Union County Lynching of 1873

In the spring of 1873, four unidentified African Americans were reportedly murdered by other black residents in Union County in response to a hideous attack they allegedly committed on a white woman. Newspapers across the nation printed the report, based on a letter written by county resident Thomas Warren to a friend in Clay County, Missouri. In 1870, Warren, a native of Missouri, was a farm laborer living near Van Buren (Crawford County) with his wife and two children.

Warren reported that in mid-March 1873, a pregnant married woman in Union County started off on horseback to stay with a neighbor for several days. When she arrived at the neighbor’s house, no one was there, and she started to ride back home. According to his account, a black man stopped her along the road, tied her horse to a tree, and marched her eight miles down a path into the bottomlands. There, he tied her to a tree and “ravished” her. He left her tied to the tree for three days; on the second day, she reportedly gave birth to her baby.

After three days, her husband became alarmed and went to the neighbor’s house. When he discovered that his wife was not there, he turned toward home and found her horse still tied to the tree. He took the horse home and gathered some local men to search for her. The next day, two African-American children told him that they had seen a black man forcing a white woman down the path. As the searchers approached the spot where she was being held, the black man struck her over the head and killed her before running away, and they lost his trail. The True Northerner added that Warren had talked with a woman who had helped to shroud the body, and she reported that the dead woman was “bruised all over her body, where he had hit her with his fist.”

As he was fleeing, the alleged perpetrator encountered a black man and boy and asked them if anyone had come by looking for a missing woman. When they said someone had been asking after her, he tried to run, but they stopped him. They started out to turn him in but met one of the men (another African American) who was in pursuit. They took the alleged murderer to the woman’s husband and asked what he wanted them to do. The husband told them to burn the man.

According to the Memphis Daily Appeal, what happened next was horrific. The black posse built two piles of logs and set them on fire with the supposed murderer between them. In the course of the next twenty-four hours, they “cut off his toes and made him swallow them, and then cut strips of his skin off his body and made him broil them on the coals and eat them; and they would roll him in the coals, and take him out and talk to him, and put him back; at last they built a large fire, put him on top of it, and let him burn to ashes—and that was the last of him.” The report in the Appeal indicated that three other African Americans were shot because they knew where the woman was and refused to tell. The New York Herald, however, reported that the three were killed because they had participated in the attack on the woman.

For additional information:
“Barbarous.” New York Herald, April 17, 1873, p. 5.

“Fearful Expiation.” Memphis Daily Appeal, April 16, 1873, p. 2.

Untitled. True Northerner (Paw Paw, Michigan), April 11, 1873, p. 7.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina


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