Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Diggs (d. 1880)
MSA SC 3520-13949
Lynched on July 27, 1880 in Montgomery County

Biography:

On the night of July 24, 1880 John Diggs allegedly snuck into the Tschiffely home and brutally attacked his employer's wife, Mrs. Tschiffely. The Tschiffely's employed Diggs as a harvest hand on their farm, but on that night Diggs supposedly broke into the Tschiffely home while James Tschiffely was away on business. Mrs. Tschiffely later divulged that Diggs chocked her unconscious while she was in the dining room. Diggs proceeded to move Mrs. Tschiffely to the bedroom and beat her throughout the night and into the next day.1

Mrs. Tschiffely was rendered unconscious several times while held captive and alleged that at one point when she tried to flee, she was captured. She recalled that Diggs beat her so severly after her escape effort using an armchair that she permanently lost sight in one of her eyes. Mrs. Tschiffely was held captive and suffered further attacks throughout the day, until Diggs fled the scene for Mechanicsville. Mrs. Tschiffely, face now "beaten to a pulp," alerted the surrounding area and local townsfolk organized to hunt down Diggs. One of those men, Zachariah Davis, was on his way to Sandy Springs when he encountered Diggs traveling south along the roadside toward Mechanicsville.2

Dubbed an "exceedingly clever piece of business," Davis recognized Diggs from a newspaper description and offered him a ride into Mechanicsville with the promise of work. Upon arrival at Mechanicsville, Mr. Davis and his son Edward Davis restrained Diggs and set out to transport him to Rockville. During his transport, Diggs reportedly admitted to a series of arguments with Mrs. Tschiffely, influenced by him being drunk. However, he refutted the use of an armchair to blind Mrs. Tschiffely. All the way to his death, Digg maintained that he never struck Mrs. Tschiffely.3

Despite immediate calls for the lynching of John Diggs upon his arrival in Rockville, James Tschiffely requested that "nothing should be done to Diggs unless he was allowed to play a part in it." Mr. Tschiffely arrived in Rockville the following Tuesday July 27, 1880, and quickly organized a mob that marched in formation to the jail house holding Diggs. When the sheriff refused to allow the mob entrance under the pretense of identifying Diggs, some of the mob broke off and overpowered the sheriff and four deputies. The rest of the mob stormed the jail and forced Diggs' cell open. He was brought out of the jail house still restrained in leg-irons and with great difficulty, rushed to a cherry tree. As he was prodded to move faster, Diggs exclaimed "I can't run with these things on my legs," but he was further hurried half a mile toward a waiting horse and noose.4

The initial attempt to hang Diggs was unsuccessful and the ensuing struggle saw him free his hands from the restraints. The fighting escalated quickly as Diggs allegedly bit and "diabled" several of the mob before they descended on him and nearly beat him to death. Barely conscious, Diggs was then hoisted, "swearing" and "moaning," up by his neck. The mob attempted to coerce Diggs into admitting to Mrs. Tschiffely's assault, but he maintained that while he had relations with her, "no violence" was used.5 As Diggs was strangled on the branch of the tree, an unidentified leader of the lynching led the mob in a pledge, "we do solemnly swear never to divulge under any pretense or for any cause whatever, in any court of this State, whom we see or what we see here to-night, so help us God; amen." The mob repeated the words back in unison and then dispersed.6

An hour after the lynching, several hundred African Americans gathered around the cherry tree to retrieve John Diggs' body. The Democratic Advocate assumed in their article about the event that the African American community agreed with the lynching of Diggs as deserved. Despite only half the mob obscuring their face with handkerchiefs or masks during the attack, the summoned coroner's jury announced their interpretation of Diggs' murder as "death by violence committed by parties unknown." This was the common conclusion of lynchings and saw no one charged with Diggs' murder. Posthumously, John Diggs was accused of committing several crimes three years prior in Prince George's county under the alias of Henry Dorsey to further justify the lynching.7

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Footnotes

1. "The Montgomery County Outrage," The Aegis and Intelligencer (Bel Air, MD), July 30, 1880.; "The Weekly Sun," The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore), July 30, 1880.

2. The following cited Democratic Advocate article will be used throughout the narrative. The perspective of the article's author and clear bias in conjunction with a limited amount of sources on the Diggs' lynching is regrettable when constructing a narrative of events. Although this was common practice in reporting on lynchings during the time, the quotes and point of view of the source are still helpful in understanding the justifications that acts such as this enjoyed. "Shocking Outrage by a Negro Man," The Democratic Advocate (Baltimore), July 31, 1880.

3. Ibid.; "The Montgomery County Outrage Case," The Sun, (Baltimore), July 27, 1880.

4. "Shocking Outrage by a Negro Man."; "Lynched," The Star Democrat (Easton, MD), August 10, 1880.; "Telegraphic Summary," The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore), July 28, 1880.

5. "Shocking Outrage by a Negro Man."; "The Montgomery Country Outrage."

6. "Shocking Outrage by a Negro Man."

7. Ibid.

Written and researched by Zach Tucker

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