Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thin Black Line

Stephen Williams
MSA SC 3520-13742
Lynched in Upper Marlboro, October 20, 1894


According to newspaper reports, Stephen Williams planned his attack on Mrs. Katie Hardesty on Wednesday, October 17, 1894.  Williams made sure that her husband, Albert Hardesty, was down at the local store. Williams also knew that Mrs. Hardesty was sick in bed, and he knew how to enter the house the way Mr. Hardesty would in order to buy himself more time.1  What Stephen Williams did not plan for was the family dog intervening during the assault.  On the night of October 17, Williams went down to the county store in Upper Marlboro, Prince George's County, Maryland, and confirmed that Mr. Hardesty was conducting business.  Afterwards, he approached the home and entered loudly just as Mr. Hardesty would.  Stephen Williams was not recognized until Katie Hardesty raised herself from her bed and saw him.  Before she could ask what Williams wanted, she was fighting him as she was dragged out of the house and through the lawn, getting caught up in a wire fence in the process.2
    During the assault, the family dog lunged at Williams and bit the foot of Williams, protecting his owner as best he could.  During this distraction, Mrs. Hardesty's young daughter ran out of the house and down the street screaming for help.  It was only until Williams heard the crying child that he stopped the assault, and fled.  Mrs. Hardesty then in her battered state, and wearing nothing but her nightgown, ran to her husband and told him what happened.3
    Stephen Williams was found, arrested, and during the preliminary hearing he confessed to the crime he committed on the Mrs. Hardesty.  This act came at a shock to the community since it happened so soon after a similar crime was committed by Jason Allen.  At 11:30 p.m. on Friday, October 19, men on horseback approached the home of Warden W.J. Spicer, saying they had a prisoner that needed to be jailed, and wished to have the keys.  Warden Spicer explained that his key was in a deposit box located at Dr. Latmer's drug store in town, and that a second key was needed to get into the jail, held by Deputy Warden Dumbhard who was at the jail, and would receive the prisoner.  A short time later, the men returned to Warden Spicer's home, this time with their revolvers drawn, and demanded the keys a second time.  Spicer responded by pulling his gun and saying "You can get the keys out of this (his gun)."  At that moment, a gunshot was heard at the jailhouse two blocks away, and the men ran off.  Fearing that the mob had gotten into the jail, Warden Spicer got dressed and ran to the jailhouse.4
    By this time a mob had gathered at the back door of the jail.  Seeing that it was a double iron door with iron locks, it took one hour with a sledgehammer to break the bricks around the foundation of the door in order to enter the building.5  Deputy Warden Dumbhard thought that prisoners were attempting to get out; not that a group of angry white men were trying to get in!  During this time, a crowd had gathered to witness the mob breaking into the jail and wished to prevent them from getting to Stephen Williams, but armed men keeping watch advise them not to interfere.  Williams was unaware of what the intentions of the mob were until fellow inmate Benjamin Lawson explained that the mob intended to get him.  Screaming, Stephen Williams pleaded with the deputy to protect him, all to no avail.  Williams then looked out of his cell window to see what the commotion was, only to be staring down the barrel of a shotgun with orders to get dressed.  The men who entered the jail found Williams hiding under his mattress.  Placing a rope around his neck, they dragged Williams down the jailhouse stairs, and out onto the lawn.  Being pushed along, Williams was advised to say his prayers, but the only words that were heard were "Oh Lord!  Oh Lord!"6
    The crowd led Williams to an iron bridge in between the town and the railroad station.  With the other end of the noose being tied to thebridge, the mob threw Stephen Williams over, breaking his neck instantly.  A few minutes later, Warden Spicer approached the bridge, and with one gunshot in the air, the crowd dispersed, leaving nothing but the Stephen Williams' corpse hanging in the autumn night.  By daybreak, the body of Williams was still hanging until he was removed from the bridge and placed under a sycamore tree where fellow lynching victim Joe Vermillion's body was buried five years earlier.7
    This was the third lynching in Prince George's County, and just like the previous two, the jury came back with the verdict that "Williams came to his death by hanging and being shot by parties unknown."  Once Stephen's father arrived, he is quoted as saying that it was indeed a brutal crime his son committed, and that "his son deserved his fate, but had been for many years a good lad."8  Stephen Williams was given to Undertaker Hough and buried in the jail lawn.


1. "Lynch Law." Prince George's County Enquirer and Southern Maryland Advertiser, 26 October 1894.

2. ibid.

3. ibid.

4. "State of Maryland: Lynching of Stephen Williams, Colored, in Prince George's County." The Baltimore Sun, 22 October 1894.

5. ibid.

6. ibid.

7. ibid.

8. "Lynch Law." Prince George's County Enquirer and Southern Maryland Advertiser, 26 October 1894.


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