Sunday, February 13, 2011

Kirk-Holden War: Wyatt Outlaw (Alamance County, North Carolina)

ID: G-120
Location: NC 87 (South Main Street) in Graham
County: Alamance, North Carolina

Racial violence in Caswell and Alamance counties in 1870 led to martial law, under Col. Geo. W. Kirk, impeachment & removal of Gov. W. W. Holden.

The lynching of Wyatt Outlaw on the courthouse square in Graham in 1870 continues to reverberate across the generations. The consequences for North Carolina were profound, leading to the first impeachment of a governor in U.S. history. Outlaw’s death, like that of State Sen. J. W. (“Chicken”) Stephens in the basement of the courthouse in Caswell County, in part precipitated the “Kirk-Holden War.”

Carole Troxler, Elon University professor, has examined the historical record concerning Outlaw. Biographical details, gleaned from Congressional investigations into the 1870-71 Ku Klux Klan “outrages” and transcript of the impeachment trial of Gov. W. W. Holden, are spare. Outlaw, likely the offspring of white merchant Chesley Faucett and Jemimah Phillips, a free black, served in the Union army, in the 2nd Regiment U.S. Colored Cavalry, first in Virginia with a later posting in Texas along the Rio Grande. On his return home, he opened a woodworking shop on North Main Street in Graham, repairing wagons and making coffins, in addition to specialty trimwork. (Troxler believes it likely that he trained with Thomas Day of Caswell County.) In 1866 he attended the second freedmen’s convention in Raleigh and soon after organized the Union League in Alamance as well as a school and church. Gov. Holden in 1868 appointed him as a town commissioner in Graham and he was elected to the post the following year. That board in 1869 organized an armed night patrol in response to the activities of the Klan.

On Feb. 26, 1870, Outlaw became the target for a Klan mob of 70-100, selected because he was an effective leader, able to work with both races. Seized in his house (over the cries of his young son), Outlaw was hanged from the limb of an elm tree which pointed to the courthouse. His mouth was slashed and a note pinned to his body: “Beware you guilty both white and black.” Another target of intimidation left town that night. Gov. Holden, acting on authority of the Shoffner Act, declared Alamance and Caswell to be in a state of insurrection, setting in motion a sequence of events leading to his impeachment and removal in 1871. In 1873 eighteen men were charged with the murder but ex-Gov. Holden, among others, pleaded for their release and charges were dropped. Albion Tourgee used details from Outlaw’s life in composite characters in his Reconstruction novels.


Carole Watterson Troxler, “’To look more closely at the man: Wyatt Outlaw, a Nexus of National, Local, and Personal History,” North Carolina Historical Review (October 2000): 403-433
Otto H. Olsen, Carpetbagger’s Crusade (1965)
Horace W. Raper, William W. Holden (1985)

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.

See also: Kirk-Holden War, The New York Herald 23 July 1870

1 comment:

  1. Acc. to today's News & Observer (Opinion page), the State Senate has voted to pardon Holden. Let's see if the House follows without comment. I don't think so, but I hope so.

    - Charley Norkus, Raleigh