Trial of the Four Negroes for the Murder of the Joyce Family at Briar Creek.
AQUITTED BY A JURY-GREAT INDIGNATION MEETING-RIOT-SEIZURE OF THE ARSENAL, CANNON AND MUSKETS BY THE MOB-THE JAIL STORMED -CANNON PLANTED –SURRENDER OF THE PRISONERS-THREE HUNG IN THE COURT HOUSE YARD-THE FOURTH WITH HIS THROAT CUT.
From the Louisville Courier, May 15 1857
The trail of the four Negro men for the dreadful murder of the Joyce Family on Briar Creek, on the confines of Jefferson and Bullitt counties, in this State, terminated yesterday. The trial occupied several days, resulting last evening about 5 o’ clock in a verdict of acquittal by the jury. The court house had been thronged during the trial by the excited crowd, who, on the reading verdict, exhibited the strongest indignation. The Negro men had been brought into court pending the trial until yesterday afternoon, when one by one they were taken out of the court room and safely, as it was supposed, quartered in jail.
Soon after the verdict of acquittal was made known, an excited multitude gathered about the jail an avowed a determination to take out the Negroes and hang them. Mayor Pilcher harangued the crowd and summoned the police, and a brief space the gathering storm was lulled. It had only ceased for a moment to gather head, and soon it was evident that a well organized and preconcerted movement was on foot. A number of men rushed to the steam engine house on Sixth Street, almost adjoining the jail, burst the door and took possession of the brass cannon and the musket of the arsenal.
The cannon was quickly loaded, and charged with pieces of iron, and bowlders, and dragged in front of the jail door. Here an indescribable noise of uproar and confusion ensued. The mob were yelling that they would tear down the jail, unless the Negroes were given up to them. The Mayor made a futile effort to check them, and ordered the police to arrest one of the ring leaders. The crowd menaced, and the police retired within the enclose or jail yard, when bricks and every kind of missal was thrown, Mayor Pilcher being knocked down the first one, a brick bat striking him full in the face, smashing the nose.
Several shots were fired in rapid succession, from both sides, but chiefly by the members of the police, a Spartan band of only ten or twelve men resist a mob of as many thousand. The fences, front walls, doors and windows of the jail were quickly demolished, and the entire destruction of the building was threatened by the party having charge if the cannon. One of the watchmen, Jack Weatherford, had a finger shot off; the jailor and his deputy were badly bruised; Chief Kirkpatrick was repeatedly hit with stones and bricks, but fortunately escaped without losing life or limb, and one or two of the crowd were slightly wounded.
A parley was demanded on the part of the jailor and his assistants, who by this time became fully aware of the terrible determination of the people. As far as the eye could reach from the jail door the streets were crowded by the excited masses, who were determined execute await murder upon the murderers. The authorities succumbed to the demands if the crowd and Mr. Thomas, the jailor, notified them that he would surrender the victims. The chief of the Police went out in the crowd, reached the gun, and succeeded in placing his hand over the touch-hole.
The inner door of the jail was thrown open and the four Negroes led out between the small body of police that had been stationed in the jail. At the sight of their victims, horrid yell was sent up from the thousand brazen throats, but before the infuriated populace could lay hands on him, Jack a yellow man, the property of Hiram Samuels, drew a razor and cut his own throat. The deed was committed with all the energy of despair, fulfilling a terrible gash, cutting his throat form ear to ear and nearly severing the head from the body.
The other three Negroes were seized by the mob and quickly taken to the court-house yard, where ropes were as quickly furnished, and soon two of them were hanging to trees, one at the West end and the other at the East end of the court house. The first poor wretched struggled desperately for his life, and for at least ten minutes after he was swung off he was heard calling to his God in mortal terror. The knot in the noose did not slip, and in a half choked condition he was suffered to remain until it was adjusted. He was then cut down and the third was hung to the same tree and died without a struggle.
The Negro men, who was summarily took his own life by cutting his throat, was left weltering in his gore, a lifeless mass on the pavement in front of the jail. The others were hanging in the court house yard up to a very late hour, and what disposition was made of the bodies, we do not know. At one time a bonfire was kindled, and it was suggested that they should be burnt, and the torch was actually applied to two of the inanimate bodies, burning most of their clothes off. The city authorities appeared to be perfectly paralyzed in thought and action, and about 11 o’ clock last night, a terrible palor overspread the city, and apparent order and quiet seemed to assume sway, and the populace retired to their homes apparently satisfied with the retributive justice so summarily dealt to the murderers.
After giving the particular, which do not vary much from the foregoing account, the
Democrat, of the same date, says:
“These are the circumstances as nearly as we could learn. It was another damning outrage upon law and order. We have said a thousand lines that there was no law in Louisville, and the results of last night’s proceedings is another evidence of the fact. Mob law was established, sustained, endorsed, and protected by the city authorities some two years ago, and from that day to this Louisville has been under mob rule. On the evidence adduced in the cage, and instructions of the Court- which Instructions, we are assured, were admitted entirely correct by members of the bar present- the jury could render no other than a verdict of acquittal. It did seem unjust that such a verdict should be given in such a case; but the evidence was the guide to the jury, and the Judge could not change the law. That these Negroes deserved hanging, hundreds will agree; but the law must be above the mob or it becomes a dead letter. Louisville had lost millions by mobs already- is a further weight and has to carry now in her general competition with other cities of the West.
“We are a disgraced city, controlled by mobs, and have become the by-word and jeer of the world. Shall such things be continued? Are the laws to remain a dead letter? Shall the ‘hue and cry’ of an incensed inultitude control the city and set the action of our courts at defiance? Is Louisville given over to perdition and hopelessly lost? The proceedings of last night are but the legitimate fruits of mob government. Let us unite in restoring the laws of the land, or cease to be a municipality.”