Near lynching in Hagerstown, 1839
We regret to state that we had in our town, on Monday last, a specimen of the "summary mode of proceeding" which is so common in the South; and lest misrepresentations should go abroad, to the injury of the character of the town, we give the circumstances as they have come to our knowledge. On Sunday morning last, a few hours before day, an athletic negro man was discovered in the Market House, in company with a well-clad white female, apparently not more than 14 or 15, but she says near 18 years of age. They were taken before a justice of the peace, where, from the statements of the girl, it appeared that she was an orphan and resided with an uncle in Frederick county - that the negro also lived with her uncle, -that he had seduced her and persuaded her to elope with him — and that they were on their way to Pennsylvania. It was deemed advisable, from the peculiar character of the case, to detain the parties for further examination. The negro was sent to jail and the girl to the Alms House.
On Monday morning the prisoner was taken from the jail to the Town Hall, where a considerable number of persons had assembled to witness his examination. It was ascertained that there was no law to meet the case, and no sooner was this fact announced, than it became pretty evident that the individual would come under the code of "Judge Lynch". The rail and other implements were in readiness, and the signal to carry into execution the decree of that inexorable and frequently unjust judge was waited for with impatience. The negro, at the instance of some citizens, who feared that his life was in danger, threw himself upon the protection of the officers of the peace and he was sent back to jail.
He was accompanied by a large crowd of persons, and on the way to the prison, an unsuccessful attempt was made to wrest him from the officers.— The fact that he was beyond their reach did not satisfy the excited crowd, who continued in the neighborhood of the jail, and resolved not to withdraw until some punishment was inflicted upon him.— The negro being much alarmed, felt disposed to make some compromise with the agents of Judge Lynch; and it was finally agreed, on both sides, that he should receive, on the bare back, forty stripes, save one, well laid on. The agreement was immediately carried to execution, in the presence of the crowd. Othello was then safely escorted out of town towards Pennsylvania, by a committee of persons selected for that purpose—and the crowd dispersed.
We hope never to witness another such a scene in our town. For though the negro may not have got more than he richly deserved, the way in which the thing was done cannot be justified. Every species of mobbery must be kept down. If the existing laws are too mild, or do not embrace every class of offenders, let them be amended so as to authorize the infliction of punishment adequate to the offence, but, for mercy’s sake, let the sword of justice be kept out of the hands of an excited multitude.
The connections of the girl, who reside in Frederick county, are represented to be very respectable—and we understand they have made arrangements to have her taken home.
Slaves, Western Maryland
Western Maryland, 1800-1864