Index I   1873 – 1900

 

Introduction

 

This is news that was reported by The Charlotte Gazette, between the years 1873 and 1900. It contains items primarily relevant to the African American community, both in and outside of Charlotte County. Not all of the articles, however, pertain solely to the African American community. Many stories are included because of their historical significance, others because they are simply interesting. A number of general community items are included as well. Upon reading this one will see how local and national issues touched the lives of people in and out of Charlotte County. Because so many local people made the news, it may also be useful to family researchers. Whatever value, the reader is likely to find this book insightful, informative and interesting. While interesting, the nature of many of its reports are likely to be very disturbing.

This book is donated to further the study of African American History and community life in South Central Virginia. In many instances abbreviations have been lengthened to full words. No other changes have been made. All credit for this news is owed to The Charlotte Gazette from which these reports are derived.

Sociological rationales for human behaviors are not offered here. This is a collection of news. If one should choose to make sociological conclusions about human behaviors one will.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, community newspapers like The Charlotte Gazette directed their news generally at the white reading public. Therefore the news reflected the general concerns of that readership. During this time, if blacks made the news, it usually was in reports involving illicit activity. At election time more racially charged political news appeared. Most political news served to shape public opinion so as whites would understand the danger that many believed blacks could pose to the political system. Whenever serious racial disturbances occurred The Gazette published much investigatory analysis and commentary.

Though primarily directed at white readers, the writers knew that blacks were reading the paper. Before and after elections short messages and innuendos were sent to the black readership. Occasionally, The Gazette reported on social events occurring within the black community; and sometimes individuals were recognized and even complemented. This was how the news was reported.

Without doubt, criminal activity was occurring. An element within the black community was on the wrong side of the law. This criminal element, however, represented only a proportion of the black community. Most blacks were law abiding American citizens.

Many who went afoul of the law were involved in the crime of theft. Such property as melons, sweet potatoes, corn, tobacco, and livestock were stolen. Other crimes included petty larceny, horse racing in the streets, forgery, default of payment, illegal voting, fighting, disorderly conduct, assault, public intoxication, indecent language, insolence, unlawful cohabitation, interracial dating, infanticide, rape, and murder.

Punishments under law underwent significant change throughout the years. Throughout the 1870s, and into the early 1880s, law-breakers convicted of misdemeanors, or in some cases felonies, could be sentenced to be whipped or as it was called, “lashed” or “stripped.” Depending upon the severity of the crime, an offender could be sentenced to receive any number of “stripes” up to thirty-nine “lashes.” Sometimes a violator could choose the lash or imprisonment, four months imprisonment or thirty-nine lashes being a typical penalty. Most lawbreakers seem to have chosen to undergo the lash, rather than serve out a jail sentence. After 1881, there are no more reports of law-breakers receiving whippings.

An unofficial form of “citizen justice” was dispensed through lynchings. This extralegal punishment increased dramatically after the 1880s. Between 1886 and 1893, Charlotte County suffered four lynchings.

By the middle 1890s, The Gazette was reporting far less crime. Since the newspaper was not reporting as much crime, the impression was that far less criminal activity was occurring. For some time, The Gazette was saying that it did not want to devote valuable space for never ending criminal reports, now it appears they were not. Community leaders were concerned about that continued crime reports would discourage business investments and settlement. Thus, by the mid 1890s fewer criminal accounts involve such activity like fighting in the streets, disturbing the peace, stealing melons, and other lesser crimes. At this time, however, the town of Keysville continued the send The Gazette its own news items in its column called the “Keysville Briefs.” Some of these Briefs contained the kind of news that The Gazette no longer appeared to want; this being news associated with crime or other stories concerning “colored” life. Nevertheless, this news was published, though be it vicariously, through the “Keysville Briefs.” In some instances when arrest were made for very serious capital crimes, and where the plaintiff and the defendant were black, no follow up story came afterwards as one would expect.

Early newspaper reporters went further than strictly reporting the news. In many instances stories were exaggerated, embellished, and even manufactured to suit other purposes. This manipulation of the news will be obvious to the reader.

In earlier times Charlotte Court House was a much livelier place. Before the automobile, people rarely traveled further than twenty miles from home. People normally went no further than a horse could comfortably travel in a day. As a result local people often traveled to Smithville, as Charlotte Court House was then called. Smithville was the center of county life. Court days and weekends were very lively times. Court day was held one weekday each month. It brought many people to the village. Many came to conduct business and legal activities. Others came just to be there in town. People wanted to go somewhere! Weekends too were very lively. Many of the illicit activities that made Wednesday’s news occurred on the weekends. These days helped give the village its colorful life. Smithville was indeed a very exciting place! For the people of Charlotte County, it was the place to be! Heck, had I lived then, and had a fast horse, I too might have taken a quick ride or two through the streets of Smithville!

 

 

 

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