Sunday, November 25, 2018

George A. Anderson 1914 Stephens Letter

George Anderson 1914 Stephens Letter

Set forth below is a transcript of a 1914 letter from George Andrew Anderson (1869-1945) to Edna Earl Watkins (1885-1988). At the time she probably was a Caswell County school teacher. The original letter kindly was shared by JoAnne Watkins Warn (niece of Edna Earl Watkins).

Office of Superintendent of Schools
Caswell County
Geo. A. Anderson, Superintendent

Yanceyville, N.C.
Jan. 02/12 (day not clear), 1914

Miss Edna,

The rise & fall of Stephens are the most tragic events associated with our County's history -- the boldness of the assassination, the secrecy maintained, taken with the causes which brought bout the tragedy, all appeal to human interest.

Stephens was a magistrate and also a State Senator -- and a politician of that _____, developed by the passions and prejudices growing out of the war.

He held a complete mastery over the negroes in the County & they were ready to follow his lead. His speeches to them were said to have been inflammatory & incendiary. I have been told that barns & houses, as many as 3 or 4, could be seen burning from the Poteat House vestibule.

He was not a man of wealth -- and bore the cognomen of chicken thief Stephens, having been indicted, I am told, upon that charge in the courts of Rockingham county.

The conditions in Caswell under his leadership became intolerable & it was determined to make way with him. The Conspiracy was a bold one. For some time it was impossible to get an opportunity -- but the opportunity came in this way -- On May 20th 1870, there was a public speaking in the Court room, a large crowd being present, -- Stephens was in the Court room and a man was sent to him professing to have a message from Frank Wiley -- in which it was stated that Wiley wished to meet him in conference regarding a political matter. Just the first time Stephens was taken off his guard & followed the messenger, they went to an unused room in the Court house, -- the room now occupied by Atty Julius Johnston.

As they entered the room, the door was closed, a rope thrown over Stephens' neck stifling his cries and someone taking a knife severed his jugular vein -- The Conspirators left his being on a pile of wood, locked the door, & one of the men carried off the key & threw it into the waters of Country line creek at a crossing known as Poteat's bridge.

You will understand, Miss Edna, that I cannot authenticate the scene of the tragedy, yes the above is a _____ the true story. Frank Wiley did not do the killings, was only used as a decoy.

This was not a __________ of the ________ though possibly these were Mr. Wiley's, among the conspirators.

Immediately after the murder, Gov Holden declared our County to be in a state of insurrection and the infamous Gen. Kirke was sent here, with an army of "________," collected from the mountain regions of the State. Our people were subjected to the most mortifying indignations.

Many of first citizens were arrested, incarcerated in the Court room -- being held there for quite a period -- being the men imprisoned, that I recall from memory were the following, J. M. Neal, Burch Holden, Daniel Weeden, D. A. G. Yancey, Sheriff Griffith, F. A. Wiley, T. J. Womack, Doc Graves, George Williamson, Tom Oliver, Jack _____, Wm Bowe, & D____ Moore.

These men were liberated, without bail, as a result of Habeas Corpus proceeding before Judge Brooks of the Federal Court at Raleigh -- that was the end of the proceedings, the men never being again called into court.

I failed to state that Stephens body was found by his brother.

I have given you a very meagre account, as I am very much _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ state -- that Judge Tourge colored his book to make it appeal to the prejudices of the North, or it is possible that he was led by distorted facts into error.

Stephens' murder was brought about, in my opinion, ______ as a means of self preservation of our County. A volume could be written about this tragedy & circumstances thereto.

I trust what I may have written will give the assurances that our people were justified _____ _____ _____.

With best wishes,

Very truly yours,

George A. Anderson 

[Paragraph breaks added.]

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