Sunday, February 22, 2015

February 22, 1898: Fraser B. Baker

Today we are learning about a horrific lynching, one where not even a pretense of a crime was used to justify the lynching. A man and his infant were the victims of this heinous act. We begin our journey in the pages of The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, Utah) dated February 23, 1898:


South Carolina White Men With Hearts of Demons.



Objection to the Man On Account of His Color at Last Found Vent In One of the Most Horrible Assassinations of South Carolina's History—Particulars of Affair.

Atlanta, Ga., Feb. 22.—A special from Columbia, S. C., to the Constitution says:  The most revolting crime ever perpetrated by white men in South Carolina was committed at Lake City, Williamsburg county, at 1 o'clock this morning, when Postmaster Baker, a negro, and his family were burned out of their home, the postmaster and a babe in arms killed, his wife and three daughters shot and maimed for life. Baker was appointed Postmaster three months ago. Lake City is a town of 400 inhabitants and the negro population in the vicinity is large. There was a protest at Baker's appointment, but it was not a very vigorous one. Three months ago, as the postmaster was leaving the office at night in company with several colored men, he was fired on from ambush, but it was not known who the would-be assassin was or whether it was prompted by other than personal malice. Since then Baker moved his family into a house in the outskirts, where he also established the postoffice. Last Tuesday night a body of men, who kept concealed behind buildings and fences in the neighborhood, riddled the building with shot and rifle bullets. They shot high but no one was hurt, and it was supposed to convey a warning.


A short time before that Senators Tillman and McLaren and Congressman Horton had asked the postmaster general to remove Baker because of his color, and the request had been refused. Baker did not move his family and gave no evidence of being frightened. He felt confident of protection from Washington.

At one o'clock this morning a torch was applied to the postoffice and Baker's house. Back, just within the line of light, there were over a hundred white men, armed with pistols and shotguns. By the time the fire aroused the sleeping family, consisting of the postmaster, his wife, four daughters, a son and an infant at the breast, the crowd began firing into the building. A hundred bullet holes were made through the thin boarding, and many found lodgment [sic] in the people within.


Baker was the first to reach the door, and he fell dead just within the threshold, being shot in several places. The mother had the baby in her arms and had reached the door over her husband's body when a bullet crashed through its skull and it fell to the floor. She was shot in several places. Two of the girls had their arms broken close to the shoulder, and will probably lose them. Another of the girls is believed to be fatally wounded. The boy is shot. Two of the seven occupants of the house escaped with slight injuries. The bodies of Baker and the infant were cremated in the building. All mail matter was destroyed.

A coroner's jury was impanelled this evening and it visited the charred remains and adjourned until Saturday.

There is general bitter indignation expressed everywhere.

The next article is an example of how a lynching is covered in a southern newspaper. Although the Salt Lake City newspaper repeated an article from an Atlanta newspaper, The Atlanta Constitution was very good at reporting lynching without bias. The following article comes from The Morning Post (Raleigh, N. C.) dated February 23, 1898:


He Presided Over the Office at Lake City, S. C.


It Is Charged, and Was Lazy, Ignorant and Otherwise Persona Non Grata—But that Is No Defense for the Method Employed In Getting Rid of Him and Will Not Shield His Murderers From Punishment.

By Telegraph to The Morning Post.

Charleston, S. C., Feb. 22.—Fraser B. Baker, the negro postmaster at Lake City, Williamsburg county, was murdered by a mob at 1 o'clock this morning.

Since he was put in charge of the postoffice by President McKinley (in September last), diligent efforts have been made by the white people to have him removed. On one occasion he was fired at from ambush with a load of buckshot, but he escaped.

According to the best accounts obtainable the mob, which was composed of several hundred people, collected in a lonely spot Monday night, and there arranged to kill Baker.

About 1 o'clock they went to the negro postmaster's cabin, which was also used for postoffice purposes, and fired it. The crackling flames aroused the family, and they rushed out.

Immediately a volley of lead was poured into the cabin. Baker was among the first to fall dead. His wife, who was holding one of her children to her breast, had a rifle ball to pass through her hand, which afterwards buried itself in the child, killing it instantly. Two daughters and one son were also struck by the shots, but they will live. The mother was seriously wounded.

Before the shooting ceased the building was covered in flames and the bodies of Baker and the child could not be dragged out. This morning they were found, charred almost beyond recognition. The injured members of the family fled for safety, but they were not interfered with after the murder of the postmaster.

All the mail in the postoffice was destroyed by the flames.

It is claimed that the negro Baker was never a resident of the town, and that he was lazy, ignorant, and very insulting to the white lady patrons of the postoffice.

A number of petitions had been sent to the Postmaster General, asking that the man be removed for the above reasons, but nothing was ever done about it. These petitions were signed by 200 of the leading business men of Lake City.

The murder has been reported to the authorities at Washington.

Later Particulars.

By Telegraph to The Morning Post.

Lake City, S. C., Feb. 22.—Baker, the negro postmaster, shot here today, was appointed three months ago. Lake City has five hundred inhabitants and the negro population in the vicinity is large.

After the first assault, three months ago, Baker moved his residence on the outskirts of the town, where he established the United States postoffice.

Senators Tillman and McLaurin and Congressman Morton, of this district, had asked the Postmaster General to remove Baker, but the request was refused. All the mail matter was destroyed.

The coroner's jury was impannelled [sic] tonight, which viewed the charred remains and then adjourned till Saturday.

We pick up this tale more than a year after the lynching. We start with The North Adams Transcript (North Adams, Massachusetts) dated April 1, 1899:



United States Court Will Try 15 South Carolina Men for Killing of Negro Postmaster and His Child.

Charleston, S. C., April 1.—Fifteen prominent citizens of Lake City will be put on trial  in the United States court here next week on the charge of having lynched postmaster Frazer Baker, a year ago, killing his child and burning the Lake City post-office, with its effects. This is the first time the federal government has come into the south to take up a lynching trial. The murder of Baker was the most brutal in the history of the state. A regular band organized to put him out of the way after he refused to heed the warnings and attempted to take charge of the post-office to which he was appointed.

The next article comes from The Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, Kansas) dated April 11, 1899:


Children of the Lynched Postmaster will Exhibit.

Charleston, S. C., April 10.—The trial of thirteen citizens of Lake City for having lynched Postmaster Baker began here to-day before Judge Brawley. There are 150 witnesses to be examined, but the end of the trial will probably be reached in two weeks. Two of the men against whom indictments have been returned have turned state's evidence. They are Joseph P. Newman and Early Posalee. They told of how the mob assembled and of how the plan of murder was mapped out. They told of the midnight search made in the town for oil; how the mob moved stealthily to Baker's humble home; of how the oil was poured on the building, and then of the flames. Then the witnesses told of the wild cries which came from the house when the hapless inmates awoke, half suffocated, to flee and then be shot down.

Baker's crippled family have come here for the trial. The mother of the children was badly wounded when the house was burned and attacked by the mob. She  was holding the baby in her arms when she started for the door. A chunk of lead fired from the mob passed through her arm, broke the bone and then buried itself in the head of the baby. The children who were driven out by the flames moved only to be met by a more deadly rain of lead. The night was bitterly cold. The wounded, bleeding, freezing children crawled far into the woods, where they remained during the night. They were almost dead when rescued after daylight. These children will show their wounds in the court.

This next article tells of one of the defendants and his sweetheart. It is also the only article I have found so far relating a verdict from April. The Manning Times (Manning, S. C.) dated July 5, 1899:

A Pretty Little Romance.

Moultrie Epps, one of the defendants in the Lake City lynching case, was married here yesterday. His bride was Miss Lula Shaw, a handsome young lady of 91 Reid street. The wedding was a quiet but elegant home affair. The ceremony was performed at 1 P. M., the Rev. Dr. Brackett officiating. In the afternoon the bridal couple left the city for an extended trip through the East.

Behind this wedding celebration there is a real romance. Mr. Epps has known the young lady for some time. When he was arrested in Lake City a year ago on a charge of having been in the party which lynched Postmaster Baker, and burned his cabin and postoffice, his promised wife was strongly convinced of his innocence. Immediately after the arrest the prisoners were brought to Charleston and placed in jail, where they remained for a day or two pending habeas corpus proceedings. Miss Shaw heard that young Epps was behind the bars, and she hurried at once to the jail to see him. She called there frequently, and while he remained in jail Moultrie Epps was almost fed to death on ice cream and other dainties carried down to the prison on Magazine street by his sweetheart. He was not forgotten.

The trial of the alleged lynchers came on in April last and continued for two weeks, resulting in the failure of the jury to agree on a verdict. Epps was here all that time. None of the defendants was kept in jail. At night, when the men in the same indictment with him were down on Broad street at law offices, Epps was up in Reid street with his sweetheart. He didn't bother much about the trial, for as he told a reporter yesterday, he was not implicated in the affair, and for that reason felt no worry or concern about the end. His bride-to be looked at the matter from the same point of view, and there was no dark spectre over the love-making.

When the mistrial was ordered in the district court, after the jury had deliberated for twenty-four hours without reaching a verdict, the defendants were sorely disappointed. They knew all the work had to be gone over again, that new bonds had to be arranged, and that a second trial would be necessary to prove their guilt or innocence. Bond, however, was given and the defendants returned home.

It was with this same indictment hanging over his head that Mr. Epps decided to go along and marry. Miss Shaw was not averse to the proceeding. The preparations for the wedding were made and the celebration yesterday followed.

"You see how much worried I am about this case," said Mr. Epps to a reporter on a street car Tuesday night, just after he had announced the coming change in his way of living. "If I thought they would get me I would not have married, but I am not troubling myself, nor is Miss Shaw. Yes," he continued, "we are going away tomorrow afternoon for our honeymoon, so goodbye," he said as he jumped from the car up in the Reid street section.—News and Courier, June 29

We continue to learn about what follows for the Baker family beginning with the following article from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, N. Y.) dated July 17, 1899:


Wants to Import Family of a Lynched Negro in Order to Excite Sympathy in the North.

Boston, July 17.—Miss Lillian Clayton Jewett, a young white woman, addressed a meeting of colored people in St. Paul's Baptist Church last evening on "Lynching in the South," and created a sensation by offering to go to Charleston, S. C., and bring to Boston the family of the murdered postmaster—H. M. Baker, who was lynched some time ago—for the purpose of creating sentiment in the North in favor of the Southern negro. 

The church was packed to the doors, and all the principal colored organizations of the city were present.

There was the greatest enthusiasm, and in the speeches that followed the young woman was referred to as the new Harriet Beecher Stowe, as one who had been sent in answer to the prayers of the colored race, and eulogized as the first white woman who had come out publicly as the defender of the colored people in the South.

After the meeting almost half of those in the church went to the front to thank her, and it is a long time since there has been such a demonstration among the colored people of Boston.

The Morganton Herald (Morganton, N. C.) dated August 17, 1899:


Concord Times.

Lilliam Clayton Jewett, a girl from Boston, has carried out her design to come to Charleston and take back to Boston the family of the negro postmaster Baker, who was lynched last year at Lake City, S. C., for the purpose of exhibiting them throughout the north to arouse sympathy for the negro in the south. She left Charleston for Boston last Saturday with the Baker woman and the five little Baker coons in charge.

Miss Jewett proposes to hold mass meetings all through the north to arouse sympathy for the southern negro, and she will exhibit her charges as horrible examples of the devilish cruelty of the southern whites. She claims to be doing this work in the interest of the down-trodden and ill-treated race, but her step is the carrying out of a cranky idea or has money-making at the bottom of it. Her Boston friends are opposed to her in this work, as we think are a large majority of the northern people. Miss Jewett will no doubt succeed, by putting forward one side of the matter, in arousing a great deal of ill feeling among her hearers, but she will not accomplish anything toward the carrying out of her proposed object.

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) dated August 6, 1899:


Will Be Used as a Means of Making Money.

Charleston, S. C., Aug. 5.—Lillian Clayton Jewett, the Boston girl, who recently created a sensation among the negroes of that city by declaring that she would come to Charleston and take north with her the family of the late Frazier B. Baker, who was lynched at Lake City, S. C., in 1897, with a view to beginning an agitation against mob law, has carried out her designs. Miss Jewett arrived here Friday morning, accompanied by her mother and a young man named R. G. Larsen, who is a Boston journalist. She had frequent conferences with the Baker woman and her friends, and as a result left here for Boston this afternoon, accompanied by the entire Baker family, the mother and five children. Miss Jewett said her plans for the future were not as yet formulated, but she proposed to hold a mass meeting throughout the north to arouse popular sentiment against lynching and mob law generally. She did not regard her movement as an issue between the races, but was advocating the cause of humanity irrespective of color or condition. She said she was educated in Virginia and had some knowledge of the southern people, and she was well aware that the better elements in the south joined heart and soul with the better elements of the north in demanding a halt in the commission of the outrages that recently have shocked the world. She said that since her Boston address was made she has received many threatening letters from the south, but to these she paid no heed, knowing they did not come from a source worthy of consideration.

Miss Jewett paid for the tickets of the Baker family from here to Boston, and she also bought a number of small articles of clothing for the woman and her children.

The Rev. J. L. Dart, a colored minister of this city, who has recently spent some time in Boston, returned from the city to-day and opposed violently the removal of the Bakers from Charleston. He declares that Miss Jewett did not represent the better class of white or colored people in Boston. He says that she and those who stand with her merely want to get control of the Bakers to make notoriety and money for themselves.

The Logansport Pharos-Tribune (Logansport, Indiana) dated August 8, 1899:


Miss Jewett Is Pushing the Anti-Negro Lynching Movement.

Providence, R. I., Aug. 8.—Lillian Clayton Jewett and the Baker family arrived in Providence from South Carolina yesterday. There was no demonstration at the station. Later a well attended mass meeting was held. At the conclusion of the meeting the Lillian Clayton Jewett Anti-Lynching association No. 2 was formed.

The Baker family is the one that was nearly masacred [sic] in South Carolina because the father had been appointed postmaster by President McKinley. The "regulators" who attacked the family killed the father and wounded several of the others, but all attempts to punish them have failed. Miss Jewett has begun a crusade against lynching and has brought the family north at her own expense. 

The Greensboro Patriot (Greensboro, N. C.) dated August 16, 1899:

The postoffice department has decided to reopen the postoffice at Lake City, S. C., which was abolished after the negro postmaster Baker was lynched. A woman will have charge of the office.

The Lafayette Gazette (Lafayette, Louisiana) dated September 30, 1899:


Daily States.

When Lillian Clayton Jewett, the rather smooth Puritan adventuress, brought the Baker family of negroes from South Carolina to Boston, she caused quite a sensation and for a time reveled in the notoriety which she gained by the act. The negroes of Boston who had been "taken in" by the gentle Lillian and raised a fund for the Bakers, called her the "White Angel of Freedom," and some of the newspapers lovingly referred to her as "The Female John Brown." The people of Boston, however, have discovered that she is neither the one nor the other, but is simply a female fraud who conceived the scheme of making a pile of money for herself by exhibiting the Baker family in Boston and playing upon anti-Southern sentiment.

Having utilized the unfortunate negroes until they ceased to be an attraction and the box receipts dwindled to insignificant figures, the suave Miss Jewett cast them adrift. The Boston Herald says:

"That is a very homely phrase which describes people as biting off more than they can chew, but it is already demonstrated as applying to the action taken as regards the Baker family of South Carolina in this city. Miss Lillian Clayton Jewett has exploited these unfortunate people in the manner  she has selected until she apparently sees no further use for them in this kind of service. She now surrenders them to the public, and some one writing over Mrs. Baker's signature makes a pathetic appeal of charity to this stricken family. They seem to be appropriate subjects for it, and it is to be hoped they will not be allowed to suffer. It is not their fault that they are brought into destitution in a strange land. They were offered aid and comfort by Miss Jewett, and in their inexperience in knowledge of the world it is not strange that they should have lent a credulous ear to her promise. More reliable persons may now well put them in the way of earning a livelihood without their being used as a spectacle.

Our final article comes from The Morning Times (Washington, D. C.) dated April 3, 1901:


The Baker Case Indictments Go on the Contingent Docket.

CHARLESTON, S. C.,  April 2.—The indictments against eleven white citizens of Lake City, who were held, charged with the murder of Postmaster Fraser B. Baker and his child, and with the burning of the Lake City postoffice, were transferred to the contingent docket in the Federal Court today. This means that the case will not be called for the second trial. Two years ago the jury failed to reach a verdict.

The action of Lillian Clayton Jewett, of Boston, in parading the crippled Bakers through New England prejudiced the case to such an extent here that the Government says that a verdict would be impossible. The citizens indicted were alleged to have been in the mob which set fire to the Baker's home and shot the family as they fled for safety.

Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

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