Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thin Black Line

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


In contemporary newspaper accounts, Stephen Williams is accused of planning an attack on Katie Hardesty on Wednesday, October 17, 1894. These accounts describe that Hardesty’s husband, Albert, was away and she was ill in bed when Williams entered the house. Mr. Hardesty operated a store in Upper Marlboro, and was working there on the evening when the incident occured. The family dog intervened during the struggle that occurred between Mrs. Hardesty and her assailant, lunging at the perpetrator. The Hardesty’s daughter was also in the home and the commotion caused her to yell for help, at which point it is described that Williams fled the scene. Katie Hardesty then left home to tell her husband what had happened.
Stephen Williams was found and arrested. During the preliminary hearing, it is reported that he confessed to the crime of the assault on Katie Hardesty. At 11:30 p.m., on Friday, October 19, a group of 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.1   

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.2  A crowd had gathered to witness the mob breaking into the jail. Williams pleaded with the deputy to protect him, all to no avail. The men who entered the jail found Williams hiding under his mattress. Placing a rope around his neck, they dragged Williams down the stairs of the jail, and out onto the lawn.    

The crowd led Williams to an iron bridge in between the town and the railroad station.  With the other end of the noose tied to the bridge, the mob threw Williams over, breaking his neck instantly. A few minutes later, Warden Spicer approached the bridge, and dispersed the crowd, leaving Williams body hanging. It was removed the next morning and placed under a sycamore tree where fellow lynching victim Joseph Vermillion's body was buried five years earlier.3

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." 


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

2. ibid.

3. ibid.


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