Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Matthew Williams (b. 1908 - d. 1931)
MSA SC 3520-13749
Lynched in Salisbury, Maryland on December 4, 1931


Matthew Williams was lynched on Friday, December 4, 1931 at 8:05 pm in Salisbury, Maryland in Wicomico County on the lower Eastern Shore. 

On the afternoon of December 4, Matthew Williams reportedly went to the office of his employer, Daniel J. (D.J.) Elliot, a local lumberyard and box factory owner, to discuss his hourly wage. Williams had been a laborer for Elliot since childhood, and to all who knew him, was liked by and extremely loyal to the Elliot family. According to contemporary accounts, Elliot was in his office located on Lake Street talking on the phone with another Salisbury businessman, Thomas Chatham, when Williams entered around 2:00 p.m. Chatham claimed that he heard the incident over the phone, and remembered that no words were spoken and he heard two gunshots fired. Chatham immediately called the authorities. When the authorities arrived they found Elliot dead at his desk. Elliot's son, James Elliot was present, and Matthew Williams lay injured by several gunshot wounds. 

James Elliot stated that he had heard the shots from the house and ran over to investigate, finding his father dead and Williams lying on the ground in a pool of blood. As Elliot ran for help, Williams recovered to flee towards the lumberyard, only to be stopped by gunshots to the shoulder and leg.

A different account of the incident is found in Shepard Krech III, Praise The Bridge That Carries You Over: The Life of Joseph L. Sutton, page 124, where Mr. Sutton recalls a conversation in Easton with a friend who said it was Daniel J. Elliot’s son James who did the shooting. It seems that Matthew Williams had agreed to lend James Elliot a sum of money that he had saved on condition that the money would be returned. When attempts by Williams to get repaid by the younger Elliot failed, Williams took the matter up with his good friend Mr. Elliot, and that is when James walked into the meeting, and shot both Williams and his father.1

    Once Williams arrived at Peninsula General Hospital in downtown Salisbury, half-dead and semi-conscious, he was immediately restrained in a straitjacket to prevent further attacks. As soon as Williams´s wounds were attended to, he was questioned by State´s Attorney Levin C. Bailey and Wicomico County Sheriff G. Murray Phillips. The late edition of the Salisbury Times first reported that Williams died at the hospital, but as soon as they learned he was still alive, a sign was later posted on the Salisbury Times building correcting their previous statement. A crowd began to gather on the hospital lawn, and the phrase "let's lynch him" rang through the community. People were exiting from their homes, shops, restaurants and corner stores, adding to the commotion. Delmar High School had just defeated Wicomico High School in a highly anticipated match-up of the two local football teams, and both teams were dining at the Wicomico Hotel on the corner of Main and Division St. near the scene were the crowd assembled.  A number of men entered the hospital demanding that Williams be turned over to them, but were stopped by Police Chief N.H. Holland and Deputy John Parks who blocked the entrance. Six members of the mob went around the building to an open side entrance and reached the Negro ward of the hospital. There, hospital superintendent Miss Helen V. Wise instructed them "If you must take him, do it quietly." There were two other men in the ward at the time Williams was taken, Rufus Jernigan and Jacob Conquest, but both were apparently unharmed during the raid.  The men threw the bandaged Williams out of a window down to a crowd of approximately three hundred people anxiously waiting below.

    As the crowd escorted Williams towards the courthouse, onlookers joined in the event, and the crowd grew to over one thousand people. Williams, still straitjacketed, was pushed, stabbed with an ice pick, and then dragged behind a truck three blocks to the courthouse lawn.  At 8:00 p.m., the crowd strung up a noose and found a branch twenty feet above the ground, tied the unconscious Williams' neck, and began to lift him up, then drop him down. Sheriff Phillips attempted to prevent the lynching, but the mob pushed him to the side, and he was reportedly unable to deter them and their actions towards Williams. The mob allowed Williams to hang lifelessly for twenty minutes, meanwhile mocking the victim and taking parts of his anatomy as souvenirs. After Williams thumped to the ground one last time; the crowd followed the body being dragged behind a truck once again, towards a black section of Salisbury off Poplar Hill Avenue. Finally, after about an hour of further torture, Williams´ corpse was tied to a light post, doused in gasoline and oil, and set on fire in front of Rosen's store "so all the colored people could see him."  The sheriff was able to recover the body of Williams from the tired, drunken mob, and cut it down from the light post hours later.  However, unsure as to what to do with the remains, they decided to dump the body in a field outside of town. The Williams family, rightfully terrified and despite the atrocities that were forced upon their son, still wished to have the body recovered for a proper funeral. The black undertaker James Stewart and authorities recovered the body from the field, and brought it back for the funeral, held at Stewart's Funeral Home in Salisbury.2

    It was said that this lynching was in response to the delayed "justice" the Eastern Shore experienced in the past year with the trial of Euel Lee a.k.a. "Orphan Jones," accused of murdering a white family of four in Berlin, Maryland. Lee´s lawyer, Bernard Ades, felt that there was no way that he would receive a fair trial on the Eastern Shore and had the hearing moved to Baltimore, which deeply angered the residences of Worcester County and the Delmarva Peninsula as a whole.3 Immediately after hearing of the Williams lynching in Salisbury, Governor Ritchie set up a task force with Attorney General William P. Lane to look into prosecuting those who were involved in any way with the mob that killed Williams, stating that the actions on the Eastern Shore were disgraceful to the entire state.4 After interviewing those officers and hospital workers who were present during the abduction, no one could recall or recognize anyone that was present that night. Incredibly, it was concluded that most of the active mob members were those from other parts of the peninsula, including Delaware and Virginia, and to this day, no one has been prosecuted for the lynching of Matthew Williams.5

1. Krech, Shepard, III. Praise the Bridge That Carries You Over: The Life of Joseph L. Sutton, (Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Co., 1981).

2. "Eye Witness to Lynching Tells How Mob Acted," The Afro-American, December 12, 1931.

3. "Blame Ritchie in Lynching," The Washington Times, December 5, 1931.

4. "Ritchie Orders Vigorous Prosecution of Mob that Lynched Salisbury Killer," The Baltimore American, December 6, 1931.

5. "Blankety, Blank, Blank!" Jeffersonian, March 6, 1932.

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