About the Case
Date: June 22, 1895
Victim(s): Thomas Parker
Case Status: attempted
On June 22, 1895, Thomas Parker, a Black man and employee at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama was accused of stealing a gold watch and other articles of jewelry from the hotel manager, J. M. Railey. Two deputy sheriffs, Maurice Stapleton and W. M. Swain, were sent to the Grand Hotel with orders to arrest Parker. However, instead of taking Parker to the Daphne jail like they were supposed to, Stapleton and Swain took Parker to a wooded area between the communities of Point Clear and Battles Wharf. When Parker refused to confess, a rope was placed around his neck and he was hung from a tree for a few minutes. Still alive, he was removed from the tree and Stapleton and Swain tried to force a confession from him. When he once again refused, “a pistol was fired in close proximity to his face” and he was brutally beaten. Still, Parker refused to confess, and he was hung to the tree a second time. He was taken down once again and confessed to stealing. He reportedly told Stapleton and Swain the location of Railey’s stolen items and they were eventually recovered.
It is unclear what happened to Parker after his supposed confession. Some newspapers say that Stapleton and Swain threw Parker in jail. It was not until Parker was found injured in a cell the next morning that other people learned of the attempted lynching. Other newspapers say that Stapleton and Swain hung Parker again after his confession and he was found clinging to life the next morning. Whatever the case may be, it is clear that Thomas Parker was still alive on the morning of June 23, 1895. According to the Mobile Daily News, Parker suffered, “a swollen neck, a powder burned face, and several ribs kicked in, besides other bruises too numerous to mention.” After Parker told Probate Judge Charles Hall the names of the attempted lynchers, Dr. W. J. Lea of Mobile was called to the Daphne Jail to attend Parker while Stapleton and Swain were arrested by Sheriff W. L. Thompson.
What happened to Parker after he was examined by Dr. Lea remains a mystery. Initial newspaper reports claim Parker died the night of June 23. Some newspapers revise their statement to say Parker actually survived, and others say Parker’s condition was never fatal. However, despite the claims that Parker survived, no genealogical records can be found to confirm he is still alive after this event.
Unfortunately, during the research process, the Baldwin County Department of Archives and History closed and so a major avenue of research was inaccessible. Outside of the historically white newspapers that covered the lynching or attempted lynching, only one genealogical record on Thomas Parker may have been found. Cronell and Cecilia Threadgill, a young Black couple, housed a seven-year-old Black boy named Thomas Parker in the 1880 United States Census. Their precinct location was the Courthouse in Daphne. Of all the precinct locations in Baldwin County during 1880, the Court House was the closest to Point Clear, where Thomas Parker worked at the Grand Hotel. The relationship of Thomas Parker to the Threadgill couple is not listed in the census. The Threadgill couple also could not be found in any future census records. If this Thomas Parker is the same one who Stapleton and Swain attempted to lynch in 1895, he would have been 22 or 23 years old at the time the lynching occurred.
[insert photo of labeled map? Or 1880 Census?]
What happened to Maurice Stapleton and W. M. Swain after their arrest remains unclear as well. Newspapers report that neither man was able to pay their bond. While records do not indicate how long Stapleton and Swain were to remain in jail, Stapleton was released within at least five years because he is living with his family in Columbus City, Georgia in the 1900 census. Despite growing up in Baldwin County, Stapleton never moves back to the county until his ultimate death and burial in Point Clear Cemetery in 1947. What happened to Swain is unknown.
Thomas Parker is the first documented Black victim of a lynching or attempted lynching in Baldwin County. Without access to any county newspapers from 1895, it is difficult to gauge how local citizens reacted, but the lynching of Parker was nearly erased from local history. Alarmingly, Thomas Parker was virtually erased from the history of Baldwin County. The lack of records on Parker prevents future generations from learning about who Parker was as a person and what really happened the night of August 22, 1985.