Testimony of Henry M. Turner: February 26, 1873

Testimony of Henry M. Turner

The Miscellaneous Documents printed by the order of The House of Representatives during the First Session of the Forty-Third Congress. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1874

Testimony Given: February 26, 1873

H.M. TURNER sworn:

Question. What is your business; where did you reside during the year 1872; what position do you now hold, and what official position have you held heretofore? Where were you in September last; what part did you take in the campaign then going on for President and a member from Congress from this district, and what threats and intimidation did you meet with, if any, during that campaign?

Answer. I am at present pastor of the Saint Philip's African Methodist Episcopal Church, of Savannah, Ga. I resided during the year 1872 in the city of Savannah, where I now reside. I was first appointed chaplain in the Army in 1863 by President Lincoln, and again appointed chaplain in the regular Army by President Johnson in 1865; was a member of the constitutional convention of Georgia in 1867 and 1868; have been twice elected a member of the Georgia legislature.

In September last I was residing in Savannah, but was traveling and making speeches in the first congressional district. Some time during the month of September, for I am unable to specify the time , I was on the Central Railroad between Savannah and Millen en route for Burke County for the purpose of delivering a political speech, when a couple of white gentlemen, whom I supposed to be democrats, came into the car where I was sitting; one of them, on seeing me, remarked, “There is one of those damned radical speakers, now.” The other said, “Who is it?” and the reply was, “That damned Turner.” “Yes,” said one of them, “they are some of the same crew in the other car.” I supposed he had reference to Colonels Atkins and Sloan. Another remark was made, “If I had my way I would hang every damned one of them.”

At this juncture the whistle blew and the conversation ceased. No violence, whatever, was offered to my person; no other intimidating remarks were made to or about me personally, as I know of, until on the night of the 17th of September, when I started from the city of Savannah for Homerville, in Clinch County, for the purpose of delivering a political speech on the 18th, but falling asleep on the cars, I was carried by Homerville and as not awakened until I arrived at Lawton, commonly called the junction.

Finding I had passed my place of destination I went off the cars into the depot and asked the agent at the depot if I might remain in the sitting room where a fire was burning until the returning train arrived, which was due at that place in about three hours from that time. The agent gave his consent and told me to sit down, which I did after procuring my stick and carpet-bag from the train. The train I arrived on left in about seven minutes; after its departure I walked out in the yard in front of the depot and met two colored men and inquired of them the distance from there to Homerville, also whether or not there was to be a political meeting there on the next day. They replied by saying not as they knew of.

Some little conversation passed between us for a few moments which I do not now recollect, when a couple of white gentlemen came out of a house opposite the depot, which I took to be a bar-room, walking across to me and the two colored men; one of the white gentlemen calling one of the colored men by name, asked him if he could dance like he used to, and some other remarks which I do not recollect, but in a few moments one of the colored men was whistling and the other dancing.

The dance being over, one of the white men remarked that's the glory of the negro, and the other white man replied, “Yes, the negroes would have been a damned sight better off had they been let alone; the country is full of these radical emissaries trying to teach the negro how to vote, when he knows no more about it than a hog knows about Sunday.”

After a little they walk off, and I asked one of the colored men if he did not think those remarks were made for me; he said “No, I reckon not, as they don't know anything about you.” I then walked in the rear of the depot towards a house where I heard the music of a violin; discovering that it was a white people's ball, I drew a little nearer for the purpose of observing their dress, and was looking in at the window, being some seven or eight paces there from; in about two minutes afterwards a white gentleman walked down hurriedly from the depot, went into the house where they were dancing and spoke to several gentleman, who in a few moments followed him out on the piazza.

A consultation seemed to have been held; they soon went back into the house and the ball was closed and the gentlemen dispersed, carrying the ladies home. I wondered to myself why the ball had adjourned so instantaneously, but had no idea of any malicious designs or intentions. I, however, went back to the depot, took my carpet-bag for a pillow and laid down on a bench to rest. In a few moments the agent of the depot walked in and stepped up to the lamp which was burning dimly and increased its light, and turned the reflector round so as to throw the light in my face where I was lying.

The reflection of the light in my face being somewhat of an annoyance, I raised and sat on the bench and put on my hat. The agent then asked me, “What is your name?” I said “Turner.” Said he “Where are you going?” I told him I was waiting for the return train so as to go back to Homerville. Said he, “Why did you not get out then as the train came up?” I said I had overslept myself. Said he, “What did you say your name was?” I again replied, “Turner.” He then walked out on the depot platform and went to whispering. The whispering arrested my attention, for I was not aware that any one else was about the premises. In a minute or two after he went out, the two colored men came in with whom I had formerly conversed, and after cracking a few jokes among themselves, one of them beckoned to me to come across the room somewhat behind the depot-door, so as to prevent those that were out-doors seeing us. He said to me in a whisper, “Stranger, I fear hell's going to be played here, and I want you to do just as I tell you,” said he. “I am sent in here to pick you; there are four white men out-doors and others coming, and I am going to ask you if you are not Greeley man and you must say yes, and hurrah for Greeley, and if you don't, damned if you will ever see home again.”

He then motioned with his hand and whispered sit down; he jumped up and hallooed out at the height of his voice, “Hurrah for Greeley; I am a Greeley man, and there are none but Greeley men about here, and damned if anybody but Greeley men can live about here,” and looking towards me he said in a loud voice, “Ain't you a Greeley man?” and bowing his head towards me and whispered, “Say yes.” After a moment's hesitation, I replied, “I am not discussing politics now.” He again nodded his head some half dozen times, waving his hand at me at the same time, and whispering, “Say yes; say yes.” I again replied, “I am not now discussing politics,” and went out the door and found four men sitting on the depot-steps, whom I knew to be white men or very bright mulattoes.

The agent at the depot was among them, whom I knew to be a white man. One of them, looking towards me, said in a snubbed voice, “Hello, radical, deliver us a speech.” I made no reply to him. I looked across the railroad and saw another white man approaching. I then assumed the appearance of wanting to urinate, and walked off in a diagonal direction to the rear of the depot, and finding myself hid from their sight I kept a direct line running as rapidly as I could until I got to the woods. I then walked and ran together about three-quarters of a mile up the railroad, keeping myself about a hundred yards from the railroad. I then went up to the railroad and discovered something coming down in the direction of the depot. Secreting myself in a thicket of bushes I sat down to await its arrival.

Shortly afterward seven white men came along. I heard them in conversation about some man's wife, whom it appeared had been recreant to her marriage vows. After they had passed me few yards one of them remarked, “The radicals will be minus one to-morrow.” Other remarks passed which I do not now remember. They went on, I suppose, to the depot. I crossed over and went down on the opposite side of the railroad. From that I came and secreted myself in a thicket of woods about 150 yards from the depot.

By this time a considerable crowd appears to have collected, as I heard several voices in ordinary conversation. In about a half an hour I heard them go out in the direction I had gone when I left the depot. They were hissing a dog after something, which I took to be an effort to make the dog trail me. But the dog ran off after some hogs, and they finally returned to the depot. They then went to whistling, patting, dancing, laughing, and engaged themselves in general merriment, for the purpose, as I thought, of decoying me from the woods. But I remained in my position until the arrival of the return train, when I came up to the depot and walked in to get my carpet-bag and overcoat.

The agent, on observing me, ran out from the northeast corner of the depot to what appeared to be an old engine-house. By the time I came out of the depot with my luggage, I saw emerging from this house some twelve or fifteen men, as I supposed. They at once made toward the train on which they knew I would take passage; but I had gone to another train under a mistake, and they left the right train and came to look for me on the other train, but as they came down on one side of it I went up on the other, and got on the right train. I met Mr. Pleasant, the mail-agent, and told him there were a set of men here trying to kill me. By this time a crowd of them had jumped upon the platform of the car I was in, and as I thought was trying to get a chance to shoot me. Mr. Pleasant drew his pistol, and advancing toward the door made some threatening remarks, and stated he would blow the first man's brains out who dared to touch me.

But as he went toward them I passed through the other end of the car and went into the white people's smoking-car and went into the white people's car, but they still followed along on the outside. Finding them nothing daunted I returned to the smoking-car, and was about to try to screen myself in this water-closet when Mr. Pleasant came hurriedly to me and said, “Turner, these fellows are determined to kill you to-night; follow me.” He opened the door on the opposite side from where the mob was, and said, “Run; follow me.” We ran the distance of two cars and came to the United States mail-car. He opened the door and said, “Jump in as quick as you can.” I got in and he told the other mail-agent, “Lock these doors, and let Turner stay in; there is a mob out here trying to kill him.” The car was immediately closed and locked up, so that I saw no more of the mob, but heard them around the car talking and cursing. I have been told, also, that the mob held a counsel and discussed the propriety of breaking open the mail-car; but the conductor became excited at the condition of things, and supposing they were after killing Mr. Pleasant, rang the bell and had the train to leave as quick as possible. I remained in the United States mail-car until we had traveled 40 miles, and then came out and went in the regular passenger-car and went to sleep.

Question. Were you ever in that county before, and had you done anything there to array these people against you, except your being a republican and working in the interest of the republican party?-

Answer. I was never in that county before in my life. I never passed through even on the railroad. I forgot to state that the colored man who apprised me of my danger asked me if I did not tell the agent my name- who stated, at the same time, that the white people up here had said that some radical were coming up to Clinch County, for they saw their names in some of the Grant papers which they got out of the post-office; and I supposed the papers spoken of must have been the circulars or hand-bills of the meeting that was to have been held in that county.

(OBJECTION- Counsel for contestee objects to the foregoing answers as irrelevant, and to all statements therein given merely as opinions of the witness, or inferences or suppositions.)