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

Thompson, Mary

In 1904, Mary Thompson of Lebanon Junction killed her landlord, John Irvin. The landlord had accused her son of stealing from him and Irvin berated and kicked her son and attacked Mary Thompson who defended herself. Thompson was a large woman who got the best of Irvin and cut his throat with the knife that she had been using in her garden. She was arrested and jailed. A lynch mob of a disputed number of white men made a first attempt to take her from the jail cell. Their efforts were thwarted by a group of armed African American men; a shootout occurred and both parties retreated from the scene.

Hours later, a much larger mob of white men succeeded in taking Thompson from the jailhouse; they then attempted to hang her, but while Thompson was swinging in the air, she grabbed a man by the collar and took a knife from him. She cut the length of rope that led to the noose around her neck and landed on the ground. Some say the rope broke on its own. Thompson was fighting her way through the mob when she was gunned down - June 14, 1904. There were rumors that Mary Thompson had died, but she survived the gunshot wounds and she was treated by Dr. Gaines, then placed in the Shepherdsville jail where she was treated by Dr. Bate.

When it was learned that Mary Thompson was still alive, another mob of several hundred white men formed and were unsuccessful in their attempt to take her from the Shepherdsville jail. Mary Thompson was taken to Louisville where she was placed in jail to await her trial. While in jail, she was treated by Dr. J. H. Fitzbutler and Dr. W. H. Pickett. Mary Thompson suffered from anxiety after there was talk of taking her back to Bullitt County to stand trial. In 1905, Mary Thompson was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison.

For more see From Slavery to Freedom: a history of African Americans, 8th ed., by J. H. Franklin and A. A. Moss; and Ladies and Lynching: the gendered discourse of mob violence in the new South, 1880-1930, by C. E. Feimster (dissertation). See also The Lynching of Mary Thompson, a webpage by the Bullitt County History Museum; "Negress may recover," The Lexington Herald, 06/17/1904, p.3; "Too ill to go back to trial," The Courier-Journal, 08/30/1904, p.5; "Mob victim given light sentence," The Lexington Herald, 09/08/1905, p.3.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Bullitt County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Lebanon Junction, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Shepherdsville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Thompson, Mary,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed April 21, 2024,

Last modified: 2021-06-24 16:51:09