The Murder of John Jennings

Wheeling Register
June 13, 1873


Our letter from Wetzel county this morning contains an account of the lynching of JOHN JENNINGS last Wednesday morning by a band of armed and disguised citizens. The JENNINGS family in Wetzel county has long been considered chief among the desperate criminals who have made life and property in that county insecure during several years past, though until lately but little blame has been attached to the man who was shot to death last Wednesday morning. His sons were, doubtless, most justly blamed. One of them has already served a term in the State's prison and both have been under indictment for some time past for highway robbery. They seem to have had some confederates, for whenever arrested they were speedily released on bail or had some convenient witness who would swear them innocent of wrong. But in the meantime robberies were of frequent occurrence and in two instances murders have been committed under such circumstances as to leave no doubt in the minds of the citizens that the JENNINGS gang were the criminals.

During three or four weeks past the Labor Vindicator, a weekly newspaper published in New Martinsville, has printed communications calling upon the citizens to band together and by the summary process of lynching break up the company of the robbers. These papers have, without any disguise or concealment, exhorted the people to violence, but the officers of the law seem to have been either unwilling or unable to repress the threatened tumult.

At last, one of the accused parties, an old man, prayed for and defended by his wife and children, has been put to death in his own house and under peculiarly distressing circumstances, by an armed mob, and now the question to be considered by the people of Wetzel county is, is not the remedy as bad as the disease?

We have no doubt that the citizens who participated in this murder, (because it is a murder, no matter what reasons may be adduced to justify it,) thought themselves actuated by good motives and fully excused by their own views of the public necessity. But this disposition to right by violence the wrongs under which a community has suffered is to be scarcely less deprecated than the wrongs themselves. It breaks down all reverence for law and order and itself begets the very crimes which it strives to eradicate. In their cooler moments the people of Wetzel county will bitterly regret their participation in or the countenance they have given to this bloody deed. It is the seed which may bring forth a harvest of lawlessness in the name of law, and riot in the name of good order and peace. It is incredible that the JENNINGS family and others of the gang who have heretofore pursued lives of crime in the county could not be brought to justice in accordance with the forms of law which civilized society has prescribed for its protection. We cannot believe that all legal remedies were exhausted in their case or that the circumstances afford justification for the murder that has been committed. If it drives from the State the men who have heretofore participated with JOHN JENNINGS in his crimes, it will be attended by that much of good, but it is doubtful whether even this will atone for or repair the damage done by the demoralization that must ensue from such an act of arbitrary lawlessness as that of the men who have put JENNINGS to death.

Crime and Punishment

West Virginia Archives and History