The Death of Mrs. Broughton

clippings transcribed by Steve Green


A number of years ago, I spent time listening to Kentucky material at the Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress in Washington. AFS 1706A, "The Death of Mrs. Bruton," was recorded by Alan and Elizabeth Lomax from the singing of Mrs. Pete Steele on March 30, 1938.

First Line: "In Knox County an awful crime occurred near Barboursville..."

Last verse:

Poor Laura's sleepin' in her tomb
Until our toils are done
And her murder will be addressed
By the immortal one.

I did not transcribe all the words from Mrs. Steele's singing but noted that the tune was similar to "Knoxville Girl." I don't believe the song is mentioned in Laws. Mrs. Pete Steele may have been from Laurel County, Kentucky originally. Here is the conversation between Alan Lomax and Mrs. Steele concerning this song:

AL: Uh, where did you learn this song Mrs. Steele?
MS: I bought a ballad of the song from a blind man that— playin' the fair at— Laurel County Fair.
AL: Do you remember who he was?
MS: [hesitates, then with uncomfortable certainty]: No I don't.
AL: And how long ago was that?
MS: That's been about 25 years ago.
AL: Do you have the ballad still?
MS: No, I haven't.
AL: And how much did he sell the ballad for, do you remember?
MS: 10 cents a ballad.
AL: Well, uh, had you heard about this crime before?
MS: No, I hadn't heard about it before I bought the ballad.

In 2009, using the Library of Congress Chronicling America website, I uncovered the following series of clippings relating to the murder of Mrs. Robert Broughton at Barbourville, Kentucky in July, 1906 and subsequent arrest and hanging of Jesse Fitzgerald. I transcribed the clippings and offer them here without further comment.

Bourbon News (Paris, KY) ~ July 31, 1906

Negro Murderer Arrested

Officers with D. G. Mulliken's bloodhounds, after a twelve mile chase Friday night, captured Jesse Fitzgerald, the negro who broke into the house and murdered Mrs. Robert Broughton, near Barbourville, Wednesday night, and robbed the house of money and clothing, her husband being away from home. Annie Henson, the negro servant at the Broughton home, is locked up with him. Forty dollars, answering the description of the money taken was found on Fitzgerald and a bloody knife. He confessed his guilt to the officers. Lynching was narrowly averted. It is thought a mob will come after him. The County Judge has placed a heavy guard at the jail and will ask the Governor for troops. Judge Faulkner has called a special term of court for August 6 to try the negro.

Stanford Interior Journal (KY) ~ July 31, 1906

To avoid mob violence, Jesse Fitzgerald and Annie Henson, both colored, were brought here from Barbourville Saturday morning and turned over to jailer W. I. Herrin. The woman lived with Mrs. Robert Broughton, who was murdered and robbed of $40-odd and she and Fitzgerald, who was very attentive to her, are believed to be the guilty parties. The officers who brought them here say that they would have undoubtedly been hung had they been permitted to remain in Barbourville, that arrangements were being rapidly made to force entrance into the jail, when the two were spirited away. They caught the train several miles from Barbourville, with the prisoners, who were scared almost to death. Mulligan's bloodhounds captured Fitzgerald after a 12-mile chase and when closely questioned he admitted his guilt. The Henson woman says she told Fitzgerald about Mrs. Broughton having money and where she kept it.

Hopkinsville Kentuckian (KY) ~ July 31, 1906

Jesse Fitzgerald and Annie Henson, the two negroes who robbed and murdered Mrs. Robert Broughton in her bed at Barbourville, are in jail at Stanford to escape a mob. They will be tried at Barbourville Aug. 6th. Allen Mathis, the negro fiend who assaulted Miss Ethel McLane at Mayfield, in in jail at Paducah and will be arraigned at once before a special grand jury. The prompt and certain punishment of these brutes will be the strongest possible argument against lynch law. Hang them by law and hang them quickly.

Paducah Evening Sun (KY) ~ August 3, 1906

Sends Frankfort Battery

Frankfort, Aug. 3—Governor Beckham issued orders today, sending the Frankfort battery of state guards with a gattling gun to Barboursville next Tuesday to guard the negroes charged with the Broughton murder. The Barboursville company also will be on duty.

Hopkinsville Kentuckian (KY) ~ August 4, 1906

The authorities at Barbourville are making lynch law probably by pursuing a policy of delay in trying the negroes who robbed and murdered Mrs. Broughton. Judge Faulkner, and not Judge Bugg, is in charge of the law in that district.

Stanford Interior Journal (KY) ~ August 7, 1906

Orders have been issued by the governor placing the Barbourville company and the Frankfort battery, 2nd regiment of the State guard, on active duty at Barbourville during the trial of the negroes, Jesse Fitzgerald and Annie Henson, charged with the murder of Mrs. Broughton. Col. J. Embry Allen, of the 2nd regiment will be in command of the the troops ordered out. The troops will move from Frankfort today, proceeding to this place, where the negroes are in jail for safe keeping, and accompany them to Barbourville. Capt. C. W. Longmire, of Lexington, will be in command of the Frankfort battery on the trip. A gattling gun will be taken.

Berea Citizen (KY) ~ August 9, 1906

State Militia Will Guard the Prisoners to Be Tried For the Broughton Murder

Frankfort, KY—Gov. Beckham ordered Cat. Dishman's company, of Barboursville, and Capt. Longmire's battery, of Frankfort, to guard the prisoners Jesse Fitzgerald and Annie Henson, from Stanford to Barboursville and to protect them during their trial for the murder of Mrs. Broughton. The troops will be under the command of Col. J. Embry Allen, of Lexington, and Capt. Longmire will take a Gattling gun and 40 men.

Paducah Evening Sun (KY) ~ August 9, 1906

To Indict Mob Leader

Barbourville, KY, Aug. 9—The grand jury which today indicted Jesse Fitzgerald and Annie Henson from the murder of Mrs. Robert Broughton, received instructions from Judge Faulkner. He said there had been twenty-five cases in this district during the past few years in which the extreme penalty was deserved. He directed that the grand jury to investigate [sic] the mob which formed last week to lynch the negroes. He said the names of the ringleaders would be given to the jury, and told them to bring indictments against any who were in the mob. The petit jury will meet tomorrow and the trial will begin.

Mount Vernon Signal (KY) ~ August 10, 1906

[same content as Berea Citizen—not copied.]

Paducah Evening Sun (KY) ~ August 11, 1906

No Effort to Lynch

No effort was made to lynch Jesse Fitzgerald and Annie Henson, the negro murderers of Mrs. Robert Broughton, when they arrived in Barbourville yesterday under protection of troops.

Hopkinsville Kentuckian (KY) ~ August 14, 1906

A special venire was summoned from Whitley county to try the negroes charged with the murder of Mrs. Robert Broughton at Barboursville. The trial began yesterday.

Mount Sterling Advocate (KY) ~ August 15, 1906

Leave Lexington for Barboursville to Guard Murder Prisoners

In obedience to the orders of Gen. Roger D. Williams, who had a conference Tuesday with Governor Beckham, at which it was decided to send the troops to Barboursville, Knox county, to protect the murderers of Mrs. Broughton, Col. J. Embry Allen, commander of the Second Kentucky, with five picked men from Company C of Lexington, including Capt. T. W. Woodard and the local hospital corps, left Lexington Thursday for Barboursville.

Mount Vernon Signal (KY) ~ August 17, 1906

Sentries Fired on the Men Who Attempted to Reach the Barboursville Jail

Barboursville, KY— An attempt was made at two points to enter the picket line of the troops guarding the jail. The intruders did not obey the orders of sentries to halt, and were fired upon, but no one was hurt, and the men escaped in the darkness. Great excitement resulted, many thinking the soldiers had been attacked, and the entire militia force was called out. Officials summoned 80 men from Whitley county to be brought here for the jury to try Jesse Fitzgerald, one of the negro murderers of Mrs. Robert Broughton. They were selected from the mountainous districts, where the fact of murder is not generally known.

Adair County News (Columbia, KY) ~ August 22, 1906

Jesse Fitzgerald, the negro who murdered Mrs. Broughton, near Barbourville, will be the chief actor in a necktie entertainment which will be pulled off at early day. The jury was out but a short time, giving him the death penalty.

Hopkinsville Kentuckian (KY) ~ August 23, 1906

To Hang Sept 21

Jesse Fitzgerald, col., was given a death sentence for the murder of Mrs. Broughton at Barbourville and will be hanged Sept. 21. Annie Henson, his accomplice, was given 15 years.

Mount Vernon Signal (KY) ~ August 24, 1906

Laughed Outright / Murderer Fitzgerald Takes His Death Sentence Easily

Barbourville, KY— Jesse Fitzgerald, who, with Annie Henson, was convicted of the murder of Mrs. Robert Broughton, was sentenced to hang September 21. The woman was sentenced to serve 15 years in the Kentucky state pentitentiary at Frankfort. Fitzgerald laughed ooutright when he heard his sentence. He continues to make small nooses of twine and presents them to soldiers as souvenirs.

Mount Vernon Signal (KY) ~ August 24, 1906

James Fitzgerald [sic], the negro who murdered Mrs. Broughton at Barbourville, was given a death sentence and his execution will take place some time next month. Annie Henson, the negro woman who was employed by Mrs. Broughton and who was associated with the dastardly crime, was given fifteen years in the penitentiary.

Stanford Interior Journal (KY) ~ September 14, 1906

Jesse Fitzgerald, sentenced to hang at Barbourville, Sept. 21, has requested the authorities to so arrange the trap that he could spring it himself. The unusual request, of course, will not be complied with. FItzgerald at no time has expressed concern over his fate, but has presented dozens of miniature nooses to friends. He was convicted for the murder of Mrs. Robert Broughton and was in jail here for some time for safe keeping.

Owingsville Outlook (KY) ~ December 20, 1906

Death Sentence Affirmed

Frankfort, KY—The court of appeals affirmed two death sentences, one against Jesse Fitzgerald for the murder of Mrs. Broughton and Ben Huffaker, of Pulaski county, who was serving a life sentence in the Eddyville prison for killing another convict.

Bourbon News (Paris, KY) ~ February 19, 1907

Friday Was Hangman's Day

Four men were hanged according to law in Kentucky Friday. In each case the Court of Appeals had reviewed the trial in the lower court and had decided that no error had been committed. All of the cases were passed to the Governor, who fixed the date for the execution of the court's sentence. The following were the men hanged: Guy Lyon and Polk Fletcher, at Russellville, for assault on Mary Gladder. Jesse Fitzgerald, at Barbourville, for murder of Mrs. Robert Broughton. Ben Huffaker, at Eddyville, for the murder of a convict, B. Shirley. All of the executions were without special incident except that of Fitzgerald, who was hanged without the use of a black cap.

Stanford Interior Journal (KY) ~ February 19, 1907

[same text as Bourbon News for February 19, 1907 except the following:]

...On the day before the hanging Fitzgerald stated that Amy Henson [sic] who was given 15 years for participation in the killing of Mrs. Broughton, was not guilty and that he alone did the work.

Breckinridge News (Cloverport, KY) ~ February 27, 1907

Spurned the Black Cap

Barbourville, KY., Feb. 16— Jesse Fitzgerald, negro, was hanged here for murdering Mrs. Robert Broughton. The negro asked that the black cap not be adjusted, and he was hanged with his sight free.

Last Update: August 26, 2011