Nashville news: 1830-1839

Amos Dresser

Thrashing an abolitionist. The Southern tradition of personal violence — as one of my college poly sci texts dryly referred to our redneck heritage — is on lurid display in this story from the Essex Register (Salem, Mass.), 27 Aug. 1835.

The unnamed recipient of the literal whuppin’ whose administration the article narrates was, in fact, one Amos Dresser. In a 2007 column, I told a little more of his story:

According to Dresser, a group of committee members stripped him naked, and as he knelt, Constable Braughton administered the whipping. “When the infliction ceased, an involuntary feeling of thanksgiving to God for the fortitude with which I had been able to endure it, arose in my soul, to which I began aloud to give utterance,” Dresser recalled. “The death-like silence that prevailed for a moment, was suddenly broken with loud exclamations, ‘G-d d–n him, stop his praying.'”

The episode gained attention in newspapers across the country. The Cincinnati Journal editorialized: “Seldom has the infatuation of lawless violence been more strikingly manifested.” The paper opposed abolitionism as unconstitutional, but it warned that the attack on Dresser was “just what abolitionism wants to make it grow and prosper.”

Elite members of Nashville society took part in the chastisement. Among the 50 members on the vigilante committee were future Watkins Institute benefactor Samuel Watkins, Mayor John P. Erwin (who was the son-in-law of Whig party founder Henry Clay), former Mayor John M. Bass, future New Orleans shipping magnate Harry R. W. Hill, former Congressman Thomas Claiborne, prominent merchant Samuel Seay, banker John Sommerville, and businessmen Foster G. Crutcher and Robert Farquharson (the latter both serving as local directors of the Bank of the United States).

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