The Pre Civil War Murder of Jailer Abram Williams and the hanging of “Tennessee Jack”

             I found the following article one day while I was browsing pre Civil War newspaper of Monroe.  This crime was shocking and brutal by even today’s standards.  What drove this young man to do what he did can only be imagined with sympathy and horror.  He paid for it though, with his life.

The Register [Monroe, LA] Thursday Morning, April 26, 1860, Page 2, Column 5

        SHOCKING OCCURRENCE. — The Jailer Murdered by a Negro prisoner — Escape of the Criminal. — Last Monday evening our community was thrown into the greatest excitement by the startling announcement that Abram Williams, the jailor, had just been brutally murdered by the negro Jack or Jake, who had been convicted on the 19th inst. Of stabbing a white man with intent to kill, and sentenced to be hung next Friday.

        The particulars of this horrid affair are these: On Monday morning Williams went to the job as usual, to feed the negro.  He was alone and unarmed, although he had been repeatedly warned by the sheriff and others to keep on his guard against surprise, as the negro was known to be a desperate character.  He, however, apprehended no danger, and thought his prisoner perfectly secure from the fact that he was chained to the floor of his cell.  But it appears the culprit had managed to possess himself of a bar of iron about 10 or 14 inches long, 2 * inches wide and 1/4 inch thick, which had incautiously been left loosely rivetted [sic] to the place where one of the locks of the cage door had been taken off for repairs.  With this piece of iron he had broken the shackle off his leg, and with it he dealt a murderous blow on the head of his victim when the door was opened to pass in his breakfast. After beating the head of the unfortunate man literally into a jelly, the fiend placed a blanket snugly over the body, took the murdered man’s hat, the day’s provisions that had been brought, shouldered an axe that happened to be in the entry of the jail, and escaped to the woods.  The deed was discovered about 4 o’clock in the afternoon by a son of the deceased who had been sent in quest of his father.  The little fellow went to the jail, but finding the doors open and hearing no stir within he became frightened and ran for the sheriff, who, upon being apprised of the condition of things, immediately repaired to the place and found the body of the murdered man weltering in blood.  The alarm was at once spread through town, and several citizens went in pursuit of the fugitive with dogs.  He was tracked across the field in rear of the jail; but night coming on and the dogs getting bothered with the tracks of plantation negroes, nothing further could be done that evening — Next day the pursuit was renewed and is still vigorously kept up, but so far without success.

        The sheriff offers a reward of $200 for his apprehension.  The boy was heard to say that he belongs to a Mrs. Slemmons of Shreveport, but was hired to the steamer McRaie by an agent of his mistress living in New Orleans — The police of that city and the authorities of Shreveport would do well to keep a sharp lookout for him, as it is possible he may make his way to one of these places.

        The deceased was a poor but honest and upright man and we are pained to say, leaves a wife and several children almost if not quite helpless.  We devoutly hope the perpetrator of this revolting crime — the darkest one it has ever fallen to our lot to record, and certainly the most atrocious in nature ever witnessed here — may be speedily caught and made to suffer such punishment as the enormity and magnitude of his terrible crime would justify.

        To facilitate his apprehension, we append the following description of the murderer: He is a dark griffe, about 5 feet 5 inches high — has a bad countenance, and has a scar (as if made with a knife) on his right cheek — some 25 years old.

        P.S. — Since the foregoing was put in type, the murderer was caught, brought to town, and turned over to the proper authorities for further proceedings.  He had another trial yesterday and was hung at 5 * P.M., in presence of the largest crowd we ever saw brought together at Monroe.  Thus perished the notorious desperado “Tennessee Jack,” by which name he went and whose villainous reputation was well known up and down the Mississippi for years past, as we have subsequently been informed.

        At one time we thought the crowd who had him in charge would lynch him, so great was their exasperation.  But we are happy to say that the respect our citizens entertain for law and order prevailed over their passions, and with a praiseworthy, yet deliberate and cool determination, they quietly yielded to the voice of reason and the demands of justice.

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