When I first started researching my family history, I soon realized that up until recently women and children were really at the mercy of the survival and success of the men in their lives. It has made me appreciate my ability to earn a living. I find it difficult not to empathize with the struggles of the people I study. Sometimes I continue as a personal project; in hopes to find a happy ending I guess. Most of the subjects are women, and I refer to them as “my ladies.”
Julia Beam was not one of my ancestors, and she had no connection to my family. I “met” her when I was researching the sleepy town of Glen Gardner, New Jersey in connection with Hunterdon County’s 300th anniversary. She was hard to miss, her story jumped off the old newspapers and created quite a stir at the time. I had to finish my work on what was then the Glen Gardner Inn (originally Evesland’s Tavern, currently named Humphrey’s Tavern), so she did get put aside for a bit. Part of her tale had events which occurred at the Inn, so she kept popping in and out of that project. Several years have since gone, by and I have finally found the “rest of her story.”
The first news article I came across had attention-grabbing quotes, and painted a picture of a woman who deserved to be punished:
The article mentioned that Julia fell in with Melville Walters, a shiftless fellow. When he brought her to Glen Gardner, he had claimed that Julia was his wife. The article disputed the marriage since Walters was already married and was not yet divorced.
After the attack, Julia fainted and woke right after dawn. She had no clothing, and was tar-covered. Julia attempted to seek help from her husband who was at his parents house, but he turned her away. She then headed to her parents’ home 6 miles away in Califon. Along the way, a farmer’s wife provided her with a dress to cover herself.
What struck me was the tarring and feathering; wasn’t that something that had died out well before 1891? It also appeared as if the town residents seemed proud that they had done this to a nineteen-year-old woman. John Banghart who led the attacking party had announced his intentions to a group of people including two of the town’s “leaders” Dr. Hunt, and Miller Crawley who both offered to supply the tar.
As a genealogist, I try not to judge the past by modern standards, but this shocked me. Were times so different that an entire town thought it was ok to hurt a young woman in this manner? The next article I stumbled upon titled “Those Heroic White Caps,” answered my question. The “White Caps,” or “Regulators” had the community’s “moral support”:
They claimed to have the moral support of the entire neighborhood, and the local Justice of the Peace took no action in the premises.
Sheriff Lake appeared on November 13 with eleven warrants for the arrest of the “regulators.”[ii]
A bunch of men dressed as women, or with their faces covered decided to injure and run a young woman out of town, because they felt she led their sons astray. I guess “Not my child,” is not a new parental phenomenon.
I also wanted to know what a white cap was in 1891, were they the Ku Klux Klan? In a tiny town in New Jersey? White cap definition was difficult to find, but white capping is referred to in a few law books, but those laws were focusing on violence against minority groups. Julia Beam was not a minority; the definition found in Wikipedia most accurately fit this case:
Whitecapping was a violent lawless movement among farmers that occurred specifically in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was originally a ritualized form of enforcing community standards, appropriate behavior and traditional rights.[iii]
My conclusion is that it was a term the newspapers used for vigilantism; it may be intertwined with white supremacist groups, but race was not a factor in this event. Julia became one of my ladies when I read the first headline. She physically survived her ordeal, but I wondered if she went on to live a normal life. The next post will examine Julia’s life leading up to and after the attack.
[i] “Tarred and Feathered because she was bad,” The New York Herald [New York], 8 November 1891, page 18, column 1, digital image; Genealogybank.com (http:// www.genealogybank.com : accessed 21 October 2017).
[ii] “Those Heroic White Caps,” The New York Herald [New York], 20 November 1891, page 11, column 4, digital image; Genealogybank.com (http:// www.genealogybank.com : accessed 21 October 2017).
[iii] “Whitecapping,” Wikipedia (http:// https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitecapping : accessed 21 January 2018).