Tag Archives: public execution

- A Morbid Memento: The Trial of Kit Leftwich


Detail from Aero view of Bristol, Va.-Tenn. 1912. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

In September 1895, Kit Leftwich (also known as Kit Leftridge) was indicted for the rape of Annie Fogarty, the 12-year-old daughter of his supervisor. The jury found the former slave not guilty of the charged rape, decreasing the indictment to attempted rape. Even so, the punishment was set at death by hanging. Kit Leftwich has the distinction of being the first person legally hanged in Bristol, Virginia, since its founding.

Lynching, a common form of ‘people’s justice’ at the time, had led to several public hangings. The case of Kit Leftwich was different because it ensured the public could not execute vigilante justice in place of law and order. When it became clear that the population of Bristol was too biased, a motion was passed for the jury summons to be sent to neighboring Washington County. The assumption was that the people farther from the case would be less aware of it. Even so, one of the jurors selected shared the surname of the presiding judge, so the impartiality may have been less than initially intended. Judge William F. Rhea had retired from the Virginia Senate in 1888, and would later serve in the United States House of Representative from 1899-1903.

With jurors selected and the charges set, the trial began on 10 September 1895. By the end of the next day, the evidence had … read more »

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