Smithers Precinct

October 31, 1896


In Smithers precinct, excuses are used to stop eligible black men from voting.


It is the same thing that has been carried on secretly ever since machine rule has been the dominant power in Virginia, only this is on a larger scale. The result of the registration in this noted precinct has been the disfranchisement of many bona fide voters. The registration was a farce. The voters who were registered were challenged and crossed questioned for more than quarter of an hour. Thus Syrcle endeavored to kill time, but whenever it was known that any white men present was affiliated with the Free Silverites, the registrars refused to challenge them, and pronounced them "All Right."
It was not until 6:20 that the polls were thrown open, 15 minutes late. A large crowd meanwhile surged around the place; and immediately after the doors were thrown open the men massed themselves solidly in front of the little carpenter shop of W. C. John & Sons, on Mechanicsville Turnpike.
The Boundary of Smither's precinct has the Chickahominy swamp for its northern boundary line; the west side of 26th street from Carrington to the swamp forms the eastern boundary line; the city of Richmond to the C & O. railroad forms the southern boundary line while the C & O road forms the western.
In this precinct there has been more robbery on the part of the Democratic machine than perhaps in any other. The larger portion of the inhabitants are colored but J.R. Syrcle (white) whose political faith in Free Silver is unbounded, is the registrar. It is he who has been so frequently away from home every night in the week to keep from registering the colored voters.
Many attempts has been made by the colored people to get registered at his home but they invariably reply, "He is not in."
Some went so far as to go to his home at every hour of the night from 7 p. m. to 3 a. m. but all in vain. Last Saturday was the regular registration day. Syrcle with two co-adjutors, W. H. Moseley and James Cannon duly ensconced themselves in the little shop.
It was evident from the start that it was their supreme object to kill as much time in registering voters a possible and right manfully did he succeed for when the polls closed at sun down there were nearly sixty bona tide voters who had not been registered. Messrs. Barton H. Wise and Randolph Williams were present in the interest of the Gold Democrats while Messrs. Hugh Antrim and Morgan Treat endeavored to use their influence on the behalf of the Republicans.
The tactics employed by Syrcle were so flagrant and contemptible that many turned away disgusted.
Several colored men were compelled to answer a long string of trivial questions; sometimes their category would become exhausted and then he would turn away and chat with friends leaving the voter to his own reflection.
Here are a fair sample of the main questions to be answered: "Who your mother?" "Where'd she live in your boyhood?” "How many times have you been married?" "How many times have you moved?" "How do you spell your name?" Sometimes case of a very old man, "Can you prove you are 21," etc.
11 o'clock Mr. James Goranns who had been standing in line since daybreak wanted to get a transfer to Manquin, King William County, succeeded in getting another gentleman to take his place in line until he could get his transfer as soon as possible that he could get back home in time to register. Syrcle saw the occurrence and drove him back to the rear. It was nearly 5 o'clock before he succeeded in getting it and then it was too late to do him any good.
Mr. Henry Mayne who resides 1896 Short P street induced a man to change places as he was in a hurry to catch the train. The change was made, but Syrcle refused to wait on him, and wasted enough time in forcing a self made rule to register two men.
Mr. Ben Daniels applied for registration with a proper transfer made out in proper form. He was put through a long list of useless question. He claimed that he lived at corner of Fairfield and 17th street. Syrcle told him that he lived in the city, Daniels insisted that he lived in county and that the corporation which mark the dividing line between the city and county was just in front of his house. His expostulations were all in vain and he was denied the privilege of registering.
There were many who stayed away from work for the express purpose of registering, only to be disfranchised. One gentleman who lives on the road, who had been at the polls ne all day, when he went to draw money for his work received only 55 cents instead of $1.66.
Syrcle did every thing in his power to kill time. Nearly all black applicants were ordered to spell their names matter whether it was Jones or Brown and if they couldn't this was the signal for many valuable minutes to be lost. Syrcle claimed as his excuse for not registering the 60 voters, that applicant asked so many unnecessary questions that it consumed so much of the time when in reality he and his colleagues did the talking. His five men were registered an hour much partiality was shown, colored people are indignant and threats of appealing to the law are heard on every hand.
The case of Benjamin Daniels is before the legal authorities and interesting developments are likely to be produced.
About this article

Location on Page

Upper Left Quadrant


Contributed By

Liam Eynan


“Smithers Precinct,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed October 20, 2019,