Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thin Black Line

Wright Smith (c. 1842-1898)
MSA SC 3520-13748
Lynched in Annapolis, Maryland, October 5, 1898


Wright Smith was a 56-year-old African American laborer from Virginia1 who resided with his wife on Bayard Street in Baltimore City.2  Smith was accused of assaulting a white woman, Mrs. Mary Morrison, wife of Captain James Morrison, at her home near Jones Crossing (or Jones Station) on the Short Line Railroad about seven miles from Annapolis on the night of Friday, September 2, 1898.  Captain Morrison, an oysterman, was on his way to Baltimore that night with his latest haul when Smith entered his home at around 10:30 p.m., supposedly with intent to rob the residence.  Smith found Mrs. Morrison and her sister, Hattie Rhodes, asleep and woke them, demanding they get out of bed. Reportedly, Smith then grabbed Mrs. Morrison, hit her over the head and threw her down a stairway. The two women fought back and drove Smith out of the house. Rhodes was able to run to a neighbor's house to get help. Smith was arrested on suspicion of having committed the crime, and the two women later positively identified him as the assailant.3
    Smith was scheduled to be tried for attempted assault and the two women had been summoned as witnesses when the lynching occurred in Annapolis on Wednesday, October 5. The Baltimore Weekly Sun suggested that the lynchers were possibly motivated by a desire to spare the sisters from having to give their testimony on the witness stand at a trial. Mary Morrison had stated that she did not like the thought of being forced to testify.  The Baltimore Sun suggested that another reason for the lynching could have been because Smith was reportedly a South Baltimore politician and that efforts to secure his release on bail could have been made before the trial.4 At the early hour of 2:00 a.m. on October 5, a mob of about thirty men forced their way into the Annapolis city jail where Smith was held.  At gunpoint, the mob took the keys from night watchman Thomas J. Duvall and forced a handcuffed Smith out of the jail so quietly that Warden Perry and the deputy warden, who were asleep in another area of the jail, did not wake up until Smith was already outside. The lynchers led Smith onto Calvert Street with a rope-in-hand, and had Smith not been able to break away and run from the mob, that rope would most likely have been used to hang him.  Smith ran up Northwest Street yelling, "Help!" and "Murder!" while the mob of lynchers fired at his back with their pistols.  Wright Smith was shot several times in the back of the head and fell dead in a vacant lot. The Annapolis Advertiser speculated that the mob of lynchers probably consisted of Baltimoreans, since Captain Morrison and his family had resided in Baltimore until their move to Anne Arundel County.5 The Baltimore Weekly Sun guessed that the lynchers were probably from Baltimore as well as various parts of Anne Arundel County.6 The body of Wright Smith was turned over to his wife in Baltimore City.7
    A jury of inquest was summoned for the following Friday, and nine witnesses testified.  No evidence of importance to the jury was obtained from the inquest, no members of the mob could be identified, and no one was charged with a crime in the lynching.8  Several days later, African American Alderman Wiley H. Bates offered a resolution in the Annapolis City Council condemning the lynching, but with only two votes in favor, the resolution was defeated.9  Governor Lloyd Lowndes arrived in Annapolis shortly after the lynching took place and declared his intention to offer a state reward for the arrest of the lynchers in the same amount as the county commissioners offered. Governor Lowndes said:

"I was shocked when I read the account [of the lynching], and I consider it an outrage.  While the Governor has no power to act singly in the matter, I shall act promptly in conjunction with the local authorities.  The commission of such a crime is made all the more outrageous by having taken place under the very dome of the capital and in the town where the judges of the Court of Appeals were at the very time present.  Had the negro been convicted he would not have received the death penalty, as the charges preferred against him admitted that he did not accomplish his purpose.  Lynchings are becoming too frequent, and the people display a want of confidence in the ability of the law to punish crimes."10


1. Copy of the Death Certificate for Wright Smith Maryland State Archives SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Topic File) Lynching, SC 1457-1633.

2. "Annapolis Lynchers."  The Baltimore Weekly Sun, 8 October 1898.

3. "Attacked By A Negro."  The Baltimore Weekly Sun, 10 September 1898.

4. "Annapolis Lynchers:  Coroner's Jury And The Governor Active In Hunting For The Ringleaders."  The Baltimore Sun, 6 October 1989.

5. ibid. And "Wright Smith Lynched."  The Annapolis Advertiser, 6 October 1898.

6. "Annapolis Lynchers." The Baltimore Weekly Sun

7. "Annapolis Lynchers." The Baltimore Sun

8. "Annapolis Lynchers." The Baltimore Weekly Sun

9. Maryland State Archives ANNAPOLIS MAYOR AND ALDERMEN (Proceedings) 1898-1901, MSA M49-15 ( Proposed resolution on p. 27). And "Resolution Rejected."  The Annapolis Advertiser, 13 October 1898.

10."Annapolis Lynchers." The Baltimore Weekly Sun


Link to Lynching Profile Questionnaire

Return to Wright Smith's Introductory Page

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