Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thin Black Line

James Bowens (c. 1872-1895)
MSA SC 3520-13745

Lynched near Frederick, Maryland on November 17, 1895.


James Bowens, a twenty-three-year-old African American resident of Frederick, was lynched on November 17, 1895, after he allegedly attempted to rape and murder a local white girl. According to contemporary accounts, Bowens had spent most of Saturday, November 16, drinking with several of his friends. The men started walking home about 4:00 p.m. and were on the cemetery road near a farm owned by Hamilton Geisbert. Bowens allegedly went into Geisbert's house asking for something to eat, and there he encountered twenty-two-year-old Lillie Long, an employee who resided with the Geisberts.  Long gave Bowens some bread and meat, which he ate, and seeing that she was alone in the house, it was reported that Bowens offered her a dollar and made "an indecent proposal."1 When she screamed and ran out of the house, Bowens allegedly chased her into the garden, knocked her down to the ground, cut her neck with a pair of scissors, and stabbed her in the chest several times. She screamed and fought Bowens, who tore her clothes off and supposedly threatened to kill her. Geisbert and one of his sons were working in a cornfield near the house and upon hearing Lillie's screams they chased Bowens away. Several neighboring farmers joined in the pursuit of Bowens, armed with rifles and shotguns. It was reported that if the group had found him, they would have killed him on the spot. Instead, Bowens was arrested a short time later, given a preliminary hearing at the mayor’s office before the county magistrate Edward Hewes, and placed in the Frederick County jail. When interrogated, Bowens maintained his innocence saying that he could not have attacked Long because he was working loading wheat in Buckeystown for Mr. Padgett and at the time of the assault he was at the home of Hiram Brown's brother. Bowen said he was walking around All Saints Street to the south and was walking on South Street when arrested. Once placed under arrest, Bowen continued to proclaim his innocence and said that all the men "had it in for me" because he was a Republican and they were all Democrats. When Bowen was placed in a wagon to be transferred to the county jail, the sheriff found a blood-stained pair of scissors in his hip pocket. Bail was set at $300 and another hearing was scheduled for the following Monday.2

    News of the assault on Long quickly spread throughout the county. Many Frederick County citizens had already grown increasingly alarmed at the high number of assaults that had taken place in the county over the previous months; the assault on Long being the fourth in six months. Early on the evening of Saturday, November 16, a crowd of several hundred men gathered on the streets. At about 11:30 p.m. that night, it was reported that Long had died from her wounds. Although the report was later proven false, it enraged the men further and prompted them to head for the Frederick County jail to get Bowens.3 Armed with revolvers and knives, the mob broke into a blacksmith shop along the way and stole sledgehammers and crowbars before arriving at the jail at about 12:45 a.m. on Sunday, November 17. The jail was more lightly guarded than usual because the Sheriff, Daniel P. Zimmerman, Long's uncle, was spending the night at his farm near Woodsboro. Deputy Sheriff James Crum and his wife were present however, but unable to stop the mob from breaking into Bowens' cell. There are reports that Bowens was shot in the leg while still in his cell as the men were attempting to break the lock. The same story reports that Crum and his associate actually fired upon the mob in an attempt to prevent them from entering the cell, but to no avail.4 The men took Bowens and led him to a tree in a privately-owned field about a half-mile outside of Frederick along Jefferson Pike. It was reported that only a few of the mob members wore masks.

   While the crowd urged him to confess, Bowens protested that he was innocent and begged not to be lynched. As the crowd quieted, a voice was quoted as saying "We want you to confess Bowens. Do not die with a lie on your lips, you have got to go anyhow, so tell the truth and be done with it." Bowens is reported to have responded "Indeed I didn't do it, I'm not the man." Bowens said no more and at the same time two men from the Salvation Army, Captain Eugene Mott and Lieutenant Williams Anthem requested to pray with him. They each prayed for Bowens and then led him and the lynchers in a recitation of the Lord's Prayer.5 Another unidentified speaker addressed the crowd and asserted that the lynchers were "gathered not in a spirit of malice toward the colored race, but to set an example for the protection of homes and firesides and to teach the lesson that the women and children of Frederick county must be saved from the fear of assault."6 The lynchers hanged Bowens from the tree until he was dead, then quietly disbursed.

It was reported that several "Kodak" friends witnessed the spectacle and took pictures of the body. An autopsy later confirmed that Bowens died of strangulation. The body was taken to the home of his father, Simon Bowens, on Locust Alley, and buried the next day at an African American cemetery north of Frederick.7

    A few days after the lynching, it was reported that Long was recovering from her attack. When she was interviewed, Long stated that she was attacked and cut with a butcher's knife with a brown handle. After a brief investigation, authorities confirmed that the neighbor, a Mrs. Warner, saw Bowens just fifteen-minutes prior to the attack on Long, as she was walking towards the garden to cut some cabbage. Warner said that no one was at home, and that no food was available for James Bowens. She then saw him jump over her fence and headed in the direction towards the Geisbert's farm. Warner then realized that her butcher's knife with a brown handle was missing, and was convinced that Bowens took the knife.8 Warner's account is contradictory to the initial story that Bowen used a stolen pair of scissors during the attack.9 A jury was summoned to hear the testimony of many witnessed, deliberated for some time, and brought in a verdict that "James Bowens came to his death on the night of November 17, 1895 in Frederick County, of strangulation, at the hands of parties unknown to this jury."10


1. "By a Maddened Mob.  James Bowens, Colored, Lynched at Frederick."  The Baltimore Sun, 18 November 1895. And "Lynched in Frederick."  The Brunswick Herald, 22 November 1895.

2. "Lynched!"  A Colored Assailant Summarily Dealt With."  The Frederick News, 18 November 1895.

3. "Lynched in Frederick."

4. ibid.

5. ibid. And "Lynched!"

6. ibid. And "Lynched!"

7. "Lynching Echos."  The Frederick News, 19 November 1895.

8. "Miss Long is Better."  The Frederick News, 20 November 1895. And "By a Maddened Mob."

9. "Lynching Echos." And "By a Maddened Mob."

10. "Lynched!"

Link to Lynching Profile Questionnaire

Return to James Bowens' Introductory Page

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