Caswell Holt

Alamance County Klansmen attacked Caswell Holt for the first time in the late fall of 1868. One of Edwin Holt's former slaves, thirty-three year old Caswell lived and sharecropped with his wife and nine children in an old schoolhouse on Jeremiah "Colonel Jerry" Holt's land. [1] Reasons for the White Brotherhood's initial raid on Holt remain unclear. According to the testimony of Klansmen, Holt--like many other freedmen assaulted by the Klan--was considered "rogueish," of "bad character," and dishonest. [2] It was rumored that Holt had been punished for exposing himself to a white woman, although this seems unlikely since the Klansmen questioned Holt about stolen wheat and chickens as they tortured him, but not about having "grossly offended a white woman." [3]

The whipping was ordered by George Anthony's camp, which designated John T. Trollinger's camp to carry it out. [4] A week after the order, sixteen disguised men burst into Caswell's house, tied him with his own bed cord, and dragged him into the woods. As they took him away, the Kuklux demanded whether he "recollected" about any chickens, corn or wheat. Holt insisted he did not, since he had plenty of his own. Receiving an unsatisfactory response, the Klansmen tied a noose around Holt's neck and suspended him from a tree so that his toes barely touched the ground. When this tactic failed to elicit a confession, the attackers cut Holt down, "bucked" him by pulling his tied hands over his knees and inserting a stick between his knees and arms, and beat him with sticks and switches. After fifty strokes Holt still refused to admit to theft, so the men unbucked him, hung him back up, and rubbed his mutilated back with a stick. The men finally warned him not to tell anyone about the attack and ordered him to leave the area within ten days. [5]

Holt sought advice from his boss, Colonel Jerry Holt, who admitted that his son George was missing wheat and corn, but refused to believe that Caswell was beaten by local men. The Colonel suggested that he leave alone for a few days. Caswell also discussed the attack with his former owner, Edwin Holt, who claimed that Caswell would learn more about his attackers by saying nothing and not having them arrested than by bringing charges against them. Ultimately, Caswell ignored both men's advice. [6]

The most plausible reason for this first attack is that Caswell Holt voted the radical ticket in the November 1868 vote on the new state constitution. Colonel Holt had instructed him to vote the democratic ticket, and when he learned Caswell had not, he threatened to kick him off his land. It is likely that Caswell's first beating was a punishment for voting republican. [7]

Several days after the attack, Holt swore out warrants against the Klansmen, including Daniel Anthony, his sons George and Daniel, and Peter Sellars. Holt paid a republican lawyer, Henry N. Badham, to prosecute, but the men managed to prove alibis and Justice Peter Harden had to release them. [8]

Caswell Holt nearly received a more severe punishment for daring to accuse his attackers in court. At February meetings of the White Brotherhood, a ride through Graham was approved and scheduled, and action against Holt was debated. Plans to whip him were discarded. George Anthony favored hanging him, while Dr. William Tarpley suggested drowning him in the Haw River at Sheriff Murray's millpond. Although this order was passed and sent to Job Faucett's camp for execution, the White Brotherhood Chief of the County, Jacob A. Long stopped it from being carried out. [9]

Holt's troubles were not over. The White Brotherhood visited him again in December 1869. This time, when voices demanded that he open his door, Holt refused, arming himself with a knife. The Kuklux responded by firing into the cabin, hoping to "blow his brains out." [10] Holt later had five bullets and two bird shot pellets removed from his body. Klan members then charged into the house, breaking Holt's furniture, slapping his children, and warning him not to say he did not fear the Klan. Apparently rumors that Holt was not afraid of the Klan and would be prepared for an attack prompted the second raid. [11]

Holt's injuries left him debilitated until at least April 1870. He spent these four months convalescing in Graham under the care of Dr. John S. Murphy. One of the gunshots penetrated Holt's lung and he contracted pneumonia. In fact, the night of Wyatt Outlaw's death, Holt remembered that he too was "sick and like to die . . . and wanted someone to carry me away." [12]


[ 1 ] Trial of William W. Holden, Governor of North Carolina, Before the Senate of North Carolina… (Raleigh: 'Sentinel' Printing Office, 1871), 501, 1311.

[ 2 ] Trial 509.

[ 3 ] William W. Holden, ed. Third Annual Message of Governor W. W. Holden.(Raleigh: Jo. W. Holden, State Printer and Binder, 1871), 157, 179, 224; Trial 1936; US Congress, 42d Congress, 1st Session, Senate Report 1, "Report of the Select Committee to Investigate Alleged Outrages in Southern States," 340.

[ 4 ] Third Message 144-45.

[ 5 ] Senate Report 341-349.

[ 6 ] Senate Report 345.

[ 7 ] Senate Report 345.

[ 8 ] Third Message 145-46; Senate Report 262, 343; Trial 1927, 1998.

[ 9 ] Trial 2002-03, 2240; Third Message 146.

[ 10 ] Trial1316.

[ 11 ] Trial 1325.

[ 12 ] Trial 1370-71; Senate Report 348.