My students and I have been enormously moved to learn of the memorial event held in October 2022, in Mount Vernon, Posey County Indiana, to commemorate the racial terror lynching of seven African American men in October 1878. Propelled by the activist work of local high school student Sophie Kloppenburg, the County has dedicated a plaque and bench honoring the seven murdered men. The memorial signage, it should be noted, avoids the word “lynching.” For all its limitations, the memorial is an impressive step forward, given the long history of racial inequality and inequity in this part of Indiana.
The seven murdered victims are also commemorated in the Indiana steel marker at the Equal Justice Initiative’s Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. (In most instances, victims of racial terror lynching are honored through markers dedicated to a single county, but in the case of Indiana, all victims are represented on a single marker of the entire state.
I learned about these commemorative efforts through my cousin through marriage, Ben Uchitelle, who has played a leading role in the memorial committee. As Ben notes, his great grandfather Benjamin Lowenhaupt, who lived in Mount Vernon in 1878, may well have witnessed the hanged bodies of five of the victims on the Courthouse Square during the full day that they were gruesomely on display. (I have recently written on Benjamin Lowenhaupt’s father (Ben Uchitelle’s great great grandfather) Isaac Lowenhaupt, who owned enslaved people in Vicksburg, Mississippi in the late antebellum period.)
Ben and other committee members have expressed interest in tracing the descendants of the seven lynched individuals, and inviting descendants to participate, if they so wish, in the necessary, difficult conversations about historical accountability and truth-telling that are so urgently needed.
Since I have worked extensively on African American family history, I thought that my students and I might partner with the Mount Vernon community to try to trace descendants. Here are my initial notes towards that process.
Seven black men in total were murdered by white lynchers in October 1878. Daniel Harrison Sr. , Jim Good, William Chambers, Edward Warner. and Jeff Hopkins, who were all brutally lynched in front of the courthouse on October 11, 1878. Two sons of Daniel Harrison Sr., Dan Harrison Jr. and John Harrison, were murdered by lynchers during the days that preceded the courthouse massacre. Some contemporary accounts identify the three dead Harrison men as having the surname “Harris.” As noted below, I think it possible that the man identified as “Edward Warner: was in fact William Edwards.
The Family of Jeff Hopkins
The clearest pathway to traceable descendants involves the family of Jeff Hopkins, who was lynched at the Posey County Courthouse on October 11, 1878. Moments before his murder, he affirmed his innocence and emphasized that he had a wife and five children.
Jeff Hopkins appears in the 1870 census living in Black township, Posey County, Indiana; he is born in 1842 in Kentucky and married to Pheba Hopkins, born in Kentucky in 1841. He resides with their son Fredric Hopkins, born 1860 in Missouri; a daughter, Gabrella Hopkins, born 1864 in Kentucky; a son Abe Hopkins, born 1867 in Kentucky; a son, US Grant Hopkins, clearly named for the Union General Ulysses S. Grant, born 1869 in Indiana.
Also living in this household is the 17 year old young woman Florida Hopkins, born 1852 in Kentucky. Given the ages it is listed it is possible that Florida is a daughter of Jeff and Pheba Hopkins, or perhaps she is Jeff’s sister. She might perhaps be the slave girl child born in 1855 in Washington, Kentucky, the property of Wilson H. Jones, listed in state records.
We should note that of these minors, Florida, Fredric and Gabrella were probably born in slavery, while Abe and US Grant were born in freedom. The location and ages would suggest that the Hopkins family came from Kentucky into Posey County, Indiana at some point after 1867, when Abe was born, and before 1869, when US Grant was born there.
According to the 1880 census, none of the surviving members of the Jeff and Phebe Hopkins household were residing in Posey County two years after the lynching; for understandable reasons, they appear to have vacated the county. The only black person remaining with the surname Hopkins is Dick Hopkins, born 1853 in Kentucky, residing in 1880 in Lynn township, Posey County, listed as a servant in the household of the white woman Jane Stallings. Perhaps he was kin to Jeff Hopkins.
At least four Hopkins family members by 1880 resided in the city of Chicago. 280 miles north Mount Vernon. The eldest son of Jeff and Pheba Hopkins, Fredric Hopkins and his brother Abram Hopkins appear in the 1880 census, residing in Chicago at 1813 State Street, as boarders in the household of George Watkins, a black laborer. Fred, employed as a waiter in a hotel, is listed as suffering from dropsy (edema); his 13 year old brother Abraham is employed as a servant.
Three years later, on 23 Jul 1883, in Chicago, Fred Hopkins, is residing at 2125 Clark St, marries Mary Sheedy. On 20 June 1898, Fred married Clara Yancy. In 1900, Fred is at 2528 La Salle St, Chicago, working as a teamster. His wife Clara Hopkins, is listed born in Wisconsin. Fred has a 16 year old daughter, Bertha Hopkins, by a previous marriage or relationship with a woman born in Ireland, perhaps Fred’s first wife, Mary Sheedy, who may be deceased at this point.
On 31 December 1901, Bertha Hopkins married John B Stobbal, who died in 1909 in Chicago. I do not see a record of the couple having children. I am not sure what became of Bertha Hopkins Stobbal, the grandddaughter of Jeff Hopkins.
On 21 Nov 1906, Clara and Fred Hopkins had a son, Albert Hopkins, also listed as Alfred, The child died age 13, on 26 Jan 1919. The child’s death certificate, it is interesting to note, records Fred Hopkins as born in Mount Vernon Indiana, and Clara as born in Beloit, Wisconsin. Clara appears in the 1950 census as a widow, in Chicago. It does not appear that Clara and Fred had a child other than Albert.
The same year, 1880, that Fred and Abe were living at t 1813 State street, two other Hopkins family members were living nine blocks away, at 963 State Street in downtown Chicago. They resided in the household of a black man, William Davis (b. 1850, Missouri). The former Florida Hopkins is now William Davis’ wife, “Florida Davis,” born about 1856 (that is to say four years older than the Florida Hopkins listed in the 1870 census). Also residing in their household is Grant Hopkins, age 10 (born about 1870), born in Indiana, with a listing that his father was born in Kentucky. This boy must be the same person as the one year old named “US Grant Hopkins,” the youngest son of Jeff and Phebe Hopkins, in the 1870 census. Although listed as a “boarder,” he must have been taken in by Florida, who must be either his aunt or elder sister.
I have not found further trace of Grant Hopkins, but his sister or aunt Florida (Hopkins) Davis does seem to appear in the 1900 census, as the widowed “Flaurida Davis,” residing at 456 60th street, Chicago. She is listed as born in Kentucky (with her mother also born in Kentucky) in 1862 (that is say a good deal later than the listings in the 1870 and 1880 censuses,) She is living with her 14 year old daughter Flora Davis, born in Illinois in December 1886.
. It is interesting that living adjacent to them in the same house number is an Ella Hopkins, a single women born in Indiana in October 1873, with her nephew Raymond Hopkins, born in Illinois in September 1887, It seems likely that Ella Hopkins is somehow kin to Jeff Hopkins.
Flora Davis evidently married Stanley Tarver (b. 1899 in Indiana) in the early 1920s; she lived until 1959 and has multiple descendants.
A black “Gabriella Hopkins” resides in 1922 at 303 Chesterfield in Nashville, Tennessee, working as a domestic, according to the city directory. A “Gabrella Hopkins” died in Chicago on 9 August 1929. I am unsure if she is the same Gabrella Hopkins as the daughter of Jeff and Pheba Hopkins.
I have not yet been able to trace Phebe Hopkins, the widow of Jeff Hopkins. There are many black women in the 1880 census born around 1840 living in Kentucky, but most are married with multiple children.
We now turn to more speculative pathways, involving the six other victims of the murders:
It is possible that Jim Good or Goode, the first victim to be hanged from a tree in the courthouse square on 11 October 1878, is the same person as James L Good, born 1857 in Kentucky, listed as 13 year old male in the 1870 census in Center, Jennings, Indiana, about 175 miles northeast of Mount Vernon. Evidently the eldest son of Merrit and Georgiantha Good, he resides with his apparent siblings Archy, Merrit, Hulbert, Randle, Elizabeth, and Georgiana)
In the 1880 census Merritt Good and his wife Georgia Good are still living in Center township, with four children (Archebald, William, Betty, Randle) and one grandchild (Emma Bowen). Yet there is no sign of James residing in Center or elsewhere in the 1880 census.
James Good’s brother Archy (Archibald) lived the rest of his life in Jennings County, Indiana. He married Ann Lucinda Easton on 12 July 1899 in Vernon, Jennings County. Their daughter Pearl Esther was born 29 March 1900. She later married Robert Sadler and lived in North Vernon, Jennings County. until her death 4 Feb 1953; he husband lived there until 1987.
Speculatively, might “Ed Warner” have been misidentified in some contemporary accounts and the recent markers? A highly racist account in The Indiana State Sentinel. 16 Oct 1878, ,Page 8, refers variously to an “Ed Warner” and a 21 year old man called “Edwards.” Is it possible that the victim was in fact William Edwards, born around 1861, so around 19 at the time of the lynching? In the 1870 census Wiliam is listed in Black Township, Posey County, the same community as Jeff Hopkins. He is the son of Simon and Matilda Edwards, who in the 1880 census are shown having moved about 20 miles northwest of Mount Vernon, to Carmi, White County, Illinois. All the family members from 1870 are still residing in the household, except that William Edwards is missing, and he does appear elsewhere in 1880 census in the region.
William’s elder brother, Elias Lawrence Edwards, born around 1857, lived the rest of life in Carmi, He married Maggie Ann Ford on 1 Jan 1886. The couple had at least six children, Elias L Edwards, b 1887; Luther K. Edwards, b 1889; Susan E Edwards, b. 1891; Samuel D. Edwards, b. 1893; Richard Edwards, b. 1898; Clara Edwards, b, 1900; Allie Edwards, b. 1901. These individuals have numerous descendants.
Elias lived until age 92, passing on the last Wednesday in August 1945; Margaret passed away the next day.
The Harrison, Good, Warner, and Chambers Families
The 1880 census, enumerated two years after the lynching. records no people of color with the surnames Harrison, Good, Warner or Chambers still residing in Posey County. It seems quite possible that their surviving kin, in the shadow of the violent horrors that had been committed, fled the county, or were actively expelled from the region by the white power structure. (As noted above, Jim Good might have been from Jennings County, and Ed Warner might have actually been William Edwards.
The 1870 census, enumerated eight years before the lynching, does not have any listings for black Harrison, Good, Warner, or Chamber family members, in Posey County, so the lynched men from these families likely arrived in the county at some point after that year. In the absence of clear listings in 1870 and 1880, it may be challenging to trace their descendants.