The Freedom Valley Chronicles: The Lynching That Did Not Occur In Plymouth Township

News columns are typically designed to highlight actual events.

Sometimes, though, the lack of an event can be news itself.

Plymouth Township and the Freedom Valley have a history of tolerance and respect.

Plymouth Meeting is rightly proud of its place in the Underground Railroad.  Conshohocken’s Hector Street is a lasting reminder of the respect for life regardless of race.  Norristown can be proud that abolitionists were able to speak in public forums in a church located across from the Montgomery County Court House.

But that does not mean that hatred and evil have not reared their ugly heads on occasion in this community.

Sometimes, the hatred has taken the form of discrimination.  Sometimes, in the form of speech.  On other occasions, it’s taken the form of violence.

Bigots don’t discriminate.

Sometimes, hatred is organized.

Groups like the Ku Klux Klan are examples of how hatred can be organized.

While many people know of the hatred of African-Americans by members of the Klan, many others may be surprised to learn that the Klan’s hatred extends far beyond just one race.  Members of the Ku Klux Klan have espoused hatred of, among others, Jews, Catholics, Italian-Americans, and Irish-Americans.  Immigrants?  Of course.  Gays and lesbians?  You don’t even have to ask to have a good idea of what the Klan’s views have been of homosexual men and women.

Sometimes, hatred is not organized.  It can simply be something that individual people have done or do without any forethought.

It’s “just the way things were” or “just the way things are”.

Sometimes, hatred is obvious.  For example, speaking derogatorily about an elderly woman – in front of that elderly woman – because she was speaking Italian in a supermarket in Norristown.  That example occurred in the 1970’s.

Times have changed.

Things are better than they were in years past.

But hatred has not completely disappeared.

There are still times – especially today – where hatred is more nuanced.  When it does occur, it’s done mostly without words or it’s advocated behind closed doors.

In years past, nuance was not necessary.

Blatant hatred was acceptable.

One of the techniques that was designed to be obvious was the lynching of human beings.

Lynchings almost always resulted in deaths.

Lynchings were one of the techniques used by the Klan to extend terror throughout the United States.  But it wasn’t just the Ku Klux Klan that employed lynching as a tool of terror.

Ordinary Americans also utilized the lynch law to extract what they considered to be justice.

Lynch law was a procedure where all of the constitutional values that we say are important in this country are suspended.

No need for evidence.

No need for probable cause.

No need for an arrest by official law enforcement.

No need for legal counsel.

No need for a trial by an independent judiciary.

No need for due process.

No need for an appeal of a verdict.

Lynchings were not always based on race.

Sometimes, lynchings were the outcome of mob justice unrelated to race.

Sometimes, just the threat of lynchings was enough to “keep those people in their place”.

It may be comforting for local folks here to think that a lynching was a form of justice used by “other people” in another community.  Say, a community in the Deep South.

It may be comforting to believe that hatred that could result in lynchings never existed among those in the Freedom Valley.

But that comfort would be misplaced.

On August 22, 1893, a small front-page news article in The News of Frederick, Maryland, noted a situation in the Black Horse neighborhood of Plymouth Township.

The headline of this news article gives you an indication of the times – “Chased by a Negro Fiend”.

The news article:

“An unknown negro attempted to outrage a 12-year-old girl by the name of Sabold in a cornfield near her home at Black Horse, in Plymouth township.  He was about accomplishing his purpose when C. F. Mack, of this town, heard the girl’s screams and went [to] her rescue.  The fiend escaped, after he had been pursued nearly a mile by fully fifty of the residents of that township, and had he been caught lynching might have followed.”

A lynching did not occur in Plymouth Township in 1893.

But the fact is that “fully fifty of the residents” chased “an unknown Negro” and that the prospect of a lynching was publicly noted.

Had the “fiend” been captured by the mob, would he actually have been lynched?

Or, would he have been held for arrest by law enforcement, due process followed, and a verdict issued by an independent judiciary?

It may be comforting to know that a lynching did not happen here in 1893.

But it would be incorrect to forget that the exercise of lynch law was possible.

Even here.

The top photograph is provided courtesy of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1871.

Do you have questions about local history?  A street name?  A building?

Your questions may be used in a future news column.

Contact Richard McDonough at

© 2019 Richard McDonough