Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Knights of the Golden Circle and Murder of a Negro 1862

The NY Times published a letter written by an unidentified person in Vincennes on September 15th, 1862 describing what he sees are the effects and the emotions caused by the Civil War in Lawrence County. In any conflict there will always be two sides.

“We are living over the fires of a volcano that may burst any hour. There is an organization in the Western States known as the Knights of the Golden Circle. I believe it is not known in the Eastern and Northern States. Its members have been most successful in securing offices in the army. I know several who hold positions there, and it is strange how they get them, but those I refer to I know to be sympathizers with the rebellion. Again, they are most active at home in poisoning the minds of the people against the Government of the United States. Since our late reverses on the Potomac they are exceedingly exultant. LEE's proclamation in Maryland they say is the right doctrine. That, they say, utters the sentiments of genuine republicanism and liberty, and that the policy of LINCOLN's Administration is tyranny and oppression. These sentiments are openly avowed by many with whom you are acquainted in this place. The utterances of such sentiments is bad enough, but it is evident that but an opportunity is wanted to inaugurate a guerrilla warfare in the States north of the Ohio -- and that opportunity will not be wanting so soon as the troops called for have gone to the South.”

 There is also a mention about discord in a Presbyterian Church in Lawrence Co, the Copperheads having control of the church building of a splintered congregation.

That would surely be the Hopewell Church, on the Cooper farm, two miles to the NW of Bridgeport. The Hopewell Cemetery is all that is left.  The Rev John Brown Saye was described as a "profound Copperhead" and lost his four pulpits in Lawrence County - Pisgah, Lawrenceville, Hopewell, & Union.  The 1st Presbyterian Church of Bridgeport was organized in May 1864 from a splinter group from the Hopewell Presbyterian Church.  The case of the Rev Saye came to trial before the Saline Presbytery in 1861, and the appeals, from the verdict of that trial that were made to the Synod of Illinois and four National General Assemblies, took until after the Civil War to be resolved.  John King is developing this story about the interesting case of the Rev Saye, who became an Episcopalian priest out of Bridgeport, after most of his Presbyterian churches fired him and the Saline Presbytery kicked him out of the Presbyterian ministry. After the Civil War,  the Rev Saye moved to Springfield and became a Methodist preacher.

From the letter:  “Why, Sir, in this town the Union and Disunion parties are terribly embittered against each other -- churches are divided. A secesh  (secessionist) preacher, from Kentucky, came here and split the Presbyterian Church wide open. The secesh party was the strongest, and held the old church building. Others have organized a second church, and instead of engaging in a common cause to fight the devil, they are fighting each other with a zeal worthy a better cause. The Episcopal Church would be divided in the same way if there was enough of it, but there are so few members that they can't divide; they pray together in church and abuse each other out of church. Such is a faint idea of the condition of things in this country, and it is growing daily worse. If the rebellion does not receive a fatal blow soon, a reign of terror will be inaugurated here before the ides of November.”

 This unidentified person in Vincennes, on September 15th, 1862, also describes the murder of a Negro by a small group of Copperheads, north of Lawrenceville in this same letter published in the New York Times.

"A narrow-minded, bigoted, vicious Democrat' without any cause of quarrel, but as a proof that he was not for negro equality, met a negro, took up a club and knocked him down. This occurred a few miles north of the town. A number of persons were present who testify that the negro said not a word to his assailant before or after the assault. The next day the negro came to town and made complaint. His assailant expecting that a writ would be issued also came to town and told the constable he had better not attempt to serve the writ; that he intended that night to kill the negro, and if the officer attempted to serve the writ he would kill him. That night this fellow and fourteen others, all Democrats and Knights of the Golden Circle, armed themselves, passed openly through Lawrenceville and went over to where the negro lived, shot him and stabbed him nine times with a bowie-knife, of course killing him. Law-abiding citizens were, of course, shocked at the spirit of lawlessness manifested, but men of the secesh persuasion unblushingly say that they did right, "the d -- d negro ought to be killed." The parties who perpetrated the deed move in open defiance of law, and have sent notices to the citizens of Lawrenceville and vicinity, who condemn the act, that if any attempt is made to indict them, that they will kill every d -- d black Republican and Abolitionist about here."

The writer concludes his letter with an incident that occurred just over the county line in Richland County:

“A few days since I was at Mr. -----, in Richland County, and he told me that he had just been notified that the Knights had made an order confiscating his Property. A Mr. -----, living on Bonpas, where there is known to be an extensive lodge of the Knights, and where they shout daily for JEFF. DAVIS, came to Mr. -----, and told him that he had been some time before persuaded to join the Order; that he was told it was for the purpose of better organizing the Democratic party, and for a time he supposed such was the real purpose, but gradually the conviction was forced on him that its purpose was treasonable. At their last meeting it was announced that a rising would soon take place, and then they would seize Mr. -----stores at Claremont and Sumner, and transfer his goods to the South for the advancement of Southern rights. Mr. ----- is a firm partisan of the Democratic persuasion, but in other respects a good citizen, and there is no doubt of the truth of his tale.”