Wednesday, May 24, 2017

August 19, 1874: Tennessee Massacre

The lynchings that we'll be covering today are outrageous. It was heard across the United States, but today is relatively unknown. Like the lynching of Washington and Johnson mentioned earlier this week, this lynching was the result of tensions due to Reconstruction. I want to apologize ahead of time because this post is going to be very long.

Our first article about the lynchings is from the county where it occurred. It is covered by The Milan Exchange (Cairo, Illinois) published August 27, 1874:

"Cleaning out the Country"— Twelve Fiends Arrested and Imprisoned!
An Outraged People Rise Up in their Majesty and Lynch them!

For several weeks past vague rumors have been afloat of the negroes in this and Carroll counties arming and drilling regularly. It is said they have quietly bought all the buckshot that could be had in several country stores, and none of them have been seen hunting lately. Two weeks ago it was suggested by a number of our citizens that it would be well to organize a company here for guard and police duty, but our citizens thought it unnecessary and imprudent and the matter was dropped. Now, in view of the occurrences of the past few days, we think it very important that something should be done at once. We should have a military company in each town in the State. The issue is forced upon us and we dare not disregard it. The safety of our families may depend upon it. Our neighbors in the villages around are calling on us for help and we have no organized force to help ourselves. Read the following and judge whether we are saying too much when we urge prompt action on the part of our citizens.

Saturday night as James Warren and Monroe Morgan were going home from Pickettville, a band of thirty or forty negroes, ambuscaded just below the village, fired upon them and wounded Morgan's mule, peppering its head and shoulder with shot. Morgan and Warren fled back to Pickettville and gave the alarm. A posse was soon out in pursuit of the dusky fiends, and twelve of them were caught that night and Sunday and held for trial Monday. THe news of the trouble reached Milan Sunday morning, and it was rumored that the citizens of that section needed assistance and protection from threatened destruction by the blacks. A party of thirty of our citizens immediately equipped themselves and repaired to the scene of the action. When they reached Pickettville they found considerable excitement, but no one hurt, and apprehending no further trouble they returned.

Monday the negroes were tried at Pickettville before Esqs. Fly, Parker and Jordan, and all twelve were committed. They confessed their guilt, stating that they were organized and designed "cleaning up" the whites and controlling this country themselves. They mentioned three companies in this county—one at Humboldt, commanded by one Reagon, another at Hope Hill, commanded by Rial Burrow, and the one near Pickettville, under the immediate command of Col. Josh Webb, who says they have endured the whites as long as they can and must exterminate them and take charge of the farms and rule this country as they see fit.

Three or four hundred men were present at the trial, coming from various parts of the country to witness the trial of the would-be destroyers of their families and homes. Great excitement was manifested by the crowd; however, no demonstrations of violence were made toward the prisoners, who appeared very impudent, intimating that this was but the beginning—that we might check them for a while, but an issue must and would come.

Writs were issued for fifteen others, but as yet only two or three of them have been taken, among whom is Rial Burrow, captain of the Hope Hill clan. Considerable excitement prevails throughout the country, every citizen being on the alert and many of the negroes frightened.

It is rumored that two white women have been killed near Pickettville, but we have as yet not been able to trace it to anything definite. The mayor of Trenton, we learn, telegraphed to Jackson to hold a company in readiness, and an engine and train is at that point, ready to move at a moment's notice.

We have reliable information that a party of about eighty men went to Trenton Tuesday night and took sixteen negroes from the jail. Up to the time of going to press six of their bodies had been found riddled with bullets. It is supposed the others were killed and left in the swamp near that place.


L. M. Jones telegraphs from Trenton to Gen. Campbell, at Jackson, that the excitement is without any real foundation and the help will not be needed.

It is due to the negroes here to say that they have made no demonstration and seem perfectly quiet, for which they deserve commendation.

Our next article comes from The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, IN) and is dated August 27, 1874:

The negroes at Picketville, Gibson county, six miles from Humboldt, Tennessee, last Saturday and Sunday, threatened a riot on account of some supposed wrong done them, and manifested a strong desire to kill two or three citizens and fire and sack the town. On Tuesday sixteen ringleaders were arrested, taken to Trenton and placed in jail for safe keeping. About 1 o'clock next morning, 75 to 100 men entered the town, rode up to the jail, demanded and compelled the Sheriff to deliver up the keys. After the maskers had obtained possession of the prisoners they tied them together and marched off on the Huntington road. Half a mile from town six of the number were cut loose and ordered to escape, and as soon as that command was given a full volley was fired upon them, killing four and wounding the other two, one mortally. The remainder were carried up the river two miles and killed. Their remains were collected and are being taken care of. On the assembling of the court several speeches were made by the members of the bar denouncing the conduct of the disguised men who were from the country, and urging upon the Judge to give the grand jury an extra charge, ordering him to send out for witnesses all along the road, from here to Pickettsville, in order to arrest and punish the criminals. While the charge was being delivered, runners arrived in hot haste, with a report that a large body of negroes, well armed were marching to Trenton, which caused an adjournment of the court. Scouts were sent out, but returned reporting all quiet. There is no mistake that the negroes are well organized, and ready for action at a moment's warning.

Our next article is the first article I found on the subject. A warning, this article sounds like it is from a conspiracy theorist. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO) dated September 5, 1874:

An Inside History of the Affair—A Radical Plot to Affect the Fall Elections.

[From the Cincinnati Enquirer.]

From a party of prominent citizens of West Tennessee we learn the inside history of the late killing of negroes near Picketville, Gibson county, in that State. Picketville is near the borders of Carroll county, and is situated in what is known as


where during the war, Radical bushwhackers and negroes had it all their own way, and committed not less than two hundred murders for the purposes of rapine and robbery. Throughout that section the negro outrages have recently been frequesnt and horrible, and just before the election of the 6th of August, during the campaign preceding which the questions arising under the Civil Rights bill were bitterly discussed, the alarm among the whites became so great that in many instances women and children


believi[n]g they were in danger of being burned in their beds by organized gangs of blacks, led by white desperadoes, as they almost invariably are. The fears were founded partly on the plot overheard by one Bostwick, a Republican, and a member of Jack Rogers' Tennessee regiment, Federal, during the war, and partly on the frequent recurrence of murders of negroes by masked me, such as the late one in which an aged colored man named Dick McKinney, four miles east of Chestnut Mound, Smith county, was shot without provocation in his house, or the shooting of Julia Hayden, a school- teacher, at Hartsville, and which, though taking place since the event of which we are about to treat, are a part of its outgrowth and history.

To confirm Bostwick's statement of a contemplated rising on the 5th of August:

"Two or three negroes in the neighborhood of Gleason, Tennessee, in Weakley county, went to their employers on the morning of that day and gave up their guns and asked his protection. The citizens thereupon commenced arming, and to their dismay and in confirmation of their fears they found that not a pound of buck-shot nor a pistol could be had in Henry or Weakley counties."

The alarm turned out to be false, however, for that night, but on last Saturday week it was proved that Bostwick's warning was not idle. A few days previous Joe Whole and four other citizens of Picketville bought


from a negro named Joe Webb, and, after eating what they wanted, gave the residue to a negro with them. Their right to do this was disputed by Webb and his friends, and a fight on the spot seemed imminent. The men reached home safely, however, leaving as it proved, the negroes thirsting for vengeance. On the Saturday named, while two young men named Munroe Morgan and James Warren were riding along the road, some three miles from Picketville, they were fired upon by some thirty or forty negroes hid in the woods. The young men abandoned their horses, which were killed or badly wounded, took to the woods and escaped to the town and alarmed the citizens. Suspecting a negro named Jim Walker of complicity in the shooting, a constable with a posse, proceeded to his house, where they captured a negro named Ben Ballard, who confessed that negroes chiefly from Humboldt and vicinity, had met Saturday night and organized to protect Col. Webb, colored, from ku-klux, and after that, to go to Picketville, kill five men, (the give concerned in the pig affair), burn the town, take possession of the lands, and to use their own expression.


They had expected to meet another company of negroes that night, but they failed to come, and after the firing on Warren and Morgan, they dispersed. Sixteen negroes in all were arresed and tried before a magistrate, five more turning State's evidence in addition to Ballard.


as is already known, soon followed. Eighty-six men, armed and masked, called at the jail at midnight and demanded the prisoners. The jailer, being alone and helpless, gave them up. THey were first tied in couples, and then the couples all tied together, and marched out of town. Shortly after they had left, shots were heard, and next morning six negroes were found outside the limits of the village, four dead, one mortally and the other dangerously wounded, all having been shot several times. They were the six who had confessed, and the other ten


Where were they? A search of the country far and wide failed to develop any dead negroes, and it soon began to be whispered about by Radicals that the ten had escaped. They had, when the shooting began, according to the thin story circulated, rushed over a bluff, and bound as they were, had gotten away from eighty-six armed men. The citizens saw plainly through it all now. The Radicals and negroes, to counteract the effect of the discovery of their plot and the leniency of the whites—the very five men whom they had intended to kill first forming part of their safety escort from court to jail—had taken the negroes out, shot those who had betrayed them and from whom they feared further revelations, and released the others.

The moral is clear to the wayfarer. The very sun shines through the whole affair. The negroes are instigated and organized by white Radicals for election purposes, who themselves caused the lynching for effect, as told, while on the other hand, Governor Brown's offer of an aggregate reward of $43,000 for the lynchers shows where the Democrats stand. There are men in Gibson county ready to declare that the real hard criminal is high in position and far away from the actual scene of outrage, while the following figures will go far to show why Gibson county and vicinity should be selected for such deep and damnable political plotting. The county is the largest voting county in West Tennessee, except Shelby. Her white voting population is 5,000, negro 1,000. The Democratic majority is 4,000. Carroll, adjoining, and in three or four miles of Pickettville, has a voting population of 4,000—1,800 Democratic and 2,200 Republican. The civil district, "Alwood," in Carroll adjoining this Picketville county, is Republican by fifty majority.
I'm only including a portion of our next article because much of it repeats the same details that the others have already done. This article is from The Whig and Tribune (Jackson, Tennessee) and is dated April 29, 1874:

Right here we would be glad to close this sad and terrible story of ignorant passions run wild—all the result of the agitation of the civil rights bill, that acme of all villianies forced upon the people of Tennessee by the representative men of the colored race in this State. But it is our duty to go further, and tell the whole horrible story.

On Wednesday morning at one o'clock, a hundred or more masked men entered Trenton, overpowered the jail guard, took the sixteen negroes there confined for participation in the Pickettsville outrage—and murdered them to a man within a few miles of Trenton. This action was an outrage, that demands and has received the unqualified condemation of the people regardless of race. In Trenton an indignation meeting was held, and the lawless maskers denounced in unmeasured terms. The Governor has offered a reward of $500 each for the apprehension of the thoughtless, cruel and lawless maskers, who perpetrated this unncessary and shameful crime. Intense excitement grew out of this fearful outrage, and the negroes throughout Gibson county were greatly aroused and alarmed. Dispatches full of blood and thunder flashed over the whole country, and from the lakes to the gulf, and from ocean to ocean the crime of the maskers has met a universal condemnation. Yet is is true, that terrible as their crime was, it was provoked by crimes as great—crimes either perpetrated or contemplated by the blacks themselves. But while there are palliating circumstances in the matter, the lawless maskers who killed the sixteen negroes on Wednesday morning are murderers, and should be dealt with as such. These negro would be assassins, had been tried by the law, under the law they had been remanded to jail, they were in the keeping of the law, the law in the hands of white men, and there was neither reason nor excuse for the summary vengeance that was visited upon them.

Growing out of this fearful affair—Trenton, Pickettsville and Humboldt were agitated on Wednesday by the news that large bodies of negroes were marching on those towns. The wildest excitement prevailed, and dispatches were sent in every direction asking immediate help. One of these dispatches reached Jackson about 10 a.m., and within an hour two hundred well armed men were ready to march. A train was put in order, an engine fired up and everything was placed in readiness to move at a minutes warning. No satisfactory dispatch being recieved from the threatened towns, the two hundred men referred to, under the command of Gen'l Campbell, marched to the depot to emark for the seat of war. A finer body of men never marched on any occasion, or under any banner. But at the depot a dispatch was received that the services of the Jackson boys was not needed. Here, without further comment, we leave this whole terrible business, determined in future issues of the Whig and Tribune to discuss it more fully.

Our next article comes from The Herald and Torch Light (Hagerstown, MD) and is dated September 2, 1874:

A Slaughter of Colored People.

The news from the South for the several months past, has embraced a number of accounts of fights and riots between the whites and blacks, in which the latter are not only made to bear the blame, but pretty nearly all the killed and wounded. In nearly every one of these encounters the colored people are the greatest sufferers, and not unfrequently the only ones, and yet we are asked to believe that they bring on the collisions which result in such terrible punishments to them.—One of the most cruel of these stories came to us last week from a place called Pickettsville, Gibson county, Tennessee, as follows:—

"Nashville, August 26.—A number of negroes at Pickettsville, Gibson county, six miles from Humboldt, threatened a riot last Saturday and Sunday, on account of some supposed wrong done them, and manifested a strong desire to kill two or three citizens and fire and sack the town. Yesterday sixteen of the ringleaders were arrested and taken to Trenton and placed in jail for safe keeping—About 1 o'clock this morning between seventy-five and one hundred masked men entered the town, and riding up to the jail, demanded and compelled the Sheriff to deliver up the keys thereof.—They then took the sixteen negroes from prison, and after killing four and mortally wounding two on the confines of the town, rode off with the remaining ten, and are supposed to have killed them.—Nothing has been heard of the party since they left. Considerable excitement exists among the negroes, and the whites are taking steps to defend themselves in case of an outbreak.

The poor excuse, which is generally offered for lynching negroes in other Southern States, VIZ: that they are governed by carpet baggers, can't be availed of to mitigate this outrage.— Tennessee is Democratic, and overwhelmingly so, in all its departments of government, and it would be a remarkable occurrence, indeed, if a negro received less than legal justice from such hands.— We are, however, glad to perceive that a portion of the white people of Tennessee have denounced this frightful slaughter of the colored prisoners at Trenton, and that the Governor has offered a reward for the apprehension of those guilty of it.

Our next article comes from The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY) and is dated August 29, 1874:

Indignation Meeting in Memphis—The Governor Urged to Vigorously Enforce the Law.

MEMPHIS, TENN. Aug. 28.—There was a large meeting of citizens held at the Exposition Hall tonight to express the indignation of the community at the barbarous murder of the colored prisoners taken from the Trenton jail. Mr. B. M. Estes presided, with Ex-Gov. Harris, Judge Archibald Wright and Charles Clatericht as vice presidents. Speeches were made by Ex-Gov. Harris, Jefferson Davis, Col. Duncan McRae, Gen. Forrest, and others, denouncing the cowardly assassination of the prisoners, and calling for the prompt and most energetic enforcement of the law against the perpetrators. General Forrest stated he stood ready to start to-morrow to assist the officers of the law in bringing the assassins to punishment. Resolutions were adopted expressing the horror and indignation of the community at the foul crime, and demanding of the Governor prompt and energetic measures for bringing the murderers to the bar of justice, and relieving the State, as far as possible, from the disgrace of such horrible crimes, asking the Government to employ the police experts of Memphis to assist in capturing the assassins, and to employ the best legal counsel int he State to assist the Attorney General in prosecuting them.

I could post article after article on just the fallout of this lynching, however, this post is already very long so it will suffice if I mention that: several towns in the South publicly denounced Gibson county and it's citizens for their actions by passing resolutions, the governor offered rewards for information, both Northern and Southern papers blasted the county for it's actions, and a lot was discussed about the Civil Rights Bill being pushed in congress. As far as I can see in the papers, nothing was ever done to prosecute the actual perpetrators and the names of the murdered were never revealed.

Thank you for joining us and, as always, we hope we leave you with something to ponder.

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