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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 conjuror

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