Author and historian Herman Melton.
Herman Melton of Chatham, a respected Pittsylvania County historian and author, will be at Chatham Books during Christmas in Historic Chatham to sign copies of his latest release, “Thirty-Nine Lashes — Well Laid On”: Crime and Punishment in Southside Virginia 1750-1950.
Melton's book outlines crimes that happened in different periods of Pittsylvania County's history — Colonial, Federal, Antebellum, Civil War, Reconstruction, Victorian and 20th century.
For the Dec. 7 holiday celebration, he will be dressed in the Colonial spirit of the occasion and will be happy to chat with visitors to Chatham Books, which is located on Main Street across from the courthouse. Melton will be at Chatham Books from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.
The 386-page illustrated, footnoted, and indexed book is in hard cover. This is Melton's fifth published work on Pittsylvania County history, but his first that includes a small portion of history from the Southside counties of Bedford, Campbell, Franklin, Halifax, Henry and Patrick.
The narrative outlines famous criminal cases that were tried in the region during the county's 200-year period.
“The different crimes and the nature of the punishment meted out make for very interesting reading,” said Melton.
Readers will learn about a white collar crime involving John Donelson in his iron land swindle in Franklin County during the Colonial era.
Tory crimes during the American Revolution in Bedford and Patrick counties are also interesting.
There were great deserter manhunts in Pittsylvania County during the Civil War and Carpetbagger crimes in Pittsylvania during Reconstruction.
The indictment and arrest of six Southside county judges made national headlines and spawned two U. S. Supreme Court cases during post-Reconstruction.
“This is very interesting because Pittsylvania County made national news,” said Melton
His book provides the first in-depth study of the famous Joe Clark murder, trial and hanging.
He follows the bizarre three-year civil court case of Fowlkes vs. Fowlkes that involved witchcraft in Pittsylvania County, 1873-1876.
There were mob lynchings in the counties of Bedford, Patrick, Halifax and Pittsylvania and jailer “Big Hat” Edwards faced an angry mob that was bent on lynching a prisoner in Chatham in 1939.
Melton includes accounts of the last men whipped and the last man hanged in Pittsylvania County in 1882 as well as the controversial decision in the Odell Waller case of 1940 and the controversial sentencing of “The Martinsville Seven” in 1949-50.
Copies of his book are on sale at Chatham Books. The price is $20 plus tax.
Completion of Thirty-Nine Lashes is an outgrowth of two grants awarded Melton to do research and writing as a scholar in residence at the Center of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy in Charlottesville.
“Thirty-Nine Lashes — Well Laid On”: Crime and Punishment in Southside Virginia 1750-1950
This website and its HermanMelton.com portal are sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia. (See also guides to Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville.)
Article copyright © 2002 The Star-Tribune.