Tag Archives: Cincinnati Southern Railroad

The Last Execution in Roane County

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

The last execution that took place in Roane County was the hanging of Isaac Fain in the courtyard of the historic courthouse in November 1884. Fain had been tried and convicted of murdering Thomas Curren. The case was a spectacular one and was well covered in newspapers of the day, (often with conflicting information), but the salient facts seem to be as follows: Fain worked as a section hand on the Cincinnati Southern Railroad. He was a small black man about 21 years old with a violent temper.

On March 29, 1884, while working near Emory Gap, he had an altercation with his section boss, Thomas Curren. Sharp words exchanged between the two men, and Fain was fired. He hung around the work site most of the day, muttering threats against Curren, then left in the late afternoon and returned with a double-barreled shotgun. He stayed out of sight until he had a clear shot at Curren, cursed him and emptied the gun into his victim’s back, killing him instantly. Fain threw down his gun and fled to the mountains.

A large party of men scoured the countryside for about a week until he was captured near Loudon. He was jailed at Kingston but moved to Loudon for safekeeping because of word that a large lynching party was on the way. He was later returned to Kingston, charged and tried for first-degree murder in the historic courthouse. After about 40 minutes of deliberation, the jury brought in a guilty verdict, and he was sentenced to death. Although his case was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the death sentence was upheld.

Fain spent the last months of his life studying the Bible and praying while a gallows was being built on the south lawn of the historic courthouse. The scaffold was walled with boards on three sides, and canvas covering on the east (Third Street) side. On the fateful day of his execution in November 1884, he was led to the gallows by the sheriff, securely shackled. After he climbed the steps to the platform, the canvas was thrown back, and Fain faced a crowd of 3,000 to 4,000 people who had come to town to witness his execution. The doomed man then preached a sermon, confessing his crime and urging his audience to turn aside from sin and accept God. He stated he was ready to go to Jesus, saying, “It is much better that I die today and go to glory than to live out my sinful life and go to hell.” As he stood with the rope around his neck, he uttered his last words: “I ain’t scared one bit, hanging ain’t anything. Tell Aunt Julia I’m going home on the evening train.”

After he was hanged and pronounced dead, Ellen Curren, the 16-year-old sister of Thomas Curren, entered the enclosure and stared at the body, leaving with an expression of pity on her face and tears in her eyes. The Chattanooga Daily Times stated: “The last legal hanging in Roane County previous to this occurred in 1860 when Joseph Jones . . . was executed for outraging his mistress.”

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, December 2016 and March 2018.

Sterling Nelson Brown

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

As February is Black History Month, it is important to note the accomplishments that Roane County African Americans have made. One of those is Sterling Brown. Sterling Nelson Brown went from being a slave in Roane County, to become a professor of Bible Introduction and Bible History at Howard University Divinity School in Washington, D.C. for thirty-one years. His story is told in his autobiography “My Own Life Story” that was published in 1924. Sterling was born on November 21, 1858, as a slave in Roane County to Hardy and Clarisa Brown. He was sent to the first free school ever taught in Roane County which was taught by Miss Angeline Summers. When his father became ill, in order to help support his family he was forced to go to work at the age of 13 years to help provide for his family “which at that time often went to bed hungry and sad.” As the Cincinnati Southern Railroad was beginning to be built, he went to work on the railroad and later worked at a brickyard earning fifty cents a day. With the money he earned, he was able to buy a small farm for his parents. He entered Fisk University in Nashville, in November 1875. He graduated from Fisk University in 1885 and from the Oberlin Theological Seminary in 1888. He became a pastor in Washington, D.C. for 25 years. In November 1892, he began teaching the English Bible in the School of Religion at Howard University and remained for thirty-one years. He died in 1929. His son, Sterling Allen Brown was also an educator at Howard University.

Originally Written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, March 2014.

The Election That Ended in a Tie

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

Throughout Roane County’s 212 years of existence, there have been several close elections. One of those elections involved a tie between Maggie (Madge) (Fulks) Sneed and Charles Snow for the Circuit/Criminal Court Clerk in 1962. For thirty-two years the Fulks family had occupied the Circuit/Criminal Court Clerkship in Roane County. Josh Fulks was first elected in 1930 and served until he died in 1947. Then his widow, Clara Fulks served from 1947 to 1962. In 1962, Mrs. Fulks decided to retire, and when the 1962 election came up, their daughter, Maggie (Madge) Sneed ran for office. Her opponent was Charles Snow. At first, the unofficial election results showed that Maggie Sneed had won by one vote. However, an error was found in the Kingston Ward 1 precinct vote count which gave Charles Snow another vote that had not been counted. The final tally was 2720 for Sneed and 2720 for Snow ending in a tie. State law gave the Roane County Election Commission the right to make the final decision for the office. The Election Commission chose Maggie Sneed.

Four years later in 1966, Maggie Sneed and Charles Snow faced off again. And again it was a very close race. This time Charles Snow came out victorious by 43 votes out of 7193 votes cast. That same year, Robert Audubon Ladd won by seven votes in the School Superintendent election. He was the first School Superintendent to be elected by vote. The race for sheriff was won by Robert L. Elliott by 34 votes over the incumbent Sheriff Herbert Stanley. Charles Snow served as Circuit/Criminal Court Clerk for 20 years from 1966 to 1986. Maggie Sneed became the Register of Deeds in 1972 when Marilyn Black resigned. She served in that position for 10 years.

Originally Written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, February 2014.