23 February 2018

When an Event Involving My Relative Sparked a Lynching (Part I)

I've been thinking about how to write this series of posts for days.  Sitting here now, I'm still unsure what the final product will be.

So here we go.  The short of it is this:

On a summer night in 1913, my second cousin caught a supposed burglar attempting to rob his store at Dunbar, Houston County, Georgia.  The apparent perpetrator fired a gun at my cousin, wounding him in two places.  Afterwards the shooter fled the scene.  Neighbors came to the aid of my cousin, who was shortly thereafter taken to a hospital in the next county over.  A large group of men gathered and set out to find the person they believed attempted murder.  After some hours, they caught their man.  Upon returning to the community where the crime was committed, the group hung the crook and filled his body with bullets.

That is how I interpreted the published newspaper accounts that contemporaneously described the event.  As you can see, the alleged crime committed by the alleged criminal escalated from attempted burglary to attempted murder in no time flat.

What follows next is a transcription of the first newspaper article I read, in its entirety.  See if you get the same out of it that I did.  I'm including a map of some pertinent places mentioned in the article, and I will elaborate on what those locales mean to me in a later post.

1933 Houston County Highway Map, Georgia Archives (http://vault.georgiaarchives.org/)

Macon Telegraph (Georgia)
Monday, 28 July 1913 - pg. 1 [via GenealogyBank's Newspaper Archive]


Houston Posse Is Rewarded After All-Day Search.


John Shake Had Shot J. F. Hammock.


When Dunbar Merchant Interrupted Negro Burglar at His Work, Latter Fires On Him, Wounding Him in Wrist And Breast -- 100 Men Take Up Chase.

Eighteen hours after he had shot and seriously wounded J. F. Hammock, a merchant at Dunbar, thirteen miles south of Macon, in Houston county, when interrupted while in the act of robbing the store of Hanson and Hammock, John Shake, a fifty-year-old negro, was run down by a posse composed of one hundred Houston county men and lynched yesterday afternoon about 5 o'clock, a short distance from Dunbar. His body was strung up to a tree and was riddled with bullets.

J. F. Hammock, who was shot by the negro, is not fatally hurt, though at Williams sanitarium, in this city, last night it was stated he was weak from loss of blood and had suffered considerably from the shock. The charge from a shot gun had struck him on the left wrist, fracturing the bones and had also lodged in the breast, though the latter wound is not thought to be serious.

Hears Noise at Store.
It was about 11 o'clock Saturday night, an hour after the store at Dunbar had been closed, that Mr. Hammock, who lives with his wife and little daughter, three hundred yards from the store, heard a noise like someone breaking into the store. Two or three previous attempts having recently been made to burglarize the store, Mr. Hammock decided to investigate and, slipping up to the building, he saw a man inside.

"Come out of there; I have you," Mr. Hammock shouted, but the negro did not come as directed. Instead he secured a shotgun from inside the store and, searching about, found some shells with which to load the weapon. Then he appeared in the doorway and fired. Mr. Hammock fell to the ground wounded, and the negro fled.

Recognizes the Negro.
Mrs. Hammock, who heard the shot, quickly ran to her husband's assistance and called for aid. Mr. Hammock had recognized the negro as John Shake, a man about 50 years of age, who had lived around Dunbar practically all of his life and who had been under suspicion for some time as the party who had attempted to rob the store before.

A short time after the shooting a posse was formed and the search for the negro began. During the day the posse was augmented by others until it finally numbered one hundred men, all bent on running the negro down and avenging the attempt on the life of their friend and neighbor. The posse was divided into small groups of men, who were strung out across the county. Finally about 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon the negro was found in a swamp on the river bank, near Wellston, about 10 miles below Dunbar. The negro was captured and brought back to Dunbar, arriving there about 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon. He confessed that it was he who had done the shooting and without further ado he was strung up.

Wounded Man Brought Here.
While the posse had gone in pursuit of the negro, a call was sent to Macon for L. H. Burghard's ambulance and the injured man was brought to the Williams' sanitarium for medical attention, reaching this city at 4 o'clock yesterday morning.

Mr. Hammock is one of the best known men of Houston county, and has a wife and little daughter. The shooting aroused his friends to a high pitch of indignation.

Another article from another Georgia city's newspaper, The Augusta Chronicle, was published under this headline:

STRING HIM UP IN THE VERY HEART OF NEGRO SETTLEMENT:  Angry Georgia Mob Riddles Body of Black Who Shot Down Merchant Near Macon.

The same tale is basically told, with the addition that bloodhounds were used to track John Shake, and he was found in neck-deep swamp water.

An article out of Florida's Miami Herald began this way:


Fate of Negro Thief Who Mortally Wounded J. F. Hammock of Dunbar, Ga.


AshevilleCitizenTimes28Jul1913Finally, the Asheville Citizen-Times of North Carolina published under this brazen falsehood:


The second to last line of the article did admit, "It is thought he [Hammock] will recover."

As you ponder the plight of John Shake, I leave you (for now) with this cautionary quote from Fitzhugh Brundage, author of Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930 --

For all of the information that newspaper accounts provide, their serious limitations also must be recognized.  Because the majority of extant newspapers from the period are white newspapers, they reflect the harsh racial attitudes of the day, and their accounts of lynchings, the alleged crimes that prompted lynchings, and the portrayals of mob victims must be treated with great caution…[W]hite descriptions of both the alleged offenses and the character of lynching victims cannot be accepted without question.

Be back tomorrow. [Go to Part II.]

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