Monthly Archives: March 2012

- April Fool!


Defaced photograph of William E. Neff sent to his estranged wife Mary E. Neff, Lee County Chancery Cause William E. Neff vs. Mary E. Neff, 1904-048.

Mary E. Neff opened an envelope to find a defaced photograph of her estranged husband, William E. Neff, with an eye gouged out, an ear scratched off, a rodent scrawled on his forehead, and a button attached to his ear dangling from a piece of string.  The couple were in the midst of a divorce, and Mary, assuming that William had sent it, wrote to him that the purpose of the photo “is dark and mysterious to me, and I am at a loss to know the meaning, whether it is jest, insult, ridicule, or what.” 

William E. Neff and Mary E. Munsey were married on 13 April 1899 and lived together as man and wife for a mere four months. By 1902, William was seeking a divorce on grounds of desertion, but it was unclear who deserted whom. William claimed that Mary refused to return home with him after a visit to her parents’ home on the evening of 13 August 1899.  Mary argued that William would not agree to treat her right and just up and abandoned her.

In an attempt to make some sense out of their accusations neighbors and family members were deposed. Mary was accused of shouting that she “did not intend to raise any kids by the baldhead scoundrel” as she strode about a neighbor’s house brandishing a yardstick. … read more »

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- “This is a bad fix I am in…”


Order finding Sam, a slave, guilty of the murder of Francis Sheridan and sentencing him to be hanged by the neck until he be dead, Commonwealth vs. Sam (slave), 1856 August, Highland County Commonwealth Causes (Barcode 0007281802).

Three Highland County Commonwealth Causes (Barcode 0007281802) reveal a tangled web of conspiracy, murder, and secret affairs. The cast of players includes Elizabeth Sheridan, wife of the deceased; Mary Ann Wily, Elizabeth’s daughter from a previous marriage; Sam, a slave; and Ellen, a slave and Sam’s wife. Commonwealth vs. Sam (slave), 1856 August; Commonwealth vs. Ellen (slave), 1856 August; and Commonwealth vs. Elizabeth Sheridan and Mary Ann Wily, 1856 November concern the murder of Mr. Francis W. Sheridan by Sam, a slave hired by Sheridan from William Wilson. Sam’s wife, Ellen, was also charged with being “concerned in the murder,” while Elizabeth Sheridan and her daughter Mary Ann Wily were charged as accessories.  The cases contain assorted court documents including depositions and statements from various neighbors and acquaintances of the accused and the murder victim. 

A document entitled “Evidence in Support of Prosecution” offers a wealth of information.  Notes from the coroner’s inquest give revealing physical facts about Francis Sheridan.  He was described as a small man about the age of 21 or 22 years whose body displayed visible signs of trauma due to strangulation.  The report reveals that the body was found lying face down in a drain twenty or thirty feet away from the public road and gives a detailed forensic account of Sheridan’s bedroom, where the murder actually took place.… read more »

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- Mug Shot Monday Special Edition: Floyd and Claude Allen


Photograph of Floyd Allen, #47, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 184, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition.  This is the final post focusing on records at the Library of Virginia related to the “Hillsville Massacre.”

In March 1913, Floyd Allen and his son Claude were executed for the 14 March 1912  murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney William Foster.  The Allens’ case had gone through many twists and turns since the shootout in the Carroll County courthouse the previous March.  The trials of Floyd Allen, Claude Allen, Friel Allen, Sidna Allen, Wesley Edwards, and Sidna Edwards took place in Wytheville from April to December 1912.  The prosecution’s strategy was to prove the courthouse shooting was a premeditated conspiracy in order to make each defendant equally liable for the murders.  On 18 May 1912, Floyd Allen was found guilty of the first degree murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney Foster.  The prosecution’s strategy failed in the trial of Claude Allen.  He was convicted of the second degree murder of Judge Thornton Massie because the prosecution failed to prove a conspiracy.  Claude Allen then was tried twice for the murder of Foster.  The first trial resulted in a hung jury.  In the second trial, Allen was convicted of first degree murder.  Floyd and Claude Allen were sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia Penitentiary on 22 November 1912.

The execution did not happen in November.  In order to … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday Special Edition: Wesley Edwards, No. 11218


Photograph of Wesley Edwards, #11218, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 165, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition.  This is the fifth post focusing on records at the Library of Virginia related to the “Hillsville Massacre.”

In December 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Wesley Edwards, nephew of Floyd Allen, was sentenced to 27 years in the Virginia Penitentiary for two counts of first degree murder and one count of second degree murder for his involvement in the Carroll County shootout.  Edwards was admitted to the penitentiary on 14 December 1912.  An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Wesley Edwards:

“The first day I was in prison I ran into Wesley Edwards on the steps of the Industrial Department and started a conversation with him.  As soon as I told him where I was from, he at once extended his hand, with a smile, and said he was glad to see someone from near his old home, though he was sorry to see me in trouble.  I in turn extended my sympathy to him.  My thoughts of him were many, the chief one being how strange it seemed that this tall, blue-eyed, young fellow could be so jovial and so interested in his work.  He was even then in a hurry, had saw-dust in his hair and on

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- Mug Shot Monday Special Edition: Sidna Allen, No. 11217


Photograph of Sidna Allen, #11217, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 165, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition.  This is the fourth post focusing on records at the Library of Virginia related to the “Hillsville Massacre.”

In December 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Sidna Allen, brother of Floyd Allen, was sentenced to 35 years in the Virginia Penitentiary for the crimes of first, second and third degree murder.  Allen was admitted to the penitentiary on 14 December 1912.  An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Sidna Allen:

“I at last had an opportunity to go through the carpenter shop where I saw Sidna Allen…I stopped and watched him for a while at his work, before I went over and talked with him.  He was working with as much zeal as any man who owned and operated a manufacturing plant.  His hair was a silvery gray, though tinted with the yellow saw-dust, and his face pale, though it had the illuminated appearance of a pure Christian man….After talking with him a little while I found that the expression on his face was only revealing the man as he was; a true Christian man.  Sunday morning and any time he had a spare, you could see him sitting around reading the Bible and enjoying the words he was daily

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- Mug Shot Monday Special Edition: Sidna Edwards, No. 10995


Photograph of Sidna Edwards, #10995, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 161, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition.  This is the third post focusing on records at the Library of Virginia related to the “Hillsville Massacre.”

In August 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Sidna Edwards, nephew of Floyd Allen, plead guilty to second-degree murder for his involvement in the Carroll County shootout.  He was sentenced to 15 years in the Virginia Penitentiary and admitted on 18 September 1912.  By all accounts Edwards was a model prisoner.  The 27 April 1922 issue of The Beacon, the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, contained this observation of Sidna Edwards by a fellow prisoner:

“[I] noticed a stalwart looking man standing on the prison hospital steps.  He had a young, though sad looking face, his hair was beginning to silver and his general expression showed much pain and worry for a young man of his seeming age.  I remarked to another prisoner that the big, young fellow seemed rather under the weather.  ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘that is Sidna Edwards.  He has rheumatism and has been in the hospital a long time, although not confined to bed.  He has the duty of nursing the other patients.’  To describe him takes only a few words, he has one of the most gentle, accommodating, kind and truthful dispositions that I have ever met in any man.  He is generally liked and

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- Mug Shot Monday Special Edition: Friel Allen, No. 10994


Photograph of Friel Allen, #10994, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 161, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition.  This is the second post focusing on records at the Library of Virginia related to the “Hillsville Massacre.”

In August 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Friel Allen, son of Jasper “Jack” Allen and nephew of Floyd Allen, was convicted of second degree murder in the death of William McDonald Foster, Carroll County Commonwealth’s Attorney.  Allen was sentenced to 18 years in the Virginia Penitentiary and admitted to the penitentiary on 18 September 1912.  By all accounts Allen was a model prisoner.  An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Friel Allen:

“I had noticed a well-dressed young man passing through the yard of the prison, and on asking who he was I got this reply: ‘that is the Superintendent’s Chauffeur, Friel Allen.’  I immediately remarked that he was only a boy, that if he had been here ten years and looked that now, he must have been only a kid when he was sent here.  I ventured up for a talk with him, expecting a sad answer, but not so, he sprang a friendly joke on me right away and began to kid me, showing his youth and good spirits.  Our association from then on became more intimate, especially evenings. 

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- Mug Shot Monday Special Edition: “Hillsville Massacre”


Wanted Poster for Sidna, Claude and Friel Allen and Wesley Edwards, dated 23 March 1912, Papers Relevant to the Floyd and Claude Allen case, Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth, Box 1, Accession 39265, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition.   Next Wednesday, 14 March marks the 100th anniversary of the infamous “Hillsville Massacre,” where five people were killed in a gunfight in the Carroll County courthouse.  For the next week, Out of the Box will spotlight records at the Library of Virginia related to the individuals convicted for their role in the shooting.

On 13 March 1912, in the Carroll County Circuit Court, Floyd Allen was tried for attacking two deputies who had arrested two of his nephews for fighting and disturbing a religious meeting. The jury found Allen guilty of assault on 14 March and sentenced him to one year in the penitentiary.  Allen stood up and stated, “Gentlemen, I ain’t going” and shots erupted in the courthouse leaving several county officials and a spectator dead.  The Allen family claimed that several court officials opened fire on Floyd Allen, while other witnesses contended that Claude Swanson Allen, the defendant’s son, began the shooting. Nevertheless, Floyd Allen, Claude Swanson Allen, and other members of the Allen family were tried for murder in the Wythe County Circuit Court from April-December 1912.  Floyd Allen was convicted of first degree murder on 16 May 1912.  Claude S. Allen was also found guilty of first degree murder.  Father and son were executed on 28 March 1913.

Sidna Allen, Floyd’s brother, was sentenced … read more »