Slave Lucy
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By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, September 13, 1978, p. 9-C

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Whenever a woman is under the death sentence in Texas, much newspaper space is used to perpetuate the popular myth that Chipita Rodriguez, who was hanged for murder in November, 1863, was the only female ever executed in Texas. The early record of the gallows of Galveston County reveals that Rodriguez was neither the only woman, nor even the first, to pay the extreme penalty in this state.

During the first eighteen years of its existence, the public gallows of Galveston Island claimed four victims. The fourth one was a 40-year-old slave woman named Lucy, who was hanged for murder on March 5, 1858.

The county's first malefactor was a free Negro named Henry Forbes, who was hanged on November 18, 1840. Forbes was convicted of burglary and jail-breaking and sentenced under Section 9 of the Texas Republic's criminal code, which carried a death penalty for either offense.

The second victim was Charles Henneker, a German immigrant, who was hanged on December 8, 1843, for the robbery and murder of Benjamin Tyson. On the date of his execution, Henneker rode to the gallows in a wagon, seated on his coffin and smoking a pipe.

The third person to be hanged was a man named Schulz who had murdered his traveling companions, Simeon Bateman and Matthew Jett, at Virginia Point on the mainland in January, 1845, and robbed them of $9,000. All three men were from Gonzales, Texas.

Schulz escaped to Walterboro, South Carolina, where he remained for the next ten years until he was recognized by a traveler from Gonzales. He was returned to Galveston, convicted of murder, and was hanged on June 29, 1855. At the gallows, he confessed to a lifetime of crime, including membership in the notorious John A. Murrell gang of bandits and murderers in the Mississippi Territory around 1810, and to the murders of eight people.

In 1857, the slave woman, Lucy, was living at the Columbia Hotel in Galveston, a ramshackle wooden structure at Strand and 24th Street, operated by her owner, Mrs. Maria Dougherty. In December, 1857, Lucy was punished for some minor infraction, and in retaliation, she set fire to the hotel, the small blaze which developed being quickly extinguished. Punished more severely by her owner for the latter offense, the slave swore vengeance against Mrs. Dougherty.

On January, 3, 1858, Mrs. Dougherty disappeared, and her body was soon discovered, floating in a underground brick cistern. Her head had been crushed by repeated blows from a club. When confronted with the corpse, Lucy cried out, "Yes, I killed her, and I would do it again!"

On January 8, Lucy was indicted for murder, and she went to trial four days later in the district court of Judge Peter Gray, who appointed a local attorney, Major R. H. Howard, to defend her. She entered a plea of 'not guilty.' The evidence against the black woman was strong and convincing, and a jury returned a guilty verdict in the first degree.

On January 23, 1858, she was sentenced to death and remanded to the sheriff's custody to await execution on the following March 5. On the date of her death, she acknowledged a religious conversion through the intercession of a priest, and a special gallows was erected on the second floor of the jail.

On March 5, shortly after her noon meal, Lucy paused at the base of the scaffold and expressed both her willingness to die and her hope of forgiveness in the afterworld. The noose was then adjusted around her neck, and Sheriff J. H. Westerlage sprang the trap which then swung into eternity the only woman ever hanged in Galveston County and the first in the state of Texas.

Years before Michel Menard founded the Island City in 1837, two other desperadoes had been executed on the private gallows of the buccaneer Jean Lafitte. In 1819, George Brown, a notorious pirate and ship captain, was convicted by Lafitte's admiralty court and was hanged on Pelican Island. Later, another Lafitte henchman, a Frenchman named Francois, was hanged for complicity in a plot to rob and murder a Louisiana sugar planter and slave buyer named Kuykendall, who had come to Galveston Island to buy slaves from Lafitte. And who knows? If the story of the slave woman Lucy has been lost in the dim mists of time in Texas, perhaps there have been others executed in Texas whose stories have been lost also.

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Copyright 1998-2023 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
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