20 May 2018

Known Lynchings in Hamilton Co., TN


The following are the six instances of lynching known from available news accounts that took place in Hamilton County, Tennessee, in the later 19th and early 20th centuries.  Five of the victims were Afro-American and one of the victims was white.

In the latter case, the perpetrators were members of a vigilante movement that began in Indiana in 1887 and quickly spread across the county known as White Caps.  A movement rather than an organization, its various cells operated on widely varying methods, goals, and “principles”, with the majority claiming to be enforcing community standards and Christian principles.  By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, harsh laws had all but suppressed the White Caps, but it served as more of a precursor to the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan founded in 1915 than was the organization that group claimed as predecessor, the post-bellum Ku Klux Klan.

Elridge Merrill, 1873

On 7 October 1873, Elridge Merrill, an Afro-American from the Gambletown section of St. Elmo in Hamilton County, then well outside the city limits of Chattanooga, was brutally beaten, whipped, tortured, and lynched from a corn crib in St. Elmo by a mob of white men angered over his cohabitation with a white woman named “Dink” Norris.

Charles Williams, 1885

On 7 September 1885, Charles Williams, an Afro-American accused of murder for shooting a street car driver who tried to enforce Chattanooga’s segregated seating ordinance, was lynched from the rafters of the third floor of the Hamilton County Jail the day after his arrest.

Thomas Gailiff, 1889

On 24 July 1889, Thomas Gailiff, probably white, was dragged out of his dwelling in East End, Tennessee (west and north of East Lake along the lower end of Rossville Road), in Hamilton County by White Caps who then hung him from a tree in the yard for being a “traducer of women”.  He managed to escape, but was caught and hung again near Ross’ Gap.

Alfred Blount, 1893

On 14 February 1893, Alfred Blount, an Afro-American migrant laborer living in a boarding house at the south end of Maple Street (at the mouth of the gully between Terrace Hill and College Hill) was accused of sexually assaulting a white woman.  He was dragged from the Hamilton County Jail and hanged from the southernmost (first) span of the County (Walnut Street) Bridge.  He had not even been formally charged because the victim denied he was the perpetrator.

Charles Brown, 1897

On 25 February 1897, Charles Brown, an Afro-American of Bakewell (aka Retro), Tennessee, was lynched from a bridge over North Chickamauga Creek near Soddy, Tennessee, after being accused of molesting a local white woman.

Ed Johnson, 1906

On 19 March 1906, Ed Johnson, an Afro-American of the Higley Row section of South Chattanooga near Hooterville, had been convicted of rape of a white woman in St. Elmo but had his execution stayed by both the governor and by the U.S. Circuit Court.  An enraged mob dragged him from his cell in the weakly defended Hamilton County Jail, dragged him to the second span of the County Bridge, and hung him from one of its beams for about two minutes before shooting him with more than fifty bullets.

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