Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thin Black Line

Nicholas Snowden
MSA SC 3520-13735
Lynched in Ellicott City, Maryland on September 18, 1885


Nicholas Snowden was arrested September 13, 1885 for allegedly assaulting Alberta Fischer, a nine-year-old African American girl.  Snowden, a thirty-six-year-old African American, was arrested by Sheriff Nicholas T. Hutchins in Ellicott City, Howard County.  It was reported on Saturday, September 19, that a group of twenty-four African American men entered the Howard County Jail, intending to lynch Snowden for his alleged crime. John T. Ray, warden of the jail, told The Sun that the men came to the back door of the jail around 2:00 a.m. the morning of September 19. The men told the warden that they had a prisoner and were directed to enter the front door upon which the warden opened it and them in. The men then asked for Nicholas Snowden. It was reported that Ray noticed that even though the men were masked, he could see parts of their faces and concluded that all were African Americans.
    Upon finding Snowden's cell, the men broke the lock with an ax. Two men brought Snowden down the stairs, carrying in their hands a long piece of rope. The lynchers were also seen with three or four guns in their possession.  The warden reported the incident to Sheriff Hutchins.
   Hutchins claimed the men were a mixture of African Americans and whites. The men drove around the outskirts of the town before stopping at a location called Cat Rock where Snowden was hanged in a grove of trees. His body was found later that morning by a youth who lived in the city. Snowden is buried at Locust Cemetery in Ellicott City. .
    Coroner James D. Cooke summoned a jury of inquest. The jury ruled that Nicholas Snowden was hung to a tree by persons unknown to the jury, and that he died from strangulation.1 The Sun published a condemnation of the act on September 19, 1885:

"The lynching of a colored man at Ellicott City early yesterday morning by men of his own race is another instance of a kind of violation of law and interference with the course of justice against which The Sun has too often found it necessary to protest. In this case there was no reason to believe that the culprit would not be speedily brought to trial, and, if guilty of the revolting crime charged upon him, would be properly punished."2


1. The entirety of the narrative above was provided by information found in "Lynching in Howard." The Baltimore Sun, 19 September 1885

2. "The Lynching of Snowden at Ellicott City." The Baltimore Sun, 19 September 1885.


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