Incendiarism and Lynch Law in Cecil County, Maryland

newspaper headline




I like a good title.  And this post title, “Incendiarism and Lynch Law in Cecil County, Maryland,” was the header of an August 1, 1872 article in The Baltimore Sun.  The word incendiary refers to arson, or tending to inflame or inflammatory — an appropriate term for a case of arson that sparked the lynching of John Jones.

For my book, I research the histories of lynchings, near-lynchings, legal executions, race riots and other cases of victimizing African Americans of the Eastern Shore.  I have limited the time period to about 1870 to 1950.  One of the earliest identified for that time period is a Cecil County, Maryland, lynching of 1872.

John Jones had been arrested, charged with having set fire to the house of Walter Griffith who lived near the “Head of Sassafras” river dividing Cecil and Kent counties, on Sunday, July 28, 1872.  Jones’ stepson and an adult friend named Green were arrested as witnesses and jailed in Warwick.  On Monday a local farmer named James Merritt was detailed by Justice Bell to deliver the three prisoners by a horse wagon to the Elkton jail.  Merritt arrived at Elkton without the prisoners, saying they had been captured from him.  The August 2nd edition of The Baltimore Sun reported:

At an early hour on Tuesday morning, Sheriff Thomas of Cecil started, in company with Merritt, to the spot described by him where the attack had been made, and in a woods, about fifty yards from the roadside, near the fruit farm of Mr. John Price, and distant about seven miles from Elkton, was found the body of the colored man Jones hanging to a tree, a small hickory tree, about a foot in diameter, the rope around his neck having been drawn over a limb about ten feet from the ground, and the body drawn up, barely clearing the ground.  After hanging the man the perpetrators of the outrage had bound the rope about his body and tied him fast to the tree. ….

The jury [inquest], after a brief examination, rendered a verdict “that the deceased came o his death by hanging, at the hands of persons unknown to the jury.”  The body was enclosed in a coffin and buried near the spot where he was hung, the newly-made grave being easily found by the reporter by means of numerous carriage tracks from the roadside, evidencing the visits of many of the curious.  The grave was marked by two cedar stakes driven into the ground at either end of the pile of earth thrown up, and the tree on which he was hung chipped out with an axe.

There was evidence that the two arrested along with Jones had escaped. I have no information about their fate.                                –Linda Duyer

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