Shameful Past: Lynchings on Delmarva- James Taylor Lynched in Ke - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Shameful Past: Lynchings on Delmarva- James Taylor Lynched in Kent County, Md. in 1892

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Headshot of James Taylor courtesy of Kevin Hemstock Headshot of James Taylor courtesy of Kevin Hemstock

February is Black History Month and throughout the month WBOC is sharing the stories of 10 men who were lynched on the Eastern Shore of Maryland during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

In our multi-part series: Shameful Past: Lynchings on Delmarva, what follows is a profile of one of those men executed by mob justice. 

In the quiet and small town of Chestertown, things haven't really changed since the late 19th century. The Kent County Courthouse is nearly the same, shops around town are in similar locations, and some churches remain unmoved. 

But like many small and quaint towns, Chestertown has a darker story to tell. 

In 1892, James Taylor was lynched across the street from the Kent County Courthouse on Cross Street. Taylor was a farm laborer and accused of raping a young girl named Nellie Silcox. She was 10- or 11-years-old and was the daughter of Taylor's employer, Mr. John Silcox. 

Local historian Kevin Hemstock says the Silcox family lived near Kennedyville, Md., and Taylor worked with the family for some time before the alleged rape occurred.

Drawing of James Taylor lynching courtesy of Chestertown Transcript

"They rounded him up, because he fled, and they brought him here to the jail in Chestertown. The incident occurred on Sunday, so by Monday there were crowds of angry farmers and townspeople gathered here and they were talking about a lynching," Hemstock said.

Hemstock has compiled the records of many murder cases that occurred in Kent County between 1746 to 1935. Hemstock wrote a book titled, "The Most Sensational Murder Cases of Kent County Maryland," which was published in 2016.

One of the cases highlighted was Taylor's murder. In his book, it recounts the day of the rape:

About 8 o'clock on a sunny Sunday morning, May 15, 1892, John Silcox was outside his rented farm near Kennedyville preparing the carriage for the ride to church. His wife, Sarah, who was nearly deaf, was in the cellar skimming milk. Their oldest daughter, 10-year-old Nellie Catherine Silcox, a slip of a girl, with delicate features, a quick smile and bright eyes, was washing up the morning dishes when she was caught from behind around the waist, her mouth covered with a beefy hand to keep her from crying out.

This description aligns with a description of the incident that was published in the Kent News in 1892.

According to the Chestertown Transcript, published days after Taylor's lynching, Taylor's employer found his daughter washing dishes when she said she felt sick. 

Lynching headline courtesy of Chestertown Transcript

 

James Taylor headline courtesy of Kent News

 

The paper reports, "Her mother sent her up to bed, and during the afternoon went up to see how she was. She found her very nervous and still crying and laid down on the bed beside Nellie to quiet her."

The paper goes on to say that's when the mother found blood stains on Nellie's sheets. 

The Maryland State Archives, as well as the Chestertown Transcript and the Kent News, say that after seeing a doctor, Nellie identified Taylor as her rapist.

The Chestertown Transpcript said, "He caught her around the waist, pulled her up on his lap, placed his hand on her mouth to prevent her making an outcry, and outrageously assaulted her." 

Maryland State Archives say a search party was quickly formed to look for Taylor. When they found him, he tried to escape but was taken to the Chestertown Jail shortly after. 

Hemstock says Sheriff Plummer heard rumblings of a lynching, and was afraid Taylor would not make it to trial. 

"The crime was committed at a bad time. A prominent white doctor had been killed by black men and boys in Millington, so the community, the white community was already incensed," Hemstock said.

Plummer realized this, and attempted to sneak Taylor and another prisoner out of the jail and out of town. Hemstock says Plummer was afraid the mob would see Taylor was not there and would resort to killing another prisoner, Moses Brown. 

Lynching site of James Taylor

 

"Down to the river, they boarded a little steamer, and they spent the night on the steamer. That night, there was an attempt to lynch Taylor but he wasn't there," Hemstock said. 

Sensing tensions had died down, the men were brought back to the Chestertown Jail, but were spotted by locals. 

A lynch mob of hundreds quickly formed outside of the building. Hemstock says there was likely close to 200 men present, while local papers say 600. 

"They brought a sledgehammer and they beat through the lock, which had a pretty serious lock on it, and they beat through the lock, which I think was on an iron door," Hemstock said.

The mob broke the door down and headed to the second floor where Taylor was held and drug him down the stairs and out of the jail. 

Hemstock and local papers say Taylor was lynched from a 12-foot maple tree. He was left up there for hours before officials took his body down.

According to the Maryland State Archives, "A coroner's jury ruled the next morning that James Taylor's death was caused from lynching by persons unknown to the jury. Taylor was buried in the local pauper burial grounds."

The archives go on to say there was no criminal investigation, and no one was ever charged, though the mob met with town officials to vote and make formal agreements before Taylor's murder. 

Local papers reported after Taylor's murder, that he previously had been accused of raping another African American girl years prior to the Silcox rape. He was never charged in connection with that allegation. 

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