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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Lynching of Amos Miller from the Courthouse Balcony, August 10, 1888

On August 10, 1888, Amos Miller was murdered by hanging from the balcony of the courthouse in Franklin, Tennessee. Miller, an approximately 30-year old black man, was from the Santa Fe community in Maury County and was first jailed in Columbia on charges of rape - which he denied. But when a mob was formed, intending to lynch Miller, the Maury County sheriff brought him to Franklin in Williamson County. Newspaper accounts describe that a mob of 100 men were "en route to Franklin with the intention of mobbing [lynching]" Miller so the sheriff then took him to Nashville.  When the authorities returned with him to Franklin for trial two months later, an "organized body of about 50 men, well-armed" entered the courtroom, took Miller, and swung "him to a banister railing." 

The Williamson County Courthouse
Franklin, Tennessee

Initially Brought to Franklin.  When Amos Miller was first brought to Franklin for safekeeping on June 17, 1888, Sheriff Russell of Williamson County learned that a mob of 100 men were on their way to the city to kill his prisoner. So he and the jailer took Miller about 1/2 mile out of town and hid him in a wheat field.  While they were hiding, the mob arrived in Franklin and demanded from the turnkey at the jail that Miller be handed over.  The jail was opened, but upon inspection, they confirmed that Miller was not there. The mob then went out the Nashville Turnpike (today's Franklin Road) - as far as the first tollgate - to wait for the Sheriff to return with Miller.  

This portion of an 1878 map of the Williamson County shows downtown Franklin at the bottom, and circled is the first Tollhouse on Franklin Road (the Nashville Turnpike) where the mob waited for the Sheriff and Amos Miller.  Near the top of the image is Owen's Station - this is probably the Mallory Station referenced as the train station from which the jailor and Miller left for Nashville to avoid detection by the lynch mob.
D. G. Beers & Co. Map of Williamson County 1878
They waited for two hours and then "gave up the search."  Meanwhile, Sheriff Russel and Miller hid in the field until later in the morning when they deemed it safe to return to the Franklin jail. Sometime that morning, the jailer took Miller to Mallory's Station - rather than the Franklin train station - where they boarded a train for Nashville. 

Held in Nashville Until Trial.  Amos Miller arrived in Nashville on Wednesday, June 20th and was held in the jail there for about two months.   Despite the passage of time, the blood lust for Miller had not cooled when at about 5 o'clock am on Saturday, August 11th, Nashville jailer Webb and Policeoffier Dowell left for Franklin with their prisoner. The newspaper reported that "It was feared that if he remained [in Nashville] much longer he would be taken from the custody of the officers and dealt with by Judge Lynch in a summary certain and inexpensive manner." Judge McAlister had changed the date of the trial two times in order to thwart plans for Miller's lynching. 

One newspaper reported, 
"It was thought best by the officers of the Court not to attempt to try him at the regular session of the Court, and it was accordingly arranged to have a special session for his trial. Miller was brought this morning from Nashville where he had been for safe keeping, and arraigned in Court. The mob had promised the officers of the Court that if Miller was given a trial at once, they would make no demonstrations, but the mob was organized and in READINESS FOR ACTION [capitals in original] whenever the leaders gave the signal."

According to one account,  a little past 10 o'clock in the morning, a large group of men on horseback 
"rode into the city and took their position in the rear of the old cemetery while three of the number went to the jail to ascertain with certainty whether Miller was actually there or had been taken away. Mr. Sellers, the turnkey, says that he had difficulty in satisfying the men that the negro for whom they were searching was not there. Finally, however, they were convinced and the whole party went quietly away without creating any disturbance. People who saw the three men who approached the jail say they wore long, gray linen dusters and that their faces were covered with masks of some sort."
Apparently, next the group proceeded to the Courthouse:
"Very soon after court convened the leaders understood that the attorneys for the defense were preparing to make a motion for a change of venue, and sent word to that effect to the mob. The Court was proceeding to take up the case, and the Attorney-General had announced himself as ready for the State, when the defendant's counsel applied for a continuance, and proceeded to write an affidavit. At once an organized body of about fifty men, well armed, advanced to the Court House, entered the Court-room, seized the negro and swung him to the banister railing in the building, almost in the very presence of the Judge and officers of the Court. 
Per one report,
"The prisoner was hurried out and hanged from the front of the porch. He must have died in a minute. His only motion after the drop was to raise his hands half-way up once."
Some efforts were made to prevent the murder: 
Sheriff Russell drew his pistol to defend the prisoner, but it was struck out of his hand, and he and the other officers, all of whom attempted to stop the mob, were overpowered. Judge McAlister rose on the bench and some of the lawyers leaped to the tables and ordered and advised the mob to hesitate but to no avail."
"An effort [by Sheriff Russell] was made to prevail upon the lynchers to desist, but they were determined not to countenance any thing that had the appearance of delay, and summarily executed THEIR CONCEPTION OF JUSTICE ([capitals in original]. No one was allowed to interfere.

Sadly, Amos Miller's brother [Charles Miller] was present for his killing:
"A brother of Miller was in the Court House and witnessed the hanging but made no demonstration. Mrs. Scott [the alleged victim] was present at the trial but upon notification left a few minutes before the arrival of the mob. None of the mob were disguised, and when they had executed their vengeance they quietly dispersed. Intense excitement prevails throughout the town and vicinity, but the result is nothing more than was expected by many of the people familiar with the details of the crime."
I have not been able to identify a gravesite for Amos Miller's body.

Richmond Planet, August 25, 1888
Miller's lynching occurred at a time when these kinds of murders were all-too prevalent. The Richmond Planet, an African American newspaper, kept a count of the lynchings. In the one year period from July 1887 to July 1888, they had reported 109 lynchings of black people in America. In the month, August 1888, including Amos Miller's lynching there were 31 killings bringing the total to 140.

Over the 25 year period from 1868 through the early 1890s ast least 11 men were murdered in Williamson County by lynching:

July and August 1868: six men died in a series of retaliatory murders:

- July 18, 1868 William Guthrie was lynched by the KKK, by shooting near the Douglass church (the site of today's Henpeck Market on Lewisburg Pike

- July 19, 1868 Jeremiah Ezell was shot in an ambush in retaliation for the killing of William Guthrie

- Soon after, two men were murdered by hanging in retaliation for the murder of Jeremiah Ezell (one was hung from a locust tree at Widow Bostick's Everbright home on Carter's Creek Pike and the other was hung in "Maney's front lawn" - the home known today as Jasmine Grove in the Myles Manor neighborhood.)

- August 17, 1868, Samuel A. Bierfield was shot on Main Street in downtown Franklin in retaliation for the death of Jeremiah Ezell

- August 17, 1868 Lawrence Bowman was shot on Main Street in downtown Franklin apparently in retaliation for the death of Jeremiah Ezell

March 1877, Jim Walker was taken from the courthouse by “masked men” and hung “about a mile from town”.

August 1878 Calvin Beatty was lynched by hanging from a hickory tree

October 1878 John Thomas was lynched by hanging

August 10, 1888 Amos Miller was lynched by hanging by the KKK from the courthouse railing

April 30, 1891 Jim Taylor lynched from the Murfreesboro Bridge by today's Pinkerton Park in Franklin

This ugly period in America's history, in Franklin and Williamson County's history and in our collective history must not be forgotten. To learn more, visit The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.


  1. In reading the several pieces, it appears that the serious racism of the times was in Maury County, not Williamson County. The state government committee report highlighted contains references mostly about conduct of Maury County citizens, nothing of substance about Williamson County. Why the difference?

    1. Thanks for your comment Joe Ryan. I think the lack of a Freedmen's Bureau office in Williamson County (the Franklin officer was pulled out and sent to Giles County as the KKK heated up activity) effected the reporting to this Commission. There was plenty of racism to go around in Williamson County as well. I don't think the report was intended to be representative. That being said, Maury County was absolutely a hot bed of Klan activity that is often not well understood or appreciated.