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June 9, 2022 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham County Murders of 1855, Part V

Need to catch up? Click here: Buckingham County Murders of 1855, Part I

On April 23, Richmond’s Whig printed a startling new detail in the on-going investigation of the murders of Dean and Chenault, as well as the burning of Moss & White’s spacious storehouse.

THE BUCKINGHAM MURDER. — Garrett and Taylor, the two white men who were arrested on suspicion of having been engaged in the late murder and arson case in Buckingham, have been acquitted, but were retained in custody on a charge of stealing tobacco. The Farmville Journal learns that four more slaves have been arrested as participants in the murder, making eight now in confinement.

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Following this report, rather surprisingly, after the flurry of communications from Buckingham Court House and Farmville, the story goes cold.

The only follow-up notice I located was this brief statement which appeared in Richmond’s Daily Dispatch on May 28th and was reprinted in the New York Evangelist on June 7, 1855:

One of the slaves tried at Buckingham Courthouse, Va. on the 15th inst. for the murder of Chenault and Dean, by burning the store in which they were sleeping, was condemned to be hung on 29th of June.

After exhaustive searching, I could find no more about the murder of Chenault and Dean. Perhaps once the White men were acquitted, the story was dropped from the news. Likely, the trial of the slaves was swift. The owners of the seven African Americans who were acquitted must have provided convincing alibis. The burning of Buckingham County’s courthouse in 1869 destroyed any court records that might illuminate this case.

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Even in 1855, individuals following this crime story were left with many questions. 

Were there multiple trials? Were the White men acquitted in a public hearing?  Who accused the additional four slaves of participating in the arson and/or murders? Who was the enslaved African-American finally convicted of the crimes and hung at Buckingham Court House? If two confessed, why was only one slave ultimately convicted? Was the original report inaccurate?

What was the primary motive behind what became arson and murder? 

What were the first names of Dean and Chenault? Why were they withheld from reports?

Which Garrett and Taylor were ultimately charged with petty theft?  Was their crime of stolen tobacco simply opportunistic during the chaos of the fire?

Did Moss and White recover anything for their considerable loss of property?

Were the community and the families involved satisfied with the ultimate verdict?

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It’s often difficult to find the end of a story in daily newspapers and the murder of Dean and Chenault proved particularly frustrating. If a Slate River Ramblings reader recognizes the men involved in this tragedy, please comment.

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There are several crime series in the archives at Slate River Ramblings. Type crime in the search box and enjoy the results!

If you like reading old newspapers as much as I do, visit and explore the Library of Virginia’s “Virginia Chronicle.”

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