Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bloody Duel on Yanceyville Square

Daily Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 28 April 1882, Page 3.

"The Yanceyville Tragedy"

The Fatal Encounter Between Felix Roan, and Messrs. George Williamson, Jr., and Nat Johnston.

We published a dispatch yesterday announcing the killing of Mr. Nat Johnston and the dangerous if not fatal wounding of George Williamson, Jr. by Felix Roan, at Yanceyville, Caswell county. The following particulars we gather from a dispatch to the Lynchburg News, which will be read with interest as the families of the young men are very prominent in this State.

Danville, Va., April 26 [1882]. -- A shocking homicide at Yanceyville, N.C., sixteen miles south of Danville, today, resulted in the instant killing of Nat Johnston and probably fatal wounding of George Williamson, Jr., besides the wounding of Felix Roan, postmaster at Yanceyville. The affair originated Saturday between Postmaster Roan and Colonel George Williamson, late member of the North Carolina State Senate.

Ex-Senator Williamson playfully twitted Postmaster Roan about receiving his appointment as postmaster from the Republican administration, which gave umbrage to the postmaster; but no collision occurred then between the parties. This morning a difficulty occurred between the same gentlemen, the particulars are not reliably ascertained here.

A little before noon to-day Nat Johnston, a nephew of Col. George Williamson, was sent for while at work on his farm, near Yanceyville, to go to the village at once. He did so, and soon after getting there and dining, he and George Williamson, Jr., walked out upon the street together towards the post office.

At the same time Postmaster Roan, coming from dinner, was walking along the street from the opposite direction, with a double-barrel shot gun. The parties approached each other in front of Henderson's store, next door to the post office. Roan warned Johnston and Williamson not to come near.

They continued approaching and Roan fired two shots from his gun, each shot hitting Johnston and producing instant death. Mr. Roan and young Williamson fired at each other with pistols, which firing first not positively being known.

Williamson was struck in the forehead by a pistol ball and dangerously, perhaps fatally wounded. Roan was struck in the calf of the leg by a pistol ball, and painfully injured. The dead body of Johnston was laid out in Henderson's store. Young Williamson was taken care of by friends, and Roan gave himself up to arrest.

All the parties are highly connected by birth and marriage. Johnston, as stated, was a nephew of Col. George Williamson, a prominent and influential North Carolina State Senator for several years. Johnston was also a brother-in-law of W. N. Shelton, of Danville, was a generous-hearted but hot-headed young man, and generally went armed.

Young Williamson, son of Col. Geo. Williamson, was a young man of fine promise and prospects in life, and belonged to one of the highest and most influential families in North Carolina. Postmaster Roan is a son of the late Dr. N. M. Roan, who in lifetime was one of the most eminent physicians in the Southern States, and very influential.

The affair has cast a deep gloom over the community. Mr. Shelton, brother-in-law of Johnston, James A. Henderson, also his brother-in-law, and Col W. E. Williamson, brother of Col George Williamson, all citizens of Danville, went to the scene of the sad affair this evening, being sent for to do so.

Felix Roan (1837-1891)
Nathaniel Lea Johnston (1846-1882)
Colonel George Williamson (1824-1893)

The article on Thomas Donoho Johnston (#387) at pages 314-315 of The Heritage of Caswell County states that a son of Thomas Donoho Johnston, Nathaniel Lea Johnston (1846-1882), was shot by Felix Roan in 1882.

Greensboro North State (Greensboro, North Carolina, 4 May 1882, Page 2. (Paragraph breaks added).

[Correspondence of the North State.]
Yanceyville, N. C., April 29, 1882.

Mess., Editors:--The account you published of the shooting affair which occurred here a few days was so inaccurate that I am prompted to make a fair statement, as I was an eye witness to it. About a year ago Mr. Felix Roan was appointed post-master here. Col. Williamson, who is regarded as an over bearing man, has been "picking" at him for some time. I advised Roan not to notice him, and he did not till Saturday, April 22, when Williamson went to the post-office where Roan was sitting on the porch, and accused him (Roan) of seeking out the illicit distilleries and reporting them to a revenue officer. Roan replied that he was mistaken--that he had done nothing of the kind. Williamson continued to spread the report that Roan had been informing on the illicit distillers and when Williamson came to town Roan requested him to stop it, as it would injure him among a certain class of people.

Williamson replied that he (Roan) was an informer, when Roan called him a liar--whereupon Williamson struck him in the face with his hand, and a fight ensured [sic], but the parties soon separated. Dr. Bob Williamson, a half-brother came up, and both the Williamsons attacked Felix Roan whilst the sheriff had him under arrest. Roan and Williamson were both taken before a justice of the peace and bound over in bonds of two hundred dollars for their appearance at Court.

Nat. Johnson [sic] and Geo. Williamson, jr., [sic] were informed of the affair and they came to town and proceeded to the post-office, where Roan was standing in the yard with a double barrel shot-gun. When Roan saw they were after him he retreated some distance, telling them the matter had been settled and requesting them to let him alone, as he wanted no difficulty with them. Roan had retreated about ten steps when Johnson drew his pistol, a six-shooter, and tried to shoot Roan, and as he did so Roan shot him with his gun; as Johnson fell he shot Roan through the leg. Young Williamson then drew Johnson behind a small tree and both began shooting at Roan, when Roan shot Johnson again and also shot Williamson in the head. Johnson was shot three times and fell dead. Williamson and Roan were then bound in bonds of three thousand dollars for the appearance the following Tuesday, from which time the investigation was postponed to enable Williamson to obtain counsel.

Roan is from an excellent family; his father was a leading physician, and he is a brother of Dr. Preston Roan, of Winston. He graduated at Chapel Hill with J. W. and A. E. Graham, Logan Gregory, and other eminent gentlemen, and is very popular in the community in which he lives.

Yours &c., A. B.

The following is from page 24 of Homespun Yarns by Tom Henderson (1943):

Ties Through Tragedy

Edwin Harvie is a son of one of Danville's pioneer medical practitioners, and he married Mary Henderson Roan, daughter of one of Winston-Salem's pioneer business men, Henry Roan, native of Yanceyville. Edwin brought his attractive wife out to see me one Sunday some years ago, to find out something about her branch of the family. I myself happen to have sprung from the Granville county branch.

"Edwin tells me he thinks we are kinfolks," said the pleasing-voiced young lady.

"No, Mary," I replied, "I don't think we are exactly kinfolks, but there is some sort of tie of personal contact -- your uncle killed my uncle."

It was a bloody duel to death on the public square of Yanceyville the year I was born, at a time in the history of men when "blood is thicker than water" ruled and it was the unwritten law of the land that a kinsman must go to the rescue of a kinsman in the time of trouble, if that trouble be a fight. Felix Roan killed Nat Johnston, the life-long friend of his bosom like unto Jonathan and David. The grand-jury very properly absolved Felix Roan of culpability, under the statute of self-defense.

The fight was another man's fight. When a bullet ricocheted a furrow through the hair of the other man, he threw down his own gun, fled, and sent for his kinsman to avenge the family honor. In the meantime, Felix Roan had gone home and gotten his muzzle-loader gun, loaded with buckshot. A tragedy of multitudinous sorrow ensued.

One of my earliest friends was this man who had killed my uncle. I was a little fellow, but this elderly, kindly-hearted gentleman seemed to find some sort of surcease from the pangs of memory through friendliness to me.

"I killed my best friend," he told me, "and I have never seen a happy day or night since. I've wished a thousand times that Nat Johnston had killed me instead of my killing him. He was too brave and I was a fool. We played together as boys and hunted together in young manhood. He was the best shot with gun or pistol I ever saw. We used to trap partridges in whole covies, and do target practice with live birds. Many a time I've seen him lay his loaded muzzle-loader on the ground, liberate a partridge from each hand, stoop, pick up his gun, cock both barrels, whirl around and get both those birds on the wing.

"In the heat of passion, we forget even our friendship. In the calm of another day, I would have gladly given my life for my friend. I go on living and regretting, always under the shadows of the memory of a terrible tragedy. Take my advice, boy, don't ever kill anybody, under any circumstances. You'll never be happy again, if you do."

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