Lafayette County Lynching of 1859

On May 23, 1859, an unidentified fugitive slave belonging to David E. Dixon of Lafayette County was hanged in Cass County, Texas, for allegedly murdering Dixon’s farm overseer, Thomas Crabtree. At the time of the 1860 census, Dixon (identified as Dickson) was a prosperous farmer in Roane Township and owned thirty-one slaves. His personal estate was valued at $31,390, and his real estate at $17,680.

The sole available account of this lynching appears in the Northern Standard of Clarksville, Texas, on June 25, 1859. According to correspondence of G. W. J. of Boston, Texas, on May 20, Thomas Crabtree and one of the enslaved men got into an argument. The writer had no details of the dispute but asserted that the slave hit Crabtree on the head with a hoe, killing him instantly. He then ran into the woods. As news spread, area citizens with “negro-dogs” set out in pursuit. They captured the slave on May 23 and took him over the state line to Cass County, Texas, and “without Judge or Jury, put him on a mule…and hung him.”

As is customary in such brief accounts, at least some questions remain unanswered. Why would a mob from Lafayette County travel to Cass County, Texas, to hang a fugitive slave? And why would the only record of Crabtree’s death and the subsequent pursuit be published in a Texas newspaper?

If one considers a lynching to be only the moment of execution, then this event occurred in Texas. However, if one considers the act of lynching to encompass the whole situation of capture and execution, then this particular event spanned two different states.

For additional information:
G. W. J. Untitled letter. Northern Standard (Clarksville, Texas), June 25, 1859, p. 2.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina


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