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<Executions>

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1826 Slave Revolt on Ohio River
Start Year : 1826
On September 17, 1826, Bourbon County, KY, slave traders Edward Stone and his nephew Howard Stone were among the five white men killed by the 75 or so slaves who were being taken down river aboard a flatboat. Edward Stone had kept his slaves in Bourbon County, chained and shackled beneath his house. In September of 1826, a group of the slaves were marched to Mason County, KY, where they were taken aboard the flatboat headed to the Mississippi slave market. David Cobb of Lexington, KY, and James Gray were hired to convey the crew down the Ohio River. The boat stopped in Louisville, KY, where a white man named Davis boarded the boat. Davis was from Natchez, MS, or Paris, KY, depending on which account you read. The boat had gone about another 100 miles when the slaves revolted and killed the five white men and threw their bodies overboard. The 75 slaves, males and females of various ages, attempted to escape into Indiana, which had become a state in 1816 with a constitution that prohibited slavery [read more at IN.gov], though there were both free Blacks and slaves in the state. There were also active Underground Railroad stations in Indiana [read more at IN.gov], two of which were along the Ohio River bordering Kentucky and near Breckinridge County, KY. In 1824, Indiana passed one of the earliest forms of a fugitive slave law [read more at IN.gov]. The slaves who had escaped from the flatboat were fugitives, property that could be reclaimed. Fifty-six of the slaves were captured and returned to Kentucky to be lodged in the Hardinsburg [Breckinridge County] jail. A Baltimore newspaper reported that some of the slaves were brought to Maryland and sold. Three of the slaves supposedly admitted taking part in the revolt. Nothing is known or has ever been written about the 19 slaves who escaped, nor has it been acknowledged that there were slaves on the flatboat who made their way to freedom. "...[T]he balance separated, and as yet have not been heard of."- - [source: "To the editor: Hardinsburg, Sept. 19, 1826," Richmond Enquirer, 10/17/1826, p. 4]. A possibility that has not been discussed in the literature suggests there may have been a prepared plan for the slaves to escape into Indiana and make their way further north via the Underground Railroad. Reading, writing, and knowledge of maps would not have been necessary in order for the slaves to have known about Under Ground Railroad stations on the Indiana border; messages and codes were passed between slaves in the form of songs and quilts and other non-written methods. The focus of the newspapers during the time of the revolt and later written histories centers on the killing of the five white men, the capture of the 56 slaves, and the subsequent trial and executions. Five of the captured slaves were hanged: their names, the only names given to any of the slaves in the newspapers, were Jo, Duke, Resin, Stephen, and Wesley [source: If We Must Die, by E. R. Taylor, p. 162]. One other slave named Roseberry's Jim is mentioned in the Village Register newspaper article, "The Negro Trial" dated 11/14/1826. According to the article, five of the slaves were hanged; forty-seven were sold; the remainder was brought back to Bourbon County. One of the slaves was a mulatto boy named Louis (or Lewis) who was not for sale; he was Edward Stone's body servant and had tried to save Stone's life, but he too was beaten during the revolt [source: "To the editor: Hardinsburg, Sept. 19, 1826," Richmond Enquirer, 10/17/1826, p. 4]. Four months after the revolt, Louis (or Lewis) was given his freedom by Stone's widow in January of 1827. According to author J. W. Coleman, he remained in Kentucky on the land and in the house he was given near the Edward Stone house in Bourbon County [source: Slavery Times in Kentucky, by J. Winston Coleman, pp. 174-176].

 

Edward Stone was one of the first slave traders to openly advertise his intentions of selling slaves to the Deep South markets. Much of what has been written about the day of his death contains varying and sometimes conflicting details, as well as name variations for the men who were killed and various accounts as to how the day unfolded. For additional information see "Horrible Massacre" in the column headed "Louisville, Ken. Sept. 23" in the Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, 10/07/1826, p. 2; "The Louisville, Kentucky, paper...," Norwich Courier, 10/11/1826, p. 2; Speculators and Slaves by M. Tadman; I've Got a Home in Glory Land, by K. S. Frost, Chapter 3 - On Jordan's Bank; Black Heritage Sites, pp. 110-111, by N. C. Curtis; and Encyclopedia of the Underground Railroad, by J. Blain Hudson. See also Ancestry.com website Edward Stone by N. A. Bristow; blog entry Edward Stone's Demise, by T. Talbott; and Edward Stone in the History of Slavery: Glossary, a Kentucky Educational Television Underground Railroad website.

 

 
See photo image of Edward Stone's house, The Grange, photo image in Explore UK.
Subjects: Executions, Freedom, Rioting, Insurrections, Panics, Protests in Kentucky, Riots and Protests Outside Kentucky
Geographic Region: Bourbon County, Kentucky / Mason County, Kentucky / Hardinsburg, Breckinridge County, Kentucky / Indiana / Mississippi / Maryland

Bethea, Rainey
Birth Year : 1913
Death Year : 1936
Rainey Bethea, an African American, was originally from Roanoke, Virginia. When he was 22 years old, he was charged with the murder and rape of a 70 year-old white woman in Owensboro, KY. He was convicted of rape, and on August 14, 1936, Bethea became the last person in the United States to be executed before the public. It was estimated that about 20,000 people were on hand to witness his hanging. An unsuccessful appeal for Bethea's life had been made by African American lawyers Charles Eubank Tucker, Stephen A. Burnley, Charles W. Anderson, Jr., Harry E. Bonaparte, and R. Everett Ray. Bethea's death warrant was signed by Governor Albert B. "Happy" Chandler. Rainey Bethea was buried in an unmarked grave in Owensboro. For more see The Last Public Execution in America, by P. T. Ryan; and K. Lawrence, "1936 Hanging remains last public execution," Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, 09/24/2004, Section S, p. 49; and listen to "Last public execution in America" and view the photo gallery on National Public Radio (NPR).

Access Interview
Subjects: Executions, Lawyers, Undertakers, Cemeteries, Coroners, & Obituaries
Geographic Region: Owensboro, Daviess County, Kentucky / Roanoke, Virginia

Biggerstaff, William
Birth Year : 1854
Death Year : 1886
William Biggerstaff was born a slave in Lexington, KY. He moved to the western U.S., where he was executed for killing Dick Johnson. Biggerstaff claimed self defense; nonetheless, he was hanged in Helena, Montana. His death was captured by African American photographer James P. Ball. For more see Representing Death; and Relections in black, by D. Willis-Thomas.
Subjects: Executions, Migration West, Photographers, Photographs
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky / Helena, Montana

Bill (slave)
Birth Year : 1779
Death Year : 1791
Bill, a 12 year-old slave, was one of the first teens and the youngest teen to be executed in Kentucky; he was hanged for murder July 30, 1791, in Woodford County, KY. According to author Adalberto Aguirre, there were 1,161 slaves executed in the U.S. between the 1790s and 1850s, and 51 of the executions took place in Kentucky. For more see A. Aguirre, Jr., "Slave executions in the United States," The Social Science Journal, vol.36, issue 1 (1999), pp.1-31.
Subjects: Executions
Geographic Region: Woodford County, Kentucky

Buckner, Jim
Birth Year : 1893
Death Year : 1911
Jim Buckner was the first prisoner to be electrocuted in Kentucky. Convicted of a murder in Marion County, KY, he was put to death on July 8, 1911. For more see P. T. Ryan, Legal Lynching: the plight of Sam Jennings, p. 172.
Subjects: Executions
Geographic Region: Marion County, Kentucky

Bush v. Kentucky (John Bush vs The Commonwealth of Kentucky)
Start Year : 1879
End Year : 1884
The murder trials of John Bush (c.1847-1884) were an ongoing "tug of war" for a few years; it was a matter of race and jury selection in Kentucky. In January of 1879, John Bush was accused of shooting 13 year old Anna Vanmeter in the thigh. Bush was a Kentucky-born African American who lived in Fayette County, KY. Anna Vanmeter, who was white, died a week or so after being shot. She had been sharing a bed with her sister who had scarlet fever. The defense claimed that Anna Vanmeter died from scarlet fever and not the wound to her thigh [source: "Special to the Courier-Journal," Lexington, Feb. 5., Courier-Journal, 02/06/1884, p. 4]. John Bush's case went to the Lexington grand jury and the all-white jury could not come to a verdict. In May of 1879, a second trial was held and an all-white jury convicted John Bush of capital murder and sentenced him to death. The case was appealed and the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the verdict and ordered a new trial. Bush's attorney asked that the case be moved to the U.S. Circuit Court. The request was denied and John Bush was again found guilty and sentenced to death by an all-white jury at his third trial. Bush asked for a writ of habeas corpus for the U.S. Circuit Court for Kentucky. A motion was filed that the case be removed to a federal court on the grounds that Kentucky laws exclude Negroes from grand and petit juries. The federal court agreed with the defendant, and John Bush was released. When John Bush was taken back to Lexington, KY, he was arrested and placed in jail; he is listed as married and incarcerated in the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. In December of 1880, the State of Kentucky charged John Bush with the same offense, and in May of 1881, Bush was tried for the fourth time by an all-white jury, convicted, and sentenced. An appeal was filed in 1882, and the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. The case was then taken up to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in the reversal of the Kentucky Supreme Court's judgement on January 29, 1883. The Opinion of the Court by Justice Harlan: The defendant's conviction and sentence violated the Constitution because the laws of Kentucky expressly precluded Negroes from serving on grand and petit juries. While the U.S. Supreme Courts' decision in "John Bush v. The Commonwealth of Kentucky" is still recognized and discussed in the field of law, there is no mention of the fact that there was no enforcement of the decision and the state of Kentucky ignored the decision. On November 21, 1884, John Bush was hanged in the Lexington jail yard [source: "John Bush's execution," Lexington Leader, 01/06/1890, p.8]. John Bush's defense counsel was L. P. Tarleton, Jr., a lawyer, former sheriff, and a race horse owner in Lexington, KY. Jockey Isaac Murphy rode for Tarleton Jr., Swiney, and McIntyre. John Bush had been a domestic servant for Lexington lawyer William Preston, according to the 1870 U.S. Federal Census. He is listed as a farmhand who lived at 167 Correll Street in Lexington, on p.55 in Prather's Lexington City Directory, for 1875 and 1876. For more see "Bush v. Kentucky" {107 U.S. 110 (1883)} on p.86 in the Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment in the United States by L. J. Palmer; Jury Discrimination by C. Waldrep; and Bush v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, a Cornell University Law School website.
Subjects: Executions, Court Cases
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

John Brown, Hanged With Kentucky Rope
End Year : 1859
The rope used to hang abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859) came from Kentucky. Prior to his hanging, samples of rope were submitted by South Carolina, Missouri, and Kentucky. The ropes were put on exhibit for the public to view. The ropes from South Carolina and Missouri were not used because it was thought that they were not strong enough, so the rope from Kentucky was selected. John Brown was hanged in Charlestown, WV, on December 2, 1859. In an article in the Charleston Gazette, 07/14/1929, it was stated that the rope used to hang John Brown was in the Kentucky Archives, but there is no evidence of that being true today. Two pieces of the rope are said to be on display at the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum [photo of rope]; the rope pieces were donated by the Richmond United Daughters of the Confederacy. The rope pieces are artifacts from a Virginia regiment that was present the day of the hanging. The original rope is also said to be in the State Museum Section of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History; the rope was part of the collection purchased from Boyd B. Stutler, who was a collector of John Brown items. The Massachusetts Historical Society also has a rope, with the noose, that supposedly was used to hang John Brown. The rope was given to the organization by William Roscoe Thayer, president of the American Historical Association in 1918. For more see The Public Life of Capt. John Brown, by J. Redpath; Progress of a Race, Or, the Remarkable Advancement of the American Negro, by H. F. Kletzing and W. H. Crogman; "Notes on John Brown Hanging Rope" and other items in the John Brown/Boyd B. Stutler Collection Database and other collections at the West Virginia Division of Culture and History website; "Brown rope is given Stutler on birthday," Charleston Gazette, 07/14/1929; and artifacts and library holdings relating to John Brown at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

See photo image of John Brown and additional information at the New Perspectives of the West - John Brown website at Kentucky Educational Television [KET].
Subjects: Activists, Civil Rights, Executions
Geographic Region: Kentucky / South Carolina / Missouri / Charleston, West Virginia

Peter (Vigo)
Death Year : 1785
Peter, a slave owned by Francis Vigo, was one of the first African Americans to be executed in Kentucky. On August 24, 1785, in Louisville, he was hanged on a charge of theft-stealing. He had been accused of stealing from Robert Watson and Company, though Peter said that he was innocent. For more see J. B. Hudson, "References to slavery in the public records of early Louisville and Jefferson County, 1780-1812," The Filson Club History Quarterly, vol. 73, issue 4, (October 1999), pp. 343-344.
Subjects: Executions
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Phoebe (Rainey)
Death Year : 1808
Phoebe, a slave, was one of the first females executed in Kentucky, hanged in 1808 for a murder committed in Garrard County. For more see the Kentucky section of Executions in the U.S. 1608-2002:The ESPY File [.pdf].
Subjects: Executions
Geographic Region: Garrard County, Kentucky

Slave Execution Reimbursement
Start Year : 1798
The Kentucky Slave Code of 1798 allowed for the slaveholder to be paid the value of any slave who was executed. The process for payment was as follows: Once the slave was taken into custody by the sheriff, he or she was to be assessed a value. The auditor of public accounts was authorized and required to issue a warrant to the treasury for the amount in favor of the slave owner. The owner was to produce the certificate of the clerk of the court that said the slave was condemned, along with the sheriff's certificate that said the slave was executed or perished before execution; then the treasurer was required to pay the owner the assessed value of the slave. For more see A Digest of the Statute Law of Kentucky, vol. 2, Chapter CLXXIV - Slaves, Sec. 24, pp. 1154-1155.
Subjects: Executions, Slave Injury and Death Reimbursement & Insurance
Geographic Region: Kentucky

Smith, Benjamin
Birth Year : 1850
Benjamin Smith, from Harrison County, KY, enlisted in the U.S. Army on February 3, 1872 in Louisville, KY. He served with the 9th Cavalry, Company L. On August 26, 1876, Private Benjamin Smith accompanied Private James "Jimmy" Miller to a dance hall in West Las Animas, Colorado. The men were stationed at Fort Lyon, and Miller had been to the dance hall earlier that night and was insulted and forced to leave at gunpoint. The dance hall was reserved for whites on this particular night. When Miller returned with Smith, the two men fired into the dance hall from the porch and killed John Sutherland. Smith and Miller were tried in a civilian court: both were found guilty and sentenced to death. Smith's sentence was commuted to life in prison by Colorado Governor John L. Routt (1826-1907), who was born in Eddyville, KY. James "Jimmy" Miller, from Philadelphia, was hanged on February 19, 1877. It was the first execution in Colorado; statehood had been granted to the Colorado Territory on July 1, 1876. For more see "James Miller" in the Catalog of Colorado Executions website; the James Miller and the Benjamin Smith entries in On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldier II, by I. Schubert and F. N. Schubert; and "How a soldier was hanged," Logansport Journal, 02/20/1877, p. 2.
Subjects: Executions, Migration West, Military & Veterans
Geographic Region: Harrison County, Kentucky / Las Animas, Colorado

Susan Eliza
Birth Year : 1854
Death Year : 1868
Susan Eliza, a 13 year-old, was the last African American female child hanged in Kentucky: on February 7, 1868, she was hanged behind the New Castle, KY, courthouse for the murder of a white child who had been left in her care. [Her name is also given as Eliza in some newspaper articles.] Susan's body was allowed to hang for 20 minutes before she was pronounced dead. The rope used to hang her was cut up and the pieces were distributed amongst the spectators who had come to witness the hanging. Susan had been scheduled to hang in December 1867, but it was delayed after an appeal was made for a new trial. The appeal was denied. The child Susan killed was the three year old son of the Graves Family. She had stoned the child to death and hid his body. For more see Female hangings 1632-1900;  "Execution of a Negro girl for the murder of a white child," New York Times, 02/14/1868, p. 6; and "Execution of a Colored girl in Kentucky," The Daily News and Herald, 02/22/1868, issue 44, col B.
Subjects: Executions
Geographic Region: New Castle, Henry County, Kentucky

Van Venison, Harold
Birth Year : 1907
Death Year : 1938
His hanging on June 3, 1938, was the last legal hanging in Kentucky. Van Venison was convicted of raping a white woman in Covington, KY, in August of 1937. The execution law changed from hanging to electrocution in February, 1938. The Kentucky Attorney General determined that the crime had occurred before the law changed; therefore, Van Venison should be hanged, June 3, 1938. According to his death certificate, Harold Van Venison was a janitor who was born in Aiken, SC, and he was the husband of Mattie Van Venison. For more see P. T. Ryan, Legal Lynching: the plight of Sam Jennings, pp. 172-173.
Subjects: Executions
Geographic Region: Aiken, South Carolina / Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky

Veney, Anderson
Birth Year : 1845
Death Year : 1894
Veney was born in Kentucky. When he was a child, the Veney family members were slaves who eventually escaped from Kentucky to Canada, led by Anderson's stepfather, Levi Veney. The family settled in Amherstburg, Upper Canada; the city of Amherstburg had been a major tobacco growing territory that attracted escaped slaves from Kentucky who had knowledge of raising tobacco. As an adult, Anderson Veney remained in Amherstburg, where he had been a barber, but not making much money in that trade, he became a ship steward. When his first wife died, he moved in with a woman named Mattie or Martha, and she took his last name. In 1892, while in Cleveland, OH, Anderson Veney began having severe headaches, was forgetful and had a difficult time sleeping. He became convinced that his wife was cheating on him, and a few months after he returned to Amherstburg, he killed her. In court, Anderson was defended by African Canadian lawyer Delos Rogest Davis of Amherstburg and Mahlon K. Cowan of Windsor. Veney's sanity was argued back and forth, and the final verdict was that he was sane when he killed Mattie and should therefore be hanged. In one version of the story, the federal cabinet reviewed the case, and rather than hang an insane man, it commuted Veney's sentence to life in prison; in less than a year he died of phthisis in the Kingston Penitentiary hospital. In another version, Veney was hanged in 1893. For more see Anderson Veney in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online [free, full-text on the Internet]; Smith: New Canaan Black Settlement, Ontario, Essex County at ancestrylibrary.com; and Disorder in the court: trials and sexual conflict at the turn of the century, by G. Robb and N. Erber.
Subjects: Barbers, Executions, Freedom, Migration North, Court Cases
Geographic Region: Kentucky / Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada

 

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