Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thin Black Line

John H. Biggus
MSA SC 3520-13791
Lynched in Frederick, Maryland on November 23, 1887


John H. Biggus, an African American man from Frederick, Maryland, was accused of assaulting a Mrs. Yeakle, a local white woman, on Friday, November 18, 1887.  Yeakle identified Biggus as her attacker and he was immediately arrested. According to contemporary accounts, Biggus' originally stated that he could not have been the attacker because he had been attending a meeting at the local Salvation Army.1  While Biggus was held in custody over the weekend, tensions flared between both the white and black communities in Frederick, and throughout the county

On Monday, November 21, a small crowd approached the jail, but then dispersed when authorities were alerted. The next evening, on Tuesday evening, November 22, a mob of about 200 mostly masked men approached the jail cell and demanded that Sheriff Luther C. Derr hand over Biggus to them.  The crowd blocked traffic preventing any intervention, and after being denied access to the jail by the sheriff, six men armed with an axe broke in through the basement door. They then entered through a second door before reaching Biggus's cell, breaking the lock, and removing him.2

    A rope was placed around Biggus’s neck, and he was dragged to the farm of Mr. George H. Rider, who lived in a community called Jefferson Heights, about a quarter mile from the jail.3  Sheriff Derr, after he rang a siren bell for assistance, was approached by armed men and knew he could do little to stop the determined crowd from accomplishing their goal.  The mob, still blocking the streets from outsiders, led Biggus to a large locust tree on Rider's lot.  Responding to his captor’s attempt to force a confession, Biggus said that he watched Mrs. Yeakle get accosted by Joe Hall, a local African-American man who was first questioned by the police on November 18. The crowd was not convinced by Biggus's story, and threw the rope over a branch on the locust tree about eight feet off the ground.4 

    The mob again coerced Biggus to confess, and it was reported that he explained that he was scared to admit that he saw the attack for fear that he would be accused of being an accessory to the crime. Proceeding with the lynching, Biggus was pulled up by the rope, but somehow able to untie his hands and attempt to grab the noose from his throat.  He was overtaken by the mob and hung, and was also shot multiple times.5

    The crowd dispersed, and Biggus’s body was removed early the next morning. The African American community sought justice for Biggus,, and rumors surfaced that there would be an attempt to lynch former police officer Marshall F. Harding, who was acquitted for the murder of Joshua Herbert, an African American man the previous May. The black community in Frederick never did threaten Officer Harding.6

    Newspaper articles over the next few days condemned the lynching, the first in Frederick's history, and argued that the legal system and proper execution of due process, would have satisfied the outraged citizens of Frederick.7  It was later confirmed that the rope and axe used by the mob were supplied by the United Fire Engine Company.8  Interviews with witnesses who were near the jail confirmed that most of the men were masked, and that the night was too dark to identify those who were not masked. 


1. "John H. Bigus Hanged." The Sun, 23 November 1887.

2. "The Lynching Case." The Daily News, 25 November 1887.

3. "Lynched!!" The Daily News, 23 November 1887.

4. "John H. Bigus Hanged."

5. "Confession of Biggus." The Daily News, 26 November 1887.

6. "The Lynching Case."

7. "The Lynching of Biggus." The Daily News, 25 November 1887.

8. "The Lynching Case." And "Lynched!!"

Return to Introductory Page

This web site is presented for reference purposes under the doctrine of fair use. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: The site may contain material from other sources which may be under copyright. Rights assessment, and full originating source citation, is the responsibility of the user.

Tell Us What You Think About the Maryland State Archives Website!

© Copyright Thursday, 03-Sep-2020 13:16:01 EDT Maryland State Archives