Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thin Black Line

Townshend Cook
MSA SC 3520-13732
Lynched in Westminster, Carroll County, Maryland, June 2, 1885


Townshend Cook was lynched on June 2, 1885. He was accused of the assault and rape of Mrs. Carrie V. Knott of Mt. Airy, Carroll County. Cook was around twenty years old when he was murdered; he had grown up in the area and was well known. He stood about five feet eight or ten inches tall, and was described as being stout and strong, with a light complexion and "heavy features."1 Mrs. Knott's husband was away working as a hand on his father's farm the afternoon that Carrie Knott claimed Townshend Cook entered her house. She said it was around four o'clock on Saturday when he entered by the back door with a club and asked her for food. She gave him bread and a tin cup, telling him to get water from the spring. He then struck her with the club and Mrs. Knott fell unconscious. Mrs. Cook alleged that when she awoke she found that Cook had raped her.  Then she said he threatened to kill her if she told of what had happened, asked for directions to the railroad, and left out the back door. Mrs. Knott went to the house of Mr. Pinkney Davis and told her neighbor of the assault. She gave Davis and Constable Philip Detrick a description of the perpetrator, which they determined was Townshend Cook. Contemporary newspaper accounts state that Dr. B. H. Todd treated Mrs. Knott, and told the newspaper he observed that she had suffered "a very severe blow on the left side of the head...the muscles of the neck severely strained from choking, and the neck discolored by the man's fingers. There were also other evidences of the man having accomplished his purpose."2

Townshend Cook was apprehended not at the railroad, but his mother's home on Justice George A. Davis's farm. Newspaper accounts do not include whether George Davis and Pinkney Davis were relatives. Townshend Cook denied the crime, but Justice Davis took him to Mrs. Knott's house, where she allegedly identified Cook by a small wart on the lid of his right eye. He offered an alibi, but it was reportedly found "to be almost wholly untrue."3 Justice Davis heard the case at the Knott house, with Mr. and Mrs. Knott, Townshend Cook, and a number of local residents present. At that time there was some discussion of lynching Cook, but he was safely transported to the Westminster jail the following morning. Footprints had reportedly been left along the road the night before at the place where a mob could have intercepted the carriage, had local officials not waited until morning.4 The Baltimore Sun went on to state that the jail was of a strong build and "Sheriff Shower a determined man" thus making it a challenge for a mob to get at a prisoner. 

Nonetheless, at around one o'clock in the morning June 2, 1885, around forty men wearing black calico masks broke through the front jail door.5  They reportedly overpowered and bound Sheriff George Shower.  They broke the cell doors with a crowbar and placed a rope around Cook's neck, dragging him into an open wagon. While several men reportedly remained guarding the sheriff, the other lynchers rode towards Mt. Airy. Several men stayed behind to guard the Sheriff.  When the wagon was out of sight, the men guarding the Sheriff rode away as well.6  Reportedly "half of the town, some on horseback, many on foot and not a few driving driving substantial teams" went to the scene of the lynching.7 Townshend Cook was stripped of his shirt and vest and hanged from a white oak tree near the road. There were also two bullet holes in the back of his neck. The lynchers nailed a note to the tree, claiming that Cook had confessed to the assault of Mrs. Knott. The paper had the letterhead, "Law Office of Milton G. Urner, Frederick Md.".8

Witnesses who claim to have seen the lynchers passing by said several of the men were black.  However, this claim is far from certain and is included in many contemporary accounts of lynchings. Charles B. Roberts, Attorney General, allegedly spoke with several of the lynchers along the road:

"'Oh, yes! we know you Mr. Roberts,' they answered, 'and we voted for you, but that is another matter, and we do not need any protection.' 'Yes you do. Before tomorrow's sun will set you will regret this. For heaven's sake, gentlemen consider your action. You know as well as I do that if you take that negro and kill him you are committing murder.' 'That is all very well', one of them spoke up, 'we have our wives and daughters to protect.' I grant that [he] answered, 'but the very thing you are about punishing this negro for is what you are doing-- violating the law, taking into your own hands the supreme authority vested only in the courts.'"
The men let Roberts pass, but regardless of his pleading they continued with their intentions.9  Several officers followed the lynchers' trail. Several newspaper articles condemned the lynching of Townshend Cook.  Papers such as the Baltimore Sun and The Democratic Advocate called the lynching a murder and an injustice.  They called for citizens to let the courts do their job instead of taking the law into their own hands.  However, there were no official reports found documenting the reaction of the State of Maryland or of Carroll County.  Neither entity officially condemned or apologized for the lynching.  There was also no investigation into who was responsible for Cook's murder.

1. "Another Outrageous Assault," Baltimore Sun, June 1, 1885.
2. "Another Outrageous Assault."
3. "Brutal Assualt," The Democratic Advocate, June 6, 1885.
4. "Another Outrageous Assault."
5. "Townsend Cook's Fate," Baltimore Sun, June 3, 1885.
6. "Cook Taken from Jail," Baltimore Sun, June 2, 1885.
7. "Townsend Cook's Fate."
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.

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