“Delaware History” Examines Lynching of African-American Civil War Veteran

The Fall-Winter 2013-2014 issue of Delaware History, the scholarly publication of the Delaware Historical Society, arrived in the mail today.  This semi-annual journal always contains new, carefully researched insights about the First State’s past, and this issue included an informative article by Dr. Yohuru Williams, the chair of black studies at Fairfield University.

“’Revenge in the Most Terrible Manner’ – the Lynching of African-American Civil War Veteran William ‘Obie’ Evans,” uses the case of this wounded veteran to examine the problems of violence in the post-Civil War era in this border state.

The author shares a narrative about the journey of Evans from a slave to murder victim in his quest for independence.  Living in the Fredericksburg area, this freedom seeker claimed his independence under the Emancipation Proclamation, and eventually joined the 20th division, Company E, of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT).  On July 30, 1864, the private was badly wounded during the Battle of the Crater, outside Petersburg, VA.  Three years later, he had made his way to Delaware, but on July 24, 1867 residents of Leipsic found his body hanging from a willow tree.

Until Dr. Williams, who was then at Delaware State University, examined the history of lynching in Delaware, the state’s history books generally reported that an incident at the New Castle County Workhouse in 1903 was the only one.  Questioning this assumption, the professor launched an investigation and did an extensive search of primary documents.  In time, he uncovered at least three documentable lynchings during and in the immediately after of the Civil War.

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The 1868 Beers Atlas of Delaware shows the area between Smyrna and Leipsic, where the lynching occurred.

The 1868 Beers Atlas of Delaware shows the area between Smyrna and Leipsic, where the lynching occurred. Source: The David Rumsey Map Collection via http://www.oldmapsonline.org

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