A Witness to the Event: John M. Richardson's Diary Chronicals the Last Days of George Langford
While he studied medicine with his uncle, Dr. David Warlick Schenck, in Lincoln County, John M. Richardson kept a diary of the weather, his daily activities, his patients, the topic of Sunday’s sermon, and his observations regarding the execution of George P. Langford. His papers can be found in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (#2242).
April 18th, 1853
Court commenced Judge Caldwell presided. There was no case of any importance except one of George Langford was tried for his life for killing his wife by strangulation. William Lander, the solicitor, prosecuted the case on the part of the state. H.D. Cabiness, A.W. Burton, and H. W. Guion appeared for the defendant.
The case occupied two days: these were a great many witnesses examined. All the testimony received seemed to point to him as the murderer. William Lander spoke three hours and twenty minutes. It was one of the most powerful efforts. Burton and Cabiness each spoke an hour great speeches “them.” H(aywood).W. Guion made a noble defense for the prisoner. Judge Caldwell showed no mercy to the prisoner in his charge to the jury. The trial came off on Thursday and Friday. The jury went out at 11 o’clock on Friday night and stayed out four hours and brought a verdict of guilty. W.H. Alexander, John Anthony, and P. Albert Dettor were on the jury.
Monday, October 17th
Court commenced. Judge Dicks presiding. There was no case of any importance tried. Several were committed to jail. On Thursday Langford was sentenced by Judge Dick to be hanged on the 25th November. He trembled and cried a little when the sentence was pronounced. I sat just by his side. Judge Dick cried so much he could scarcely talk.
Monday, October 31
I went to see poor Langford who is to be hung the 25th of Nov. He seemed very humble, and wept bitterly, he was very glad that some ladies came to see him.
Wednesday, October 23rd
Lem Hoyle came in the Charlotte stage. I went over to see him after supper and took him up to hear the choir sing for Langford. W. Lander prayed and exhorted in the jail.
Friday, Nov. 25
This is the day appointed by Judge Dick in which the body of George P. Langford was to be hung till dead. The sun rose in a cloud and shone but little during the day. Wagons are coming from every direction. The streets are crowded. Drunken men can be heard in every direction. It seems to be an occasion of ordinary interest in election or sale day. But what has so large a crowd assembled for? It is to see a fellow mortal swing into eternity. It is to witness the execution of a poor unfortunate man, one who has lost a listening ear to the seductions of the evil one, and who must soon atone for his deeds in the way appointed by the law. The gallows is erected close to the bridge on the opposite bank of the river. At ten o’clock John F. Miller and I went out to the river where we remained til the Sheriff (Lowe) brought out the criminal. The Town Company (Capt. Plonk) and the Newton cavalry had charge of the prisoner. He walked to the gallows unfettered at his request. Mr. Davis then prayed and preached from the hundred and nineteenth Psalm, seventy-first verse. “It is good for one that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” This text was chosen by Langford illustrative of himself. Mr. Davis made a solemn appeal to the audience. He spoke of the wickedness of Nebuchadnezzar and Manassa, of the number of pious people whom they slew. Mr. Lander closed with prayer. Mr. Lander and Mr. Davis then bade him farewell and left before the execution. Langford then addressed the audience stating in substance, “Fellow mortals, you see an example of what sin and human nature can bring a man to. I am a monument of the mercy of God. By the grace of God I am a new man. I thank God I can cheerfully, heartily, and cordially forgive all my enemies. That I can love every man in the world. I return my thanks to all the good citizens of this place and to the ministers of God’s Laws for their sympathy and kindness to me. I here publicly return my thanks to Mr. Miller (jailer) for his kindness. Farewell world! Oh God receive me.” He was then launched in eternity. Fox Alexander drove the wagon from under him (John Anthony’s gray mare). I have given nearly his speech verbatim. He said a good many more things which my mind can’t call to remembrance. His farewell to the Sheriff and to Caleb Miller (the jailer) was truly affecting. Both wept a good deal. He died in a minute and a half. I was in a few steps of him with Sam Lander… John Cansler provided a place for us in the guard. Sam and I left in five minutes after he swung off. Uncle David examined him and pronounced him dead. He struggled a good deal both with his hands and feet. I never saw such a crowd here before. There were a great many women. His body was taken to Cleveland. There were a great many drunk men and several fights.
Saturday, Nov. 26
The hanging of Langford produced but little effect on the community. It appeared more like a dream than a reality to me.