Saturday, December 26, 2015

March 6, 1878: Charlotte Harris

I hope everyone's holiday was good and now after a two day break we are back to the ugly subject of lynchings. Today we learn about a Virginia lynching beginning with an article from the pages of The Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) dated March 11, 1878:


Swung Upon a Sapling on Suspicion of Incendiarism.

Richmond (Va.) Telegram in New York Herald.

On Tuesday last a negro boy named Jim Arbegast was committed to the jail of Rockingham county upon the charge of having burned the barn of Henry E. Sipe on Thursday, the 28th ultimo. By the destruction of the barn Sipe lost two horses, two head of cattle, thirteen ploughs, several harrows and all the agricultural implements on the farm, together with all the saddles, harness and all the products of grain, hay and other articles. Subsequent investigation disclosed the fact that the incendiary torch was applied at the instigation and by the inducement of a colored woman named Charlotte Harris, who is said to have had some grudge against the Sipe family.

A warrant was procured for the arrest of the woman, and on Wednesday evening last N. H. and J. M. Talb and John Sipe, who had gone in pursuit of Charlotte Harris, arrested her and returned with her in custody. They overtook her as she was attempting to escape at the house of Henry Banks, colored, about two miles east of Earlysville, in Albemarle county,. The evidence being very strong against the accused, her commitment to jail was ordered. Over one hundred persons were present at the examination, during which the excitement was intense. No threats were made nor were there any indications visible that the woman's life would shortly pay the terrible penalty for her crime.

At the conclusion of the examination, the hour being late, the woman was placed under a strong guard, to keep her safe and secure until the following morning, when she was to be taken to the county jail at Harrisburg. This guard was composed of four persons. The utmost quiet prevailed until about the hour of 11 P. M., when suddenly two men, who in color were black, made their appearance in front of the building in which the the prisoner was confined. They then rushed into the house, with drawn and cocked revolvers, and demanded the peaceable surrender of the woman. They informed the guard in a determined manner that if they gave her into their hands quietly it would be well for them, but if not the result would be serious and bad. While this parley was going on and before the guard were allowed time to make any resistance, there was a rush of armed men, all blackened, into the building; they seized the woman, and at once dragged her outside and up the road toward David Gilmore's, a distance of about four hundred yards. Here a peculiar sort of tree known as a Black Jack, because of its toughness, was bent and a rope attached thereto. The tree was held in its bent position until the other end of the rope was fastened to the unfortunate woman's neck. In another instant the tree was let go and the victim was jerked into mid-air, where in a few moments she expired and the disguised lynchers dispersed. It was an awful penalty for the crime of which she had been accused, the like of which has hardly ever been heard of in a civilized community.

The next article is found in the March 15, 1878 edition of The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia):

The Lynching of a Woman.

Special to the Globe-Democrat.

RICHMOND, March 11.—The lynching of Charlotte Harris, the colored woman, in Rockingham county, in this state, has called for the denunciation of all law-abiding citizens. Rockingham county is one of the wildest and most uncivilized in Virginia, and many of its inhabitants are almost barbarians. The Globe-Democrat correspondent called upon Governor Holliday this afternoon, and asked him what action he would take in regard to the outrage. The governor said that when the officers of the county officially notified him of the outrage, he would offer a liberal reward for the arrest of the perpetrators of the outrage. Later intelligence from Rockingham gives some inside facts as to the cause of the lynching of the unfortunate woman.

In this county, about a year ago, the horrible Lawson murder was committed, and it was proved that Louisa Lawson, a voluptuous but virtueless wife, had instigated the murder of her husband. For this crime her paramour, Anderson, was hanged, and Louisa Lawson was sentenced to death, but the governor commuted the sentence to penitentiary for life. The lynching of Charlotte Harris is but another leaf in the calendar of lust and lawlessness of the God-defying and law-breaking denizens of the rocky crags of the Alleghenies, many of whom live in the caves and huts, beyond the reach of the law's hands. They thirsted for blood. Some of their ring-leaders were the cast-off paramours of Louis Lawson, and were enraged and disappointed when the governor's commutation saved her life. This terrible deed of laawlessness, it is said by the people of the county, was done in the spirit of revenge. The outlaws could not get the blood of one woman, and they determined to have the blood of another. it is believed that the murder was done by the bloody hands of these outlaws, some hundreds in number. It will take some to gather the law officers together in this wild country, but efforts will be made to capture them. It will be almost impossible, as they will screen each other, and the only hope of detection is that someone will be tempted bp [sic] the large reward to betray their companions.

Further particulars state that it took five men to bend down the blackjack tree, and, after they had attached the rope to the neck of their victim, they suddenly let go, and the shrieking female was jerked up into the air with frightful velocity.


Special to the New York Herald.

RICHMOND, Va., March 11.—A telegram from Harrisonburg, where the colored woman was lynched to death on Wednesday night last, as reported in the Herald yesterday, says that public sentiment in East Rockingham, where the crime was committed, justifies the atrocious deed. Nine-tenths of the crime perpetrated in that county occurs in that section, and, strange to say, while this unfortunate woman was only accused of instigating the burning of a barn where no human life was at stake, the popular verdict appears to be that she deserved her fate. The telegram corroborates the report, previously published in the Herald, that the woman, Charlotte Harris, instigated the burning of the barn; that she fled to Albemarle county to evade punishment; that she was pursued by officers, brought back and had a hearing before a bench of magistrates, who committed her to jail to await the action of the grand jury; she was then placed in the custody of a guard, prior to being sent to jail the following day; that during the night she was forcibly taken from the guard by a crowd of disguised persons, who hung her to a blackjack tree.


It is said it took the combined strength of five men to bend the sapling down, which being accomplished, a rope suspended from the tree was fastened to the woman's neck and the tree allowed to go up again. The woman was tossed in the air, and landed on the opposite side of the tree, which was propped up with a fence rail, and there left hanging. This occurred on Wednesday night last, but my information is that the body was not cut down until the following Friday at noon.


The people in that section seem to justify the lynching, as they deemed summary punishment necessary to check lawlessness. As far as I can learn no action has been taken by the county authorities to arrest, nor it there any likelihood that any action will be taken in that direction. Gov. Holliday has no official information up to the present time. When he shall be informed of it it is expected he will adopt such measures as the urgency of this barbarous deed requires.

Rockingham county is the home of Dr. Moffatt, inventor of the celebrated liquor register or bell punch. He is one of the leading readjustors in the legislature; and the county, though one of the wealthiest in the state, seems to be in favor of the repudiation of the law as well as of the public debt.

Our final article comes from the Harrisburg Daily Independent (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) dated April 18, 1878:

Lynched, But Now Known to be Innocent.

RICHMOND, Va., April 18.—The barbarous lynching of an unfortunate colored woman named Charlotte Harris, who was accused of being the instigator of a barn burning had a fitting sequel yesterday in the acquittal of the boy Jim Ergenbright, who was imprisoned at the time for setting fire to the barn. It is now fully established in the acquittal of Jim, who was accused of burning the barn and of being instigated by Charlotte Harris, that the woman was equally guiltless.


In case anyone was wondering, here is information on the blackjack tree, which happens to be an oak. Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.


1 comment:

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