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Tag Archives: vigilante justice

- The Legacy of John Henry James


A flag announcing a lynching is flown from the window of the NAACP headquarters on 69 Fifth Ave., New York City in 1938. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On 12 July 1898, an Albemarle County grand jury met to hear evidence against an African American man named John Henry James accused of assaulting a young white woman named Julia Hotopp the previous day.  In an all-too-common response, the local white citizenry became enraged, gathering to exact vigilante justice.  The fact that the young woman was the daughter of a prominent county citizen likely fueled their anger further. Hotopp’s father, William Hotopp, was founder and owner of Monticello Wine Company, the largest wine making company in the county.

Fearing a lynching, local authorities placed James on a train for Staunton the night before the convening of the grand jury. When the train reached Wood’s Crossing near Charlottesville, it was met by an angry mob. The size of the mob varied from 20 to 200 people depending on which newspaper account one reads. Armed men stormed James’s car, placed a rope around his neck, and dragged him to a nearby tree. They demanded that James confess to the crime, gave him a few minutes to pray, and hanged him. James’s death did not quench the mob’s thirst for revenge. They fired dozens of bullets into James’s hanging body. As the mob dispersed, people began taking pieces of the tree and James’s clothing as souvenirs. With his bullet-riddled body still hanging from a tree, the grand … read more »

- Have You Seen The Vigilante Man?: Reconstruction Era Violence


Thomas Nast.

Life for African Americans in Virginia following the end of the Civil War can be described as uncertain at best. As the social balance between white and black Virginians was virtually turned on its head, Virginia’s African American population expected to be governed by the same system of law and order as their white neighbors. Unfortunately, this was usually not the case, and stories of mob violence directed towards African Americans permeate the historical record immediately following Emancipation. These stories are being uncovered daily by the Library of Virginia’s African American Narrative project and made public by the Library’s new exhibit, Remaking Virginia: Transformation Through Emancipation. These acts often erupted out of allegations of crimes committed by African Americans and usually ended in an illegal execution of the alleged criminals, bypassing the standard presumption of “innocent until proven guilty.”

Two instances of such violence were recently discovered in the Library’s collection of Coroners’ Inquisitions. Coroners’ inquisitions are investigations into the deaths of individuals who died in a sudden, violent, unnatural or suspicious manner, or died without medical attendance. They are a revealing and sometimes gruesome source of historical information. In Accomack County, sometime in early April 1866, a coroner and his jury were sent to examine the body of an African American man found hanging from a tree. He was named James Holden, but little … read more »