Sunday, July 31, 2011

Church Record Sunday - Murder Committed by Church Clerk

Bensalem Presbyterian Church was organized in 1854 and located in Caseyville, Lincoln County, MS. The church was dissolved in 1968.

Jonathan E McCallum was born in Monroe County, North Carolina, 10 Oct 1838; died in Lincoln County, MS, 17 Jan 1891. He was the church clerk. He killed Dock Gordon who "had attempted an atrocious crime on a female relative." The church Elders met to determine if their brother had violated a moral law.

Here is what was recorded in the church records concerning the killing.

Bensalem Church Aug 20th 1882
Session met and opened with prayer. Present Rev C W Grafton, J E McCallum, A Baker, John Gilchrist and the Session having knowledge of the fact that our Brother J E McCallum had within a few days fact shot and killed a certain negro in the neighborhood...

Bensalem Church Aug 28th 1882
...I John Gilchrist do hereby charge J E McCallum with violation of the 6th commandment under the following specifications. Said J E McCallum did on the 14th day of the present month at a certain house belonging to Dr A Baker in the county of Copiah & the State of Mississippi shoot & kill one negro man known as Dock Gordon...

The accused bring called on to give answer pleaded as follows...of the specifications - "guilty of the charge not guilty." By this answer he explained that he admitted the killing but denied that it was a breach of the moral law...

1st The evidence was clear to his mind that the negro in question had attempted an atrocious crime on a female relative.

2nd Actions as a civil officer he was endeavoring to arrest him.

3rd The negro attempted to make his escape...

Resolved - That it is our belief that the attempt to commit an atrocious crime is a ? in the sight of God as the act itself. The Session them being satisfied...the negro had attempted a fearful assault on female virtue.

Rendered the following decisions - The killing justifiable, therefore the charge is not sustained.

Dock Gordon was born about 1865. He is seen on the 1880 Copiah County census living with his mother Charlotte and siblings. The family was living near Archibald Baker where Dock was murdered. He was about 17 years at the time of his death.
Sources: Bensalem Presbyterian Church Session Records - March 6, 1881-April 6 1947
Cemeteries of Lincoln County, Mississippi, Volume 1
Next - The Pastor's Response for Amanuensis Monday


  1. Disturbing way to begin my Sunday.

  2. Interesting! Who knew that the church would meet on and pass judgement on something like murder. I want to know what happened to the church clerk. Was he captured by the state and tried? Or did they just let him go because he'd killed a black man? Come on LindaRe, you have to give us the rest of the story!

  3. Kristin, Yes, it was a disturbing case.

    Family Griot - Old church records are interesting, revealing church discipline of the past. From public drunkenness, use of profane language, rape to murder were covered in the church records. Church members in good standing faced two juries, legal and religious. If the church had found him guilty, his punishment would have been removal from his position and membership. McCallum remained church clerk, lived his life in the community until his death. I found no evidence of the legal system decision in this case. It was not mentioned in the local paper of the time.