From John Hennessy:
There are few images calculated to unsettle modern Americans more than those that emerged from the spate of lynchings that plagued the nation in the six decades after the Civil War: rogue mobs, often with the implicit approval of local law enforcement, seeking vengeance on those (usually though not always black) convicted or even suspected of crimes deemed especially offensive. This was the fate of Culpeper resident Allie Thompson, charged (possibly falsely) with sexual assault on a white woman in 1918. Local white men dared not risk a trial, and on November 24, broke into the Culpeper jail, hauled him three miles outside town, and hung him from a tree. I am unaware of any lynching closer to Fredericksburg than Thompson–to my knowledge, none occurred in Fredericksburg, Stafford, or Spotsylvania. That, however, was not for a lack of trying.
In November 16, 1904, a “mulatto” man named Charles H. Blandford of Spotsylvania, wanted for an unspecified “serious” crime, was identified by residents on the streets of Fredericksburg. One of them brought him down with a brick to the head. Blandford was arrested and hauled off to the jail behind the Circuit Courthouse, along what has long been known as “Jail Alley.” The local newspapers for some reason did not report the nature of his crime, but whatever it was, it charged elements within the local community. That very afternoon there was talk around town of breaking Blandford out of jail and imposing some street justice upon him.
Local law enforcement heard the rumors, and police sergeant J.Conway Chichester remained watchful at the jail until 1 a.m. Sensing that the threat had passed, Chichester finally went home. But, someone was watching, and soon after Chichester departed, a group of “40 to 50 men” emerged from the shadows, armed with crowbars and rope, extinguished the gas lamp in the alley, and got to work. Another officer named Hall soon came upon the alley and noticed the light was out. He quickly summoned Sergeant Chichester, and the two officers stormed into the alley. The Daily Star described the scene:
On approaching the jail they saw a crowd in front of it….[Officer] Hall fired several shots when the crowd dispersed, leaving their tools at the door. The gas was lighted, and they discovered the two crowbars and one large sledge hammer, rope, &c. Officer Robinson attracted by the reports of the revolver was soon and the scene, and with Messrs. Chichester and Hall remained at the jail until 7 A.M. Tuesday. It would have taken several hours for the would-be lynchers to get to the cell occupied by Blandford, as the outer, inner, and cell door were securely locked. The outer door is of several inches in thickness, and the other two doors of solid steel.
The next morning, two men were arrested and charged with the attempt to break the jail. Local newspapers do not (as far as I can see) record their fates. Nor have I been able to learn anything of Blandford’s crime or fate.
Virginians have long and proudly cited the relative lack of lynchings and other violence in the Commonwealth–indeed, Virginia had fewer lynchings than any Southern state. But, as J. Douglas Smith points out in his outstanding study, Managing White Supremacy: Race,Politics,and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia, the story is not as simple as all that. If you have not read that book, you should. It’s a compelling chronicle of a state’s struggling with race and white supremacy in its own way–a struggle faithfully reflected in our own community.
To read the entire article from the November 17, 1904 issue of the Daily Star, click here.