Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thin Black Line

James Reed
MSA SC 3520-13758
Lynched in Crisfield, July 28, 1907

Biography:

    James Reed, an African American laborer, was lynched by a mob in Crisfield, Maryland on July 28, 1907. Reed, originally from North Carolina, resided in Maryland for only eight months before his murder. The lynching was prompted by the murder of the night Chief of Police John H. Daugherty. Reed was accused of murdering Daugherty after Daugherty arrested Reed's business partner, who was only known as Hildred. Hildred was arrested for selling whiskey. Chief Daugherty and Officer Evans were walking their prisoner, Hildred, through the African American business section of town. When Reed learned of the arrest he ran to an African American billiard in the area and borrowed a .44 caliber revolver from Lemuel Showers, the owner of the establishment. Reed then supposedly followed Daugherty and Evans several blocks before firing. One bullet hit Daugherty in the back of the head, exiting above the right eye, killing him instantaneously. Both Reed and the prisoner fled the scene and were immediately lost among a crowd of people.1
    Officers were dispatched to different parts of town in order to prevent Reed's escape. The search party believed Reed had secured a boat and exited town through the local waterways. However, it was reported that Reed stole a bicycle and followed the railroad out of town before reaching the area known as Coulbourne Creek. It was here that Reed reportedly stole a small mail boat.  Authorities chartered a fleet of small gasoline launchers to search the waterways for Reed. Reed was at least 10 miles outside of Crisfield before he was spotted by Captain Chelton of the Ercliff Vessel.  Reed hid in the cabin of the mail boat.  After several commands to surrender, Reed then jumped into the water and was shortly apprehended by Captain Chelton. The search party returned to Crisfield with Reed in custody. As they led Reed back towards the scene of the crime, the mob became explosively violent. Reed was killed from blows to the head which resulted in a fractured skull. His body was then hung from a telegraph pole as citizens celebrated and photographed the lynching.  Reed's body was then buried cruedly in the marsh.  However, later that night angry citizens dug up the body and further abused the cropse with bullets. Rioters then threw his body upon a bonfire. The rioters continued to run through the African American community, pulling people from their homes and beating them indiscriminately.  The mob reportedly threatened several black men to leave town immediately.2
    The town council assembled the following afternoon in an effort to restore peace to Crisfield. African American leaders and professionals attended the meeting to offer several resolutions to produce peace among blacks and whites in the community. They requested that all African American owned places of amusement be closed in order to prevent people from congregating or organizing a retaliation. Several saloons and billiards were closed immediately.  Many African American residents were arrested for vagrancy. Councilmen accepted a motion that all African American visiting from out of town report to authorities and state their reason for being in town, asking permission to stay. Delegates offered another resolution condemning Reed for the murder of Daugherty. The council further stated that the African American community would have joined in the search and that the lynching was justifiable.  Officials may have offered this resolution out of fear that future violence would plague their community. Many must have believed these resolutions would prove their willingness to cooperate thereby calming angry citizens of Crisfield.  However, several newspaper articles did not agree that the lynching was justifiable. The Afro-American -Ledger stated on August 3, 1907 that it was unbelievable that the better element among the colored people would endorse the lynching of James Reed.3  The Baltimore Sun stated:

"There are abundant  reasons why the people of Crisfield should deplore the lynching of James Reed, a negro murderer.  In the first place, the murderer would  have been hanged by due process of law if the courts had been left to deal with him.  Maryland justice lacks, in such cases, neither swiftness nor sureness...No mob is capable of administering the law in a way that will strengthen our civilization or add to the security of society.  Lawlessness begets contempt of the law and of orderly  procedure.  The lyncher of today may be the victim of  mob law tomorrow. The safety of every community rests upon the prompt and rigid enforcement of the law in  courts of justice.  To encourage Judge Lynch is to place a premium upon acts of violence and to expose every citizen to vengeance of a mob incapable of acting calm and discriminating justice.  Let the courts of Maryland punish lawbreakers in Maryland."4

There was no investigation into the lynching of James Reed.  There was also no interference or sentiments about the event from a state level.  Lemuel Showers, the owner of the revolver that Reed used to kill Chief Daugherty, was arrested after leaving town.  Showers was jailed in Princess Anne to await his trial, but no report has been found on the outcome of his trial.  Nor is there any report on the capture of the prisoner Hildred.  It is believed he escaped during the chaos.5

Footnotes

1. "Mob Kills Negro." The Baltimore Sun, 29 July 1907.

2. ibid.

3. "Another Lynching." The Afro-American Ledger, 3 August 1907.

4. "Crisfield in a Frenzy." The Baltimore Sun, 30 July 1907.

5. ibid.

 

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