Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Black slave - Reportedly, Jane’s owner mistreated her badly and had threatened to sell Jane without also selling her child
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: July 18, 1852
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: ???
Victims profile: Virginia Winston, 29 (her master's wife) and her nine-month-old daughter
Method of murder: Slashing to death with a hatchet
Location: Richmond, Virginia, USA
Status: Pleaded guilty. Sentenced to death. Executed by hanging on September 10, 1852

September 10, 1852 - Jane Williams and her husband John, both black slaves, died side by side for the slaying of their master's wife and child at Richmond, Virginia. The execution drew a crowd of 6,000. The state offered to pay Jane's owner $500 compensation for taking away his property by executing them!


Real Slavery: Executed for Killing Master's Wife and Child

By Laura Wilkerson -

The tidy, respectable home of the Young Winston family of Richmond, Virginia was a place as tense as it was diverse in mid-July of 1852. The occupants of the Winston home that summer numbered eight. The primary occupants were Mr. Joseph P. Winston, 27, the young Master of the house, an “esteemed merchant” of the firm Nance and Wilson, his wife Virginia, 29, and their “interesting little daughter about nine months old.” There had been another interesting Winston a year earlier and to that unfortunate sprite we will return later.

Far secondary in status in the Winston household were the enslaved people living in the house which was situated in a residential neighborhood on “the northern extremity of 7th Street near the City Spring.” Principle of these to our narrative were carpenter John Williams, who was sometimes rented out as a day laborer by his owner along with John’s wife Jane, a housemaid and nurse who is described in the record by one who saw her on the gallows as, “a yellow woman of ordinary size, apparently 35 or 40 years of age, hair nearly strait, and with features indicative of great firmness,” and a “mulatto” meat seller at her trial adds that “she had but one eye.” Jane’s little daughter lived with the pair. Also in the household was Nelly, a cook who was a gift from the Winston Plantation when the young couple married and a young woman of about 23 or 24 years of age named Anna whose services were leased from a lady who found herself with surplus labor on her hands. Nelly’s husband, Joseph Scott, was the property of Richard Archer but he often came and went to and from the Winston residence.

Joseph and Virginia Winston were “both amongst the most amiable and popular of the whole community,” and considered assets to their social set but inside their home tensions had been brewing throughout the summer. Mrs. Winston had been ill and the weekend preceding July 19th found the household, save for Anna, who had run away after being whipped by Mr. Winston, packing for an extended stay up North. Jane Williams was angry at the Winstons who were threatening to sell her apart from her child. Jane had ceased sleeping in the same bed as her husband and instead preferred sleeping with her daughter in the kitchen, sharing a bed “about four feet long.” Her husband, John, “objected to her sleeping with the child,” but Jane persisted in the practice and so John told his wife that, “if she did not stop it, I would cut the bed up, so we could sleep together.” On the night of July 18th, a Sunday, Jane returned to the marital bed.

On the morning of July 19th Jane opened the house and then calmly reported to Nelly, who was working in the kitchen, that, “she believed the white folks were dead – she couldn’t wake ‘em.”

Nelly took Jane at her word and ran screaming through the streets until she came to the home of Anna’s owner, Mrs. Blair. Mrs. Blair and one of the people enslaved to her, Orey Jones, went to the Winston house only to discover Mr. and Mrs. Winston only to discover the couple in bed with their child in a cradle in the same room, “weltering in their blood and butchered in the most horrible means.”

“When discovered, Mrs. W. and her child were in the last struggles and agonies of death, and Mr. W. was writhing with pain of his wounds, insensible from their effects, and was also supposed to be dying. Their heads were literally cut and hacked to pieces. - Mrs. W. had as many as half a dozen deep cuts about her face and head, out of which her brains were oozing – gashes apparently made with an axe or heavy hatchet; and Mr. W. had three severe cuts on the top and back of his head and other injuries, apparently made with the same or a similar instrument. The child appeared to have been killed by dashing its head against a wall, or by having received blows with some heavy instrument, its head and breast exhibiting severe bruising.”

Joseph P. Winston would live although he would remain in a coma for several days and would continue on with a “swimming” in his head. He would remember nothing of the attack. Virginia Winston and her infant daughter would die.

The authorities were immediately notified, as was Mr. Winston’s brother, Bickerton L. Winston. Bickerton entered the room assigned to John and Jane Williams, the one Jane had returned to only the night before. In it he spotted a filthy bucket of standing water. He rolled up his sleeves and fished to the bottom of it and, “dragged up a bunch of hair belonging to a white female. Because of the Offensive nature of the water, I went to the spring and rinsed the hair. Afterward I drained the bucket and found other hair, apparently cut, and an eyebrow or lash.”

On further search a hatchet was found hidden under a pile of scraps in the same room. The hatchet had been washed but traces of blood remained. To be on the safe side, the entire remaining household was arrested and taken to jail.

A coroner’s jury was called that same day. John testified that, “I like Mr. and Mrs. Very well,” but he did, “not know whether my wife was satisfied with Mr. and Mrs. Winston’s treatment or not, though I heard her complain of Mr. Winston and request him to sell her.”

John also admitted that, “Jane told him she intended to kill Mr. & Mrs. Winston, but that he did not believe it any more than he could fly into the sky. He said he did not think any Woman would attempt such a thing, although they might be disposed to talk of it.”

John testified that he first learned of the tragedy when, “my wife waked me, and called me by saying, “I believe everyone in the house is dead.” I ran to the window and haled my wife, but she would not stop.”

Nelly’s husband, Joseph Scott, testified that John ran to the doorway of the Winston’s bedroom, then stopped and uttered, “Lord have mercy.” Scott observed John, “seemed distressed and would not come in.”

Jane denied all knowledge of the crime. She claimed that she had used the hatchet to cut up a joint of meat that she had purchased from, “a yellow man at the New Market,” in order, “to make soup.” She was contradicted in this by Nelly who stated that the Winstons had eaten, “bacon, cabbage and apple dumplings for dinner – no beef or soup.” And by John Williams who claimed that it was he who did the marketing and by Andrew Kinney, a person enslaved to Mr. Shedd the butcher, who testified that he, “did not think there was any other mullatto man selling meat in the market. His stand was at the entrance of the Market on Marshall Street. He did not recall seeing any woman on Sunday morning in the market with only one eye.”

Jane attempted to throw suspicion toward the missing Anna, claiming that, “a gentleman friend of A. threatened to, “knock Winston in the head some of these times” because A. could not come out.” Nelly, who was raised with Anna, seemed to lend some substance to this claim by testifying that, “I have not seen Anna since Friday night. Anna used to see a young man, but afterward became so base that the young men all left her,” but Nelly also swore that, “Jane has said she did not like Mr. and Mrs. W.”

It was then announced that Anna had been found and she was brought before the jury. Anna testified that on Saturday she had stayed with a White woman and, “I slept in Mr. Branch’s factory Sunday night with a white man…Jane say she did not like Mrs. Winston and never would…Jane says she never forgets or forgives anything done to her. – Master Joe threatened to sell her without her child – I heard she was suspected of poisoning the other child of Mr. W. that died.”

John and Jane Williams were remanded to jail to await trial. A few days after the coroner’s jury, Jane, “was visited in her cell by the Rev. Mr. Ryland, pastor of the African Baptist Church, of which Jane Williams was a member, and exhorted her to make peace with God, as she undoubtedly would be hung. Jane replied that she intended to do so and that there was something on her mind which she wished to tell him. The minister listened for a while and then insisted that she repeat her story to her jailor, Mr. Starke, the following day.      

Jane told Mr. Starke that she had returned to her husband’s bed in order to establish an alibi. Jane said she left her sleeping husband a little before dawn and she, “procured the broad edged hatchet, entered the house, proceeded to Mr. Winston’s room and commenced her fiendish labors by knocking Mr. Winston senseless. He scarcely struggled. On leaving him she stepped around the bed and commenced cutting into the head of Mrs. Winston. Mrs. W’s struggles were so great that Jane said she inflicted stronger and more frequent blows upon her head than she did on Mr. W’s in order to silence her quickly. She then killed the infant, washed off the blood, and laid it in the cradle. She then washed the blood off the hatchet, hid it, and then gave the alarm. Jane further stated that she considered she had been ill-treated by Mr. and Mrs. Winston, and had been brooding over her bloody revenge for some time. The devil, she stated, had such possession of her that morning, that she believed she could have went further if necessary.”

The anonymous pamphleteer who set forth the details of Jane Williams’ case felt it was necessary to interject the following parenthetical editorial at this point, “It is notorious with all who were acquainted with Mr. Winston and his wife, that John and Jane Williams, and all the negroes of the family of the family of Mr. W., were the most indulged in the city of Richmond. To promote the happiness of John and his wife, he bought him in South Carolina, where he had been sold to traders, and brought him back to Virginia. How the kindness of Mr. W. was returned, the murderous conduct of Jane and John testifies, Inhumanly butchering those who had been kind and forgiving to them, and crushing the skull of their innocent child, so that the Physician said, that when he pressed the head to discover its injuries, he heard the broken pieces of bone grating against each other.”

At her trial Jane pleaded guilty and stated that she had acted alone. She was sentenced to be hanged on Friday, September 12, 1852. At her execution, “The gallows was erected a short distance south east of the Poor House, on the side of the hill near the powder magazine, appropriate to the purpose of a grave yard for blacks.” Jane met with the Reverend Dr. Ryland, who “gave her some practical advice.”

“At 10 o’clock she was taken from jail in an open four-horse wagon, her minister at her side. She was dressed entirely in white, and was guarded by the city Sergeant, Mr. Ferguson, his deputy, Mr. Starke, Constable, and a special detachment of the night police, commanded by Mr. Jenkins. An immense concord of people surrounded the procession. On arriving at the ground, the wagon was halted under the common scaffold erected to hang Jordan Hatcher. – Dr. Ryland then addressed the immense multitude, comprising upwards of six thousand persons of all sexes, colors, and ages, stating that he should then, in accordance with the promises of the gospel, administer the consolation of religion to Jane in her dying moments, although he must say that if she had three lives instead of one, they should all be taken to pay the penalty of her wicked and bloody deeds. He then offered up a fervent prayer to Deity on her behalf. Never before, perhaps, did religious ceremonies of so serious and impressive character, fall upon more unwilling ears. The thick crowding thoughts of the diabolical murder of two innocent, guiltless, beings committed by Jane, with the coolness and deliberation of a fiend, rendered unimpressive, cold, and tedious, those ceremonies.

“Jane continued kneeling some time after the prayer had concluded. Dr. R. then asked Jane whether anyone beside herself was cognizant of, or accessory to, the murder. Her calm reply was, “no one,” – This, while entering the embrace of death, she denied positively that any person aided her in committing the murder.

“The halter was then adjusted to the crossbeam of the gallows, which was about 18 feet high. She tied the hood under her neck, and stepped upon the chair from whence she was to be launched into eternity, without moving a muscle or evincing and trepidation. The word was given, the chair was pulled from under her, and the cart moved off, leaving her hanging in the air at a distance of a few feet off the ground. The fall was about twenty inches. The knot of the noose slipped to the back part of the neck, so that she apparently died of strangulation, though Dr. Haskins, we were informed by Mr. Starke, stated that the fall broke her neck. She kicked convulsively for several minutes at 14 minutes to 11 the drop fell; at 17 minutes after 11, Dr. H. pronounced that she had been dead for some minutes and she was cut down. She was interred in a grave dug near the scaffold under the hill. And thus ended the career of one of the vilest wretches that ever disgraced humanity.”

On the Sunday after Jane’s execution two religious services were held. At the African Baptist Church the Reverend Dr. Ryland instructed the enslaved congregation to remain calm and do no harm to their Masters. He warned them if rumors of unrest persisted they would no longer be allowed to congregate and enjoy the solace of religion. Across town, at the Church the Winston family attended, a memorial service was held for Virginia Winston and her infant daughter. At this service the Reverend Mr. Moore placed the blame on this awful crime at the door of the perceived breakdown of strong, traditional, family values.

Jane’s husband, John, was brought to trial for his life after the execution of his wife. Although  Jane denied John’s involvement when she gave her confession, then again at trial, and finally, when she stood on the scaffold facing death, he was found guilty on the basis of the testimony that he had words with Overseers who hired him from the Winstons, and that he was sometimes seen lurking, although not on the day in question. John Williams was hanged October 22, 1852. Although the evidence linking John to the crime seems slight, our anonymous pamphleteer assures us that if we could have been in the courtroom and listened to the testimony and observed the demeanor of the accused there would be no doubt in our minds to his guilt.

The survivor, Joseph Winston, was awarded $500.00 by the Commonwealth of Virginia for his economic loss associated with Jane’s execution and an additional sum of $850.00 for her husband, John.



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