Primary Resource

Testimony of Charles D. Noel (November 13, 1883)

The following testimony, given on November 13, 1883, by Charles D. Noel (sometimes Noell), a white clerk in his early twenties living in Danville, provides Noel's version of a street fight on November 3, 1883, that escalated into violence, leaving at least five people dead. It published by the so-called Committee of Forty, appointed by city officials to investigate the incident.

Transcription from Original

Chas. D. Noell, being first duly sworn, deposes and says:

As I was passing down Main street, Saturday, 3d November, 1883, about half past one, walking rapidly, I passed two negroes in front of H. D. Guerrant & Co.'s store, not knowing who they were; and this negro, whom I afterwards learned was Hense Lawson, came near knocking my left foot from under me, when I turned and asked him what did he do that for. His reply was, in a very insolent manner: "I was getting out of the way of a lady, and a white lady at that." I replied that that was all right, and passed on about three paces, when the negro with him replied that it didn't make a "damned bit of difference whether it was all right

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or not; he can't do anything about it"; and the negro Hense Lawson repeated the same thing. I turned and struck the first speaker, when they both struck me and pushed me from the sidewalk. I recovered, and beat them back to the store wall. By that time I suppose twenty negroes had gathered around, and not a white man was present, as they were at dinner. The crowd began to gather around, and these two negroes began to draw their pistols—that is, made a motion as if they would draw them. I don't remember definitively, but I may have put my hand around to see if I had my pistol; but I did not have it. I left the scene and went home to dinner, where I expected to have a buggy and horse to meet me at two o'clock, to go to the country. The horse and buggy was late coming up. I drove down the street and stopped at the Opera House, went in and spoke to George Lea. He asked me about the difficulty I had had, and wanted to know if I intended to do anything further about it. I replied that I thought it would be best if I did not, as so many negroes were on the street; that it would be best not to create any excitement; that it would end in something serious. I came out in my buggy and drove up in front of the Arlington, intending to stop at Steinruck's, when some one, standing on the corner, hailed me and said: "By God, here I am." He repeated it three time, and in a very defiant manner. I made no stop, but turned short round in the street, and as I passed down the street, I glanced back and saw he was gathering up a crowd and coming on down Main street on the sidewalk after me. I drove rapidly down to the Opera House, got out and gave the horse to a negro boy. I went up in the Opera House and told George Lea that that rascal had insulted me again and I wanted him to see that I had fair play, when he and Bob Taylor immediately got up and followed me. When we got in front of Averett & White's store, I noticed that this negro, with fifteen or twenty others, were standing in front of Ruffin, Woolfolk & Blair's office; they did not stop until they saw us coming. The eyes of most every negro in the crowd was directed to me, as I came up, as if they were expecting me. I halted in front of the negro Hense Lawson and asked him what he meant by calling at me on the street. He said he didn't call at me. I told him that he did, and struck him (I had told Mr. Lea and Robert Taylor that I would not strike him with anything but my fist). The negroes commenced to crowd around. Mr. Taylor and George Lea drew their pistols and told them to stand back and allow fair play. I had the negro in the collar and was pummelling [sic] him when I saw the negro, said to be George Adams, slip up behing George Lea and tried to wrench

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his pistol from his hand, and in doing so threw him down. Mr. Lea held to the pistol; the negro fell, I think from a lick from a cane by Mr. Taylor, and when he got up Mr. Lea's pistol fired—whether accidental or not I don't know. A dozen negroes, I suppose, said: "It was a fair fight and Mr. Noell whipped him; now you all go off." The crowd began to disperse. I went over to Hamlin's store with two friends to wash my hands; they told me I had better go, as my being so bloody would create an excitement. While I was up stairs in Mr. Hamlin's store washing, the firing commenced. I ran down, and as I ran in the door some on ran over me and knocked me away, and before I could recover the doors were closed.

And further this deponent saith not.

CHAS. D. NOELL