When I first started researching John C Tilly (1837-1864), I believed that his parents were Edmond and Sarah (Ferguson) Tilly from Ashe County NC. John Tilly was in the 1850 census, right age, adjacent to the county to where he later married, had children, and died. But I’ve taken another look, and now feel I had the wrong parents attached to John. I now believe that the parents of John Tilly (who married Elizabeth Johnson and then Fannie Speer) are Hampton Bynum Tilly and Cynthia C Moore.
The 1850 census shows a John Tilly, age 12, in Johnson County, TN (JCT). Also counted in this household is Smith M Tilly, age 17. They are in the household of Green Moore, and that is the name of Cynthia Moore’s brother. Also in the household is Phillip M Kiser, son of Camilla Moore, Cynthia’s sister. Smith Moore died in 1917, and his death record names his mother as Cynthia Moore. Living in JCT but in a different household in 1850 is Samuel Tilly. His death record shows parents as JH Tilley and Cynthia Moore. Also in JCT in 1850 is William C Tilly, and his Find-A-Grave page lists his parents as Hampton Bynum and Cynthia Moore Tilley. Because Cynthia and her 5 sons and 1 daughter were all in JCT in 1850, I believe that the John Tilly who was living in that county (not Ashe Co NC) was her son. In fact, all the Tillys living in JCT in 1850 were her children.
On 10 Jun, 1849, in JCT, Cynthia C Tilly married Abraham Lowe, and had three more children with him. The marriage document doesn’t identify the parents of either party, but it does place Cynthia Tilly in JCT prior to 1850. Her daughter Mary Tilly was with Cynthia and Abraham Lowe in the 1850 census, along with his children from his previous marriage (his wife had died in 1849.)
So where was Cynthia’s first husband, Hampton Bynum Tilly? I found Hampton B Tilly in the 1840 census, living in Tyrrell County, NC. The 1840 census does not list the each family member, but the genders and ages match Cynthia and the first four sons – with the last two children being born after the 1840 census.
On 9 Sept 1842, the Rasp (a newspaper from Raleigh NC) printed the following: [Terminology and spelling copied from the original paper.] DEATH BY VIOLENCE – On Friday, the 9th instant, Mr. William Martin was deprived of life by his overseer, a Mr. Tilly, near his plantation in the northern part of this county. The reported circumstances of the murder may be briefly summed up as follows: Tilly was engaged, with Martin’s slaves, in procuring some timber, and Martin having gone out to examine the operation, some misunderstanding or altercation took place between them, which resulted in Tilly’s knocking Martin’s brains out with the butt of a gun. No other person was present, except the negroes alluded to. Tilly has been committed for trial, but says he acted in self-defence. We, however, learn from a gentleman who arrived at the fatal spot before Mr. Martin’s body was removed, that the appearance of the implement of destruction, leave a strong impression against the perpetrator of the deed. Salem Gazette
The trial was held in April 1843 in Greensborough NC, and the news story identified the prisoner as Hampton B Tilly. Many witnesses testified that Tilly, employed by Martin as overseer, held ill will toward Martin, and had carried a dirk and handguns in anticipation of encountering Martin. They testified that Tilly had complained of being poorly treated by Martin, but also that Martin had made threats against Tilly. Tilly did admit to the killing, but said it was self-defense, pointing out that he didn’t try to escape, and in fact, reported the incident to neighbors. However, so many witnesses spoke of Tilly’s animosity towards Martin that the jury in only an hour agreed upon the verdict of guilty. The defense attorney, J. T. Morehead, asked for a new trial, but it was denied.
The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court. There is a note in the documents that the prisoner was insolvent, and he was allowed to appeal without posting security. The defense argued that Tilly should have been able to use his own statements, right after the event (apparently when reporting this to neighbors) as support for his claim of self-defense – this was denied. The trial judge did correctly instruct for murder (rather than manslaughter or self-defense) if the jury believed that the defendant has malice against the deceased. The fact that the deceased was a “man of high temper” was not to be considered – only whether he was a violent and dangerous man. The appeal was denied.
On 20 Oct 1843, Hampton Tilly was ordered executed by hanging. On 4 Nov 1843, the Greensborough Patriot printed the story of the public execution, almost more as an editorial rather than a strictly factual description: By 12 o’clock a great throng had gathered at the spot—in vehicles of various descriptions, on horseback, but far most on foot. All conditions, and ages, and colors were there. Conspicuous on many a bony old carryall and shaggy mule, or tiptoeing in the crowd, were the negroes, manifesting that unsophisticated and unrestrained interest which such a scene naturally inspires in such minds. Women—“delicate and tender women!” were there: but what business or what enjoyment they had, is probably best known to that potent being who visited Eden in his wrath and instilled his spirit into the bosom of mother Eve, and who must also have put it into the tender hearts of her daughters to come and see a fellow creature hung! But most painful was it to see the little boys—and some little girls too—led up by their tiny hands to “learn a lesson” – to learn a lesson!—and, merciful heaven! To learn at the gallows!
Now the tap of the drum is heard, and the “Guards,” with their arms and uniform glittering in the sunshine, file slowly through the swaying crowd, and form a hollow square at the door of the prison. The door opens, and between two officers appears the condemned man, in a long white shroud-like robe, the cap upon his head, his arms pinioned, and a rope with the hangman’s rugged knot about his neck. The silence and the stillness are profound,–every pulse bounds quicker, and every heart swells with strange emotion, as he steps into the cart and takes his seat upon the black coffin. With measured tread the Guards march away to the knell-like tap of the muffled drum, and the crowd breaks and rushes along like a swollen stream, to the lonely spot where the gallows is erected, far from the sight and the busy haunts of men. There the tide is stayed, and the throng cluster around the criminal to catch his last accents, expecting words of fearful import at that honest hour of the murderer’s life.
The rope is tied to the gallows-tree, the cap is drawn over his eyes, the cart driven away, and he swings heavily into the air—a thousand up-turned faces pale at the sight—the whole throng shivers for a moment, as though one vast heart sent a chill through every artery—and again does stillness dwell for a time over the multitude.
The reporter went on to say that Tilly’s spirit was unsubdued, that he seemed callous and lacking feelings. He talked about 45 minutes, describing his quarrels with Martin and alleging that trial witnesses had lied. The reporter said that his manner of speaking had a tendency to convince the bystanders that the verdict of the jury was correct.
Now widowed, with five little boys under the age of 11, and pregnant with Mary, Cynthia move to Tennessee and lived near other Moore family members. In 1849, she married Abraham Lowe. Tragedy struck the family again in about 1864, when Cynthia’s son John was shot and killed by marauders at his home. The rest of her Tilly and Lowe children lived long lives. Abraham Lowe died in 1873, and Cynthia in 1887.
A book written in 1992 by Bill Cecil-Fronsman, called Common Whites: Class and Culture in Antebellum North Carolina, p 62, says the following about the Tilly Case: [Original terms and spellings] In 1842 when an overseer, Hamton B. Tilly of Stokes County, was convicted of murdering his employer, William G. Martin, the community rallied to his aid. Not only did the petitions to the governor claim Tilly had acted in self-defense, they also implied that Martin deserved whatever fate he received. Martin apparently had an “over baring disposition”. If that were not enough, they noted “the supposition is that William G. Martin plases his overseers on a level with the negros.” Southern society may not have been a democracy in which all whites were each other’s social equals, but common whites thought it ought to be. The community had considerable power to enforce its code. If it approved of an individual’s response it might refuse to convict him for crimes he had committed (which was presumably why Martin’s family had Tilly tried in a different county). It might urge that he receive executive clemency. The community was defending its own version of the moral economy. When a planter violated some accepted right, the community would rally to restore it. Martin apparently violated Tilly’s right to be treated with the respect accorded white men. The community was prepared to support Tilly’s response, even when a life was taken. (76) [76. GP 105, 10-183]
The newspaper clippings did not mention Tilly’s family, although his wife was mentioned in passing by at least one witness. Nothing in the paperwork proves that Hampton was John’s father. I did do an on-line search a will, but didn’t find one. Perhaps his status as “insolvent” precluded the need for a will. The stories did identify Hampton’s father as David.
Hampton and Cynthia can be found in on-line trees at Ancestry – his birthdate is often given as 12 Nov 1805 in Stokes County NC. Sadly, for all the trees – nearly 100, none have documentation such as a birth, marriage, or death record, and just a couple have the 1840 census attached.
Hampton Tilly’s father’s will was written in 1859. While most of the elder David’s sons and daughters were recognized to greater or lesser extent, some receiving land and livestock, David only provided for (now deceased son) Hampton’s second son, David G, giving him a horse, bridle, and saddle worth $50, but Hampton’s other heirs got “one dollar and no more.” Perhaps Hampton’s family was being punished for pro-Union sympathies – as it appears that only David G Tilly served in CSA. But however the family might have been divided during the Civil War, Hampton’s sons Smith Moore Tilly and David Green Tilly both moved to Clay, Illinois, dying there in 1917 and 1918. Sons Samuel and William stayed in Johnson County TN, dying in 1926 and 1918. Daughter Mary Tilly Garland also died in JCT in 1926.