It mattered not at all to Jackson Terry that he was the first and only member of his race to accomplish a feat in the 203-year history of Laurens County. His lust for money and its evil roots, along with too much of the spirits, led to his undesirable title. Since and before 1840, Jackson Terry was the first and only white man in the history of Laurens County, Georgia to be legally hung by his neck until his death.
Jackson Terry wandered from place to place in search of a way to make a living. He wound up in Virginia, where he met one Captain James Hannah. The captain, a robust man of 60 years of age with tolerably long snow white hair, hired Terry to drive his wagon to Macon, Georgia, where they planned to sell tobacco. Terry had lived in Macon before, so it seemed only natural to take the assignment as a way of getting back to familiar territory and making a good wage in the process.
Terry and Hannah agreed that in compensation for his services, Terry would receive the excess profits of more than fifteen cents per pound for tobacco which would get wet when the wagon crossed creeks and rivers along their path. In his spare time, Terry diligently worked on stripping the damaged leaves. At first, the salvaged tobacco brought a handsome profit of ten cents per pound for Jackson, who expected to be paid at the end of each day. Each night Terry requested his pay. And each night, the Captain refused his demands.
The two men stopped at Steele's Mill on the Pee Dee River in North Carolina, where they purchased a 10-gallon keg of whiskey. Along their way, Terry, at Captain Hannah's request, sold whiskey, which in Terry's words was, "contrary to the laws of the state." They stopped again in Camden, South Carolina, where they refilled the keg and resumed the dispensing of spiritous liquors to any thirsty traveler with money.
At one point in South Carolina, their scheme was nearly discovered by an overseer of a group of slaves. Terry distracted the overseer by telling him that the dog they had with them would bite if the man went near the wagon without him. The ruse worked. Captain Hannah had enough time to hide the keg and the men went on their way. Terry later self servingly explained, "After this, I was determined to sell no more spirits, and on my refusal to do so, Capt. Hannah became vexed." Terry related that Hannah had cursed him although he thought him to be a member of the Methodist Church. The driver continued, "Captain Hannah said he would as soon be at the Devil as to have one in his employment who would not obey his orders." Despite Terry's resolution to stop selling liquor, Capt. Hannah refilled the keg in Augusta.
The relationship between the two travelers began to unravel at their campsite in Louisville, Georgia. Terry started a fire and set out some meat and coffee to cook. Realizing the deluge of rain made it impossible to cook bread, Terry went into town to find a freshly cooked loaf. Upon his return, Jackson found that the Captain had eaten his supper and thrown out the leftovers before retiring for the night. Terry held his tongue. In fact, both men did, well into the next morning. When they began to talk, Terry reported that the Captain used very harsh language against him.
It was still raining the next night when the two-horse wagon pulled into a campsite near Robert Higdon's mill on Hunger and Hardship Creek, just north of the village of Dublin. Terry cooked supper and laid it out on a stool, along with a sufficient cup of whiskey. Instantly, Hannah forbade his driver's attempt to drink any coffee out of a small iron pot. After the Captain finished his meal, Terry took the coffee out of the pot and drank it.
As the next day dawned, Terry and Hannah talked of heading to Clinton in Jones County. "He wanted to go by a circuitous route, and I thought it was out of the way to go by the route he recommended," confessed Terry, who had only promised to go to Macon. Hannah ordered Terry to grease the axles of his wagon, which he did. The discussion became more heated. Hannah threatened to knock Terry in the head with a spike. Terry retorted, "Get me a switch large enough to whip me!" Tempers subsided. When Terry asked Hannah how he wanted a squirrel cooked for breakfast, there was no reply. The squirrel was thrown into the frying pan along with some other victuals. Hannah complained about the food, to which Terry responded, "If you get me some good food, I will cook it." Hannah complained the bread was too thick, so Terry cooked a thinner piece. Hannah asked for a dram of liquor with his coffee. Both men began to imbibe one drink after another.
Captain Hannah stood up, picked up a knife, and assaulted the five-foot-tall Terry, who reached for an axe and whacked the Captain across the neck, nearly severing his head. Jackson panicked. He called to the Captain by name. There was no answer. He ran down to the mill pond and filled his bucket with clean water. Terrified and regretting what he had just done, Terry ran back up the hill, started a lightwood fire and went over to his comrade to check if he was still alive. As he saw blood spuing from Hannah's neck, he realized he had killed his antagonist. Terry stated that he told Hannah that this was his fault and he should have left him alone. Terry rifled through Hannah's belongings, taking about a hundred dollars and some of his papers. He cut the rope tied to one horse and set out to Wilkinson County to the north. He stopped for the night at Mr. King's house before going to Macon.
As the day light illuminated the scene, Captain Hannah's bloody corpse was found. Incensed at the murder, local officials began to investigate. They came up with a description of the murder and word got out as fast as it could. There were no newspapers, phones, or telegraphs around. John M. Higdon and John Spicer offered a reward for the suspect's capture, a man by them as "Terrell." Investigators followed the old dog which had accompanied the men and the other horse, which broke his rope and followed Terry's horse. A few days later, Jackson Terry was arrested at the race track in Macon. Hannah's papers and cash were found on his person.
Jackson Terry was kept in the Laurens County jail until he was indicted by the Grand Jury. A trial was held on June 15, 1840. Judge Carleton Cole was sitting on the bench. Solicitor General William Wiggins called the case to trial. Representing the pauper Terry were Isham Saffold, Thomas C. Sullivan, Augustin Hansell and Peter Early Love, all very prominent attorneys. Hansell and Love, a native of Laurens, were both prominent jurists and statesmen in the latter half of the 20th Century.
After a brief trial, jury foreman Stephen B. Hester read the verdict of guilty. Three days later, Judge Cole ordered that Terry be hung by his neck until his death. On Friday, July 24, 1840 between the appointed hanging times of between ten and two, Jackson Terry walked up the gallows.
When asked, Jackson Terry confessed the story, his story, which you have just read. He concluded his repentance by saying, "I am doomed to die, and today I shall pay the great debt of nature, the only retribution I can offer for my crime - a crime which was committed under the influence of a momentary passion and for which I most seriously repent. And, may the Lord have mercy on my soul. Amen." The trap door dropped - another death on Tobacco Road.