This arti­cle con­tains direct quotes from news­pa­pers in 1895. We have cho­sen to leave the orig­i­nal lan­guage for his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy. Some of it is dif­fi­cult to read to mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties, which makes it all the more impor­tant to leave as-is. History should nev­er be glossed-over or edit­ed. [–Ed]

“The Drop Fell at 12:50 am”

On the morn­ing of July 16, 1895, the cit­i­zens of Winchester were greet­ed with grue­some news. The bul­let-rid­dled body of 19-year-old African American Bob Haggard hung from the Kentucky Central Railroad Bridge from mid­night until 4 a.m. when it was cut down, exam­ined by the coro­ner, and buried in a near­by field.

Mr. Haggard’s crime was an alleged assault on a young white woman in Ford, Clark County. He had worked for her fam­i­ly, was “a bright mulat­to, and up until this time con­sid­ered to be a good Negro.”  On a Saturday night, the woman and her aunt were alone on the prop­er­ty, with Haggard sup­pos­ed­ly “as a pro­tec­tion to the two women.” While gath­er­ing veg­eta­bles in the gar­den, the aunt “heard screams from the girl in the house,” ran back inside, and “found the burly Negro grap­pling with” her niece. The sto­ry reports Haggard begged them not to tell, offered a horse and part of his crop, and held them hostage dur­ing the week­end.  Eventually, the aunt escaped and alert­ed the woman’s father who formed a small posse.

Haggard was ini­tial­ly shot in the arm by the father, then spared from a hang­ing attempt through the inter­ces­sion of the Ford Marshall. On Monday morn­ing, Sheriff Hodgkin lodged Haggard in the Winchester jail. Interestingly, at this time, the Leader report­ed, “While there is much excite­ment, there is no prospect of a lynch­ing unless the shock to (the young woman) who is very del­i­cate, should prove fatal.”

Lexington Leader, Monday, July 15, 1895, p.1

“The Rope, half inch Sea Weed”

However, as Monday drew to a close, the tide had turned. The Sheriff sought to have his pris­on­er removed to Paris, but his request was refused.

The County Judge received a telegram from Ford that a mob was en route and the “Winchester divi­sion of the Kentucky State Guards pre­pared for attack.”

Just before mid­night “elec­tric lights were turned off and the city was in dark­ness.”  An orga­nized mob of 200 — includ­ing promi­nent cit­i­zens — marched into every street lead­ing to the jail “like a squad of trained sol­diers.” They lis­tened to the Judge’s speech to stop, then passed him and the Sheriff to take Haggard from the Jailor. Once over­pow­ered, the “Sheriff’s posse, State Guards and hun­dreds of cit­i­zens joined the pro­ces­sion and fol­lowed the Negro brute to point of exe­cu­tion, about four hun­dred yards from the cour­t­house.” Haggard “nev­er mur­mured on the march” and denied he had com­mit­ted the crime.

Lexington Leader, July 16, 1895, p. 8.

“Haggard’s pro­tec­tion, Farce & Disgrace”

Within a week, new infor­ma­tion from inter­views by a Louisville Commercial cor­re­spon­dent “with reli­able peo­ple from the neigh­bor­hood of the sup­posed crime warrant(ed) a severe and com­plete denun­ci­a­tion of the mob’s vengeance.” Apparently, Mr. Haggard did not hold the ladies hostage nor guard the house Saturday evening through Sunday noon as accused.

The arti­cle reveals there were vis­i­tors to the house on Saturday and Sunday, includ­ing rel­a­tives, and the women were present at Sunday church.  Adopting a strong tone, the arti­cle scolds the mob as “rather than being friends of the wronged girl, was large­ly made up of hot heads from (Winchester) who sim­ply want­ed to hang a Negro.”   Talk in Winchester called for a Grand Jury inves­ti­ga­tion, but no doc­u­men­ta­tion found that ever materialized.

Lexington Leader, Thursday, July 25, 1895, p.5

“Unmitigated Liar”

In Lexington, ref­er­ence to this case appeared in an edi­to­r­i­al bat­tle between Howard Gratz of Kentucky Gazette and W.D. Johnson of Lexington Standard. Gratz assert­ed that white women should be armed for pro­tec­tion against black men whose pas­sions had become out of con­trol since obtain­ing free­dom.  Calling Gratz, an “unmit­i­gat­ed liar,” Johnson retort­ed that “all the papers said that Negro Haggard was wrong­ly hanged!”

This vig­or­ous debate between white Gratz and African American Johnson was report­ed by news­pa­pers in Lexington, Louisville, and Cincinnati, giv­ing voice to the exploit­ed and mis­rep­re­sent­ed who were vig­i­lante-exe­cut­ed with­out due process of justice. 

Kentucky Gazette, July 27, 1895.  Lexington Standard, August 2, 1895.

  • Terry Foody, RN, MSN, a grad­u­ate of Niagara University, NY, and the University of Kentucky, is a mem­ber of the Kentucky Humanities Speakers Bureau. She is the author of two non-fic­tion his­to­ry books: The Pie Seller, the Drunk and the Lady: Heroes of the 1833 Cholera Epidemic in Lexington, Kentucky; and The Cherokee and the Newsman. She dis­cov­ered Haggard’s lynch­ing while research­ing her sec­ond book.