Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Cowhiding in Wake County

James Taylor, my second cousin three times removed married Rose Etta (Poole) Von Brisen on 28 October 1921.  Rose was a widow with two small children, Dorothy and Oscar. According to several public trees, her first husband, Robert Von Briesen, died in 1916. However, none of those public trees includes a source for that information.

Robert Von Briesen's parents were Oscar Von Brisen and Susannah Wagner. Oscar was born in Prussia (now Germany) or Russia about 1826 and immigrated to the United States about 1846, per his son, Felix's passport application. In 1858 Oscar taught music at Wake Forest College.[1]

Oscar was assaulted on 16 July 1858 and The Weekly Standard, a Raleigh newspaper covered the incident on 21 July 1858:

Inhuman Assault
"On Friday last at Wake Forest, in this county, Talbot Ligon, his brother Elias Ligon, and John C. Jordan, all of this city assaulted, with a cow-hide[2], in a most inhuman manner, Oscar Von Briesen, a Russian and a music teacher, also of this city, under the following circumstances:

It appears that on the previous Tuesday night, at about ten o'clock, Von Briesen accompanied by a German friend named Kreath part of the way to his home in this city. At parting they stopped, for a moment's conversation, in front of the residence of Talbot Ligon, but on the opposite side of the street. Whilst conversing in their ordinary tone of voice, and without the slightest intimation that anything was wrong, Ligon came upon them unobserved, partly undressed and without shoes, and struck them a heavy blow with a stick. The blow was received by both. Von Briesen collared the assailant and Kreath wrung the stick from his grasp. -- Ligon seeing he had attacked white men, apologized and said he thought they were negroes. The first impulse of the assailed was to return the blow; but seeing the assailant was an elderly man, they forebore. It was resolved, however, that he should answer for his unprovoked attack; and he being unknown to them, he was told he had to accompany them to the Mayor's office to be identified. Ligon asked to return to his house to dress; but the assailed, fearing he might resort to other weapons, or evade them, refused to allow him, but had his clothes brought out, and he put them on.

They then took Ligon to the Mayor's office, but being no officer there, they were induced to let let him go, upon the assurance that he was well known and would answer any charge they might prefer against him.

The matter so ended, but was talked of and laughed at the next day, as a capital joke; and Von Briesen and Kreath became satisfied and abandoned further proceedings.

On Thursday evening Von Briesen left for Wake Forest to attend to his pupils. On the same night a party of men, of whom Ligons formed a part, sought Von Briesen at his lodgings, and threatened to cow-hide him. Learning he had gone to Wake Forest, it appears they determined to follow him.

Before Von Briesen left Raleigh, he heard rumors of a meditated attack upon him, and mentioned the circumstances, with what had led up to it, to a friend at Wake Forest, by whom he was not to return for a few days, and the affair would blow over. He was induced, however, by a gentleman from Raleigh to return; and about 11 o'clock on Friday morning he visited the store of Mr. Purifoy to see the person with whom he was to return. He had no sooner entered the store and taken a seat, then Talbot Ligon, Elias Ligon and John C. Jordan, all of whom were personally unknown to him, came upon them from the street, and laid violent hands upon him. He was dragged forward on to the porch and then on to the street, where he was knocked down on his face and held by Elias Ligon and Jordan, whilst Talbot Ligon stripped his coat up. In this position on the ground he was firmly held while Talbot inflicted thirty-nine lashes upon him with a cowhide. The remaining clothes were cut off his back by lash, and his flesh severely lacerated.

When these assailants were satisfied, they demanded of their victim if he had any weapons about him. He answered in the negative. They then searched him and took from his pocket a small penknife. He was then released, and told that if he ever visited Raleigh again he would get as much more; and they told him further that there were two or three hundred men waiting, ready to ride him on a rail and give him a coat of tar and feathers.

This brutal sight, it appears, was witnessed by four other persons, one of whom was John Fort, a nephew we learn of the Ligons, kept the rest off by threats and the cry of a "fair fight." Von Briesen's face was cut with the cowhide and the clothes on the front of his person were completely tattered by his writhings under the lash.

He was ultimately taken to a neighboring house where his wounds were dressed, and where he was supplied with the necessary articles of wearing apparel. Shortly after, with his smarting flesh and his mortified spirit, he disappeared from Wake Forest and has not since been heard of. He has been residing here but a short time, and was esteemed a quiet and inoffensive man.

The cause of this unparalleled outrage appears to be the indignity of the arrest on Tuesday night. -- We need hardly add, that the affair is universally regarded here with the utmost abhorrence and indignation.

On Monday last Talbot Ligon was brought before Mayor Harrison and bound to court for the assault on Kreath.

Talbot Ligon arrested and bound over. -- On Monday night last Constable Lewis arrested Talbot Ligon at his house in this city, on a warrant; issued by W. W. Holden, Justice of the Peace. Mr. Ligon was brought before Justice Holden, the testimony of Mr. Winton, who witnessed the cowhiding, was heard; and Ligon was then held in a bond of one thousand dollars, with security, to appear at the August term of Wake County Court to answer the charge.

Elias Ligon and John C. Jordan have not yet been arrested, but the officers are in pursuit of them."

An article in The Spirit of the Age on 28 July 1858
summarizing the article above; courtesy Newspapers.com

John Fort, a nephew of the Ligon brothers, and Mr. Purifoy wrote letters to the editors of various local papers, disputing portions of the accounts that appeared in the press, but not the main elements of the story. Oscar Von Briesen had left Raleigh by October 1858 as uncollected letters addressed to him remained at the post office at the end of the month.

Von Briesen filed a civil suit against the Ligon brothers and settled that suit when they paid him $1,200 in late August. On 23 November, the Semi-Weekly Standard, a Raleigh newspaper, reported that Talbot and Elias Ligon were sentenced to twenty days imprisonment and each ordered to pay $10 in fines. John Fort, indicted for aiding and abetting the Ligons, was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine of $200.

Life after Cowhiding

Oscar Von Briesen married Susannah Wagner the next year. In 1860 his family lived in Macon, Georgia, where they resided in a boarding house while Oscar continued to work as a music teacher at Wesleyan Female College.[3] Their eldest son was born in Georgia about 1859.

When the 1870 census was enumerated Oscar and his family lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and he worked as a school teacher. He and Susanna now had three sons, Edward, Robert, and Felix, respectively. Likely more travel was involved for the family between 1860 and 1870 as most records indicate Robert was born in New York (or Maryland, the records conflict) and Felix back in Georgia. Susannah had her youngest son, William in 1871.

When the 1880 census was enumerated Oscar and Susannah were no longer living together. Oscar was in Austin, Texas, where he worked as piano maker. Susannah, along with sons, Edward and Robert, lived in Baltimore. She worked as a dressmaker and Edward worked as a bartender while Robert attended school. Felix was a inmate at the Home of the Friendless, an orphanage in Baltimore. Where young William was in 1880 is unknown at this time.

An ad Oscar Von Brisen placed in The Eutaw and Whig Observer on 18 May
1886, a paper published in Eutaw, Alabama; courtesy of Newspapers.com

Felix's passport application indicated that Oscar Von Briesen immigrated to the U.S. about 1846 and lived in that country for 56 years, dying about 1902. Susannah (Wagner) Von Briesen died on 28 October 1905 in Clifton, Virginia, on a farm owned by her son Felix. She was interred in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC, near her youngest son William. So he was not lost forever!

[1] Wake Forest University opened in 1834 as Wake Forest Manual Labor Institute on a plantation known was the "Forest of Wake" north of Raleigh in Wake County, North Carolina. The plantation had been purchased by the North Carolina Baptist State Convention. In 1838, the institute was renamed Wake Forest College. The college moved to Winston-Salem in the 1940s and in 1967 change its name to Wake Forest University.

[2] As near as I have been able to determine, a "cowhide" was a term used in the 1800s to describe a bullwhip or riding crop.

[3] Wesleyan Female College in Macon, Georgia, is now Wesleyan College. It opened in 1836 as a Methodist Episcopal college.

No comments:

Post a Comment