Friday, February 3, 2012

A Shameful Incident in the Public Square

A Gossips reader, curious about Silas W. Tobey, did some research on the veteran artist who put the finishing touches on the fountain in 1883 and discovered this story. In 1859, Silas W. Tobey was one of the defendants in a lawsuit brought by William Mower and heard in the Circuit Court of the Supreme Court in New York City. Tobey and his fellow defendants--Peter Bogardus, Abraham Bogardus, William H. Hunt, Myron Van Dusen, Charles S. Winchell, and Abraham V. V. Elting--were accused of standing by and making no effort to protect Mower from an angry mob intent on doing him bodily harm. Testimony recounted in the New York Evening Express for September 22, 1859, provides the details of the incident.

In July 1856, Mower, an African American barber, was accused of "ravishing an innocent white girl." Curiously, the girl's father, Abraham Elting, was one of the defendants in the case and testified in court that he had known Mower for fifteen years. One evening, on a signal from a patron who was "getting his hair dressed," Mower was taken from his barber shop by three men, two of whom beat him as they led him to the public square. Once there, an angry crowd formed a ring around Mower. He was made to strip, and tar was applied to his body with a barrel stave. According to one witness, there wasn't enough tar to cover Mower's entire body, so "when they got near the bottom of the pot," they poured what remained of the tar over Mower's head. When the deed was accomplished, Mower, tarred and feathered, was permitted to leave. One witness at the trial, who had been one of the conspirators in the vengeance against Mower, testified that he had enlisted the help of "a clan known as the North Whopping Boys."

Gossips research has not yet discovered the outcome of the lawsuit, but Silas W. Tobey was involved in more litigation at the end of his life. Tobey died as a result of slipping on an icy sidewalk, and in 1888 his heirs sued the City of Hudson for $2,000.

The public square where Mower was tarred and feathered may have been the area now known as Seventh Street Park, but it could also have been the courtyard in front of what is now the Register-Star building at Warren and Fourth streets. In the 1850s, this too was known as the "Public Square." The building was then the jail, and the courtyard in front of it had been the location of the pillory and the scene of a public hanging. It seems more likely, however, that the lynch law action taken against Mower would have been staged someplace away from the seat of official law enforcement, but you never know.   

1 comment:

  1. Not a nice story, but not nearly as bad as what would have happened after an accusation like that in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where part of my family comes from. In Holly Springs at that time the man would have been killed, no doubt about it.

    -- Jock Spivy