Thanks for reading and commenting about my blog postings. My goal is to accurately document the genealogy of my family and allied families living in Chesterfield County, SC and Anson County, NC. If you have a Chesterfield County surname you are interested in please send me an e-mail.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thriller Thursday~The Last Hanging

It all started with this entry from Aaron Weaver Knight Journal:

John Harper was hanged Dec 16 18981

Who was John Harper and why was he hanged? 

The accused, John Harper was charged with the killing of Alex “Sandy” Campbell, a well respected white man near Cheraw about June 1st 1898.

When arrested and brought in by Sheriff Douglass, Harper “claimed that the killing was accidental as the shot was intended for a drunken negro with whom he was fighting.”2

Harper’s trial took place before Judge Ernest Gary in August 1898. W. P. Pollack was appointed, by the court, to represent the prisoner, John Harper.  Harper was found guilty of “murder in the first degree and sentenced to be hanged.”3  Mr. Pollock did all in his power to save his client and was granted a delayed of 30 days in November 1898 for all concerned to review the case.

In the end, Governor William H. Ellerbe refused to interfere and allowed the hanging to proceed as ordered.

A misunderstanding arose as to the exact execution date.  The law required that execution be carried out 30 days from receipt of the respite. The respite was sent to Lawyer, W. P. Pollack. Thirty days from respite was set as 16 December,  but local newspapers were reporting that the 26th was to be the date of execution.

On December 16, Sheriff Douglass sent Governor Ellebre a request for clarification. The Governor replied “Today is the time set for execution of John Harper. Will send you former respite.”4 The confusion resulted in absence of John Harper’s family at his hanging.

On 16 December 1898, John Harper walked confidently to the gallows, with a Bible and hymn book in his hands. After reading the hymn “I Heard The Voice of Jesus Say”; he asked the crowd to join him in signing, knelt in prayer and told the Sheriff he was ready.

John Harper was hung at 2 O’clock, 16 December 1898, at the Chesterfield Courthouse.  He “died with a smile on his face.”5

This hanging* was to my knowledge, the last hanging to occurred in Chesterfield County. Prior to the hanging of John Harper, the last hanging took placed in 1855 when a white man was hanged for forgery.

[1] The Journal of the Rev. Aaron Weaver Knight (1810 - 8 Jul 1888)  was started by the Reverend and continue by his son, Rev. Sidney Thomas Knight (1 Dec 1846 - 28 Aug 1921).<>
[2] The Evening Post, Charleston, SC, June 21, 1898, page 6
[3] The State, Columbia, SC, 30 June 1898, page 2, column 2.
[4] The News and Courier, Charleston, SC, 17 December 1898, page 2, col 3
[5] The State, Columbia, SC, 17 December 1898, page 3, column 2.
[6] The State, Columbia, SC, 30 June 1898, page 2, column 2.
*Hanging = lawful execution to differentiate from lynching = unlawful execution. 


  1. Thanks for sending this Charlie!
    So, who was John Harper?

    1920 United States Federal Census
    John Harper / age: 42 / birth year abt 1878 / Birthplace: North Carolina /
    Home in 1920: Cheraw, Chesterfield, South Carolina / Race: Black /
    Gender: Male / Relation to Head of House: Head / Marital Status: Married /
    Spouse's Name: Mary Harper / Father's Birthplace: North Carolina /
    Mother's Birthplace: North Carolina / Home Owned: Rent / Able to Read: No /
    Able to Write: No / Household Members:
    John Harper - 42
    Mary Harper - 38
    Sam Harper - 14
    Jane Harper - 12
    Maggie Harper - 10
    Janet Harper - 8
    James Harper - 6
    James Cager - 24

    Source Citation: Year: 1920; Census Place: Cheraw, Chesterfield, South Carolina; Roll: T625_1690; Page: 27B; Enumeration District: 35; Image: 723.
    In 2001 Genforurm there were several posts concerning this hanging at

    Then in 2008 Norma Baugh submitted this post
    This book by James C. Pigg (Obituaries from the Chesterfield Advertiser 1892-1926) might have an obituary for Sandy Campbell, but I have all his other books except this one. This Genforum post gives some information
    So, when are you going to tell us who John Harper was and why he was hanged?

  2. John Harper was a young Black man, with a gun, in the wrong place arguing with another Black man when he killed Alex "Sandy" Campbell.