Brown Brewer (Execution of)

Brown Brewer, a young African American man, was hanged on May 2, 1873, near Searcy (White County) for the murder of another Black man a few months before.

Brown Brewer was born in Tennessee around 1848, where he was enslaved by Colonel Bradford Brewer, whose name he was given. He was living in White County by 1873.

Brown Brewer apparently was keeping company with a woman employed by Charles Bayley, who lived near West Point (White County), which angered Bayley and led to threats to kill Brewer. In early February 1873, Brewer went to Bayley’s house “to get his hair wrapped” and got into an argument during which he shot the older man with a load of buckshot. Brewer was arrested in late February and confessed to White County’s jailer that “he did commit this murder, and he will probably have his neck made several inches longer,” a newspaper reported.

Brewer was one of two men condemned to death during the spring 1873 term of the White County circuit court, the other being a white man named William Watkins, who also was convicted of murder.

Brewer’s execution was set for May 2, 1873, and he talked with a reporter before he was hanged, acknowledging that he had fired a gun at Bayley but claiming he did not intend to kill him.

The condemned man left the White County jail a few minutes before 2:00 p.m. and rode to the execution site about a half mile east of Searcy atop his own coffin, “a good one covered in black cloth.” The noose of the rope that would hang him was placed around his neck, “and he playfully toyed with the end of the rope.”

Brewer was composed during the ride and “calmly viewed the scenes for the last time, meanwhile bowing and talking to friends and acquaintances” who lined the road to the gallows where Watkins had been hanged a week earlier. Twenty-six armed guards surrounded his wagon.

A preacher prayed with Brewer, who said, “I am ready and willing to go, and believe God has forgiven me for what I have done.” After the preacher recited the Lord’s Prayer, though, Brewer “dropped suddenly on his knees, trembling violently and clinching [sic] his hands” before rising “with a deathly, heartbreaking groan.” Ascending the gallows, he urged the crowd to “lead a good, pious, holy and moral life…do not do as I have done, but let your last days be your best days.”

When the trapdoor opened at 2:19 p.m., Brewer dropped about two and a half feet, but the fall failed to break his neck. Instead, he hung there for forty-seven minutes, with a reporter writing that “after hanging fifteen minutes he drew his limbs and body up; at twenty-eight minutes his heart was beating quite fast.” When he was finally declared dead, his corpse was lowered and turned over to his family for burial.

For additional information:
“Around the Capital.” Arkansas Gazette, March 2, 1873, p. 4.

“Brown Brewer.” Arkansas Gazette, May 3, 1873, p. 4.

“The Gallows.” Arkansas Gazette, May 4, 1873, p. 4.

“The State at Large.” Arkansas Gazette, February 23, 1873, p. 1.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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