I recently ran across a listing of counties throughout the United States where lynchings had occurred …. or at least were known about.
Curious, I looked for Jeff Davis County and found that no lynchings had been recorded here. However, I noticed three had occurred in Appling County.
Being a newspaper reporter, I began to dig further and found that the lynchings occurred in 1893, 12 years before the Georgia Legislature voted to create Jeff Davis County. In 1893, Hazlehurst was part of Appling County.
So I continued digging.
I found an article in The Progressive Farmer, a newspaper published in Winston, N.C., which reported that Newton “Newt” Jones, a black man, was reported to have killed Mr. O.G. Herndon at Ketterer & Dan’s still near Baxley. Jones was captured at C.W. Swain’s still about 15 miles from where the killing occurred and an officer, together with two or three other men, started towards Baxley with the prisoner. When they had gone about 12 miles, a mob of about 300 men overpowered them, took Jones and tied him to a tree. There, it was reported, at least 500 bullets were fired into his body. The article said, “The mob was one of the most blood thirsty ever known in this county, and the excitement was terrible.”
That told the story of one of the lynchings, but what about the other two?
I found that Ephraim Merchel (his last name was also reported to be Muchler and Mitchell) and an unidentified black man were lynched near Hazlehurst on May 23, 1893, apparently because of a dispute over pay.
Still, I wanted to know more.
I uncovered two newspaper articles. One appeared in the Arizona Republican, June 2, 1893, and the other was in The Times of Trenton, N.J., May 24, 1893. They were Associated Press articles out of Waycross and they described how Merchel had murdered J.J. Brown in Nichols in Coffee County. Brown, a white man, was a prominent stockholder in the Nichols Manufacturing company and “stood high in the community.” Brown, the article said, was disputing with one of his hands about some trivial matter when Merchel came up and shot him without cause.
Merchel and the unidentified black man fled the area and were later caught in Hazlehurst. An officer in Hazlehurst apparently telegraphed the news to Douglas saying officers would transport the two men there to be jailed.
But before the officers got very far from Hazlehurst, they were met by a mob made up of men apparently from Coffee County. The mob overpowered the officers and took Merchel and the other man, lynching them from the same tree.
It’s an ugly story about ugly times in Georgia and across the country.