|James T. Williams (1829-1900)|
Earlier this year I wrote a piece about James T. Williams, who was married to my great great aunt Martha Jane Row of Spotsylvania. Today's post will concern itself with a dramatic incident which involved James' business partner, Samuel C. Tardy.
James Tompkins Williams was born in Lynchburg to Jehu and Susannah Tompkins Williams. Jehu was from Orange County, Virginia where he married Hetty Row, a sister of Absalom Row. Jehu and Hetty moved to Lynchburg soon after their wedding. Hetty bore five daughters before her death in 1823. Jehu that same year married Susannah Tompkins and together they had five daughters and two sons, including James.
Jehu Williams was an accomplished and well known silversmith and clockmaker in Lynchburg. Because of his father's prominence and connections James was already working as a merchant in Lynchburg before marrying Martha, a daughter of Absalom Row, in 1850. James and Martha moved to Richmond in 1851 and lived there until 1867.
James came to Richmond to work in the wholesale grocery and commission merchant house established by Samuel C. Tardy, James' brother in law Wilson P. Bryant and a Mr. Tinsley. The company went through several changes of ownership during the 1850s and by the end of that decade it was known as Tardy & Williams. Just prior to the Civil War the firm was joined by two more young men from Lynchburg, Tipton Jennings and Richard H.T. Adams. Jennings fought in the 11th Virginia Infantry and would marry Annie Price Seay, a niece of James T. Williams. At the turn of the century he served in the House of Delegates. Richard Adams became well known as the signal officer for General A.P. Hill.
|Richmond Enquirer 7 October 1863|
Located at the corner of 13th and Cary Streets in Richmond's business district, Tardy & Williams sold foodstuffs and other merchandise wholesale at auction. The firm was successful both before and during the war, when they became increasingly dependent on blockade runners to bring merchandise into the city. Tardy & Williams also were important vendors for the Confederacy, selling items to the Confederate government, including the city's military hospitals. The archives contain a great many of the company's bills of sale for this activity, including the one below for beef provided the the Baptist Institute Hospital (which had been a girls' school before the war).
|Tardy & Williams receipt 10 March 1863|
Although both men were subject to military conscription by Confederate authorities, neither Samuel nor James saw active military service in the regular army. By the 1860s James had lost his matinee idol good looks and had become immensely fat. James was able to wrangle a deferment with the help of a letter written by his personal physician, Dr. R.R. Wellford. Samuel Tardy was well connected both politically and financially and served on the board of directors of companies like the Bank of Virginia. Despite their deferments both Samuel and James were still required to serve in the Second Class Militia.
In early December 1862 tragedy struck the Tardy family. Because of Samuel's prominence in the city, as well as the sensational nature of the incident, the progress of the case was reported regularly in the pages of the Richmond Daily Dispatch. Below is a transcription of those articles as they appeared in the newspaper. The particulars of the story speak for themselves and require no embellishment from me.
December 4, 1862
Proceedings in the Courts
Mayor's Court, Dec. 3d
Margaret, slave of Samuel C. Tardy, was arraigned for attempting to murder her master's infant child Monday. Phillips and Dr. Deane being sworn, testified to finding the child in convulsions blood running from its mouth, and spots of the same substance on its garments which Margaret had attempted to wash off and to finding bruises on its head and face in various places, which could only have been caused by a firm, but not sudden pressure on the parts affected. Margaret said the child had fallen down and afterwards was taken with the convulsions spoken of. Beyond this, she admitted nothing. The physicians were of the opinion that the bruises were caused by the child being seized by the head with the intent to do it serious injury. Prisoner was committed to jail and her further examination adjourned till another day.
December 8, 1862
Mayor's Court, Saturday, Dec. 6
Margaret, slave of Samuel C. Tardy, was committed for trial before the Hustings Court, on the oath of Surgeon Dinwiddie P. Phillips, for maliciously, and of malice aforethought, attempting to kill and murder Frances Deane Tardy, infant child of Samuel C. Tardy.
December 9, 1862
Proceedings of the Courts
Margaret, a bright mulatto girl, slave of Samuel C. Tardy, was put on trial for causing the death by violence of Frances Deane Tardy, infant child of Samuel C. Tardy. Prisoner was defended by B.R. Wellford, Jr. The Court, after hearing the evidence of Drs. Phillips and Deane, declared the prisoner guilty of murder and sentenced her to be hung on Friday, January 9, 1863.
December 15, 1862
Proceedings of the Hustings Court
Hustings Court, Saturday, Dec. 13
Mr. Beverly R. Wellford, Jr. addressed the Court at some length in support of an application submitted by him for a new trial in the case of the girl, Margaret, tried on Monday and sentenced to be hung on the 9th day of January next for the murder of Frances Deane Tardy, infant child of Samuel C. Tardy, whose nurse she was. Mr. Wellford contended that the verdict of guilty against his client was not based on any evidence of her guilt, but on the opinions of the physicians summoned in the case, that death would ensue under the given state of things, and that these were apparent. The Court refused to grant a new hearing of the case.
January 3, 1863
The petition presented to His Excellency the Governor for the pardon of Margaret, a slave, condemned to be hung on the 9th inst., for the murder of an infant child of Mr. Samuel C. Tardy, has been rejected.
January 8, 1863
To be hung
The girl Margaret, condemned to be hung Friday, January 9th for the murder of Frances Tardy infant child of Samuel C. Tardy, will be hung tomorrow at the usual place of execution, between the hours of 10 and 3 o'clock, unless the Governor should interpose and commute her punishment to imprisonment in the Penitentiary which he has the refused to do already. So far as we know the condemned has made no confession of the guilt imputed to her by the verdict of the Court. Prior to the commission of the offense of which she stands convicted, she was a very zealous member of the Church and professes even now to be sustained by the consoling influences of religion.
December 9, 1863
To be hung
The negro woman, Margaret, will be hung today, between the hours of 11 and 2 o'clock, by the City Sergeant, pursuant to the verdict of the Hustings Court, for the murder of an infant child of Mr. Samuel C. Tardy. Up to the last evening we have heard nothing of any interposition of Gov. Letcher.
December 10, 1863
The sentence of the Hustings Court of Richmond, condemning Margaret, slave of Mrs. Mary M. Butt of Oxford, North Carolina, to death, for the murder of Francis Deane Tardy, infant child of Mr. Samuel C. Tardy, on the 3d day of December last, was duly carried into effect yesterday at ten minutes past twelve o'clock, on an elevated plateau on the side of the hill east of the new City Almshouse and Powder Magazine, in the immediate vicinity of the spot where Louis Napoleon alias John Richardson was executed for counterfeiting Confederate Treasury notes. The procession escorting the prisoner to the scaffold consisted of a guard from the City Battalion, surrounding the wagon which contained the condemned, sitting on her coffin, and the jailor, following which were the carriage of Lt. Dove, City Physician, and other vehicles. On the sidewalk, following the cortege, were promiscuously mingled civilians, soldiers and negroes by hundreds all pushing forward with a determination that bespoke of their intent to be present at the execution. The procession started from the jail at twenty minutes past eleven o'clock, and proceeded immediately to 17th Street, the most direct road to the place of execution. Up to the hour of starting the condemned was engaged in devotional exercises--a portion of the time with Rev. Mr. Watkins, pastor of the Second Baptist (African) Church, and afterwards with Rev. L.W. Seeley, to both of whom she had uniformly protested her innocence. When the time arrived for starting she came out of the jail smiling and in the best humor possible. Tripping lightly down the steps leading in to the jail yard, she bid adieu to the old colored cook in a voice in no wise broken by emotion, and emerging from the gate into the street, bowed to all she knew. Nearly a half hour was consumed in the journey from the jail to the gallows, and during the whole time she preserved a very calm demeanor. A brief interval of time elapsed before she ascended the scaffold, which was occupied by her in conversation with several persons who approached her. She persisted in the assertion that she was innocent, and willing to die. The time arriving for her execution she ascended the steps leading to the platform without help. The Sergeant then proceeded to read the record of the Court condemning her, to which she listened with marked attention. This duty done she was told she could say anything she pleased. She commenced and continued for some length, in a perfectly free and unembarrassed manner in a clear voice and perfectly distinct enunciation, and without any of those contortions of the body in which persons of her class in the same situation are apt to indulge. She said she was sorry that the Governor had not allowed her time, in order that her mother might see her. She said thought innocent she trusted her fate might serve as a warning to both white and black, who had assembled to see her die. She was prepared to go; and though the mode was horrible, she trusted when the pain of her the body was over her spirit would rest in heaven, etc. Her address ended, a brief interlude occurred, when she again spoke, to the same purport, however, as on the first occasion. Rev. Mr. Seeley, who was on the scaffold with the girl, then at her request read the following address, which she had composed for the occasion:
My Dear Friends. You have assembled here to see me a poor criminal hung. I am glad to see you that I can tell one and all I know I die a painful death but thanks be to God I die perfectly innocent. My sufferings in this wicked and shameful world will soon be over. Those who have condemned me I willingly forgive though they gave me but a short time to prepare myself for this unbearable death. My Lord Jesus has said in His Holy Word that we must forgive in hopes to be forgiven. I have prayed to my God trusting in Him as my Redeemer. If there is any of my friends present I take it hard of them that they did not send me a few clean clothes for the last time, but I forgive them hoping God may. I never thought I would come to this. I never was accused of anything wrong before. Any of you that are present can go to Mr. Pocahontas Butt and inquire my character. There is only one thing. I am sorry to leave this world for, and that is my poor Mother. I should liked to of seen my dear Mother once more but it is not granted to me so I must leave her in the Hands of God hoping she may walk in His ways so that she may meet me some day at the throne of God, where there is no sorrow or pain nor trouble but all joy world without end. I have thought hard of it when two of Mrs. Tardy's family died the same way and a poor creature like me to be accused of it but I forgive in hopes of being forgiven. I wish you all farewell. Take me as a warning and prepare to meet me in Heaven. I hope some of my friends will publish this letter in the Dispatch, so the world may see I die prepared and happy. Margaret Ann Hutter.
The reading of this paper was followed by an address and prayer by Rev. Mr. Seeley. During the latter she exhibited the first signs of emotion noticeable. She shed a few tears. The prayer concluded, she embraced the opportunity to make another address. In this letter she said that had the woman who bore testimony against her before the Court been allowed to proceed and tell all she knew, she (the witness) would have shown her innocence, and now occupy the place she did on the gallows. She said no more on this point, but bid all present farewell. Her hands were then pinioned by the jailor, the rope (a cotton cord) affixed to her neck, the black cap drawn over her face, and the jailor and preacher left the scaffold. a moment after a heavy thud against the side of the scaffold announced to the thousands assembled that the fatal drop had fallen. As usual on such occasions, an audible murmur from the crowd was heard to break the stillness that reigned around. The body gyrated till the coil of the rope unwound. a spasmodic contraction of the shoulders and a few struggles, and the body was motionless. After being suspended for eighteen minutes the cords that confined her hands were unloosed, and Dr. Dove pronounced her dead. The body was then lowered and given in charge of the undertaker, who proceeded to bury it in the colored burying ground, not far from the place of execution. We learn that two days before the execution Governor Letcher was applied to for a respite, and announced his willingness to grant it if were needed to prepare her for death. The respite was declined. We greatly doubt whether an exhibition of this kind is either instructive or edifying. It is certainly horrible to look at especially when the victim is a woman. We trust that the next execution will take place in the jail yard. The party who suffered yesterday was a bright mulatto, of medium size and unusually intelligent for one of her class. If guilty of the crime for which she suffered she died with a lie on her lips and with consummate art the part of a self-possessed and innocent person.