Sunday, January 11, 2015

January 11, 1896: Patrick and Charlotte Morris

The lynching covered today was a case of lynching for miscegenation. If you are not familiar with the term, defines it with the following: 

1. marriage or cohabitation between two people from different racial groups, especially, in the U.S.,between a black person and a white person:
In 1968 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that state laws prohibiting miscegenation were unconstitutional.
2. sexual relations between two people from different racial backgrounds that results in the conception of a mixed-race child.

We learn about this case through the pages of The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) dated January 14, 1896:


And Condemns the Outrage Perpetrated at Westwego,

Several Unprovoked Assaults Add to the Feeling,

And Citizens Declare Themselve Ready to Use Force

To Compel the Lawless Element to Preserve Order.

Judge Rost Delivers a Charge to the Grand Jury,

And a Mass Meeting is Held in the Evening.

True Story of the Double Murder—Parties Accused by the Boy Prove Alibis,

"I think it is the sentiment and purpose of this meeting to pledge ourselves right here and now to put down lawlessness peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must."—John Herbert, chairman of last night's Gretna mass meeting.

Yesterday the curious multitude ceased to crowd the little ferry at Westwego; there was less excitement over the happenings of Saturday night, and, to all appearances, the murder and cremation of Patrick Morris and his colored domestic partner had even been forgotten in Jefferson parish.

This apparent forgetfulness was merely the surface, for the people of the parish have been thoroughly aroused. They are accustomed, to a certain extent, to acts of violence, but there has always been some fairly good reason when mob law was invoked. When the Julian brothers were lynched after the murder of Judge Estopinal and the public could, in a measure, understand why such steps were taken.

When Frey was hurried on to a sudden and horrible end for the many acts of lawlessness committed by the firebugs the public could again furnish a reason for the people's vengeance. But the killing of Patrick Morris and his wife, Charlotte, has very little defense among the citizens of the parish. They understood the character of the woman and the worthlessness of the man, and even the reputation of the establishment they conducted, but why these two people should have been shot to pieces and their bodies burned they were at a loss to fathom.

Many of the prominent residents of the parish, and especially those residing in the neighborhood of the Westwago elevator and the Company canal, condemn the act, and express the desire to see the criminals captured and punished. They denounce the mob's act, and express the desire to see the criminals captured and punished. They denounce the mob's act the most brutal and disgusting ever committed within the district.

The little pile of smoldering debris still remains intact. The grave near the ashes has been trampled down almost even with the smooth surroundings. The little red store next to the canal, which was about 100 feet from the location of the flatboat, had its usual crowd of visitors yesterday, but the lynching was never discussed. Farther up toward the St. Charles line the residents were only beginning to learn the disgusting details. At Waggaman the first real news of the crime was received on Sunday morning, but the details were secured from the morning papers.


proper as published by the Picayune yesterday was, in the main, correct. Morris and his wife had for some time back become the mark for the more respectable residents of the parish. Their establishment became notorious and was looked upon as one of the most filthy dens in that section. While it is not believed that the crime was committed by the prominent people of the district, still it is understood that these had made protests against the condition of affairs at the flatboat long before the fire.

On the night of the killing, it is understood from reliable authorities, that Morris and his wife and home were brought up for discussion. It was a unanimous desire that he should be made to leave the land, and with this object in view a committee was named to see that the desired result was reached.

About 11 o'clock some one or two members of this body climbed over the edge of the levee, down to the batture, and reaching the front of the house, set fire to the beams.

The crackling of the flames and the heat attracted the attention of Morris and his wife. The crowd was then clustered about the place, hidden in the willows and behind the levee. As is known, Morris discovered the fire in time to save his house, and after extinguishing the flames. He came to the conclusion that there would be no further attempts made to burn the boat, and he again retired.

It was about midnight when the second and successful attempt was made to burn the place. Then Morris and his wife made their final mad rush for safety.

It was not the intention of the mob to kill the couple, but this followed as a suitable sequel to the first and horrible crime. After the first shot was fired the mob became reckless. They were bloodthirsty and wanted to kill everybody in sight. When the negro woman fell and her white husband followed toward the door, stumbling over the prostrate form, another shot was fired. This bullet struck the man in the leg.

To one of the mob there occurred a desperate plan, born of a cunning imagination. It was his desire, or


by the burning building. The fire had advanced entirely too far beyond the hopes of extinguishment. It is stated that an ax lay near the opening of the dwelling, and this was used in putting an end to the suffering Irishman. Then the bodies were carried back into the bedroom and placed on the bed and left to burn.

When the coroner discovered at the inquest that one of the heads was missing there was an additional feeling of disgust among the good people of the parish. It was thought, from the size of the remnants of the frame, that it was the woman who had been beheaded. This was incorrect. It has been stated by those who are in a position to know that it was the man who lost his head, but what became of this member is a mystery.

When the mob saw that the building would certainly burn to the ground they began using it for a target. Some thirty or forty shots were sent into the burning planks, and these were the empty shells which were found in the morning by Officer Fisher.

One of the most disgraceful details of the entire affair was the firing upon the boy, Pat Morris, Jr., just as he made his escape from the burning building. The mob was naturally stationed around the dwelling, and as the boy rushed out of the back door, with his clothing under his arm, two or three shots were fired at his rapidly moving little figure. Fortunately none of the bullets took effect. He escaped in the darkness, and even the mob itself was glad that the shots had proved ineffective.

The conclusion of the lynching was decidedly different from the original plan. When the party of men went to the house it was with the intention of burning the place and allowing the occupants to escape. They thought by destroying the dwelling the hated couple would be only too glad to find a location for their future home many miles away. The shooting came after, and was purely impromptu.

About the same time during the night Mr. J. W. Roth and two of his watchmen were far back in the rear of the grain elevator searching among the freight cars for thieves. Of late these cars have been robbed very exclusively of the grain consigned to the elevator. He is the superintendent of the elevator and made a search that night. Two men were found in the neighborhood of the main line and some ten or twelve shots were fired at them. These shots, added to the noise near the dwelling, misled the public to a certain extent.


from all accounts, richly deserved the ill-will of the entire neighborhood. Charlotte Morris was known among the neighbors as one of the most insulting women in the parish. She was a mammoth figure, weighing over 200 pounds. Just before the grain elevator was completed in 1892 she and her husband built their hut, which was afterwards known as Catfish Hotel. The building was constructed upon railroad property and was used by the occupants as a general den of vice, so it is claimed. Here Morris and his wife lived, and there were additional rooms which they rented out. The negro woman sold lunch to the negro laborers along the wharf and during the time the elevator was in the course of construction also sold liquor. In this manner the majority of the men were enabled to keep drunk pretty much of the time. It was a long time before the contractors' superintendent discovered the locality of the grogshop, and then he entered a complaint. Several affidavits of trespass were made against the woman and man, but this did not seem to worry them in the least. They were brought up[ for trial before Judge Brunet and sent before the district court under bonds. Then, too, the negro woman and the man frequently became entangled in fights and drunken disturbances, which brought them into the courts in all about a dozen times.

The statement given to the press by the boy on Sunday attracted considerable attention and indignation throughout the parish.

In this statement he claims that once his mother was arrested and brought before Judge Brunet for trial. A fine of $50 was imposed upon the woman, and she was p-laced under $400 bonds.

Yesterday a reporter discussed this matter at length with Judge Brunet and the fact as secured by him, and which the documents filed in the district court will show, the state of affairs was entirely different.


all that statement which referred to him. Some years ago Mr J. W. Roth, superintendent of the elevator, and Mr. Wilkinson, superintendent of the wharf, swore out about a dozen affidavits against the woman, charging her with trespass. The case was brought before the judge for trial and the woman was sent before the district court for final trial. She was placed under several hundred dollars bonds, but this bond was reduced to $100. Morris made affidavit to the fact that he was worth fully the amount of the bond, and he was accepted as bondsman. The case went up for trial twice, and was continued. Wilkinson left the wharf and could not be found.

In April, 1894, the woman was first brought before the district court for trial, but owing to the absence of Wilkinson the case was continued until the December term, and again Wilkinson could not be found. Then the matter was allowed to drop, but the case is still pending.

The statement that Lawyer Thompson compelled him to withdraw a number of charges, the judge stated, was also false. No one could compel him to drop any charge properly made. He thought over the history of the woman for a short time and remarked that in all she and her husband came before him about a dozen times. She and her husband were frequently brought before him on the charge of drunk and disturbing of the peace, and fighting was a common offense. The woman he pronounced one of the most insulting he ever met, while the man was a steady and hard drinker. In one instance the judge was compelled to fine Morris for contempt. He was summoned as a witness and before he was placed on the stand he visited a neighboring barroom frequently and became very drunk. He came into the court under the influence of liquor and was punished and released, and he went outside and started a general fight. He cited this incident to show the character of the man.

He most desired to have flatly contradicted the statement in regard to the fine of $50 collected by him. In regard to the civil suit for $1400 damages brought about by his expulsion from Southport, the judge stated that if such a case had been filed it was thrown out of court and the man lost the suit. However, of late he has heard nothing of the original couple. They have been keeping rather quiet and it was not until a short time ago that the judge became aware of the fact that Morris and his wife were still in the parish.

Mr. G. W. Roth, the present superintendent of the elevator, had a rather


of his connection with the couple. He also pronounced the woman the most insulting he ever had the misfortune to come across. She had even committed trespass after trespass, even after she had been ordered off the place. He found it impossible to keep her away from the elevator and the men without applying to law, and for this reason the affidavits were made against her. Pat Morris had worked for Mr. Roth from time to time for the past three years. Last Saturday he had been discharged, and the company still holds a day's wages, which can be collected by his heir.

When Mr. Roth took charge of the elevator he found Morris and his wife located in their Catfish Hotel. This was in July, 1892, and the elevator was not opened until September of that year. He had taken charge of the plant but a week when he had numerous complaints from the contractors' superintendent that the woman was operating a dive and was selling liquor to the men by the drink or the bottle. He wanted the woman and the man moved away, because his men were kept drunk almost all the time. After the elevator was completed the same state of affairs existed. He then told how Morris and his wife picked up cotton and how the house was burned by the children. Morris and his wife went to live in half of a cottage on the edge of the canal for three days pending a search for permanent quarters. At the end of the three days they refused to move and the occupants of the other half of the house were compelled to purchase the entire building before they could force Morris and his wife to leave. Then they took possession of the flatboat. On the night of the mobbing Mr. Roth stated that he had crossed the river to the elevator at about 9:30 o'clock took two of his watchmen and started back into the switch yards.

Of late the cars have the appearance of having been robbed and as Saturday was a dark night he decided to make a search. Taking a rifle and arming the two watchmen with guns, he started for the long switch. He had gotten near the main line of the track and then the three separated and began to search for the thieves. Two men were seen some distance away, alongside of a box car, and he told the watchmen to fire upon the men, as they had no business in the yard. They did fire and possibly a dozen shots were discharged. 

One of the watchmen called his attention to the fire on the batture, but as he could easily see that the flames were below the canal, he paid no attention to it. He was so far off and there was so much shooting among his own little party that he did not notice the shots, which were fired along the river bank. It was nearly 1 o'clock when he came back tot he levee, and then he crossed the river and went home. The next morning the cook told him of the mobbing of the couple. This was the first he knew of the affair. When he heard of the trouble he came back to Westwego and then telephoned to Officer Lafrance at Waggaman, and also to Chief Linden and the coroner at Gretna. He had not seen officer Lafrance during the night before, but was told that he had gone up the levee to Waggaman, about 8 miles distant, about 7:30 o'clock.


is the man whom the negro boy positively states was present when the shooting took place and was one of the mob which murdered his mother and father. Officer Lafrance denied this in the most indignant manner possible yesterday and added that it would be easy for him to prove otherwise. During the afternoon he had received a telephone message that the railroad company would pay off the men that evening and as there was a man, Taffy Chism, who owed him money, he decided to come down and collect it and to be present in case of a fight. He remained with Mr. Roth until about 6 o'clock, when he crossed the canal and went over to Roger Valley's store and took a cup of coffee. He remained with Valley about half and hour when he walked up the levee past the elevator and to the barroom kept by John Gassenberger. This is about an eighth of a mile from the store. There he left his horse tied to a fence, as is his custom. He went into the store and talked with John Gassenberger for a few minutes. It was not later than 7:30 o'clock when he mounted his horse and rode up the levee. It took about two hours to reach his home, and after his supper he smoked a few minutes. 

His brother, Michel Lafrance, had been up in St. Charles parish to a dance, and arrived a short time after Officer Lafrance. He then retired with his brother, and never came back to Westwego. The first he know of the affair was the receipt of a telephone message from Westwego, and he took the Texas and Pacific train and came down there, arriving shortly after 8 o'clock. The officer was greatly surprised when the publication of the boy's statement informed him that he was present at the killing and was a member of the mob. He denied completely the statement, and then told of his movements throughout the evening. 

The boy, in his statement, also spoke of John Gessner, who kept a barroom, and, being in opposition to his mother, was, of course, a member of the mob. The Gessner referred to was 


who is the owner of the barroom and lunchhouse directly above the elevator, and on the side of the main road. Gassenberger, like Lafrance was very indignant that his name should be used, when, on that night, he never left his bar. Why he should be connected with the killing of the woman he could not tell. He had induced Mr. Roth to allow her to peddle pies and lunch to the negro laborers. The idea that he was jealous was absurd. He never allowed negroes in his place and only furnished lunch to white men. The negro woman came to him and apologized for having cursed him, and asked for Mr. Gassenberger to aid her in getting permission to sell on the wharf. Having nothing against the woman personally, he spoke to Mr. Roth, and through his influence, the permission was granted. Mr. Roth was also present when this statement was made by Gassenberger and corroborated it. On the evening of the killing, about 4 o'clock, a beer driver stopped at his place, and he accompanied the man down to the Red store, on the bank of the canal, where he could secure some empty kegs. They remained together near the store for possibly half an hour, and then Gassenberger returned to his place. He claims that he never went below the elevator after that time. It being Saturday, there were a number of sailors on liberty and there was a crowd in his place all night. 

It was a rather cool night, and all the doors and windows were closed. There were about five men from the steamship Marina, besides a number of the boys from the neighborhood. The sailors, and in fact, all, were drinking some, and there were songs and dancing until 2 o'clock in the morning. He admitted that there was quite a racket in the place, and he never heard the shooting, or, rather, only one or two shots. Being alone at the bar, he could not leave. One of the firemen on the ship mentioned told him of the fire, but he could not go down to see what it was, and he did not care about it, anyway. 

Jacob Hager, one of the day watchmen on the wharf, was relieved from work at 5:30 o'clock, and after going home for supper returned to the barroom. He was among the merry gathering until the place closed, and he positively stated that Gassenberger never left the bar between 8 o'clock and 2 o'clock in the morning. They were having a good time in the house, and when told of the fire did not care to break up the entertainment for the sake of seeing a building burn. 

Theodore Yeagle, another of the day watchmen, left the wharf at 5:30 o'clock and was at the barroom at about 7:30 o'clock or 8 o'clock. He arrived just after Lafrance had left the barroom on his way home. He remained until a little after 10 o'clock, when he crossed the river and remained until morning. 

J. W. Coffey, one of the check clerks on the wharf, left the place that the same hour as the watchmen. When he arrived at the barroom Lafrance had gone up the road toward Waggaman. He remained in the store until about 10'oclock when he, too, crossed the river. 

All these men express themselves as being opposed to such methods under such circumstances and they seemed greatly surprised that the boy should have, and could have, connected Officer Lafrance and Gassenberger with the crime. 


a Gretna attorney, who was present at last night's mass meeting, told a Picayune reporter that about two years ago he was retained to defend the Morris woman against certain charges of trespass. She was to be tried for trespassing upon the railroad property at Westwego, where she sold coffee and sandwiches to the employees. When he arrived on the scene he found the court sitting, in the person of Justice of the Peace Brunet, in Gassenburgers saloon, which is near the Westwego railroad property. The Morris woman was in the custody of the officers, and in trying to find what charge was placed at her door he first discovered that there was nothing actionable against her. His presence, as attorney for the defense, was the first thing to call to the attention of the court that before one could be restrained of his or her liberty there must be some charge against the person of violating law. It was then that the prosecution bethought themselves of the charge of trespass.Attorney Thompson further stated that the woman was operating in competition with Gassenburger, in the selling of hot coffee and lunches. It was in these sales that the woman first worked up sentiment against her, the attorney says. The couple were an industrious lot, and the Irishman was undoubtedly plucky, and demonstrated it on one or two occasions when assailed. They earned their living for the most part in vending lunches to the employes [sic] at the Westwego wharf. They owned two cows, which they pastured near their humble hut. The marriage of a white man to a colored woman, of course, stirred up some resentment, and made their lives at times rather unpleasant, but they were not violators against the state law, prohibiting miscegenation, for they were married in Texas and before the law was passed in this state. 

A following article states that Chief Andrew J. Linden doubted Lafrance's version of events. I would have added the article, but this one is long enough and I am tired. I find it interesting that the beginning of the article condemns the actions of the mob, but then the article proceeds with character assassinations of the victims and tells how local people could not possibly have been involved. Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

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