Trouble at Mason’s Depot:
The Sheriff’s Account
Our readers are aware of the fact that W. J. Smith visited Mason’s Depot, in Tipton county, not long since, for the purpose of taking testimony preparatory to contesting the election of Hon. J. W. Leftwich. here is what Sheriff Slaughter says about the whole affair:
Covington, November 11, 1868. Last Friday Rans McCall, Horace Burchett and —- Reynolds (all colored and residing in this county), went to Memphis to confer with the Loyal Leaguers of your city in regard to the meeting afterwards held on Tuesday at Mason’s Depot. They were instructed to notify all the negroes in Tipton and Fayette counties that on the following Tuesday there would be another election; that they must come prepared to vote for Gen. W. J. Smith, and bring their arms with them, as resistance was anticipated from the whites. The negroes in Tipton county were notified by emissaries from the Memphis Loyal Leagues on Sunday and Monday to be present at Mason’s Depot Tuesday morning. The negroes obeyed the order, many coming as far as twenty-five miles, leaving their homes Monday night or Tuesday morning before daylight, marching in squads — in several instances thirty or forty in a body — and many armed with muskets and shot-guns. The white people of this county had no knowledge or notice of this intended meeting of negroes at the depot, nor did I know anything of it until Monday night, when I received a message from Mason’s Depot apprising me of the fact.
As an officer of the law, and in discharge of my duty to preserve the peace of the county, I appointed Mr. Spellman, of Mason’s Depot, my special deputy, with instructions to preserve the peace until my arrival. In going from Covington to Mason’s Depot, Tuesday morning, I passed squads of negro men, who informed me that they were going to the depot, but plead ignorance as to the object of their visit. As I approached the depot the number of negroes on the way increased, large crowds being overtaken at short intervals, many armed. Within five miles of the place I met Esquire Rice, Registration Commissioner of the county, who informed me that as many as one hundred negroes — many armed — had passed that point on their way to town, and stating that if I went there I would get into difficulty. Satisfied that there would be an unlawful meeting at Mason’s, I dispatched a messenger to Covington to summon a posse without delay, requesting them to come on and assist me in preserving the peace. In company with one man I then proceeded to Mason’s, arriving about ten o’clock a. m.
I found about fifteen hundred negroes in the town; several hundred had come armed, and many had been disarmed by citizens. The white citizens were indignant, and very much excited, but made no violent demonstrations. I may as well frankly state here, that but for my entreaties to preserve the peace the whites would have hung General Smith, who was in the midst of the crowd, asking the negroes for whom they voted. Judge Waldron, of your city, was administering the oath to squads. he caused them to swear that they lived in Tipton county, and that they voted at Mason’s Depot for Gen. W. J. Smith for Congress. Dr. J. E. Carpenter, of Memphis, and another white man unknown to me, wrote the affidavits. A gray-bearded man, whose name, I understand, is Dr. A. B. Newkirk, performed the office of calling up the negroes to be sworn. Among them was an old gray-haired negro, who, when asked for whom he voted, did not answer; whereupon Newkirk whispered: “say for Gen. Smith.” The old negro then said, in a clear voice: “General Smith,” and was sworn.
To give you a correct idea of the state of feeling among the negroes it is necessary to mention only one instance: Colonel Duncan, of the firm of R. F. Maclin & Co., of Manon’s [sic] Depot, while behind the counter in his own store, was told by a half-drunken negro that if told by General Smith to shoot him (Duncan) he should do it. With few exceptions the negroes were quiet and well behaved, though wholly under the influence of Smith and his gang. They did exactly as they were told to do, swearing to any affidavit presented to them.
It was to preserve the peace and protect the people of Mason’s Depot that I summoned a posse of the best men of Tipton county, believing that the circumstances justified the action, and having been petitioned by nearly all the citizens of the place to take these steps.
The statement in the Memphis radical paper, that violence was offered to General Smith, is false in every particular. He accomplished the object of his visit without interruption, and left on the one p.m. train. I remained in the town until half past one o’clock at which time nearly all the negroes were gone. The posse summoned from Covington by me had not arrived at Mason’s when I left. I have not been able to learn that any negroes were disturbed on the way home. In conclusion, I would say to Gen. Smith and his friends that whenever they desire, as in the past, to have public meetings of any kind in the county, to come, and they will be protected; but if they ever come under such circumstances as those above given, without notice, and in a manner calculated to provoke violence, they may expect the vengeance of an outraged and incensed public.
D. C. Slaughter,
Sheriff of Tipton County
why don’t Smith go to Grand Junction and investigate a few things which transpired there on the day of election? Possibly — and this possibility does not admit of a doubt — he knows more about the armed squad of negroes who came into that place and took possession of the polls than he desires to tell. We think so.
[Bolivar Bulletin, Bolivar, Tenn., November 28, 1868]