A local look at lynching

The other day, I ran across a video on Facebook about a monument that was erected in Abbeville, S.C., in memory of a man named Anthony Crawford. Crawford, an African-American farmer, was lynched by a mob in 1916.

According to an article that ran with the video, Crawford’s “crime” was arguing with a local white storekeeper about the price of cottonseed. The article also states that Crawford’s murder was one of 4,084 “racial terror lynchings” that occurred in the South between 1877 and 1950.

That got me thinking about lynchings in Central Virginia. After doing some online research, I found the names of four black men who were lynched within a few miles of where I live in Lynchburg, Va.

Their names were James Carter, Andrew Dudley, Pinckney Murphy and Henry Mason.

On Newspapers.com, I found articles about each of the lynchings. In all four cases, the men were accused of some sort of crime. As for these crimes, it’s difficult — perhaps impossible — to know more than 100 years later how true the allegations were. None of the men had their day in court and everyone involved is dead.

After each man was arrested, they were abducted by a white mob and hung from a nearby tree. In all four cases, the bodies also were shot multiple times. In none of the articles was there any mention of anyone being arrested for the lynchings.

My plan is to tell the story of all four lynchings, but first here’s the story of James Carter:

James Carter was lynched on April 3, 1902. It happened in Amherst County, near New Glasgow, which is now called Clifford. None of the articles I read said how old Carter was, but most described him as a “young negro.”

I found a 1900 census record from Amherst County that places a 17-year-old, black farm laborer named James Carter in the household of George and Susan Carter. Without further information, though, I can’t be 100-percent sure it’s him. (The name James Carter was not uncommon in Amherst County during that time period.)

The story of Carter’s lynching made newspapers all over the country. Sometimes, it was only a single sentence, like this one from the Maysville, Ky., Evening Bulletin: “James Carter was taken from jail at Amherst, Va., and lynched for seriously wounding a white man.”

Other newspapers, such as the San Francisco Call, gave a more detailed account:

Young Negro is Lynched 

Lynchburg, Va., April 6. — James Carter, a young negro, who shot and seriously wounded Don Thomas near New Glasgow, in Amherst County, Thursday night, was taken from jail at Amherst Courthouse last night just before midnight and lynched.

A party of men estimated at 200 and supposed to have come from the neighborhood of Cliffords [sic], seven miles away, where Thomas lives, rode into Amherst late last night. All were masked or had their faces blackened. When Jailer John Jones left the jail for his home several members of the lynching party made him surrender the keys.

The men secured Carter, took him a half-mile north of the village, hanged him to a tree and fired thirty-five bullets into his body. The shooting of Thomas by Carter was the result of an accusation said to have been made by the former that Carter had set an outhouse on fire. He had been sent to jail to await the action of the Grand Jury.

The black-owned Richmond Planet had a decidedly different take on the jailer’s behavior. The article in the Planet reads, in part, as follows:

The most remarkable thing about it is that the jailer, John Jones, not only gave up the keys, but waited until they were returned to him. In this, he not only violated his oath of office but proclaimed himself grossly incompetent and a party to the murder. 

When an officer arrests a prisoner he is responsible for that prisoner’s safety. 

If he cannot protect him, he has no right to disarm the prisoner and thus deny to him the right and opportunity to protect himself. 

This is common sense as much as it is law. It is all very well for a man to argue that we must submit to the law, but he must be equally as empathetic in proclaiming that the law must protect the man who submits to it. 

Far better would it have been for Jas. Carter to have sacrificed his life in an effort to save it than to be taken out during the stilly hours of the night, with his hands behind him and launched into eternity by a lot of cowards who are unfit to be executed on a scaffold.

It’s hard to imagine the jailer didn’t know any of the 200 men who came for Carter that night, but in the dozen or so articles I found about this lynching, there’s no mention of their names or that any charges were filed in Carter’s murder.

You might also want to check out this article about a project in which dirt is being collected from known lynching sites and this article about a monument to lynching victims being built in Montgomery, Ala.

Learn about ‘Victorian Times’ Sunday, June 4, at Presbyterian Cemetery

Learn about ‘Victorian Times’ Sunday, June 4, at Presbyterian Cemetery

On Sunday, June 4, Lynchburg’s Presbyterian Cemetery will host its third “Sunday Stroll” of the year. The hour-long, guided tour, “Victorian Times,” will begin at 2 p.m. at the cemetery office. The cost is $5.

The tour, given by Judy Harvey, will highlight mourning practices during the Victorian era. The time period, named for Britain’s Queen Victoria, runs from 1837 to 1901, the length of her reign. The tour also will include stories of people buried at Presbyterian Cemetery during Victorian times.

Augustus Winfield Scott 1843-1905
The weeping angel atop the grave of Augustus Winfield Scott (1843-1905).

Presbyterian Cemetery was founded in 1823 on land purchased from Edward Lynch, son of the city’s founder, John Lynch. Notable people buried there include Max Guggenheimer Jr. (local “merchant prince”), Otway Anna Carter Owen (great-niece of George Washington), Emma Serena Dillard Stovall (the folk artist commonly known as “Queena” Stovall) and others.

There also are more than 200 Civil War soldiers buried at Presbyterian Cemetery.

I have written other posts about the “residents” of Presbyterian Cemetery, including five girls who died in a fire at the Presbyterian Orphanage and the Stephens children, who are buried together under four little stone lambs.

‘Sunday Stroll’ shows off natural beauty of Presbyterian Cemetery

On Sunday, May 7, Lynchburg’s Presbyterian Cemetery will host its second “Sunday Stroll” of the year. The hour-long walking tour, “Natural Beauty,” will begin at 2 p.m. at the cemetery office. The cost is $5.

The tour, given by Judy Harvey, will highlight plants and gardening traditions in the historic cemetery, along with stories of the past. Harvey also will address the meaning behind certain plants — roses, lilies, ivy, etc. — commonly used on tombstones and cemetery statuary.

You can read more about cemetery symbolism here.

10 babies
The final resting place of the 10 Waldron infants.

One story Harvey will tell involves the Waldron babies, 10 infants born to Robert and Susan Waldron, of Lynchburg. They are buried in a long, segmented plot behind their parents. Other than two monuments paying tribute to the infants as a group, the graves are unmarked — no names or genders and no birth or death dates.

Presbyterian Cemetery was founded in 1823 on land purchased from Edward Lynch, son of the city’s founder, John Lynch. Notable people buried there include Max Guggenheimer Jr. (local “merchant prince”), Otway Anna Carter Owen (great-niece of George Washington), Emma Serena Dillard Stovall (the folk artist commonly known as “Queena” Stovall) and others.

There also are more than 200 Civil War soldiers are buried at Presbyterian Cemetery.

Road Trip Recap, Part 1

Last week, my good friend and running partner, Paula, and I took a road trip to Mississippi. Our primary mission was doing research for a book I’m working on about the journey William Macon Waller and his slaves took in 1847-48 from Amherst, Va., to Natchez, Miss.

Our secondary goal was eating. There’s lots of good food in and on the way to Mississippi.

We left Lynchburg on Saturday morning, April 22, bound for Birmingham, Ala. On the way, our route would take us through Bristol, Va., where there were doughnuts at Blackbird Bakery. Really good doughnuts.

The bakery, which is open 24/7, is located on the Virginia side of Bristol. In case you didn’t know, Bristol is a divided city. Tennessee is on one side of its main drag and Virginia on the other.

At Blackbird, I had three doughnuts: a vanilla cake, chocolate cake and a chocolate/caramel yeast doughnut. I washed them down with a pint of milk. Paula, who has more self-restraint than I do, had two doughnuts.

One of hers was blueberry pancake flavor with maple/bacon topping. It looked pretty good.

If I didn’t hate traveling I-81 so much, I might be at Blackbird every weekend.

Back in the car, we drove on, through Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tenn., and then Birmingham, Ala. Along the way, we counted 17 dead armadillos. They started appearing roadside, belly up with their tiny, clawed feet in the air, somewhere around Chattanooga.

Paula Googled “armadillo” on her phone and discovered the word was Spanish for “little armored one.” That made sense. She also read that armadillos had an odd — and suicidal — habit of jumping straight up when startled.

Sometimes, the article said, they jumped straight into the undercarriages or fenders of cars, thus all the little, armored bodies. Before the week was out, I’d count 42 dead armadillos along highways in Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. And not a single, solitary live one.

alabama sign
Yes, it really says that.

In Bessemer, Ala., south of Birmingham, we checked into a hotel. Hungry again, we went to Bob Sykes, a local barbecue joint that’s been around since 1957. Husband John and I had been there once before, on the way to a family wedding in Louisiana.

It was about 6 p.m. and the place was packed. Many customers were wearing University of Alabama colors — red and white — causing us to suspect there was a spring football game down the road in Tuscaloosa that day.

I had a barbecue pork sandwich, macaroni and cheese a pile of fried okra. Normally, I wouldn’t cross a busy street for fried okra, but this was fried in a cornmeal batter and very tasty. Bob Sykes might have made a convert that night.

At the hotel, we watched several episodes of “Law & Order Special Victims Unit,” my favorite TV show. In addition to enjoying the dramatic stories and vicariously reliving my days as a sex crimes detective — yes, that was one of my “past lives” — I also appreciate its star Mariska Hargitay’s dedication to real-life sexual assault victims.

In 2004, in response to what she learned by playing Olivia Benson on “Law & Order” and the mail she received from sexual assault victims, some of which were telling someone about their abuse for the first time, Hargitay founded the Joyful Heart Foundation.

You can read more about the organization here.

Soon, I’ll take you a little further down the road, where more dead armadillos, more good food and a few historic discoveries await.

My ‘Big Idea’

I get a lot of big ideas, some of which I actually follow through with.

For example, I’ve run several ultra-marathons, biked the 184-mile Chesapeake & Ohio canal trail, and about 10 years ago, I wrote, directed, edited and starred in my own short film, “Spook Baby.”

The 28-minute horror/comedy is about the ghost of a dead baby that wreaks havoc at an Appalachian family reunion. You can watch it on Vimeo if you’re interested.

My most recent ambitious project involves the letters of Amherst County, Va., slave owner William Macon Waller. Over the fall and winter of 1847-48, Waller walked 20 or so slaves more than 900 miles from Virginia to Mississippi, where he sold them. Along way, he wrote letters home to friends and family.

Off and on for the past couple of years, I’ve been transcribing Waller’s letters and researching every aspect of them: the route they took, the people they met along the way, the towns they passed through, what happened to each slave, etc. My plan is to write a book, but the research could take years, even decades.

As daunting as this project sounds, I read a book recently that gives me hope, “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher,” by Timothy Egan. It’s a biography of photographer and anthropologist Edward Sheriff Curtis. Curtis is perhaps best known for his photos of Native Americans, many of which are included in his 20-volume book series, “The North American Indian.”

Curtis, a self-taught photographer with a grade-school education, worked on what he called his “Big Idea” for about 30 years, from around 1900 to 1930. Thinking Native American culture, language and even the people themselves would soon disappear, Curtis traveled the continent, taking photographs and documenting the language and culture of North America’s first people.

He worked at a frenetic pace, making 40,000 photographs and 10,000 audio recordings. Along the way, he became not only a photographer and anthropologist, but an activist. But it all came at a great personal cost.

Over the years, he sacrificed all of his money and energy, and in the end received no compensation for his seminal work. He was so determined to finish his “Big Idea” that he sold the rights to his books, sold his photos and plates, and took no salary. His marriage ended and other relationships suffered, but on he went.

If nothing else, reading about what Curtis went through gives me hope that my “Big Idea” also can happen.

So, in 2017, I plan to travel to the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond and to courthouses in Mississippi and Louisiana. There are university archives to visit in various states, and I won’t be surprised if I end up at the National Archives. I’ve already spent countless hours online, searching genealogy websites and newspaper archives, and I’m sure I will spend countless more.

I also hope to have to have a little luck along the way.

One thing I’m looking for are family papers. There are several family names involved in this project — Waller, Mitchell, Massie, Taliaferro, Davis, Dabney and others. I’ve been able to find some of these papers in university and other archives, but maybe, just maybe, there’s a shoe box crammed full of letters in somebody’s attic.

And hopefully, this shoe box will help solve the mystery of what happened to the enslaved people who made the walk from Virginia to Mississippi with Waller: Sarah and child, Henry, Lucy, Louisa, Sarah Ann, Ellin, India, Foster, Pleasant, Charlotte, Anderson, Susan, McDonald and Emily, and others whose names I don’t yet know.

And hopefully, it’ll lead me to some of their modern-day descendants, who might like to know about the brave, incredible journey their ancestors took almost 170 years ago.

Four little lambs: What happened to the Stephens children?

Four little lambs: What happened to the Stephens children?

I’m beginning to think I should have called my blog, “Bring Out Your Dead,” in an homage to a darkly funny scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” I’ll admit it: I enjoy writing about long-dead people and cemeteries and tragic accidents.

Morbid, I know, but interesting.

The other day, while driving through Lynchburg’s Presbyterian Cemetery with husband John — luckily, he enjoys this kind of stuff, too — we saw the grave of four children: Madie Vernon, Lillie Bell, William Jones and Louis Milner Kirk Stephens.

They were the children of James and Josephine Stephens.

Graves and Lambs
The grave of the Stephens children.

All four children are buried beneath a single stone slab with four small, stone lambs atop it. Behind the grave is a life-size statue of a mournful-looking woman. Her chin rests in one hand and the other clutches what looks like a palm frond.

Figuring the palm frond was symbolic of something, I Googled “symbols on cemetery statuary.” I found this neat website, which said a palm frond was a symbol of “victory over death.” A lamb, as one might imagine, symbolizes innocence and is a common feature on children’s tombstones.

Statue behind the graves. Note the palm frond.

Because there were no dates on the grave, I wondered if they had all died at the same time, of diphtheria, typhoid, smallpox or some other disease that swept through the household. My friend, Chuck, who works at Jones Memorial Library, told me recently that in the early 1880s one of his ancestors lost five of their 10 children in one week to diphtheria.

Maybe that was what happened to the Stephens children, too.

At Jones Memorial, I searched the Virginia death records on microfilm and found the date and cause of death for two of the Stephens children. Lillie died of whooping cough on Feb. 21, 1882. Her brother, William, died of scarlet fever on Dec. 31, 1883.

I couldn’t find a death record for Madie or Louis. I did, however, find mention of Madie, Lillie and William in the Diuguid Funeral Home records. These records also can be perused on microfilm at Jones Memorial.

According to the records, Madie’s 1873 burial cost $12. Ten years later, Lillie’s burial services totaled $40. William’s 1883 record indicated he’d been “carried in,” which I guess is why the burial services were cheaper — $35 for what was described as “metalic [sic] case and burial of child.”

John and Warren Stewart
Brothers John and Warren Stewart, who died while serving in the 13th Virginia Artillery, CSA, are two of more than 200 Civil War soldiers buried at Presbyterian Cemetery.

It’s also worth mentioning that there are many notable people buried in Presbyterian Cemetery, among them more than 200 Civil War soldiers, including Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland Jr. Folk artist Queena Stovall is buried there, too, as are Derek and Nancy Haysom, whose spectacular murder captivated people in Lynchburg and around the world in the 1980s.

It’s also a beautiful cemetery and worth a visit for that reason alone.

Augustus Winfield Scott 1843-1905
The impressive grave of Augustus Winfield Scott, 1843-1905.


Welcome to Appetite 4 History. As the tagline says, “History and Food. I’m not that deep.”

I like history. I like museums and big old houses, and graveyards, although not in June when the chiggers are out. I like genealogical mysteries and hope to someday discover if my great-great-grandfather really did have a second family in Oklahoma or Arkansas or Texas.

I like helping my friends learn more about their family histories and, for some reason, I have a knack for transcribing 19th-century handwriting. I like searching for deeds and wills at courthouses and reading books about well-known and little-known people and events from history.

I’m not a Ph.D., a professor or history major, and I haven’t used a footnote since high school. I’m a freelance writer with a journalism degree and an interest in (mostly, but not exclusively) American history. You won’t find anything too academic here, but I hope it will be interesting.

And I also like food. My favorite type of dining establishment is a cinder block barbecue or “meat-and-three” joint that’s surrounded by pickup trucks and police cars. My husband, John, and I have been known to drive hours out of our way for a maple-frosted doughnut at Ralph’s Do-Nuts in Cookeville, Tennessee, and when I’m really, really hungry, all I want is a hot dog.

I’m a cook, too, and will post recipes on occasion. While one of my favorite dishes to make is Country Captain, with its eternally long list of ingredients, I’m just as likely to post a photo of the cornbread I baked in my vintage Griswold skillet (a skillet I garbage-picked in my town’s historic district).

It’s pretty simple: I like history, I like food, and I want to tell you about both.