"Carawan quarreled with his neighbor,
then shot him and buried his body in the woods. By Southern law,
Carawan's Negro servant who had helped him to bury the body could not
testify against him. Despite this, he was convicted. Immediately after
the verdict was rendered, Carawan shot the prosecuting attorney, then
killed himself. ": McDade, The Annals of Murder 155.
Rev. Geo. W. Carawan
What could be a more exciting start
than a murder case, especially where the defendant was none other than a
man of the Lord, a preacher? Item 111 is the Trial of Rev. Geo. W.
Carawan, Baptist Preacher, for the Murder of Clement H. Lassiter,
Mild-mannered schoolteacher Clement
Lassiter disappeared on a cold November day from his rural North
Carolina home. Three days later, his body was found in a shallow grave
in a swamp. Suspicion quickly fell on the fiery Rev. George Washington
The most damning evidence came from
his slave, who said that Carawan had him assist in hiding the body.
However, testimony from a slave was inadmissible in North Carolina
courts in 1853. Nevertheless, there was much circumstantial evidence,
such as Carawan's fleeing the area after the body was found. A little
digging revealed that Lassiter had once been Carawan's tenant, but left
after the latter accused him of adultery with his wife. Local officials
had ignored Carawan's complaint at the time as he was wont to make such
charges, having once claimed as much of his own brother. Still, Lassiter
had particularly incensed Carawan by suing him for libel.
The Preacher was arrested and held in
jail for ten months until the trial began. Carawan hired some of the top
legal talent in the state, but all to no avail. He was pronounced guilty,
whereupon Carawan rose, pulled out a pistol, and shot the prosecutor.
The bullet struck near his heart, but glanced off a locket he was
wearing, doing little damage. Carawan then pulled a second pistol, aimed
it at his own head, and killed himself. Where he got the guns is unknown.
The story, naturally, was a sensation at the time, but time heals all
wounds, except those produced by a bullet.
The Preacher and the Gun
From the book Dead and Gone by Manly
"MY DEAR OLD FRIEND:--Do let me know through the
channel I have prescribed. Also, let my poor wife know what is the
prospect, and she can give me to understand. Tell her to be careful, for
they are going to have her sworn; and that is one reason why they have
cut her off from me—is for the purpose of setting her against me if they
can, and take advantage of her weak mind. Caution her to be on her watch,
and not to talk any on the subject, and not to suffer them to question
her, and if they try, let her answer be this, "to let that be done on
the trial," and stop there. Don’t forget to tell her, if you please. Try
to write her a letter in by the lawyers at court, if you cannot get them
in by Hoyt, but you can. Get him also to take mine, and I will pay him
for you. Tell my wife to give him something, but be sure to do the main
thing—to put aside that evidence by hook or by crook. Were you here and
suffering as I do now,, I would go to death almost, to rescue you. You
cannot begin to think how bad it is. I can’t tell myself. I have said
enough for you to understand...."
These communications were signed, with rueful humor,
"The Old Horse In the Stable."
Carawan had written to his unknown friend "You
understand me." Lest others lack understanding, prosecuting counsel
stood ready to interpret. Plainly, it was urged, Carawan wanted the
damaging evidence of his grand-nephew removed—by bribery or, failing
that, by a more violent method. "...boys that would do thus and thus,....by
hook or by crook....." The prosecution closed that same evidence, and on
the following day, November 26, the defense announced that it would
impeach the testimony of Carawan Sawyer.
Several persons said that Sawyer had told different
and less damaging stories about Carawan at the time of the murder, and
that during the early days of the trial Sawyer boasted in his cups of
money he would make. Only six witnesses spoke for the defense, and in
the afternoon David M. Carter delivered the opening argument for the
An adjournment until Monday, November 28, and
Satterthwaite addressed the jury, though he was ill and sometimes
wavered on his feet. He was followed by Stevenson for the state, then by
Rodman for the defense. On Tuesday Bryan closed the argument for the
prisoner, and that afternoon Warren made the final speech to the jury.
Much had been made by the defense of the fact that
only circumstantial evidence had been brought against Carawan, and
Warren commented upon this argument with harsh irony.
"We have heard enough eloquence and rhetoric," he
said, "and rhetoric and eloquence enough to acquit the prisoner at the
bar, if rhetoric and eloquence could avail him. We would suppose that
not George W. Carawan, but the state’s counsel, the witnesses for the
prosecution, and the people of Hyde , were on trial here for high crimes
and misdemeanors.... But the evidence in this case discloses a murder as
foul and atrocious as can be found in the history of crime."
He then proceeded to notice the slurs cast by the
defense counsel on circumstantial evidence, both generally and in its
specific presentation against Carawan. His remarks were long held in
North Carolina to be the classic upholding of that sort of evidence.
"What is circumstantial?" he asked. "It is the
evidence of facts, which, according to the course of human experience,
usually, and almost invariably accompany an act....If a man commits
theft, he does it not in the presence of his fellows. If he commits
arson, or burglary, or robbery, he takes no witness with him to testify
to the act. If he commits murder, if he coolly and deliberately plots
the crime of blood, he seeks to perpetrate the crime where no eye can
see him, and where no human sagacity can follow his footsteps. How can
he be detected, or brought to answer to justice and the violated law,
except by administering the rules of circumstantial evidence?"
This argument he re-enforce by reading largely from
books of high legal authority, and by reviewing much of the testimony,
especially sworn accounts of Carawan’s hints about enmity and violence
"I trust," he finished, " that you will so perform
your duty, as to satisfy both your own consciences and the claims of
It was now half-past six. Judge Bailey made a brief
charge to the jury. He turned his attention to Carawan Sawyer’s story
and the attacks made upon it by the defense. "You will not convict,
gentlemen of the jury, on the testimony of a single tainted witness," he
said. "If the matter goes only to his discredit, to his bad character—if
his statements out of doors differ from his statements on the stand, the
jury will consider the testimony, and give it that weight which it
deserves. But if on the stand, in questions pertinent to the issue, he
should deny a particular thing, or say that he did not remember when he
did remember, and the denial is corrupt, then the witness is guilty of
perjury, and the rule is that you must set the whole aside."
These words were sweet in the ears of Carawan’s
attorneys, and sweetest of all in the ears of Carawan himself. After the
jury commenced its deliberations, he went under guard to supper.
Elatedly he told his wife, "The jury will acquit me and I will go to
Hyde County tomorrow morning on the steamboat."
But an hour passed, and the judge summoned jury,
attorneys, and defendant back to the courtroom. He announced that some
of the language of his charge might have been misunderstood. He had not
intended a flat instruction to disregard Sawyer’s testimony, but only a
rehearsal of the defense’s claims concerning it.
"The prisoner’s counsel claim that they have a right
to have the testimony of this witness set aside by a stubborn rule of
the law," he clarified his earlier remarks and sent the jury back to its
room to make up its own mind.
Carawan’s spirits sank.
"I shall be condemned tomorrow," he told his wife, "and then they will
fasten me up in this place, and you will never be permitted to see me
again until I am taken out to be hung."
He asked, and received, permission for his wife and
children to spend the night with him in the jail. His wife achieved a
make-shift bed for the three little boys. Carawan paced the floor of his
dungeon, talking to her on a variety of subjects not subsequently
In the morning he shaved, and ate the sort of hearty
breakfast generally assigned by journalists to persons already condemned.
Then he sat down and wrote something on a slip of paper. He handed his
spectacles and the inkstand to Mary Carawan.
"Put them away," he directed her, "and be careful not to spill the ink."
She saw the note, folded small, between his fingers.
He many have meant for her to take it,, too, but did not put it in her
hand. It was never seen again. Deputy Sheriff Joseph J. Hinton came to
lead him to court.
"Goodbye," he called to other prisoners. You will
never see me again." He also shook the hand of the jailer’s wife and
turned to leave. He shed a few tears, but dried them before he entered
At 8:30 the jury appeared. Judge Bailey came in
shortly after. Carawan sat down behind his attorneys. Not far away Mrs.
Carawan took her place, the boys beside her, and began to sob. Solicitor
Stevenson and Edward Warren also entered and stood in front of the
"Have you agreed upon a verdict?" the clerk, Mr.
Jollie, asked the jury.
"We have," they replied.
"Who shall say for you?" asked Jollie.
Benjamin Patrick, the foreman, rose. Jollie faced the
"George Washington Carawan, hold up you right hand,"
Carawan got to his feet, lifting his hand. He fixed
his brilliant eyes upon Patrick.
"Look upon the prisoner, you that have been sworn,"
Jollie was saying to the jury. "What say you—is he guilty of the felony
whereof he stands indicted, or not guilty?"
"Guilty," said Patrick, meeting Carawan’s stare.
Carawan sat down, bent forward, and whispered to his
lawyers. Bryan rose and asked that the jury be polled. Jollie called the
jurors by name.
"Guilty or not guilty?" he asked each in turn; and
each replied, "Guilty." Carawan gazed from juror to juror. As the last
of them spoke, he began to unbutton his vest. Jollie swiftly entered the
verdict in his records, and spoke once more:
"Gentlemen of the jury, hearken to your verdict as
the court has recorded it. You say that
George Washington Carawan is guilty of the felony and murder whereof he
stands indicted. So say you all."
Judge Bailey then said, "Gentlemen of the jury, you are discharged. The
court will take a recess of one hour."
Carawan sprang erect again. From inside his shirt he
snatched a single-barreled pistol---how he had managed to get possession
of it in jail, nobody has ever explained. Aiming at Warren, he fired.
The courtroom rang with the explosion, and Warren fell sprawling but
struggled up again.
Carawan, meanwhile, had drawn another pistol. Hinton,
the deputy, sprang to grapple with him. Powerfully Carawan dragged
himself free, pushed the muzzle against his own head behind the ear, and
again touched trigger. Abruptly he collapsed into his chair, his right
arm hanging over the railing and his head sagging forward upon his chest.
Blood crimsoned his face and his open shirt front.
Judge Bailey had left the bench. Everyone was
shouting and milling. Warren seemed the calmest person there, save only
for the silent, slack figure in the prisoner’s box. To anxious questions,
Warren replied that he was unhurt. The bullet had struck a locket that
he wore under his clothes and had glanced away, tearing the stiff
padding in his lapel.
Examination proved that Carawan’s brain had been
pierced from side to side, the bullet lodging just above his left eye.
He had died as instantly, perhaps, as had Clement Lassiter. His face,
when the blood was sponged from it, seemed quiet and peaceful.
He was buried, appropriately enough, on the spot
where once a gallows had stood near the Beaufort County almshouse. Later
his relatives brought the body to Rose Bay, where neighbors protested
against it burial there. The final grave was dug at Juniper Bay, some
The story was told for years that his unquiet spirit
walked the shore at that point, and within recent times there were not
wanting those who said the believed it.
Trial and Conviction of a Baptist
Minister for Murder—His Suicide
The New York Times
December 5, 1953
The North State Whig,
of the 30th ult., published at Wilmington, North Carolina, publishes a
condensed report of the trial of Rev. GEORGE W. CARAWAN, for the murder
of Mr. C. H. LASSITER, a school-teacher, in Hyde County. The whole case
is remarkable, on account of the status of the accused, the depravity
developed, and the tragical issue of the trial. Eminent counsel were
arrayed for both the prosecution and the defence, and much excitement
prevailed during the proceedings. The paper before us gives the
Carawan is a 56 years
old, and for many years has been a popular preacher in the Baptist
Church—a man of strong will, exercising a powerful influence over his
friends, and feared as much as hated by his foes. Lassiter was a quiet
young man, engaged in the business of teaching. Some months before the
murder Lassiter boarded in the house of Carawan, and a quarrel arose
between them, Carawan alleging that Lassiter was too familiar with his
(C.'s) wife. Carawan talked very freely among his neighbors n the
subject—said that L. ought to be shot—that shooting was too good for him,
and that he and L. could not live in the same neighborhood, &c., &c.,
and finally tried to get out a peace warrant against L., alleging that
he had attempted to take his life. He went on this way for some time,
when L. sued him for slander, laying the damages at $2,000. A few hours
after the writ was served on C., Lassiter was killed.
He [Lassiter] had
finished a school on Rose Bay, and on Monday, the 15th of November,
1852, started on foot, with a carpet-bag in his hand to go to the Lake [Mattamuskeet]
where he had engaged another school. About 3 o'clock, P.M., he passed
C.'s house on his way to the Lake. Shortly after he passed, C. left his
house and went across the field toward the woods which lie between the
house and the spot on the road where L. was killed, his wife following
with a gun wrapped up in her apron. She returned to the house
immediately; Carawan not till sundown. That night he was absent from
Tuesday he remained at
home; but on Wednesday, a rainy day, he took a hoe and went into the
woods, and was gone for several hours. On Thursday, before L. was missed,
(the people on the Lake thinking he was at the Bay, and the people on
the Bay thinking he was at the Lake,) C. went to one of the neighbors,
and inquired if he had seen anything of L., stating that his (C.'s)
family had seen him pass his house on Monday with a package of clothes,
and he was thinking he had run away. On Friday evening, when told that
the people were searching for L. he expressed great surprise that he
should be missing—never had heard anything of it.
On Saturday morning,
the search for L. still going on, he wrote to a friend to come and see
him—that L. was missing—supposed to be killed—and added that he (C.) was
at home all day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and that he could prove
it by Carawan Sawyer, (the main witness on the trial for the State,) his
nephew, a boy who was living with him. The body of L. was found on
Saturday evening in the swamps behind C.'s house, in an open lot, which
was surrounded with briars, underbush, &c., and covered with moss. The
moss over the grave had been carefully removed, the grave dug just large
enough to hold the body, the body pressed into it, the grave filled up
even with the surrounding earth, and pressed down, and the moss
carefully laid back up in it. The moss leaving no trace of a foot-print,
there was no sign that anybody had ever been there, except that the moss
over the grave had faded a little; about a handful of fresh dirt was
near it; and a dead limb of a tree had apparently been recently
disturbed, the bark which had evidently just fallen from it lying in one
spot and the limb in another. The men who were searching for the body
had stopped in this lonely spot to rest, having given up the search for
the day, when these appearances attracted their attention, and the body
L. was killed by
gunshot wounds. Several shots were taken from the body—three from the
heart. There were three sizes of shot found in the body, and in one of
the barrels of C.'s gun, found in his house, just such shot, and of
three sizes, were found. That night C. left Hyde County, telling his
nephew, (Sawyer,) that if he staid there he should be hung; and that he
should send for his family, and he (S.) must go with them. On Sunday
morning he landed from a canoe at Durham's Creek mills, in Beaufort
County, about twenty miles from his home, telling the man who rowed him
over that he was after a piece of land which another man was trying to
buy, and that was the reason of his hurry, and charging him to keep his
movements a secret.
From this time till his
[Carawan's] arrest at night in his house in January following, the State
did not know his where-abouts. But from letters received by the sheriff
of Hyde, from Tennessee, it seems he had been sin that State, preaching,
under the assumed name of John Forbes.
After his imprisonment
in Hyde County Jail, he [Carawan] tried to get a friend to hire the
witness Sawyer to go away. He had offered this same witness, before the
body of L. was found, a negro, if he would swear that he (C.) was at
home all Monday, the day on which the murder was committed. And while in
Hyde County Jail he wrote to a friend (the letters were produced in
Court,) to get Sawyer out of the way. He had given, he said in one of
his letters, Mary (his wife) $500 to get Sawyer off; if that wouldn't
do, give him $1,000; and if that wouldn't do, he (his friend) must get
rid of Sawyer "by hook or by crook," and not suffer his (C.'s) neck to
The defence set up for
the prisoner was that three of the witnesses (including Sawyer) had
sworn falsely, committed willful and deliberate perjury, and that it was
impossible for Carawan to have gone through the woods after Lassiter
passed his house quick enough to have cut him off.
The Jury, after a
protracted sitting, brought in a verdict of guilty, and the Judge
ordered a recess of the Court for an hour. As the crowd was leaving, the
prisoner suddenly drew two pistols, one of which he fired at Mr. Warren,
the counsel for the State, and with the other shot himself through the
head, killing himself instantly. The ball of the other struck Mr. Warren
on the breast, just above the heart, but fortunately glanced off, and
left only a slight wound. The North Star Whig says:
"Carawan maintained his
self-control throughout the trial. He was as fine a looking man as one
would find among a thousand—tall, admirably built, with a massive head,
showing, with enormous animal passions, large intellect. These passions
have destroyed him, he having given himself all his life to their
unbridled sway. His wife, apparently about his own age, and his children,
have been with him during the trial, accompanying him to and from the
Court-House and Jail."
North Carolina /
Washington County Courthouse
A Horrid Murder
Extracted from People's Press, (Salem) N.C., Vol. II.,
No. 46. January 1, 1853
Letters were received here, last week,
from Hyde, Tyrell and Beaufort Counties, stating that Washington
CARROWAN, a citizen of Hyde County, of some fifty years of age, and many
years a Baptist Preacher, lately, on some frivolous pretext, knocked his
wife down with a chair, and beat her with it until the chair broke to
pieces, and then seized a large stick and continued to beat her, until a
man named LASSITER, who boarded in the house, interfered to prevent her
being murdered. Where upon, Carrowan took his gun to shoot Lassiter, but
he disarmed him and left the house.
A few day afterwards, say on the 15th of last month,
Lassiter chanced to go by the house, which stool near the public road,
when Carrowan, seeing him pass, took his gun and ran through his field
to cut him off, and overtook him in the savannah and shot him dead; then
took up his victim, and carried him some half mile into the swamp, and
threw him face down into the mud, and stomped him below the surface of
the road, and covered over his body with brush, and then ran off, and
made his escape from the County and eluded pursuit.
When last seen, he as at Washington enquiring the way
to Wilmington Rail Road, and it is supposed, has pushed for the South
and probably for California. He had been a hard working man and
accumulated some five or six thousand dollars worth of property. He had
been married three times, and has children by each marriage! and
horrible to tell, circumstances have now come out that strongly indicate,
that both of his deceased wives came to their deaths by his hands!! Mr.
Lassiter was an educated man, very much of a gentleman, was was employed
in teaching Geography upon some new principle; and had not been long in
Hyde county. It is to be hoped the fleeing murderer will not succeed in
making his escape from justice. -- Raleigh Register.
Trial of Rev. Geo. W. Carawan for the Murder of
Clement H. Lassiter
There has been great excitement in
Washington the past week, on account of the trial of Rev. George W.
CARRAWAN for the murder of C. H. LASSITER in Hyde County in November
last. Carawan was arraigned before the Superior Count of Hyde at the
Spring term of this year, and on his affidavit that he could not have
justice done in Hyde, the case was removed to Beaufort. The trial
commenced on Wednesday last in the Superior County. Judge BAILEY
The case was managed on the part of the State by Geo.
S. STEVENSON, Solicitor, E. J. WARREN and D. M. CARTER, Esqs; and for
the defence by James W. BRYAN, F. B. SATTERWAITE, and W.B. REDMON, Esqs,
and Hon. R. S. DONNELL. We doubt if ever a case was ever tried which was
more thoroughly prepared on both sides than was this, or in which more
ability and fidelity to their trusts were displayed by Councel. The
trial occupied six days.
Carawan is 56 years old, and for many years has been
a popular preacher in the Baptist Church - a man of strong will,
excerising a powerful influence over his friends, and feared as much as
hated by his foes. Lassiter was a quiet young man, engaged in the
business of teaching. Some months before the murder, Lassiter boarded in
the house of Carawan, and a quarrel arose between them, Carawan alleging
that Lassiter was too familiar with his (C.'s) wife. Carawan talked very
freely among his neighbors on the subject - said that L. ought to be
shot - that shooting was too good for him, and that he and L. could not
both live in the same neighborhood, &c., &c., and finally tried to get
out a peace warrant against L. alleging that he had attempted to take
his life. It went on in this way for some time, when L. sued him for
slander, laying the damages at $2000. A few hours after the writ was
served on C., Lassiter was killed.
The defence st up for the prisoner was that three of
the witnesses (including Sawyer) has sworn falsely, committed wilful and
deliverate perjury, and that it was impossible for Carawan to have goine
through the woods, after Lassiter passed his house, quick enough to cut
him off. The danger of convicting a man of murder on circumstantial
evidence, has been learnedly and ingenously and elaborately dwelt upon
by the counsel for the defince. In fact, there has been more ingnuity
and skill displayed by theim in the progress of this, than we ever
expected to see exhibited in any one trial. On the other side, in behalf
of the State, there has been no less ability manifested, though their
work has been apparently one of easier performance. The trial has been
deeply interesting, not only on accout of the facts disclosed, but also
the the tact and power displayed by counsel.
The general opinion among those who have heard the
trial - indeed we may say the unanimous opionion, so far as we have been
able to gather it - is that Carawan is guilty of the murder.
Carawan has maintained his self control throughout
the trial, even when the clothes worn by Lassiter when he was killed,
were exhibited in Court, pierced with bullet holes and stained with
blood. He is as fine a looking man as one would find among a thousand -
tall, admirably built, with a massive head, showing with enormous animal
passions, large intellect. These passions have destroyed him, having
given himself all his life to their unbridled sway. His wife, apparently
about his own age, and his 3 children, have been with him during the
trial, accompaying him to and from the Court House and Jail. It is a
The Verdict----Guilty!----Carawan shoots Mr.
Warren and kills himself!
At half=past eight this morning the
jury come in with a verdict of guilty. Mr. Bryan moved that the jury be
polled. This was done, each juror as his name was called, answering -- "guilty."
The Judge then discharged the jury, and ordered a recess of the Court
for one hour.
Just as the crowd commenced to leave, a report of a
pistol was heard, followed immediately by another. Carawan had two self-cocking
signle barrel pistols. With one he aimed at Mr. Warren. The ball struck
just above his heart and glanced, making but a slight wound. With the
other, he shot a hold through his own heard. As we are going to press,
he lies a corpose in the prisoner's box.
As may well be supposed, there is intense exceitement
in the community.
Extracted from People's Press, (Salem)
N.C., Vol. III., No. 43. December 10, 1853
M RACE: W TYPE: T MOTIVE: PC
Killed first wife, second wifes suspected lover, and a male neighbor
Suicide by gunshot during murder trial, 1852.