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The Difficulty Of Crossing A Field

Scary Books: Present At A Hanging

One morning in July, 1854, a planter named Williamson, living six

miles from Selma, Alabama, was sitting with his wife and a child on

the veranda of his dwelling. Immediately in front of the house was

a lawn, perhaps fifty yards in extent between the house and public

road, or, as it was called, the "pike." Beyond this road lay a

close-cropped pasture of some ten acres, level and without a tree,

rock, or any natural o
artificial object on its surface. At the

time there was not even a domestic animal in the field. In another

field, beyond the pasture, a dozen slaves were at work under an


Throwing away the stump of a cigar, the planter rose, saying: "I

forgot to tell Andrew about those horses." Andrew was the overseer.

Williamson strolled leisurely down the gravel walk, plucking a

flower as he went, passed across the road and into the pasture,

pausing a moment as he closed the gate leading into it, to greet a

passing neighbor, Armour Wren, who lived on an adjoining plantation.

Mr. Wren was in an open carriage with his son James, a lad of

thirteen. When he had driven some two hundred yards from the point

of meeting, Mr. Wren said to his son: "I forgot to tell Mr.

Williamson about those horses."

Mr. Wren had sold to Mr. Williamson some horses, which were to have

been sent for that day, but for some reason not now remembered it

would be inconvenient to deliver them until the morrow. The

coachman was directed to drive back, and as the vehicle turned

Williamson was seen by all three, walking leisurely across the

pasture. At that moment one of the coach horses stumbled and came

near falling. It had no more than fairly recovered itself when

James Wren cried: "Why, father, what has become of Mr. Williamson?"

It is not the purpose of this narrative to answer that question.

Mr. Wren's strange account of the matter, given under oath in the

course of legal proceedings relating to the Williamson estate, here


"My son's exclamation caused me to look toward the spot where I had

seen the deceased [sic] an instant before, but he was not there, nor

was he anywhere visible. I cannot say that at the moment I was

greatly startled, or realized the gravity of the occurrence, though

I thought it singular. My son, however, was greatly astonished and

kept repeating his question in different forms until we arrived at

the gate. My black boy Sam was similarly affected, even in a

greater degree, but I reckon more by my son's manner than by

anything he had himself observed. [This sentence in the testimony

was stricken out.] As we got out of the carriage at the gate of the

field, and while Sam was hanging [sic] the team to the fence, Mrs.

Williamson, with her child in her arms and followed by several

servants, came running down the walk in great excitement, crying:

'He is gone, he is gone! O God! what an awful thing!' and many

other such exclamations, which I do not distinctly recollect. I got

from them the impression that they related to something more--than

the mere disappearance of her husband, even if that had occurred

before her eyes. Her manner was wild, but not more so, I think,

than was natural under the circumstances. I have no reason to think

she had at that time lost her mind. I have never since seen nor

heard of Mr. Williamson."

This testimony, as might have been expected, was corroborated in

almost every particular by the only other eye-witness (if that is a

proper term)--the lad James. Mrs. Williamson had lost her reason

and the servants were, of course, not competent to testify. The boy

James Wren had declared at first that he SAW the disappearance, but

there is nothing of this in his testimony given in court. None of

the field hands working in the field to which Williamson was going

had seen him at all, and the most rigorous search of the entire

plantation and adjoining country failed to supply a clew. The most

monstrous and grotesque fictions, originating with the blacks, were

current in that part of the State for many years, and probably are

to this day; but what has been here related is all that is certainly

known of the matter. The courts decided that Williamson was dead,

and his estate was distributed according to law.