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December 16, 2021 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham Crimes: Whiskey Leads to Murder, Part I

Appomattox and Buckingham Times. Courtesy Virginia Chronicle.

On June 26, 1904 the Roanoke Times ran a short article, “Negro Kills Another Negro.” Simply stated, John Henry Banks had shot and killed John Brown near Johnson Depot in Buckingham County and the newspaper suggested a possible motive. “Brown some time ago had the boy arrested for disturbing preaching at a colored church. He was a deacon of the church and was highly respected by all who knew him. But for the interference of white men Banks would have been lynched by negroes of the neighborhood.”

John Henry Banks was hardly a boy. Based on his age recorded in the 1900 census, in June of 1904, he had just turned 22. Later reports place his age at 24.  In 1900, he was living in Marshall District with his 71-year-old grandmother Polly Banks. Three of the four grandchildren living with Polly had the surname Banks. The fourth was an 11-year-old named Robert E. Brown, revealing a connection between the Banks and Brown families

On June 29, 1904 the Appomattox and Buckingham Times ran a detailed article written by a correspondent named Quoit, filling out the story and mentioning the wounding of Elmore Eldridge.

It seems that Buckingham is getting to be the Fayette county of West Virginia. Dark and damnable crimes seem to be coming of common occurrence. While the sale of whiskey in the county of Buckingham is forbidden by the laws of the land, in consequence of the violence of this well known set of principles, with penalty attached, there is languishing in the jail of this county one John Henry Banks, a negro of the age twenty four years, from Marshall District, charged with the terrible crime of murder.

Banks, on the night of June 24, near Johnson’s depot, in this county, shot to death an old colored man by the name of John Brown, and wounded a young man by the name of Elmore Eldridge, after firing thirty or more shots to frighten away and terrify the crowd that had assembled at the house of the parents of the wife of this man Banks — to offer prayer for her restoration. — Banks’ wife being a consumptive and having gone to the home of her parents, Preston Eldridge and wife, against the protest of Banks — in his absence. The shot that ended the life of John Brown, a man who bore an exceptionally good reputation for a colored man, was, it is agreed, intended for Preston Eldridge or his wife, both of whom Banks had declared he intended to kill.

Coming Next: Buckingham Crimes: Whiskey Leads to Murder, Part II


The incarceration of John Henry Banks took place concurrently with a long and involved case of arson. Click here to read the Slate River Ramblings series about The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County.

For much more about Prohibition in Buckingham County, click here: The Buckingham Whiskey Wars: Part I

If you enjoy reading about Prohibition, flappers, speakeasies, and Al Capone’s Chicago take a look at my book, The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam.

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