Wednesday, February 26, 2014

William G. Tanner Brutally Murdered in Case of Mistaken Identity, 1857

Family Background
According to the headstone at Elmwood Cemetery, William G. Tanner was born in April of 1834. William was the son of Elizabeth W. Tanner, father unknown at this time.  Elizabeth was born about 1796 in Virginia.  In addition to William she had the following children:  Simon P. Tanner, married Mary A. Price in Shelby County TN April 23 1851; Julia A. Tanner, born about 1825 in Virginia; Mary E. Tanner, born about 1829 in Tennessee; Susan Tanner, born about 1840 in Mississippi.  It's important to note that one residence away is the family of Jesse Tate. This might be the same Jesse Tate that was listed in Tanner's tribute which was published in the Memphis Daily Appeal .  Two of the Tanner sisters married the same man, Charles V. Hart of New York, a blacksmith.  Charles married Mary in Shelby County TN in 1858 and they had two children. The first was C.H. Hart who died in 1859 and the other is listed as "Child of Charl V. Hart who died in 1860."  Mary Tanner Hart died about a month after the death of her second child.  In the 1860 Census Charles is listed with a value of about $500.  He is living with his mother-in-law Elizabeth, whose personal value is $8200.  His single but older sister-in-law Julia is also in the house.  Elizabeth Tanner died in early March 1861, a few weeks later Charles and Julia are married.  They had a daughter, also named Julia, who died at the age of three from Small Pox. Charles V. Hart dies in 1867.  Julia A.R. Tanner Hart died in 1874 from consumption. Susan Tanner, the youngest of Elizabeth's children, married Samuel B. Robinson in Shelby County TN on May 24 1860.   In addition to the Tanner and Hart families there is one other person interred in the family plot that had been purchased by William G. Tanner, Julia Tomlin. Julia Tomlin was the daughter of Martha Tanner Tomlin and George W. Tomlin.  Martha and George were married in Shelby County on April 24 1864.  The only Martha Tanner I find that fits the dates is the daughter of John A. Tanner and his wife Martha A. Moseley.  John A. Tanner was born in Virginia about 1821 which makes it possible that he was also the son of Elizabeth Tanner. If so, that makes Martha Tanner Tomlin Elizabeth's granddaughter and Julia Tomlin her great granddaughter.

The Murder
William G. Tanner was murdered in Memphis on a Monday evening, February 9, 1857.  The List of Deaths in the City of Memphis record it as death by assassination.  He was 24 years old.  Newspaper reports tell us that he was a religious young man.  He began his studies at the Sabbath School at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Memphis in 1846 at the young age of 12.  In 1855 he became a member of the church and a teacher at the Sabbath School.  In addition he sold candy at the Candee, Mix & Co. mercantile store on Main Street.  By all appearances he was well liked and respected in the community.

Lucius Phillips and an unnamed black man were arrested and charged with the murder of Tanner. Over the course of several days an inquest was held and on February 18, 1857 the Appeal reported that Lucius Phillips was remanded to jail to "abide the action of the Grand Jury of the Criminal Court" by Esq. Horne.

From the Memphis Daily Appeal, February 10 1857:
"On February 10th, 1857, the Memphis Daily Appeal reported Tanner's murder.  It occurred between Beale and Union Streets.  Tanner was brutally attacked and left on the railroad tracks in such a way as to make it appear that he had been struck by a train.  When he was found, he was still alive but unable to speak. 
"On last evening, between six and seven o'clock, a murder was perpetrated on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, between Beal (sic) and Union streets.  The name of the murdered man was W.A. Tanner, late a salesman in the mercantile house of Candee, Mix & Co., Main street.  The body was discovered a short time before the arrival of the cars, being placed in such a manner across the track as to convey the impression had the cars passed over it that such was the cause of his death.  hen found, life was not quite extinct, but the victim could not speak.  The blow which caused his death, it is supposed, was inflicted with a slung-shot or bludgeon, an indentation having been made in the head.  The blood was running out of Mr. Tanner's mouth, nose and ears, when discovered.  The dead body was taken to the house of his mother, who lives on the outskirts of the city, and with whom he resided.  Mr. Tanner was an exemplary member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and his sudden and awful death has cast gloom over a large circle of friends, relatives and acquaintances.  He was about twenty-five years of age, and it was not known that he had a single enemy in the world.  The supposition of his friends is, that he was mistaken by his murderer for some other person, else killed for money which he might have been supposed to have in his possession.  If the latter was the cause, the villain met with a disappointment, as Mr. T. was not in the habit of carrying much money with him.

Since writing the above, we have learned the following particulars:
About half-past ten o'clock, a young man named Phillips was arrested by the Marshal and special police at a House on Union street, on suspicion of being the murderer, and is now in the calaboose awaiting an examination.  A negro has also been arrested as an accomplice, and is also in custody.

We learn from Marshal Mynatt, that not only was Mr. T. struck with a slung-shot, but also was stabbed in the forehead.  When found his head was on the track; from remarks which have reached the officers ears, they think Mr. T. was murdered by mistake--his assassin taking him for some other person.

The greatest excitement pervaded the community last night.  We forbear making further comments at present."

I mention here that The Memphis Daily Appeal compared Tanner's death to that of a man named Dr. Burdell who had been brutally murdered in New York because it shows an interesting belief about the body after death.  In a letter to the editor of that newspaper it was noted that in the case of Dr. Burdell the police had hoped to find the murderer in a unique way:  "Dr. Doremus, who resides at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Nineteenth street, will make examination of the retinas of Dr. Burdell's eyes by a powerful instrument to-day to see if the last object which deceased saw is still imparted upon the visual organ, and if so, whether it be the murderer or murderers.  This is a fearful and sure mode of detection, for which we are indebted to the progress of science."  It seems that not only are the eyes the windows to the soul but at that time it was thought they retained the last image before death and that image could be seen with an opthalmoscope as long it was done within 10 hours of death and before the eyes became clouded. Memphis Daily Appeal February 14, 1857, page 2.

Later that month Mayor Thomas B. Carroll and the City Alderman began offering a $500 reward for the apprehension and conviction of the murderer/murderers.
In addition to the city reward the Candee Mix Co. was also offering a $500 reward for the apprehension of the murderers.

On February 27 1857, The Home Journal out of Winchester Tennessee reported that the "examination has been postponed, and a negro man had been arrested on suspicion of being connected" with the murder. 

It was reported in the Athens Post on March 20 1857 that Tanner had been murdered in a case of mistaken identity:
"There seems to be no doubt, now, in the public mind that poor Tanner was murdered by mistake--the scoundrel who procured the assassination intended to murder another man.  From good authority, we learn that the following will be the upshot of the developments which will probably be brought to light by a clew (sic) now in the hands of the proper officers of the law:--A certain party in love with a married woman, desired to put her husband out of the way, and employed a negro man to do the deed.  The negro, instructed an abetted by his principal, mistook Tanner for the married man and slew him.  We understand that the negro has been heard to say that he was employed to set the part of of "bravo" in the affair.  All this sounds like a tale of old Venice or Madrid, and we regret to hear it told of an enlightened, well governed Protestant city like this.   
A further item--We learn from good authority that Phillips, who was arrested for the murder of Tanner, has been twice visited in prison by a married woman, disguised, who is believed to be the wife of the man intended to have been murdered."

The following tribute was published in the Memphis Daily Appeal on February 25 1857:
At a meeting of the Sabbath School of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in the city of Memphis, on the morning of the 15th inst., the announcement being made of the decease of Mr. Wm. G. Tanner, a teacher and member of the Sabbath School, the following gentlemen, to-wit: Dr. T. McGown, E. McDavitt, Jesse M. Tate, F.M. Cash, A. Street, W.H. Stratton and J.C. Davis, were appointed by the Superintendent, a Committee to draw up and report to the Sabbath School, on the next Sabbath, such resolutions as might be deemed proper for said Sabbath School, in their general capacity, to adopt, expressive of the deep sensibility of the children and teachers of said Sabbath School, for the memory of their brother and teacher, so suddenly removed from their midst, by the hand of death.  In pursuance with said appointment, the said committee be leave to report:

  Whereas, It has please our Heavenly Father, in his inscrutable providence, to permit our brother and friend, Wm. G. Tanner, to fall by the mysterious hand of assassination, and to be thus called from the presence of men into the presence of his Maker and God to give an account of all the deeds done in the body, it becomes us therefore to improve this sad lesson of the uncertainty of human life to our individual profit.  And well will it be for us if we can realize, through this melancholy dispensation, the hand of Him who had given to our brother life; and that we submit in deep humility, believing that all things, however severe, are sent upon us for our good.  And also, to realize the truth of the saying of the Bible, "That is the midst of life we are in death"--and the force of the exhortation, "Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the son of Man cometh."   And that this Sabbath School do feel a deep sympathy and sorrow for the decease of our beloved brother Wm. G. Tanner.  Therefore,

  Resolved, That this Sabbath School, in all its membership, do feel a deep sorrow for the late melancholy decease of our friend and brother Wm. G. Tanner, which occurred on the night of the 9th inst.  Also, we feel that this Sabbath School, our Church in Memphis, and indeed the whole community have lost one of their brightest and best members; and we, as a Sabbath School, (although a painful duty,) do with pleasure bear with testimonial to the worth of Mr. Wm. G. Tanner.

  Resolved, That the uniform, upright and pious deportment of our brother, Wm. G. Tanner, was owing in the main to early culture in this Sabbath School--as he entered it as a scholar about the year 1846, and became hopefully converted to a saving faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, during the great revival in this church under the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Porter, in the year 1855.  Many now connected with this Sabbath School, and the congregation worshiping in this church, will remember with what confidence the profession of religion, by brother Wm. G. Tanner, was received by every one who knew him; and many will testify of the exemplary life and habits of our brother since that time--therefore, we as members of this Sabbath School, do but express our humble testimony to the worth of our brother, by this action of this Sabbath School.

  Resolved, That we shroud our Sabbath School Library in deep mourning for four Sabbaths as a tribute of respect to the memory of the deceased.

  Resolved, That we furnish a copy of these proceedings to the mother and family of the deceased, and do tender to them our most heartfelt sympathy for them in this their great bereavement--trusting that their less is his eternal gain--and that it will lead them to endeavor to follow him to his home in heaven, as they know that he cannot return to them.

  Resolved, That the Sabbath School proceedings be read out to the congregation from the pulpit before the morning services on next Sabbath morning.

  Resolved, That the city papers be requested to publish these resolutions.

  J. McGown,
  E. McDavitt,
  Jesse M. Tate,
  F.M. Cash,
  A. Street,
  W. H. Stratton,
  J.C. Davis
Committee
Memphis February 22 1857

I have not yet found the outcome of the trial against Lucius Phillips nor any information regarding the arrest of the black man with him.

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