Barney Brown (Murder of)

On December 19, 1895, an African American man named Barney Brown was captured by a group of seven or eight Black men near Wrightsville (Pulaski County) and taken to a pond, where he was subsequently drowned. The incident is labeled as a “lynching” in some sources from the time period.

On December 22, 1895, the Arkansas Gazette reported that Brown had been repeatedly threatened by Calvin Ellett for living with Ellett’s former wife. On Thursday, December 19, Ellett gathered several friends and told them that he was going to whip Brown. He sent Jake Howard to Brown’s house to lure him out. When Brown emerged, Ellett confronted him and drew a gun, and the group bound Brown and took him to a nearby mill pond. There, they tied a heavy piece of iron around Brown’s neck and threw him into the pond. The plot failed when the piece of iron used to weigh Brown down came loose. Other members of the mob then dispersed, leaving only Ellett and his seventeen-year-old brother-in-law, Valentine Hampton. Ellett then fired his gun at Brown and pushed his head under the water with a fence rail, killing him. Following an investigation by the coroner, seven people were placed under arrest, including Ellett, Hampton, Joe Howard, Albert Harper, and Ellett’s ex-wife. Hampton confessed but asserted that “Ellett had so much influence over him that he had to do his bidding.” Howard and Harper were quickly released when the coroner concluded that they did not know that Ellett intended to kill Brown. Ellett’s ex-wife was also released. Two days later, however, Howard and Harper were once again arrested as accessories to the crime.

On January 4, Ellett and Hampton were indicted for first-degree murder. Three days later, the charges against Harper, Howard, and another man named James Williams were dismissed. When the murder case came up before the Circuit Court on January 27, Ellett’s case was separated from Hampton’s, and Ellett’s attorneys proposed a plea of temporary insanity.

According to the January 31 edition of the Forrest City Times, the trial jury took only an hour to find Ellett guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to twenty-one years in the penitentiary. The Times reported, “Ellett had a close call for his neck.” There is no information available on the outcome of Hampton’s trial, but at the time of the 1900 census he was confined to the Arkansas State Penitentiary.

For additional information:
“Brutal Murder.” Arkansas Gazette, December 22, 1895, p. 2.

“City News.” Arkansas Gazette, January 8, 1896, p. 3.

“A Few Offenders Indicted.” Arkansas Gazette, January 5, 1896, p. 2.

“Goes to the Penitentiary.” Forrest City Times, January 31, 1896, p. 4.

“News in Courts.” Arkansas Gazette, January 28, 1896, p. 5.

“Two More Arrests Made.” Arkansas Gazette, December 24, 1895, p. 2.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina


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