This look into Missouri's past features an angry mom and a lynching!
William Vincent of Madison County, Missouri, fell sick in December of 1843, and after his condition took a turn for the worse, his brother Thomas and neighbor Abraham W. Smith sat up with him on the night of December 27. About midnight, Thomas Vincent left to go home, explaining that he planned to ride to Fredericktown early the next morning to summon a doctor and that he needed to get some rest.
Meanwhile, Smith stayed with the patient.
But not all night.
Early the next morning he lay in ambush at the crossing of Trace Creek south of Fredericktown where he knew Thomas Vincent, with whom he’d had a prior dispute, would have to pass on his way to town. As Vincent stopped at the creek to water his horse, Smith raised up and shot him in the chest just below the heart.
Vincent wheeled his horse around and rode back to the home of Michael Shetley. Vincent lingered about eight hours and gave an account of the shooting before he died.
In an ironic and tragic twist to the story, William Vincent died the same day his brother was killed, and they were buried together.
Immediately after the murder, Smith walked to the home of a man named Duncan and admitted what he had done. Duncan advised him to flee the territory, but before Smith could take off, he was captured and lodged in the county jail at Fredericktown.
Smith was tried for first degree murder at the April 1844 term of circuit court. He was convicted largely on Vincent’s dying statement and sentenced to hang on June 1, 1844. The execution was postponed pending the outcome of an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.
On Saturday, June 1, the originally scheduled execution day, a large crowd gathered in Fredericktown. There was much talk of lynching Smith, but a small mob that organized for that purpose was dissuaded from carrying it out.
Not long afterward, the Supreme Court sustained the verdict against Smith and reset his execution for September 1, but some folks didn’t want to wait that long. On Monday, August 5, which was election day, a large crowd once again assembled in Fredericktown. A mob of about fourteen or fifteen drunken men organized and marched on the jail. When their demand that the sheriff turn over the keys was refused, they overpowered the lawman, went to work with crow-bars and axes, and soon “shattered the doors of the jail to atoms,” said the St. LouisDaily Missouri Republican.
The mob found few among the large crowd willing to assist them, but they also found few who actively opposed them. According to Vincent family lore, the leader of the mob asked all those in the crowd who favored lynching Smith to step to the right, and supposedly the whole crowd did so.
Goodspeed’s county history says the sheriff himself suggested a vote, as a way of thwarting the mob’s intent, after he and his deputies had held off the vigilantes for almost two hours, because he felt sure a majority of those present would vote to uphold the law. As soon as this was agreed to, however, the deputies left, and the mob made a dash on the jail.
After breaking it open, said the Daily Missouri Republican, one of the gang members got down in the dungeon-like cell, where the prisoner was held in irons, and placed a rope around Smith's neck. The rest of the mob hauled him up by the rope and literally dragged him down some stairs and outside to a walnut tree about fifty yards from the jail. Here they compelled a Methodist minister to say a prayer for the condemned man.
Notwithstanding the fact that Smith was apparently already dead from being dragged by the neck, the mob strung him up to the tree and let him hang for several minutes. They then let him down, but one of the gang, suspecting Smith might still be alive, insisted that they hang him again. The body was accordingly strung back up until the bloodthirsty mob was sufficiently convinced that life was extinct.
That very night, an inquest was held over Smith's body, and the jury returned a verdict that he had come to his death at the hands of a mob. Several men were named as members of the mob and were rounded up over the next couple of months. But most of them died before they could come to trial, and none were ever convicted.
Larry Wood is a free-lance writer specializing in the history of Missouri and the Ozarks. This column is condensed from his upcoming book about lynchings and hangings in Missouri.