Tuesday, January 12, 2016

December 28, 1889: John and Michael Adams, Peter Ball, Rafe Merrill, Hugh Furse, Hudson Johnson, Robert Phoenix, and Judge Jones

Today we learn about a mass lynching in South Carolina through the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) dated December 30, 1889:


Why Eight Negroes Were Lynched.

Their Bodies Riddled With Bullets.

An Attempt to Defend the Outrage—The Lawless Act Denounced.

special Dispatches to the CHRONICLE.

CHICAGO, December 29.—The Chicago Times has the following account from Columbia, S. C.. of the lynching of eight negroes at Barnwell:  Three hundred armed men, with faces masked, surrounded the jail just before daylight on Saturday morning when the inmates were sleeping soundly. They moved with caution and as an organized body. The jailer was seized and overpowered, and his keys were taken from him. The cell doors were unlocked, and before the frightened negroes within were awakened from their sleep their cells were filled with strange figures. They were seized and carried out into the night. Their cries for mercy, piercing the air, were unheeded by their silent executioners. The strange body of men was put in motion, and proceeded a quarter of a mile to the outskirts of the town. The eight unfortunate wretches were secured, several hundred shots were fired, and eight bodies lay on the earth with the blood running from a hundred wounds, literally torn to pieces.

Such was the scene of the terrible tragedy enacted in the town of Barnwell—a most terrible retribution for a not-extraordinary offense, as the record will show. Four years ago five men were lynched in Yorkville for the brutal murder of a little boy who caught them stealing, and they belonged to an organized gang whose members were sworn to kill whoever caught them stealing, and they were believed to have committed several murders previously. Their conviction was uncertain and the people took the law into their own hands.

But the latest wholesale lynching is without parallel in the records of crime in this State, and there was less ground for the act than probably any lynching before.

The eight negroes were charged with committing and being accessory to the crimes described below:  On the afternoon of October 20th John C. Hefferman was shot and instantly killed in a restaurant at Barnwell by Ripley Johnston. Hefferman was the principal merchant of the town and Johnston was a colored man employed at the time running a gin. There had been some trouble between the white man and the negro the day before, and although there were conflicting accounts as to the difficulty, it is probable that Hefferman threatened the negro, for he had been summoned to appear before the Town Council the morning following and had been put under bonds.

The killing took place in a colored restaurant, where Hefferman had followed Johnston. the five negroes accused of being accessories, who were in there at the time, fled to a swamp, but were shortly afterward captured and jailed. A large reward was offered for Ripley Johnston and he was captured two weeks later.

Of the two murders for which the men were lynched the worst was committed on last Saturday night, when Robert Martin, a young man of great promise and the only child of aged parents, was ambushed and shot to death while riding to his father's house. It was discovered that Martin was shot by a party of negroes who worked on his father's place whom he kept pretty close to their work and allowed little license. It was also believed that the negroes in the houses near by knew all about it, and that was why they would not go to the assistance of the murdered man.

At 4 o'clock Saturday morning the jailer was called by some men, who informed him that they wanted the locked-up murderers of James P. Brown, who was killed last week by negroes. He opened the heavy gate. He was immediately overpowered and fifty men entered the jail and took out the following prisoners:  John and Michael Adams, principal and accessory to the murder of Hefferman; Peter Ball, Rafe Merrill, Hugh Furse, Hudson Johnson, Robert Phoenix and Judge Jones, the latter six charged with the assassination of Robert Martin. They were marched to the outskirts of the town and bound to trees. The masked men then formed a line a short distance from them and poured a volley into the bodies of the negroes. they were literally shot to pieces. The firing was the first intimation the people of the town had of the trouble. It seemed as if the negroes would rise and avenge the lynching, and in response to a call the Governor ordered two companies of military to prepare for service. The whites in the town, however, have armed and are fully organized to-night.


An Explanation of the Affair by Citizens of Barnwell.

CHARLESTON (S. C.). December 29.—The following statement signed by Robert Aldrich, Mike Brown, George Taylor, William McNabe and James A. Jenkins, some of the most prominent and influential citizens of Barnwell, has been sent to the News and Courier, in explanation of the horrible butchery at that place:  "On the 30th of October last John H. Heflerman [sic], a prominent young merchant and citizen, was shot down and killed in Barnwell by negroes. Public indignation ran high, and threats of lynching were freely made. At the last term of court the Grand Jury found a true bill against the murderers and accessories, but the cases were continued. The people were disappointed, and the negroes, it is thought, were emboldened by this disposition of the matter.

"On December 19th James Brown, a prominent citizen, was shot to death on his own premises by negroes without justification or excuse. The murderer has not been arrested. On December 18th a white man going to the store of Robert Martin, a man of high standing, was followed by negroes and shot in the hearing of negroes who admit hearing the shot. None came to his relief and none of them went to remove his body. It lay in the road all night and or several hours after daylight in view of them all. It is satisfactorily established that his murder was the result of a conspiracy to remove him in order that their license upon the plantation of his father might be greater. The murderer, that is the negro who fired the shot, and his accessories, nine in number, after being clearly identified by a Coroner's jury, was arrested and lodged in jail.

"These several brutal murders of prominent white men by negroes caused a state of indignation and resentment among the people that can be better imagined than described, but cannot be imagined by any one not present in our midst. On Friday night a gang of armed men in disguise at about 2 o'clock called at the jail and overpowered the jailer, took out the six murderers of Martin and two of Hefferman, took them to the limits of the corporation and shot them to death.

"This explanation of the causes which led to the lynching does not, in the opinion of law-abiding citizens, in any way justify the atrocious murder of eight defenseless human beings. The greatest indignation is expressed at its brutality. All is quiet in Barnwell now, although trouble is anticipated and may yet come."


A Southern Newspaper Uses Some Plain Language.

AUGUSTA (Ga.), December 29.—The Chronicle, referring to the lynching of the negroes at Barnwell, S. C., says:  The white men who rob and shoot negroes accused of crime violate the laws of God and their country. they are guilty of murder, however revolting the crimes supposed to be committed by those upon whom their vengeance is wreaked. The men who take the law in their own hands, who usurp the places of judge and jury, are conspirators against the peace and integrity of the State and enemies to the most sacred rights and the only safeguard of the liberties of the people. The shooting of negroes, whether guilty or not, by bands of lawless white men is brutal. It is a disgrace to out civilization and a scandal and shame to any community that tolerates or perpetrates such acts of lawlessness and inhumanity.


Six of the Corpses Still Exposed in the Open Air.

AUGUSTA (Ga.), December 29.—The bodies of six of the murderers who were lynched have not been buried yet. They were cut down last night and brought to town by white citizens who had coffins made for their burial, but the negroes refused to put the bodies in the pine boxes and bury them, and the whites also refused to bury them, so they were carried out to the potters' field, where they now lie in open wagons exposed to the air. Unless the negroes consent to bury them, it is doubtful if they will be buried at all, as the whites positively refuse to do the work.

Retaliation Not Feared

CHARLESTON, December 29.—There are no new developments in the Barnwell lynching. there is no fear of negro retaliation.

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

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