Pamunkey River

Pamunkey River
The Pamunkey River in 1864

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Gallow's Ball XII - Dining on the Scaffold

The Shepherdstown Register adds some extra details to the strange scene.
Of course whether they are true or nineteenth century journalistic license is debatable.

The two negroes, Pat Smith, aged twenty-four, and Julius Christian, aged twenty-two, who murdered Colonel Jno. Calvin Lacy in New Kent county, Virginia, were hung March 25th, at New Kent Courthouse, Va., in the presence of an immense crowd of white and colored people. The condemned men left the Henrico jail, in Richmond, where they had been lodged for safe-keeping, at five o'clock in the morning, in charge of Sheriff Royster and and ample guard. They slept well at night, and set out for the scene of the execution, which is twenty-five miles distance from Richmond with the utmost good humor. They dressed themselves in new store clothes, and as they walked along the street on their way to the New York River depot they laughed and talked, and seemed

They had been provided with money by their relatives, and this they spent for sandwiches and cigars at the lunch counter in the depot. As the train puffed away the murderers poked their heads out of car windows and gave three cheers for Richmond. There were a few negroes, a half dozen white sporting men, ten or twelve fancy girls and twelve reporters on the cars, who went to see the work well done. At eleven o'clock the party arrived at the Court House, it being several miles from the railroad station to that place. The prisoners were taken into the Court House building, where they shrouded themselves, and were prayed for by a colored Deacon. About 11:30 they were led to the gallows. They said they had a request to make, which they begged would be complied with. They wanted to

The sheriff consented to this whim, and the execution was delayed some what on this account. The prisoners said they only wanted coffee, cornbread and molasses, but they wanted a good deal of it, such as it was. Accordingly a colored woman in the neighborhood went to work and prepared the grub. In the meantime the murderers sat composedly, the observed of all observers. About twelve o'clock the repast was ready. A rickety old table and two chairs were loaned for the occasion. These were placed on the scaffold, and on the table were a pot of steaming coffee, two pones of corn bread, a rung of sorghum, plates, spoons, &c. Smith took his coffee without cream, but Christian called for some of the lacteal fluid. The cook had forgotten to send any, and after a little delay it was brought. Then the negroes began their meal. It took them nearly one hour to eat it.

And when they had cleared the dishes they remarked; "The old woman gets up a first rate dinner." Then they each smoked a cigar, and at one o'clock they arose on the scaffold, and with grinning faces confessed t he crime for which they were condemned, and said they would go straight to glory. At the close, and just before the ropes were lied, they requested the crowd to sing the negro hymn, "Peace, peace, on the golden shore." Christian had a fine tenor voice, and Smith sung a pretty fair bass, and after the tune had been raised they both joined in with a good will. All of the colored spectators sang, and altogether it was a musical feature of the show that might have been enjoyed by disinterested spectators had not the occasion been such a serious one. At 1:15 o'clock all was ready. Smith and Christian said "Farewell," in a loud voice, and the prop was knocked from under them. They swung off well, and only uttered slight groans. Smith weighed 190 pounds, and his neck was broken; Christian weighed 150 and was strangled. The remains were cut down in a half hour after the pulse ceased to beat, and were turned over to their friends.

"The negroes came in immense numbers. It was a gala day for them, and they were all in a holiday attire. The field in which the men were hanged looked like a country fair. Booths were erected. An enterprising Yankee had a side show and educated pig, and itinerant musicians enlivened the occasion. After the hanging the crowds of whites went away, but the negroes hung about the field and around the shallow graves of the felons until dark. They had determined to have a ball, but according to some superstition among them it could not begin until after the midnight hour. A large barn in the field was swept clean by hundreds of willing hands. At 12 o'clock it was crowded. 
On a small stage in a corner the stand for the musicians was placed, which was occupied by four banjo players and one fiddle. In the middle of the room was another stand, upon which the man who called out the figures stood. It was a weird scene. Boys stood in the corners of the room with pine knot torches, which filled the place with smoke, and made a murky light.
At 12:15 the festivities began. Peter Johnson, a burly tobacco hand, occupied the stand in the middle of the room, and sang out in stentorian voice: "Choose your partners." The strangely made up orchestra struck up "The Mississippi Sawyer," a wild Ethiopian air, and the dancing began. As the music went on, the musicians and dances grew wild and wilder, until they shouted and sang as though possessed by the devil. Such exclamations as "I could die dis moment" "Oh, Lord, how happy I is" and the like were heard, especially from the women. At about two o'clock Lucinda Macon, an old voudou(sic) negress, suddenly made her appearance in the barn. The musicians and dancers stopped in terror. The old hag slipped into the middle of the room, and then began a series of strange incantation scenes. The "trick" doctress* was dressed in an old blue and white checkered dress, and had in. her hand a large bundle, tied up in a red handkerchief. She opened it, and after muttering a lot of gibberish, in what the negroes say here was an African dialect, she said she had the rope with which the man were banged, and that after she had touched any bit of it that piece would secure the possessor against the evil designs of any person who tricked them or poisoned them. She cut it up in small bits, and over each bit she muttered and sprinkled something from an old jog, and then 'she sold it for fifty cents. The rush for I these pieces of rope was great. The men fought for them.
This ceremony was kept up until 2:30 a.m. The rope did not go around, and when this became known those who did not get a piece acted like fiends,and begged the hag for a thread only. She told them that nothing else would effect the charm except small particles of the clothing in which the men were buried. A large party then started off to. the grave underneath the gallows, for the purpose of disinterring the bodies and bringing back the garments. They soon returned in horror to the ball room, swearing that they had seen the two men who were hanged walking around the grave. The hag added to the excitement by declaring at the top of her voice, singing cut the words, that Smith and Christian had not died, because she had given them a charm. The secret is, that the visit of the dancers to the grave frightened Off two resurrectionists who were after the bodies for the doctors. The dancing and singing were kept up until 5 o'clock. It was announced by the voudou doctress that all who danced at the gallows ball would be able to dance as long as they lived, no matter if they lived to be ninety one"

-Shepherdstown Register, April 05, 1879

* hoodoo man or conjurer

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Gallow's Ball XI - "After the Dance of Death"

Where in we first come across the name of this series . . .


 . . .
The strangest circumstance connected with the execution in New Kent yesterday has been heard or here to day. For want of a better name it may be called a "gallows ball." So it was. Hundreds of negroes remained around the place after the execution had taken place and when the shades of night set in they had a grand ball in honer of the occasion. The ball took place in an old barn near by, the music being furnished by three banjos and a fiddle. The place was lit up by pine knot torches, and the dance was begun to the wild notes of that grand old Ethiopian melody, "The Mississippi Sawyer." Virginia has furnished the greatest men of the United States, and now being tired of this sort of thing and aiming to do something original, she strikes out on a now track and caps the climax with a gallows ball after the dance of death. A gallows ball! Ha! ha! what strange visions rise at the words? What shadowy forms and horribly contorting figures come in view phantom-like and disgusting. After the poor devils swing off by a hempen rope the darkey fiddler yells out "swing corners," and the ball commences. After the two murderers are lead up to the gibbet, the musician yells out amid trilling banjos and shrieking fiddle, "lead up four," and the dance goes on. The darkies of New Kent take the lead now. The ball was kept up until a late hour, and Pat. Smith, whose body lay in a shallow grave near by, must have slept soundly or else he would have been shaken out by the moving feet of the crowd dancing around him.

-Alexandria Gazette, March 27, 1879

Monday, November 5, 2018

Gallow's Ball X - From The New York Herald

A more sensational, and yet perhaps more honest, account of the double execution.

Patrick Smith and Julius Christian Hanged in Virginia.
Speedy Retribution Follows the Killing of J. C. Lacy.
New Kent Court House, Va., March 25, 1879.
The brutal butchery of John C. Lacy on the 17th of January last was avenged here to-day by the execution of his murderers, Patrick Smith and Julius Christian. No tragedy ever before created such terrible indignation in New Kent county. The prisoners have been in the jail of Henrico county, as there is none here, but were brought from Richmond this morning. Leaving that city by the cars at six o'clock, they were met at Summit Station, on the York River and Chesapeake Railroad, where they were placed in a wagon and surrounded by an armed guard of twenty men. On the way the prisoners chatted and very freely discussed the crime for which they were on their way to pay the penalty, frequently laughing when they explained the dexterity with which they caught Lacy, gashed his throat and finally dispatched him. They seemed to gloat over the last appeal he made for mercy, and Smith was boisterously merry in describing the death struggle of the victim.

It was difficult to understand whether they were the most hardened and abandoned criminals or merely ignorant brutes. They smoked cigars with an evident relish, and begged for ten cent pieces of silver, which they said they wished "to keep." One of those who accompanied them remarked that he felt sore from riding, to which Julius Christian responded "I'll be sorer than dat to-morrow by dis time," and he laughed heartily at the horrible sally. From early in the morning crowds were thronging into the village on horseback, foot and in every conceivable sort of vehicle. The town by ten o'clock was filled with people of all classes, colors and conditions, and the rum sellers did an excellent business. Negroes as well as whites wore their best, and all of them impressed the observer with the idea that they were intent on enjoying the day and making the most of the occasion. Not a soul seemed to  regard the coming tragedy in the light of a terrible example of vengeance meted out by the laws of both God and man for murder.

In keeping with the merriment, which seemed general, an enterprising manager had a good sized marquee erected in view of the scaffold, in which he gave a combination exhibition of burnt cork opera, a Punch and Judy show, an educated hog, several performing monkeys and a limited menagerie of other small animals. This was liberally patronized during the entire-day. The performances commenced at nine A.M., so that the many colored populace were amply supplied with light comedy on the one hand and horrible tragedy on the other. 
The scaffold was erected on the brow of a hill, with a thin growth of pine trees, to the east of the town and about one thousand yards outside its limits. It was decent in appearance, but not perfect in construction. The fall allowed was only a little over four feet, and it seemed as if it was intended to strangle its victims. Their feet would necessarily come into proximity with the earth.

A little before eleven o'clock A. M. the wagon with the criminals and its escort of mounted men, which had been augmented to about one hundred, entered the village, and a rush was made for it. The rum mills, oyster carts, booths, lunch stands and combination show were promptly deserted for the more important spectacle of the doomed men. As quickly as possible they were taken from the wagon and conducted to the Court House, around the door of which the mob were struggling, to effect an entrance. By courtesy of Commonwealth Attorney Lacy and Judge Christian, the Herald correspondent gained admittance and found the criminals answering the hundred questions propounded to them about the murder. No time was lost however, and they were soon shroud in two long sable robes with frilled and escalloped collars after the Elizabethan style.
They had written letters of farewell, one to his poor mother and the other to his sister, and they exonerated as far as it was in their power old Andrew Whitney from any complicity in the murder. Once more they were conducted to and seated in the wagon, this time in two black coffins, and again the procession formed and took its final march to the gallows. Following the wagon was the Judge, Commonwealth Attorney and other officials and privileged persons. At this time the morbidly curious crowd flocked frantically across the ploughed(sic) ground to the scaffold, in the vicinity of which large numbers found eligible positions in the tree tops. Observing this Patrick Smith exclaimed as they neared the scene. "De good Lord, look at the folks like buzzards in the trees." There was nothing solemn or impressive in the proceedings.

Arrived at the scaffold the condemned men ascended the steps leading to the drop with a firm and steady tread. They then made addresses, in which, as usual, they both claimed to have made their peace with their Maker. Christian, who was on the right, seemed to become fervent and eloquent. They reiterated statements previously made by them about the murder substantially as given below. Pat Smith made an elaborate statement about the tragedy, giving in detail the part taken by both of them, and during which portion in the crowd uttered imprecations on them. When they were concluded the Sheriff read the death warrant, and at ten minutes to twelve o'clock A.M. they were pinioned and the block caps drawn over their face. At twelve M. at a signal the prop supporting the drop was drawn out and the two murderers fell. The rope that held Christian slipped and his feet nearly touched the earth. The nooses being loosely adjusted the knots swung around to the backs of their necks. 
Smith's fall was a little over three feet. He barely quivered, but Christian struggled convulsively for several moments. Smith's neck is said to have been broken. Christian died of strangulation. After remaining suspended for twenty minutes life was pronounced extinct and the bodies were cut down. They were placed in two coffins and buried in a hole dug for the purpose in front and to the left of the scaffold. The crowd then hurried back to resume the amusements in the village.

Soon after daylight on the morning of Saturday, January 1 last, the body of John C. Lacy, of this county, was found on the road leading from Cedar Grove to Long Bridge, and within one and a half miles of his own home. Cedar Grove is about twenty miles front Richmond on the forge road, and Lacy's residence was two miles below Cedar Grove. He had driven to the city the day previous in a mule cart to dispose of some hogs, and was evidently murdered and robbed on his return home. When discovered the body presented a ghastly appearance, and the surroundings indicate that a terrible struggle had taken place. The head was nearly severed from the trunk; a large portion of the throat seemed to have been actually torn out. Several gashes and cuts were found on the skull, and about the arms and breast. The features were distorted, clotted with blood, and mutilated, and the chest, arms and bands were covered with gore. The bushes in the vicinity were bespattered with blood. This mule had either wandered home with the cart or been driven there by the murderers, for they were found in the enclosure of Lacy's premises, the animal being unhitched.
Though the country thereabouts is but thinly inhabited, a large crowd had assembled by noon near the scene of the tragedy. The greatest excitement prevailed, and this was greatly aggravated by the piteous walling of Lacy's grief-stricken wife and six children, and threats of lynching the murderers when discovered were uttered. An inquest was opened, but at first no clue to the perpetrators was found. On the next day, however, by some unaccountable agency suspicion fell upon an old negro of bad character named Andrew Whiting, and finally led to the arrest of the actual murderers. Whiting's premises were searched and several articles of blood stained clothing with found hidden under a bed, which were afterward identified as belonging to two young negroes named Pat Smith and Julius Christian. Living with old Whiting was Claiborn Smith, a younger brother of Pat Smith, who, as soon as the clothing was found, surrendered himself and made a confession which led to the arrest of the others named, including the old man Whiting. Smith and Christian were arrested by four brothers named Wallace, who, armed with shotguns, surprised them at the residence of Christian's brother-in-law, near Talleysville, and delivered them over to the authorities. 
In their possession was found the hat of Mr. Lacy, $4 in money, a quantity of groceries, some calico and matches, all of which they had taken from him on the night of the murder. A preliminary examination was held before a bench of magistrates, at which Claiborn disclosed a fiendish and well concocted plot on the part of his brother and Christian. They were all committed for trial, and the excitement quickly subsided.

If the negroes are now to be believed- and circumstances strongly support their statements- some very extraordinary relations existed between them and Lacy. The bitter man what is known in the South as a "poor white man," whose reputation for honesty and fair dealing wax not the very best. He had a small farm, on which he frequently employed Smith and Christian. They alleged that Lacy carried on a very questionable traffic in hogs which he and they captured in the swamps and woods from time to time, without regard their ownership. Those hogs were killed and cleaned and taken to market by Lacy and sold, the proceeds being divided between the negroes and himself. To use the expression of one of them, "Lacey did not tote fair about the hogs," and this engendered "hard feelings" between them. He would not pay the money claimed by them for wages and their shares of the proceeds of the sales. Smith said Lacy owed him $50, and Christian demanded $10 as the amount due him. Lacy was profuse in his promises to pay, but never could be gotten to hand them the money. Further than this the negroes had robbed a store in the neighborhood, they said, and had given Lacy's family some of the stolen goods, and when they became relentless in their demands for money he threatened them with arrest for the burglary. It was the fear of the execution of this utter threat, coupled with the belief that he would never pay them the money he owed, that led to the determination on their part to commit the terrible deed on the evening of January 17.

It appears that on the Sunday evening preceding the 17th of January Pat Smith, Julius Christian and Claiborn Smith had a conference, during which the situation was discussed and the murder planned. Pat presided, and stated that a certain party must be put out of the way. No name was called, but they were all well aware who was meant, and though no words were spoken, Pat's proposition was assented to. It was known to them that Lacy would go to Richmond on the following Friday to dispose of some hogs; that he would return in the evening, and would be an easy victim, as he was usually more or less under the influence of liquor on these occasions. The place was well detected. It was where the road ran through a swamp which was thickly wooded, and not far from an old graveyard, near a place called Emmaus Church. Accordingly, on Friday evening they were all there in that neighborhood, ostensibly hunting. It was about five o'clock, and darkness was rapidly setting in when they heard the rumble of his cart as he approached them. They allowed him to pass and then stealthily followed the cart for half a mile until it was quite dark. At this juncture the heart of Claiborne failed and he lingered behind. The other called to him to come on. He replied, "All right," and pretended to be tying his shoe. He then ran home. Pat and Julius overtook the cart, and the former, running under it from behind, seized Lacy by his legs, which were hanging down in front. The mule stopped. Lacy then seized a hatchet which he had in the cart, but not before Julius Christian had made a severe gash in his throat with a knife. A hand to hand contest followed between Christian and Lacy, during which the latter dropped his hatchet, and both rolled and tumbled a considerable distance from the cart. He succeeded in getting in a sitting posture, when Christian again gashed his throat with the knife. He then sprang to his feet, and exclaiming, "Don't hurt me! Anything I've got in the cart you can have," tried to escape by running. This appeal was unheeded. Smith run back and picked up the hatchet, chased Lacy, and, catching him by the arm, with the hatchet struck him a terrific blow on the side of the head, felling him to the ground. Christian again sprung upon him and again plunged the knife into his throat, tearing it across his windpipe. When he had done this, Smith, with butcher like brutality, chopped the hatchet into Lacy's throat, where it became so firmly fixed that it required a considerable wrench to extricate it.

The murderers then searched his body and found $4 in money. They took the groceries and calico and the few other articles which Lacy had purchased for his family, and then left the scene for their home, whither Claiborn had preceded them. This was old Whiting's house, and here they hid their blood stained clothes, but in order to avoid suspicion they went that same night to the house of Christian's brother-in-law, where they were arrested. 
The trial commenced at New Kent Court House on Thursday, the 14th of February, and lasted until the 14th, when Pat Smith and Julius Christian were sentenced to be hanged, and Claiborn Smith was sent to the Penitentiary for eighteen years. The old negro, Andrew Whiting, and his mother, alleged to be implicated in the murder, yet remain to be tried.

Pat Smith was an interior type of the genuine negro, twenty-two years of age. He stood about five foot eight inches high, was black, had coarse features, thick lips, flat nose, slanting forehead, was muscular and weighed 160 pounds. 
Julius Christian was a dark mulatto, twenty-one years old, five feet six inches high, of stout build and exhibiting great strength. He was more intelligent than Smith.

John C. Lacy was about forty years of age, medium sized, with long black hair and dark eyes, and looked very much like an Indian. He was of respectable parentage, but as he grew up displayed traits of character that almost alienated him from his family and friends.

-The New York Herald, March 26, 1879