Debby Summey: The Hangman’s Tree

  • Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Last week, Dooney Cribb, a friend of mine on Facebook, posted a photo of “The Hangman’s Tree.” The photo was taken from the April 1, 1949 edition of the Georgetown Times.  
The caption reads, “According to old stories, this tree which stands on the side of state Highway 528 in the Sampit section has been the scene of many hangings.  It is known that a group of Tories and British soldiers were executed there in the Revolution and that two soldiers, and probably others, were hanged there in the Civil War.  Old timers in this section have said that they have climbed the tree and seen grooves cut by the noose.  In the above picture, County Agent M.M. McCord somewhat uneasily examines the old landmark.  (Photo by McDonald from the News and Courier).”
I wish I could reproduce the photo here, but can’t due to the poor quality of the copy.
Most of us who grew up in Georgetown remember the old cypress tree from our childhood.  I drove out there a few days ago and it is still standing, minus the limb that reached over the roadway where the hangings were carried out.
In her book, “More Ghosts of Georgetown,” Elizabeth Huntsinger devotes a chapter to the history of this tree.  She explains that the tree lost the notorious limb when a truck tore it away several decades ago.  She also tells the most interesting story of a man who was hanged from that limb, but somehow survived and escaped, never to be seen again.  Read her book.
I tried to find information on the Georgetown County Digital Library website by entering the words hanging tree, hangman’s tree, hanging and various other combinations and came up empty.  Finally it dawned on me to search instead for lynching, and I got 104 hits.  
After wading through all of them, I came to the same conclusion as Elizabeth Huntsinger.  Murderers, robbers, cattle thieves and other criminals were usually arrested, taken to jail, and tried before a judge and jury.  However, men who allegedly sexually assaulted women were more often than not rounded up by a mob and hung the same day with little or no consequence to the executioners.
On the editorial page of the Georgetown Semi-Weekly Times, dated May 20, 1893, I found this:  “Lynching is the proper punishment for all rapists as it would be wrong to heap additional shame and humiliation upon the innocent victims of such fiends by compelling them to go into the courts of justice to testify against their assailants.”  In 1893, The Georgetown Times sent a reporter to Moore’s Cross Roads, about four miles from Lake City in Williamsburg County, to check out a story of the alleged sexual assault of a young woman, the daughter of a respected farmer.  The assault happened on Sept. 30; the suspect was captured and tried on the night of Oct. 1.  Ironically, he was sentenced to hanging by Judge Lynch and the execution was carried out the same night.
The names of alleged perpetrators and victims of crimes were, of course, included in the newspaper articles I read.  I’m leaving the names out of this column, because descendants of both still live here.
On Oct. 23, 1895, the Georgetown Semi-Weekly Times reported that four men were convicted of murder of a local man.  One was sentenced to life in prison; the other three were to be hanged.  On the way to the jail, the sheriff and his constables were “overpowered” by a group of about fifty men who were bent on seeing that all four would be hanged.  The fellow sentenced to life was handcuffed to another prisoner, so the mob took both of them off into the woods.  They released the prisoner who was already to be hanged, but took matters into their own hands by hanging the other one with a plow line thrown over the limb of a pine tree about a half-mile from the courthouse.  Several shots were fired into his body, as well, and the “unknown” suspects were never arrested.
What does all of this have to do with the Hangman’s Tree on Saints Delight Road (Hwy. 17-A)?  Apparently, hangings there were carried out with little or no fanfare, certainly not reported in any newspaper I could find.

To Elizabeth Huntsinger and the GCDL ... thanks for the memories.

I may be reached at (843) 446-4777 or email at djsummey@gmail.com.    




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