The iron railed fence that has encompassed the headstone of Ann Lawson since her gruesome murder on a cold Dec. 17th night in 1847 has so far withstood the tests of time. Situated in the center of the cemetery on High Street in Logan, her tombstone tells the story of her tragic and unexpected death. The inscription reads: “Ann Lawson, wife of Anthony Lawson of Logan County, Va., who was born in Longhorsby, in the county of Northcumberland, England on the 17th day of March A.D. 1783. Murdered on the night of the 17th of December 1847 by two of her own slaves.”
Now, after considerable research, the story behind her death can be told in full.
Mrs. Lawson was the mother of four sons: John, Lewis, James and Anthony. Her husband obtained much property in the surrounding area and is credited with opening the first trading post in what is now the town of Logan. One tract of property Lawson obtained in 1842 consisted of 109 acres, and from all indications— the final resting place of many important townspeople that has been called the City Cemetery, the Aracoma Cemetery or the Logan Cemetery—was a part of that acreage. It is not known whether Ann Lawson was the first person buried there. Her husband, who died of cholera on a return trip from Philadelphia where he had gone to trade furs and ginseng for supplies for his trading post, died two years after his wife’s death, and is buried in a Revolutionary War Cemetery in the town of Guyandotte near Huntington. His tombstone is identical to his wife’s, except for the inscription. His grave also is surrounded by an iron fence. Their children would go on to become prominent citizens in what became Logan County, West Virginia. Here is the story as reported in a Feb. 23, 1938 edition of The Logan Banner.
“The “improvised strongbox”—a massive chest of drawers which provided the incentive for the slaying of Mrs. Anthony Lawson Sr., by one of her slaves in the 1860’s— is still in the county, relatives disclosed recently. The piece of furniture in which the Lawson’s kept the family silver and other valuables is in the possession of Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Harless of Lyburn, who lived only a few hundred yards above the old Lawson homestead.
The chest of drawers still bears the age-worn, blackened scars of the red-hot poker with which Bill and Louis Lawson tried to burn open the drawers in order to reach the store of money. Instead of burning the wood around the lock of the drawers, the slaves had attempted to burn their way directly through the wood and take the money and silver.
Apparently, they became frightened and left, for the marks show that they did not gain access to the inside, Banner writer Howard Alley reported. The story said that two great-granddaughters of Mrs. Lawson, Mrs. Lillian Avis of Logan, and Mrs. Polly Anna Avis of Aracoma, related the real story of the slaying of their great-grandmother. According to the story, the folks in the small community back then were attending a Christmas party and had left Mrs. Lawson alone with her slaves.
The Banner reported that “The colored boys had been bought by Anthony Lawson Sr., when they were just tots, and had grown up in the Lawson household, adopting the Lawson name. Little did anyone think that they would turn against the hand that nursed them from the cradle? But the lust for money and perhaps, too, the slaves’ brains had been excited by too much holiday liquor, drove the two men to strike their mistress down with a poker. They left her for dead and heated the instruments of death to use it as a means of getting into the chest of drawers.” After unsuccessfully trying to burn through the hard wood, the two young men reportedly “fled into the night.”
When Anthony Lawson returned that night, he found his wife “breathing her last breath.” She did, however, summon enough of her fading strength to tell who had struck her down. The slaves were then hunted, found, and tried, the Banner article relayed—although no details of a trial were mentioned. Still, the article said “the aftermath of the brutal slaying is a matter of court record.” Bill was hanged in the courthouse square from an elm tree that stood there until the 1930’s. Louis, who apparently did not do the actual killing, was “sent away”, according to the report.
“Aunt Lillian” and “Granny”, as they were affectionately known by their many friends, said the chest of drawers was built by a man named Isaac Morgan, whose sons lived in the town of Logan during the 1930’s. Morgan Street, which connects Dingess and Cole Street in Logan, could have been named for a member of that family.
The two Avis granddaughters related that the Harless family had come into possession of the article of furniture through Tom Buchannan, grandfather of Mrs. Harless, who had bought it from Anthony Lawson Sr. Buchannan gave it to his son, Floyd, and it passed into the Harless family in time, The Banner reported.
There were many land transactions made in Logan County soon after settlement was made here, and timber interests were buying up all available lands. A second era followed the period of timbering—the advent of coal mining as a staple industry. In both cases, there are hundreds of stories where the small land owner would sell enormous boundaries of property to large companies for mere pennies only to see the purchasers reap fortunes in timber and coal. There is one story that involved a son of Anthony and Ann Lawson, and was described as one in which the “little man” out foxed the “big man.”
Eli Gore Sr., who was 82 years old and a resident of Greenmont at Stollings when he told this story in 1938, said Lewis Lawson was known as one of the richest men in the county during the time of the Civil War. Lawson, who also lived at Stollings, owned several large tracts of land. Two pieces of property—called the Andy Perry place and the George Robinette place—consisted of 600 acres, and Gore wanted to purchase it from Lawson. Since this was during the time of the Civil War, Confederate currency was in full circulation throughout the south and, although West Virginia had broken away from Virginia, and became its own state, Logan County was predominantly Confederate by nature. Therefore, Eli Gore had a great deal of Confederate money he wanted to spend.
Gore made his $3000 proposition to Lewis Lawson, who thought it a good business deal. Lawson, who probably had faith in the South winning the war, clearly underestimated the status of the Confederate government. Within two weeks of the deal being transacted, Richmond fell and Lawson was left “with a sack full of no-account bills.”
Lawson Branch at Stollings is named for the Lawson’s: a name that carries with it a tremendous amount of local history. It is a name that can be found in a shamefully abandoned local graveyard.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.