Henry Taylor (Execution of)

Henry Taylor was an African American Baptist preacher who was hanged at Forrest City (St. Francis County) on June 27, 1879, for the rape of a seven-year-old Black girl, a crime he denied up to his death.

Henry Taylor was a hired hand on the farm of the family of Martha Anthony, aged seven, near Wheatley (St. Francis County). He was left in charge of the children while the parents went to church on September 13, 1878, and when they left, the Arkansas Democrat reported, “he threw the child upon the ground and attempted to outrage her.”

Taylor was arrested and jailed in Forrest City until his trial in April 1879. During the trial, he claimed that Martha’s mother had made advances on him, which he rejected, leading her to fabricate the rape story. He said the “evidence was ‘cooked’ before the child gave in her testimony.” The Democrat, though, wrote that “the evidence at the trial was conclusive and damning” and that only one juror held out for Taylor’s innocence as deliberations lasted all night.

In the end, Taylor was convicted of rape and sentenced to hang on May 30, 1879. A few days before the scheduled execution, Governor William Read Miller delayed the hanging until June 27 because “there was palliating circumstances in this case, and an effort is making to have the sentence commuted to imprisonment for life.”

The commutation did not transpire, and at 1:00 p.m. on June 27, 1879, Taylor was escorted from the jail in Forrest City to the execution site, where more than 4,000 people had gathered. He “ascended the scaffold with a firm step and smiling countenance,” and when asked if he had any last words he said that “it is the body of an innocent man going up before God.”

The Baptist preacher then “launched out into an exhortation” followed by hymns and prayers, after which he again said, “I don’t believe I am guilty. God knows I am not guilty,” leading the Democrat to comment: “He died game, protesting his innocence.”

The trap door opened at 2:21 p.m., but “his neck was not broken by the fall, and death by strangulation ensued. He only made a few spasmodic efforts for breath, and then hung perfectly still.” His heart continued beating for sixteen minutes before he was declared dead and lowered to the ground.

The Arkansas Democrat correspondent concluded: “Some of our people seem to believe that Taylor was innocent of the crime, but in our opinion…a guiltier wretch never ‘stretched hemp.’”

For additional information:
“Arkansas State News.” Arkansas Democrat, May 7, 1879, p. 3.

“Executed.” Arkansas Democrat, June 28, 1879, p. 1.

“Respited.” Arkansas Democrat, May 28, 1879, p. 4.

“Rope for Rape.” Daily Memphis [Tennessee] Avalanche, June 28, 1879, p. 1.

“Taylor Hung.” Arkansas Democrat, June 27, 1879, p. 1.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


    This is the very first time that I have ever heard about this case. It astounds me! If I had been one of the jurors back then, I definitely would have believed that little innocent girl as to what had happened to her by the hands of that so-called “preacher” masquerading as a man of God, but operating as an “agent of the devil.”

    Gloria Lawson San Diego, CA