious death stares me in the face, and in a few hours will return this body to it’s kindred clay, while on the other side and but a little farther on I see the most glorious prospect open to me — and the outstretched arms of a merciful God open to receive me into the mansions of bliss and tranquility.

I then my dear friends and brethern take occasion from this, to call, and beg your attention to the following short but necessary council I now offer to you, and which will I hope be treasured up in your minds as the most proper repository, that after my dissolution, you in delivering it to your children, may give a sigh! and say, peace be with Abraham’s spirit — he deserved a better fate: Counsel which I not only think absolutely necessary to promote your prosperity and welfare, in this life, but essentially necessary to your future happiness as I shall direct it to such immediate points as I think most conducive to them two ends, to the thorough and perfect attainment of both of which ends all your thoughts words and actions should be directed, they being the only two and true sources from which real happiness either in this world or the world to come can spring.

In the first place then I most earnestly exhort and pray you, to be upright, and circumspect in your conduct; I must the more earnestly urge this particular from a combination of circumstances that at this juncture of time concur to make it of importance to our colour for my unfortunate unhappy fate however unmerited or undeserved, may by some ungenerous and illiberal minded persons, but particularly by those who appose the emancipation of those of our brethern who as yet are in slavery, be made a handle of in order to throw a shade over or cast a general reflection on all those of our colour, and the keen shafts of prejudice be launched against us by the most active and virulent malevolence: But such general reflections or sarcasms, will be only made by the low minded illiberal and sordid persons who are the enemies of our colour, and of freedom: and to them shall simply, answer that if the population throughout the United States be then taken, and then a list of all the executions therein be had, and compared therewith impartially, it will be found that as they claim a pre-eminence over us in every thing else, so we find they also have it in this particular, and that a vast majority of whites have died on the gallows when the population is accurately considered. A plain proof that there are some whites (with all due deference to them) capable of being equally as depraved and more generally so than blacks or people of colour.

Another circumstance that renders my fate peculiarly unhappy at this crisis, is that it happens at a time when every effort is using for a total emancipation of all our brethren in slavery within this state, and that by men of exalted spirit generosity and humanity–men whose bosoms glow with philanthrophy, good will to all mankind and a love of freedom that shews them to be actuated by the noblest of all motives, that first great principle in true religion, “do to all men as you would be done unto.” Men whose spirit rises indignant at seeing their fellow creatures whom God has created in his own likeness and endowed with immortality, held in bondage to each other, or that one human being shall have it in his power to torture and inflict innumerable pains and punishments such as his ingenuity may devise and as caprice may dictate to him on an unfortunate fellow creature who happens not to hold an equal rank in society with him, tho’ he undoubtedly does in creation and the eyes of the Almighty.

‘Tis thence my dear friends and brethern that I esteem it so peculiarly unfortunate, as it may be made a handle of to retard the truly laudable endeavours of such generous and worthy persons But no, I hope not, I am convinced that it cannot: for such a generous and noble work is too acceptable in the sight of God, and is founded on a basis too solid and firm to be at all shaken by such way-ward untoward or unfortunate and unforeseen accidents, as this proves to be, and as to the scoffs sneers and railings of the spitefully malicious or envious, let them consider but a moment that no man living knows what fate has in embryo for him to suffer, and that no man knows his length of days nor what moment death shall usher him into an endless eternity.

Permit me my dear brethern to express my sentiments more at large on this subject sentiments that I have long indulged myself in the enjoyment of, and sentiments which I firmly hope being delivered to you at this so very solemn time, when nature all patient and without regret is awa[i]ting in peace the fixed day of dissolution, when I shall for ever quit this world of crosses tribulations, and vexations — And in order to do it the more fully and satisfactorily I must beg your attention while I endeavour to point out the vissitudes of fortune our colour have generally encountered, from their first introduction into this country, as also the present hardships many of them endure at this moment tho’ we should all fervently bless God that they are but local, and also the very great blessings that some others enjoy in states where liberality of sentiment and philanthrophy pervades the bosoms of the meanest citizens.

This country was first discovered by the British in 4099. [The text really does read “4099”! -ed.] But they did not begin to people it by sending out colonies until 1606, and the first place they settled at, was a neck of land that run into Pawhatan river in Virginia, they called the place they settled at James Town in honour of the then king, and the river, James, for the same honorary reason. Shortly after religious dissentions caused very many to leave their native country and come hither with their families and goods where they might enjoy a liberty of conscience uncontroled and free from the danger of the religious persuasions that then raged in England. Those truly respectable emigrants settled in that part of this country now called New England, and named their first place of settlement New Plymouth, it was a very considerable time after before that part of Africa called Guinea was discovered, and a much longer time before they attempted to traffic in human beings, and tho’ at that time their earliest and best writers mentioned with abhorrence their cruelties to each other there, yet they did not hesitate to barter and traffic for them, as for other animals, and what is shocking to humanity to relate raise fortunes out of the price of blood, even in this country in latter years. I have known many a man continue the lawful offspring of his loins a slave during life, exposed to every hardship and cruelty because he was a mulatto. How very frivolous and vague an excuse, and such an one as implies the total want of natural feelings, or a total want of morality, for such persons whose ungovernable passions hurries them to the gratification of their gross apetites by a promiscuous intercourse, and carnal knowledge of the bodies of blacks, must either admit them to be human or themselves to be guilty of the most odious and enormous of all crimes, a crime that I blush to name — therefore shall leave it to your imaginations to supply the omission, and indeed I believe it to be an incontrovertible fact, that many of those people employed in that trade get the unfortunate creatures big with child, and then fell child mother and all in order to the enriching themselves by such inhuman and unprincipled means. The continual wars and dissentions between the Aborigines and the settlers left the settlers but little time to cultivate their lands, and besides they were too few to carry on husbandry with any sucess, at least not so extensively as to enable them to benefit themselves by trade in the staple commodities of the country, and Guinea Negroes having some short time before been introduced into the West Indies and found extremely serviceable, they were next introduced into this country for they having tried in vain to make slaves of the Aborigines, but having found all their attempts fruitless they next turned their thoughts to the importation of our colour, particularly to the southward, and it increased astonishingly until the colonies declared their independance, and from that time the importation annually decreased until at last the finishshing blow was given to that most inhuman and diabolical trade by an act of Congress, which expressly prohibits the further importation of negroes into any part of the United States, so that ever memorable era when the doctrine of non-resistance was exploded, the unalieneable rights of man were asserted, and the United States of America were delared sovereign free and independent, we may ascribe our present dawning hopes of universal freedom. It was then that the prospect of total emancipation from slavery which now begins to brighten upon us had birth, it was then that freedom, liberty, and the natural rights of mankind ennobled every sentiment, banished every slavish regard, and expanded the heart with every thing great noble and beneficent, the generous flame spread with rapidity, and communicated itself to every rank and degree; every bosom glowed with an emanated ardour emulative of its noble and exalted source, and all ages and persons, with transports unspeakable thronged around the standard of liberty — but still my dear brethren we were forgotten, or we were not conceived worthy their regard or attention, being looked on as a different species: Even the patriotic who stood forth the champions of liberty, and in asserting the natural rights of all mankind used the most perswasive eloquence the most powerful rhetoric and choicest language the rich treasury of words could afford, those who undauntedly stood forth day by day the advocates of liberty, at night would be cruel rigid and inexorable tyrants. How preposterously absurd must an impartial observer think the man whom he sees one moment declaring with a most incredible volubility in favour of natural rights and general freedom, and the next moment with his own hands for some very trivial offence inflicting the cruel and ignominious stripes of slavery, and riveting it’s shackles — surely in the eyes of any man of sense such conduct must be irreconcilable and just reason to doubt the soundness of his principles as a patriot and a lover of freedom, be given, for, that precept and practice could be so very contradictory, and a man to be in right earnest in the cause he undertakes, is not believed by any person: therefore it justly exposed them to the scoff and derision of their enemies both at home, and abroad, — The New England states first saw into that, or if they did not see into it first, they were the first that were noble minded, generous and disinterested enough to set all their slaves free. Individuals there, first nobly and generously set the glorious example; which was soon after followed by every individual in their states without the intervention of the legislatures of either, all they have done being the passing laws in each respective state to prohibit slavery in future, and at this time there is not one slave throughout them great populous and flourishing states, that compose New-England, and which states are generally peopled by Presbyterians. New-Jersey was the next that endeavoured to follow the glorious example, the Quaker society therein have manumised and set free all the slaves in their possession or in any wise their property, and the like has been done by many other good characters, and they have uniformly frood our friends, and are now using every effort in their power to render the emancipation of our colour general, and have us admitted to the rights of freedom as citizens in this state, in which truly laudable, and generous design they are now ably seconded in this county by some worthy men of other religious persuasions, whom together with all the friends of freedom, and our colour may God bless and prosper, and grant them health a length of days, fortitude and perseverance to put their designs in execution, and that success may crown their endeavours is my sincere with and prayer.

From the first bringing of our colour into this country they have been constantly kept to the greatest toil and labour, to drudge incessantly yet without the smallest hopes of a reward, and, oftentimes denied a sufficient portion of food to suffice the cravings of nature, or raiment sufficient to hide their nakedness or shield them from the inclemency of the weather. Yet, labouring under all those hardships and difficulties, the most unheard of cruelties and punishments were daily inflicted on us, for what? for not performing impossibilities, for not doing what was impossible for human nature or strength to have done with in the time allotted. And if the most pressing hunger should compel us to take from that master by stealth what we were sure to be denied if we asked, to satisfy our craving appetites, the most wanton and dreadful punishments were immediately inflicted on us even to a degree of inhumanity and cruelty. That I do not exaggerate is I dare say known to many of ye that hear me, or that may hereafter read this address to you, and therefore I appeal to ye, as personal knowledge of the facts I have here stated, I declare myself that I speak from experience — I was born to the southward of here, in the state of Delaware, and a slave, and had five masters before I was free, all of whom liked and loved me, and the last particularly, for having once saved his life when another negro man attempted killing him with a knife, but I instantly throwing myself between, saved my master who did not see the knife the fellow had concealed and endeavoured to stab him with. That together with my being always fond of work, and attentive to his interest gained me his friendship and confidence, and induced him to give me my manumission. When I was a slave I was never treated as rigidly or as cruelly as thousands have been to my own knowledge, yet God knows I have suffered incredible and innumerable hardships — ye ought therefore my dear brethren to account it a very great happiness and to bless God that you are in a country where the laws are wholesome, and where the majority of the leading characters are liberal minded, humane, generous and extremely well disposed to all our colour, and endeavour by a just, upright, sober, honest and diligently industrious, manner of life and a purity of morals to improve that favourable disposition in them, and if possible ripen it in to esteem for ye all. Consider, my dear friends, that it is but a very few years since any body could be found that had courage enough to step out of the common road of thinking and object to the insufficient unsatisfactory and unsubstantial arguments used against us, and tho’ some probably might have thought on the subject, and could hav[e] urged weighty and substantial ones in our favour yet they were deterred possibly by private consideration and interested motives, and probably by a fear of encountring popular and vulgar prejudice, from saying any thing on a subject that required to be treated with so much circumspection and caution; but thank God in this enlightend age there will not be wanting men of genius, spirit and candour, who will have courage enough to step out of the common road of thinking — some that cannot but with indignation see reason stoop to the controul of prejudice, and adopted principles, and who without pronouncing that man a vain and impious sceptic who shall dare to suggest doubts and difficulties their forefathers happened never to have dreamed of, can wave without ceremony that compliment usually paid to the opinion most in fashion, and on this and any affair of importance generously give the world their sentiments without reserve: and yet such settled enemies are the generality of mankind to an open freedom of thought (excepting those who turn it into licentiousness) so averse are they to the admission of ideas they were not before made acquainted with, that they are prejudiced against receiving, or had not been familiarised to from their youth, that reflections or representations are only rejected, or not attended to, because they are novel or displeasing to us or repugnant to our interest. But in this country the opinion is not only already broached, but its justice assented to by every body, for even enemies of freedom and our colour, acquiece in the solidity of the arguments urged in our favour. And therefore my dear brethern I exhort you most earnestly to endeavour by your irreproachable conduct to ripen that good disposition towards you into esteem, and by so doing you will make yourselves not only respectable but beloved, and also will thereby furnish your friends with strong arguments and inducements to endeavour the relief of the rest of our brethern, as yet in thraldom.

I have been longer on this head then I at first intended, but it being my wish to give it a full and ample discussion, I have been the more len[g]thy in speaking of it, and having I believe got fairly through it, I shall proceed to the next head that I mean to speak to you of And that is Religion, and on this head too I fear I shall be tedious as I wish to give it a fair discussion.

I most earnestly recommend to you a serious, and regular attendance on divine worship every Sabbath day at least, and as often at other times as you conveniently can. Religion being the basis of virtue and morality, when there is a want of Religion we may thence justly infer a want of both. For religion being the best practical system of virtue and good actions consonant to the will of our heavenly father, that is known, it sooth[e]s and comforts the mind of the afflicted and troubled, alleviates all our distresses, and disposes us to a perfect obedience to the divine will; and good will and peace to all mankind. But in speaking of practical religion, I do not mean that religion that springs from fear, but I mean a religion founded on a love of virtue and a detestation of vice; on a sense of that obedience which is due to the will of the Supreme Being, and a sense of those obligations which creatures formed to live in a mutual state of dependence on one another lie under. I always took the two greatest principles religion to be, “love honour and acknowledge three persons under the one God head, namely the Father Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons and but one God,” and that God I love & adore with my whole heart and soul; these cond is “do unto every man as you would be done unto” which is expersly directed in that divine commandment, “love thy neighbour as thyself”. Indeed I ever conceived public utility to be the touchstone of moral truth, for to receive and communicate assistance, constitutes the happiness of human life: man may indeed preserve his existence in solitude, but can enjoy it only in society. The greatest understanding of an individual, doomed to procure food and raimnent for himself, will barely supply him with expedients to keep off death from day to day; but as one of a large community, performing only his share of the common business, he gains instruction and leisure for intellectual pleasures, and enjoys the happiness of reason and reflection, and the supreme felicity of rendering himself useful to his fellow creatures in a greater or lesser degree according to his ability. This then, my dear frinds I conceive to be true religion, and it is upon these principles that I hope for solvation through the merits of my Saviour. Therefore would strenuously urge you to become as soon as possible members of some religious society, for it is far better to belong to some than none. But, as general benevolence and universal charity seem to be established in the gospel, as the distinguishing badges of christianity, I therefore wish all religious societies and orders well.

And here my dear brethern, I think it necessary to take notice of the cavils raised by some against us, and the foolishly chimerical notion that prevails with such, to say because we are black, we are not to enjoy a future state, nor be admitted to inherit the kingdom of God, and that our Saviour did not die for us, therefore we cannot hope a redemption: while some other speaking idiots would have us to be the feed of Cain all equally fallacious and frivolous: and indeed it is enough to make any unconcerned or disinterested person merry to hear such foolishly frivolous arguments adduced with such solemnity against us. However that I should not be wanting in respect to the whites, nor in justice to my own colour, I shall make such objections to those arguments as will, I pledge myself fully and completely refute them.

As to the first I shall content myself with making one general observation, namely, that God is neither a respecter of persons, nor colours, be they white black, or mulatto, but respects them merely from, their deeds and observance of his divine commands, and I humbly but on confidentially insist that not one living can produce a scriptural nor even respectably rational authority in support of such a vague and nonsensical opinion, therefore that argument fails.

As to the second, that we shall not inhert the kingdom of God, or enjoy a future state, I wonder where such chimerical notion exists, except in their heated brains or childishly prejudiced imaginations; for scripture tells us expressly, “That all that believe shall be saved,” but to go a step farther, and reason the matter candidly, and without prejudice, I am confident that the odds will be considerably in our favour: And first, I will ask all those persons seriously, how the economy of divine providence with respect to us, can be made reconcileable with our conceptions of the nature of the divine Supreme Being and his attributes, upon the supposition of this being the first and final stage of our existence? That we are endowed with reason and reflection, and a sensibility of pain as well as pleasure, is acknowledged to be an incontestible truth, neither can it be denied by any one. Nor is it less evident and unquestionable, that the latter is oftentimes more than overbalanced by the former. To instance only in our poor brethern at this moment in slavery, in the southern states, what exquisite, what affecting tortures do many of them endure (tho’ some few of them perhaps meet a more friendly fate) from some merciless callous hearted monster of a master? How frequently to the pangs of hunger, and a distempered body are there added the most cutting stripes and scourges most liberally and as wantonly dealt out to them by their inhuman masters or drivers, and all this merely for their not effecting perhaps impossibilities! But wherefore all this wretchedness, this unrewarded toil and labour? Wherefore all these agonizing pains and miseries heaped on an offspring of divine providence? — And why our colour because happens to be black? Are we not a living animated part of the creation? Are we not flesh and blood? Do we not as well as they know what sorrow means? Yes; and for them only, their use, or accidentally their pride, their wantonness, their cruelty were we brought into a sensible existence! Shall one being be created, but even under the bare possibility of being made miserable more or less) solely for the use and service of another? Lord what is man? Or rather what are not brutes? The unmerited sufferin is among whites urged with are great strength of reasoning, in proof of a recompence reserved for them hereafter. And must a being that happens to move in a low and humble sphere in society be at once pronounced unworthy of the like provision? But wherefore this partiality to to their noble selves? Why must they plead a right to be dealt with on the part of justice by the Almighty, and yet think it no injury done to us, if our suffering in a state we are forced into by our common Lord and Creator, meet not from him in an hereafter some similar tokens of an universal, and impartial goodness towards his creatures so necessary and essential to the divine nature. But to bring it more closely home to these our enemies. I will ask them; if they would think it just or equitable for the Moors in Algiers to deny a salvation or a recompence in an hereafter to those of this country who are there kept in slavery; and whose colour is white? No, they surely would not, they would laugh at the absurdity of the idea, and treat it with all the ridicule it justly deserved.

That our Saviour did not die for us, and that therefore we cannot hope a redemption through him, is too absurd and ridiculous to merit a moments serious consideration, for our Saviour was the promised hope of the world. And tho’ he said he came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, yet he directed his gospel to be preached to all the Gentiles throughout the world, and we accordingly see that Phillip the Apostle by an express divine command, arose and went to the south and baptized an Ethiopan, an Eunuch who was a black man, for which, see the Acts of the Apostles, chap viii. ver. 26, and that in the earliest ages of christianity the gospel was preached to blacks, tawneys, and whites, indiscriminately, is beyond a doubt, for Abissinia, Ethiopa, Epirus, and many other nations of blacks were early converted to christianity, and have continued in the profession of it ever since, and not one disputes their right to saving grace, and in latter years the Portuguese missionaries have converted and admitted the negro inhabitants of their settlements in Africa, into their communion, without making a scruple about their undoubted right as human beings to salvation, nor was it ever questioned until the subtlety of after ages, in order to gloss their diabolical and inhuman traffick, made a pretext of that vague argument to sanction their unprincipled and inhuman conduct. another argument used to prejudice white people against us was, that negroes eat each other, a matter that I utterly deny, and formally call upon them to produce any one substantial and respectable authority to prove it–they cannot, that negroes sing their war dance around the prisoners taken in battle, I will admit and also that they sacrifice them to their Dhuu, Dhuns, or Gods, but that they ever eat them, themselves, I utterly deny.

As to our being the feed of Cain, it is still more frivolous than the rest, for either their knowledge must be extremely little and contracted, or their memories very weak, else they would have known or remembered that the flood followed after, which drowned all created beings, save what were saved with Noah in his Ark. And thus, my dear brethren, having shown, I trust, the frivolity and insufficiency of those arguments used against us, and that there must be a salvation for us, I earnestly exhort you to a perfect obedience to the divine will, and to a due performance of the four cardinal virtues, faith, hope, charity, and good works; by a constant practice of which, and due attendance with devout and contrite hearts at some place of divine worship, ye may fervently hope to receive that reward promised to the elect of God through the merits of our Redeemer Christ Jesus, which wish ye all in the name of the Father, Son, and holy Spirit, Amen.

I will next, [m]y dear friends, speak to ye on a crime, that alas! too many of you are guilty of, and indeed, it is not confined to our colour alone, but as I do not mean to interfere with the whites who have got able teachers to admonish and reprove them for their faults and transgressions, and as I conceive it to be a duty more particularly incumbent on me to address ye, brethren, I now do so, being actuated by motives of love and zeal for your welfare and interest: it is of lying that I mean to speak to you; a crime which, though truly odious and detestable, is nevertheless, I am sorry to say, too much practised by you. A very justly admired author says, that the character of a liar is at once “so hateful, odious, and contemptible, that even “of those who have lost their every other virtue, it “might be expected, that from the violation of “truth, they should be restrained by their pride. “Almost every other vice that disgraces human “nature, may be kept in countenance by applause “and association; but the liar, and only the liar is “invariably and universally despised, abandoned, “and discovered; he has no domestic consolations, which he can oppose to the censure of “mankind; he can retire to no fraternity where “his crimes may stand in the place of virtues; but “is given up to the hisses of the multitude, with”out friend, and without apologist. It is, indeed, “the peculiar condition of falsehood to be equally “detested and despised by good and bad.” I do not, nor cannot see what a man can possibly promise to himself to get by telling lies? unless it be, not to be credited even when he speaks the truth. But though all lies are justly odious and detestable, yet there are some of greater enormity, and more malignity than others, I mean those lies with which, when actuated by some envious or spiteful motives, ye traduce, blacken, and villify some persons character, and often times without any other motive than the pleasure of hearing yourselves talk, and being listened to. It is an old saying, and a just one, that we can lock up from a thief, but cannot from a liar, for by this you reb a man of what it is out of his power to lock up; his good name, and it would be far better for a man to lose all his money than his good name; for, in taking his money, ye only take what others had before him, and what he might reinstate by industry, but robbing a man of his good name, ye do not, cannot enrich yourselves, and you thereby make him poor indeed, for every effort he can use cannot reinstate his good name, which is dearer to every good man than life.

But for this practice however vile, some have dared to apologize by contending that the report by which they injured a man’s character was true; This, however amounts to no more, than that they have not complicated envy and malice with falsehood, and that there is some little difference between detraction and slander. To relate all the ills that is true of the very best man in the world, would render him the object of suspicion and distruct and if this practice should become, but a little more universal than it now is, mutucal confidence and esteem the comforts of society and the endearments of friendship will be at an end. For after all the bounty of nature and all the labour of virtue, many imperfections will still be discovered in human beings, even by those who do not see with all the perspicuity of human wisdom; and he is guilty of the most aggravated detraction, who reports the weakness of a good mind, betrayed in an unguarded moment, something which is rather the effect of negligence than design, rather afolly than a faul, sally of vanity rather than an irruption of malevolence. It should therefore never be a maxim inviolably sacred with all men, never to disclose the secrets of private conversation; a maxim which, though it seems to arise from the breach of some other, does imply that general rectitude which is produced by a consciousness of virtuous dignity, and a regard to that reverence which is due to ourselves and orhers; for, to conceal any immoral purpose which, to disclose is to disappoint, any crime which to hide is to countenance, or any character which to avoid is to be safe; as it is compatible with virtue, and injurious to society, can be a rule or law only, among those who are enemies to both.

I shall proceed to a second part of this subject — as I think that I have said nearly enough on the first part, and also fear that I become too speculatively refined in my sentiments, and too tedious to my hearers, I shall therefore speak of the blakest and most horrid, audacious, and impious lies of all those that are supported by false swearing, and perjury.

“Swear not at all,” is the command expressly given to us by our Saviour; I therefore earnestly exhort ye my dear friends to refrain from cursing swearing and all manner of prophane language, since you see it is contrary to the divine will and commands, and is one of those sins that afford not the smallest sensual gratification in the practice or commission.

But how much aggravated must it’s heniousness be in the sight of the Almighty, when it is used to support and gain credit for an impudent falsehood. — But horrid as ever them complicated crimes must be in the eyes of the Almighty, how far short do they fall in blackness and horror both in the eyes of God and man, of that most dreadful of all crimes, perjury. That is the crime of the guilty wretch who for some diabolical purpose premeditately, viciously, and willfully, violates theath he is about to take–An oath itself being an affirmation or denial by any christian of any thing lawful and honest before one that hath authority to administer the same for the advancement of truth, solemnly invoking and calling God to witness that what he so deposes is true. The laws and rules of every society wherever the christian faith is professed presume that oaths will be kept sacred, and that no man will perjure himself; therefore faith is given to an oath; and all judgments as well upon the lives as the properties of the citizens or subjects respect are founded upon oath. This presumption is built upon good reason; this country is defined to be a common weal composed of christian people, and christians are such as are baptized and believe in the law of God as revealed by the Holy Jesus our Redeemer.

Indeed if men would but rightly confider the nature of an oath they would never take it without fear and trembling, even tho’ what they were about to swear was truth, if ye were to appear before the President, who is but your fellow creature, would you not approach him with awe and reverence? With what awe, with what reverence ought we then to appear before the Almighty and Omnipotent God our Creator? And if mortals should never approach his presence without trembling, how audaciously impious, how horridly and wonderfully wicked, must that man be who dares appear before him and call upon him to be witness to a falsehood. There is no sin whatever, not even murder itself, that so surely, and in so particular a manner, calls down it’s own punishment in this life as perjury — and the reason for it is very plain and evident; because that abominable crime must in many cases, be hidden from, and escape the judgement of mankind, and be known only to the heart of the criminal and to God whose holy name he has prostituted and made subservient to injustice. And moreover our Saviour expressly says, Luke Chap. XIIth. Verse Xth. ‘And whoever shall speak a word against the ‘son of man it shall be forgiven him: But unto ‘him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost ‘it shall not be forgiven.” Therefore if God did not in a most particular manner furnish it in this world, men would e too apt to conclude, he did not regard rules of government, nor would indeed the punishment of that horrible sin in the next world only answer his wise ends in the moral rectitude of this, for the man who dares to take false oath must, one should think, believe that God does not either know or regard it; and therefore, God, who is all goodness, all justice, will surely convince him of the contrary, by a just and remarkable punishment. For no one who stedfastly believes that God is present, and will punish the person who takes his name to a falsehood, dare venture to tell a lie upon oath, no more than a thief would dare to take publicly a horse away from the stable, before the masters eyes, who had strength enough to take the horse from him, and punish him upon the spot. It is, therefore, the want of faith in believing that God is present and ready to punish, which occasions perjury; and persons who take false and prevaricating oaths (such as have, alas! robbed me of life,) and find they are not punished, increase in hardness, unbelief, and the blackest sin. But the perjurer; who calls God to witness his falsehood, does surely, at the same time, call down his own punishment. Perjury, like poison, most certainly destroys the guilty taker. As the perjurer disclaims all future help from God, so all the evils, misfortunes, and ills of the world must surround him, his gold will dissolve into air, and all his possessions vanish like a dream; instead of health, rottenness will seize his bones, every chronic disease, and every fierce malady will afflict him, age will suddenly surprise him like a midnight thief, and sickness, sorrows, and all the catalogue of human plagues will sink him to the grave; while living, his mind will be a hell to him, and his conscience gnawed incessantly by remorse, and when death takes him from this world, his soul will be cast out among the damned, where there will be nought, but everlasting torments, with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It is a great concern to me to say, but it is a truth, of which I alas! have had woeful experience,) that this most execrable and horrid crime is become too general in this country, for it to offer any security for either life or property. The administring an oath on every slight occasion, and the indecent irreverent manner in which it is administred by some Justices, or Magistrates, tends only to promots perjury, but to subvert all truth and justice. If oaths were seldomer taken, and in a more awful manner administred by persons of suitable discretion and respectability, it would help, in a great measure, to suppress that dreadfully horrid sin. And surely, if it be viewed only in a political light, it is the interest of every state to render oaths as inviolable as words and ceremonies can make them, and must be highly and essentially necessary for the government to keep up the sanctity of an oath in the opinions of men.

The first cause of peoples regard to oaths being lessened, was the decay of practical religion christianity, and the second familiarity. Wise and good men will always pay an awful regard to oaths, and will strictly take care to aver nothing but truth upon oath, and they would do so if they were examined without an oath. But the multitude take up things more by habit than by reason or reflection, and many of those would tell an untruth to favour themselves or friends, who would not confirm the same, if an oath was administered to them in a solemn manner; and this kind of men, that makes the multitude, upon whose testimonies the estates and lives of their fellow-cittzens depends. To these kind of men the formality of administering an oath, is of the utmost consequence and importance, and the familiarizing them to oaths contributes greatly to the spreading of perjury. In order, therefore, to prevent the inconveniencies that arise from the too great familiarity with oaths, it, perhaps, might not be improper, not to administer oaths, but upon the most important and weighty occasions, and then, at such times, in a most solemn, serious, and decent manner.

Therefore, for all the above weighty causes and reasons, as also for your own ease, peace of mind, worldly, welfare, and future happiness, I most earnestly beg, exhort, and intreat ye, my dear brethren, to avoid all strifes, quarrels, contentions, animosities, law-suits or litigations of any kind, for they, in the end, are of no service, but on the contrary, give birth to envy, hatred, and ill-will. Rather chuse, when any misunderstanding shall arise, to refer it for decision to two or three respectable neighbours; and avoid, by all means, the frequent appearing before Justices of Peace to be sworn, for there is an old saying, that familiarity breeds contempt. And surely the taking oaths on such a multitude of occasions as is now daily practised, familiarizes them to the multitude, so as to take off any idea they might have had of its sanctity, and all the other sacred ties and obligations contemplated with it; and, of course, leaves the weight of the testimony uncertain and ambiguous, and scripture says, my dear friends, if,, thy brother smite thee on the right cheek, turn thou the left also,” therefore, my dear brethren, avoid all swearing, and everyand all occasion of strife or contention that might give rise to swearing.

My dear brethern I earnestly pray ye, to be diligent and industrious in all your callings, manners of business and stations in life, be punctual, upright and just in all your contracts, engagements and dealings of what kind or nature soever, be faithful, tende, rand affectionate in all the relations ye bear in society whether as children, servants, husbands, wives, fathers, or mothers. Be decent in your dress and frugal in all your expences, for by that means you will provide for the wants of sickness and old age, refrain from the too great use of spirituous liquors a little is serviceable, but by all means beware of two much, for that irreparably injures the constitution, and cannot add to the enjoyment of those innocent pleasures and recreations necessary to ye as human beings and members of society.–But above all my dear friends avoid frolicking, and all amusements that lead to expence and idleness for, they beget habits of dissipation and vice, and lead ye into many inconveniences, a few of which I will endeavour to point out as the most immediately attendant on such a manner of life.

In the first place then my dear friends, by a few hours frolicking, ye will spend the fruits of many an hours hard labour, and hte oftener ye go to frolicks the greater will be your dersire to go to them, and by frequently going to such places ye unavoidably incur such a heavy expence, and contract such a dissolute manner of, not only soon swallowing up all your earnings, the fruit of many a days hard toil and sweat; but also leaves ye considerably in debt, ye are then harrassed by proesses, Constables and duns, and if ye fortunately can avoid being lodged in jail, ye can but barely prolong your existence from day to day, while your merciless and rapacious creditors, exact such an exorbitant interest. And with the absorbs principle due and entirely swallows up for enormous length of time all the product of your labour, and leaves yourselves and children a prey to the greatest want and penury, but to pursue this picture a little farther, as far as ye yourselves know to be but too true, under all these difficulties your passion for frolicking continues unabated, and ye are determined to indulge it, be the means ever so unjustifiable, for ye will not hesitate to rob, thieve, and plunder, in order to procure some little money, which as soon as ye have procured ye will away to the tavern, and there spend your ill gotting gain in every species of licentiousness, debouchery and excess, thereby fully verifying the old adage “That what is got under the devil’s back goes awayunder his belly” and then in returning home may be drunk, from those scenes of debauchery and obscenity, ye will not hesitate a moment, nor scruple to kill the cow, calf, sheep or hog of your neighbour, or perhaps best friend and even sometimes will have the audacity when ye know the places well, to enter smookhouses or celars of your nearest and best neighbours and friends probably, and take there out whatever pleases ye and should such spoliation be detected, ye will be the first to cry out, and having the care and confidence of your Masters and Mistresses or employers ye with an art and subtlety of which none but those who perfectly know it, can believe: will shrewdly suspect some others and by a thousand circumstances and surmises well irrevocably fix the blame on some poor innocent person, whom a combination of wayward circumstances would render an object of suspicion. That these are stubborn and incontrovertible facts ye well know, and also that whites are equally as culpable in this respect as blacks. Another incontrovertable fact, I appeal to the conscience and personal knowledge of many of ye for the truth of what I have here asserted but do not think my dear brethern that I charge ye all indiscriminately with such refarious acts; no, for on the contrary there are some very good black men, and on the other hand there are some very bad, that there are many, very many; black people who would not be guilty of a mean or dishonest action, is without question but that there are some others that are capable of both, is also beyond a doubt.

I therefore my dear brethern earnestly exhort ye to refrain from such evil ways and courses, as they undoubtly make yourselves detested and justly hated by your neighbours, inimical to society, and helps to throw an odium on the whole colour, which by all means should be avoided, for it is a settled axiom, that the more respectable every several individual in a society is, the more respectable will that society, generally be, and the more disrespectable the several members are, the more disrespectable will the body generally be, therefore dear friends, avoid by all means, the giving occasion for such general reproach.

And now my dear friends as I fear that I have trespassed on your patience and attention too long I shall take my leave of ye, as I also will of this world and its affections–in a few hours more. And as the solemnity of the spectacle I shall exhibit as also the novelty of this address at present, may make some little impression on ye for a moment, and then alas! it will be gone, and forgot-for even the all tremendious thunder affrights ye while the concusive violence of contending elements affects the senses with fear, as being indicative of the divine wrath; but as soon as the noise ceases and the gloom dispess, all farther fear and all thoughts of the thunder or, divine admonitions vanishes with it, or as ye have often observed the parched earth soak in the moisture of a plentiful shower, and exhibit no farther signs of the refreshing dew. — So I fear it will be with respect to these my admonitions. But my dear brethren and friends I beg of ye by frequent readings to impress it on your minds, and early instill those precepts I have laid down unto your children by frequent reading and relating it to them, for as the water by continual and incessant dropping makes an impression on the stone, so will these my admonitions make an impression on your minds by frequent readings and recourse to them, which the more earnestly recommend as I think them calculated to promote your prosperity in this world, and ensure you that everlasting happiness in the next, which that ye may all obtain is the sincere wish, and shall be the dying prayer of your truly affectionate, but deplorably distressed friend.

ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE

Woodbury jail July 2d. 1797.

THE DYING WORDS OF ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE.

Good people all,

MY real name is Benjamin Johnstone. But when I came to Jersey changed it, took my brothers viz. Abraham Johnstone. I was born in the state of Delaware, at a place called Johnny-cake landing Possom town, in Mother Kind-Hundred and County of Sussex. I was born a slave and the property of Doctor John Skidmore who died while I was very young, and I with the other goods and Chattels descended to his Nephew Samuel Skidmore, he being the heir at law. He soon ran through most of the property left him, and was obliged to sell me to John Grey a blacksmith, and from whom I learned that business; by him I was sold after some time to Edward Callaghan, him I did not like, therefore I would not live with him, and insisted on having another master, he accordingly sold me to James Craig at my own request, for he was very loth to part with me, as I was a very handy hard working black. My new masters confidence I soon gained my sedulous and, and unremitting attention to his business and interest and which was greatly increased by the following incident. A black man of his sisters was extremely insolent and rude to her, (she being a widow) made a complaint to my master who was going to chastise him for it, the black was very insolent to my master who he was just going to strike, I was standing near, and knowing the black was esteemed the stoutest man in all that county, and a very vicious bad man, I watched him narrowly for fear he should do my master any personal injury, I having heard that he intended it, and just as my master was going to strike I saw the fellow put his hand behind and grasped a very long knife, at the same time he swore he would instantly kill my master. I seeing the knife, and the meditated blow which my master could not possibly defend himself from, instantaneously threw myself between, and notwithstanding the knife grappled with him, and told him he must bury the knife in me before he should hurt my master, who all that time stood in amaze at seeing the fellows knife. He and I wrestled and fought sometime, but having got the knife away. I mastered him at last and got him fairly under. My master owned that he owed his life to me, and ever after held me very high in esteem, and told me that after such a time I should be free, shortly after he told my time to myself, and gave me a considerable length of time to pay the money in, during that time I went of, and staid away a whole year with a woman, and then was taken up as a run away, and put into Baltimore jail, from whence I let my master know my situation; he had me brought from thence and put into Dover jail, and while I was there he died drunk. The executors then wanted to have me a slave, but being informed of my master’s agreement with me, they did not then attempt it; and Mr. James Clements, merchant, at Mifflin’s cross roads near Dover came to me and took me out by paying the money due, for which I was to work a stated time with him. I did so to his utmost satisfaction, and I am confident that he still loves me, when done with him the executiors of my late master sent for me to chop some wood, and while out in the woods, they came with two Georgia men (to whom they had sold me) and tied me, and these two Georgians took me away 11 miles from there that day, at night were we staved we got our suppers, and I slipped the knife I had to eat mine with, in may bosom, and they being shewn to bed in one room I soon after into another, as I was lying down I cut the cords I was bound with, and having waited until they were asleep I stole away, and come to Mr. Clements and informed him of the business, who advised me to apply to Warner Mifflin Esq. in Dover which I instantly did, who knowing the sooting I was on with my late master, stood my fast friend on the occasion, and obtained for me the manumission which I have got, as yet and which protected me, But one of the brothers executors was extremely dissatisfied and was determined to have me, as also were the Georgia men. To avoid trouble I came to New-Jersey, and changed my name for I well knew that my poor colour had but few friends in that country, where slavery is so very general, and if one negro was befriended, it was feared to be setting a bad example to the others, I accordingly by the advice of all my friends, both black and white came by water up the Delaware to Philadelphia, and there I did not stay long, until I came to New Jersey; and the first place I went to work at when I came here, was Maj. Joshua Howell’s, where I worked six weeks at that time, it being the year 1792, and continued working about some time longer, and went back and brought my wife from Delaware state, and commenced housekeeping. My wife was born free, and we had been long married before my master died. I have one son now aged 13, living with Daniel Mifflin, Esq. who was born free. I have no child living by my wife. I had not long been here with my wife ere many reports were circulated to my disadvantage, and I now solemnly declare without just grounds: The first of which that did me any injury, was, that I had stolen some carpets from Mrs. Lockwood, which report had its rise in the following manner —

Mrs. Lockwood kept a boarding house, and my wife served as cook and house maid. I myself waited at Anderson’s tavern. The flux was then prevalent in Woodbury (it being the time of the Philadelphia sickness) and I was taken very bad with it: people feared that it was the sever I had gotten, and I had no house before that, and then Woodbury was so full, that I had like not to have got a house or place to lodge in: At last the worthy Mr. John Huffman let me go into his workshop — I moved there, but had neither bed, nor bedding. All the stores in town were searched for either, but I could get no more than one coverlid, which I got at Major Donnel’s. Those old carpets hung out of doors on a rail, being laid by as useless, my wife asked Mrs. Lockwood for them, who told her she might have them, by paying for them, and that she must come weekly and work it out; my wife agreed, and thereupon brought the old carpets for me to sleep on, and continued going to Mrs. Lockwood’s as usual to work for two or three days after, at which time I grew so very bad, that my wife stayed to nurse me. Mrs. Lockwood’s house being full of boarders, and having no help but my wife’s, she was greatly vexed, and sent to let my wife know that she must either come and pay the cash for the old carpets, or work it out according to agreement: but my wife returning for answer that she should not go, while I continued so very bad, irritated Mrs. Lockwood to that degree, that she said my wife might as well have stolen them as not have paid for them, and threatened sueing us immediately if we did not send her the money, or that my wife did not go to work. Thus originated that story; for the truth of which I appeal to the personal knowledge of some gentlemen now living in Woodbury, who boarded there at that time.

I was charged as unjustly by William Tatem, Esq. with robbing his smoak house; but I now solemnly declare that I never was inside of his smoak house, nor took nor received thereout a pound of meat in all my life: And moreover, the night his smoak house was robbed, I slept at Mr. Clarke’s in order to cradle for him the next day, and the meat I was seen to carry home through the country at that time, which gave rise to the suspicion, I bought when on my way home, at the Stone Tavern, from Mrs. Sparks, the woman of the house, who happened to be hanging up meat on the very day, and at the time I passed by, as may be fully known on a little enquiry.

I also do solemnly declare that I never took a pound of meat out of the slaughter house of Samuel Folwell, but what I had rendered a strict and true account of to him, and have paid him for.

Mark Brown has also charged me with stealing out of his smoak house, which I likewise declare myself innocent of.

And now before I come to speak of the crime that I am to die for, I shall (in justice to the religious society that I mean to die in the profession of) say a few words on that head. While in Delaware I was a chosen member of the Methodistical society, and in William Thomas’s class. But the manner of my departure from there precluded my getting a certificate there, whereupon, when I came here, I could not according to the mode of discipline be considered a member until I went thro’ a probation, and thereby regularly have got admitted which though extremely well inclined to do, I some how omitted until it alas was too late — and I die in the profession of that faith, tho’ not an actual member.

I must also say, and at this moment do solemnly aver, that I never saw Dillon, who swore against me, above twice to the best of my remembrance, during the time. Tom was missing; neither had I ever or at any time the conversation with him that he swore I had, nor any whatsoever similar to it; neither did I collar Tom the deceased after the trial between him and me, nor did I say a word to him, except that I told him I hoped we were good friends notwithstanding our law suit, and asked him to come with me to the tavern to take a drink. Those who wish a further confirmation of it, may have it by applying to Henry Craver and Timothy Young, both of whom were with me. May God forgive him! I do from my heart.

Richard Skinner also swore to a falshood, but I cannot, nor can any body blame him, for he being a Guinea negro, and not speaking the English language well, it could not be expected that he knew the nature of an oath. The answer he gave in the court on that head, he had merely got by note from my persecutors. That he was actuated by rancour and malevolence is beyond a doubt, for he told Perry and Sarah Paul, Peter Morris and others, from whom he received the first account of Tom’s being missing, “that he never liked me, and that if he could by any means whatsoever, compass my death, or if it was possible to be done, in any manner or wise, he would have me hanged;” and he in a day or two after saw the same people, and told them he had seen me, and related to them the conversation he had with me, which was very widely different from what he has sworn to. But if whites whose educations should make them know better, are capable of committing such horrid crimes, what must be expected from a poor Guinea negro. I freely forgive him — and may God forgive him and bless him.

As to Henry Ivens whose evidence caused my conviction, I here now do solemnly declare, in the presence of that God before whose awful and just tribunal I shall in a few moments appear, that I never since I had existence, nor at any time, told Henry Ivens either the whole, nor any part of what he declared on oath I did, for on the contrary, he used the following words to me; “well Abraham, people say you killed Tom, but I don’t believe it: if I did I would not let you work any more for me, but indeed Abraham, I do not take you to be a man that would kill another: After which, and in the same breath, he put the following question to me with great seeming friendship. “Abraham, now tell me did you kill Tom? you know you may tell me.” My answer nearly word for word was as follows. — “No indeed I did not Henry: nor did I ever kill a man in my life, nor never shall, except I should happen to fight a man and give him an unlucky blow, and then I believe they could not hang me for killing with one unlucky chance stroke when fighting; but I will never fight with any man, nor strike, as I know myself stronger than the general run of men, and then the law can take no hold of me, neither have I ever in all my life seen a man killed nor hung.” Some few nights after, John Williams came there in order to get me to thrash for him, when the report in circulation of my having killed Tom was mentioned, and Ivens said he did not believe it, for that if he thought it was so, I should not work for him; to which John Williams also replied, that he for his part could not give credit to it, and if he thought it was the truth, I should not thrash for him. That was all that passed between us, and I went away with John Williams that night, and did not see Henry Ivens again, untill Huffsey and David Evans had me tied, coming to jail, when Ivens came to us out of a piece of buck-wheat, and after some prefaratory conversation with the others, asked me the following question: — “Abraham, did you indeed kill Tom? I answered “No, nor no other man, nor never have I seen a man killed in my life, though I have been a great deal through the country.” That these were all the words or conversations I ever had on the subject with Ivens, I now in presence of that God before whom I am going to appear do solemnly pledge myself, and for the truth of it do here appeal to Henry Ivens’s own conscience; and if be is yet under such a delusion respecting it as not to acknowledge it, I here most solemnly do invoke my God and Redeemer to be my witness, and appeal to him to be my witness of the truth of these my solemn assertions in his presence, and to your tribunal my God I now appeal. It is not with a desire to satisfy men that I speak, for that to me at this time is no consideration, and I am perfectly at ease with respect to what they may think after my decease: they may, and undoubtedly will think as they please, but it is to ease my mind and conscience on that head, by declaring the truth, and thereby making my peace with that God whom I adore, and before whom I am going to appear; and may that God give Henry Ivens grace to see where he has so grossly erred, and grant him time to repent, and free and full forgiveness, as I freely do; for I most freely forgive him and all the world, for the world can do me no injury. It it true man may hurt the body, but he cannot reach sufficiently far to injure the soul: that belongs solely to God — and may that God bless, forgive, and protect Henry Ivens and family.

Enoch Sharp ought to have narrowly examined what he was about to say before he gave his evidence. He swore, “that on the day Tom was missed, he was at my house, and that the yard was scraped up much deeper than it could be by sweeping. Henry Craver who almost every day saw the place, and who was there that very morning, swore directly the contrary, and Henry Craver is an honest man, and a man of character. Enoch Sharp was but very seldom at my house; he was there after husking time; and after I had got in my corn, I threw the husks in a kind of hollow to make some manure, and there were some ridges between the door and the well, through which I cut a path, and threw the earth I had dug out of there upon the husks, in order to make them rot the quicker, and made the path level to the well thereby. I leave it to any man whatsoever if they have ever known corn husked in August. I had none there before. God for give Enoch Sharp! I freely do, and leave him my blessing, and that the blessing of God may be upon him and his family, is my prayer.

Indeed Samuel Huffsey and William Nicholson have long persecuted me with the utmost rancour and malice, but may God almighty bless, protect, and forgive them both, I do most freely and from my heart. But this is justice to my conscience I must declare on the solemn assertions of a dying man; that I think Samuel Huffsey procured Tom to steal my lease, as I then could have no title to shew for the place I held from him and lived upon, nor for the crop then growing on it, as I was improving the place fast, and doing well for myself, which made me an object of envy and hatred, and one circumstance that is not known I beg leave to inform the public of to wit. That on the unfortunate night that Tom came to my house he came from the landing to Huffseys first, and from thence came at that late hour to my house, tho’ it was near Huffseys house, and Tom was there engaged to work the following week for William Nicholson, and when I asked him in the morning to stay for his Breakfast, he said he would go to Nicholsons where he was going to work, and get it. They both know that it was at their instigation that Tom sued me, and they also know that they accompanied him and acted as his attorneys, at the magistrates. But to put it in a still fairer light, I will ask them, how came they to know at what instant of time Tom came to my house, and the particular conversation that passed between Tom and myself on that night, and that the very day after: And on the day after Sam. Huffsey brought a witness with him and called upon me to produce my lease, or else quit, &c. But let it not be thought that I blame them for Tom’s death, or speak through prejudice. — No, for I cannot impute his death to any body whatsoever, and as to the second I only state the truth impartially, and must think they have seen Tom later than I did. May God almighty bless and forgive them both, and spare them long to their families. I most freely and heartily forgive them, and desire my love and blessing to themselves and family.

And now at this aweful solemn moment when with the ignominious cord round my neck, and standing on a stage beneath that gallows that must in a few moments transport me into that boundless eternity there to meet my righteous, aweful and omnipotent Judge before whom no earthly considerations nor the evil suggestions of prejudiced persons can avail, now at this moment so dreadful and tremenduous. I most solemnly declare with my dying breath in presence of that God from whom I hope to find mercy and forgiveness, and before all the good people here assembled to see me make my exist from this world. That I am innocent, and unknowing to the death of Thomas Read the Guinea, Negro (that I die for) as the child unborn, neither have I been in any wise, knowing privy or accessary to his death, so bear witness of me my God before whom I am going to appear; and do thou Oh! Lord God stamp a conviction of my innocence, on all those prejudiced persons who are so uncharitable as not to credit my dying assertions, and I do also solemnly declare as I am a dying man, that I never have killed, nor been accessary nor privy to the killing any person whatsover, neither have I ever seen one killed nor hung in my life as I always studiously avoided such places, my feelings being naturally so very tender as to make such fights very affecting to me, nor is there any crime of great enormity wherewith I can justly charge myself, except a too great lust after strange women, and that is the only crime that I fear will hurt me in the fight of God; But I feel such a perfect inward calm and peace from a confidence in the divine love and promises of my Saviour; That exulting in that divine and heavenly love which I at this moment feel glow throughly out my bosom and which expands and raises my soul above all earthly things, I go chearfully to meet my Creator face to face, and now say to my Saviour as he did to his heavenly father, “Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit and from the divine assurances I feel within me that he will receive it, I leave this world with joy, and without the least regret.

I most fervently pray that God may bless Messrs. Stockton, and Person, my two lawyers, the Sheriff, and all the people in this jail, and all mankind; and bless and forgive my enemies, and grant them grace to repent and die his holy love and fear, I with heartfelt gratitude, bless them, for they have been the chosen instruments of my heavenly father, to bring me home to him, when I have had a known time to die, and leisure to repent of my sins, for by a longer continuance in this world, I might have died with many transgressions, unaccounted for, I bless and pray for them, and may thou O Lord bless them, and receive my spirit. Amen — I bid ye all an eternal Farewel.

ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE.

Woodbury jail Saturday, July 8, 1797.

LETTER TO HIS WIFE.

My ever dear, ever beloved and adored Wife! my much regretted Sarah,

As there are but a few, very few! short fleeting moments to glide away ere I enter into the mansion, of bliss and tranquility, and take a final leave of this vain transitory and delusory world, wherein I have experienced nothing but crosses, vexations, and tribulations, from all of which, I in a few short, alas! swift passing moments will be delivered, and set free, my paying that general, and certain debt that mankind must pay to nature, and resign in peace this cumbrous load of mortality, this weak body which as yet is faintly animated with vital warmth; but whose soul is full of the spirit, and heart cheering presence of my God, and Redeemer, through the merits of whose sufferings I hope for salvation; to its kindred clay. For of the crime that I am to die for, I most solemnly declare to you my ever dear, ever beloved wife; in the presence of God all just and omnipotent, and all the host of Heaven; That I am perfectly innocent, and therefore am perfectly resigned to death, and satisfied to quit this world, for like a lamb led to the slaughter house, shall I go in a few moments to my death, and have thoroughly resigned myself to the will of my heavenly father. I have fully weaned myself from this frail world and its gross affections, except what con-centre solely in you, on you now my beloved wife, all my earthly considerations rest, and all that in death appears unfriendly or unwelcome is the parting. The parting from a wife so beloved! — From you my beloved Sally; and leaving you behind in the world without husband to protect you, or friend to sooth, console, or alleviate, your distresses, misseries or wants, or support, and enable you to bear up under, and encounter misfortunes, with fortitude, such my dear Sally have I ever been to you. And tho’ sometimes I went astray and lusted after other women, yet still my dear Sally, my true and fond heart rested with you, and love for you always brought your wanderer back: you were to me, my all! my every thing dear and beloved. From the first of our acquaintance, to this moment, I have loved you with unabated fervor, unceasing tenderness; and the purest attachment: and even at this so truly awful and solemn moment, all that seems terrible in death is the parting from you. — My God and redeemer, and him alone possesses the first part (a part pure and uncontaminated) in my affections; and you possess the next; I am sure you cannot be impious enough to expect to hold an equal share with God, it must suffice you to know that in you my all, and only earthly considerations or affections rest, at this moment so truly aweful.

I did hope my dear wife to have seen you once more ere I departed this life. And to have obtained your pardon for all the transgressions I have committed against God, and our marriage bed during the time we have been united, and also to have given you such consel as I thought best with respect to your future conduct; or as I should have deemed necessary, or expedient. And to have bestowed on you the blessing of a dying husband, and have bid you a final farewell, all which I must do by letter as you would not consent to come and see me tho,’ I had the Sheriff’s express permission for your coming, and nobody should have molested you. Indeed my dear Sally had it been your case as it was mine: no earthly consideration should or would have kept me from seeing you. Even was certain death to have been the consequence, and that I was sure I should suffer on the same gallows with you: All! all! I would have braved to have seen my Sally and would executingly embrace you even in death. The cold phlegmatic remonstrances of disinterested persons; who under the sacred name of friend; But strangers to that and every nobler and better feeling and sentiment, are so often interposed under the mask of friendship, and is generally termed good reason; by which they so powerfully operate on the passions of the weak and timorous, as to leave them no will at all of their own, (of all such people my dear Sally beware in future) I say my dear wife that in spite of all such busy-bodys I should have gone to see you, but I will not wound your feelings by pursuing the subject farther, for I well know that your heart is already cankered with grief, and care worn on my account. And my wish is to alleviate and sooth the accute misery and poignant auguish and distress (I well know) at this moment endure: and to speek peace to your bleeding heart, rather than plant a dagger in the rankled wound. Which my unhappy fate and unmerited sufferings has given you, who possesses a mind replete with the tenderest and livest sensibility.

And now my dear Sally, that you see me so thoroughly resigned to my fate, let me earnestly beg and exhort you to alike resigned on and endeavour to encounter this sad blow with fortitude, and true christian regsination to the will of the Almighty. Call in religion to your aid, and take it as one of those way ward incidents directed by the Almighty to try the faith of us poor frail mortals, and if you consider it as such, you will and surely must think it just to murmer at the decrees of the Almighty God our creater: it is true my dear Sally. It is a shameful death to be suspended in the air between Heaven and earth like a dog that at first fight may hurt your feelings, but on reflection it must vanish and leave no trace behind. For in the first place, as nothing can take place, however trival, without divine permission; so no manner of death can be unnatural: But in the second place, only give yourself time to reflect a moment, and then get a testament and read, the 22d, 23d, and 24th, Chapters of the Apostle Luke, you will there find sufficient matter to console, and prevent your tears flowing for me. You will see there how much more ignominous a death our Saviour suffered; he was nailed to a cross crowned with thorns, arrayed in purple, lots cast for garments his sacred sides pierced with a spear by the hands of common garments his sacred sides peirced with a spear by the hands of common soldiers, crucified between thieves on Mount Calvary; All! every species of ignominy and infamy was heaped on the divine immaculate lambs, His life was taken away by false swearing, (Alas! so is mine,) He prayed for and forgive his enemies, (so do I most freely forgive mine,) the only and blessed person of the most high and omnipotent God shed his precious blood on the cross for the redemption of many; He offered himself up the accepted ransom for all mankind; What is my sufferings and death in comparison with his? What have I to fear in a future state, as I will die innocent of the crime I am to suffer for, and confidently but without presumption, hope a reward for all my sufferings, from him who has himself suffered by false witnesses? He who has said take up your cross and follow me, him will I follow with all my heart and soul, through and with all my crosses and trials.

But my ever dear Sally, I beg earnestly when you so read, to consider with attention the chapters you read, and see if you walk in the fear of love of the Lord, consonant to his divine will as therein is revealed, see if frolicking and attending at scenes of the most horrid and abandoned lewdness, excesses, debaucharies, licentiousness, obscenity prophanity and all their attendant train is agreeable to the divine will, ah! no my dear Sally they are not; for God’s sake my dear woman, and for your dying husbands sake, shun and by all means avoid frolicing and all it’s attending evil concomitants, for your personal attendance at such scenes, is inimical to your future happiness, and renders you odious in the sight of God, and contemptible in the opinions of men, for you may rest assured that there is no man of sense, but would as soon take his wife from a bawdy house, as from a frolic; How very dreadful must that one reflection be to any woman of sensibility or delacy of mind or feelings? Oh my dear Sally! for your own welfare and peace of mind, shun all such places: I do not; for amusements and recreations are necessary to promote both your health of body and peace of mind: but by all means, my love let all those you enjoy be rational.

In chusing another husband my ever dear Sally, after I am dead and gone, as you certainly will need one, chuse one that will love and protect you, and whom you will neither fear nor despise when you are a wife: rather than a pretty baby to look at who might through a rage of novelty and ill nature break your heart. Ah! Sally! think some few times through life on poor gone Abraham, and say with a sigh — He is gone — alas never to return! He was constant and kind to me. But I will some day follow. Yes, my dear Sally you will so; and if it is possible for the spirits of the departed to watch, over those they love, upon earth, and that I have divine permission, I will until them; be my beloved Sally, my truly dear wife guardian angel, and should my slitting spirit ever present itself to your view, be not afraid Sally it will be but the spirit that divine permission is hovering on the watch to shield and defend you from any impending danger.

My dear Sally, my white Hat, that you were so fond of, I leave you with this injunction that you wear it yourself while it lasts and give it, to no other person, and two orders for a small sum of money I also leave you, besides all the cloths at Henry Cravers; Mr. Hughes, my good and esteemed friend, whom together with his family may God bless, prosper, and prolong their lives; will hand you my hat and the two orders, the rest of my things being useless to you, I have given them away to different people; the spinning wheel and little box I have given to the little girl that lived with us.

And having now settled my wordly affairs I shall close and prepare to depart in peace.

I’ve kissed this paper — and bid it convey the kiss to you my love: And now my dear Sally, I bid you — Oh — Heavens! — I bid you my dear wife! — not the farewel of a day month nor year — But an eternal — Farewel. —

I earnestly beg your prayers for me; and may God protect preserve prosper and bless you; is the dying prayer of your dotingly fond husband.

ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE.

Woodbury jail July 8th, 1797.

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1961: Edwin Bush, Identikitted

Add comment July 6th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1961, Edwin Bush was hanged at Pentonville Prison. On March 3 of that same year, he’d stabbed to death an assistant at a Loondon antiques shop just off Charing Cross, using a pair of antique daggers from the shop’s own stock. (The scene of this long-ago crime is presently a bookstore.)


The Identikit sketch, and the actual photo, of the culprit.

Although a small-time criminal, Bush was an important milestone in the evolution of the panopticon.

Poor Elsie May Batten had been attacked early in the morning, and nobody witnessed the crime. The killer/robber (he stole a sword that he later sold for 15 quid — nothing else) hadn’t left behind any usable physical clues.

“It could have taken weeks to identify the culprit,” notes this MyLondon.News profile, “but luckily a change in police technology would be of great assistance.” This new system, called Identikit,

used a standardised set of facial features to help a witness build a more accurate picture of a suspect.

In shop owner Louis Meier’s interview, Identikit was used to build a picture of the suspicious man who had gone into the shop the day before Elsie’s killing to admire the sword.

Another witness, who had seen a man and his blond girlfriend try to sell a sword on St Martin’s Lane that very same day, also did the Identikit procedure. Two facial likeness from two different witnesses were unmistakably the same man — and they were printed in the local newspapers asking people if they had seen a man looking like this and his blond girlfriend.

Janet Wheeler, the 17-year-old blond girlfriend of Bush, saw the Identikit and joked about how they fitted the description, unaware of what her boyfriend had done.

But Eddie couldn’t count on such naivete from Londoners who weren’t his girlfriend. An eagle-eyed beat cop recognized Bush from the same wanted pictures and arrested him on March 16, just steps away from the antiquarian. He was with Janet, shopping together for engagement rings. Once they had him, fingerprints, lineup identifications, and eventually a confession all fell into place.

What’s been left unspoken thus far is the story’s racial character, but that factor permeates everything. Edwin Bush’s mixed Asian-white parentage helped consign him to the periphery of London’s economic life, his unusual look possibly helped cinch the surveillance triumph for Identikit … and if Bush is to be believed, it was everyday racism that triggered his crime.

Provoked, he said, when he visited the store just to browse for the second consecutive day only to have Batten drop a racial slur on him (“You niggers are all the same. You come in and never buy anything.”), Bush

went back to the shop and started looking through the daggers, telling her that I might want to buy one, but I picked one up and hit her in the back. I then lost my nerve and picked up a stone vase and hit her with it. I grabbed a knife and hit her once in the stomach and once in the neck.

Of course, only Bush and Batten were present for their conversation, and it must be acknowledged that when Bush made this allegation about his victim, he needed to give the courts reason to mitigate his sentence.

You can hear all about the case on your run or commute in episode 7 of the Murder Mile UK crime podcast.

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1919: John Hartfield lynched

Add comment June 26th, 2020 Headsman

John Hartfield (sometimes given as “Hartsfield”) was lynched on this date in 1919 in Ellisville, Mississippi.

“[U.S. President Woodrow Wilson] said the American negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America. For example, a friend recently related the experience of a lady friend wanting to employ a negro laundress offering to pay the usual wage in that community. The negress demands that she be given more money than was offered for the reason that ‘money is as much mine as it is yours.’ Furthermore, he called attention to the fact that the French people have placed the negro soldier in France on an equality with the white men, and ‘it has gone to their heads.'”

-Diary of Wilson’s personal doctor Cary Grayson (Source)

This summer of 1919 was fraught and violent moment in America — later christened the “Red Summer” for the quantity and ferocity of racially motivated outrages.

With the end of the Great War, domestic guardians of order bristled alike at proud and armed black soldiers returning from France’s trenches and at the post-Bolshevik Revolution prospect of subversive agitation — fears that were intimately linked for elites, as the pull quote in this post indicates. Plus, as readers in 2020 surely recollect from the news, everyone was also laboring under the Spanish flu pandemic. Large riots or pogroms with multiple casualties occurred in several U.S. cities, including a five-day street battle in Washington D.C. in July that left 15 or more dead.

Likewise, lynchings surged in 1919 — from 38 and 64 in the preceding two years, to 83, a figure which hadn’t been recorded in more than a decade and has never been approached since.

James Hartfield was one* mark upon this near-hecatomb, a mark underscoring the strength of lynch law in this moment. The mob was disciplined and organized, confident that its actions had the blessing of the state. It acted deliberately, responsive to its own authorities. Nobody got his blood up to string up the man promptly upon capture; instead, Hartfield was delivered to private custody — not jail — and given him medical attention so that he’d be fit for his murder.


The Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth ran this headline on the day that Hartfield was killed — one of many newspapers to report the planned lynching ahead of time.

The schedule (Hartfield to be burnt at 5 p.m.) was publicized in advance in the press; even the state’s governor, literal Klansman Theodore Bilbo, issued a sort of official denial of clemency with a public announcement that he couldn’t intervene if he wanted to and he also didn’t want to.

I am utterly powerless. The state has no troops and if the civil authorities at Ellisville are helpless, the state is equally so. Furthermore excitement is at such a high pitch thruout [sic] south Mississippi and if armed troops interfered with the mob it would prove a riot among the citizens.

The negro says he is ready to die and nobody can keep the inevitable from happening. (Huntsville (Ala.) Times, June 26, 1919, under the headline “Governor Will Not Interfere With Lynching”)

And indeed, nobody did interfere.

The below from the next day’s Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser is one of several versions that saw wide distribution in the republic. Although these reports differ on some details — for example, whether Hartfield was or was not already mortally wounded by the gunshots he’d received from the posse — all unite in noticing the orderliness of this off-book execution.

ELLISVILLE, MISS. June 25 [sic] — Trailed for ten days through three South Mississippi counties by posses which included several hundred members of his own race, John Hartfield, negro, confessed assailant of an Ellisville young woman,** was captured desperately wounded near Collins, at daybreak this morning, rushed by automobile to the scene of his crime, hanged to a gum tree and then burned to ashes. His victim witnessed the lynching.

While negroes took no part in the actual lynching of Hartfield, posse leaders freely admitted they rendered valuable assistance during the chase knowing when they enlisted that it was intended to lynch the fugitive when he was captured. Many of them witnessed the execution.

The lynching was conducted in a manner which the authorities characterized as “orderly.” Guarded by a committee of citizens of Ellisvlle, Hartfield was taken first to the office of Dr. A.J. Carter, who after examination of gun shot wounds received when the fugitive made his fight against capture, declared the negro could not live more than twenty-four hours. In the meantime a group of silent men were piling cross ties and brush in a depression in ground near the railroad trestle. There was no shouting. Arrangements apparently had been made days ago.

The victim of Hartfield’s crime was escorted into the physicians’ office after the wounds had been examined. She positively identified him as her assailant. When she left the negro said to the committee: “You have the right man.”

Then there were quiet conferences. Members of the committee circulated in the crowd. Reports that there would be a “burning” at 5 o’clock gave way to statements that there would be a “hanging at the big gum tree.” Hartfield was told what the crowd itended [sic] doing with him, but only repeated “you have the man.” Later he said he knew he was going to die and declared he wished to “warn all men, white and colored, to think before doing wrong.”

Hartfield was not taken to jail, although earlier reports were that he had been lodged there. From the doctor’s office he was taken to the street and faced the crowd. “You have the right man,” he reiterated. Then a noose found its way around his neck and the trip to the big gum tree was started, the crowd still ominously silent.

Under the big gum tree Hartfield forcibly detained his victim all of the night of Sunday, June 15th. It was under a limb of the same tree that Hartfield was hanged as soon as the rope could be pulled up by hundreds of hands. Then occurred the first demonstration. While the body was in its death struggles pistols were produced by men in the crowd and fired point blank at the swinging form. Before the rope had been cut by bullets, burning fagots were thrown under the body and an hour later there was only a pile of ashes.

The victim with her aged mother witnessed the execution. When she reached her home two hundred yards away, she was informed that more than a thousand dollars had been subscribed for her use by persons in the crowd.

No arrests were made after the lynching and tonight the little town was quiet. Most of the visitors from the surrounding country left for their homes.

The future Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, who lived and worked in the U.S. intermittently in the 1910s where he was influenced by black radicals including Marcus Garvey, also made note of the Hartield outrage in his 1924 essay “Lynching” (see the numbered p. 53 of this large pdf):

When a lynching was to take place or had taken place, the press seized upon it as a good occasion to increase the number of copies printed. It related the affair with a wealth of detail. Not the slightest reproach to the criminals. Not a word of pity for the victims. Not a commentary.

The New Orleans States of June 26, 1919, published a headline running right across the front page in letters five inches high: “Today a Negro Will Be Burned by 3,000 Citizens.” And immediately underneath, in very small print: “Under a strong escort, the Kaiser has taken flight with the Crown Prince.”

The Jackson Daily News of the same date published across the first two columns of its front page in big letters: “Negro J.H. to Be Burned by the Crowd at Ellistown This Afternoon at 5 p.m.”

The newspaper only neglected to add: “The whole population is earnestly invited to attend.” But the spirit is there.

* Although lynched alone, he wasn’t quite the only victim. A white man who misunderstood or defied the commands of the vigilantes during the manhunt was also killed. And reportedly (although I haven’t verified this to my satisfaction) another black man elsewhere in Mississippi was lynched in the subsequent weeks merely for mentioning the Hartfield assassination.

** Family lore from a friend who survived by fleeing Ellisville characterizes Hartfield’s true offense as simply having a white girlfriend.

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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.

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1915: Mewa Singh, Sikh martyr-assassin

Add comment January 11th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1915, Mewa Singh Lopoke was hanged in British Columbia, Canada.

He was part of a massive influx of Punjabi migrants to Canada, and particularly its westernmost province of British Columbia, from around 1904 until Canada clamped down on immigration from the subcontinent in 1908.*

There Mewa Singh became involved in activism for the Ghadar Party — the North American expatriate movement for Indian independence. This movement was heavily infiltrated by spies and informants, some of whom ratted Mewa Singh out after he attempted to deliver some firearms to Punjabi passengers stranded on the Komagata Maru in Vancouver’s harbor and slated for return to the subcontinent.**

In an atmosphere of rising tension within the Vancouver Sikh community, a police informant named Bela Singh, driven to desperation by the pressure of his handlers and fear of exposure, opened fire on his coreligionists inside a Sikh temple. In the resulting trial, B.C. immigration inspector William C. Hopkinson — the man who ran the spies within the Sikh community — was scheduled to testify on the gunman’s behalf. Instead, Mewa Singh shot him dead in the hallway outside the courtroom, them immediately surrendered his pistol and calmly submitted to arrest. As he entered a guilty plea and took full responsibility for the murder, his trial came in under two hours.

“These people have disgraced us,” Mewa Singh said in his confession, accusing Hopkinson of exploiting vulnerable Sikhs to mine them for information and bribes.

We are poor, only coolie men, and whatever Hopkinson said was law. The Government listened to him completely.

Everyone knows that Hopkinson did these underhand things and it must be brought to light. The European public must be aware of the fact that Hopkinson draws money from us poor native men. In the Vancouver public there are a few that are Christian men who have received us with the proper spirit. The other have treated us like dogs.

He hanged at 7:45 a.m. at New Westminster jail. To this day he remains a martyr to many within his community; there have been campaigns for a posthumous pardon on grounds that his assassin’s turn was strictly the result of the injustice Sikhs faced in Vancouver.


Funerary procession for Mewa Singh.

By the time of Mewa Singh’s execution, World War I was well underway and Ghadrites, sensing their chance to break free from British domination, were working on orchestrating a mutiny in India. Thanks in no small part to the many spies keeping tabs on the Ghadrites, that mutiny was strangled in its crib.

* As a longer-range effect of this migration period, Canada today has a reputation as “Little Punjab” and its substantial Sikh minority is a significant political bloc — especially in B.C.

** This incident, in which 352 Punjabis were refused entry into Canada and forced to return to India — where Raj police arrested a number of the leaders as subversives, triggering a riot that took 20 lives — is still notorious in Canada today. “Not to be confused with Kobayashi Maru,” Wikipedia observes, sagely.

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1975: Lex Aronson, aid worker

Add comment December 15th, 2019 Headsman

Dutch Jewish aid worker (A)Lex Aronson was hanged on this date in 1975 in Iraq.

Aronson (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) had survived Bergen-Belsen as a child* — his grandfather was not so fortunate — and gone on to a peripatetic career in global relief work that took him to Israel, Syria, Gabon, Nigeria, India, Bangladesh, and points beyond.

The last point beyond was Kurdish northern Iraq, during the terrible Iraqi-Kurdish war there of 1974-1975.

By the accounts of his friends, Aronson was a free spirit, a man of idealism and wanderlust. By the account of the Iraqi government that arrested him, Aronson was an Israeli spy.

There’s a published collection of his correspondence; in a letter to his mother dated March 13, 1975 — the last he would post before his arrest 11 days on — achingly shows him eschewing a judicious evacuation in order to press onward into the teeth of a devastating offensive Iraq had launched on March 7.

the political bosses here have decided that all foreigners should be evacuated. By foreigners, they are referring to a few press photographers, the team of five English from “Save the Children,” and yours truly. The hospitality is so extensive here that at the first sign of a threat, they are stepping out of their way to secure the safety of their guests. The local bosses mean well. However, what daddy has in his head, he doesn’t have in his arse… by which I mean that whatever I have set my mind to, I don’t give up easily.

I was determined to go to Badinan. I went from one political office to another, pestering all the leaders save for Barzani himself. Finally, I was rewarded with a letter of introduction to all the Kurdish military commanders requesting that they give me the help necessary for me to reach my goal.

A subsequent letter by a Save Our Children doctor to Aronson’s father in early 1976 explained something of the circumstances in the following days that led to his capture,

I saw your son on 20 March 1975. He was breakfasting with me at the home of the leader of the Barzan community, Sheikh Abdullah, in preparation for a journey to Badinan. He was taking medicine and other equipment with him so that he could set up a surgery to treat the inhabitants of a single community somewhere in that area. He had bought a donkey to convey these items, but unfortunately this had got lost between Senidan and Sideka, over the pass to the east of Hassanbeg Mountain with the snow so deep that no donkey could traverse it.

The donkey was under the control of two Pesh Merga (Kurdish Freedom Fighters). Apparently they became separated from your son and he had no idea of the [whereabouts of?] this medicine or his passport and money. He was travelling against the advice of the Kurds in the border area who were keen (at that time) that all foreigners should get out as quickly as possible. For this reason, he retraced his steps to try to find the donkey, yet wanted to press on towards Amadiyah. He had spent a day or so looking. He asked me to look for the animal. I made inquiries in both Sideka and Semilan, but I could not find it. However, as at that stage there was total chaos in these villages, it was not at all surprising that I was so unsuccessful. I must explain that he was in danger, as he had no identification papers with him when I saw him.

A confusing and, for his loved ones, anguishing period ensued his arrest. The Iraqi News Agency announced his execution on November 3, only to retract that announcement shortly afterward and clarify that he remained alive, still facing execution. His parents for months thereafter received notes scribbled on cigarette packages which meandered through smuggling channels at indifferent speeds, but with the irresistible implication that their son yet drew breath — and so they kept up their struggle to save him via appeals and publicity well into 1976, when the Iraqi embassy in March 1976 finally notified them that he was long since hanged.

“Nobody can imagine how we feel now,” his father told the press. “All hopes smashed at once. There is nothing left to fight for. Now we can only try not to get too depressed.”

* He was a passenger on the “Lost Transport”, a train of inmates evacuated from Bergen-Belsen that ended up with no destination as the Reich collapsed, and were eventually liberated by the Red Army.

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1946: Walter Grimm and Karl Mumm, judicial murderers

1 comment October 8th, 2019 Headsman

Our friends at Capital Punishment UK favored us with an absolutely fascinating story for the post-World War II execution farm manager Walter Grimm and Gestapo officer Karl Mumm for orchestrating the 1942 hanging of one of Grimm’s Polish slave laborers. The pair falsely charged entire story is a fascinating read.

After the war, Szablewski’s brother was able to bring the matter to the attention of the Allied occupation in Germany, which found that Grimm was exacting revenge for Lütten’s spurning his advances; Grimm and Munn were punished by hanging in Hameln prison on October 8, 1946. There’s a memorial plaque to Szablewski — unveiled in 2003 in the presence of the still-surviving Hildegard Lütten — as well as a Stolperstein (stumbling-stone) unveiled in 2016, both at the Hohenbuchenpark in Hamburg where Szablewski was killed.


copyrighted image authorized for general public use by Bully59.

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1937: The Parsley Massacre begins

Add comment October 2nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1937, Dominican Republic soldiers commenced the dayslong “Parsley Massacre” of Haitians.

Cooperstown-worthy evil dictator Rafael Trujillo hailed on his mother’s side from Haiti’s privileged French caste and espoused a virulent form of DR’s rife anti-Haitian racism. “As if personifying the antiblack myth of Dominicans,” Robert Lawless noted, “‘Trujillo used cosmetics to disguise the phenotypical features that he inherited from his [black] Haitian grandmother.'” (Source)

Taking power in a military coup in 1930, Trujillo had spent those early years building up a cult of personality, as was the style at the time — and he put it to use conjuring a bloodbath that some shamefaced soldiers confessed they could only conduct with the numbing aid of alcohol. The hypothesized underlying reasons range from El Jefe‘s particular virulent bigotry to prerogatives of statecraft for a zone that had tended towards sympathy for Trujillo’s opponents.

The massacre followed an extensive tour of the frontier region by Trujillo that commenced in August 1937. Trujillo traveled by horse and mule through the entire northern half of the country, both the rich central Cibao region and the northern frontier areas. Touring these provinces, traditionally the most resistant to political centralization, reflected Trujillo’s concerns with shoring up control in the region at the time. The Cibao was the locus of elite rivalry with Trujillo in those years. And because the northern frontier had been a traditional area of autonomy and refuge for local caudillos, the U.S. legation in Santo Domingo assumed that the August 1937 tour was intended to “cowe [sic] opposition.” Much like earlier frontier tours and his travels in other rural areas, Trujillo shook hands and distributed food and money; attended dances and parties in his honor; and made concerted efforts to secure political loyalty in many heretofore intractable lands. Yet the conclusion of this tour was entirely unexpected. During a dance in Trujillo’s honor on Saturday, October 2, 1937, in Dajabon, Trujillo proclaimed:

For some months, I have traveled and traversed the frontier in every sense of the word. I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labor, I have responded, “I will fix this.” And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Banica. This remedy will continue.

Drawing on the regime’s prevailing antivagrancy discourse and support for peasant production, Trujillo explained his ordering of the massacre as a response to alleged cattle rustling and crop raiding by Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. This was the first of a series of shifting rationalizations that misrepresented the massacre as stemming from local conflicts between Dominicans and Haitians in the frontier.

Some Haitians heard Trujillo’s words and decided to flee. Others had already left following news of the first killings, which occurred at the end of September. A few recalled clues that something ominous was brewing. Most were incredulous, however, and had too much at stake to abandon their homes, communities, and crops — established over decades or even generations — for what sounded, however horrible, like preposterous rumors …

A few Dominicans from the northern frontier recalled that at first Haitians were given twenty-four hours to leave, and that in some cases Haitian corpses were hung in prominent locations, such as at the entrance of towns, as a warning to others. And during the first days of the massacre, Haitians who reached the border were permitted to cross to Haiti over the bridge at the official checkpoint [at the border city of Dajabon]. But the border was closed on October 5. After that, those fleeing had to wade across the Massacre [River]* while trying to avoid areas where the military was systematically slaughtering Haitians on the river’s eastern bank.

In the towns, victims were generally led away before being assassinated. In the countryside, they were killed in plain view. Few Haitians were shot, except some of those killed while trying to escape. Instead, machetes, bayonets, and clubs were used. This suggests again that Trujillo sought to simulate a popular conflict, or at least to maintain some measure of plausible deniability of the state’s perpetration of this genocide. (From Foundations of Despotism: Peasants, the Trujillo Regime, and Modernity in Dominican History)

“Haitian” in this context meant a question of ethnicity rather than simply one of citizenship, for like many border regions the world over that of the Massacre River was (and is) locally permeable. Some Haitians lived in Haiti but crossed into the Dominican Republic routinely for school, work, life; others had border-straddling families and DR birth certificates and citizenship. But even the firmest of bureaucratic documentation meant nothing to the death squads, who bequeathed the distinctive sobriquet “Parsley Massacre” by demanding potential victims buy their lives by pronouncing the word for that garnish, perejil … as an infelicity with the trilled Spanish “r” denoted a Francophone.** (It’s also sometimes known simply as the Haitian Massacre.)

The slaughter raged on until about October 8, give or take; estimates of the number of victims run from 12,000 to north of 30,000. The affair remains a source of tension to this day.

The massacre has literary treatment in the 1998 Edwidge Danticat historical novel The Farming of Bones.

* The river’s shocking name was not obtained from this slaughter, but from a Spanish-on-French bloodbath in colonial times.

** The term “shibboleth”, originally a Hebrew word for grain, was borrowed to English thanks to a similar test imposed in the Book of Judges (12:5-6):

And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Dominican Republic,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Put to the Sword,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Summary Executions

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1831: Vicente Guerrero, former President of Mexico

2 comments February 14th, 2019 Headsman

Vicente Guerrero, late the president of Mexico, was executed on this date in 1831.

He was once a rebel soldier under Jose Maria Morelos in the Mexican War of Independence against Spain.

The Afro-Mestizo Guerrero (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) cinched that conflict by successfully appealing to his royalist opposite number, Agustin de Iturbide, to switch sides. Their combined forces rode into Mexico City together in September 1821 but the conservative Iturbide and the liberal Guerrero soon parted ways.

Iturbide was elevated to emperor of Mexico; Guerrero by 1823 had returned to the field to rebel against the strongman. When Iturbide was deposed (and eventually executed), Guerrero became one of the ruling triumvirs and a national political figure. He contested the 19281828 presidential election which he lost at the ballot box but won in the ensuing street battles — an affair that featured the intervention on Guerrero’s side of Santa Anna.

He was quick about abolishing slavery and he had to be, for this mixed-race populist was deposed by his conservative vice president within months — beginning another round of civil conflict that was dishonorably resolved when an Italian sea captain arranged with the Mexico City government to lure him aboard and arrest him. For this gambit Judas received 50,000 pesos and Guerrero a summary court-martial and a firing squad at Cuilapam.

The cruel treatment of Guerrero requires an explanation. Bravo had been defeated in 1827 but was merely exiled and there were other similar cases. It is reasonable to ask, therefore, why in the case of Guerrero the government resorted to the ultimate penalty. The clue is provided by Zavala who, writing several years later, noted that Guerrero was of mixed blood and that the opposition to his presidency came from the great landowners, generals, clerics and Spaniards resident in Mexico. These people could not forget the war of independence with its threat of social and racial subversion. Despite his revolutionary past, the wealthy creole Bravo belonged to this “gentleman’s club’, as did the cultured creole, Zavala, even with his radicalism. Hence Guerrero’s execution was perhaps a warning to men considered as socially and ethnically inferior not to dare to dream of becoming president. (Source)

The southern Mexico state of Guerrero is named for him; its slogan, mi patria es primero (my fatherland is first) is the legendary reply that the young Vicente Guerrero made to his Spain-supporting father when asked to foreswear the independence movement.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Heads of State,History,Martyrs,Mexico,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1907: Xu Xulin, anti-Manchu assassin

1 comment July 7th, 2018 Headsman

Chinese revolutionary Xu Xulin was executed on this date in 1907.

As a civil servant in Anhui Province, this militant (English Wikipedia entry | German | the far more detailed Chinese) had just one day before assassinated the provincial governor, En-ming, during the ceremonial graduation of a police academy. Xu himself was the academy’s superintendent.

He’d been hoping to touch off a revolution and his hopes, though not ill-founded, were disappointed in this moment. He was beheaded hours later and his heart carved out as an offering to his victim. Xu’s cousin, the feminist Qiu Jin, was executed the following week for the same disturbance.

Surprisingly, Xu’s murder of a Manchu official — the Mongolian peoples who ruled China’s domestic Han majority under the Qing dynasty — directly spurred a national response to his frankly stated ethnic grievances, as the Qing maneuvered (too late, as it would transpire) to implement reforms that could sustain their state through a revolutionary era.

Xu Xilin, during his interrogation, readily confessed that he had killed Enming simply because he was a Manchu … Xu Xilin professed no grudge against Enming personally, nor did he claim that the governor had been particularly hostile toward Han. Rather, Xu’s enmity was directed toward the Manchus in general:

The Manchus have enslaved us Han for nearly three hundred years. On the surface they seem to be implementing constitutionalism, but that’s only to ensnare people’s minds. In reality they are upholding the centralization of authority so as to enhance their own power. The Manchus’ presumption is that once there is constitutionalism, then revolution will be impossible … If constitutionalism means centralization, then the more constitutionalism there is, the faster we Han people will die … I have harbored anti-Manchu feelings for more than ten years. Only today have I achieved my goal. My intention was to murder Enming, then to kill Duanfang, Tieliang, and Liangbi, so as to avenge the Han people … You say that the governor was a good official, that he treated me very well. Granted. But since my aim is to oppose the Manchus, I cannot be concerned with whether a particular Manchu was a good or bad official. As for his treating me well, that was the private kindness of an individual person. My killing of the governor, on the other hand, expresses the universal principal of anti-Manchuism.

The murder of Enming caused tremendous unease among Manchu officials … Because it coincided with a series of revolutionary uprisings in Guangdong that Sun Yat-sen had launched in early May, the assassination was especially upsetting. According to British diplomats, “Everywhere throughout the country the Manchu officials are living closely guarded in their Yamens.” …

[The Empress] Cixi was particularly anxious about Xu Xilin’s anti-Manchuism. At an audience a month later with her foreign minister, Lu Haihuan (1840-1927), the empress dowager was reportedly still wrestling with Xu’s ghost. She insisted to Lu, “The bandit Xu Xilin claimed that there is prejudice between Manchus and Han, but really when we select provincial officials there is no prejudice whatsoever.” More to the point, she issued within five weeks of each other two edicts that were clearly prompted by Enming’s murder. The first, promulgated on 8 July, two days after the assassination, called once more upon her subjects to present proposals for reform, but this time her appeal went beyond the elite of top officials who were authorized to memorialize the throne to the much broader group of junior officials and scholar commoners, who were now permitted to have their ideas forwarded to her by either the Censorate or the provincial officials.

[The second edict, of 10 August] focused specifically on Manchu-Han relations. Cixi maintained, yet one more time, that the Qing dynasty throughout its long history had always treated Manchus and Han impartially, both as officials and as subjects. Nor had it, in recent appointments to the banner system [hereditary provincial military and administrative posts that were overwhelmingly Manchu], distinguished between Manchus and Han … she then called on all officials to offer suggestions on “how to totally eradicate the boundaries between Manchus and Han.”

-Edward J. M. Rhoads, Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861-1928

Proposals from various officials ran the gamut, — encouraging intermarriage, abolishing legal privileges still enjoyed by Manchus, suppressing the Manchu language, and moving Manchu cultural practices towards the Han in everything from naming conventions to forms of address. Even Cixi’s Grand Council was shaken up to establish parity between Manchus and Han.

The chilling words of the dead assassin still echoing, the government moved on these proposals with surprising urgency. By the autumn,

the court issued two edicts, ten days apart, that resolved to drastically change, though not abolish, the Eight Banner system. The first edict, handed down on 27 September, ordered … that the provincial garrisons be disbanded over a ten-year period and their inhabitants be prepared to make their own living … The second edict, issued on 9 October, dealt with the customary and legal differences between Manchus and Han, such as the length of the mourning period and the commutation of punishments. It called on the Ministry of Rites together with the Commissioners for Revising and Codifying the Laws to draw up a set of ceremonies and penal codes that would apply uniformly to Manchus and Han, excepting only the imperial lineage.

These two edicts thus accepted many of the proposals advanced by the memorialists after Enming’s assassination …

Meanwhile, in response to the growing demands of the constitutionalist reformers … Cixi, in her own name, issued two other edicts that clarified the vague promise that she had made a year earlier to institute a constitutional regime. On 20 September 1907 she declared that her ultimate intention was to establish “a bicameral deliberative body.” As a preparatory step, she ordered the immediate creation of a Consultative Assembly, appointed the fourth-rank prince Pulun (1874-1926) and the elderly grand secretary Jia’nai as its co-presidents, and charged them, together with the Grand Council, to draw up a detailed plan for this new national assembly. A month later, on 19 October, she authorized the formation of provincial deliberative assemblies as well. Afterward, she sent Pulun to Japan to learn more about constitutional government at first hand.

Cixi died the following year. The Xinhai Revolution ended the Qing dynasty in 1911.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder

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