1883 Wesley Posey riot

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The 1883 Wesley Posey riot was an attempted lynching which took place at the Jefferson County Courthouse in December 1883.

Wesley Posey was accused of attempting to rape a 4-year-old neighbor, Lucy Broyles, in the vicinity of Grace's Gap. It was widely rumored immediately after the report that a mob had already hanged Posey in vengeance for the act. In fact, Acting Jefferson County Sheriff R. H. Hagood had arrested him and was holding him at the Jefferson County Jail adjoining the courthouse at 3rd Avenue North at 21st Street. Posey appeared at an arraignment hearing on December 5 and entered a plea of not guilty. His trial was set for December 7, before judge S. H. Sprott in the Jefferson County Circuit Court, then still in session.

On the evening of December 5th, a mob gathered at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and 20th Street and proceeded toward the jail. Among the leaders of the group seeking to enter and murder Posey were D. W. Austin, William Austin, Henry Lamb, Henry Sanders, Jeff Sims, Thomas Tate, J. P. Davis, Ed Bow, Robert McDaniel, A. J. Tomlin, George Wells and Ed Zuber. Tate was admitted by Sheriff Hagood and told him that, "he might as well surrender Posey to the crowd as they were going to have him one way or the other." Hagood locked the door and warned the mob not to pursue violence, but the did break in and searched the building to no avail. As a precaution, the Sheriff had already taken the prisoner to be guarded at an isolated spot in the woods north of Stouts Road, from which he was later moved to a cedar glade about two miles from the home of Frank Barton.

Hagood also contacted Governor Edward O'Neal to activate the state militia. Five companies, including the Birmingham Rifles and Warrior Guards, restored order at the courthouse and secured the accused there until he could be tried.

Posey's trial commenced on the morning of Friday, December 7. Solicitor Thomas Coleman prosecuted the case for the state. Judge Sprott had appointed Mitchell Porter, Rufus Cobb and Robert Pearson to represent the accused. He dismissed Pearson's motion for a change of venue on the grounds that peace had been restored, and a jury was empaneled, consisting of W. J. Vann, L. G. Bass, R. W. Owen, F. R. McDonald, J. M. Huey, J. E. Fields, James Eubank, S. B. Copeland, J. M. Franklin, F. M. Robertson, J. B. Ellard and Felix Montgomery.

Broyles' parents both testified against Posey, who had lived near their home "off and on about two years" and had been run off by Mr Broyles on prior occasions for "constantly creating disturbances among his men." Lucy was present in court, but, "could not be induced to talk." Acting sheriff Hagood and policeman T. Z. Hagood also testified, saying that after being secreted to safety in the woods, they had both heard Posey admit guilt. After a recess, deputy Nathaniel Hawkins testified that after Posey had been moved, Frank Barton had appeared and asked Posey if he were not guilty, to which the suspect answered that he was, in both their hearing. With that testimony, and an evaluation of bodily evidence, including suspected symptoms of venereal disease from physicians A. T. Henley and Sam Cross, the prosecution rested its case. The defense called A. J. Tomlin, who also testified to hearing Posey confess. Dr Mortimer Jordan Jr told the jury that in his opinion, the bodily evidence as reported to the court was inconclusive. Posey's sister, Louisa, testified that she had seen Lucy Broyles at their house, and later saw her brother at the Broyles' gate.

With no further witnesses to call, Coleman made his closing arguments, followed by Cobb and Porter for the defense. The jury went into chambers at 5:00, and returned a verdict of guilty at 7:00. After being instructed to amend the form, their final verdict was, "We find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictment, and say he shall suffer death by hanging." No immediate appeal was presented to the judge, and Sprott adjourned the court.

On the morning of Saturday, December 8, Posey was brought back to the courtroom to be sentenced. Posey made no statement. Sprott set his date of execution for Friday, January 11, 1884. The court also ordered that Posey should be taken to the Montgomery County Jail to await his execution in relative safety. Following the sentencing, Posey was furnished with a suit of clothes. Militias were stationed around the downtown area to keep order, and members of the Birmingham Rifles escorted him to the L&N Station where a special train bound for Montgomery was waiting. As the train pulled out at 11:!5, the Birmingham Artillery fired two heavy rounds to mark to occasion. The local militias then returned their weapons to their respective armories.

In 1884 the Supreme Court of Alabama heard an appeal of a writ of error entered on Posey's behalf by his trial attorneys. The Supreme Court found cause for the trial court to review the question of venue as it related to the formation of an impartial jury. Posey died in jail in Montgomery before the review took place, rendering the proceeding moot.

The leaders of the mob who stormed the courthouse were brought to trial for unlawful assembly, unlawful entry, and conspiracy to commit murder in August 1884. Mitchell Porter and A. S. Hawkins argued for the state. William H. Smith, D. D. Smith, Tipton Bradford, R. H. Sterret, H. A. Sharp, and J. H. Weatherly represented the defendants. All were acquitted.