Robert Williams (Execution of)

Robert Williams was a young African American man hanged at Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on July 15, 1891, for the shotgun slaying of a neighbor.

Robert Williams, age twenty-three, left his home near Varner (Lincoln County) on November 11, 1890, to go to Pine Bluff on business. His wife accompanied him to the train depot, planning to travel ten miles to her father’s home on Bayou Bartholomew afterward. She ran into neighbor Albert Hayes, who gave her some whiskey and whom she asked for a ride to her father’s place. Hayes bought additional alcohol, and then got her “drunk and took advantage of her.”

She later told Williams what had happened, and he confronted Hayes on November 23; the neighbor “swore at me, said I was no man, and told me to help myself,” Williams said later. He went home to get his shotgun, “loaded the left-hand barrel with No. 2 buckshot,” and shot Hayes as he was drawing water from a well at his home. Williams returned home and hung his gun up, then joined later in the search for the killer after Hayes’s body was discovered. Sherriff R. R. Rice, knowing of the trouble between Williams and Hayes, arrested him.

Williams won a change of venue to Jefferson County, where he was convicted of first-degree murder in a case largely based on circumstantial evidence. When he was sentenced to be hanged on June 3, 1891, “the doomed man took the sentence stoically.” Williams won a stay of execution so that the Supreme Court of Arkansas could review the case, but the conviction and sentence were affirmed in late June. Governor James P. Eagle set the new execution date for July 15, 1891. Eagle ignored requests to commute the sentence.

On July 15, “from an early hour a large crowd gathered in the vicinity of the jail,” but the “curiosity seekers were driven from the jail yard,” and only twelve people who had been issued tickets would witness the hanging.

Accompanied by spiritual advisers, “the condemned man was calm, and showed few signs of nervousness” before ascending the scaffold “with a firm step.” Williams stated that “I have God’s pardon and I do not fear death” before a black cap was pulled over his head and the noose around his neck. The trap door was opened at 11:30 a.m., and “Williams’s body shot downward, and his neck was instantly broken, no signs of life being observed beyond a few spasmodic tremblings of the limbs.” He was declared dead at 11:41.

For additional information:
“He Dies Today.” Arkansas Gazette, July 15, 1891, p. 6.

“Jerked into Eternity.” Arkansas Gazette, July 16, 1891, p. 1.

“Pine Bluff Hanging.” Arkansas Democrat, July 15, 1891, p. 1.

“Sentenced to Hang.” Southern Standard, April 24, 1891, p. 1.

“Supreme Court.” Arkansas Gazette, June 28, 1891, p. 6.

“Williams Hanged.” St. Louis [Missouri] Post-Dispatch, July 15, 1891, p. 1.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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