Dry Pastor Murdered After Calling Man A “Whiskeyite”

Leemont Cemetery, Danville, VA

John Moffett was a North Danville pastor who had no tolerance for alcohol, in this case meaning that he was a strong supporter of the Prohibition movement and used the pulpit to further his agenda. He also wrote a weekly publication called “Anti-Liquor“.2

On Election Day 1892 fraudulent tickets regarding candidate Grover Cleveland’s position on prohibition were found in North Danville. These tickets had been printed at Anti-Liquor‘s headquarters, but that was unknown at that time.1

Suspicious attorney and congregation member J.T. Clarke accused Moffett of distributing the tickets with crooked intentions, resulting in fisticuffs.4 Moffett described the polling station drama in his paper and hurled insults at Clarke, calling him a “whiskeyite,” a “one horse lawyer,” and accusing him of “doing the dirty work for the liquorties.”1

On November 11 Moffett made a statement with the editor at the Danville Register and then started on Main Street towards the First Baptist Church where the Baptist Association was meeting. He bumped into Clarke on the way and it was at that moment that both men’s lives would forever be changed.

Moffett ended up with at least one bullet in his abdomen after a skirmish on the street. Four shots total had been fired but accounts of how many wounds Moffett actually received vary. Clarke alleged that Moffett first shot him in the wrist. Moffett, whose condition was later listed as “critical”, claimed that he didn’t have a firearm and that Clarke started shooting when they first met. In this version Clarke had shot himself accidentally.

On November 13 John Moffett died and was buried in Leemont Cemetery.

J.T. Clarke was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary.3

Moffett Memorial Baptist Church still operates in Danville. Most historical sketches about the church’s namesake’s death leave out the details regarding the fraudulent tickets and the name-calling, which doesn’t surprise me here in the City of Churches.

1 “A Danville Difficulty.” Richmond Dispatch, 12 November 1892.
2 Bagley, Carolyn. “Danville Pastor Slain.” The Signs of the Times, 13 January 2013.
3 “Court of Appeals Yesterday.” Alexandria Gazette, 8 December 1893.
4 “Probably Fatal Affray.” The Times, 12 November 1892.


Rosa Lawson & La Grippe

Rosa Fuller
Wife of 
Jas. A Lawson
Born Aug 25, 1866
Died Mar 19, 1891
At Rest
The following two images are from the ledger of Green Hill’s burial records. “Mrs. Rosa Fuller Lawson, age 25 years/ I hereby certify that I saw her on the 18th day of March 1891 that she died on the 19th day of March 1891 and that the cause of her death was Gripp, B.B. Temple M.D. Undertaker Jno. Ferrell & Co.”

Browsing through the burial records
for1891 there were many different causes of death with cholera, diphtheria, typhoid fever, malarial fever, consumption, whooping cough, and dysentery being the most prevalent among adult deaths from disease. Comparing Green Hill’s burial records with tombstones I’ve seen on the grounds, this is not a complete listing of people interred there. Either some names were omitted or it’s possible that the remains were moved to Green Hill from another cemetery. I have only perused the records to 1895. After that, the records have no cause of death listed.

The Gripp, also spelled/written as grip or La Grippe, was a term used in the 19th century for influenza, which returned at the end of that century as an epidemic in some parts of the world, with many areas reporting the first signs of a large-scale influenza problem in March of 1891, which is the month of Rosa’s death.

Continue reading “Rosa Lawson & La Grippe”

Chang and Eng Bunker: Tied Together by a Living Knot

After months of trying to coordinate schedules and weather forecasts, I finally made it to the grave of Chang and Eng Bunker at White Plains Baptist Church in Mount Airy, North Carolina. It was a warm but beautiful day and fortunately for me, I showed up in time to see grave offerings of flowers and small liquor bottles left in front of the tombstone. I don’t know if the water bottle was part of the gift or if it was accidentally left by another visitor as garbage, so I left it alone. I hear that it’s important to stay hydrated when consuming liquor, so maybe someone had a reason for leaving it there. That’s beside the point.

There is no shortage of biographical information about the Bunker twins out there so I’ve provided links to additional reading and sources throughout this post. If you’re familiar with my sister site, Misc. Tidings of Yore, you know that I have a soft spot for historical newspapers. Some of what you read here will be based on old clippings from the archives.

Continue reading “Chang and Eng Bunker: Tied Together by a Living Knot”

James Henderson

The photo you see here was taken in Danville’s Green Hill Cemetery on a soggy afternoon in late 2012. The man buried below this vaulted obelisk is James Allen Henderson, Jr. and because he died during the time frame listed in my copy of the mortuary reports, I had a cause of death to use as a springboard for my investigation.

Jas. A. Henderson Jr. age 22 years died from Laudanum at Rocky Mount, NC, Ferrell & Co.” (Ferrell & Co. was the name of the undertaking firm which handled his funerary preparations.)

When I read about someone dying young from unusual or mysterious circumstances I do as much digging as possible in order to piece together what happened during the person’s final moments in addition to creating an overall biographical sketch. Each marker in a cemetery represents a person’s life, not just a death, and my thirst for the hows and the whys often causes me to put off posting until I’m sure I’ve exhausted my resources. This morning I decided to try a different combination of keywords and localities in the newspaper archives and luckily it produced a few more details from April 1, 1895 when he “died from laudanum.” (We’ll get to that later.)

There are still many gaps in James’ story and unfortunately those might never be filled. We often take for granted that our inner monologues and sometimes mundane snapshots of daily life are documented through the magic of the Interwebs. There was no Instagram to document what James ate for dinner or Facebook if he wanted to declare how much he fancied his new velocipede.

So we begin at Mr. Henderson’s beginning.

James  Jr. was born on June 6, 1872 in Caswell County, North Carolina to James A. Sr. and Rebecca Johnston Henderson. I’ve noticed his parent’s names while researching other families as they are biologically linked to prominent Caswell County families. James Sr. was descended from some of Yanceyville, North Carolina’s founding citizens, notably his great-grandfather Bartlett T. Yancey. Rebecca Lea Johnston was a daughter of Thomas Donoho Johnston, the President of the Bank of Yanceyville.

In 1880 the Hendersons lived in the “Village of Yanceyville.” In addition to James Jr. and his parents, other family members included three living siblings Addie (1869-1958), Bessie (1874-1896), and Frank Hurst Henderson (1877-1956). Sometime after the census they moved to 921 Main Street in Danville, Virginia. That address is where the First Presbyterian Church now stands, beside the Sutherlin Mansion. James Sr. was a merchant, tobacconist, and founder of J.A. Henderson & Co., a leaf tobacco firm located at 400 Craghead Street. It’s highly likely that James grew up in some affluence, possibly running in some of the same social circles with other current Green Hill residents from his age group.

The next bit of information about James Jr. comes from the 1890-1891 city directory. He still resided at the Main Street home with his parents and sister “Miss Addie D. Henderson.” Other siblings probably also lived there but not listed separately in the directory due to their age. At that time James was employed as a bank runner, or courier. By 1892 he earned his wages as a tobacconist, suggesting that he intended to follow in his father’s footsteps in an industry that was then booming in the area.

Between 1892 and the date of his expiration on April 1, 1895 he relocated to Rocky Mount, North Carolina after spending some time in Henderson. I couldn’t determine where he worked during those years, but one of the articles printed after his death suggested that he held a job as a tobacco buyer in Rocky Mount.

James was just a few months shy of his 23rd birthday in late March/early April, living at the “Woodard hotel” in Rocky Mount. This might have been more of a boarding house than a typical hotel owned by someone named Mr. Woodard. James had lost his job, fallen behind on his boarding fees, and “for some time had been drinking excessively” to cope with his financial woes and employment status. I wonder if James tried to drown other demons in the depths of the bottle, but I have no evidence to support any other circumstances affecting his state of mind. Because he died from a laudanum overdose we know that he used the drug at least once, but we can’t assume that he had ever previously experimented with it. (In an earlier post I wrote briefly about laudanum use during the 19th century in case you’re not familiar.)

For nearly two years I wasn’t sure if James’ death was accidental or if he’d taken his own life. Every time I visited Green Hill, his monument reminded me of my unsolved mystery, and every few months I opened his case to no avail. Then I located this short piece in The Progressive Farmer: “News from Rocky Mount Monday states that Mr. James Henderson, of that place committed suicide that night by taking laudanum. He was about 21 years of age. No reason was assigned for such a rash act, other than that he had been drinking for some days, says the Wilson Mirror.”

The Progressive Farmer 9 April 1895

James’ untimely death was already unfortunate, but knowing he’d died at his own hands made it that much more heartbreaking. Those of you reading who aren’t invested in historical research might find my sympathy towards unrelated people who died over a century ago a bit odd. I suppose I’d compare my feelings to the manner in which a reader or viewer feels about a character in a book or a television show. The difference is that these characters were real people and I’ve stood at their real graves, with just a few feet of dirt and a metal or wooden coffin separating the living body and the decomposing corpse. (Before you gasp at my ghoulish phrasing, remember that in the end, we’re all just worm food, unless you go with cremation or some other non-traditional burial.)

But getting back to James, the other source of information about his last day was entitled, “Strange Suicide: A Man Attempts to Take the Life of Three People-Then Kills Himself.”

The Caucasian 11April 1895

“A singular case of suicide is reported from Rocky Mount, N.C.. Mr. James A. Henderson, a tobacco buyer, staying at the Woodard hotel, had become despondent, ostensibly in consequence of his inability to pay a board bill which he had contracted at that hotel. While in this melancholy state of mind he made out an insurance policy, which he handed to Mr. Woodard, remarking that he (Henderson) might soon be missing. Then to the great astonishment of his host, he suddenly drew a revolver, and pointed it at Mr. Woodard’s heart. Being foiled in his evident intention to shoot, the unfortunate hypochondriac endeavored to slash the alarmed proprietor with a butcher knife, but was again prevented from carrying his murderous purpose into effect.
Henderson next started to kill a young man whom he accused of causing him to lose his position. While on his bloody-minded errand he met the porter of the hotel, whom he also attempted to dispatch, but who luckily escaped.
Nothing more was seen of Henderson until about midnight last night, when he was discovered, gasping for breath, upon the bed in his room. A physician was summoned, who, upon examination, found that the suicide had swallowed four ounces of laudanum. Death ensued soon afterwards. Deceased came to Rocky Mount from Henderson and for some time had been drinking excessively which seemed to have turned his brain on the night of his death.”

After reflecting on James’ financial problems and his family connections I was curious as to why he didn’t go to his parents for help: was it pride or was there a rift in the Henderson clan that prevented them from communicating? There’s also the possibility that his judgement was so clouded by liquor that he chose to off himself before thinking his options through clearly.

I’m not advocating suicide by any means, but we can’t judge James for his hastening his journey on the pale horse with a few ounces of laudanum. The silver lining about his “strange suicide” is that no one else was killed that night. We can only hope that in death he found the peace of mind that evaded him towards the end of his short life.

I decided to revisit James’ grave this afternoon in light of this new information because it felt like the right thing to do.


James’ sister Bessie’s grave is to his left; their parents are in the background


Their monuments are being uprooted by the nearby tree.

Brutal Murder: Doctor Knocked from His Horse With an Axe

When Dr. John Roy Cabell’s body was committed to the ground at Green Hill Cemetery in 1897, he was 74 years old. Based on what I’ve read from Green Hill’s Mortuary Reports (1884-1895) and 19th century life expectancies, I feel fairly comfortable in saying that Dr. Cabell lived to a ripe old age. His cause of death wasn’t pneumonia, la grippe, typhoid fever, nervous prostration, consumption, or any of those other mort. report favorites: he was murdered in a particularly gruesome manner.

Before we get to that, let’s take a look at John’s life. He was born in 1823 in Pittsylvania County to General Benjamin William Sheridan Cabell and Sarah Epes Doswell Cabell. John was one of eleven children, several of whom he would later serve with during the Civil War. When John’s father died in 1862, the family lived on a prosperous plantation called “Bridgewater,” but I wasn’t able to find anything concrete on the location of the family home.

John married Martha Wilson on June 19, 1947, around the same time period that he studied medicine at the University of Virginia. The couple had the following children: Anne Elizabeth (b. 1848), William C. (b. 1851), Mary Winifred (b. 1853), Nathaniel Wilson (b.1855), and John R. (b. 1859). Their youngest child was born on June 8 and Martha died on June 15, suggesting that her death was in some way related to childbirth. (This is purely speculation on my part.)

Dr. Cabell married Catherine “Kate” Witcher Clement in February 1861, but the honeymoon would be cut short by  the war. In June of that year he was commissioned as a Captain, to serve in Company B, of the Virginia 38th Infantry Regiment where he put his medical training to use on the battlefield.  By the time that he was mustered out on 10 Dec 1862, we can only imagine the terrible sights, sounds, smells, and textures he had experienced.

The next record I found for John was the 1865 Tax Assessment  where he is listed as living in Callands, employed as a physician and surgeon.

Kate died on Feb. 10, 1887.

Dr. Cabell probably had no idea of the carnage that awaited him on August 26, 1897 when he left his Danville home to confront Edward Hankins, a tenant on one of his Callands plantations. Hankins, described as “brawny” and “powerful,” had served ten years in prison for the 1872 second degree murder of James Jackson, something that Dr. Cabell probably knew because the Jackson affray also took place in Callands. Cabell wasn’t pleased with Hankins’ property management skills and ordered he and his wife had to leave, something that must’ve angered Hankins quite a bit based on the events that followed the eviction notice.

Around 8:00 p.m. Dr. Cabell arrived on horseback. Hankins instructed that his wife go to a neighbor’s house for the night, something which would later suggest that he had already planned to murder the elderly physician. According to news reports, Dr. Cabell asked Hankins when he and his wife were leaving and Hankins answered with an axe blow to Cabell’s head, which knocked him from his horse. Hankins struck Cabell’s skull again and then “stamped upon the prostrate body.” The murdered dragged Cabell inside and through the house, deposited the body in a back room, and placed an empty shotgun across his lifeless corpse.

Hankins rushed to the neighbor’s house where he claimed two men had murdered Dr. Cabell. When he, the neighbor, and his wife went back to the Cabell place, Hankins avoided the sight of the elderly man he’d just butchered. He fled into the woods but was arrested the next morning, drunk and still spinning a yarn about two unknown men who’d killed Cabell with knives.

Hankins was found guilty of his crime and sentenced to hang in November 1897 in Chatham, Virginia. On his execution day, November 11, he confessed to Dr. Cabell’s murder through a written statement made public after the hanging. Hankins’ body was sent to the University College of Medicine at Richmond. A detailed account of Hankins’ execution can be read here, which is worth checking out if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Richmond Dispatch, 28 Aug. 1897
Clinch Valley News, 3 Sept. 1897

Additional Source:

Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865

Fridays From the Mortuary Reports: Maria Louise Grasty-Chloral Hydrate Overdose

From page 109 in Green Hill Cemetery’s Mortuary Reports, Dr. Franklin George declared 30-year-old Maria Louise Grasty’s cause of death as “unknown.” The doctor had seen her for some reason on the 8th and according to the ledger, she passed away on April 10. The tombstone reads that she died on April 11, but the discrepancy could be based on the notion that she’d died in the later hours of April 10 or the early hours of April 11.

A little more information about Maria’s  death was found in an Alexandria newspaper. Printed within a day or two of her death, it was reported that her body was found kneeling by the bed. Due to the discovery of an empty chloral container in the house, the speculation was that Maria had accidentally overdosed trying to medicate herself to sleep. The article also mentions that Maria and her husband, grocer Philip Lightfoot Grasty, were separated. They were together at the time of the 1880 census, so sometime between then and 1889 the marriage had ended, although they were probably not legally divorced because of the inscription on her tombstone and the fact that she’s buried in the Grasty square beside Philip. It would be interesting to know what Maria’s emotional state was at the time of her overdose. We can only infer from the tiny blurb in the newspaper that she was alone and having difficulty sleeping.

Alexandria Gazette, 12 Apr. 1889

Details about Maria’s life were relatively scarce. I couldn’t find her maiden name, but she was born in South Carolina. According to one source, she was a teacher at the Loyal Street school in 1879, living with Philip on Wilson Street. In the 1880 census; however, her occupation is “keeping house” and the couple is reported as living on Colquohoun Street.

Chloral hydrate is a central nervous system depressant that was used regularly in the late 1800s by insomniacs. Mixed with alcohol, this hypnotic and sedative drug created “knockout drops” or a “Mickey,” a potentially lethal combination known to render people unconscious. Chloral hydrate was addictive and often abused in Maria Grasty’s day, carrying unpleasant withdrawal symptoms: hallucinations, sweating, seizures and shivering. An overdose could kill a person in as little as five hours. If Maria died from an overdose of chloral hydrate, she could’ve experienced any of the following: a racing heartbeat, hypothermia, difficulty breathing (possibly leading to respitory failure), low blood pressure (or high blood pressure), pupil constriction, and areflexia (the lack of reflex responses). Before death she may have lapsed into a coma. Since she was kneeling beside her bed, Maria may have been trying to get out of bed or into it, depending on which way she was facing. If she knew that something was amiss, her last moments alive were probably terrifying. Remember, this was a woman most likely living alone in a day and age where there were no telephones or 911 system to summon for help. Reflecting on Maria’s final chapter (or what I know it to be at this time), a heartbreaking scene unfolds: a young woman estranged from her partner, self-medicating in search of rest, dying alone in her bedroom.

Fridays From the Mortuary Report – Homeless Bookkeeper Turned Away from Charity

“Thos. J. Jones age 35 years I hereby certify that I saw him on the 13th day of Nov 1891 and the that he died on the 13th day of Nov 1891 and that the cause of his death w collapse from Dissipation B.B. Temple M.D. Fox & Co undertakers”

Above was the entry in Green Hill’s Mortuary Report for Thomas Jones, a widowed bookkeeper & native of England who passed away from “collapse from Dissipation.”2 Curious, I researched Mr. Jones and found information that shed more light on the woeful events surrounding his death in November 1891. Thomas was known as a homeless and friendless alcoholic whose drink of choice was whiskey. On the cold evening of November 13 he was suffering from some sort of attack stemming from exposure to the elements in association with heavy consumption of alcohol when he appeared at the Home for the Sick. The Home for the Sick was a charity-funded operation ran by the Ladies Benevolent Association that helped ill people, usually males, who didn’t have families to address their needs. The manager of the Home wouldn’t allow Thomas to stay there despite being told by two doctors that he was in desperate need of attention. Mr. Burnett, the manager, would not even allow Thomas to remain in the waiting room area to warm his cold bones in front of the fire. It’s possible that he thought that Thomas was merely drunk and not sick. Thomas was taken across the street to a drug store where he unfortunately expired shortly after. The coroner held an inquest into Jones’ death where Drs. Harvie and Temple, who had tried to help Thomas gain admission to the Home, both condemned the actions of Mr. Burnett as harsh. One of them was quoted as saying, “It was an act of brutality rarely, if ever, witnessed in a southern community.” Dr. Harvie even suggested that the practice of turning away people in need was not new for Mr. Burnett. At the conclusion of the inquest, the manager’s actions were found to be “brutal to a criminal extent.”1 I don’t know if this carried any penalty, but it seems like the charitable people who helped keep the Home for the Sick in operation were peeved about Mr. Jones’ death and how it was linked to the facility.
Richmond Dispatch (Richmond, VA) Nov. 15, 1891

1 “Act of Brutality.” Richmond Dispatch 15 Nov. 1891. 
2 Ancestry.com. Virginia, Deaths and Burials Index, 1853-1917 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Cause of Death: Intemperance

From “Curious Epitaphs”

 The U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules have again provided me with information on a somewhat unusual cause of death amidst the various fevers, unknowns, accidents, and other maladies: intemperance.  Information in these records was provided by people in the household, not doctors, so it may not always be 100% accurate but at least it allows to understand what the family or surviving household members believed to be someone’s cause of death.

Combing through the 1860 Mortality Schedule for the South District of Pittsylvania County, Virginia I noticed the following line:

“Elisha M. Claughton, 40 (age), Male, Married, Virginia (place of birth), August (month of death), Stone Mason (occupation), Intemperance, 2 Weeks (duration of illness that caused death)”.

The only other Ancestry record I could find on Elisha was that he was born around 1820.

Another intemperance death from Pittsylvania County in Callands was that of Homer Howard, a married white male, aged 30, who died in 1879. There were other intemperance deaths, in other areas, so I decided to look into it further.

Intemperance, or the excessive consumption of alcohol, was considered to be a major social problem in the 1800s. Alcohol abuse to the point of drunkenness not only wreaked havoc on the body, it was thought to lead to financial problems, homelessness, marital problems, profanity, crime, and various other “sins.” Marcus Cross goes into lengthy detail about the perils of intemperance in Intemperance: Its Evils, Causes, and Remedies, suggesting that conditions like mania and “lunacy” could be attributed to excessive indulgence of spirits.

This is from C. Horace Clarke’s book, Practical Embalming: A Recitation of Actual Experiences of the Author and Hundreds of the Most Expert Embalmers of the World (252):

Because intemperance or alcoholism can lead to or allow the body to become more susceptible to so many different health problems, it’s impossible to know what exactly killed Elisha, Howard, or any of the other people listed in the mortality schedules with that COD without further information or a doctor’s report.

So please, enjoy responsibly.

Additional Sources:
Andrews, William. “Curious Epitaphs.” W. Andrews & Co., 1899.
Jackson, Ron V., Accelerated Indexing Systems, comp.. U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules 
     Index [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999.
 Osborn, Matthew Warner. “The Anatomy of Intemperance: Alcohol and the Diseased Imagination
      in Philadelphia, 1764-1860.” University of California, Davis. 2007.