A Bloody Night’s Work at Warsaw, Ky.
Judge Lynch’s Last Sentence, and How It Was Executed.
How a Husband and Wife Took Their Last Swing From the Same Tree.
Special Correspondence of the Enquirer.
Warsaw, Gallatin Co., Ky., May 5, 1876. This little town, situated on the Ohio River, about mid-way between Louisville and Cincinnati, has been thrown into a tempest of excitement by a most sensational case of lynching, which happened on Wednesday, the 3d inst., between midnight and morning. The summary appearance of the bloody hand of Judge Lynch is not a very strange thing in this part of the country, but when, as in this case, a husband and his wife are taken out of jail and hurried to the same cruel death, hung to the same tree, the case becomes a sensational one, and it is no wonder that this occurrence should become the sole topic of conversation all along the little towns on the banks of the Ohio. The circumstances of this most horrible affair are about as follows:
Lake Jones, an aged and very much respected negro, lived with his cousin Mollie French and her husband Benjamin, in an old miserable-looking building, commonly called “the Malt-house,” in Warsaw. Lake had a few hundred dollars, when he joined the French family, but it seems that he spent nearly every cent of it, in providing for the Frenches and paying their rent. Some weeks ago he told Ben French that his pockets were empty and that he could not vouch any more for the house rent. This, it is said, led to disagreements between the parties. Lake stopped boarding with the Frenches and provided for his own meals. On Wednesday, April 19 Lake went as usual to work on a farm and returned in the evening as healthy and fresh as ever. On that evening he was invited by Mollie to take supper with them, which he did. About half an hour later he began to feel unwell, vomiting blood, and complaining of a burning pain in his stomach and bowels. He soon got so sick that he threw himself to the floor and rolled about in great agony crying for help and calling for a physician. The Frenches must have heard every word he uttered, but took no notice of his cries, until an hour later some neighbors helped him into his bed and called Dr. Robinson, who found that the sickness of lake developed all the symptoms of arsenical poison. Lake died on Saturday morning, April 22d, after the most severe agony.
Judge Brown, of the County Court, ordered an investigation, which was held on Monday, April 24th. It was found that Ben French had procured one ounce of arsenic at Vance’s drug store a few days before, saying he wanted it to kill rats. This statement was first denied by Ben, but afterward he admitted the buying of the poison, but added that he bought it for his father and carried it to his father’s house. David French, father of Ben, was called next, and denied that he ever had arsenic in his house, or that Ben had left the poison there. Mollie French admitted, on cross-examination, that her husband procured the arsenic, but said that he had not used it yet for any purpose. She pretended to search for the paper about the house, but was unable to find it. It was further shown that Mollie French tried to escape on the same evening in company with Place Reston, a roustabout, with whom she had had improper intercourse for some time. The post-mortem examination by Dr. Robinson showed all the symptoms caused by a strong dose of arsenic. Upon these suspicions Ben French and his wife were arrested on April 24th, by order of Judge Brown, and the charge of murder was placed against them. They were both put in the came cell at Warsaw Jail. It was proposed to Judge Brown that he should arrest the negro Place Reston also, but the Judge refused to do so, as Reston had evidently nothing to do with the killing of the old man. If Reston had been arrested at that time he would undoubtedly have fallen a victim to the lynchers. Ten days elapsed after their commitment, and not a single threat to lynch the parties had been openly made at Warsaw; at least no one of the nearly hundred persons to whom I talked about the affair admit to having suspected any scene like that suggested in the head lines.
It was a brilliant night, that of Wednesday last; the moon shone brightly, and it was nearly as light as day. The three young men at the Brown Hotel, who attend to the express business, and who were the only parties awake at that time, heard the noise of horses trotting about the streets, and at the same time some strange signals. They peeped out of the window and perceived a disguised man on horseback in the middle of the square in front of the Court-house. Near the next corner a party of five or six men were halting. Suddenly the man on the Court-house square called out “All ready,” and the whole party moved up toward the jail building, which is a small one-story brick back of the Courthouse. The three young men at the hotel had suspected that the strange party intended to break into the bank next to the hotel, but as the man rode further up, this suspicion weakened, and they paid no further attention. About ten minutes past one o’clock the Jailer, Joseph Wilshire—a venerable looking old chap, whose grim and grave looks are more threatening then his small and feeble frame, and who lives about 150 yards from the Jail—was awakened by knocks on his front and back doors and calls of “Get up, Uncle Joe; take your keys, we bring a prisoner from the country.” Uncle Joe got his keys and came out at the back door. Here he was met by two disguised men, who presented pistols, and told him to keep quiet. He shut the door in their faces, opened the front door, and was immediately seized by about six or eight armed and masked men, who ordered him, under penalty of death, to go with them to the jail door. There six or eight more of the party were waiting. Poor Uncle Joe was so overpowered by fears that he hardly knew what else to do then to obey. He opened the jail door, then the inside door to the cell room, at last the door of the cell in which the victims of this tragedy were both sound asleep. The leader of the gang woke them up and told them: “We will take you from this prison to another one.” Ben French answered: “I thought we were going to be tried by a civil Court.” These were the only words exchanged at the jail. The woman did not say a word and without offering the slightest resistance, without even a cry or a sigh, both prisoners followed their hangmen like sheep led to the slaughter. Two minutes later the party, except two men, who remained to guard the Jailer, rode away at a lively speed, having put their prisoners upon horses which they seem to have brought along for this special purpose. About twenty minutes later the Jailer was told by his guards to go home, which he did; and thus ends his story about the ugly affair.
The three young men mentioned before (John Brown, A. Kirby and Charles Woods) heard the two guards also ride away, and this renewed their suspicions. They made an inspection of the premises, and found the jail door open and the prisoners gone. They at once notified Sheriff R.H. Morrow, and at daylight these four gentlemen followed the traces of the horses used by the lynchers. The traces led to the farm of Jim McDonnell, about three-quarters of a mile above the town where, on an isolated tree, they found what they were searching for. There the corpses of Ben French and his wife hung close together on two different branches of the same tree, the body of the man nearly touching the ground, while that of the woman hung about eighteen inches above the green sward. The corpses were cold and stiff, and it was evident that life had been extinct hours ago. It was a ghastly spectacle. The fresh morning wind was playing with the long clothes of the woman, while the whole body of the man swung softly on the branches. The eyes of the wretches stared wildly from their sockets, the mouth of the woman was opened to its full capacity, while the man’s tongue, covered with blood, hung out of the mouth, like that of a dead dog. There was some grass on the knees of his pantaloons, as if he had prayed or called for mercy. Only one five-cent piece was found on the body of the man.
Who did this most horrible deed? The people of Warsaw think that some of Lake Jones’ farmer neighbors came over from the district of Glencoe to revenge the murder of their former friend; others declare that the mob consisted only of negroes. The latter theory is hardly plausible if taken into consideration how promptly and in what business-like style the lynchers acted. [see note below] The thing worked like a clock. It was done in about thirty-five minutes. Mr. Wilshire thinks that the majority of the mobbers were white men, yet he was so frightened as not to be able to give a clear statement of what he hard and saw in that horrible night. There is no possibility of prosecuting the perpetrators even if there was a desire for it which, it seems, is not the case as nearly every one in Warsaw is satisfied that the Frenches deserved their punishment.
The Frenches always enjoyed a very bad reputation. Ben was a well known chicken-thief, which in this part of the country, ranks next to being a horse-thief, and Mollie was suspected long ago of having committed several murders by poison. She was looked upon as a kind of a black Borgia, and especially the killing of her husband Boaz, who died 5 years ago under symptoms very similar to those connected with old man Lake’s death, was laid upon her shoulders. Of course all these suspicions are not sustained by proven facts, but are mere talk. The colored population of Warsaw is in sympathy with Lake Jones’ friends, and nobody cares for the Frenches. Even the father of the executed man has nothing to say to defend his son, and he hardly deplores his horrible fate. Undertaker Taeffee could not get a single colored man to help him dig the graves for the Frenches.
Old Lake is praised by every one in Warsaw. They speak of him as being “the best nigger” in the country. He was formerly owned by a Mr. Howard, whom he served so faithfully that the sons of Howard even offered to bury the old Uncle Lake upon their family burial-ground, near the old homestead of the Howards. Mr. Howard also paid all the expenses of the interment of Lake’s body.
from the Cincinnati Enquirer of May 5, 1876.
Note: The pro-slavery Cincinnati Enquirer is discounting the fact that the lynching occurred by African-Americans because it was too well done. In fact, the other newspaper accounts, those here and others we've not reproduced, make it clear that the lynching was absolutely done by the African-American population.