LEONARDTOWN, MD – On Saturday, May 10, 2021, Governor Larry Hogan issued a pardon for 34 lynching victims in Maryland, including Benjamin Hance, St. Mary’s County’s only documented lynching victim. Though there had not been a trial for any alleged misconduct attributed to Mr. Hance, he was never found guilty of a crime in a court of law before his vigilante death at the hands of his killers. Nevertheless, the Governor’s pardon is an essential step in acknowledging the wrongdoing of the mob in Leonardtown in 1887.
Benjamin Hance, a young African American man, was arrested May 27, 1887, in Leonardtown and taken to the Old Jail. A mob broke in on the night of June 17, held the jailkeeper at gunpoint and removed Mr. Hance from his cell after breaking down the door. They carried him to a site just out of town (now occupied by the Port of Leonardtown Winery) and proceeded to hang him from a witch hazel tree. An ensuing inquiry into the lynching failed to identify nor convict members of the alleged mob of any crimes, and the case was subsequently dismissed, justice having not been rendered.
To bring light to this injustice, the St. Mary’s County Museum Division has been partnering with the Equal Justice Initiative on the Community Remembrance Project. In November 2019, the Division and partners held a Soil Collection Ceremony where Hance was said to have died. Following the Soil Collection Ceremony, the partner groups sent one jar of soil to the National Memorial for Peace & Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. A second jar is now on display, along with an exhibit, at the Old Jail Museum in Leonardtown, in the very cell where Hance was held. Admission is free to the museum, where visitors can come daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The next step in the remembrance of Mr. Hance is to establish a historical marker about his story, which will be erected on the grounds of the Old Jail Museum. The Equal Justice Initiative will produce the marker, which will be erected and unveiled to the public at a commemoration ceremony November 1, 2021. The marker will be two-sided and traditional blue with yellow letters. One side will tell Mr. Hance’s story; the other will be a statement about racial justice.
For more information regarding the progress of this project, please visit Facebook.com/TheOldJailMuseum or contact Karen Stone at 301-769-3235.