Friday, February 19, 2016

March 24, 1900: Walter Cotton and O'Grady

Today we learn about two lynchings in Virginia through the pages of The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, Louisiana) dated March 25, 1900:


The Pair Had Committed a Burglary at Emporia, Va.


Blood Mad After Lynching the Negro, the Mob Granted the Demand of Negroes Present and Lynched the White Man, Negroes Pulling the Rope.

Special to The Times-Democrat.

Richmond, March 24.—Two men, one a negro, a confessed murderer, who had escaped from jail and been rearrested; the other an Irish tramp, the negro's "pal" in a murder a few nights since, were lynched to-day as [sic] Emporia, Greenesville county. Many negroes witnessed a white mob hang the negro, Cotton, and a majority of the mob that lynched the Irishman were negroes.

These facts of outlawry were committed a short time after two companies of Richmond militia had left the scene of the crime. Both of the men might have been saved had some one in authority shown a determined spirit. The Governor insists that the responsibility for their lynching rests upon the sheriff of Greenesville county, who refused to permit the two companies of the Richmond Blues no longer to remain in charge of the jail.

Walter Cotton, the negro, who was the first victim of the mob's vengeance, Thursday shot to death Magistrate Saunders and a Mr. Welton, who attempted to arrest him. The negro, with O'Grady, an Irish tramp, a few nights ago entered the house of a citizen of Emporia, and, at the point of a pistol, burglarized the residence. It was for this crime Saunders attempted to arrest Cotton. The latter, with O'Grady, was concealed in a hut near Emporia, and opened fire on Saunders and Welton, killing them both.

It was 12:45 this afternoon when Cotton was lynched at Emporia. It took place in the presence of about 1500 people, white and colored. There was no disorder. no one made any resistance. A committee of citizens entered the jail. The deputy in charge made simply a formal resistance; that is, he entered a protest. The people were determined, however, to lynch the man, and thought it would be better to execute him in broad daylight, as a lesson to the people who would commit crimes.

There was considerable delay in getting the prisoner unchained. He was led out of the prison with a rope about his neck. The man said not a word. He was so frightened he could not speak. There was fear that many shots would be fired, and "Don't shoot," "don't shoot," was uttered by a dozen men.

The negro was dragged through the crowd to a tree between the courthouse and the Bank of Greenesville. An active young man climbed up to the first limb. The rope was thrown to him and he placed the end over the limb and threw it down to the crowd.

"Now, everybody pull," said some one, and many willing hands lifted the murderer from the ground. Two pistol shots were fired into the negro's body. There was some cheering, and all was over with Cotton.

Soon after Cotton was lynched there were probably 3000 people in the courtyard. The body was left suspended. A cry went up for the life of O'Grady, the white man. A rush was made for the jail. The negroes were loud in demanding that O'Grady be lynched.

"You have killed the negro, now lynch the white man," they demanded.

Former Judge George P. Parham, who had led the mob that lynched Cotton, made a speech to the crowd. He said Cotton was a confessed murderer, while O'Grady claimed to be innocent. "Let's give him a chance to prove that he is not guilty," said the judge.

"We know he is guilty," replied scores of voices.

Col. Field of Petersburg, who commanded a regiment in Mahone's division, begged the mob not to act hastily. These pleading[s] were of no avail. A crowd of whites and negroes entered the jail. Mr. C. T. Boykin of Richmon was one of those who pleaded with the mob to let O'Grady live. There were half a dozen men in the cell, who swore they would die before they would allow O'Grady to be lynched. The mob was twice driven out. O'Grady was frightened almost to death and crouched in a corner of his cell. All the other prisoners were terribly scared. Each one felt that his life was in danger.

Most of the crowd was unwilling to let the white man live. They broke into the jail for the third time, and at 1:40 p. m. brought O'Grady out with a rope about his neck. He was dragged to the tree where Cotton had been lynched. Most of those who had hold of the rope were negroes. The man was swung to the limb on which the negro had just died. He soon expired from strangulation.

"I feel that I have done all I can in this matter," said Gov. Tyler this afternoon. "The civil authorities stated that they could handle the mob without military assistance. When the sheriff ordered Major Cutchins to depart, there was nothing left for him to do but go.

"I am greatly distressed at the result, but I could not keep the soldiers there without declaring martial law, and I did not feel that the prevailing conditions warranted it.

"The law in reference to such matters will, I presume, be carried out. The men who took part in the lynching will, or should, be arrested and dealt with accordingly.

"As Governor and as a citizen I deeply deplore this flagrant outrage upon law and order. Nothing was left for me to do but what was done. I exercised my prerogative to its fullest extent.

"The trouble seems to have been with the authorities at Emporia. We were given to understand that protection would be given the prisoners. The result shows that this confidence was abused.

"A meeting was held by the judge, the sheriff and a number of leading citizens in the judge's office, and pledges were then made to uphold the law. The sheriff was made to believe that the prisoners would be protected, and in accordance to that belief he withdrew his request for military protection. The sheriff is supreme in such instances, except, as I have said, where martial law is declared."

Many people think Gov. Tyler made a mistake in not declaring martial law and taking the prisoners out of the hands of the mob.

Three other persons, whom Cotton charged with having committed the Blick murder and robbery were discharged by the judge and left town. At last accounts the town had resumed its wonted quiet.

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

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