Like it or not we have capital punishment in Georgia. From 1735 to 1931, the legal method of execution was hanging with the first death sentence carried out in 1735. You might find it surprising to know the first person executed in Georgia was a white woman named Alice Riley, an Irish indentured servant. She was convicted of murdering the man she was in service to, Will Wise. Officials in Savannah delayed her execution until she gave birth to the baby she was carrying. There's a tale that Alice's spirit wanders the city's Wright Square which is where the hangings for that jurisdiction took place for many years.
Though a law was passed in 1924 outlawing hangings opting for the more "modern" method of electrocution, the last hanging in Georgia actually occurred in 1931, and the name of the gentleman killer was Arthur Meyers. Newspapers referred to him as a gentleman because it was noted he wore a fine suit of clothes and even sported gloves for his last act on earth. He committed murder in 1924, was convicted in 1928, and since he was convicted under the former hanging law, this is why Meyers was hung in Augusta in 1931. Apparently, a crowd gathered on a nearby roof to get a glimpse of what should have been a private affair, but just as the deed was to be done, the building's roof collapsed taking the would-be spectators down with it. The distraction was only momentary and Myers' death sentence was still carried out.
Scattered through Douglas County's history various murders have occurred and punishments meted out, but 105 years ago this week Douglas County saw its first legal hanging for a murder offense.
In 1912, Henry Amos was convicted of murdering Cain Jones and sentenced to hang at high noon on Nov. 8, which fell on a Friday that year.
News reports came out a few days later detailing how thousands hit the streets of Douglasville to witness the macabre event. More than likely it was just hundreds of people as newspapers did tend to exaggerate, but it's safe to say the streets were filled with folks, and many of them were from adjoining counties, too. Apparently, the people wanted to see as much as possible of the "event."
A news report from the "Cedartown Standard" advised, "An effort to break down the fence was quickly stopped when Sheriff Alfred Seawright Baggett placed deputies at places where planks were torn away, and he threatened the full penalty of contempt of court upon every man who attempted to destroy the fence surrounding the gallows."
I had to wonder about this fence. Where was it located, and why were people trying to break it down? Why was Sheriff Baggett threatening the crowds with contempt of court?
I dug around a little and found the answer.
Less than 10 days before the hanging in Douglasville, a mob of people had descended upon the site of a scheduled and legal hanging in Forsyth County the night prior. The next morning Forsyth officials found the fence surrounding their gallows had become a heap of cinders. An individual or a group of individuals had made sure they could watch the hanging. Seventy-five state militia men had been sent to Forsyth to keep the peace and make sure the hanging proceeded by law. Just as today, part of the law included no public executions mandating only a handful of witnesses could attend, hence the need for a fence.
Forsyth officials had attempted to replace the fence before the execution, but every lumber dealer in the area refused to sell the sheriff additional materials. So, even though seventy-five state militia men were on hand to keep the peace and carry out state law, there was a very public double hanging in Forsyth County that day.
A few days later in Douglasville, Sheriff Baggett had no supply of militia men, and perhaps just three or four deputies at best, but he managed to keep the peace, keep the crowds at bay, keep the fence surrounding the gallows intact, and keep the execution of Henry Amos private.
I'm still a little hazy regarding the location of Sheriff Baggett's gallows, and while Savannah capitalizes on the ghosts of hung criminals wandering about, I've never experienced a "haint" in downtown Douglasville, have you?
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County" online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her books can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art, The Farmer's Table and Lithia Springs Pharmacy.