“The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia,” Next in the Lovettsville Historical Society’s 2018 Lecture Series (8/12/2018)

Presented by Author, Jim Hall,
Sunday, August 12, 2018 @ 2:00 p.m.

Jim Hall, a career journalist with the daily Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, has long been fascinated with one of the cruelest parts of Southern history—the phenomenon of lynching, an extra-legal mob hanging. Between 1880 and 1930, some 2,800 Americans were lynched, 88% of them African-American—the equivalent of a lynching per week of a black person by an incensed mob. Virginians have long thought of themselves as above such, but the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia—and of Loudoun County—shows a different story. While two-thirds of Virginia’s cities and counties have had no lynchings, some, like Loudoun and Fauquier, have had more than one. Loudoun had lynchings in 1880 (at Furnace Mountain near today’s Point-of-Rocks Bridge), 1889 (at Leesburg, the county seat), and 1902 (again, at Leesburg). Hall became particularly curious about the last lynching in Virginia—which occurred within the lifetimes of some still-living Loudouners—a 1932 incident in Northwestern Fauquier County, just 15 miles from Loudoun.

Hall will speak for the Lovettsville Historical Society’s monthly second-Sunday history lecture series at 2:00 p.m. on August 12th, 2018, at the customary venue, St. James United Church of Christ at 10 East Broadway (the main street), Lovettsville, VA, on that tender topic—lynching in Virginia. He will examine lynching’s origin in the post-Civil War South, Virginia’s role, and particularly Northern Virginia and Loudoun’s role.

Hall will also examine what may be the final case of lynching in our region, that of Shedrick Thompson, an African-American farm laborer who allegedly attacked a prominent white Fauquier farm family he knew, Henry and Manie Baxley, while they were sleeping one hot July night in the summer of 1932. Their home, Edenhurst, still stands just off Leeds Manor Road between Markham and Hume. Mr. Baxley was beaten unconscious, Mrs. Baxley was beaten, raped, and kidnapped. Fortunately, their child slept through it all. As can be imagined, a massive manhunt ensued with farmers and townsmen for miles coming to the rescue, but Thompson seemed to have escaped into thin air.

Shedrick Thompson’s body was accidently found on September 15, 1932 about four miles away on the edge of Rattlesnake Mountain adjacent to the Blue Ridge. He was hanging from an apple tree. The word went out, the sheriff was called, a crowd converged. Just as a deputy arrived, someone asked, “I wonder if he’ll burn?” Another responded, “Why don’t you try him?” A match was lit. Deputy W.W. Pearson tried to put out the flames with his hat, but was pulled back by the crowd. As Hall writes in his new book The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia, “Soon all that was left of Thompson were his skull and shoes. The crowd assembled for Thompson’s teeth, removing them from the skull and distributing them as souvenirs.”   Which, of course, destroyed the evidence and led to the mystery. Did Shedrick Thompson hang himself after days of being chased into the mountains? Or was he found and lynched? The Commonwealth, seeking to attract business to the state, was horrified by an outbreak of lynchings during and after World War I—nine, including one in nearby Culpeper County in 1918—but had seen the violence quiet after 1927. Virginia had a vested interest in quelling any talk that there had been another lynching in the state.

Hall will explore the evidence as to whether, as is most likely, next-door Fauquier County saw the last lynching in the Old Dominion during the summer of 1932. It is an uncomfortable, eerie, steamy story that seems fitting for a Southern Gothic novel. Hall will be selling his non-fiction account, The Last Lynching In Northern Virginia:  Seeking Truth At Rattlesnake Mountain, and will autograph the well-illustrated tome. The program will be followed by questions and discussion, always a high point of the Lovettsville Historical Society’s well-attended offerings. Admission is free, but donations and memberships are welcome to defray expenses of the program and to support the activities of the Lovettsville Historical Society.

 

What: Lovettsville Historical Society Lecture: “The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia”
When: Sunday, August 12, 2018, at 2:00 p.m.
Where: St. James United Church of Christ, 10 East Broad Way, Lovettsville, Va.           MAP
For further information, contact:
http://www.lovettsvillehistoricalsociety.org/
events@lovettsvillehistoricalsociety.org