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By Lois Barefoot Mays

One day in September 1858, William Smith, along with his eight-year-old son William, Jr. and his father-in-law Gordon Stewart, saddled up their horses and rode off on a grim mission. They were on their way to take part in a vigilante action that would claim the lives of two men and leave the courts confounded.

The three traveled about 35 miles south from Cowhouse Island to the Courthouse at Traders Hill. There they joined a group of 105 other men (including at least one, possibly two former sheriffs). They had all gathered to vent their outrage and to dispense vigilante justice over events that had occurred recently in the area.

A few weeks earlier, a local man, Henry Jones, had been found brutally murdered. Two slaves, belonging to Dr. C.E. Ballard, were suspected of the crime, and when they were arrested they confessed. In the weeks that followed, the two prisoners escaped twice from the jail, both times under mysterious circumstances. The men were recaptured. Some of the townspeople wondered if Dr. Ballard could have had a hand in their jailbreaks[ii].

The mob held a citizens court and placed the suspects on trial. They found the men guilty and sentenced them to be hanged.

But they went about the execution in an odd way: when the gallows was set, a long rope was tied to the latch. Each man in the crowd placed his hands on the rope, and they all pulled together. The trapdoor was sprung; the slaves plunged to their deaths.

Nothing was ever done about It, for as the sentence stated In the document the 107 men signed, the hanging was an act of justice none could condemn and was necessary to bring peace and quiet to an excited neighborhood.

from DeBrahm's Report
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