1849: Elisha Reese, suitor

A number of comment threads on this site attest that many accidental visitors to Executed Today are genealogy researchers turning up information about a famous ancestor. The Internet age is a true renaissance for genealogists; while it’s not this blog’s specific objective, it’s a happy side effect if we throw the odd ray of light on the very odd bits of a family’s history.

It’s in that spirit that we present this date’s profile of Elisha Reese, hanged before a reported 5,000 spectators on September 7, 1849 just outside the city limits of Macon, Ga.

As with many crimes, it was the news on everyone’s lips in its own day, but then passed rather quickly into obscurity. Elisha Reese, age 50, was rejected in his marriage suit by 60-year-old widow Ellen Pratt. The nature of their relationship is not known, but Reese took this badly enough that Ellen’s father, 90-year-old Revolutionary War veteran David Gurganus, swore out a peace warrant against his would-be son-in-law … and then Reese took the existence of this peace warrant with a downright vengeful fury.

For what happened next, click on through to the proper genealogist — and Gurganus descendant — who has researched this story already and posted it as a three-parter on her site, A Southern Sleuth.

  1. Murder In Macon
  2. Murder In Macon Part 2
  3. Murder In Macon, the Final Chapter: Trial

On this day..

One thought on “1849: Elisha Reese, suitor

  1. Seeing a murder/execution in my home town reminds me of the most famous one from here, the mass axe murder of all resident members of the Woolfolk family at their plantation home, followed by two trials and ultimately the hanging (10/29/1890) of their son/stepson and brother, Tom Woolfolk, who protested his innocence all along. There was a lot of evidence pointing toward his guilt, but it was possibly compatible with his story of escaping the attack. Two others confessed, one of whom was probably nuts, but the other (Simon Cooper) was more plausible as a perpetrator — Cooper was lynched for a similar crime in South Carolina — though his claim to the Woolfolk murders might have been to preserve his status among his gang.

    Tom Woolfolk’s first conviction and death sentence was reversed, with the Georgia Supreme Court telling trial judges that they need to stop courtroom spectators from doing things like yelling “hang him.” The venue was moved to another county because a fair jury could not be selected, and he was found guilty again, sentenced to death, and hung.

    His legal fees were paid with estate property which had an interesting legal history of its own, with two trips to the US Supreme Court in the 1960s to determine how to deal with property given in trust to the city as a park for the use of “white women and children,” but that gets further away from the subject of your excellent blog.

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