Tuesday, February 19, 2013

An Unpleasant Scene ... Vanceburg in the Fall of 1861

Vanceburg, ca. 1912
Late summer and early fall of 1861 was a time of great struggle and turmoil for Kentuckians. The Civil War left the state divided in sentiment. Although sympathetic to the South, Kentucky was traditionally loyal to the Union. Her citizens showed strong patriotism and were reluctant to abandon the old flag and the Union their grandfathers had fought and died for. On the other hand, there was resentment over coercion of the seceded States by the federal government. The issues of states' rights and slavery helped drive the wedge even deeper.

Families, friends and neighbors found themselves on opposite sides, but holding firmly to their viewpoints. Sometimes, the feeling of animosity was bitter and manifested itself in unpleasant scenes.

One such incident took place in Vanceburg, Lewis County, Kentucky. Situated on the Ohio River 20 miles above Maysville, at the junction of Salt Creek, Vanceburg was a town of roughly 200 inhabitants. It had a  post office, four hotels, several stores and a salt-works nearby. Over the past 13 years the population had quadrupled, mostly due to the influx of new settlers from Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts  who came down the Ohio River and settled here. Among the inhabitants  were a number of lumber merchants and sawyers, a land agent, steamboat  pilot and flatboat man, physicians, lawyers, blacksmiths, carpenters, a  saddler and miller, brick makers and layers, teamsters and seamstresses. By all appearances, Vanceburg was an up and coming town at the beginning of the Civil War.

One of the more recent arrivals was 30 year old Francis L. Shaw and his family. Francis occupied a home next to the residences of his brother William Y. Shaw and his brother-in-law Killian K. Mann. A near neighbor was Hiram T. Rowley, a merchant who operated a store on Second Street in Vanceburg. As far as current political issues were concerned, Shaw and his family strongly supported the Union cause.

On the evening of September 1, 1861, at 7 p.m., Shaw was sitting in his house with his wife Mahala, and the couple's two young children, eight year  old Oliver and four year old Mary. Also present were Shaw's younger brother Lorenzo and one of his wife's sisters. Suddenly, they heard the foot steps of men walking up the sidewalk in the direction of their  house. When in front of their house, a man by the name of Henry Pell  called to Shaw, and told him that, "Mr. Rice" wanted to see him down town immediately. Mr. Rice in this case may have been Francis H. Rice, a 42  year old land agent from Massachusetts who was boarding at police judge William S. Parker's house, six households from the Shaw residence. The men then turned and walked directly across the Street as Shaw was able to determine by the sound of their feet.

Francis L. Shaw was reluctant to leave the house as he believed from the indications that Pell and the men with him "designed some evil" toward him. An hour later a small stone was thrown against the house. For the next three hours all was quiet again until about 11 o'clock when Mahala went into the backroom where the children were sleeping and  moved the curtain at the window. She quickly stepped back and remarked that she heard men running and just at that instance, "the report of a gun and the crashing of the window and the lumbering of stones on the floor filled the house."

Shaw stated that, "My family were so much alarmed as to cry out which together with the report of the gun alarmed many of the citizens who were yet not retired to bed and within Five minutes a number of citizens were at my house, when we proceeded to examine the affect of the assault, and found two stones in the room one weighing about Four and a half lbs; the other about Three lbs. One of the stones had struck the far side of the room cutting through the ceiling; the other had struck the floor cutting quite a gash in it. The charge in the gun being shot, had taken effect in the wall and in the head board of the Bedsted near the head of one of my children who was sleeping there. Another stone had struck the meeting Rail of the Window Sash, when it broke and scattered over the room. The glass was nearly all broken out of the window."

While Shaw and some of his neighbors were examining the damage in the house, others proceeded to scout in different directions in search of  the mob, and in a few minutes one of the scouts came upon three men sitting by the road side about Two Hundred yards from Shaw's house - one of them being Henry Pell. One of the scouts asked him if he knew anything of the disturbance to which he replied he had not heard of any disturbance.

Shaw immediately procured a writ and charged Pell and his companions with assault on his home and shooting into the house with intent to kill. Consequently, Pell's two companions were arrested, as well as a  third man who had been seen running away from Shaw's house immediately after the firing was heard. Pell, however, was not taken. A court of inquiry was called immediately and proceeded to try the men arrested.

One of the men turned States evidence and testified that Pell induced him and the other two men referred to, to go with him to try and lure Shaw out of the house for the purpose of robbing him. After failing in any way to get him out they went and made the assault, thinking that Shaw was at the window, as they had seen the curtains moved by some one.

Shaw stated in regard to Pell that, "I have no knowledge of any insult of any kind that could have actuated him, only as I was told that he said I was a damned Lincolnite and a damned Abolishionist."

Soon after the incident, Francis L. Shaw moved with his family to Fleming County. He enlisted in November 1861 in the 24th KY Infantry and thus had no further chance to prosecute the case.

Pell remained at large but was eventually arrested within two months after the incident. Police judge William S. Parker investigated and tried the case "according to law" but amazingly, cleared Pell of any wrong doing. Parker reasoned that, "there was no evidence implicating  him in said charges and I found there was no course for sending him on for trial in the Circuit Court."  Clearly, Parker ignored the fact that Pell had been named as the main instigator by one of his companions.  Furthermore, Parker called none of the witnesses in the case, namely Socrates Holbrook, County Attorney of Lewis County and Dr. Robert G. Barber, one of the physicians in Vanceburg, nor Francis L. Shaw's  brother Lorenzo Dow Shaw or William Schiffbower who was rooming at one of the hotels in town at the time of the incident.

After the proceedings, police judge Parker enlisted in the 16th KY Infantry and left the docket and papers in his bureau drawer. By 1864, when called  upon, all pertinent documents had been conveniently lost or misplaced. Clearly, for unknown reasons, justice had not been served. Nevertheless, although the law failed to prosecute him for his misdeeds in the fall of 1861, Pell eventually ran into trouble a few short years later ... which will be the subject of another article.

  ~ To Be Continued ~