Monday, January 21, 2013

Newspapers (Again)

Yesterday a talked a bit about how reading the newspapers from the time period you are studying will give you some insight of the political and social climate of the community.  I am working on a project for a client and I found something that definitely illustrates the political and social climate in Lincoln County, Georgia in 1909 and it is timely for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  I will warn you that this is a bit disturbing.

Lincolnton Man Savagely Attacked by Negro Whom He Asked About a Debt - Sheriff Rescues Negro
Special to The Chronicle
Lincolnton,Ga., May 20. - Mr. J. H. Spires, one of the most prominent white farmers of Lincoln county, was savagely attacked by Albert Aiken, a negro farm hand, this morning and seriously if not fatally wounded.
     Mr. Spires was on his way to see his mother, who lives about a mile from his own plantation, when he met the negro who was riding a mule.  Mr. Spires was on foot and stopped the negro to ask him about a small debt.  Aiken became enraged and used rough language and when Mr. Spires approached him he jumped off his mule and began stabbing Mr. Spires with a large knife, inflicting a deep wound and cutting an ugly gash a foot long in the back, laying the ribs and spine bare. 
     Mr. Spires called for help and was heard by  his brother, J. G. Spires, who was plowing in a field nearby but who arrived too late to lay hands on the negro, whom he saw riding rapidly off.  He picked his brother up from where he had fallen in the road and carried him to his home and gave the alarm.  A party of fifty men quickly formed, but Sheriff Wright got in ahead of them and caught the negro in a swamp where he had hidden.  For safe keeping the negro has been send out of the county, for owing to Mr. Spires' prominence feeling runs high and lynching is feared.
     Late tonight the physicians announced that there is not much hope for Mr. Spires.  Two of his ribs are in two, one lung is carved in half, and there is a long gash in his stomach, two inches deep, in addition to the terrible gash down his back.1

And then the follow-up story:

100 Lincoln County Farmers Took Negro From Jail.
Recent Activities of Negro Secret Societies Stirred Up Whites - Climax Came With Attack on Respectable Farmer - Mob Left Warning
Special to The Chronicle
     Lincolnton, Ga., May 24 - The usual quiet village of Lincolnton was awakened at midnight last from peaceful slumber by the noise of a mob of about one hundred enraged citizens as they stormed the county jail and brought forth Albert Aiken, the negro farm hand who so viciously cut Jno Spires a highly respected white farmer last Thursday morning.  It is learned here that the body of the negro was found swinging to a limb of a tree at Dry Fork Creek, three miles from this place, this morning and that the body was filled with bullet holes.
     Upon the body was a placard which read: "Notice this is what will happen to all negroes in Lincoln county under similar circumstances, " (Signed) "Regulators."
     The place where the negro is said to have been lynched is near the place where he committed the crime and it is supposed that the mob who took him there had it in view to let the many negroes in that neighborhood see that it was time they quieted down and stopped their efforts to ride over the farmers of this section.
     The crime for which Aiken was lynched was committed last Thursday morning and has been the subject of conversation in the county ever since but it was thought that there would be nothing done to him as the days passed, and the farmers apparently were willing to let the law take its course, but yesterday the news went out that Mr. Spires, the injured man, was not likely to live many days and it rekindled the fire in the breasts of the white men of the county and the work of the mob last night is the climax of their deliberation over the matter.
     This morning it is reported that Mr. Spires is very feeble and there is but little if any chance of his living.  He was cut to a depth of three inches in the right side, the knife severing two ribs, lacerating the lung and injuring the stomach walls.
     This is the first time in the history of Lincoln County that the jail has been stormed and the second time a lynching has occurred.  There is but little trouble between the two races.  Recently, however, inklings of negro secret societies being formed have reached the ears of the white citizens and they are of the belief that Aiken was a member of one of them, from remarks that he let fall while in jail.  They seem determined to break up these clandestine meetings and the work of last night is said to be but a beginning of what will follow if the negroes show any more meanness.

Despite the grim prognosis given in the paper, John Henry Spires did not die from his wounds.3 There is no mention of any charges brought against the lynch mob.

1 “J. H. Spires Stabbed Seriously Injured,” The Augusta Chronicle, 21 May 1909, p.1, col. 7.

2 “Spires Assailant Lynched by Mob,” The Augusta Chronicle, 25 May 1909, p. 1, col. 7.

3 Pine Grove Methodist Church Cemetery (Lincoln County, Georgia), John H. and Sallie V. Spires double marker, personally read, 2013; John died in 1958.


Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. " (Signed) "Regulators."
    An interesting choice of name. I wonder if this was a conscious attempt to connect their activities with the colonial era regulator movement, or just a coincidence? Have you seen the term in other GA papers of the era?

  2. "Regulators" was a term used by the Ku Klux Klan as well as other groups of the same nature. Though they may have borrowed the term from the colonial regulators their purposes were different. The regulators of colonial times were going up against an oppressive and corrupt government. These regulators were most notably in the state of North Carolina. I have seen the term regulator (the later definition) many times in the newspaper and in books of the era, not confined to the state of Georgia. My home state of Mississippi used the term regulator quite a bit.

  3. Interesting- I've not encountered the name in SC in the post- Civil War era, but I've not done any exhaustive searching. The SC and NC Regulators- colonial era- were significantly different in their motivations and behaviors- and effectiveness. A very good account of the SC movement, if you are interested, is The South Carolina Regulators, The Story of the First American Vigilante Movement, by Richard Maxwell Brown, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1963. Also, a near contemporary history, Ramsey's History of South Carolina: from its First Settlement in 1670 to the Year 1808 by David Ramsy, M. D. includes some material. And an account of a Regulator opponent turned supporter can be found in The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution, by Charles Woodmason, edited by Richard Hooker, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1953, ISBN 0-8078-4035-1.

  4. You know I am a sucker for books. You are bad for my book-a-holic habit...