John Diggs (d. 1880)
MSA SC 3520-13949
Lynched in Montgomery County, Maryland, on July 27, 1880.
On the night of July 24, 1880 John Diggs allegedly snuck into the Tschiffely home and brutally attacked his employer's wife, Mrs. Mary Tschiffely. The Tschiffelys employed Diggs as a harvest hand on their farm. On that night Diggs is alleged to have broken into the Tschiffely home while James Tschiffely was away on business. Mrs. Tschiffely later stated that Diggs "chocked her unconscious" while she was in the dining room. Diggs is alleged to have to moved Mrs. Tschiffely to the bedroom and beat her throughout the night and into the next day.1
The period accounts describe that Mrs. Tschiffely was rendered unconscious several times while being held captive and alleged that at one point when she tried to flee, she was captured. She recalled that Diggs beat her so severely with an armchair after her attempted escape 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 alerted the local residents to organize a search for 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
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 being drunk and having a series of arguments with Mrs. Tschiffely. However, he refuted the use of an armchair to blind Mrs. Tschiffely. Diggs maintained his innocence until his death.3
Despite immediate calls for the lynching of 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, and quickly organized a mob that marched in formation to the jail house where Diggs was held. When the sheriff, John H. Kelchner, refused to allow the mob to enter, some of the assailants overpowered the sheriff and four deputies. The rest of the mob stormed the jail and forced Diggs's 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 in the ensuing struggle he was able to free his hands from the restraints. The fighting escalated quickly as Diggs allegedly bit and "disabled" 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's 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 coroner's jury announced their interpretation of Diggs's murder as "death by violence committed by parties unknown." This was the common conclusion in the investigation of deaths by lynching and no one was charged with Diggs's murder. To further justify the lynching, posthumously, John Diggs was accused of committing several crimes three years prior in Prince George's County under the alias of Henry Dorsey.7
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."
Written and researched by Zach Tucker
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