Crittenden County Executions of 1871

John Roseborough and Henry Harris, both African American men convicted of murder, were hanged at Marion (Crittenden County) on June 9, 1871; before the execution, they attempted to keep from going to the gallows by barricading themselves in a cell.

No accounts appear to exist of their trials, but Roseborough was convicted of killing “old man” William Freeman, while Harris was sentenced to death for the murder of John B. Crockett. Both were to be executed on June 9, 1871.

A Memphis, Tennessee, newspaper reported the day before the scheduled execution that the Crittenden County sheriff “has been selecting a guard of white men to surround the scaffold during the executions because he feared a rescue by the negroes, ten thousand of whom were expected to be present upon this attractive occasion.” The next day, though, the same newspaper placed the crowd at 1,000 Black and fifty white onlookers, reporting that the sheriff had “a negro guard surrounding the jail to keep out the surging crowd.”

Roseborough and Harris, meanwhile, had barricaded themselves inside a cell “and refused to die in a martyr like manner,” using bricks and an iron bar to hold the Crittenden County lawmen at bay. The Memphis chief of police and several officers who had crossed the Mississippi River to witness the hangings offered their assistance and, “after a little scuffle, overpowered and bound them.”

As Roseborough was taken to the scaffold, his “eyes looked out on vacancy, and he prayed with the eloquence of despair, ‘O, God, don’t I know I’m going to be lost?’” Harris “at this time appeared to be ‘played out.’”

Roseborough confessed on the gallows that he had killed Freeman with an axe, while Harris denied murdering Crockett, saying that “the witnesses and the jury that condemned him would get far worse punishment than he was going to get.”

When the trap door opened, “Roseborough and Harris fell with a sudden ‘thud,’ and in a few minutes their spirits passed into eternity, and the light of this world was shut out from them forever,” one correspondent wrote, while another noted that “the bodies ceased to quiver in four minutes; in nineteen they were cut down and placed in their respective coffins.”

For additional information:
“The Civilization of the Halter.” [Washington DC] New National Era, July 6, 1871, p. 1.

“Crime.” [Nashville] Tennessean, June 10, 1871, p. 1.

“The Execution at Marion.” [Memphis, Tennessee] Public Ledger, June 9, 1871, p. 2.

“Execution at Marion, Ark.” Public Ledger, June 10, 1871, p. 3.

“Old-Fashioned Hanging.” Memphis Daily Appeal, June 10, 1871, p. 4.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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