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New information about hanged slave, Lucy Hamilton, by researchers from Ohio and Tennessee

Gerry Fischer:



 Recent articles by Gary Kempf, Sherrill Williams and this writer, led to an Ohio researcher uncovering information showing Lucy’s trial impacted the Hamilton family for a decade. On the heels of this discovery Tim Watts a researcher and writer from Nashville, Tennessee provided additional information gleaned from abstracts written by Carolyn Wimp from the Ancestral Trails Historical Society. While Lucy Hamilton’s story may never be completely told, a clearer picture emerges as this newly discovered material is examined.

 It’s been discovered, the baby Lucy carried to her execution, fathered by William Hamilton, was not her first child. Recently discovered court suits and the 1850’s Federal Slave Schedule, show she had another child, perhaps fathered by someone other than William Hamilton. Although, William could have been the father of both. In any event, Lucy Hamilton, pregnant with William’s child, killed William with a knife, and was sentenced to death by hanging. Town sentiment favored Lucy, but local politics and social conditions conspired against her. In my view, Lucy was not given a fair trial.

 The Meade County jury foreman, Henry P. Byrum, may have been the same Henry Byrum who settled in Meade moving here from his home in New York. If so, he probably held a different view of slavery, since many northern church conventions were determining slavery to be a sin and it was prohibited in that state in 1846, the time of Hamilton’s murder. Eleven years later the Dred Scott Decision would allow slavery in every state, although on a more limited basis in those abolishing the practice. Byrum was the jury foreman over 10 jurors six of whom were farmers 5 owning slaves. The slave owners were Buckner J. Stith who owned 6 slaves in 1850, John Vanmeter who owned 8, Henry B. Truman owning 15, Pendleton Chase Moorman, who owned 13, and Archibald Johnson owning 1. There were two John Frymires in Breckenridge County, neither who owned slaves. One was born in 1785 and the other in 1814, though not owning slaves, they were likely relatives of George Frymire who owned one slave. A John Frymire was on the jury and may have been sympathetic toward Lewis Hamilton, father of the slain William.

 Aguiller D. Reid, Moses Nelson, a laborer, and Noah Nelson, a miller, owned no slaves but Moses was a next-door neighbor to Juror Henry Truman in 1850, and his brother Noah lived near Henry Truman in 1840. Farmer William McGlothlan completed the jury panel. It is possible and perhaps probable, 8 out of the 11 jurors were biased toward the prosecution.

 Tuesday November 3rd, 1846 Lucy and Peter of color, the property of Lewis Hamilton, were indicted for murder. The next day the indictment on Peter was discharged. Thursday November 5th, 1846 the jury was empaneled and after hearing the evidence Henry P. Byrum, a juror withdrew and the jury was discharged. What happened next is not known, but for some reason, perhaps adverse public pressure, Henry P. Byrum left Meade County, and removed himself to Jefferson County and Louisville.

May 4, 1847, Lucy was found guilty of murder by the jury. On Friday of that term of court, at Lucy’s suggestion, all further proceedings were suspended. It is my speculation that at that time Lucy had not yet delivered her child. At the August term of court further proceedings on this case were postponed due to the tender age of the child. Later in 1847 sometime between August and December 31st, Judge Churchill resigned rather than pass sentence on Lucy.

 Governor Owsley appointed Samuel Carpenter in his stead, and Lucy’s sentence was rendered on May 1, 1848, and on June 1 Lucy Hamilton was hanged. The child was given over to the Hamilton family. “Ref. page 116, 17th of May, 1856, in Meade County Chancery Court, Lloyd F. Hamilton (gdn) vs Lewis Hamilton and Co., a man named Isaac Overton was appointed commissioner “to expose to sale the two negro children of the negro Lucy and to the estate of James Hamilton (dec’d…).” Sally and Emily were sold at the Meade County Courthouse door, by Sheriff Isaac Overton.