SUBMITTED BY: Megan Dulaney Molter (article Written by Pat Reese, Fayetteville Observer Staff writer; submission edited by Cheri Todd Molter)
None of the people named in this article are my ancestors, but I graduated from the Cumberland County School system and did not know about this event in Fayetteville’s history until I read this article, written by Pat Reese. The assassination of Mr. Beebe and the community’s acceptance and approval of William J. Tolar’s heinous actions portray the underlying societal issues—namely an overwhelming acceptance of white superiority ideology and institutionalized racism—that have shaped the world we live in today. This story needs to be taught in our schools and, since Mr. Beebe was killed in 1867, it is a tale from the Reconstruction era.
The following is an excerpt from the article entitled “Tragic Story Illustrates Tumult after Civil War,” which was posted July 20, 2018 but originally published Sunday, Jan. 21, 1990:
“…This story, gathered from news reports and other sources at the time, gives some insight into the passions and bitterness that poisoned racial relations for years in the South after [the Civil War].
Archie Beebe died on Feb. 11, 1867, in a pool of blood at the southeast corner of the Market House in Fayetteville. He was shot in the back of his head by a former Confederate Army captain as he was led from the second-floor magistrate’s office through an angry crowd on his way to the town’s guardhouse (jail) on Gillespie Street.
Mr. Beebe, a black drayman who also was known as Archie Walden, had been accused of attempting to rape a young white woman, Elvina Massey, as she walked home on a Sunday afternoon, the day before he was killed. Mr. Beebe was the son of a carpenter and was a familiar figure to most Fayetteville residents, hauling loads of drygoods and other merchandise in a horse-drawn wagon from the Cape Fear River landing to merchants whose stores lined the streets leading to the Market House.
The Civil War had been over for less than two years and there was still anger and bitterness that would remain in the hearts of Confederate veterans and their families. The anger was directed at the Union Army regulators as much as against the black citizens.
As reports of the alleged sexual attack spread through Fayetteville on Sunday, the anger grew. Miss Massey was the daughter of Lt. William H. Massey, who had been killed while serving with Co. G, 33rd Regiment, N.C. Troops, at New Bern in early 1862. Lt. Massey was buried with Confederate comrades in a cemetery near New Bern. His body was not brought home until March 1887, when his family had the body dug up and carried home by steamboat up the Cape Fear River. His grave is in the side yard of Massey Hill Baptist Church.
Sheriff Robert W. Hardie arrested Mr. Beebe at his home not long after Miss Massey told her family about the incident. The prisoner was locked in the jail until Monday and then marched to the Market House for a hearing before one of the county’s magistrates, Maj. Duncan McRae. A crowd had gathered around the Market House (then most often called the Town House).
A reporter described the scene in the Fayetteville News. ‘Upstairs, a table had been placed in the southwest corner next to the stoves. Archie Beebe was sitting on the opposite side of it. Standing nearby were Officers J.C. Bond, L.C. Wemyss and Faircloth (first name not listed) and Sheriff Hardie. At the end of the table was Capt. H.W. Horne, lawyer for Beebe, and Magistrates James W. Strange and Joseph Arey were sitting with Maj. McRae. Sitting in the witness seat was Elvina Massey and next to her was Billy Stewart, a black man who was said to be a witness to the assault.’
Capt. William J. Tolar had been at the Market House since early before the 7 a.m. bell the day after Mr. Beebe’s arrest, getting his butcher stall ready for the morning’s business. He had just come back from a 10-day stay at his farm in Bladen County, butchering hogs, cows and sheep.
Two boys, George and Rufus Smith, sons of John H. Smith, were playing marbles in the southeast corner of the Market House, directly in front of Ichabod B. Davis’ store.
As Mr. Beebe was taken up the stairs to appear at the hearing, Capt. Tolar moved to talk to several men, including Dr. W.C. McDuffie, Edward P. Powers, Ralph Lutterloh and John Hollingsworth. Mr. Hollingsworth was carrying a pistol at his side.
A man named David Watkins, who was known as “Monk Juke,” walked up and down the sidewalk with a knife in his right hand. He was cutting on a stick and began mumbling to himself. Witnesses later said he was saying he was going to ‘cut a nigger.’
After the hearing, officer Bond escorted Miss Massey and her mother to a carriage parked beside the Market House. The driver was Wiley Smith, a black man sometimes called Wiley Wright. Just as Miss Massey stepped into the carriage, according to one news report, ‘a bandage around her fell down, which revealed scratches.’
Samuel Phillips, a relative of Miss Massey, spoke to the young woman and then walked by Capt. Tolar, asking him if he was ‘captain of the company.’ Capt. Tolar replied, ‘No.’
Miss Massey’s uncle, Tom Powers, was called to the carriage by the girl’s mother. ‘Tom, don’t have anything to do with it,’ she said. Mr. Powers shook his head.
James McNeill walked up to Mr. Powers and asked him if he was kin to the girl. Mr. McNeill told Mr. Powers she was his niece. Mr. McNeill walked to a bench, sat down and began crying. Capt. Tolar walked to Mr. McNeill and said, ‘You will only have to grab him when he comes down the steps and that will break the ice and we will put him through it.’ Mr. McNeill became frightened and ran to Foster’s Store, about 50 yards away.
Several of the men lit cigars. A witness later was to say they were puffing continuously until the air was full of smoke.
The second-floor door opened about 4 p.m. and Sheriff Hardie appeared with the prisoner. Sheriff Hardie had a string tied tightly around Mr. Beebe’s thumb, which served as a [restraint]. As they walked down the stairs, ‘Monk Juke’ lurched at the prisoner, cursing, and tried several times to slash him with his knife. Officers pushed him away but he tried once again under an arch.
Mr. Beebe stumbled and fell and Sheriff Hardie picked him up by the collar of his shirt. Mr. Beebe was about three feet from the southeast corner with Sheriff Hardie walking in front of him. Other officers encircled the prisoner.
Suddenly, Capt. Tolar pushed Jim Douglas aside with his left hand, drew a pistol and shot Mr. Beebe in the back of the head. As he fired, a gray shawl he was wearing slipped off his right shoulder. Capt. Tolar adjusted his shawl and walked to the office of Dr. McDuffie. The doctor looked at his visitor and said, ‘Captain, do you want anything for your nerves?’
The tall, muscular captain held out his hand and looked at it. He said, ‘Doctor, I am going out among the crowd again and maybe a little Nervine might not hurt.’
Capt. Tolar left the office after draining a bottle of medicine given him by Dr. McDuffie and mingled with the crowd until it began to disperse.
Mr. Beebe lay on the ground when he was shot. The pistol ball had passed near the sheriff’s head and cut off a lock of his hair. He later said he first thought he had been shot.
Dr. McDuffie and another doctor, not named, examined the prisoner and both agreed he would die in a few minutes. Monk Juke ran up to the prisoner and ‘acted as though he wanted to cut his throat,’ a reporter wrote the following day. He was led from the crowd by a man named James Nixon.
(Among the witnesses to the killing was a black youth named Charles Chesnutt, who was to become one of the most famous black writers in the nation in the late 1800s.)
Published reports said that Sheriff Hardie was unable to find anyone who would testify. A coroner’s jury was called to investigate the shooting and the jury ruled that the deceased met death by pistol shot fired by some unknown person.
The Union regulators were unhappy with the investigation. They were under pressure from black leaders to do something. A team of investigators, including a captain and a sergeant, was sent from Raleigh to Fayetteville to conduct an inquiry.
The body was exhumed to determine the caliber of the bullet that had killed the young man. One newspaper reported that the investigators cut the head off the body so the bullet hole could be examined by Army officials.
Records show that on Wednesday, May 15, Col. Cogswell, military commandant of Fayetteville, under orders of Gen. Miles of Raleigh, arrested the magistrate, Maj. McRae; Capt. Tolar; Thomas Powers; Samuel Phillips; and William David (Monk Juke) Watkins. They were placed on a steamboat and taken to Fort Macon. The guards allowed the boat to stop at the Cedar Creek landing so that Capt. Tolar could say goodbye to his family.
On Wednesday, May 25, Mr. Phillips turned state’s evidence and a nolle pros was entered in his case, meaning the state agreed not to prosecute him. The charge against Maj. McRae was dropped later.
Mr. Phillips testified at a hearing that shortly after the report of the attack on Miss Massey became known, several gatherings of angry men were called. He said it was the unanimous opinion that the only way Mr. Beebe could be punished would be by swift and sharp justice, a bullet through the brain. Most of the men volunteered to shoot Mr. Beebe, but there was general agreement that Capt. Tolar was the one who could be counted on not to lose his nerve, Mr. Phillips testified.
On May 27, Special Order 55 was issued by Maj. Gen. D.E. Sickle, Headquarters, Second Military District, Charleston, S.C. It placed Cumberland County under military commission and ordered Fayetteville Mayor Thomas G. Curtis and other municipal officials removed from office.
The town commissioners who were kicked out were D.S. Maultsby, Murdock McKinnon, John Haigh, A.G. Thornton, Hector McKethan, Johnson H. Robinson and Walter Draughon. The order also removed James Strange and Joseph Arey as magistrates and J.C. Poe, Thomas H. Massey, James A. King and A.H. Whitfield as town constables.
Mr. Curtis was replaced by James R. Lee as mayor.
Capt. Tolar, Mr. Powers and Mr. Watkins were found guilty of murder and were ordered to be ‘hung by the neck until they be dead.’
However, two-thirds of the members of the trial commission voted to reduce the sentence to 15 years at hard labor at Fort Macon.
The trial set off a long fight by Capt. Tolar’s family and friends to free the men. They appealed to President Andrew Johnson, a native of North Carolina, but he did not review the case until a year later. He granted all three men full pardons and they were released.
There was rejoicing in Fayetteville. In an editorial in The Eagle newspaper, the editor wrote on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 1868:
‘During the past few months, while strenuous efforts have been made in behalf of this unfortunate victim (Capt. Tolar) of the tyranny and injustice of a military commission, we have foreborne to make any mention of his name in our columns or of the result of exertions in his behalf, fearing that by agitation the matter of his incarceration, we would arouse the spite and hate of the radicals to use every means to frustrate any plan for his relief.
You are free again, you are not disgraced; you are honored. The right hand of every true man will receive you and help you on to prosperity and happiness.’
On Sunday, Aug. 23, Capt. Tolar, Mr. Powers and Mr. Watkins arrived at the Cape Fear River wharf in Fayetteville. All church services were suspended. When the boat whistle was heard approaching, every church bell as well as other bells in the town were rung ‘in glad acclaim,’ a reporter wrote.
A carriage was driven to the wharf and the three men were escorted to the carriage. The horses were unhitched, and groups of men volunteered to pull the carriage to the Market House where the killing had occurred.
‘The passengers alighted amidst a great concourse of people, who had congregated for the purpose of welcoming the prisoners home,’ The Eagle reported.
Capt. Tolar was a hero to many Fayetteville residents during the Civil War. He had been wounded by shrapnel while mounting captured breastworks on July 22, 1864, near Atlanta. He had been cited for bravery. A fund drive was started by Fayetteville residents for the three men.
Capt. Tolar had served with Co. B, 10th South Carolina Volunteers. Mr. Phillips had been a sergeant with Co. I of the First North Carolina Regiment. Mr. Watkins had been a member of Co. H, First North Carolina (Bethel) Regiment.
Not only did Capt. Tolar become widely known and politically powerful after the killing of Archie Beebe, his supporters also became powers in the Democratic Party. At the state Democratic convention in Raleigh in 1868, a Raleigh lawyer who had prosecuted the captain was called to the rostrum to address the convention. A Raleigh reporter wrote that the lawyer had ‘uttered scarcely a dozen words’ before the delegation from Cumberland County began chanting, ‘Tolar, Tolar, Tolar.’ The speaker was compelled to leave the platform. The crowd began yelling for lawyer James C. Dobbins to deliver the keynote speech and, the reporter wrote, ‘he delivered the greatest short speech ever delivered in a North Carolina state convention.’ Mr. Dobbins had been one of Capt. Tolar’s defense lawyers and later became recognized as one of North Carolina’s top lawyers.
Capt. Tolar received considerable financial support from his Confederate comrades and from others. In 1872, he bought about 2,000 acres at the point where Robeson, Cumberland and Bladen counties joined. He acquired the contract for convict labor and built shacks or cabins to house them. He built a general store and a blacksmith shop with a full-time blacksmith to place and remove fetters and balls and chains to restrict the convicts’ movements. He hired retired police officers, sheriff’s deputies and constables to guard the men.
In 1876, he received a commission to build a post office and named it Tolarsville. He became the first postmaster.
Records show that in 1879 he bought 10.7 acres on Dick Street and bought the McIntyre land known as the Brick Yard Land and took Edgar A. Poe into partnership in making bricks.
Capt. Tolar died Jan. 2, 1896 and was buried at Bladen Union Baptist Church.
…Much of the information obtained for this story came from copies of newspapers published in Fayetteville after the Civil War, along the actual trial records and other documents unearthed by Ray Curtis Hughes of Fayetteville and recorded in the Hughes’ Papers.”
Link to original article: Tragic Story Illustrates Tumult After Civil War