HISTORY: The Laundry Bump lynching

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By Tom Watson

There are some mysteries in Taylorsville and Spencer County that could be solved by a few people who are still alive, because they know answers to some pressing questions.

Wouldn’t it be beneficial to the knowledge of Spencer County history if they would write to Historic Pathways?

For years, people have told me about a lynching that occurred on the side of the Spencer County Courthouse. I have never seen a published story about such an occurrence.

A story about the lynching of Ed Shields in a covered bridge over Brashears Creek at Taylorsville has been covered in this column. The only legal execution in Spencer County, as far as this writer knows, was that of George Armstrong of the Camp Branch community. Armstrong was convicted of rape and murder of a girl he had chased into the woods. There was at least one lynching during the  Civil War. Joseph Paris was hanged near Waterford by Ed Terrell and his Union Scouts. The only crime of Paris was being a Confederate soldier. Paris and his sweetheart were en route to services at the Waterford Baptist Church.

Shields was accused of  rape and attempted rape in Spencer County and faced possible life in prison.  Armstrong and Shields were African-Americans as were their victims.

On Dec. 14, 1983, Sam L. Cheatham, a son of Spencer County Attorney Thad Cheatham wrote:

“We once had a very active chapter of the KKK. They burned a cross on Black’s Hill right above the old wooden bridge (over Salt River at Taylorsville). This was about 1924. (My records show it was Christmas Eve, 1924). There is a little interesting history connected with this.

The leader of the KKK was a preacher at the First Baptist Church. My dad, Thad Cheatham, hired a lady to infiltrate the KKK.”

She furnished him with the names of the members. In the courtroom, he named them. It was privileged information.  Sam says that his father was denounced from the pulpit by the minister. “It was quite a fight,” Sam wrote.

In the letter, Sam also offered the following:

“There was a hanging back of the Court House of a black man. This happened about 1908 or 1910. This black man went to this house to gather  the weekly washing.

He spread a sheet on the floor and put the dirty laundry in the center. When he tied the four ends, he shouldered it and (in doing so the laundry) knocked down a lady.

She yelled “rape!”

Sam didn’t name the people involved. It is obviously the subject for research. Could it be Taylorsville had a “laundry bump lynching?” 

The Spencer Journal covered the Ed Shields story April 22, 1874:

“This man Ed Shields had been the terror of our community. He had committed arson in the attempt to burn the dwelling of one of his own race, whose daughter would not submit to his pollution.

He had forcibly taken a young colored girl (in the employ of Mr. John Ash) from her horse in broad daylight, and, despite her screams and struggles, forced her to submit to his lustful and beastly passion.

He ravished a young mulatto (in the employ of Mr. Luts) and threatened her with death if she revealed his crime. He shortly after this ravished two young mulatto girls in the presence of their mother, and, flourishing an ax, threatened to kill the whole family if he was ever molested for the crime.

“He in open day committed a rape upon the person of his young niece – who has ever since been under medical treatment for the injuries he inflicted – and at the same time openly boasted of the deed.

He was known to have watched the house of Mr. Zeb Truax, for five successive days, for the purpose of ravishing his two daughters who were in the habit of milking the cows at some distance from the house.

He was known to have frequently boasted that he intended to ravish fifteen white women in Spencer County and then leave for parts unknown.

He confessed while in jail that he was the villain that repeatedly broke into the house of Rev. W.T. Benton in this place (Taylorsville), and at one time entered the room of his young daughter and but for the timely arrival of the father, who was alarmed by her screams, he would have accomplished the ruin of this young lady.

“He also stated that he was the person who entered the house of Mrs. Langsford and attempted the same crime there. Also that he was the guilty one that forced an entrance into the residence of Mr. Boswell, and was frightened away by that gentleman.

These are but a few of the numberless crimes he confessed to having committed, and before his trial he often said that he richly deserved death, and expected nothing more.”