Isaac Ruffin (Lynching of)

On November 30, 1874, an African American man named Isaac Ruffin was lynched near Marion (Crittenden County) for allegedly assaulting and murdering fourteen-year-old Melissa Adams and raping her thirteen-year-old sister Margaret (Maggie); both sisters were African American. Public records reveal nothing about Ruffin, but the 1870 census lists Melissa and Margaret living in Jasper Township with their parents, Jubilee and Cynthia.

On December 3, 1874, the New Orleans Bulletin published one of the earliest accounts of the crime. On November 28, Ruffin allegedly met Melissa in the woods near Marion. He assaulted her and then tried to kill her with a knife. She fought back, and in the struggle, Ruffin lost the knife. Unable to find it in the dark, he beat her until she was dead. He then went to her father’s house and said that Melissa was waiting by the gate for Maggie to come help carry her basket. He left, but when Maggie arrived at the gate, she found him waiting. He grabbed her, “violated her person,” and fled.

Ruffin was captured in Memphis, Tennessee, on Monday, November 30, and taken back to Marion, where he was examined and jailed, “the proof against him being very positive.” That night a mob of fifty or sixty armed African Americans went to the jail, forced the jailor to surrender Ruffin, and then took him just out of town and shot him, “his body being literally riddled with bullets.” This account was repeated in a number of newspapers across the country, including the Marshall County Republican and the Los Angeles Herald, which mistakenly gave Melissa’s last name as Woods.

For additional information:
“A Negro Monster Lynched by Negroes.” Los Angeles Herald, December 5, 1874, p. 2.

“Swift Retribution.” Marshall County Republican (Plymouth, Indiana), December 17, 1894, p. 7.

“Yesterday’s Noon Dispatches.” New Orleans Bulletin, December 3, 1874, p. 6.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina


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