Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thin Black Line

James Taylor
MSA SC 3520-13740
Lynched in Chestertown, May 17, 1892


James Taylor, a 23-year-old African American from Pondtown, Queen Anne's County was lynched by a mob in Kennedyville, Kent County on May 17, 1892.  Taylor was accused of the rape of 11-year-old Nettie (Nellie) Silcox on May 16, 1892.  Taylor was employed by Mr. John Silcox, the girl's father, for two years prior to the lynching. The Chestertown Transcript reported that on May 19, 1892 Nettie was in her family's kitchen doing her household chores when James Taylor attacked her.  Her father was in the barn and her mother was in the cellar.  Nettie's mother was unable to hear the attack because she suffered from deafness.  Her mother called for Nettie to be examined by Dr. J.K.H. Jacobs of Kennedyville after finding spots of blood on her clothing.  Nettie told the doctor and her mother she was in the kitchen when James Taylor came in and grabbed her around the waist.  He then pulled her onto his lap.  He placed his hand over her mouth to muffle her cries, then he brutally assaulted her. After the assault he threatened Nettie not to tell anyone of the incident.1
    Nettie continued with her chores even though she was ill after the attack.   She was standing by the sink when her father entered the house from the barn when Nettie told her father she was sick and he instructed her to lay down.  Her mother found her lying on a lounge chair and sent her to her bed to rest.  Her mother noticed that her underclothes looked as if they had been soaked in blood. Dr. Jacobs feared the tremendous amount of blood loss would threaten Nettie's life.2  It was thought she would not make it through the night.  However, her condition improved.  It was reported that Nettie told her mother and Dr. Jacobs that after the assault, Taylor left the house.  A search party formed to look for him. The party first checked Taylor's residence, but were told he was visiting another home.  The group found Taylor at this home trying to escape from a back window. He was quickly surrounded by armed men and apprehended.  There were several threats to lynch Taylor on the spot, but he was brought to Chestertown and placed in the local jail.  Witnesses noted there were several specks of blood on his clothing.3
    Acting on threats that a mob was planning to lynch Taylor,  Sheriff Plummer removed him and another prisoner, Moses Brown, from the jail house later that evening.  Moses Brown was removed because Sheriff Plummer feared the mob would lynch Brown out of anger that Taylor would not be in jail.  Sheriff Plummer admitted that if they had lynched Taylor before placing him in jail, he would have had no objection.  However, since he had been placed under Plummer's authority, the Sheriff would do his best to prevent any lynching from taking place.  He placed the prisoners aboard a steam tug named Gracie.  The tug was owned by a Mr. Joseph Turner.  The prisoners were taken to Wilmer's Wharf on the Queen Anne's side of the Chesapeake Bay.  They returned to Chestertown's harbor at 2:00 a.m. that next morning.4
    There were several attempts by groups of men to locate Taylor.  An estimated 500 people gathered in excitement at the jail and courthouse yards.  The Baltimore Sun, May 18, noted that some of the “most estimable and quiet men of Kent County, men who take the most prominent part in its affairs.” were among the mob. Alerted to the threat of vigilante violence, Sheriff Plummer also shared that “he was entertaining one of the men in my room.”4 The crowd dispersed after Taylor's whereabouts could not be confirmed.  One group of men located the tugboat.  When they checked the cabin, they did not see Taylor or Brown on board.  The men left the vessel and Sheriff Plummer placed Taylor and Brown back into the jail around 5:00 a.m. the morning of May 19.5  By 9:00 p.m. that night, nearly 1,000 men and women gathered at the jail.  A body of masked men carrying an assortment of weapons demanded the Sheriff open the jail's door.  When the Sheriff refused, the men used a sledgehammer to breach the door rushed in, and swiftly overpowered the Sheriff and other officers on duty. The mob placed a rope around Taylor's neck and dragged him down the steps and out of the jail into Cross Street.  They hung him from a tree just outside the city limits at a point between the "Rockwell House and the old Armstrong Hotel."  Taylor remained hanging until all life was drained from his body, and he was left swinging from the tree. At 11:00 p.m., Coroner Pippen directed Officer Kelly to cut the body down and place it in an old engine house for the night.6
    A coroner's jury ruled the next morning that James Taylor's death was caused from lynching by persons unknown to the jury.  Taylor was buried in the local  pauper burial grounds.  There was no reported criminal investigation into the lynching.  It was even reported that the lynchers had met with Chestertown officials and made formal agreements about how the lynching would take place.  Chestertown representatives wanted Taylor to be carried to Kennedyville before being lynched, however, this accord could not be made. The men concurred to lynch Taylor outside the city limits.  They also agreed not to mutilate or shoot Taylor's body.  The men proclaimed Taylor's lynching would serve to protect their wives, mothers, and children from any further harm.  It would also protect Nettie Silcox from having to tell of her experience in court.  James Taylor continued to proclaim innocence until the last hour of his life.  He reported to The Sun when asked if he was guilty of the crime, "No, sir, I am an innocent man and I am not afraid to say so even while I am expecting to meet my God in a few minutes."7


1. "A Horrible Affair!"  The Chestertown Transcript, 19 May 1892.

2. ibid.

3. ibid.

4. ibid. And "Saved from Being Lynched." The Baltimore Sun, 18 May 1892.

5. "Saved from Being Lynched."

6. "A Horrible Affair!"

7. "Jim Taylor Lynched" The Baltimore Sun, 19 May 1892.

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by Dana Z. Sutton

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