The Murder of John Jennings

Wheeling Register
June 13, 1873



John Jennings, of Wetzel County,
Taken from his Bed at Night and
Shot to Death - Excitement of the People.

June 11, 1873.

Editor of the Register:

Last night about 2 o'clock a number of persons, all disguised, painted red, etc, went to the house of John Jennings, one of the notorious characters who has long infested these regions; took him from his bed and right in his own house and in the presence of his family, shot him full of holes, killing him almost instantly. His wife clung to him, and tried to put herself between Jennings and the firing, and in doing so, received, accidently, two shots, one in the wrist and the other in the thigh, wounding her, but not fatally. No one besides the family was present at the time except Mr. Jesse Morris, of this county, who was staying all night and was sleeping up stairs.

The masked party of lynchers shot the dogs and then went into the house at the time mentioned, and enquired of Jennings the whereadouts [sic] of his sons Frank and Jack, and several other parties known to be connected with them. He told them he did not know. Two of them then went up stairs where Mr. Morris was sleeping, to search for the boys, and enquired who he was; he told them. Mr. Morris said they treated him kindly and gentlemanly. After failing to find the boys up stairs the two went down again, and the party ordered Jennings to follow them, he got up quietly from the bed and partly dressed himself, all the time protesting his innocence, and asking them to ask his neighbors if he were not a civil man and if he could prevent what his sons did.

They replied to Jennings that his neighbors has been consulted, and all knew that he was equally guilty and was one of the ring-leaders of the gang, and that they intended putting an end effectually to the whole band. The firing then began and it was at this time that Mrs. Jennings threw her arms around her husband trying to save his life by sacrificing her own. Mr. Morris says something like twenty shots were fired. This woman's devotion to Jennings all through his terrible career and troubles, although his second wife, at the risk of her life, has been truly wonderful indeed. She has stood by him when his own sons were pursuing him for the purpose of killing him.

The Jennings boys could not be found, or undoubtedly they would have shared the same fate. The people are greatly excited and rejoicing, and say boldly and publicly that not a hair of any man's head shall be harmed for the transaction. It was not known how many, nor who the parties were.

John Jennings' death in all probability was hastened by his conduct last Saturday week in this town. The people have been very much enraged by the depredations of the Jennings boys for some time, and had determined that they should stop their robberies, and some person or persons saw proper to write several communications which appeared from time to time in the Labor Vindicator, denouncing these villainies in the most emphatic terms, showing them up generally and point- [sic] pointing out a method of getting rid of them. John Jennings came into town on the Saturday above mentioned, and on the streets publicly demanded of the editor of the Vindicator the name of the author of those articles, which demand, of course, was not complied with. Jennings grew very boisterous and acted generally very badly. A number of our leading citizens admonished him both publicly and privately that for his own sake he must keep quiet for such actions would not be tolerated. In the next number of the Vindicator another article appeared, written perhaps by the author of the other, showing the manner in which Jennings had acted, and cr[i]ticising him severely, warning him to beware, for the opinion of the public in reference to him had undergone a material change, and there was no telling what an excited populace would do.

John Jennings has always protested his innocence and succeeded for a long time in securing the sympathies of the people, and making them believe that he could not prevent the conduct of his boys. But the people began after while to watch the gentleman, and soon discovered that he was the ring-leader of the whole gang. He never was caught actually committing a robbery, but he would go around and make surveys of the premises and ascertain who had money, and frequently would be seen at midnight twenty miles from home. The neighbors could almost tell when a robbery was going to be committed, for he would always manage to go away somewhere so that he could clean his own skirts.

The pleadings of the wife and children for the old man's life, and their screams after he was killed was one of the most terrible and heartrending scenes ever witnessed. Jennings last words were "my boys have brought me to this."

This is undoubtedly one of the most terrible things that has ever happened in this county, but the people had borne with the conduct of the Jenningses as long as they could, and it was not until every legal means had been tried that they resorted to lynch law.

The people everywhere seem determined that this gang shall be rooted out, and if any more of them are found they will, in all drobability [sic] go the same road that their father has gone.

Truly yours

Other Accounts.

From the Moundsville Democrat.

About 2 o'clock on Wednesday last, a number of persons disguised as red men and calling themselves Modocs, rode to the residence of John Jennings, a Wetzel county desperado. The Modocs were all well armed and seemed more like a determined vigilance committee than what they represented. Jennings made his appearance, but no sooner had he done so than a volley of lead was aimed at him and he was killed immediately. His wife being present fought with the ferocity of a tiger, with an axe, and persisted in so doing until a wound in the hip and arm caused her to stop. We understand she will recover from her wounds. Now, a word or two from us, as our paper circulates well in Wetzel county. We say let the Lynch Law proceed until every Jennings and every one of their band of desperadoes are killed or driven from your borders. We wish the Modocs in this case all the success possible.

From the Moundsville Reporter.

We are indebted to sheriff Brookover, of New Martinsville for the following facts:

About 2 o'clock A.M. on Thursday [sic] last, a number of persons disguised and armed went to the house of John Jennings, in Wetzel county, and shot him dead in his tracks. His wife fought them with an axe, and in the melee was wounded in the hip and in the arm. A coroner's jury went out the next day under the protection of an armed force under Sheriff Brookover[.] Dr. Priest accompanied the party and dressed Mrs. Jennings' wounds, but expresses doubts as to her recovery. The worst feature about the whold [sic] matter is that they did not succeed in catching the younger members of this thieving and murdering band. Things are in such a condition that some more work of this kind is absolutely necessary. The lynchers left written notices for the other members of the gang to leave the country on the penalty of their lives. We hourly expect to hear of other scenes of like nature, for the best citizens of the county endorse this act and will protect the parties engaged, feeling that it is war to the knife, and that as the law has failed to protect their persons and their property, that they must take the law into their own hands, and although we are friendly to law and order, we cannot but sympathize with these men and endorse the course they they [sic] have decided upon.

Crime and Punishment

West Virginia Archives and History