• The Murder and Hanging of 1896

  • This post is a work in progress. I am trying to update the history of this amazing tale. I have a ton of old newspapers about it but I can't find them right now.

  • Damaging Evidence Against Harmon

    Charottesville, VA April 13, 1896

    The trial of Taylor Harmon, one of the negroes charged with the murder of Thomas Thompson at Free-Union and with burning a store house at that place was begun this afternoon. Rose Hanner testified that she saw Harmon knock Thompson on the head and afterwards, assisted Rev. Nelson, carry the body to the store, which was fired with Thompson in it.

    From Roanoke Daily Times

  • The following is from the Charlottesville Historical Societies photo copy of an article from an unknown source. Possibly the Roanoke Times. Some parts were unreadable.

    Taylor Harmon Hanged
    Murderer of Thomas W. Thompson Pays the Penalty

    The Trap Sprung at 9:29 AM

    The condemned man makes a statement for the press. He declares his innocence with his last breath Religious services for the scaffold - the execution occurs without a hitch - scenes and incidents.

    Taylor Harmon the colored man convicted of the murder of Thomas W Thompson has paid the penalty of the law.

    He calmly met is awful doom, and was apparently the most self-possessed person within the jail enclosure, the the execution took place. It was witnessed by a detail of the Monticello guard, officers of the law in about 20 other persons. 

    The condemned man faced death unflinchingly, and died protesting his innocence, death stopping his voice in the midst of the word declaring that he was an innocent man.

    The execution was perfectly performed. Not a hitch occurring. The trap was easily sprung, and there were none of the harrowing scenes often seen at hangings. Harmon’s neck was not broken, in about 14 minutes after the drop fell, Harmon was pronounced dead. 

    Early this morning his faithful spiritual comforter the Rev. Harden Lewis (color), accompanied by Rev. Alex Truatt, J.B. Goodall, R.C. Quarles and R.B. Hardy held services in Harmon cell.

    Visit of the Reporter

    At a little after 8 o’clock the newspaper representative was admitted to the cell of the condemned man for the purpose of getting. During the recital the condemned man sat on the bed he had occupied for the past six months. Safe are the clasping and clasping of his hands, he was, perhaps, the most self-possessed person in the room. He had nothing to keep them from it: He was depending on him who knew best.

    Refuses a Drink

    He politely, but firmly, refused a drink of whiskey, offered to him through the best of motives, by Jailor Martin, adding that he preferred the spirit of God. Doctor H.T .Nelson also kindly offered to administer hypodermic dose of medicine, assuring the condemned man that was steady his nerves. This too, he declined, declaring that he did not need it. Dr. Nelson then retired and Harmon began his statement which follows verbatim: 

    I never hurt nobody in my life. Mr. Tommy Thompson went out of that house that night a sound and well man, all that drinking. He said he had toothache. William Nelson the preacher under sentence of death also for the murder of Thompson did not help Steven Pines I didn’t see him anywhere around. If he was there I didn’t see him. If William Nelson done anything to Mr. Thompson he do it after he left my house. Road Tanner and Ruben Douglas swore to something against me and William Nelson untruthfully. But I will take the rope for the benefit of Mr. Thompson. The time is coming everybody will see who done the murder. I ask everybody to meet me around that brother wash throne. I don’t dread man that destroys the body, but mark that destroys soul and body.

    Harmon got up nervous and arose from his bed and took a few steps around to sell. I would like been rev. Harden Lewis to go up on the gallows with me after I get up I want some good Brother to sing and pray when I will make the same statement I have to it to you, Pray to God and then be ready to go to serious I would like to get him pointing to Lewis to preach my funeral at home. I want to be buried at Miss Lucy wards place, where I was raised, near for union. When I leapt down I also want the truth to go down to this world this is all I’ve got to say.

    Religious Services

    In reply to a question by one of the preachers Harmon said”Day or not the poor old body. God puts men in here and may be God intended I should go this way. Accused of it. Never murder nobody. Harmon further stated that he had worked in and about Mr. White store for 15 months you could speak he will not see the hair of my head harmed but he can’t speak now. Harmon spoken the highest terms of the character of Mr. Thompson and Mr. White for whom he had worked for more than a year selling produce in Charlottesville.

    The Rev. R.C. Quarals seated on the stove, then lead in singing ”I am a soldier of the cross”, After which the Rev. Quarals read the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelations. At the reading of the eighth verse where it is stated that “murderers and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” the prisoner leaned back on the head rail of his iron bedside holding his head in his hands. A fee?ing prayer was then offered by the Reverend Truant which concluded the religious exercises. Each of the preachers and the friends of the condemned man then shook hands and the cell door was closed.

    Harmon Takes a Drink

    Harmon could be seen through the bars, at times pacing the floor and softly humming a tune. To the officers and others in the jail yard repeated his statement printed above adding that God was “goin’ to send his angels to carry him home”. At seven minutes past, Harmon concluded to drink a swallow of whiskey. He spoke of the kindness of Jailor Martin and Mr. Nate Martin his assistant, Mr. Railey and the guards, saying that every one of them had been very kind to him. He thought however, that there were some mean officiers out of jail, but he had nothing against any one in the world. To Officer Hall he said he would not mind hanging half so bad if he was guilty.

    At 9:12am Deputy Sheriffs Woods and Michie went into the cell to handcuff the prisoner. Harmon declaring that he could walk out without them, and in a firm manner.

    The March to the Scaffold

    At 9:15 Sheriff Watts and Jailor Martin made their appearance, and in a moment or so the march to the scaffold began. Harman, who was attired in a cheap, but neat, suit of black, ascended the scaffold with a firm tread and unflinchingly faced the crowd. After his boots were removed, Sheriff Watts read the death warrent, to which Harman paid the stictest attention. Harman was allowed to speak and proceeded to do so in a loud voice. His statement was the same as that given to our reporter and printed above, except that he addmitted that Thompson was at his house on the night of the murder, and that he carried him to the store of Mr. White, where he left him drinking.

    In answer to the question propounded by Rev. Louis, Harmon said he did not know who had a hand in killing Mr. Thompson.

    The Last Service

    The Rev. Lewis then read and sang in old negro fashion -

    “My former hopes have fled,
    My terror now begin :
    Feet, alas, that now I am dead
    in trespasses and sin.”

    At 9:23 Harmon in sing-song fashion, still in vogue amoung many of his people, began to pray. He asked the Lord to send down His angels to carry his spirit to heaven. The rope he declared he freely took for the sake of Jesus.

    A feeling and very apporpriate prayer was then offered by Rev. Quaries during which the tears flowed down the cheeks of Harman for the first time during his terrible ordeal. After the prayer Harman exclaimed in a loud voice, “Farewell, to the entire world.”

    The Noose Adjusted

    Sheriff Watts adjusted the noose, Jailor Martin the black cap, while Deputy Sheriff Woods tied the prisoner’s feet, his heavy boots having been removed for the purpose. The condemned man was them placed in position and whild still proclaiming his innocence in a loud voice, the trap was sprung.

    The drop into eternity was at 9:29 and in ten minutes the pulse ceased to beat and in thirteen minutes, Dr. William M. Randolph pronounced Harman dead. At 9:51 the body was cut down and turned over to the friends of the dead man, who in accordance with his request, carried it to Free Union, where it will be buried tomorrow beside his wife.

    How the Trap Was Sprung

    The trap was sprung by means of a horse and buggy. The rope was attached to the rear axle of the vehicle, which belonged to Mr. LawsonTurner, and at the signal, Mr. John Farrar led the animal a few steps, pulling away the prop.

    Hundreds of people who had secured advantageous positions on the county property from which to view the execution were made to move at the point of the bayonets of a squad of the Monticello Guard. 

    Many persons of all classes viewed the hanging from the tall trees on the esat side of the jail.

    Not withstanding the high board fence erected on the jail wall yesterday by order of Judge White, so as to obtruct the view from the “grand stand” built in the yard of Mr. Richard Hawes (the Reirson property) fifty or more persons viewed the awful sifht from the extreme southern end of the eminecce.

    Viewed from the Bousestop

    Nothing daunted Mr. Haves used the roof of his house for a “grand Stand” from which many persons saw the execution and from which they had a good view.

    In the vicinity of the jail a large crowd collected, but for what purpose it would be hard to tell. The execution could not be seen except by those already mentioned.

    The Montecello Guard and the policeman rendered efficient service in keeping the crowd in check. There was no disorder whatever.

    The execution of Harman is the only one that has occured in the county since Muscoe was haged for the murder of Policeman Seal.

    A tempting breakfast, consisting of ham and eggs, coffee, butter and bread, etc., was taken Harman this morning by Jailer Martin, but the prisoner declined to partake of a mouthful.

    Harman’s wife died last September leaving eight children, six of whom are boys. 

    The Rev. William Nelson, who seems to have been the means of the conversion of Harman since he has been in jail, occupied the cell opposite that of the condemned man, and could hear the conversations this morning. He reqested Mr. Martin to put him in the cell in order to escape the sound of the construction. 

    A History of the Crime

    Coming Soon...