John Gilbert (Lynching of)

John Gilbert was an African American man lynched on July 20, 1903, near Pinckney Landing on the Mississippi River in Crittenden County following a shootout with his employer.

Henry J. Hubert, thirty-five, leased a plantation from S. P. Williford of Memphis, Tennessee, on Cat Island on the Mississippi River about thirty miles south of Memphis. Hubert was known as a largely even-tempered man who “was not known to encourage a quarrel unless he thought an injury had been done him, and then his courage asserted itself without regard for the consequences.”

John Gilbert and Jim Hawker were among the people who worked for Hubert, and the pair owed him between $12 and $15. Another local planter named A. L. Tribble agreed to pay off the debt on the condition that Gilbert and Hawker repay him through labor on his farm.

On July 19, 1903, Hubert and Trimble were riding horses to Gilbert’s house on the Williford plantation to complete the deal when they encountered Hawker and Gilbert on the road. Gilbert “used vicious and insulting language to Hubert,” who began dismounting his horse “to resent the impudence of the offending negro” when the Black man pulled a pistol and fired three shots, all of which missed the planter. Gilbert fled the scene.

Hawker, however, drew a pistol and engaged in a gunfight with Hubert. While most of the bullets missed, one of Hawker’s shots hit Hubert and “penetrated his stomach and bowels.”  Tribble detained Hawker as a group of white men “attracted to the scene of the tragedy by the fusillade” searched for Gilbert, eventually capturing him as the mortally wounded Hubert was taken home in a buggy.

As the group of white men debated what to do with their prisoners, Hawker “broke for his liberty and made good his flight,” escaping into a canebrake. Gilbert remained their captive, and a newspaper later surmised that “it is probable that he would have been disposed of sooner, but the crowd wanted to capture Hawker and make the execution a double affair.”

Gilbert was brought to justice of the peace J. P. Hackel “and tried according to due form of law,” with Tribble as the sole witness. Hackel ordered the prisoner bound over for the next term of Crittenden County’s criminal court.

A pair of deputies escorted Gilbert to a house at Seyppel’s Landing, from which they intended to transport him to Marion (Crittenden County) on a steamboat. Shortly after they reached the house, however, a dozen men disguised with handkerchiefs over their mouths arrived and demanded that the prisoner be handed over to them.

As the “trembling Gilbert” was taken from the house, he was asked if he had anything to say. The prisoner stated that he and Hawker “had it in for Hubert and…they armed themselves and went on a search for him, intending to kill him if he showed the least fight.” Gilbert was marched to a tree line where a rope was tied around his neck, and he was hauled up to a tree limb “about fifteen feet from the ground.”

The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tennessee, reported that “quietly and orderly, the twelve determined men, after the culprit had been found guilty and ordered to jail, took the law into their own hands and administered what a jury of twelve men would have meted out.” Following the lynching, the killers and a small crowd of witnesses “dispersed as though nothing out of the ordinary had disturbed the wonted serenity of their neighborhood.” Hubert died of his wounds the next day. None of the lynchers were apparently ever arrested.

Though Williford offered a $200 reward in August 1903 for Hawker’s capture, and Governor Jeff Davis offered an additional hundred dollars in 1905, the man who shot Hubert was never captured.

For additional information:
“Arkansans Lynch a Negro.” Vicksburg [Mississippi] Herald, July 23, 1903, p. 2.

“At the State House.” Arkansas Democrat, October 28, 1905, p. 7.

“Avenging J. H. Hubert.” Arkansas Democrat, July 25, 1903, p. 5.

“From a Limb.” [Memphis, Tennessee] Commercial Appeal, July 23, 1903, p. 1.

“John Gilbert Lynched.” Arkansas Gazette, July 23, 1903, p 5.

“Reward.” Commercial Appeal, August 2, 1903, p. 26.

“Shot Down.” Commercial Appeal, July 21, 1903, p. 1.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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