A different twist to John Fitzhugh’s hanging

Wayne Baldwin

I read with interest the recent article of the mob hanging of John Fitzhugh. I do not dispute any findings or any of the facts presented therein. However, I have story with a very different angle.

On November 6, 1999 I interviewed Mr. Thomas “Cooter” Wigington at his home near Sperryville at the request of his brother-in-law, Ellis Glasker, who went with me that day.

The reason for the interview with Mr. Wigington was to have on record some of the stories he remembered and some that were told him. Mainly the interview was about his own grandmother, Fanny Wigington, who had been a slave.

The other story, most interesting, was about the grandfather of Lloyd Fitzhugh.

The Fitzhugh family lived near Sperryville. Lloyd’s grandfather was the John Fitzhugh who appears in the newspaper’s article, “The Night John Fitzhugh was hanged in Rappahannock County,” by John McCaslin and contributions from Kaytlin Nickens.

But there’s a different twist to it.

Cooter continues, “Old man John Fitzhugh was deformed, or had some disabilities which didn’t qualify him to even do farm work . . . he couldn’t handle the horses, only thing he could do was cutting bushes and things like that.

“He would cut cress. He was out cutting cress one day and got hungry up in one of them hollows. Anyhow, he went to this lady’s house and wanted something to eat. He didn’t talk plain and was a big robust man. The lady got the food for him and she brought it to the gate, but she didn’t bring anything (a spoon or fork) for him to eat the food with . . . and he was asking for a fork . . . but he wasn’t saying it plainly and this lady misunderstood him.

“She got nervous and started screaming. Of course, back in that time it was a picnic . . . (meaning a black man approaching a white woman). They (authorities) got him and put the old man in jail, and said the lady told them he never forced or touched her.

“But they (the lynch mob) went right on that night to the jail and got him out and swung him up! I don’t know where, they carried him up in the hollow somewhere. Hung him!”

My late grandfather Pullen had pointed out to me many years ago in the pasture field out behind his barn, a very large and old pear tree, which was supposedly where there was a hanging of a black man. Whether this was Mr. Fitzhugh I don’t know.

According to Cooter’s account, “Old man Lillard talked kind of funny and said, ‘Ey Josh Jim, I could carry you and show you the very limbs that they swung ole John Fitzhugh on.’ He said, ‘He really did squeal and holler but they swung him up. Mr. Lillard wound up hanging himself in that old barn. There were two Woodard men over here on the Wayland place, they said they was at the hanging.’”

Editor’s note: The writer, who lives in Slate Mills, has roots in Rappahannock County going back 10 generations. For many years, while living in Gid Brown Hollow, his neighbors included the Glasker family. His interest in family history and genealogy began more than 50 years ago.

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1 Comment

  1. The Feb. 14 article omitted the fact that Fitzhugh was not guilty. In On the Morning Side of the Blue Ridge, a book published by the Rappahannck News in 1983, C.J. Miller,, long time beloved resident. of Washington, stated in his interview, ” they found out he was not guilty but after he was hanged.”
    Unfortunate that this was omitted. It of course goes without saying that even a. guilty party should not have been lynched!
    Thank you Wayne, for a fine article that tells the complete story.

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