From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Lynching of the Hawkins Family

(start date: 1870  -  end date: 1873) 

This entry was researched, written, and submitted by Fanny Hubart-Salmon.

Samuel Hawkins, his wife Maria or Mahala, and his 17-year-old daughter Fanny were murdered by a mob four days before the 1872 elections. The lynchings occurred in a context of extreme violence, pushing back against black men exercising their recently granted right to vote[1]. As residents of Jessamine County, KY, the Hawkins family lived on the county border with Fayette County. Samuel was a recognized activist.

Judge Edmunds, then Secretary of the Republican Congressional committee, read an account of the lynchings. The Ku Klux Klan had targeted "a Republican Negro in an effort to keep Republican’s from the votes in that county.”[2] The news made the front page of the Knoxville Chronicle on November 8, 1872. Three days earlier, The New-York Times had published two dispatches on the murders under the header “Greeley’s friends at Work in Kentucky - They Hang a Man, his Wife and Daughter to the Same Tree.”[3] 

The Kentucky Statesman’s newspaper published a series of articles regretting that “eleven days after the murder” and “after having bitterly denied the truth of the occurrence, the Daily Press is informed by a communication from citizens in the vicinity that it is a fact.”[4] Adding that “outside of this communication, the public has not yet been informed either editorially or by the press that any such outrage ever occurred.”[5] 

A committee of “Concerned Citizens” chaired by L.M. Land, a local white neighbor, requested “all the papers of the city of Lexington publish the proceedings” of their meeting’s resolutions and qualify the crime as “not only savage and brutal” but deserving “the just indignation of all civilized and Christian People.”[6]

Two years before the murders, Samuel Hawkins was listed in the 1870 census as a farmer (born circa 1830) living in Jessamine County’s District number 3.[7] Also appearing in the household are his wife (Mahala, born circa 1842), his daughter Francis (then 15-years-old, born circa 1855), an elderly woman also named Francis (described as a 73-year-old mulatto), and five other children (Benjamin, Lee Roy, Thomas, Melia, and Zac).

The week after the lynchings, readers were alerted to the plight of the children left as orphans. Seven children “now at the edge of this city in destitute condition.”[8] In early December, a call for contributions was made for “these helpless ones” who were left in the care of “a charitable colored woman who has been taking care of them but is too poor to furnish such necessities as will make them comfortable.”[9]

On the other side of the spectrum, one could qualify “more than comfortable” as the margin that sent US Representative James Beck back to Washington. The election returns for Lexington and Fayette County showed the Scotland native, Transylvania graduate, and former Confederate General
seized over 75% of the votes[10]. In the East Hickman precinct, four days after the Hawkinses were lynched, Beck scored 100% of the votes, with not a single ballot cast for his opponent, Trabue.

It is important to note that Beck was a fierce opponent of federal legislation efforts to curtail the rampant racial violence in the reconstruction area[11]. He sat on the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States and submitted the Joint Minority Report that stated, “The constitution was trampled under the foot in the passage of what is known as the Ku-Klux law.”[12] 

The 15th Amendment of the same constitution clarified that Samuel Hawkins and fellow African American citizens enjoyed the same rights as any other male citizen in the United States. Citizens from Frankfort, KY submitted testimonials in a memorial sent to Congress in 1871: “in many parts of the State our people have been driven from the polls, refused the right to vote; many have been slaughtered while attempting to vote. We ask, how long is this state of things to last?”[13] 

Some local newspapers systematically downplayed the wave of racial violence. In the case of the Hawkins’s murders, The Lexington Daily Press argued that the “dispatch from the Cincinnati Commercial, giving the details of an outrage in the East Hickman Precinct of this county is a roorback [defamatory falsehood published for political effect], manufactured out of the whole cloth. Gentlemen from the neighborhood have no knowledge of the affair, except through the Commercial.”[14] 

Several years later, however, Lewis Collins and Richard Henry Collins acknowledged the lynchings. They wrote in their History of Kentucky that the Hawkinses were “dragged from their homes by a mob and hung or murdered.”[15] Any references to the elections were conveniently omitted. A recurring narrative finds its way into the account instead, providing a cause for the mob’s fury. “The poisoning of a much-used spring on the public highway...was traced to or charged upon the Hawkins negroes...”[16]

In April 1873, more than five months after the lynchings, the New National Era reported that one of the bodies had been found: “A colored family of three persons, named Hawkins, were taken from their home in Jessamine County, Kentucky, last fall, by Ku-Klux, and supposed to have been drowned. On Sunday, a colored man, while fishing in the river, drew up a body which was recognized by its clothing as that of Hawkins' wife. Her limbs were tied, and sixteen pounds of rock were fastened to her.”[17]

Samuel Hawkins, his wife, and teenage daughter were brutally silenced. Efforts to suppress votes and limit the free expression of diverse voices are still far too common. For these reasons, we should say and remember the names of Samuel Hawkins, Mahala Hawkins, and Fanny Hawkins for all these reasons. They should be memorialized beyond the gruesome circumstances of their death for their presence in and contributions to the community.


[1] George C. Wright, Racial violence in Kentucky, 1865-1940, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, pp. 40-52.

[2] The Kentucky Ku-Klux exploit, Knoxville Chronicle, November 8, 1872, front page.

[3] The Kuklux, The New-York Times, November 5, 1872, front page.

[4] The Kentucky Statesman, November 8 through December 1872.

[5] "Eleven days after the murder," The Kentucky Statesman, November 15, 1872.

[6] "Meeting of the Citizens of Fayette and Jessamine Counties to denounce the recent outrages on the border," The Kentucky Statesman, November 15, 1872.

[7] 1870 US Census, District 3, Jessamine, Kentucky; Roll:M593_477; p. 20B.

[8] "We learn that the seven children," The Kentucky Statesman, November 15, 1872.

[9] 'A case of need," The Kentucky Statesman, December 6, 1872.

[10] "Vote of Lexington and Fayette County," The Kentucky Statesman, November 8, 1872.

[11] Kelly, Alfred H. “The Congressional controversy over school segregation, 1867-1875,” The American Historical Review, vol. 64, no. 3 (1959), pp. 537–63.

[12] "Report of the Joint Select Committee," Vol. 1, Reports of the Committee, 588 35. U.S. Congress, Senate, Joint Select Committee, Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States, Minority Report, 42d Cong., 2d sess., 1872, S. Rep. 41, Pt.1, pp. 289, 463-64, 514-16, & 588. 

[13] "Colored citizens of Frankfort, KY" (1871 : Frankfort, KY), “Memorial of a committee appointed at a meeting of Colored citizens of Frankfort, Ky., and vicinity, praying the enactment of law for the better protection of life,” Colored Conventions Project Digital Records, accessed April 11, 2023.

[14] The dispatch from The Cincinnati Commercial, The Lexington Daily Press, November 6, 1872.

[15] Collins' historical sketches of Kentucky : History of Kentucky, Vol. 1 (1878), p. 234.

[16] Collins' historical sketches of Kentucky : history of Kentucky, Vol. 1 (1878), p. 234.

[17] Ku-Klux victims, Washington’s The New National Era, April 24, 1873, front page.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Jessamine County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

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“Lynching of the Hawkins Family,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 25, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-09-06 17:10:54