Farmville Jail

March 7, 1896


As the Lunenburg Trials Approach, tensions rise and lynchers approach the town where the prisoners are being held. Hundreds of civilian volunteers are ready to alert the police of any unlawful movement and the authorities are taking precautions.


Editor John Mitchell, Jr., visited Farmville, Va., on the 2nd inst. He was met at the train by Mr. D P. Bragg and was escorted to his residence, and a few moments later was seated in the handsome church edifice. Rev. H. H. Mitchell, D. D., was just concluding the services, but immediately upon seeing the editor announced to the congregation that immediately after the sermon at night, Mr. Mitchell would speak.
Returning to Mr. Bragg's residence, a magnificent repast was spread and the Madame presided with ease and grace while Rev. Mitchell, Mr. Brown and the guest of the afternoon heartily enjoyed themselves.
In an adjoining yard, seen from the window of the Bragg household was the court-house which has just been painted as they said "for the Richmond lawyers." In the rear of this was the old structure now used as s jail and in which the celebrated Lunen burg prisoners are confined.
The jailer, Mr. Edward Matthews, who by the way is a colored gentleman, was sent for.
Editor Mitchell wrote on his visiting card a note to Judge Crute, requesting that he be allowed to see the prisoners. This was entrusted to the jailer's room who upon his return an announced that the favor had beet promptly granted by the respected jurist.
Mr. Matthews led the way. He had three keys large enough to unlock a door aa large as the side of the court-house.
The party made their way through a gate in a newly erected fence. Then there stood a two-story brick structure which must have at one time been a kitchen to an old Virginia dwelling. The iron grating was thrown back, then the door with its ponderous lock opened.
To the right was a room containing six male prisoners. To the left was a room containing an iron cage, with three compartments. In the on furthest away, in a space not more than 5X8 feet, stood Solomon Marable. His bed took up the greater portion of his cell-room.
Marable's Predicament.
He smiled as he saw the editor, extended his hand and expressed his satisfaction at seeing him.
When told that his wife and children were well, he was highly gratified. Questions were asked concerning the money of Mr. E. S. Pollard and also concerning other matters concerning the case. He stoutly maintained the women were innocent, and that Thompson the white man committed the murder. He showed the letter of Father L., Weibers, the Catholic priest, and seemed much gratified at receiving it.
Tall, gaunt and at times meditative Solomon Marable, the man who in the other trial had been denominated the "prince of liars" stood before him. It was a pitiable sight. Iron bars surrounded him and he was practically hemmed in from the sight of heaven. On the outside stood Jailer Mathews, thoughtful but ready at a moment’s warning to do his duty.
He showed Editor Mitchell the workings of the iron cage and a few moments later the Richmond journalist found himself as much a prison as Solomon Marable. It was not a pleasant sensation as he gazed through the iron bars then out of the grated window while almost in arms reach stood the solemn-face but secretive prisoner from Lunenburg.
The key was turned, the bolt withdrawn and with a sigh of relief passed out of the iron enclosure. “I am sorry Marable," he said, "you have gotten yourself in such a fix. A shadow darkened Marable's countenance, his head dropped and the dejected look returned.
Bidding him good-bye, the editor passed up-stairs where upon the unlocking of the door and passing inside, he stood within a large room, in striking contrast to the one occupied Marable.
There stood Pokey Barnes, attired in her "Sunday best," while seated near the bed with the suckling infant was Mary Abernathy. To say they were pleased to see him expresses it mildly. Broad smiles beamed their countenances. There were large beds in the room, a stove and three chairs. The room was lined with a network of iron bars to prevent prisoners from breaking out.
Pokey told of her trip to Lunenburg. "I made out very well,” she said, “in the trip across the country. I was in a buggy with Sheriff Cardoza. It had a top to it. I got wet on my arm and the lower part of my dress.
"I was so afraid," she said to the editor, "that you would come up to Lunenburg C. H. I could hear them talking, saying what they would do with you. We were frightened nearly to death. They all said we would never leave there alive. Every noise on the outside scared us." Mary Abernathy said, "Ah Lord, I had a hard time. When I got to Burkeville I got Mr. Cardoza to get me an umbrella and I paid for it out of the money which had been given me by friends at Richmond.
“They carried me and my baby in an open wagon and they drove over stumps which must have been that high.” She indicated the distance from the floor and it was over a foot high. "The plank on which I was sitting broke and I had to sit in the wagon for some distance." She told of the treatment with a great deal of feeling. "When they came to take us out to bring us to Farmville, we thought they had come to lynch us.
We had a rough time coming to this place," she added, and Pokey nodded assent.
They were pleased to hear of Richmond. After conversing with them along this line for some time, Mr. Mitchell bid them adieu and repaired to the First Baptist Church where he listened to a most eloquent sermon delivered by Rev. H. H. Mitchell, D. D., to Pocahontas Lodge of Odd Fellows. In the afternoon, the editor again visited the prisoners.
At night, after another able sermon by Rev. Dr. Mitchell, the editor spoke. He pictured the Lunenburg Case in all of its pathetic details. Handkerchiefs were freely used as the audience became bathed in sympathizing tears. He urged the colored men to act in conjunction with the liberal minded white ones and guard that jail at all hazards. Many pressed around him to shake his hand.
It would be well to state here that Farmville is only 28 miles from the scene of the murder by roadway and only fifteen miles by horseback, crossing the various farms and making "shortcuts."
It is now known for a certainty that Solomon Marable, Pokey Barnes, and Mary Abernathy were to have beer lynched Wednesday, Feb. 19, 1896. A mob had been organized for that purpose.
When the "runners" which had been sent brought the information that the Farmville jail was being guarded by about three hundred Negroes, the lynchers suddenly postponed the trip and decided to wait for a more opportune time. Editor Mitchell secured information that this was a fact, the statement being corroborated at Farmville and by private advice from Lunenburg County.
The jail is still being guarded. Colored men are ready to respond on a moment’s notice.
It was an affecting scene when Frank Ellis, the colored leader of the guard, grasped Mr. Mitchell's hand after his address, and with tremulous voice told of how many nights he had gone without sleep. He had no money to give, he said, But he would protect the prisoners with his life.
It is needless to say that the colored people of Farmville have a regular arsenal for the defense of that jail an dif an attempt is made to lynch the prisoners, with the military company, the liberal minded white citizens and the colored men who determined that the town shall not be disgraced by lynching, one of the bloodiest scenes ever enacted in Virginia will take place.
Gov. O'Ferrall was advised of the danger for he sent the following telegram:
Richmond, Va., February 20,1896. To Hon J. M. Crute, Judge of the County Court, Farmville, Va.,:
"I hope there is no truth in the report in the morning papers that violence to the Lunenburg prisoners is feared. Of course, I know you will take every precaution and that with a fine military company in your town any mob ought certainly to be quickly suppressed; but, if necessary, I will support you promptly with other troops, if you will wire me. Our courts must no longer be reflected upon, nor our State be disgraced by lynching.
(Signed) CT. O'Ferrall. "Governor.'
Judge Crute replied immediately to the Governor, as follows:
"Hon. C. T O'Ferrall, Governor. Richmond, Va.:
Your message duly considered, have carefully investigated, and can see no reason to anticipate danger to the Lunenburg prisoners, I have taken what I conceive to be all necessary precautions.
J. M. Crute.
Fifty witnesses will be summoned for the women and it would take one man a month to perform the task. Hon. George D. Wise, Judge H. W. Flournoy, and Capt. A. B. Guigon will represent the women and
W. C. Franklin of Pamphlin, Va., will represent Solomon Marable.
The counsel for the women are ready and are perfectly well aware of every point which they are to meet. Capt. Wise is eager for the fray and it is evident that one of the most sensational trials in the criminal annals of Virginia will take place.
The women's innocence can be established. The defense has its the of the murder and the prosecution cam do as it sees best in the premises.
When all is known and it will be at the close of this celebrated case, the public will be astounded at the surprising nature of this task imposed accomplished by those who have managed the affair.
It has cost much money, it may cost much more, but the result will justify the expense and the story of how two innocent women were sent to their death and another to the penitentiary will be as sensational as it is pathetic.
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Contributed By

Liam Eynan


“Farmville Jail,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed August 4, 2020,