Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thin Black Line

Benjamin Hance
MSA SC 3520-13737
Lynched in Leonardtown, Maryland, June 17, 1887


Benjamin Hance, an African American man, was lynched June 17, 1887 in Leonardtown, St. Mary's County, for allegedly attempting to assault a white woman named Alice Bailey. Hance was accused of trying to assault Bailey while she walked along a road towards Stone's Wharf.  According to the June 2, 1887 edition of St. Mary's Beacon, Hance met Bailey while walking along the road and asked her for directions to a landing. He reportedly then made several indecent proposals to Bailey and she began to run from him. Hance caught up with Bailey and allegedly threw her onto the ground. Hance reportedly gave up the struggle as he thought Bailey's cries and fits of resistance would bring attention to the assault.1

Hance was arrested and taken to the Leonardtown jail to await his trial. Around 2:00 a.m. the morning of June 17, a party of men broke into the jail.  The men apprehended Hance and took him about a mile from the jail and hung him from a tree.  Mr. C. John Clements was on guard at the jail house that morning. He stated that on the Friday morning in question, several men came to the jail doors claiming to have a prisoner. The men then admitted they had come for Benjamin Hance. When Mr. Clements refused to give up his keys, the party broke in the jail door. The men cautioned Clements to stay in his room and theyrushed upstairs to Hance's cell.  It took the men thirty minutes to break into Hance's cell, but when they did, Hance complied in silence.2

Hance was taken to a locust tree on the court house yard. However, the men did not carry out the act there because of Dr. John T. Spalding's protest that a hanging in front of his home would further injure his sick wife who was inside resting.3 The men then took Hance to the outskirts of town and hung him from a witch hazel tree near the farm of the late John F. Wathen.  Before Hance was hanged it was reported that the lynchers asked him of his guilt. The men claim that Hance responded that he was guilty and ought to be hung for his deed.  According to witnesses, Hance prayed for God to have mercy upon his soul. Benjamin Hance's body was discovered by Mr. Peter H. Abell, and was cut down a short time after and examined by Dr. Charles Comb.4    

The mob believed that lynching Hance would keep Alice Bailey from the embarrassment of having to testify in court. A jury of inquest was called to hear testimony about the lynching. Mr. and Mrs. Clements testified that they heard the voices of Sheriff Bailey, the father of Alice Bailey, and W.V. Waters among the crowd. Joe Dorsey, an African American living in town, testified that he saw Mr. Waters' horse pass him on the street.  Another witness, Mr. A.D. Kaiser, testified to the same accusations.  Other witnesses claim to have heard rumors throughout the evening that Hance would be lynched.5

The jail's guard was unable to report the incident to the Sheriff right away because several of the lynchers held him at gunpoint after Hance was taken.  The guard was not charged with any wrongdoing.  Regardless of testimony implicating several citizens into the lynching, there was no report found on the outcome of the testimony.6  Many citizens of Maryland felt the courts purposely chose to ignore the testimony in order to protect the lynchers. Many editorials about the events condemned the lynchers, and felt that due process for the accused would have brought about the appropriate verdict.7  Benjamin Hance's remains are buried at St. Aloysius's Burial Ground in Leonardtown.

1. "Attempted Outrage."  St. Mary's Beacon, 2 June 1887.

2. "Hance Lynched."  St. Mary's Enterprise, 18 June 1887.

3. "Ben Hance's Ride to Death."  St. Mary's Beacon, 23 June 1887.

4. ibid.

5."The Lynching."  St. Mary's Beacon, 23 June 1887.

6. "Report of the Grand Jury."  St. Mary's Beacon, 29 September 1887. "The Lynching."  St. Mary's Enterprise, 2 July 1887.

7. "The Lynchers."  St. Mary's Enterprise, 25 June 1887.

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