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June 1, 2015 / Joanne Yeck

The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part I

1_Murder_Part I

The Slate River Ramblings post concerning the brutal murder of Curtis Nunley Branch, night watchman at the Mateo Post Office, mentioned the murder of the Stewart brothers several years earlier.

Undoubtedly, the murder of the Stewarts was one of the most sensational in the history of Buckingham County. The twists and turns of the resulting trials held the public’s attention for over two and a half years. The Richmond newspapers closely followed the developments and coverage extended throughout Virginia at least as far as Alexandria, to Washington DC, and to Baltimore.

In the coming weeks, highlights of this complicated and sometimes shocking story will be serialized at Slate River Ramblings. Feel free to comment as the tale unfolds. If you recognize the Stewart brothers, please contact me. Their mother may have been a Jones or a Brown. At the time of their death, however, apparently no kinfolk were involved in the search for their murderers.

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On April 17, 1909, Thomas and William Stewart were brutally murdered in their home, which was burned to the ground with their bodies inside. The brothers lived in southwestern Buckingham County near the Appomattox County line. Three men, one white and two black, were eventually charged with the crimes of murder, robbery, and arson in connection with the death of the Stewart brothers.

From the outset, newspaper coverage was lively. On April 20, 1909, Richmond’s The Times-Dispatch broke the story, reporting that the Stewart brothers were burned “to an unrecognizable mass of flesh and charred bones.” The following day, the newspaper printed informative background about the two men:

Among the ignorant people of the county it has been supposed that the Stewarts had a large amount of money in their cabin, though they never gave any evidence of being hardly more than paupers, so low was their scale of living. It is thought that the motive of the killing was the hope of finding the hoarded treasure.

The men lived in a cabin on the Tower Hill Road, near Antioch Baptist Church, not far from the Appomattox line, in one of the most respectable sections of the county. They made their money by cutting [railroad] ties and dealing in a small way in lumber. Their father in the old days was a slave trader and is reputed to have left them a large amount of money, to which they have added from their earnings in the woods. They had never been in any trouble and were considered harmless though not desirable citizens.

In the weeks and months following their murders, the Stewart brothers were described primarily as solitary bachelors, uninvolved in the community around them. Whose wrath did they invoke and why? Was robbery really the motive? Why destroy their home and their meager possessions? Was it, as the newspaper suggested, to cover traces of the crime and make the deaths appear accidental?

Coming Next: The Stewarts of Buckingham

36 Comments

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  1. missshellbelle / Jan 7 2016 9:11 pm

    Joanne,

    I forwarded this post to my uncle, with the comment that this sounds like it may have happened quite close to our family homestead, based on the general description. Here is what he sent back just now:

    “Today, one can walk from the Haskins house to a Tower Hill, if it’s all the same since 1909; in the last 15 years, an old, local road known by its number was named Tower Hill Road for 911 emergency reasons. There may be Tower Hills all over from where you’d watch for forest fires in dry seasons. Everything else is back to before some Haskins kin were born (aunts and uncles) and when others were children. Of course, no rapid way for news to travel down that way back then: most had no electricity until the 1940s and racial stuff was ‘treated differently.’ From the Haskins house to the town of Buckingham Courthouse, you go over the Slate River on a bridge. There seems to have been several Antioch Baptist churches, a pretty popular name, such as Mt. Airy, Mt Hope, Jordan, etc.”

    My grandma would have been 12 when the murders took place.

    • Joanne Yeck / Jan 8 2016 9:40 am

      Thanks for posting your uncle’s comment. I agree, the Stewarts lived in Haskins territory.

  2. onestitchatatime / Jun 13 2015 11:20 am

    Considered “harmless but not desirable”. Hmmmm…

    • Joanne Yeck / Jun 13 2015 11:25 am

      Based on knowing the full narrative of the Stewart brothers, my best guess is that their undesirableness is their comparatively low standard of living for the neighborhood. Their cabin is probably basic, though they may not be “trashy.” Also, if they keep to themselves in the extreme, neighbors are likely to gossip….

Trackbacks

  1. EXTRA: Judge George Jefferson Hundley | slate river ramblings . . . .
  2. The Buckingham Outlaws: Part XXI | slate river ramblings . . . .
  3. The Buckingham Outlaws: PART I | slate river ramblings . . . .
  4. The Buckingham Whiskey Wars: Part III | slate river ramblings . . . .
  5. Buckingham Notables: Judge A.S. Hall (1852-1932) | slate river ramblings . . . .
  6. Buckingham Notables: Edmund Wilcox Hubard | slate river ramblings . . . .
  7. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part XXI | slate river ramblings . . . .
  8. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part XX | slate river ramblings . . . .
  9. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part XIX | slate river ramblings . . . .
  10. Extra! Tobacco Factory Fire!  Henrico County Jail Evacuated! | slate river ramblings . . . .
  11. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part XVIII | slate river ramblings . . . .
  12. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part XVII | slate river ramblings . . . .
  13. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: EXTRA #5 | slate river ramblings . . . .
  14. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part XVI | slate river ramblings . . . .
  15. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part XV | slate river ramblings . . . .
  16.  The 1909 Buckingham Murders: EXTRA #4 | slate river ramblings . . . .
  17. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part XIV | slate river ramblings . . . .
  18. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part XIII | slate river ramblings . . . .
  19. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: EXTRA #3 | slate river ramblings . . . .
  20. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part XII | slate river ramblings . . . .
  21. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part XI | slate river ramblings . . . .
  22. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: EXTRA # 2 | slate river ramblings . . . .
  23. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part X | slate river ramblings . . . .
  24. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part IX | slate river ramblings . . . .
  25. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part VIII | slate river ramblings . . . .
  26. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part VII | slate river ramblings . . . .
  27. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: EXTRA! | slate river ramblings . . . .
  28. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part VI | slate river ramblings . . . .
  29. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part V | slate river ramblings . . . .
  30. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part IV | slate river ramblings . . . .
  31. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part III | slate river ramblings . . . .
  32. The 1909 Buckingham Murders: Part II | slate river ramblings . . . .

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