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Jesse Howard (Lynching of)

On May 26, 1883, an African-American man named Jesse Howard was fatally shot in Marianna (Lee County) for allegedly setting fire to a livery stable. The Arkansas Gazette, in a brief report published on May 27, does not name Howard, but newspapers across the country reported on the incident, giving not only Howard’s name but additional details. Interestingly, a few of these additional reports mistakenly identified the lynching victim as Henry B. Derrick, who was, in fact, the owner of the livery stable.

Jesse Howard had lived in Arkansas since at least 1870, when the census listed him as a farmer and a native of Virginia living in Phillips County with his wife, Susan. By 1880, he and Susan were living in Marianna with four children between the ages of one and ten. Although the census record is difficult to read, he may have been working as a tenant farmer. The first mention of Henry B. Derrick in Lee County census records is in 1880. He was twenty-eight years old, a native of Alabama, and operating a livery stable in Marianna. Living with him was his wife, Ella. Ella died a year after the alleged arson, and he married Emma Longley in 1886. They were lifelong residents of Marianna. He died there in 1928 and she in 1932; both are buried in Cedar Heights Cemetery.

On May 27, 1883, the St. Paul, Minnesota, Daily Globe published a fairly detailed description of the incident. According to its report, Derrick’s livery stable was discovered to be in flames around 1:00 a.m. on May 26. The fire quickly spread, and the building was destroyed. Eight or ten horses were killed, and had there not been a rainstorm shortly before the fire, the entire business section of Marianna could have been lost. A later report published in the Ottawa, Illinois, Free Trader indicated that Derrick also lost a number of buggies and wagons. In addition, the photographic studio of Professor Vess, which was located near the stable, was destroyed.

Suspicion almost immediately fell on Jesse Howard, a black man with a “bad reputation” who had been discharged from jail a few days before. He was arrested and jailed but denied being involved. Local residents felt that the evidence against him was convincing, and a mob of masked men removed him from the jail. The guard was slightly injured while he was attempting to protect the prisoner. Howard attempted to escape, but he was cut down by buckshot as he was running away. Although the Arkansas Gazette reported that a note was attached to his body declaring, “This is a warning to horse-thieves,” most accounts say that the note read, “This is a warning to all house-burners.” The coroner ruled that Howard had died due to “pistol shots by parties unknown.” According to the Memphis Daily Appeal, “Great excitement prevailed for a time, but the better classes concur in the opinion that he fully merited his fate, having been caught in the act.”

For additional information:
“Condensed Telegrams.” Arkansas Gazette, May 27, 1883, p. 1.

“Crime Record: Hanged on Suspicion.” Daily Globe (St. Paul, Minnesota), May 27, 1883, p. 5.

“Criminal Varieties: Execution by Judge Lynch.” Ottawa Free Trader (Ottawa, Illinois), June 2, 1883, p. 2.

“An Incendiary Shot after Firing a Stable.” New York Sun, May 27, 1883, p. 1.

“A Negro Incendiary.” Memphis Daily Appeal, May 27, 1883, p. 2.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina

Last Updated 7/17/2018

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