Lee County Executions of 1881

Two African American men convicted of murder, Isaac Green and John Harden, were hanged in Marianna (Lee County) on July 15, 1881, in what were the first judicial executions in Lee County.

John Harden (or Hardin), age twenty, a native of Lewisburg, Tennessee, reportedly killed William Brown on August 21, 1879, at Barton (Phillips County). Harden suspected Brown was having an affair with his wife and struck him with a briar hook, “almost severing his head from his body,” with one newspaper stating that “one blow with the weapon was sufficient to take the life of the man he hated.” Harden’s trial was delayed for some time, but he was convicted in May 1881 and sentenced to hang on July 15, 1881. Efforts by his friends to have Governor Thomas Churchill commute his sentence were unsuccessful.

Isaac Green, age twenty-seven, of Warren County, Mississippi, got into “a quarrel about cotton” with John Richards at Council Bend (Lee County) on May 6, 1881. Green struck Richards with a maul, “causing almost instant death,” before “afterwards pounding his head into jelly.” Green fled but was captured, tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang. The Arkansas Supreme Court refused to overturn his conviction.

On the night before their executions, Harden and Green reportedly slept well and were visited by a pair of Methodist ministers in the morning. They were taken from their “iron cage” at noon and marched to the gallows, where a crowd “variously estimated at from seven to eight thousand” waited. The Lee Guards militia stood in front of the condemned men “while the grove beyond was alive with people.”

On the scaffold, Green asked the crowd to join him in singing a hymn, “which was sung by thousands with considerable excitement.” He then gave a detailed account of Richards’s murder but proclaimed that “Jesus had forgiven his sins” and “he was on his way to Heaven.”

Harden also sang a hymn and gave a detailed account of his murderous crime in a “long and rambling” discourse, but also predicted salvation.

Just after 2:00 p.m., the trap door was opened, and “they fell a little over five feet; their necks were broken and they died almost without a struggle.” After hanging for about twenty minutes, Harden and Green were taken down and turned over for burial.

The executions of Green and Harden were two of three conducted in Arkansas on July 15, 1881; Willis Reeves was hanged in a botched (but ultimately complete) execution in Van Buren (Crawford County) on the same day.

For additional information:
“Arkansas State News.” Arkansas Democrat, May 16, 1881, p. 4.

“Current Crime.” Arkansas Democrat, July 16, 1881, p. 4.

“Five Murderers Hanged.” New York Times, July 16, 1881, p. 2. Online at https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1881/07/16/98565495.html?pageNumber=2 (accessed September 27, 2023).

“Hangman’s Day.” Arkansas Gazette, July 16, 1881, p. 1.

“Two to Throttle.” Arkansas Democrat, June 17, 1881, p. 4.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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