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Scott County, Virginia
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Historical Society of Southwest Virginia

Publication No. 30 - 1996

Hanging Sheriffs of Scott County

by Omer C. Addington

The word Sheriff comes from old England. Each Shire had a headman known as a Reeve. The title Shire Reeve gradually came to be run together in the single word Sheriff.

The Sheriff was the chief law enforcement in a Shire, a name for the division into which England is divided, which corresponds to counties in America. The Sheriff, with his appointed staff of deputies, maintained law and order, executed mandates of the Shire, maintained the jail and custody of prisoners there in, summoned jurors to court sessions and in the early day of the Shire, executed criminals who were condemned to death.

In the early days of Scott County1832-1885 the Sheriff did the same thing the sheriffs did in England. In Scott County there have been four sheriffs who had to carry out the order of the court and the unpleasant duty and hang the convicted for murder.

Sheriff George McConnell was born February 24, 1770 in Lebanon, Dauphin, Pennsylvania. He came from Pennsylvania to Virginia and settled within the present limits of Russell County at Elk Garden, later migrated to the present limits of Scott County.

He was commissioned a justice of the peace February 15, 1815 by Governor William C. Nicholas for Scott County upon the recommendation of the court that he was a suitable person to hold such office. The oldest justice in said office in a county became sheriff. He held the office until he became the oldest justice and because of this became sheriff of the county. He served (1831- 1832). He hanged John Tumms November 9, 1832 for the murder of John Wright, the first man hanged in Scott County.

Sheriff George McConnell was a weaver by trade. In those days most every one had a spinning wheel to spin their wool and linen into thread, but not every one had a loom. So they took their thread to George McConnell to be woven into cloth. While living in Pennsylvania he had been a merchant and in Russell County at Elk Garden before moving to Scott County. He was also a farmer.

He married Susannah Schnebeli. Sometime down through the years the name became Snavely which means "Dweller in a grove on a narrow strip of land. American Varant of Schnebli.

Ten children were born to the union of Sheriff George and Susannah Snavely McConnell. George Jr. married Polly Compton, Kate married Jerry Lawson, Thomas Price married first Lindy Phillips and second Mary Davis, Elizabeth married James Stallard, Henry married Sallie Kilgore, Joab Watson married Rebecca Kilgore, Priscilla married Jacob Cox, William G. married Drussilla Fugate, Samuel R. married Nancy Allen, Susan married Nathan Dougherty. Samuel and Susan were twins.

Sheriff George McConnell died in 1845. Susannah died in 1855. They are buried in the oldest known McConnell Cemetery in Scott County which is near Twin Springs High School at Glade Hollow.

Benjamin Estill was judge when George McConnell was sheriff.

In 1858 Baxter I. Pate was in the Scott County jail at Estillville (now Gate City) for the murder of John Lutteril. The murder was committed in an upper room of the old corner hotel (later Compton Hotel) which is now a vacant lot opposite Quillen Hardware. Pate's execution was the second execution by judical decree in Scott County. Baxter Pate was in jail under an assumed name, McDaniel Rhea.

Thomas Strong, one of the guards at the hanging, said "I do not believe Pate was hanged because of some very strange actions and maneuvers which took place that day."

Drayton S. Hale states, "Twenty years after the hanging I spent the night with a Mister Kelly in Russell County, who advised me that Pate was not hanged but lived in one of the Western states. Mr. Hale was also an eye witness to the hanging which took place June 25, 1858."

The letter which Pate wrote from the Estillville jail in 1858, resulted in the plan which saved his life by means of a fake hanging.

He was placed alive in the casket which his brother Masons had brought from North Carolina and hauled back toward home. He was from the Bee Log Community of Yancey County, North Carolina. He was freed at the Tennessee-North Carolina line and headed for Texas where he prospered. The casket was given a proper burial in the family cemetery. No one now remembers which field stone marks the grave.

Two persons were sent from Scott County to open the grave and verify his death, but were prevented from doing so under threat of death. In the meantime a Mason was serving as Sheriff of Scott County (1857-58).

Rufus Boyd Fugate was born in the Rye Cove section of Scott County in 1828. He was a large landowner and farmer. He was of the Methodist faith and one of the oldest members of the Rye Cove Masonic Lodge and served as master of the lodge many times. He also served as District Deputy Grandmaster of the Twelfth Masonic District. He married Sarah Jane Young from Stickleyville, Virginia. Rufus Boyd Fugate died in 1903. His wife, Sarah died in 1919. They are buried in the Fugate Cemetery in the Rye Cove.

Rufus and Sarah Fugate had one son, James Colbert Fugate, born 1854, died 1939. He married a Margaret Elizabeth Thomas born 1851 died 1946. To this union nine children were born, six sons and three daughters. Listed below are their names and birth dates.

Lucinda Venus, 1876, William Rufus, 1877, James Edwin, 1880, Charles Radford, 1882, Elbert C. 1884, Eugene Dedrick, 1885, Nancy Jane, 1887, Patton Thomas, 1889 and Emma K., 1895. Elbert C. deceased in infancy.

Note: No one living today knows who instigated the fake hanging. Was it the sheriff, his deputies, or his brother, Masons.

Samuel V. Fulkerson was judge when Rufus Fugate was sheriff. During the July 1877 term of the Scott County Court, Daniel Dean was indicted for the murder of Henry Fugate. The case was tried three times.

The first trial resulted in a mistrial because one-of the jurors voted for an acquittal of the accused, believing him innocent. At the second trial the jury could not agree on a verdict. A jury was brought from Washington County for the third trial and found Dean guilty of murder in the first degree purely on circumstantial evidence and sentenced him to death by hanging.

The junior who hung the first jury was J.R. Wilhelm. He was later elected Sheriff and it became his duty to hang Dean even though he believed him innocent.

On the way to the place of execution, Sheriff Wilhelm ask Dean, "Did you murder Henry Fugate?"

To which Dean replied, "No sir, I am as innocent as a newborn baby." Daniel Dean was hanged December 19,1879.

Sheriff Wilhelm was the son of Charles Wilhelm and Adline Davis Wilhelm. Charles Wilhelm came from the Rhine Valley in Germany to America.

The 1860 census gives J.R. Wilhelm's age as 21 and his wife, Rebecca, age 20. She was from Tennessee, and one daughter, Nancy, age 6 months.

The 1870 census shows three children, Nancy, age 10, Charlotte, age 6 and Jonathan, age 3.

The 1880 census shows two children Charolette, age 16 and Jonathan, 13. Nancy is not mentioned in the 1880 census. I could not find any record of the family in the Scott Census after 1880.

It has been told that he hanged Dean on the morning of December 19 and left the county that night, but we now know this is not true.

He resigned his office in June 1880 and vanished and was never seen or heard from by any Scott Countian again.

George Gibson and Wayne Powers were hanged February 6, 1885 for the murder of Will Gibson by Sheriff W.C.R. Strong, known to his friends as "Uncle Bill Strong". He was elected twice and faithfully served Scott County as High Sheriff. His first term was 1883-87 and it was during this term he hanged Gibson and Powers. His second term was 1891-1905.

Judge John A. Kelly was the judge during his first term as sheriff and Judge H.S.K Morrison was judge during his second term as sheriff.

Sheriff Strong was the son of Samuel and Nancy Kilgore Alley Strong.

He was the grandson of The Rev. Robert Kilgore who built the Kilgore Fort House and the great-grandson of Patrick Porter who built Porter's Fort on Fall Creek near Dungannon. He was born March 31, 1839 and died December 11, 1918.

Sheriff Strong was thrice married; first to Lizzie Fields, and to this union eight children were born.

Hiram M. married first Louemma Lane and second Sarah Loving. Mary D. married Zion Frazier.

Nancy married Wales Peters.

Elizabeth married John R. Stallard.

Abijah married Emma Quillen.

Robert married Lucy Peters.

Samuel married Sidney Wax.

Amanda married Isaac J. Taylor.

His second marriage on February 15, 1888 to Elizabeth L. Carter and to this union one son was born, William C. who married Lottie Gilliam.

His third marriage was to Mattie V. Pendleton and to this union one daughter was born and she married Clarence Williams.

The time and place for the execution was fixed within limits by sentence of the court, between specified hours usually between 10 in the forenoon and 2 in the afternoon. The day of execution was on a Friday.

It was not until 1908 General Assembly Legislators became alarmed by the spectacle of public hanging. The General Assembly mandated that all public hanging in the Commonwealth should cease.

In this article we turn the pages of time to a period many years prior to the General Assembly of 1908 and reflect on court records, census records, and genealogy records of "The Hanging Sheriffs of Scott County".

 

Home ] Up ] 5-Confederates ] Kilgore Ft. House ] Catholicism ] Rafting ] Long Hunters ] Dr. McConnell ] Spartan Band ] [ Hanging Sheriffs ] W.D. Smith ] Frontier Forts ] Chief Benge ] James Boone ] Old Mills ] Whites Forge ] Whiteforge Post Office ] Samuel Smith ] James Shoemaker ] Jane and Polly ] Indian Missionary ] Patrick Porter ] Phillips Killing ] Boone Trail ] Stoney Creek Baptist ] Methodism ] Daniel Boone ] Estil Cemetery ] Scott Co. Names ] Confederate Soldiers ] Drayton Hale ] Reids Normal School ] Dr. N. Stallard ] Indian Forays ]