History: A murderer, a mother and a chestnut tree

Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County.

Along Continuation Road in the community of Glenn-ville in south Russell County in a thick wooded area is an overgrown cemetery, one of the oldest in the area. In that cemetery is a headstone with a curious inscription that tells of the death of a young man by murder.

But this story is more. It is the story of a murder, a mother and a chestnut tree.

First, there was the murder of a young man not quite 19 years old who was born in the Glennville community. He and his parents would later move to Mississippi. The young man was Henry Blake, the nephew of Julius C. B. Mitchell and the cousin of Americus C. Mitchell, who built a mansion about a year later that is known as the Glennville Plantation or Elmoreland.

In 1841, Blake visited family in Glennville. Blake stayed at the home of his Uncle Julius for several weeks before heading back to Mississippi on horseback on February 9. Several days after his departure, a Negro woman found the body of a White man a short distance from the road leading from Glennville to Old Spring Hill. The body was found on the edge of a pit or a sinkhole formed by the uprooting of a huge oak tree. The body was half-submerged in water.

The woman, a slave, told her master of the body and he went to the scene. The man found a newspaper near the body with the name Julius C. B. Mitchell written on the paper. Mitchell was a well-known lawyer and prominent planter in Glennville. Mitchell, as mentioned above, was Henry Blake’s uncle. It was from Mitchell’s home Blake had departed on that date. The newspaper had been used to wrap a lunch that had been prepared for him.

The man, also a local plantation owner, sent a messenger to Mitchell’s home – about 14 miles away – asking him to come to the scene for a possible identification of the body. Mitchell identified the body as being his nephew.

A portion of Blake’s head had been torn away by gun shot. The was no doubt Blake had been murdered. The entire community of Glennville became excited by the crime. There was no apparent reason for the crime and no clues. Not long afterwards, rumors began to fly. Blake had been observed riding along the road with George W. Lore. The evidence, what little there was of it, was only circumstantial and was furnished by Negro slaves.

Lore was a bit of a mystery man in the Old Spring Hill community. He had a farm there and kept to himself, not speaking to neighbors about his past life. There were rumors he had once lived in a Northern state and was an instigator for Northern abolitionists. He had been sent into the county to help slaves escape from their masters. Some thought he was meddling with the slaves to encourage them to rise up against their White owners.

The people of Glennville became convinced Lore had murdered Blake and he was arrested by a posse. He was held in Glennville in an improvises jail to await the Sheriff of Barbour County to transport him to jail in Clayton. Before the sheriff arrives a mob formed to lynch Lore. However, M.M. Glenn and Professor Taylor, a teacher at the Glennville Academy appealed to the mob of angry men and cooler heads prevailed. The deed was halted.

Lore was indicted for murder by the grand jury of the next circuit court held in Clayton. Mitchell, who had worked up the case against Lore, aided in the prosecution. The case resulted in a mistrial. Rumors followed that the reason the jury failed to reach a verdict of guilty was because some of the members belonged to a secret order to which Lore also belonged. It was also believed the presiding judge was a member of this order.

After a second mistrial, in a change of venue, was moved to Henry County where Lore was convicted. Lore’s lawyers appealed the conviction to the State Supreme Court. While awaiting that court’s decision, Lore escaped from jail, sparking more rumors that his wealthy friends had bribed the jailer.

Lore hid out until after the next session of the circuit court. Then he suddenly appeared in Old Spring Hill with a shot gun. It was believed Lore was going to kill all the witnesses against him. A mob quickly formed and Lore was captured. He was given a short trial, found guilty and immediately hanged from a huge old chestnut tree that became a famous landmark known as “Lore’s Chestnut Tree.” The tree, it was said, never again bore a chestnut after being used for the lynching.

Newspapers in Alabama, tellers of the tale say, mostly condoned the lynching while those newspapers in the North condemned the people of Glennville for their actions. Mitchell defended the men who took the law into their own hands.

Henry Blake was buried in a cemetery of his relatives in the community where he was born. Later his heartbroken mother came to Glennville from Mississippi to view her son’s grave. Several months later, she died and was buried beside her son.

A single headstone was placed over the two graves and it had two inscriptions. The first stated, “Sacred to the memory of Henry Blake, who was born on April 29th 1822, and who was Murdered and robbed by George W. Lore, Feb. 9th 1841.” The second one says, “Sacred to the memory of Elizabeth Blake, who died from grief at the loss of her son, Sept. 28th 1841.”

The mystery of the above events are not cleared up by the inscriptions on the headstone nor by a Historic Chattahoochee Commission marker near the Glennville. It adds more to the story as it states, “ . . . Glennville was the home of the only known lynch mob that bought a newspaper advertisement, acknowledged the deed and published their names. . .”

To this day, the motive for the murder of Henry Blake remains a mystery. The mystery surrounding Lore and his past remains a mystery as does his innocence or guilt. And the mystery remains about whether the chestnut tree really did or did not ever bear nuts again. The three are each long gone, but the stories remain.