Before we return to the details of the William Grayson story, it will be useful to clarify a statement in the previous column (10/4/18). The judge ordered the sheriff to carry out the sentence of death by hanging at the “usual place.” As this was a legal and recorded proceeding, it is fair to interpret the “usual place” to indicate where Culpeper County officials conducted all their executions. It is not meant to reflect on a “usual place” for hanging Negroes nor was there any specific place yet discovered for lynchings to be conducted. William Thompson, the 1877 victim was said to have been hanged near the old Confederate cemetery- believed to have been located on the south end of Blue Ridge Avenue between there and the Methodist Church. The report for Charles Allie Thompson murdered in1918 stated that he was hanged near the roadside about a mile north of Catalpa.
I had once been told that the county’s location for execution was the property on the northwest corner of West St. and the Sperryville Pike where a large brick house now stands. I have not verified this piece of information but am searching for that and a recent question, “When did the last legal hanging occur in Culpeper?” From the Death Penalty Information Center, https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/virginia-1
, here are a few facts. The first execution in the United States was Captain George Kendall at Jamestown in 1608. Virginia has legally executed more people than any other state and the last hanging was by the state was in 1909.
The research seems to indicate that the state took over executions from the counties in 1900. I have found a site Death Penalty USA, https://deathpenaltyusa.org/usa1/state/virginia4.htm
, that lists by state and county in chronological order the legal executions. I cannot say that the data is complete or even accurate, however, the last reported legal hanging in Culpeper County was in 1874. We will keep digging until we can substantiate the facts. Help is welcome!
And now a bit more about William Grayson. I have a great deal of reading to do, thirty-two pages of hand- written reports by Judge Richard H. Field to be exact. I expect to discover the answers to several mysteries within those reports particularly the one that compelled the higher court to reverse the Culpeper Circuit Court not once but twice and ordered a third trial.
In the meantime, I wish to share some of the names that I have come across in the records in hopes that some reader will recognize them.
David W. Miller was the co-owner with John Settle of a store located about 10 miles from the town. Sorry, no further details about the location were mentioned.
Other names: James Parr, William Wood, Felix Huffman, Mrs. Armstrong and Woodford Settle all residing in the neighborhood of the store.
The gist of the story is that William Grayson was indebted to Miller and Settle to the tune of two plus dollars. He had recently gotten a job ditching for at a nearby farm but required a shovel and spade to perform the work. Miller and Settle would not extend the credit for the purchase. Apparently, the employer advanced the funds and the tools were collected. However, Grayson was not allowed to keep them until he had paid off his debt. He borrowed the fifty cents he lacked, returned to the store collected the tools and received a receipt. The next morning Miller, who usually slept in the store was found dead.
Until next week, be well.