charles m. meacham



The Lawless Period of 1845; The Execution of Lonz Pennington; A Grue-
some Chapter; Hangings and Electrocutions; Two Lynchings.

This quarter century was featured by the stormy election of Andrew Jackson, the growth of political parties, the migration of the Indians, and the political excitement of the elections referred to, the Mexican War, and the movement in 1849 for a new state constitution, as the principal matters of historical interest.

The county was steadily growing in population and in general was prosperous, and the people were happy and contented. They began to turn their attention more and more to better roads, better schools, and more permanent improvements.

Before ending this part, it is in order to mention the lawlessness that led to the execution of Edward Alonzo Pennington, May 1, 1846. Alonzo Pennington was a son of Francis P. Pennington, an early settler of means, a slave owner and a man of sufficient prominence and popularity to have been elected sheriff in 1829. Nothing was known to reflect on the honor or integrity of the old man. He had two sons, Morton and Edward Alonzo, commonly called Lonz. Morton Pennington was not involved in the alleged operations of his younger brother, so far as known. Lonz Penning-ton was given a liberal education by his father, who employed a private teacher named Thomas V. Morrow. After Morrow ceased to live at Pennington’s, there was a “whispering campaign,” based on his reports that strangers were in the habit of visiting Pennington, who did not make known their business except that they were supposed to be traders in negroes, horses and other property. The supposition is that Lonz, as he approached manhood, became interested in this sort of business. He married a young woman of good character and established a home near where his father lived, and his place became the rendezvous of the horse traders. Lonz was a young man of good appearance, had an alert mind and was better educated than most of his neighbors, and soon became noted for his sharp trades that frequently involved him in litigation. There were some who openly charged him with swindling, and he became unpopular in his neighborhood. He was a lover of horses and owned the best horse in his neighborhood and made frequent trips to Illinois and other states to trade in horses. He had a track on his place, where he claimed to train horses he bought, and later would take them to the South and sell them. He was apparently doing a prosperous business. He moved over into Hopkins County and stayed a while, and then moved back to another place, all of the time devoting more attention to trading than to his farming operations. He attracted about him a following of men known as traders and sports, some of whom had bad reputations. There came a time when the county began to be troubled with horse thieves, and even negroes were frequently reported as having “run away”; stealing of negroes being a crime incident to the period.

Pennington’s associates were men not above suspicion, and soon he was suspected himself of being implicated in the lawlessness that increased. The impression grew that an organized band was responsible for the crimes, and Pennington was believed to be the brains of the organization and to be in league with horse thieves and slave dealers in other states. This was the unsavory reputation he had among his own people when a brutal murder occurred, May 9, 1845, that eventually brought about his conviction and execution. Pennington’s career was published in a novel, which gave an exaggerated story of a very ordinary crime. In 1884, Col. James F. Buckner, who had moved to Louisville, published an article in the Courier-Journal of January 13, 1884, which was written nearly forty years after the occurrences in which Colonel Buckner took part, and doubtless from the treacherous memory of a man advanced in age. Many statements as he remembered them were far from correct and were altogether misleading. Among other mistakes was the position assigned to Pennington of a man of wealth, culture and high standing in the community, and the magnified amount of the estate of the man he murdered. Colonel Buckner’s story also reflected upon Christian County —which he had long since left—as seething with mob spirit and threats of personal violence to him as attorney for Pennington. His story was incorporated largely into the history written by W. H. Perrin, of Louisville, in 1884. Before accepting this publication as correct, this writer, whose ancestors lived in the immediate vicinity of the Pennington home and who took part in the law and order organization formed at the time, determined to get at the facts from records. There was found in the hands of a very old lady, 95 years of age, a pamphlet issued in 1846, giving a history of the crime for which Pennington was executed and of his pursuit and capture, the correct names of the people involved, a copy of the indictment, a record of the testimony in detail at the trial, and the speech of Colonel Buckner himself as furnished for publication. This pamphlet has been carefully preserved by Mrs. Mary W. Robinson, a daughter of Rice Dulin, and will be used as the basis of this history, the court records corroborating the facts. The pamphlet was issued by the Hopkinsville Gazette and was reprinted by the Pembroke Review in a second edition in 1896.

Somewhere about 1838, or 1839, an Irish stonemason named Simon Davis appeared in that part of the country and married a girl referred to as “one of the heirs of Nicholas Pyle, deceased.” She had been reared by a preacher named Williams. Davis settled on a little piece of ground, his wife’s part of a small estate, and at the time of his murder his property was described as a few acres of corn and oats just planted, a sorrel mare and two other head of stock, some farm tools and a negro girl slave valued at $300. The account states that his entire estate was not more than $800. The “four negroes” alleged by Colonel Buckner to have been “cashed in” for $1,500 were one girl, sold for $150, only $75 of which was paid in money, the rest in note. And, so far as the record shows, Davis never had at one time as much as $100 in money.  In the indictment itself Pennington was referred to as “Alonzo Pennington, laborer,” the indictment being a matter of record.  In April, 1845, Davis’ wife died without children, and the ground upon which they had lived would by law pass to his wife’s legal heirs. A few days after Mrs. Davis died the negro girl ran off and went to another claimant, and there came to be unfriendly contention between Davis and his wife’s relatives over the slave girl and the farm. Davis, living alone, held the farm, but was in town May 8, 1845, and tried to dispose of all of his holdings, saying he was going to leave the county and work at his trade. The land deal was questionable, but he found a man named Bradley who agreed to pay him $150—about half her value—for the girl whose ownership was disputed. Bradley paid $75 and agreed to give a note for the rest, less some little offsets. Davis and Pennington left town together, both stating that they would attend the muster for that part of the county, to be held at Pleasant Hill Church the next day. Both attended the muster and were seen together, and it developed afterwards that Pennington had agreed to pay Davis $300 for all of his property, saying he would go to law to hold it. He saw Bradley, who agreed to take $20 profit and give up the girl. “An hour and a half by sun,” Davis and Pennington started together from the muster, Bradley and others testifying that Pennington told Davis he would have to go to his father’s to get the money to complete the trade to let Davis leave the country at once.

Pennington’s father lived a mile or two beyond the cave where the body of Davis was found, six miles away. Davis never was seen alive again. Pennington took charge of the farm and everything on it. It is not said what became of the girl. He told numerous witnesses that Davis had gone to Illinois, to Clarksville, to Eddyville and other places. These stories, when compared, excited suspicion, but Pennington explained that Davis was going about working at his trade and that he had seen him on one of his trips. Two months passed when some one who knew Davis’ blaze-faced sorrel mare, that Pennington had said Davis rode away when he left, reported that he had seen the mare in possession of B. F. Cisney, over in Todd County. Pennington had been seen with Cisney and another of his followers named Sheffield, or Shuffle, as the ancient record has it, at the muster, and when Cisney turned up with Davis’ horse, suspicion was no longer whispered. Col. James Robinson called a meeting of his neighbors at Antioch Church and decided to make an organized investigation. Committees were formed and one sent to arrest Cisney. He was found in the county and arrested and taken before a magistrate in Hopkinsville and searched. Nothing being found on him, he was taken to the Pond River neighborhood to explain things to the committee. He was kept under guard for two days, but made no confession. Colonel Robinson was active during these two days. Another meeting was held at Antioch, attended by many citizens from Christian, Muhlenberg, Todd and Hopkins Counties. At this meeting, July 12, the Safety Society, as it was called in the trial, was organized, with Colonel Robinson as chairman. This society was afterwards called the Regulators. I have talked to men who were there and have had first-hand reports of their purposes. They were organized to enforce the law and not to encourage the mob spirit. There was a membership fee of one dollar, to provide a fund for pursuing criminals where necessary.

Cisney’s guards brought him before this meeting. There were no spectacular or melodramatic proceedings, as narrated by Colonel Buckner, with Cisney baring •his bosom and, asking to he shot rather than to be whipped. He still refused to talk, and the same committee who had brought him left with him, In a wooded section the party dismounted to rest, all but two seated on the ground. These two went into the bushes and returned with some stout hickory switches and, securing a rope, laid them at Cisney’s feet. Not a word was spoken. Cisney broke down, tears rolled down his pallid cheeks, and voluntarily he agreed to talk.

The committee had conducted him to the vicinity of the muster grounds, believing that Davis’ body had been disposed of near by. The trembling wretch confessed to three of them, whom he named, and who went aside with him, that he had been with Pennington when he killed Davis, but had only held their horses while they got down to talk. He said Pennington had killed Davis with a heavy stick and had thrown his body into a cave not far from the Greenville road, in a wild, hilly forest. He conducted them to the cave, the body was found, and Cisney was taken to town and lodged in jail on a warrant.

The committee sent to get Pennington found him away from home. They sent members to meet him on the road as he returned from Lyon County, but they missed him. Pennington came by a different road and met a man named Gordon, who told him they had found Davis’ body and Cisney had laid the murder on him. Pennington went on in the night to his home, found it guarded, but went to his pasture and caught his favorite horse, turned his jaded horse in the field and left for the Mississippi river, where he caught a boat and went to the wilds of western Texas.

On July 26, 1845, Pennington was indicted for the murder, with Cisney accessory. Soon afterwards Cisney broke jail and was never recaptured. The Regulators maintained their organization, but found little to do. It became a law-abiding community and the reign of lawlessness soon gave way to order and quietude. Governor Gabriel Slaughter offered a reward for the capture of Pennington, and thus matters were when the location of Pennington was discovered. The Bourland family of several brothers had scattered. William and James Bourland had moved to Texas, and Dr. Reese Bourland was a physician in Ballard County, in a river town. In January, 1846, William Bourland, who was a member of Congress in the republic of Texas, visited his brothers in Kentucky. Stopping to visit the doctor, he learned of the Davis murder and was reminded that while canvassing in a remote county he had seen Pennington, whom he had known, and had spoken to him, but the man told him he was mistaken in the man. The brothers came to Hopkinsville and the doctor arranged to return with William. They went to Lamar County, Texas, where James Bourland was sheriff, and began a chase that led to Pennington’s arrest near the Indian Territory. He was brought back by boat to Canton, where the Regulators had a committee to meet him. They furnished guards throughout the trial. Court was near at hand and, with much excitement, but no threats of violence, the trial was held almost immediately, under the indictment returned the year before by the grand jury, of which Zachariah Glass was foreman. The jury empaneled was as follows: Jas. Perkins, R. G. Henry, E. B. Richardson, Wm. Durrett, 0. C. Smith, Reuben Settle, G. W. Harry, John W. Walker, Sam’l Greshani, Robt. Foard, H. G. Abernathy and Jos. A. Brown. The jurors were nearly all from the southern part of the county. The commonwealth’s attorney was John McLarning, and Col. J. F. Buckner was Pennington’s lawyer. The Gazette pamphlet gave the evidence in rather tedious detail.

W. S. Compton said he was at the cave when Davis’ body was found. He identified the body. He described the cave as 15 miles from Hopkinsyule, about a quarter of a mile from the Greenville road. It is a perpendicular hole 15 or 20 feet deep (not a bottomless pit, as claimed). It is narrow at the top and has a rock platform about 12 feet down. On this the body was lodged. He described the muster, saw the men together, commanded a company, called their names, both answered. Saw Davis’ property the following week at Pennington’s, who said he had bought out Davis and that he had gone to near Clarksville. He said the body was found July 12. He was at the organization of the Safety Society. There were no threats against Pennington. The purpose was to catch him.
David D. Myers was at the cave, so was E. M. Robinson; both corroborated Compton and identified the body.
Wiley Robinson was first to enter the cave and said the body was partly concealed with leaves and sticks. Philip Gregory was also at thc cave and identified the body.  John Kelly, Thos. J. Edwards, Emsley Henderson, James Vaughan, Alfred Younglove, Richard Vaughan and David H. Harrison testified. The latter, Pennington’s brother-in-law, said he told him Davis was below Paducah working on a mill. Others said he had told them he was in Illinois and Georgia. Richard Bradley told about buying the negro girl for $150 in Pennington’s presence. Zach Glass said Pennington told him he left the muster alone and was innocent.

Jas. McFadden said Pennington came to his mother’s the night of the murder, two hours in the night, and spent the night. Mrs. Cooper corroborated McFadden’s testimony. Davis Compton said Pennington came to his fence where he was plowing and asked if he had heard tales about his killing Davis, a week before the body was found. Told him he had, and Pennington said Davis was well and sound and he had seen him building a chimney near Clarksville.

Rice Dulin (father of Mrs. Mary W. Robinson) was at the cave. Also met Pennington at Canton, who told him Gordon informed him of the finding of the body. He went on home and found his home watched. Said he was not afraid of a fair trial. Langley Bell said Pennington told him Davis was keeping out of the sheriff’s way on account of the trouble with his wife’s relations.

George Bradley saw Davis at the muster. Fed a colt and a calf for Davis after the muster. Said he would be away that night but would return the next day. Franklin Webb bought corn from Pennington at Davis’ place. Heard him say he was going to leave.

Dan S. Hays said Pennington told him he was returning from the iron works when Gordon told him Davis’ body had been found. Said no attempt was made to take Pennirigton until after the body was found. Other corroborative witnesses weie Dr. W. H. Hopson, John W. Grissom and Oliver Meacham.

Those who were called by the defense, most of whom testified about unimportant details, were Wm. Wicks, Wm. Harkins, James Robinson, John McFadden, Wm. West, A. Cooper and some of the state’s witnesses were recalled. Pennington did not testify. The argument then proceeded. McLarning reviewed the chain of circumstantial evidence, quoted the law, and asked for conviction. Col. Buckner expressed his embarrassment at being in a case so unpopular, spoke of the excitement and prejudice against his client, spoke of the danger of convicting on circumstantial evidence alone, reviewed the evidence, pointed out some discrepancies in it, quoted Latin phrases, charged that Cisney may have killed Davis himself, asked for sympathy for Pennington’s good wife who sat by him and concluded by saying, “If you err let it be on the side of mercy.” McLarning replied briefly, complimented Col. Buckner for doing his duty by his client, declared he wanted no man convicted contrary to law, denounced any thought of lynch law, declaring: “I am bound to interpose my denial that any spirit of subordination to law has been manifested. I am aware that false reports have gone abroad to the injury of our county, that its citizens in disregard of law, were disposed to take vengeance into their own  hands. I repel with indignation the slanderous charge that such intentions and feelings ever did exist to any extent in Christian County.”

The case was given to the jury by Judge Shackelford and in a short while a verdict of death was returned. He was sentenced April 6th and hanged May 1. J. Milton Clark was the acting sheriff. He was hanged to the limb of a post oak tree near the city. When the trap dropped the rope broke. While the rope was being readjusted, Pennington, it is said, declared that Cisney killed Davis. The second fall was effective. Pennington was 35 or 40 years old, tall and slender, with dark hair, beard and eyes. He died bravely.


During the first 65 years of the county’s history, the death penalty was inflicted upon ten persons. One was a woman and all but one were negroes. In the imperfect records of early days there are no records of the first two. The events were handed down by traditional recollections of old citizens. The records following were compiled by this writer and published in the Hopkinsville Kentuckian, June 26, 1885.


The first person hanged in the county was a colored girl, the property of Dr. Edward Rumsey. As nearly as we can fix the time by the statements of the oldest citizens, who were told of it when they were children, the hanging was about the year 1812. The girl’s name is not known, but in those days there was a divided opinion on the justice of her execution. She was left to nurse a fretful child and gave it laudanum, from the effects of which it died. One opinion was that she attempted to administer the drug to quiet the babe but gave it too much and killed it. The jury, however, found her guilty of murder and she was publicly hanged on the river bank, not far from where the present county jail stands. She was buried under the scaffold, but subsequently the remains were dug up and removed, because the bones were supposed to be near the vein of water making the Rock Spring, some distance down the river bank, from which the water supply of the town was obtained.


The second person hanged was a negro man known as “Old Kemp,” who was the property of Joshua Cates, a leading citizen. He was put to death for shooting his master, and the hanging was probably about the year 1820, or a little later. Mr. Cates recovered from the wound and used every exertion to save Old Kemp’s life, but to no avail, and he was hanged near the old Nashville road. He was buried on the spot and “Old Kemp’s grave” was a familiar object to the Hopkinsville boys two generations ago. He was sentenced to death by Judge Benj. Shackelford, who succeeded Judge William Wallace in 1814.

At this point we turn to the records of the court for information, and no longer trust to the “memory of the oldest inhabitant.” Early in the thirties there seems to have been a reign of murder. In 1832, “Edmund, a slave, the property of James Jones,” was tried for the crime of stabbing Brewer Reeves and sentenced to death. He was to be executed November 16, 1832, but on the 12th of the same month a pardon was granted him by Gov. Breathitt, which arrived after the gallows had been erected. The records show that Edmund was valued at $450.


In 1833, occurred a murder, which was one of the most sensational that ever happened in this county. Mrs. Miller, while standing by a well, was shoved in and drowned by Cassy, a colored girl, the property of Wm. Grey. The girl was arrested and implicated Squire, a young negro man, belonging to Mrs. Rhoda Clark, and they both charged that John Miller instigated them to do the deed. All three were tried at the August term of Circuit Court, separate trials being granted. Cassy was arraigned August 13, 1833, and the trial proceeded without her presence in court, as she was very sick at the time in the jail and could not be brought out. She was defended by Gustavus A. Henry, afterwards known as “The Eagle Orator of Tennessee.” The following jury was empaneled:
John D. Jameson, Benj. Johnson, M. T. Carnahan, Samuel Hays, Jos. Clark, Wm. Palmer, John Bradley, Alex. Arbuckle, Eli Finley, Jos. Williams.

The jury, through their foreman, John D. Jameson, returned a verdict of “guilty,” although the girl was then lying at the point of death and it was thought advisable to take her deposition in the other cases as a witness for the Commonwealth, so critical was her condition. She was brought out sick and weak on the 15th and received the sentence of death. The time was fixed by Judge Shackelford at Wednesday, October 2, 1833, between the hours of 10 A.M. and 2 P.M., and the money value placed upon the girl, the amount to be paid by the State to her owner, was $375.

Her attorney attempted to obtain a new trial, but the motion was overruled and the judgment of the court was subsequently carried out.

“Squire, a slave, the property of Mrs. Rhoda Clark,” was next arraigned. He was charged with being an accessory before the fact, and was defended by David 5. Patton and Wm. W. Fry. Cassy’s evidence was read, as she was too sick to appear in court. The following jury tried the case on the 14th of August:  David Lucy, Wm. G. Moore, Wm. Dunnavan, Francis Pennington, Wm. W. McKenzie, Alfred Major, Joseph Sivley, John Cornelius, Thos. G. Edmundson, Wm. Trover, John Luckie, Jas. C. Haden.
The verdict was: “We, the jury, find the defendant guilty as charged. .J. C. Haden, one of the jury.”
Squire’s attorneys made a motion to arrest judgment, but this was overruled. They then attempted to secure a new trial, but their efforts were futile and on August 24th, he, too, was sentenced to be hanged at the same time designated in the case of Cassy.

The judgment of the court was carried out and they were hanged together on October 2, 1833, to the limb of a tree on the Madisonville road, near where Maj. John Stites afterward lived. Deputy Sheriff Pinckney French officiated and the third and fourth hangings in the county were conducted with “neatness and dispatch.”


John Miller, the white man indicated as accessory before the fact, as mentioned above, was put on trial August 17th, and was convicted five days later. The jury was composed of the following citizens: Edward Delasier, John Jones, John H. Goode, Jos. Quisenberry, Thos. Hopkins, Nicholas M. Ellis, Richard C. Faulkner, Edmund Meacham, Israel M. Marshall, Thos. Sandford, Wm. C. Scott and Silas Boyd.

On August 24, a motion was made for a new trial and the court took until the next term of court to consider the motion. On the 9th of the following November the motion was overruled and Miller was sentenced to be hanged Friday, December 27, 1833, but escaped from the jail before that time and was never recaptured. Hon. Jos. B. Crockett was the Commonwealth’s Attorney during these times, and it was due to his vigorous prosecution more than to the conclusiveness of the evidence that Miller was convicted. There were always grave doubts in the minds of many as to his guilt and it is not improbable that he was an innocent man. Some of his connections now live in the northern part of the county and are good and useful citizens.


It was six years after the double hanging before there was another death sentence. The fifth and next criminal to die at the hands of the law was “Sam, a slave, the property of Thos. B. Wilson.” He was charged with rape, his victim being Frances W. Hill, who appeared in court and testified against him. He was put on trial May 11, 1839, and the following jury sat upon the case: Benj. S. Campbell, Wm. M. Shipp, Austin M. Cason, Dickey Chappell, Richard Durrett, Robt. Dillard, Thos. Gregory, Guy Kinkead, Samuel S. Walker, Joseph Meacham, Jr., David Johnson, Harrison U. Garvin.

Sam was found guilty and sentenced on May 15th, by Judge Shackelford, to be hanged on Friday, June 7, 1839, between the hours of 11 A.M and 2 P.M. The jail was reported unsafe and the jailer authorized to employ three guards, but notwithstanding this precaution Sam broke jail  and outraged the wife of a reputable citizen of the county. He was recaptured and executed as directed by law and richly deserved the fate he met. Richard D. Bradley was the sheriff and the hanging took place on the same spot where the last preceding execution was. The limb of the tree previously used having been cut off, a pole was laid in the forks of two trees, to serve as a gallows. The body of the victim was taken by medical students to a cabin in the southeastern suburbs of the city and there dissected.


The next person to play the leading role in an official tragedy was “Jesse, a slave, the property of Dr. Smith.” He was hung for the murder of a white woman, who was traveling through the country alone. He reported the finding of her murdered body in the woods and upon being closely questioned, suspicion was directed towards him as the guilty party and he was arrested and indicted by the grand jury. He was tried August 6, 1842, by the following jury:  Benj. C. Garnett, H. P. Owsley, Wm. C. Reeves, Finis E. Henderson, Ira F. Ellis, James Edwards, Geo. Western, James Thompson, Wm. Henderson, Lewis Atkinson, Gabriel Williams and Wiley Robinson.

The jury returned a speedy verdict and Jesse was sentenced the same day to be hanged on Friday, Sept. 2, 1842, between the hours of 10 A.M. and 2 P.M., on a public gallows.

He was hanged near the Princeton Road, on the bank of the dry branch, by Thos. Barnett, who was sheriff at that time. The body passed into the hands of the doctors and was dissected in the interest of science.

The next was Lonz Pennington, the only white man ever executed by law in the county. A detailed account of his execution, May 1, 1846, appears elsewhere.


Seven years after the events narrated just above, the eighth hanging in Christian County took place. The victim was a negro slave, the property of W. B. Mason, named John. He killed Mr. Mason’s overseer, a man named Bard Sherrill, in the year 1853. He was placed on trial October 7th, of the same year, the following gentlemen composing the jury:

Wm. T. Bronaugh, Alex Arbuckle, John M. Boyd, Isham P. Bobbitt, Jesse Fox, Aquilla Long, Wiley Barnes, James Alder, Wm. J. Crabtree, Elijah Armstrong, Gideon Overshiner, Alex Bradshaw. The jury, through their foreman, Gideon Overshiner, returned a verdict of “guilty” and John was, on October 8th, sentenced to be hanged on November 18, 1853, between the hours of 10 A.M., and 2 P.M., in a piece of woodland near the Greenville road, in the suburbs of Hopkinsville. Judge Henry J. Stites was the presiding judge and the sentence was executed by Sheriff John B. Gowen, at the appointed time and place.


Juries had a way of enforcing the law a generation ago, and it was only three years after the hanging of John, before Jacob, a negro man, the property of H. G. Bowling, traveled over the same route. He, too, murdered a white man—Charlie Boyd by name. He killed him with an axe, and although Jacob protested that he killed Boyd in defending his own life, he was convicted and died at the end of a rope. He was arraigned for trial on October 9, 1856, and the jury was composed of the following citizens: Benj. Bradshaw, Elbert Henderson, W. H. Smith, Edward Merriwether, John Bowen, R. S. Gary, Sydney R. Merritt, Robt. McGaughey, Hugh Tomlinson, Jonathan Armstrong, Hardin Jones, Peter Higgins. The verdict of the jury was: “We of the jury find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictment. Benj. Bradshaw, foreman.”

Judge Geo. B. Cook was then on the bench, and on October 17th the court passed sentence of death upon the convicted man, directing Sheriff John B. Gowen to take him on Friday, December 12, 1856, to a piece of woodland near the Greenville road, in the vicinity of the town of Hopkinsville, and hang him by the neck until dead. This sentence was carried out on the same spot where the last preceding hanging took place.


We now come to the tenth and last hanging in Christian County, from the formation of the county up to a quarter of a century ago. In 1862, “Ned, a slave, the property of John T. Edmunds,” killed a fellow-servant, for which he was indicted for murder. He was put on trial March 18, 1862, and the jury who decided his destiny was as follows:  P. N. Anderson, Richard Boyd, W. T. Merritt, D. R. Beard, James Biggerstaff, Ulen Wolfe, Wiley Robinson, Benj. Harrison, W. H. Moore, Thos. Hall, W. S. Mathews and John J. Elliott.

Through the foreman, Wiley Robinson, the jury returned a verdict of “guilty,” and on March 22 Ned was sentenced to death by Judge Thos. C. Dabney, who was then Circuit Judge.

The time fixed was May 16, 1862, and the judgment of the court was carried out by Deputy Sheriff R. T. McDaniel. The hanging, like all others in the county, was public and was witnessed by a great crowd. It took place on the Greenville road near the Fair Grounds.


The next execution after the one in 1862 was that of a negro named Jordan Taylor, for the murder of a woman of his own race, named Sally
Saunders, on the night of October 8, 1884, near Casky. Jealousy was the motive. Taylor and the woman had worked as field hands together that day, and after night she refused to allow him to go with her to her home some distance away on another farm. She left alone. Taylor followed her and split her head with an axe and hid the body. A quarrel with her had been in public and he was suspected. The body was found and Taylor confessed. An old negro named John Lee, a Hoodoo doctor, who had fixed up love powders for Taylor to use on the woman, was indicted with him. Taylor first swore that Lee had advised him to kill the woman when the “conjure” didn’t work. After his conviction and Lee went to trial, Taylor repudiated his first story and exonerated the old man entirely and he was acquitted. This jury tried Taylor March 26: A. M. Cooper, Thos. Brown, James Lacy, Wash Harry, Van Dulin, W. H. Size-more, John W. Courtney, G. W. Clark, Alex Walker, J. S. Forrey, E. D. Boyd and E. F. Morris. He was hanged in an enclosure in the rear of the jail in the presence of only 48 people. John Boyd was the sheriff who performed the duty.


The next legal execution in chronological order was Beverley Adams, who was tried for the murder of another negro at the June term, in 1894, and sentenced to be hanged September 14, 1894. The jury that convicted him was as follows: Jesse Denton, C. N. Edwards, W. H. Butler, M. V. Dulin, J. H. Murphy, Milton Hight, W. T. Bonte, Bayless Parker, Lee Davis, J. W. Carloss, R. L. Boyd, Alex Campbell. Lem R. Davis was sheriff at the time and carried out the sentence of the court in an enclosure in the rear of the county jail, by hanging Adams.


A negro named George Holland was the next to be hanged in the county. On the night of November 14, 1903, a white man whose identity was never established, who was walking through the county, purchased some food in Pembroke and retired to some woods near the town, cooked his meal on a campfire and lay down to sleep by the fire. Some days later his dead body was found in a pile of rails not far away and it showed that his skull had been crushed and his throat cut. The Pembroke officers, Lawrence Moore, a detective, and Town Marshal, Joe E. Jackson, went to work on the case and soon arrested George Holland on suspicion and secured from him a confession in which he implicated eight other negroes. The man had shown some money in making his purchases and one of the negroes saw it. The gang was gotten together and the murder and robbery followed. Judge Thos. P. Cook called a special session of Circuit Court early in January and the following negroes, all of whom had been arrested, were indicted for murder: George Holland, aged 50; Dick Carney, 32; Frank Massie, 72; Charles Finch, 27; Ed Holland, 25; Bill Garrott, 30; Ed Moseley, 19; Frank Merriweather, 22, and Frank Sherman, 22.
Commonwealth’s Attorney, Denny P. Smith, County Attorney, Otho H. Anderson, and C. H. Bush were the prosecuting attorneys. Robert N. Lander, a colored lawyer, appeared for the defense. The Commonwealth elected to try George Holland and Dick Carney first and jointly. The following jury was empaneled and they went on trial January 8, 1904; Dr. John P. Bell, Thos. J. Baynham, Richard Ray, J. F. Boyd, Harvey Hight, Andy Estes, Amos Robinson, W. G. Ward, Travis McCord, Monroe Bullard, John C. White.

Holland’s original story was that Frank Merriweather clubbed the stranger as he slept with a pickhandle. He repudiated his confession and the defense was a story of conflicting denials. The evidence was strong, one of the negroes having dropped a glove, easily identified, at the scene, and the stranger’s money had been spent freely. The jury, without delay, gave both negroes death sentences.

Frank Merriweather and Charles Finch were next tried and given death sentences. The other cases were postponed. Frank Merriweather moved for a new trial and when Court adjourned the other three were sentenced to be hanged April 15, 1905. The negroes all appealed after getting their plans made. The regular court term came on and the others were tried. One sickened and died. One was released for lack of evidence. The rest got prison sentences. Finch and Merriweather and Carney, all in the end got off with prison sentences. Holland’s case was affirmed and he alone was hanged.


In 1916, a negro named Frank Postell, not akin to the local colored family of that name, was indicted for the murder of a white man and was tried June 16, 1916, and given a death sentence by the following jury:
J. C. Davis, Chas. Fowler, Tom King, E. G. Robinson, W. P. Ward, E. 0. Word, J. H. Johnson, P. 0. Martin, W. A. Walker, Geo. B. Bradshaw, J. L. McCulloch. Postell escaped the gallows by dying before the date fixed for his execution.


In the fall of 1922 a negro named Tom Nichols killed B. H. Robey, a white man, a railroad construction foreman, at Gracey, by knocking him in the head with a pick handle or bludgeon. Nichols was tried in Januàry, 1923, by the following jury: J. D. Moseley, T. P. McGee, M. T. Carter, Harold McKinney, Geo. L. Owen, J. H. Duvall, Nile Farmer, J. C. White, Jack Renshaw, D. P. Young, J. W. Courtney and H. G. Kelly. He was given a death sentence January 26, 1923, and, under a new law, was subsequently taken to Eddyville, Ky., and after some delay, his sentence was affirmed and he was electrocuted in the State prison, the first to die in this way, from the county.


The last legal execution was in 1926. A young negro named Sam Harris, known in police circles as “Smoky” Harris, killed his wife and hid her body in the river at the waterworks dam near the city. The couple did not get along well. Harris was a former soldier in the World War and had been in trouble many times. He and his wife were known to be quarrelsome with each other and Harris was very jealous in his disposition. When his wife was found to be missing he was suspected and arrested and a search located the woman’s body weighted down in the water. He was tried and convicted at the June term of Circuit Court, in 1925, by the following jury: W. H. Pugh, W. S. Davison, 0. H. Hamby, F. E. White, J. W. Maddux, J. B. West, John Smith, J. L. Weaver, J. C. Gary, B. F. Watson, R. S. Caine, W. H. Malone.

The usual delays were resorted to by attorneys who defended him, but the case was affirmed by the Court of Appeals and Harris was electrocuted in the prison at Eddyville, in the spring of 1926.


So far as records go, there have been but two cases of lynch law in the county. In the summer of 1888, a negro named John Skinner was arrested, put in the county jail, accused of attempting to kill a white man. Excitement was high, but no immediate violence was attempted and the officers were lulled into a feeling that the law would be allowed to take its course. A week later a mob came in quietly one night and took Skinner out two miles from town on the Cadiz road and hanged him to the limb of a tree on the farm of M. P. Meacham, that extended over the fence into the public road. The tree remained standing many years afterwards and came to be known as “Skinner’s Tree.” The owner of the farm finally had it cut down and used it for “barn wood” in the firing of tobacco.


On April 9, 1909, a negro named Booker Brame, who had seized and frightened a young white girl near her home, in the neighborhood of Pee Dee, was captured the next day by a searching party, identified by the girl, and was taken to a point in Flat Lick, just inside the Christian County line, and hanged to a tree. The body hung for forty-four hours, before being taken down by the coroner.

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