Weakley County Jail

Two Newspaper Articles

1871 Lynching one mile outside of Dresden, TN


The Daily Memphis Avalanche - Tuesday April 25, 1871 page 4

Two Negroes, Charged with Theft  and Arson, Hanged by a Mob Near Dresden, Tennessee

One Rescued from Officers on a Railway Train and the Other from the Weakley County Jail

An AVALANCHE reporter last evening met a gentleman from Dresden, Weakley County, in this State, and from him learned the particulars of a horrible affair, THE HANING OF TWO NEGROES perpertrated near that town about 3 o”Clock yesterday morning. The circumstances that led to the hanging: as related to the reporter by the gentleman, are as follows:

In Dresden is living a well known and highly respected gentleman named David Shaeffers, an ex-sheriff  of Weakley County, in which the town is situated. He has had in his employ for a number of years a negro named Bill Johnson, who had always conducted himself properly until within the past few months, when he began drinking, fighting and carousing around in a manner that rendered him a decided nuisance in the community. Having had him in his employ for a long time Mr Shaeffers reconstrated with Bill about his evil ways, and upon that individual making PROMISES OF BETTER BEHAVIOR in the future he was allowed to remain in his employ.

A few days since Mr Shaeffers had occasion to visit Nashville in connection with some unsettled business connected with his late office as sheriff, and left Bill at work as usual about his residence. He had been gone but a day or two when Bill got on a spree with his brother, Ed, and going to the house preceeded to Shaeffer’s office - where he kept all of his private papers - and first breaking open and rummaging, then BURNT A DESK in which the papers were kept. After committing the robbery Bill left Dresden and went to Paducah, Kentucky, while his brother Ed remained in the town and was arrested the same day and locked up in the jail at that place.

Soon after arriving at Paducah Bill had a letter written back to some of his friends in Dresden, in which he stated that he had got out of the desk a list of the names of a large number of persons who were members of the Ku Klux in and around Dresden, and that he intended to send a regiment of NEGRO SOLDIERS down there to wipe them all out. This announcement of Bill’s caused no little excitement, and, among a certain class, many were the threats made as to what would be his fate if he should ever fall into their hands. When Mr Shaeffers returned from Nashville and learned of the robbery together with the fact of Billy being in Paducah, he procured a requisition from Governor Senter and in company with John A. Vincent, Sheriff of the County, started after the theif. They had previously telegraphed to the Paducah authorites requesting that Bill should be arrested and held for them.  Their instructions were carried out and when they arrived they FOUND BILL SAFELY CAGED.

After staying in Paducah a day or two they started with Bill in charge for Dresden, on the Sunday afternoon train, on the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad. Nothing occurred until they arrived at Rolston, a small station 6 miles from Dresden, where the train stopped a moment to allow a passenger to get off. The train had hardly halted before it was BOARDED BY ABOUT 40 MEN, all in disguise and thouroughly armed, who presented pistols at the heads of the engineer and conductor of the train, as well as to Shaeffer’s and Vincent’s, threatening to blow their brains out if they made any noise or attempted any resisstance to carrying out of their plans.

Under the  circumstances, those gentlemen naturally remained mute, and waited for further developments, which soon came in the shape of two of them taking Bill from the seat where he was lying asleep, and marching him off the train. As soon as he was out the men also left, first THREATENING TO SHOOT any man who would have the temerity to follow them to find out what was to become of the negro. After the men had left the train, with Shaeffers and Vincent on board, proceeded on its way, arriving at Dresden a few minutes afterward, when it was found that THE JAIL HAD BEEN BROKEN OPEN by a mob - supposed to be the same that had boarded the train - who had taken Ed - Bill’s brother, who was implicated with him in the robbery - and marched off with him in custody. Nothing more was heard of the men or negroes until the next (yesterday) morning, when the dead bodies of the latter were found. SUSPENDED BY THE NECKS TO A TREE near the roadside about a mile from Dresden.

When the train was boarded both Shaeffers and Vincent begged the masked men not to take the negro away from them, as he was certain to be sent to the penitentiary for a number of years for the robbery which he committed. No attention was paid to their entreaties or wishes beyound a gruff order for them to “shut up” or it would be worse for them. The whole affair occupied only a few minutes, and many of the passengers knew nothing of it until it was all over and the train again on its way.  The hanging of these men made the third negro that has stepped off unexpectedly to his friends near Dresden within the past eleven months, the other negro being mobbed for committing a rape of a white girl. The affair caused great excitement in the vincinity of Dresden, and is greatly deplored by all the respectable and law-abiding citizens of that town and surrounding country. Our informant was a passenger on the train and an eye witness to the whole affair.


The KuKlux in Tennessee Energetic Talk by the Democratic Governor

New York Times April 29, 1871: ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851-2005) page 2

THE KU KLUX IN TENNESSEE - Energetic Talk by the Democratic Governor
Executive Department - Nashville, Tenn April 25, 1871

To the Sheriff of Weakley County, Dresden:

DEAR SIR: Information has been received a this department to the effect that two colored men, viz: Bill and Ed Johnson, were summarily executed a short time since at Raulston Station, in Weakley County, by a party of disguised men, one of said party being in custody of an agent commissioned by the Governor to bring him from the State of Kentucky and to deliver him to the jailer of Weakley County, Tennessee, the other having been forcibly taken from said jail of Weakley County:

I am directed by his Excellancy Gov D. W. C. SENTER, to call upon you to furnish to this Department, at the earliest practical moment, an official report of the facts in the case.

It now rests with the civil authorities of your county to elect whether they will bring the parties to justice or take the consequences of having it done by a stonger power.

I inclose herewith extracts from the city papers upon this matter, and will expect your report at an early day.

Very Respectully,
Frank Hyberger, Private Secretary

The negro alluded to as being in the charge of a civil officer was accused of having burned $3,000 worth of valuable papers.

Submitted by Richard Saunders


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