Tuesday, July 22, 2014

July 22, 1898: Joe Williams

Today's article comes from the pages of The Commonwealth (Scotland Neck, N. C.) dated July 28, 1898.


Tied to a Pine Tree and Shot.


Last Saturday morning, the people of Scotland Neck were greatly surprised and shocked to hear that a lynching had occurred near town the night before.  Some one reported early in the morning that a negro was seen tied to a tree dead about a mile from town near the road between town and Joyner's bridge.  Upon investigation it was found that the man was Joe Williams, and that he was tied to a pine tree with a strong rope, his face towards the tree and his arms between his body and the tree and three bullet holes in him—one in the back of the head, one in his shoulders and one lower down in his back.

Large numbers of persons went from town and passed during the day to view the body, but it was left untouched until late in the afternoon when county coroner George A. Branch came to hold an inquest.

The jurors who examined the body and reported upon it were three white men, Julian Pendleton, John L. Whitehead and J. H. Branch; and three colored men—Isreal Little, Isham Smith and Thad Shields.  Their verdict was that Joseph Williams came to his death by means of pistol shots from the hands of persons unknown.

The coroner instructed deputy sheriff C. W. Dunn to bury the body near the roadside, which he did.  There were perhaps more than 200 persons at the inquest.


Mr. H. V. Davis, who farmed on the lands of Mr. W. T. Vaughan last year, brought Joe Williams from near Henderson and employed him in a tobacco crop.  He had some difficulty while working on Mr. Vaughan's farm, which was settled before Mayor Perry, of Scotland Neck.  Williams worked for others in the community, and late in the year, about November, while he was working for Mr. Joyner, he claimed that he was taken out at night and severely whipped.  He came to town to consult a lawyer, who advised him to leave the community.  Some good white people furnished the money on which to leave and he left for a time.  While he was gone to Vance or Warren county he shot a man, according to his own report when he returned.  It seems that upon his return to the community he was advised to go away again, which he did, but returned again and had been here only about a week before the occurrence last Friday night.  He had tried to secure work in that community from some persons who would not hire him.  It has been reported he killed a man before he came to this community, and he was said to be unpopular even with the colored people.  Reports say that he had two brothers who were desperate characters.

All circumstances point to the fact that Joe Williams was a desperate character.  He had been warned more than once to leave the community.  Good, conservative white men had counseled him that he would better not remain in the community; but he defiantly declared that he would not go, that he was not afraid of any one.  He remained, with the results as given.

When he was taken for execution Friday night he was curing tobacco for Mr. W. A. Dortch across the creek from town.  Another colored man was with him.  The colored man has made some incoherent statements about the seizure.  He told someone that Joe Williams had a pistol lying by him and was asleep when some persons laid hold upon him and hurried him away from the tobacco barn.

It has been impossible to get a clear idea of how he was seized, and the whole thing seems shrouded in mystery.

THE COMMONWEALTH speaks for the best people of the community in deploring the tragic occurrence.

This community has long been known for its virtue, morality and high regard for law and right, and it goes without saying that our good people unequivocally condemn lawlessness of any kind and especially such a crime as has blotted the fair name of our community in the lynching of Joe Williams.  While he may have been, and undoubtedly was, a desperate character, few people, if any, would say that any offense of his thus far known justified the lynching.

Only one such occurrence has approached it in this community in many years, or so far as we know in the history of the town, and that was the death of John Odom, a colored man who was found dead in a furnace some years ago.  And it was established that he was known to be drinking before and may have crawled in to warm himself.  It was generally believed, however, that he was murdered, and the persons suspected left and have not been seen here since.

The good people of the community are shocked and pained at the lynching of Joe Williams and it is to be hoped that henceforth we shall be spared another such shocking occurrence.

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