Free George -- Continued from last week

The next reference to Baggett in the court record is nearly a year later, on Sept. 10, 1861, when it was reported: "This cause being called and the defendant failing to appear, his recognizance is ordered to be forfeited and summons awarded against Etheldred Baggett, Jr., and Etheldred Baggett, Sr., and William Baggett, his sureties, and this cause is to be continued."

Apparently, Baggett "jumped bail" and disappeared. There is a vague tradition that he joined one of the Civil War armies in hopes of escaping punishment for his crime. This record seems to bear out that story.

The order book shows no further reference to Baggett until Sept. 11, 1885. That day the case was continued and an alias bench warrant issued. This indicates that the court knew he was a fugitive, probably living under an alias.

On March 12, 1866, the case was stricken from the docket with leave to reinstate. There the Baggett case disappears from the court record. Even tradition is hazy as to what happened to Baggett after the war. One Calhoun resident says a friend saw Baggett in Texas years later and recognized him. (Statement of S. A. Montgomery, McLean County Tax Commissioner, June 1958) A deed of 1888 refers to "the late John Baggett" but does not give any clue to his fate. Another report is that Baggett met a violent death, having his head cut open in a fight in Texas or Arkansas. (Statement of John H. Thomas, Commonwealth's Attorney, McLean County, July 1958)

There is still feeling in McLean County that Baggett and Durall should have been hanged along with Norman. Anyway, the Durall jury did its part, for he was sentenced to hang, too.

That the two were able to escape death is outrageous, but it is also understandable in the context of the times. While their case was in the court, the Civil War tore Kentucky asunder. McLean County furnished many men for both armies, even though the Fort Vienna hill and hillsides were covered with Union tents. The passions of war took attention away from the George case. With both sides struggling to hold Kentucky, and at a time two rival state governments, normal legal processes were interrupted. So it is not surprising that the case dragged out to its dismal, uncertain end through the war years.

Free George was cruelly murdered. Norman -- probably the goat in the case -- was hanged. Durall and Baggett escaped as fugitives. And the irony of it was that the robbers didn't find the money for which they committed the murder! (Letter of Ollie Shacklett, July 14, 1953)

The only man who came out ahead was the sheriff, who got $6 for executing Norman.

And what of Free George's daughter? In all the excitement and interest of the killing of Free George, Emily's fate seems to have been forgotten. There is a fairly complete record of the settlement of Free George's estate. On Aug. 27, Robert Stringer, J. W. Davis, and J. J. Plain were appointed appraisers of the estate of George Johnson. On Nov. 7, P. N. and Isaac Johnson, administrators, returned an appraisement bill and sale bill of the estate.

His personal property brought $1,352.45, including $140 cash on hand. This is the nearest approach to any explanation of the money George was supposed to have had. Was it hidden away, not found by the robbers but located by the administrators?

The settlement of the estate was listed as $2,118.57. This included the sale bill, interest of $453.07 and "additional inventory" amounting to $313.05. This does not include an accounting for the farm, which presumably was his when he died. (The McLean County Court, Settlements with Executors, Administrators, etc., pages 144-146.)

The sale bill gives the best picture we have of Free George. It shows that he had reached the status of a money-lender, having notes on two persons. Among the items he owned were a violin, carpenter's tools, cooper's tools, bricklayer's tools, two boxes of glass, and a lathe. Evidently, he was trained in building trades in addition to being a farmer. He also owned three horses, including two mares with colts.

The report of the administrators shows that they paid out $1,044.77 from the estate. The largest single item was $300 for attorney's fee. Presumably, this was for a lawyer to assist in prosecution for the killers.

However, there is no explanation in the administrator's settlement for the difference of $1,044.77 in the amount in the estate and the amount paid out. Could it have been that this included money to buy Emily's freedom, but the fact was not mentioned in the settlement? If not, what became of the money?

The sale bill of the estate shows that the family Bible was sold to "Emily" for 15 cents, also a tea chest and bottles for $2. This first-name-only reference indicates a slave status. (An Emily Evans bought one box of sundries at 10 cents and a side saddle for $5.)

If Emily were still living and still a slave on Dec. 18, 1865, she would have been freed when the 13th Amendment became effective on that date. But her fate is unknown at this time.

Free George Johnson and his wife, Rebecca, are buried in the Shaver Cemetery, a short distance past the county line in Muhlenberg County, out from Sacramento on Kentucky 81, on Shaver Cemetery Road. It is a well-kept cemetery, if you ignore the dozens of tall stones pushed over by vandals. The two stones are by themselves, close to the middle of the cemetery. George's stone has been broken since a picture was taken of it in the 1960s and it has been reset, but is now shorter than Rebecca's. Now the last line, "aged 63 years," is not visible. His last name of Johnson is misspelled Jonson. It is unknown who bought the markers. There is no Emily anywhere in the cemetery. I visited there recently when I started working on the story. There were flowers on their graves.

This incident in McLean County was just one of thousands of tragic sadness, the inevitable result of a system of human bondage. It is the only case known in history of a white man being hanged for killing a Negro in the south before the Civil War. (from our files)

The Family Research Center and the Treasure House are open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 to 4. Sometimes the Treasure House is open more days if the ladies are in the mood! The latest update about the new addition to the back of the History Museum is that they are working on the plumbing and will soon be starting on the insulation.

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