Scott County Historical
Scott County, Virginia
Society of Southwest Virginia
No. 30 - 1996
Sheriffs of Scott County
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
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
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
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
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
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
To which Dean replied, "No
sir, I am as innocent as a newborn baby." Daniel Dean was hanged
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
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
Hiram M. married first Louemma
Lane and second Sarah Loving. Mary D. married Zion Frazier.
Nancy married Wales Peters.
Elizabeth married John R.
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
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".