Southern Illinois History Page

The Murder of John Worthington
and the
Lynching of 'Blind Tom' Thomas and Others

Golconda (Ill.) Herald (Aug. 16, 1866)
    HORRIBLE MURDER — Mr. John Worthington, of Rosa Clara, Hardin county, Ill., is supposed to have been murdered and burned in his house on last Sunday, about 3 o'clock in the morning. His wife escaped but how we have not learned, but suppose that she was not at home. Mr. Worthington was a young man and a good citizen, he had been married but six months. It is thought that he was murdered by some persons unknown, who entered his residence with the intention of robbing him. It will be impossible to arrive at any reliable account of the affair until the guilty parties are arrested.
    We have learned since writing the above, that the parties who committed the above hellish deed have been arrested, they were caught in Kentucky about twenty miles from the river. The murderers were two men and a woman. They stated when captured that they knew that Mr. Worthington intended going up the river ... and that he had a considerable amount of money in his purse. (Rest of this column is unreadable.)
    (at top of next column) ...of the outraged community.
    Mrs. Worthington is almost wild with grief, at this terrible visitation. She has lost a kind and loving husband, and the community a good citizen.
    We have received the following particulars since the above went to press:
    The murder was committed by a man and his wife by the name of Thomas. The wife confessed that she went to Elizabethtown, with the wife of the murdered man and that she left Mrs. Worthington in that place, and returned home to tell the men that now was the time to strike, which they did. Her husband, better known as "blind Tom" confessed that he was one of the party that did the deed, and that he and his accomplices burnt Lewis Lavender's Mill , just to see it burn, and that they set fire to a dwelling house near Rosa Clara, thinking that it would draw the attention of the people, and while they were gone, he and his accomplices could rob all the houses, thus left exposed, but the house burned but a little while, and went out. Mrs. W. says that when she started from home and her husband took out his pocketbook and gave her ten dollars, having in it at the time $250, which old Mrs. Thomas saw and in this way, she knew that he had the money. They also confess to having burned Mr. Barnett's house.

[Elsewhere in the same paper]

Local News
    We understand that the murderers of Mr. Worthington, were summarily disposed of, by the outraged citizens of Hardin county on last Tuesday evening. We are opposed to Lynch law, when civil can be had, but in this case, a jury of the whole community decided to hang them, and we acquiesce in the decision. Twelve men in court would have done the same.
    [1] Ron Nelson of McLeansboro, Ill., edited these two newspaper articles and notes in 1999 for a magazine article never published. Francis Dyhrkopp of Shawneetown, Ill., originally found the articles in a copy of the 1866 newspaper and sent them to Ron on June 25, 1982.
    Until then, historians knew of only one recorded case of a lynching in Hardin County, Illinois, an incident involving a young black man in the summer of 1882 in Elizabethtown (as per interviews with the late John M. Belt and James Gordon Gullett). A detailed account of that lynching can be found in the John W. Allen Papers at Morris Library's Special Collections at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. The unpublished article is titled "Lynching of Negro at E'town."
    According to the "History of Massac County, Ill.," several lynchings allegedly occurred on Hurricane Island, adjacent to Elizabethtown. However, this island is a part of Kentucky, and therefore not in Hardin County, Illinois.
    [2] The 1860 Census of Hardin County, Ill., shows that John C. Worthington, age 21, was living in the home of John Omelveny, age 35. Others living in the home were Margaret Omelveny, age 55; Frank Williams, age 12; Jane Wood, age 30; and Mary Robertson, age 22.
    In an ironic twist which shows how everything is interconnected in Hardin County. O'Melveny's house was on land his father had illegally obtained through forgery in the early 1820s. This land was the site of the Sturdivant Fort. Since the main building inside the fort was still standing in 1876, Worthington may have been living in the house where the Sturdivants made coins, and James Ford operated a tavern from 50 years earlier.
    [3] From "Hardin County, Illinois, Past and Present," p. 11: The Hardin County Sheriff at the time of the lynching was Lewis T. Lavender. In 1884, Lewis Lavender wrote the following letter (found in the prison correspondence file at the State Archives) in defense of Logan Belt.

    To His Excellency, John M. Hamilton, Governor of Illinois Oct. 27th, 1884
Dear Sir,
    I take the liberty of addressing you in your official capacity to ask you to pardon Logan Belt, who has been in the prison at Joliet for more than five years, past time, for the killing of Elisha T. Oldham, a desperate character - who brutally assaulted him with metal knucks. I will state to you that I am a lifelong Republican. I was Sheriff of this County for many years, was first elected in 1840 and have served 18 years. I am thoroughly conversant with men and things in Hardin County. The Belt family and especially Logan Belt has been the object of venomous envy, malice, and spite of a certain ring of men and local politicians for years past. They, for their personal gain, have lied about the Belt family, have slandered Hardin County, and they imprisoned Logan Belt with purchased testimony; for if ever a man was justified in killing another, Logan Belt was. Logan Belt has a good Army record, and as a citizen was peaceable, quite, & gentlemanly, yet was high toned and high spirited. He knew when he was right and tried to do right. I write this in the interest of truth, justice and humanity.
            I am respectfully,
            Lewis Lavender
            Ex Sheriff    Hardin Co.
P.S. Logan Belt was my deputy two years in 1847 & 1848.
            Lewis Lavender

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Created April 11, 2000 by Jon Musgrave © 2000