Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

David Thomas(b. 1820 - d. 1854)
MSA SC 3520-013796
Lynched in Caroline County, 1854

Biography:

    In 1854, David Thomas was a 34 year old laborer, living in Caroline County with his wife Levene, and daughters Mary, Susanne, and Elizabeth.1 He was accused of killing a white man, William Butler of the same county. It is unclear what relationship, if any, he had with the victim. The alleged crime occurred on the night of September 27, 1854 when David Thomas arrived at Butler's house near Burrsville.2 They had a brief conversation, which led to them walking down the road aways. Then, Thomas hit the white man over the head "with a heavy musket" causing gruesome injuries that resulted in his death about 3 hours later. The black man was arrested the next day and purportedly confessed to the crime, saying that "he did not mean to strike so hard."3

    Judge Philemon B. Hopper presided over the trial, which began on October 5, 1854. Thomas pled not guilty to the charge of murder.4 The state called four witnesses, including Butler's wife Elizabeth and Bayard Breeding, whose home was the site of the defendant's arrest. Only one witness, a white laborer named Trustin Wright,  was called on Thomas' behalf. There is no further documentation to suggest the nature of the testimony or other trial components. We only know that on October 7 the jury convicted David Thomas of 2nd degree murder, for which he was sentenced to 16 years and 7 months in the State Penitentiary in Baltimore.5 However, he would never make it there. A mob of local whites, dissatisfied with the verdict, gathered outside of the Denton jail that same day but were eventually dispersed. They reconvened two days later, allegedly tying up the sheriff in order to get to the convicted man. Some of the rioters nailed a plank to the jailhouse. David Thomas was then hung from the plank until he deceased.6

    A grand jury adjourned in April, 1855 to investigate the lynching. It was reported that they were "unable to identify any of the parties engaged in the mob sufficiently to ensure a conviction."7 The article makes a point of saying that, "they characterize the affair, however, as a cold-blooded murder," as if that would be some consolation to Thomas' family or the greater African-American community. Despite Thomas' apparent guilt, such vigilante justice was likely motivated more by a desire to reassert white dominance than to defend William Butler specifically. This was the first of three Caroline County lynchings that were officially documented in the second half of the 19th century.
 
 


Footnotes - 

1. Ancestry.com, 1850 United States Federal Census, Caroline County, Maryland, p. 99.

2. "Affairs in Caroline County," Baltimore Sun, 3 October, 1854.

3. Ibid

4. Caroline County Court (Minutes), 1852-1861, October Term, 1854.

5. Ibid

6. "The Excitement at Denton," Baltimore Sun, 11 October, 1854.

7. "The Case of Lynch Law at Denton," Baltimore Sun, 3 April, 1855.


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