- Associated Press - Sunday, November 27, 2016

BOWIE, Md. (AP) - The mob hauled Henry Davis out of the county jail on Calvert Street, led him through the Clay Street neighborhood to Brickyard Hill overlooking the end of College Creek and hung him from a Chestnut tree.

Their rage not satisfied, they shot him 100 times or more. A man took pictures of Davis, and sold postcards, two for a quarter. One customer bought 50 copies.

The Evening Capital headline read: “Assault on woman avenged - Davis dragged from jail and lynched - Mob riddled Negro ravisher with bullets.”

“The people in the old Fourth Ward heard the screams, locked their doors,” said local historian Janice Hayes-Williams. “The mob was saying if you choose to act this way this will happen to you.”

The incident had virtually all of the elements of the lynching scourge: the accused charged with murder or assaulting a woman’s honor defended after being violated by a “black brute”; victim snatched from the hands of justice, a man not just hung but shot or dismembered; no lynch mob members charged; and both the local and wider press adding to the atmosphere.

A recent study by scholars at Bowie State University concluded 40 lynchings happened in the state between 1854 and 1933. Five occurred in Anne Arundel County. Davis who was killed in 1906 was the last in Annapolis but not in the county. In 1911, a man named King Johnson was pulled from the county lockup in Brooklyn by eight men and shot. No one had been on duty at the jailhouse.

Presented recently at the Maryland Hall of Records, the Bowie study noted “lynching was one of the ultimate tools… that whites use to keep African Americans in a position of political non-existence and social and economic subordination throughout the South. It was the extra-legal means to enforce the color line when African Americans engaged in activities that were thought to have transgressed the informal code of social etiquette - including African American success or prosperity.”

Many of those lynched had merely been accused of a crime, then killed.

“It really goes so much beyond murdering someone,” said Chris Haley, director of the Study of the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland at the state archives. “It’s making an example of someone to others, it’s terrorism. People are sent a message, step out of line and this can happen to you.”

Maryland was very much a Southern state when it came to treatment of African Americans in the years during and after slavery.

Most of the records found and cited at the Archives and in the Bowie State study are gleaned from newspaper accounts of lynchings of individuals accused of a crime. But there were likely more in the post-Civil War period. Except for two cases, the reports begin after the war and the Emancipation Proclamation. “Before that, it was within a slave holder’s right to brutalize, to punish their property - by any means necessary,” Haley said.

The Bowie study and Haley note connections between that dark history and recent events involving police and unarmed African Americans and the uproar and cry for justice that has followed.

“We wonder why there is suspicion on the part of African Americans? This is part and parcel of it,” said Nicholas Creary, assistant professor of history at Bowie State University.

‘Brute’

A common theme attached to the lynching scourge was the image of the Negro brute and an assault on a white woman.

Historian Crystal Feister, cited in the Bowie research, found that as white anxiety about political, economic, and social changes emerging from emancipation a new story emerged.

Rather than the white men assaulting black women storyline pitched by abolitionists before the Civil War, white men in the South pushed a narrative couching rape as a crime committed by black men over white women. Confessions were often coaxed at lethal cost.

In Anne Arundel, the first lynching in the postbellum era was in 1875: John Simms, accused of accosting a young white woman near Piney Woods in present day Odenton. While little record is found in local papers, accounts of his lynching appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Herald.

The Herald’s headline: Lynching a Negro - The untimely end of the Piney Woods Monster - Vengeance on the Outrager of Adelaide Jackson.” According to the newspaper account, the “brute: awaited the young girl by a watering hole, coolly asked her for a drink of water then ravaged her noting the “black fiend had accomplished his purpose.”

The lynch mob was led by 28 masked men, six of whom forced the jailer to hand over the keys. Since Simms wore leg irons, the men hoisted him and carried him out of the jailhouse to the rest of the mob waiting by the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad with two hand cars. A mile or so outside of town Simms was hung from a ‘box oak tree” along the tracks.

Once strung up with the noose, the account says Simms told the mob, “I did the deed, gentlemen, and I want to tell you why I did it.”

The “captain” heading the masked crew asked if he had committed other crimes.

Simms replied “No” and was mounted on a horse which took off after being struck “leaving him dangling.” And there he stayed until the next day after “a large number of citizens and others visited the place,” The Inquirer noted.

1884

George Briscoe didn’t make it to the jailhouse.

Accused of a string of robberies in the Stoney Creek area, he was arrested in November 1884 and brought before Judge Thomas Jacobs in Jacobsville who ordered him taken to jail in Annapolis.

As the carriage carrying Briscoe, escorted by two deputies, crossed the Magothy River at what was then New Bridge (likely present day Magothy Bridge Road), men poured from the surrounding woods along the road. They pulled one deputy from the carriage, and both lawmen fled, leaving Briscoe with the lynchers, The Capital reported.

Briscoe reportedly confessed and was hung from a tree near where the carriage was intercepted. His body was found an hour later by one of the deputies who had returned to the area to retrieve his horses and carriage. His body remained hanging until the next afternoon.

An autopsy revealed he did not die from the hanging breaking his neck but had been strangled to death. His body also had several gunshot wounds, but the coroner said they looked to be a week old, perhaps related to an earlier robbery.

The inquest found he had died at the hands of “person or persons unknown.”

1898

Wright Smith, a Baltimore city resident, was accused of assaulting a white woman near Jones Station in September 1898.

He had apparently broken into a house intending to commit robbery. But the woman of the house and her sister resisted. Smith allegedly hit one of them over the head and shoved her down the steps. The two still fought him off and he fled.

He was arrested and awaited trial on attempted assault when he was pulled from the jailhouse on Calvert Street on the night of Oct. 5 by a mob of 30 men with a rope.

He broke free and ran down Northwest Street yelling “help”, “murder.” The lynch mob shot Smith several times in the back, and back of the head. He fell dead in a vacant lot.

An inquest called nine witnesses, but found no evidence, no identification of any mob members, and no one was charged.

City Councilman Wiley H. Bates offered a resolution condemning the act, but with only two votes the measure failed. The governor, Lloyd Lowndes, in offering a reward for information, noted had Smith been convicted, he would not have received the death penalty.

The last known lynching in Anne Arundel came around Christmas 1911. King Johnson, originally from St. Mary’s County, allegedly shot a man during a fight over a game of pool. He was to be taken to jail in Annapolis, but because of the late hour was put in the lockup in Brooklyn.

During the night, he was dragged from the lockup down to Second Avenue and shot four times. His body was found in a ditch along the road a few hours later.

As with other cases, a grand jury inquest found the death was due to lynching by “persons unknown.”

___

Information from: The Capital, https://www.capitalgazette.com/

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