Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

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Mildred McConnell's Scrapbook Articles

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Murder Of The Tax Collector

By OMER C. ADDINGTON

     People have been paying taxes since the dawn of civilization in some form. The tax that levied on people in Biblical times was called a tithe. They paid one tenth of their income either in money, grain or cattle. The religious leaders also ran the government.

     Taxes had become a burden for the people in Europe by the time the New World had been discovered, and many left their mother country to escape paying taxes. There seemed to be no escape, taxes followed them where ever they went.

     When the first settlement was made at Jamestown in 1607 and the land had been settled as far as Williamsburg, the settlers had to pay a tax on goods imported from England. All males over sixteen years of age were taxed one pound of tobacco to help pay the salaries of the Burgesses (law making body). Taxes were collected to support the established church (Church of England). People were forced to pay the tax no matter what their religion was. Later came the land tax, which people considered unfair. They had cleared the land and made improvements. Therefore, they should not be required to pay a tax on their land.

     An act of the British Parliament in 1765 passed the Stamp Act, imposing a tax on all written documents. This brought on a violent reaction from the people. They refused to pay tax and many of the King's men were beaten and their stamping equipment was destroyed.

     When England stationed troops in America, they expected the people to pay the cost of feeding and clothing them, when the people refused, the English government began taking their grain, cattle and sheep. Many of the collectors were beaten, shot and stabbed. All of this done not only by men, many of the women had a run-in with the man who came to drive off her cow or sheep. The women used everything from guns 'to an ax.

     Tax collectors have always had trouble in collecting taxes. A murder was committed over the collection of taxes, even in Scott County.

     The Bristol news gave the following account of the murder: March 31, 1874. Murder in Scott on Tuesday of last week. Collector David Good of Fulkerson District in Scott County, near the Washington County line was shot and we fear mortally wounded by Wilburn J. Hensley. Mr. Good had levied on Hensley's cow for taxes and having driven her away, she was followed and driven back. Good returned for the cow, and was driving her away, when Hensley shot him, using a rifle gun of a large caliber, the ball passing through the muscle of the arm and into the body, passing through one of the lungs and lodging against the sternum (breast bone). He was carried away by his guard and was at our latest advices not expected to recover. He was a young man, a son of Spencer Good and a brother of Rev. Martin Good of the M. E. Church South. The Good family have all been Republicans, but David at the last election, voted the conservative ticket and was elected by that party. Hensley, who slew him,. has always been a radical and is a very dangerous man. He was in the Mexican war. Mr. Good is being waited on by Drs. Spurgin and Helton. Hensley is now at large and at least 100 men have been in pursuit of him.

     The next issue of the paper had the following headlines: Dying message of poor David Good - He offers a $100 reward for the arrest of Hensley.

     In our last issue we gave the particulars of the murder of collector David Good, in Fulkerson district, Scott County, Virginia. I The dying man dictated the following message to his countrymen, and it is to be hoped that his slayer will be overtaken and brought to justice. We are told that Hensley was in the Mexican War and that he stole a sick soldiers parole and came home on it. His murder of poor David Good seems to have been a diabolical outrage without even a show of provocation. The blood of this excellent young man now cries from the ground for justice to overtake and seize his slayer, that he may be made an example of evil doers in the future. At least a hundred of the indignant citizens of Scott left their avocations and went in pursuit of the demon.

     Here is the dying message of the murdered man: Fulkerson Township Scott County, Va. April 2, 1874. To the Editor (Bristol News): Allow me some space in your valuable columns to state that on the 31st day of March, while in the discharge of my official duty as township collector, I was feloniously shot by one Wilburn J. Hensley, receiving a mortal wound through my body an lungs from which my doctors say I must die. I had been to Hensley's house eleven times to collect his taxes. I went to see him on the 31st day of March and demanded of his property to secure me. He said he had the money but would not pay me. I levied on one of his cows and while I was driving his cow from his farm, he fired on me with a rifle gun, and from the shot, I must die. Hensley is running at large and I will give a lean on my effects for the above reward and the cost of this publication, for his apprehension and confinement in jail or his delivery to the Sheriff of Scott County.

Editors Note: The following is a continuation of Mr. Addington's article from last week.

     Descriptive list of Hensley: He is 45 years of age, about five. feet, 10 inches high, spare made and will weigh about 140 pounds, dark completion, dark hair, bald on the top of his head, front tooth out, and rather mild in his conversation.

Given under my hand, this second day of April 1874, David Good.

     David Good died on Saturday night, April 4, 1874. Two days after he had written the letter to the editor of the Bristol news.

     How long Hensley remained at large and who collected the reward when he was apprehended, cannot be found. The original indictment cannot be found at the Court House, but the record shows he was indicted sometime previous to August 13, 1874.

     Commonwealth plaintiff, Indictment for murder, Wilburn J. Hensley, defendant. This day came the attorney for the Commonwealth, and the prisoner was led to the bar in custody of the jailer of this county and being arranged pleaded not guilty to the indictment, and , on his motion, this cause is continued until tomorrow.

     August 14, 1874. This day came the attorney for the Commonwealth and the prisoner was led to the bar in custody of the jailer of this county, and on his motion and for sufficient reason appearing to this court, this cause continued until the next term.

     March 20, 1877. The said, Wilburn J. Hensley, was arranged and upon his arrangement, pleaded not guilty to the indictment, where upon came a jury to witness: Joseph J. Addington, Robert Falin, James Brickey, James H. Quillen, William M. Tipton, William C. Dougherty, Thomas Hillman, John B. Fickle, Robert B. Davis, George E. Starnes, John Ruth, and William W. Berry. Who being tried and sworn.

     March 25, 1877. Wilburn J. Hensley, late of the Scott County, who stands indicated of murder was again led to the bar in custody of the jailer of this court and the jury sworn on Tuesday last for his trial were brought into court by the Sheriff of this County, and having fully heard the arguments of counsel were sent out of court to consult of their verdict. After some time, returned into court and upon their oath do say, "We, the jury, find the defendant, Wilburn J. Hensley guilty of murder in the second degree only, and we do ascertain the term of his imprisonment in the public jail and penitentiary to be ten years." And the said. Wilburn J. Hensley being at bar, and it being demanded of him, if anything for himself he had or knew to say why the court here should not now proceed to pronounce judgment against him according to law, and nothing has been offered or alleged in delay of judgment, it is considered by the court that the' said. Wilburn J. Hensley. be imprisoned in the public jail and' penitentiary house of this commonwealth for the term of ten years. The period by the jurors in their verdict ascertained. and it is ordered that the Sheriff of this County do. as soon as possible after the adjournment of this court remove and safely convey the said. Wilburn J. Hensley. from the jail of this court to the said public jail and penitentiary house there in to be kept imprisoned and treated in the manner directed by law. and therefore. the said. Wilburn J. Hensley is removed to jail.

     For reasons appearing to the Court it is ordered that the sheriff of this county be allowed four guards from the jail to the railroad to the city of Richmond to aid him in Conveying Wilburn J. Hensley from the jail of this court to the public jail and penitentiary house of this Commonwealth.

     The railroads had not yet come to this area, so the prisoner had to be transported to Bristol by horseback or buggy for the trip to Richmond.

     So far as anyone knows, Hensley served his time, and returned to Scott County where he lived and died.

 

This concludes Mr. Addington's article.


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