Arthur Jordan – Lynched for the Crime of Miscegenation

One of the more volatile fears held by whites in the century following the Civil War was miscegenation. The idea of a black man marrying or even talking freely with a white woman was terrifying. Regardless of the decisions made by the white woman, the black man was almost always cast as a rapist. Such was the case of Arthur Jordan, a black Virginian lynched 2am on January 19, 1880.

Through the use of a multitude of period newspapers, we’ll try to reconstruct the original “crime,” the capture and kidnapping of Jordan, his subsequent lynching, as well as the ramifications.

The Inaccessible Property of White Men

“Most whites found it beyond belief that any sane white woman would stray so recklessly from conventional behavior,” wrote William Fitzhugh Brundage in Lynching in the New South. “For a white woman to have sexual relations with a black man was to encourage notions of equality in blacks, to challenge the belief that white women were the inaccessible property of white men, and to reject prevailing definitions of the social position of women.” 1William Fitzhugh Brundage Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930 (University of Illinois Press, 1993) 62.

Lynchings dealt out for the “crime” of miscegenation were not simply meant to punish the black men they held responsible. Like other lynchings, they sent a clear message to the entire black community to keep their men among their own number. But they also served as a reminder to white women, explaining in no uncertain terms that if they dared to follow their hearts, their own community would viciously and quite literally kill the person they loved.

The Negro and the Respectable Desdemona

On December 27, 1879, Arthur Jordan, a “young colored man” who worked for Nathan Corder, a white farmer of Fauquier County, and Corder’s daughter, Lucille (or possibly a 24 year old daughter named Elvira), went missing. It was apparently not the first time this had happened.

Mr. Corder dispatched a posse of his friends, telling them to look in Williamsport, Maryland, 80 miles to the north.

The first mention of Arthur Jordan in the papers came on January 17.

The Virginia Miscegenation Case. – Some days since a young colored man named Arthur Jordan eloped with the daughter of Mr. Nathan Corder, a respectable white citizen of Fauquier county, residing near Markham station.

It appears that the couple made their way to Clearspring, Md., and a party of Mr. Corder’s friends followed them to that place, and arresting Jordan arrived with him in Winchester last Thursday on the way to Fauquier.

On arriving at Winchester, Jordan refused to go any further, and asked to see a lawyer. The services of a justice were called in, a warrant was sworn out in form, and one of the party being a constable, Jordan was delivered into his custody to be returned to Fauquier to be tried for violating the [unreadable – possibly “laws of”] Virginia.

Miss Corder [unreadable] admitted to be the [unreadable] eloped with Jordan. 2The Baltimore Sun; Baltimore, Maryland; Sat, Jan 17, 1880 – Page 3. Here. The article found is in bad shape, and the ending is unreadable, with another article’s words accidentally laid over it. The final words seem to be “very attractive,” but what that might mean is unknowable. It’s likely, however, that the article was referring to Miss Corder.

A rewriting of this article, which appeared in the press shortly after the lynching (but does seem to have been written prior to it) adds:

It is said that the people about Markham are very much excited over this affair. Miss Corder, the young woman who eloped, it represented as being a very attractive young woman. The Desdemona in the affair was left in Maryland, to be sent home by rail. 3Spirit Of Jefferson;
Charles Town, West Virginia; Tue, Jan 20, 1880 – Page 2. Originally appeared in the Winchester [Virginia] News. Here.

A Different Story Develops

The New York Herald printed even more details about this time period following the lynching. Some strangely contradictory to the information already given. In this piece, the daughter was named as the 24 year old Elvira. Arthur Jordan was “a copper-colored negro of about forty years of age.”

The negro took to the cars at Markham station and was met by the woman [Miss Corder] on the train at Salem, fifteen miles further down. The injured father of the girl followed the guilty pair to Washington, and after a fruitless search through that city and Alexandria returned brokenhearted to his home.

Abandoned Markham Depot looking east by Cecouchman.

On Saturday last [January 10] a letter was received by the postmaster at Markham from a gentleman living near Williamsport, Md., saying that there was a negro with his white wife living near him, claiming to be from Markham and acting in such a manner as to excite his suspicions that all was not right.

From the description given the couple were readily recognized as Corder’s daughter and Arthur Jordan, and a party of six of the best men in the neighborhood armed and started immediately to Williamsport to capture the latter and bring him back to this county. 4St. Louis Post-Dispatch; St. Louis, Missouri; Thu, Jan 22, 1880 – Page 2. Here. Originally appeared in the New York Herald.

Kidnapping Arthur Jordan and Miss Corder

Following the lynching, more details were released about the couple and their capture. Naturally, any idea that the girl went of her own freewill was immediately dealt with.

About ten days ago [Arthur] Jordan seduced Miss Lucille Corder, daughter of Nathan Corder, a respectable farmer of Farquhar. A few days after he influenced her to go to Washington with him, and they were married. From there they went to Clearspring, Md.

Large map of the area, with the important city names highlighted.

Yesterday [January 18] seven men went over to Maryland, and without any warrant, seized Jordan, who was in a room with his newly married wife, found his hands behind him, and placing him on a horse rode back into Virginia before they could be stopped.

The negro at first made some show of resistance, but believing that the men were regular officers of the law, he finally went along with them.

The party rode down the main street of Winchester yesterday at full speed. The negro was surrounded at it was evident that he was a prisoner.

As they neared the hotel a constable stopped them and asked why they detained the negro in their custody. The negro spoke up saying “I won’t go any further until I am allowed to consult a lawyer.”

He succeeded in getting a lawyer, but while the lawyer was trying to get a writ of habeas corpus, they rode on with their prisoner.

They brought Jordan to this place [Warrenton, Virginia] last night [the night of January 18] and turned him over to the jailer, when he was confined in a cell on a charge of miscegenation. The men then quietly went away. 5The Kansas Daily Tribune; Lawrence, Kansas; Wed, Jan 21, 1880 – Page 1. Here.

Reconstructing the Timeline

Returning to the New York Herald story, some questions arise about the kidnapping of Jordan. Mr. Corder’s posse found him “about eight miles above Williamsport, and arrived with him at Markham on Thursday night last [January 15].

On Friday [January 16] Justice Lake gave the prisoner a preliminary hearing, and, committing him for the action of a grand jury, gave him in charge of a constable and two deputies to carry him to jail at Warrenton, some twenty miles distant, where he arrived the same night [still January 16] and was locked up. 6St. Louis Post-Dispatch; St. Louis, Missouri; Thu, Jan 22, 1880 – Page 2. Here. Originally appeared in the New York Herald.

It’s understandable that the timeline was sorted out better following the lynching. While all stories agree that Arthur Jordan was lynching around 2am on January 19, the early reports seem to place the events in rapid succession. This does not seem to be the case.

The Timeline
December 27 – Arthur Jordan and Miss Corder leave Markham and Fauquier County.
Late December – Nathan Corder follows the couple to Washington where they marry. He returns home, they move to Williamsport, Maryland.
January 10 – A letter sent by the Jordans’ neighbor informs Markham postmaster that the Jordans are living near Williamsport.
January 11 [assumed] – Corder’s posse is dispatched to Williamsport.
January 15 – Corder’s posse arrived in Markham with Arthur Jordan as a kidnapped prisoner.
January 16 – Arthur Jordan is charged with miscegenation and taken to jail in Warrenton.

It was not, as the papers held early on, that the posse delivered Jordan to the jail on the same night (late January 18/early January 19) that he was lynched. Jordan was in his cell by the night of the 16th, and remained there through the 17th and 18th – two full days.

This means that the people who lynched Jordan took well over 48 hours to form. This was not a rash reaction based upon the passions of an unruly mob, but a rational decision made by calm Virginians.

Breaking into the Jail with a Man in Black Face

Like most lynchings of black men in the South, the mob had to somehow remove the victim from the jail. No where is it explained why the original posse didn’t simply lynch him themselves. It has to be assumed that that was not their original intent – their identities were known, after all.

The story below was carried in many papers across the country, being sent out by the wire services. However, there were some local additions to it that will be noted.

About two o’clock this morning a mob of at least sixty masked men surrounded the jail, which is strongly built and almost impregnable. Some of the party attempted to scale the wall, but seeing this impossible they resorted to a ruse to get in the jail.

The face of one of their number was blackened, his hands tied behind him, and then they beat at the jail door until they roused the jailer. In answer to his inquiry, they said they had a negro prisoner whom they desired to lock up.

The jailer came down and opened the door, the men took their pretended prisoner to the door of the cell in which Jordan was confined, and as the jailer opened it to put the new prisoner in they rushed through and dragged Jordan out.

The jailer was easily overpowered, and they carried the negro through the jail door, and then, putting a rope around his neck, they dragged him to the cemetery, two hundred yards distant.

The negro at first laid down and refused to go with them, whereupon some of the men laid hold of the rope and began to drag him over the ground. Jordan then rose to his feet and walked with them, begging for mercy and yelling at the top of his voice. 7Pittsburgh Daily Post; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Wed, Jan 21, 1880 – Page 4. Here. The New York Herald’s piece echoes most of these statements.

Another paper added that the jailer, Horace Pattie, “fled to his room, but was followed and made to surrender the keys of Jordan’s cell.” 8The Raleigh News; Raleigh, North Carolina; Wed, Jan 21, 1880 – Page 1. Here.

Still another referred to the jailer as “a feeble man.” He was compelled “to keep quiet under threat of instant death.” 9Richmond Dispatch; Richmond, Virginia; Wed, Jan 21, 1880 – Page 3. Here.

“Mind What You’re About, Gentlemen. Don’t Hang Me.

The first news of the lynching was published on January 20 – the morning after the lynching itself. With so little information to go on, the papers dedicated only a short paragraph to the lynching.

The following day, however, a much fuller story emerged. We’ll continue, using the basic wire story. Localized commentary and details will follow.

When the party reached the cemetery one of their number climbed an oak tree with spreading branches. After he got upon an overhanging limb one end of the rope was thrown up to him, and he passed it over the limb down on the other side, so that the crowd below could catch it. The negro’s hands were then tied behind him.

The lynching of Arthur Jordan drawn in a diary by Gustavus Horner. More here.

He cried, “Mind what you’re about, gentlemen; don’t hang me. I’ll go away if you’ll let me off.”

All further cries were cut off by the leader of the gang, a tall man, who was enveloped in a long cloak and armed to the teeth. He simply said, “Altogether men,” and sixty men caught the rope and rushed from the tree with it.

The body of the negro shot up in the air. He struggled fearfully, his legs being unpinioned, and more than once a horrible, stifled cry escaped his lips. The maskers then tied one end of the rope to a tree, and stood with folded arms till the contortions of their victim ceased, when they rode off at a gallop. The body was found hanging at half-past nine o’clock this morning [January 20], and cut down. 10Pittsburgh Daily Post; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Wed, Jan 21, 1880 – Page 4. Here.

It Wasn’t Us!

For some newspapers, such as the Richmond Dispatch on January 21, this basic wire story was not up to snuff. The editor of the paper himself had to weigh in on it. The paper insisted that the people of Fauquier County were “law-abiding,” and that should be enough to convince everyone that the lynching was undertaken “by persons from a distance, and in no sense is the community here responsible for the lawless deed.”

Richard Paige

He argued that the location of the lynching was “remote from here.” That the Corders were “not well known.” That the people of Warrenton did not have enough interest in the matter to be “tempted … to so rash a retribution.” He claimed that few even knew Arthur Jordan was there. 11Richmond Dispatch; Richmond, Virginia; Wed, Jan 21, 1880 – Page 3. Here.

This same sentiment was echoed that same day by General William Henry Fitzhugh Payne, former Confederate general and a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates from Fauquier County. Richard G.L. Paige, a black member from Norfolk County, introduced a resolution requesting Governor Frederick W. M. Holliday “to offer a suitable reward for the arrest of the men charged with these unlawful executions.”

Gen. W.H. Payne:
“In the case like the one in question, where the negro seduced and kept as his mistress the daughter of a man who had given him employment, and when, too, that accused was a married man, I will turn my back and shut my eyes whilst operations are going on.”

According to the Baltimore Sun, Payne insisted that his opinion was not based upon race, saying “that he who is guilty of such a heinous offense, whether the victims be white or black, should be hung on the nearest tree.”

Confederate General Payne

It should be noted that General Payne was referring to the race of the woman, not the man. The general also insisted (though obviously couldn’t know) that “none of the citizens of Warrenton had any connection with or knowledge of the lynching of Jordan.”

Richard Paige’s resolution was voted down 69 to 13 – every white member, save one, making sure the Governor offered no reward for the apprehension of those who lynched Arthur Jordan. 12The Baltimore Sun; Baltimore, Maryland; Thu, Jan 22, 1880 – Page 1. Here.

The Ruin of Elvira or Lucille Corder

The identity of Mr. Corder’s daughter is hard to sort out. In the earliest newspaper reports, written prior to the lynching, Miss Corder is unnamed and her age is not given. The Winchester News only reported that she was “a very attractive young woman.” 13Spirit Of Jefferson;
Charles Town, West Virginia; Tue, Jan 20, 1880 – Page 2. Originally appeared in the Winchester [Virginia] News. Here.
These same sentiments, an nothing further, were echoed by the Baltimore Sun. 14The Baltimore Sun; Baltimore, Maryland; Sat, Jan 17, 1880 – Page 3. Here.

Immediately following the lynching, when the articles about it were only a paragraph or so in length, she was still unnamed and without an age, but was, as the New Orleans Daily Democrat worded it, “a respectable white girl.” 15The New Orleans Daily Democrat; New Orleans, Louisiana; Tue, Jan 20, 1880 – Page 1. Here. In fact, most of the papers carrying this early story reprinted the phrase “respectable white girl,” simply running it verbatim from the wire services.

Also included in about half of the found newspapers was the final sentence: “Jordan’s victim is of weak intellect.” 16The New York Times; New York, New York; Tue, Jan 20, 1880 – Page 5. Here. Some, such as the Shenandoah Herald put it more bluntly: “Miss Corder, his victim, was a half witted girl, but rather attractive in personal appearance.” 17Shenandoah Herald; Woodstock, Virginia; Wed, Jan 21, 1880 – Page 2. Here. General Payne, in his speech before the Virginia House, referred to her as “almost imbecile,” though he would have had no way of actually knowing. 18The Baltimore Sun; Baltimore, Maryland; Thu, Jan 22, 1880 – Page 1. Here. Later in the month, some papers would refer to her as “weak-minded.” 19The Emporia Ledger; Emporia, Kansas; Thu, Jan 29, 1880 – Page 4. Here.

When the fuller articles about the lynching were published, she was given a name: Elvira. She was so named by the Baltimore Sun on January 20, when most papers were still publishing short paragraphs about the lynching. 20The Baltimore Sun; Baltimore, Maryland; Tue, Jan 20, 1880 – Page 1. Here. But on that same day, the Cincinnati Enquirer named her Lucille. 21The Cincinnati Enquirer; Cincinnati, Ohio; Tue, Jan 20, 1880 – Page 1. Here. In both cases, the papers reported longer stories about the lynching, though obviously from different sources.

The differences between Elvira and Lucille are interesting. Elvira was 24 years old, and was only mentioned as being “half-witted”. 22The Baltimore Sun; Baltimore, Maryland; Tue, Jan 20, 1880 – Page 1. Here. In fact, Elvira “knew very well that he [Jordon] was already married, and rumor says she had been criminally intimate with him for some months before the elopement.” This was the same report that had Elvira Corder meeting Arthur Jordan at a separate train station. 23St. Louis Post-Dispatch; St. Louis, Missouri; Thu, Jan 22, 1880 – Page 2. Here. Originally appeared in the New York Herald.

Lucille, on the other hand, was almost always mentioned as being “of weak intellect” and portrayed more as a kidnapped victim than a woman with freewill. Unlike Elvira, Lucille was always mentioned as being from “one of the first families in Farquahar.” 24The Kansas Daily Tribune; Lawrence, Kansas; Wed, Jan 21, 1880 – Page 1. Here.

As Lucille, her age was never mentioned. It was given as 24 years only when referring to her as Elvira (as in the New York Herald). 25St. Louis Post-Dispatch; St. Louis, Missouri; Thu, Jan 22, 1880 – Page 2. Here. Originally appeared in the New York Herald.

However, there were other papers that ran a story about Miss Corder, “aged about 17 years.” 26Staunton Spectator; Staunton, Virginia; Tue, Jan 27, 1880 – Page 2. Here. In the vast majority of reports, however, neither the name or age was given. The thread running through most was that she was a young, respectable white girl who was attractive though “half-witted.”

Another thread running through the more sensational pieces was how Miss Corder was “ruined” by Arthur Jordan. “There is evidence,” wrote the New York Herald, “that he used even the formality of a marriage ceremony to accomplish the ruin of his victim….” 27St. Louis Post-Dispatch; St. Louis, Missouri; Thu, Jan 22, 1880 – Page 2. Here. Originally appeared in the New York Herald. The Staunton Spectator, which gave Miss Corder’s age as 17, wrote of her as a girl “whom he had before ruined.” 28Staunton Spectator; Staunton, Virginia; Tue, Jan 27, 1880 – Page 2. Here. Apart from the Herald and the Spectator this sentiment was only implied. Just who Miss Corder actually was is probably unknowable from the sources available.

The Jordan Lynching as a Portent of Things to Come

Though lynchings have taken place in America for centuries before Arthur Jordan’s, his took place at the very start of an era of spectacle lynchings of black people. The Chicago Tribune and Tuskegee University both began keeping track of lynchings in 1882. The NAACP began their accounting in 1889. More recently, scholarly databases such as Tolnay & Beck and Project HAL begin their count at 1882.

Though Jordan’s lynching was well-covered in the press, because of the early date, it did not make it into any of the aforementioned databases. By expanding the parameters to slightly earlier (though still post-Reconstruction), Jordan finally enters the fold.

A progressive local paper out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania published an editorial on January 22, 1880, predicting the effects of Virginia’s decision not to offer a reward for Jordan’s lynchers. The decision was even more telling when the racial make up of the vote was considered.

Such a unanimity of sentiment on this point is not surprising when we remember the condition of society in Virginia; but it is not the less indefensible, and it cannot fail to lead to deplorable results.

When members of the State legislature declare that the law is unworthy of respect, what are we to expect of the public at large? What is to deter the criminal from resorting to the same easy method of squaring accounts with justice?

Here is notice served upon him that guilty or innocent he will be denied jury trial. Does anyone suppose that this will beget a spirit of respect for the law? […]

Indeed, so far from making crime odious, the effect of this lynching has been to excite a feeling of resentment on the part of the colored people, which would never have been manifested had the violators of the law been remanded to the impersonal justice of the courts. 29Harrisburg Daily Independent; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Tue, Jan 27, 1880 – Page 2. Here.

Neither Virginia, the entire South, or even the Nation as a whole took this warning to heart. Arthur Jordan was not the first black man lynched by whites, but he was one of the earliest following the surrender of Reconstruction. The lynchings of nearly 4,000 black Americans would follow over the next several decades.

References   [ + ]

Has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, writing the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, which published daily for nearly five years. Wishing to continue the exploration, following the Charleston murders in 2015, and the activism around removing the Confederate Battle Flag, decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.