Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Murder in the Courthouse

Durham News staff writer and historian Jim Wise will launch his new book, "Murder in the Courthouse: Reconstruction and Redemption in the North Carolina Piedmont," with a reading and book signing at the Regulator Bookshop on today at 7 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. When four Ku Klux Klansmen murdered John W. "Chicken" Stephens - a Republican politician and Freedman's Bureau agent - in the Caswell County courthouse in May 1870, the much-despised North Carolina Gov. William Holden imposed martial law, suspended habeas corpus, and assigned an infamous Union officer, George W. Kirk, to root out the increasingly violent Klan.

No suspect was ever indicted or tried for the murder of Stephens, and the KKK not only rid itself of a troublesome adversary but also set up a showdown between the state's old guard and the radical regime of Gov. Holden. Follow this little-known tale from the murder, through the "Kirk-Holden War," through the courts and to the finale of the governor's impeachment. Wise takes readers beyond the final days of the Civil War in North Carolina, amid the destruction and poverty and debt, to chronicle the men whose clashing agendas and personalities shaped a violent era and laid the foundations for the Jim Crow century to come.

Wise is the author of a number of historical books, including "Durham Tales" and "On Sherman's Trail.


Caswell County

Purportedly, the following men from Caswell County were arrested by Col. Kirk after the murder in Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina, of John Walter (Chicken) Stephens. Whether anyone collected the $500 reward offered by North Carolina Governor William W. Holden with respect to the arrest of any of the following is not known.

1. Blackwell, John B. (possibly John Bracken Blackwell; dismissed by Judge Brooks)
2. Bowe, William M.
3. Fowler, Joseph R.
4. Graves, Barzillai
5. Griffith, Jesse C. (Caswell County Sheriff)
6. Graves, William G. (arrested by mistake and released by Judge Brooks)
7. Hill, Samuel P.
8. Jones, Yancey
9. Kerr, John Hosea
10. Lea, John Green (no evidence; discharged by Judge Brooks)
11. Lea, Nathaniel (probably Nathaniel Preston Lea; dismissed by Judge Brooks)
12. Long, Jacob A.
13. Mitchell, A. A.
14. Mitchell, James Thomas (bound over for trial)
15. Neal, J. M.
16. Richmond, Dr. Stephen Tribue (bound over for trial)
17. Roan, Felix R. (bound over for trial)
18. Roan, Nathaniel K.
19. Roan, Robert Liston
20. Totten, L. M. (discharged by Judge Brooks)
21. Wiley, Franklin A. (bound over for trial)
22. Williamson, Peter H.
22. Womack, Thomas J.
21. Yancey, Dr. Albert Gallatin

Not Thought from Caswell County (and probably from Alamance County)

Boyd, James E. (Alamance County)
Ireland, James
Moore, Adolphous (Alamance County)
Scott, James S.
Turner, Josiah
Williamson, James C.


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