Susan Barringer Wells, A Game called Salisbury, descendants comment

Susan Barringer Wells and her new book have been getting a lot of attention and recently we received a posted response from a Lyerly family member. Susan has emailed her response to the post and I have included it below. Both responses are unedited. You can read more about the book and earlier comments in this blog.

Issac Lyerly was my Great-great
Grandfather, and you wrote in your
book that Joseph Lyerly lived about
a half a mile from Issac’s house but
by our families account he lived at
least a mile or more away from his
fathers house, and you listed that
he was a possible suspect because
the girls did not go to their
brothers home. Joseph’s house was a
half a mile off of old U.S 70,
therefore that was the reason his
sisters did not go to his house for
help! If you have any record of
Joseph Lyerly living in another home
other then the one our family knows
of then please get back to me

Sheena Lyerly

The information in my book is compiled from numerous sources, about which I explain, at the beginning of the book, much is questionable.  Nevertheless, I sometimes gave more notice to details on which more than a few sources agreed. And more than a few agreed that Joseph lived 1/2 mile from Issac’s home, including Joseph himself (according to 2 sources).

Also, in my opinion, the members of the Lyerly family, of which I am also a  descendant (I am related to both Isaac and Augusta and doubly related to their offspring), in the absence of tangible evidence, should have been, at least initially, as suspect as those who were arrested and punished for the crime.  And given the lack of proof that those punished were guilty, and evidence I found of their innocence,  we have to consider the possibility of another or others’  involvement.

I quote two sources which independently present themselves as transcripts of the solicitor’s investigation on July 20 and 21st, both quoting Joseph saying he lived about a half mile from his father’s house. This and other printed testimony, as well as relatives’ recollection of the location of Joseph’s house and my own clocking the distance in my car, led me to the understanding that his house was located about a half mile from Isaac’s.

Writing the book, I used every piece of information I could gather in 10 years, and still, as in the case of why the girls went to Cook’s rather than Joseph’s house, I presented the situation as a question, rather than a point of fact.  I actually presented very little as fact in the book, if you noticed, again, how everything is introduced in the beginning.

 Also, throughout my research of this story, I  persistently sought oral history from relatives — any I could find and also through an ad in the paper, – and I included all information that people were willing to share with me, though I often felt there was more I wasn’t being told.

Though it’s very possible that the two  papers that covered the investigation misquoted Joseph saying he lived about 1/2 mile away, it’s not likely both of them did so over what would probably have seemed a trivial issue at the time.

Moreover, in sharing my findings on this story, I felt it was important to explore  possibilities that anyone NOT related to the family might consider, so that I would not appear or be biased as a member of the family.

Also, I think it important that the possibility of guilt from other sources be considered out of fairness.  Times being what they were, people automatically focused on any info that led to the guilt of black citizens, to the exclusion of all others.  There were likely more in both the white and black communities who held a grudge against Isaac or Augusta, but because the press and the public focused only on those arrested, I had very little else to go on.

It’s very likely that Nease was singled out, because he set an example in the community that was often not welcome. He left a poor-paying sharecropping job and took more profitable work at a sawmill.  Often the dominant black male in a community was culled, and this may have been the only crime that Nease committed, being a bit too uppity for the liking of whites who wanted hard labor for little or no pay.   I can’t prove this was the case with Nease, I only know that it was a common occurrence during that time.  So, it is just another possibility of why Nease was targeted.

If all we have as “evidence” against the accused is the arguments the tenant farmers had with Isaac, then we must, in fairness, consider, first, Mary’s problems with her mother, Joseph’s issues with Augusta, and any other grudges we know about.  It would have been wrong for me to ignore this information I received from another family member.

This does not mean that I personally believe either Joseph or Mary or Matt were involved, but I also do not believe John or Nease Gillespie were involved.  I have doubts about Jack, but I also believe strongly in the presumption of innocence in his case as well as anyone else’s.

I hope you understand that I’m trying to make a point here.  The point is why should the public and the press focus only on the points of contention between the sharecroppers and Isaac to the exclusion of all others?  If we’re going to point out the tension between the Lyerlys and the mixed raced neighbors, then we should point out the tension within the Lyerly family or else we should not use this kind of  flimsy “evidence” against any of them, because it is ALL flimsy.

Again, I believe people outside the family will ask these questions, and I felt the questions should be addressed.

And I also still question why Joseph did not go to the house immediately to see about his parents as soon as he heard of the attacks. Without seeing for himself, how could he be sure all were really dead?  He waited hours, as I recall, according to  his own testimony — as it was recorded.  I still have many questions about this case.

Thanks for asking.  What do you base your measurements on, other than oral history?



5 responses to “Susan Barringer Wells, A Game called Salisbury, descendants comment

  1. Correction,
    I’m a relative, not descendant of Isaac and Augusta – 5th cousin and great great niece.

    Also, my question about going to Cook’s vs. Joseph’s place that night was not just about distance. The girls reportedly said they were afraid of the Dillinghams and suspected they were the murderers, and yet they went by their house over rough terrain to get to their destination, which would not have been the case if they went to Joseph’s house.
    I believe one source said Joseph lived 1/2 to 3/4 mile from Isaac’s, but Cook’s was also said to be 3/4 to a mile away.

    Again, these are questions that came to me, given the information I had, which was about every newspaper report in and out of the state.

  2. If you clocked in your car from Isaac
    house to Joseph’s house, how did you
    clock the extra 1/2 a mile or so off
    of old u.s. 70
    theres only a partial driveway left,
    so did you walk through the planted
    feilds of today to clock the rest of
    the mileage of where his home use to
    stand, and I base my measurments on
    my Grandfather Eubert Lyerly who use to
    stand on his portch and use to point
    across the feild and tell us about
    the house he was raised in. I also
    base my measurements on my father
    Terry Lyerly who states”that he knows
    where Joseph’s house use
    to stand and even played in the
    house as a child
    and he has older brothers who lived
    in a small house beside their
    grandparents, and knew them well.

  3. Sheena, you are giving added information I did not have at the time I wrote the book.
    If I do a follow-up, I’ll included it as I did any other information that was given to me, BEFORE it was published.

    Nevertheless, it still contradicts other information I collect. And that doesn’t mean that you are wrong and that information is correct. I just means I published what I had, and made the best judgment I could based on the info I had.

    I did add to the mileage I clocked, but I obviously didn’t add another 1/2 mile to the total. Then I considered Joseph’s alleged words to the Salisbury Post — see endnotes on Chapter 10, and Joseph’s alleged words to the Charlotte reporters (which I did not include again, as I didn’t with many reports that were repetitive). And I also looked at the census map, which shows Joseph as the closest neighbor.
    It could very well be that there was a back path between Joe’s and Isaac’s and that is the distance he referred to, when, if the papers quoted him correctly, he said he lived about 1/2 mile away.

    Again, please don’t think this is a case against Joseph. It, along with the fact (and this must be a fact because EVERYBODY SAID THE GIRLS WENT TO COOK’S HOUSE) that the girls took a more “dangerous” route, made me question why they did not go to Joseph’s.
    It could have been as simple as they just didn’t like each other. Or because Joseph didn’t like Augusta, the girls felt uncomfortable.

    But there seems to have been some rift between Joseph and the girls. He took them to court after the murders to force the sale of the land they’d all inherited, and when he did, he didn’t even know where they were living so he could serve the subpoena’s — not at first — he had to do trial & error. So clearly, they were not too close. And this is based on Court Records, not oral history.

    Again, please try to understand, that when this kind of circumstantial evidence is cited against the “black” neighbors, then it’s considered evidence enough to lynch them – or convict them — but if I bring up questions that involves questionable actions of others, all of a sudden I’m accusing people that couldn’t possibly be guilty. You as a close relative may feel you know that, but others don’t — they will have questions.

    And again, I say, we MUST consider the presumption of innocence for all or none.


  4. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  5. Great site, how do I subscribe?

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