Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams

About the Case

Date: August 1, 1891

County: Henry: henry

Victim(s): Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams

Case Status: attempted

Henry County is located in the southeastern region of Alabama, 90 miles southeast of Montgomery. Since its establishment in 1891, The county seat was moved to Abbeville in 1833 where the third courthouse, a log structure was built. Henry County is encompassed in Dothan, Alabama. Due to the fact that Henry County was within the Alabama Wiregrass region (long-leaf pine ecosystem), the Chattahoochee River was used as a port. Henry County was much larger than it is today. It used to contain the area that is now known as Houston County. On February 9, 1903, Houston County was formed and took 72% of the land from Henry County.(View Image 1) Prior to the creation of Houston County, all jurisdictions in that region would go to Abbeville’s courthouse. On May 17, 1889, the Abbeville courthouse was sold to Mr. W. E. Bradley for $100. It was removed from the square ten days later. “Work will commence in a short time on the new brick building and ere many months Abbeville will have the prettiest and most commodious temple of Justice in all Southeast Alabama.”  Abbeville was the center focal point of the eastern and western boundaries of the county and twelve miles from the northern boundary of the county. Henry County was twenty-two miles wide, with the Chattahoochee River running alongside the north to south border. Henry County was 1,000 square miles. Due to a fire, records from 1890 have been destroyed, however the population in 1890 was about 24,847 people. There were over 16,000 white Americans and less than 8,900 African Americans.  Abbeville alone had less than 250 residents. 

Of those 8,800 African American were Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams. Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams were lynched August 1, 1891. The mass lynching took place in Henry County, Alabama. Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams were shot and drowned in the Chattahoochee River, however there is a conflicting article that states “Their bodies were thrown in the river near Birmingham.” It has been said that Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams were murdered because they set the home of William Davis, a farmer in Henry County, afire by saturating the home in oil out of revenge. The house was set afire while the Davis family was sleeping. The family was able to get out in time and William Davis burned to death. None of the property survived the fire. It was said that Ella Williams confessed that Eliza Lowe, Willis Lowe, the brother of Eliza Lowe, William (Will/Bill) Williams, the brother of Ella Williams, and herself were involved in the incident against William Davis with the intent of revenge. The incident took place close to Crosby. Ella William and Eliza Lowe were detained in Crosby, a small rarely documented town located in now Houston County. It is uncertain where Crosby County really lies because of the vague documentation. The police officers were stopped on their way to the Abbeville jail. To reiterate, Abbeville was the closest courthouse and jail to Crosby. The supposed area of Crosby county is approximately 52 minutes away from the jail in Abbeville.  There is 33.2 miles of road that is alongside the Chattahoochee river to get to Abbeville from Crosby County. During the drive to Abbeville a mob appeared and overpowered the officer named Thomas Williams. They shot, hung, and tossed the bodies of Eliza Lowe, Ella Williams into the Chattahoochee River. A similar event happened on March 5, 1891. Allen West was arrested in Abbeville, Georgia and a mob of masked men came into the jail and him for allegedly criminally assaulting a lady in daylight that day. 

The case for Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams were both misconstrued, unless there is more to the story that the newspapers did not rely. When you take a look at Ella and Eliza’s criminal record there are a massive amount of mistakes. For one, the Ella Williams name was written as Lula Williams. She was also booked in Montgomery County, while Eliza Lowe was booked in Lee County. Crosby County is a 2 hour and 26 minute drive from Montgomery County. It takes 2 hours and 25 minutes to get from Crosby to Lee County. It takes 56 minutes to get from Montgomery County to Lee County. It is possible that because Eliza Lowe was charged with Assist to Murder and was subjected to (Circuit) court while, Ella Williams was charged with Grand Larceny in city court. Nevertheless, the newspaper articles say that they were taken from Crosby to Abbeville. It is impossible to have taken Eliza and Ella at the same time to their respective locations like the article says. As you can see the date of convictions are different for Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams. Eliza Lowe was convicted on May 14, 1889. Ella Williams was convicted on August 25, 1891. Eliza Lowe was committed longer and sooner than Ella Williams. It is possible that because Ella Williams confessed and gave the accomplices to house fire of William Davis in order to shorten her sentence. However, it still does not explain why they were not booked at the same time and the timeline of the house fire would be inaccurate. All of the articles published the same thing “Last friday and the family narrowly escaped with their lives. Sunday Ella Williams, colored, was arrested and confessed…” regardless of the date it was published. The event of the “quadruple lynching” was massed produced around the nation. Ella Williams and Eliza were mentioned in almost every state. They were written about in every country in Kansas. One may have an article published on 8/2/1891 and another has 8/21/1891, but they have the same information instead of updating the event timeline accordingly. However, it is true, according to criminal records, that Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams dealt with the same officers, Thomas, Williams, and Walls at different times, besides once. Regardless of the year gaps in the timeline, Thomas Williams transferred Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams on March 2nd, 1891. According to the newspaper articles,  Ella had been arrested and confessed to the house fire on Sunday. The following Thursday, Ella and Eliza were taken from Crosby to Abbeville, but stopped near the Chattahoochee River by a mob. That is impossible to happen when they were booked at two different locations and already transferred to possibly the same (or different) prison 5 months prior. It is possible that Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams experienced the same thing as Allen West, rushed by a mob in the prison and were shot and hung then thrown in the Chattahoochee River. It is possible that the killing was kept under wraps until someone reported Ella’s body in the river. At this point, 5 months after being lynched the bodies were unrecognizable and released a fabricated news report and criminal record. Since they were already perished it did not matter if they invalidated the timeline of the murder or add on events in their public records. According to prison records, it says that they were both discharged on their short term sentences in July of different years. 

Eliza Lowe was a sixteen year old girl born and raised Hamilton, Georgia according to the arrest records. She lived sixteen minutes away in Ellerslie, Georgia in 1880. Her date of birth is around 1874. Her family resided in Lee County during the 1890s. Her father was John Lowe and her mother was Lou Lowe.They got married at the age of eighteen on January 4, 1873. She had two brothers John and Elbert Lowe. According to my research, it is unsure who “Willis Lowe” is. She had one younger sister, Loula Lowe. Her family were farm laborers.  She was five feet and four inches tall and weighed only 130 pounds. She was dark skin with brown eyes. Her hair was black and in twist. She did not have any bruises or blemishes on her body that was recognizable. Eliza was addicted to snuff and tobacco. She was also not educated. The newspapers displayed Eliza as just a random Black girl with a hateful motive to end William Davis’s life. 

Ella Williams was a sixteen year old girl from Montgomery, specifically Elam. Her father was T. Good Williams. He was a farmer and was married to Mahaley Williams. Mahaley Williams was a housekeeper. T. Good and Mahaley Williams had eight children. Their names were Charley (19), Bishop (18), Bill (15), George (13), Eli (11), Mary (7), Ella (4), and Emma (2). These ages are according to the 1880 Census Records. According to the arrest record, Ella Williams’ associated name was “Lula” Williams. She was a housegirl. It was weird that her arrest record mentions how pretty she was; it was listed as a “peculiarity” as if Black women could not be pretty. They also mentioned that her teeth were “good”. I’m not sure why that is important. She was 5’3 and 110 pounds when she was arrested. She was in a relationship, because it did not mention whether she was single or married. Ella’s older brother, Bill was also involved in the death of W. D.

Bill’s name was also not spelled correctly on the arrest record. Bill Williams lived in Gordon, Alabama. That is 11 minutes away from Crosby, Alabama.

Due to the fact that lynching happened so often there was not much change. Both Ella Williams and Eliza Lowe’s family did not move once the lynching happened. They had property in their designated area and could not just up and leave, even if they wanted to. According to research, it seems as if they were making it their best to adjust to their new life. Of course, losing two family members is a devastating event, so I expect there was some turmoil, emotionally and family wise. There was a skip in census record for Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams because of a fire that destroyed records. It is possible that Ella’s family changed their name after her killing because they were no longer listed in the Census records. 

It is important to remember Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams because they were two Black, young, working females. Typically, there are only stories about Black men being lynched and women are discarded from history. The lynching of Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams created a generational decline. The mob that killed them took away their chances of having a family, children, a home, and their overall future. Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams were 16 years old. They did not even experience life yet. Society must remember these young ladies through my research because they did not have a chance to be remembered on their own. They did not have a chance to show the world who they were. My research represents Eliza and Ella as Black, beautiful, working women. They would have continued to be that if their lives were not taken from them. Their legacy would have been shown through their kids and grandkids, but that was no longer possible. I take it upon to myself to be the legacy of Eliza Lowe and Ella Williams and shed light on the person they were. As a Black woman, representation and voices has been my key avenue to legacy. Legacy is not necessarily about family ties, it’s about being present and speaking up to create an ongoing conversation. Legacy lives through spoken word, writing, and active listening. I ask that you continue to think about Eliza Lowe and Ella Willliams so that you can also promote their legacy.