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Re: Family History as told by Nay

The Hanging of Giles Good in York County, SC
By Nathania A. Branch Miles

My family research has taken me many places but none as awesome as visiting the Blue Branch Presbyterian Church in Bullocks Creek, South Carolina. At this site, I relished in finding my paternal line but felt sadness at visiting the grave of an ancestor whose life was marred by violence. I learned that my great-great-great-grandfather, Giles Good, along with four of his comrades was lynched on a cold April morning in 1887. Almost 120 years after the hanging, I am attempting to learn the truth behind of the hanging of Giles and his companions in York County, South Carolina.

The Murder

John Lee Good, a 12-year old white boy, was stoned to death in York County in 1886 when he happened upon a group of Black men who were stealing from his father’s field. The Black men were members of a local club, and many white citizens of the community speculated that the club leadership was somehow involved in the murder. According to oral history, in the middle of a cold November night in 1886, a group of white men burst into the home of Giles and Ann Good and dragged Giles out of bed for his alleged leadership in the Good’s death. Giles was not present during the act, but he was held equally responsible because he was supposedly the leader of the club to which the other men belonged.

Soon after being arrested, a total of 26 Black men, including Giles, found themselves in Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina, where they had been taken for their protection while awaiting trial. After getting the confession from two of the men, 6 of the men were charged with the murder. In April 1887, Giles Good, Bailey Dowdle, Dan Roberts, Prindley Thompson, Mose Lipscomb and John Good were returned to York County where they were to stand trial for the murder. Soon after their return, William E. Good, the murdered child’s father, became overwhelmed by his son’s death and was committed to the state mental institution. As Mr. W.E. Good traveled through the town on his way to the institution, a white mob gathered and grew extremely agitated. They felt they had to do something to help Good achieve justice. On April 5, a mob of 75 white men dragged Giles and four other men from the jail to Black’s Station on Adair Ferry Road and hanged them on the two oak trees one mile from the Yorkville Jail. Giles’ son John was spared for unknown reasons.

Local newspapers, including the Yorkville Enquirer , Rock Hill Herald, Charleston News and the Courier frequently defended the action of lynch mobs and felt very justified in the Yorkville hangings. The national attention generated by the lynching was an embarrassment to state leaders, so South Carolina passed a law in 1895 that allowed the family of the victims to sue the county for damages. Few lawsuits were ever filed.

So how did it come to this?

The will of James Bankhead Good , dated 1850, deeded Giles Good; a slave aged 14, and another slave by the name of Violet to Good’s daughter upon her marriage. The two slaves were only on loan to the daughter until Good’s son reached the age of majority. The son never reached the age of majority, and Giles remained in the daughter’s possession until Emancipation in 1865.

The 1870 Federal Census for York County showed Giles and Ann (Powell) Good with a young family of two small children. The 1880 Census found Giles and Ann Good living in York County with five children. Giles was listed as a mulatto in both the 1870 and 1880 Censuses. According to information obtained from the Historical Center of York County, Giles was described as a good-looking man of average height with a ruddy complexion and black curly long hair. The family believed that his father was a Native American (Catawba) and his mother was a slave.

Rumor had it that Giles also served as constable for the Board River Community during Reconstruction under General Robert K. Scott, who would later become the governor of South Carolina. He took his position as constable seriously and was often seen wearing a Blue Yankee jacket patrolling the streets. It was said that the white people of the community were offended by his tenacity and by wearing the jacket. They supposedly worked hard to strip him of his position. When his term was up, then-Governor Scott did not reappoint him as constable. A 1935 WPA interview identified Giles Good as being a leader of the militia during Reconstruction and participated in the battle against the Ku Klux Klan at Chester in 1870 and 1871 . The Reconstruction period was almost over.

Copies of numerous court records showed that Giles had many altercations with the white Good family over the years. Giles was involved in a number of breaking and entering, assault and badgering charges against the Good family. He had a good attorney who was able to help him avoid being convicted for his crimes.

The Aftermath

The white community celebrated the lynching, even selling chips of wood from the tree where the Black men had been hanged. The five dead men were cut down and buried in a mass grave. Their families later retrieved the bodies and reburied them in unmarked graves so their final resting places would not be desecrated. The mound near the spot to be famous in local tradition now marks the final resting place of Mose Lipscomb. Two weeks after the lunching, the 21 men still held on conspiracy charges were later released from the county jail for lack of evidence. Newspapers reported that the only witnesses against the men were two of those who were killed by the mob.

With the help of a local historian, my family uncovered Giles’ grave in 2000 in the Blue Branch Presbyterian Church cemetery. Blue Branch was the first black church in York County after breaking relations with the white Bullocks Creek Presbyterian Church. Rev. West also reported that the two clubs, “Upper and Lower” were not gangs but chapters governed by the “Supreme Grand Lodge for the Government of all Subordinate Lodges of the Granted United Order of the National Laborer’s Aid Protection Society of North America”. The clubs met weekly at the local Hopewell Church, collected dues, and had elected officers. The white community feared the gatherings and considered the society to be benevolent but declared it to be a “nuisance.”

Giles left a legacy of five sons, four daughters and a widow. One son, Agar, lived out his life in York County where he raised his children. Giles’ other children moved to neighboring counties – Gaston, Guilford and Union. Ann lived alone into her 60s, when she rotated living with three of her daughters until her death in 1932.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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