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Rev. George Washington CARAWAN

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Popular preacher in the Baptist Church
Number of victims: 1 +
Date of murder: November 15, 1852
Date of arrest: January 1953
Date of birth: 1800
Victim profile: Clement H. Lassiter
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Goose Creek, North Carolina, USA
Status: Convicted in November 1853. Immediately after the verdict was rendered, Carawan shot the prosecuting attorney, then killed himself
 
 
 
 
 
 

"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, Schoolmaster...

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 Carawan.

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 Wade Wellmon

"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 prosecution.

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 toward Lassiter.

"I trust," he finished, " that you will so perform your duty, as to satisfy both your own consciences and the claims of public justice."

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 revealed.

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 the courtroom.

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 judge’s bench.

"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 prisoner.

"George Washington Carawan, hold up you right hand," he ordered.

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 miles distant.

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 following particulars:

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 home.

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 was found.

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 be broke.

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 presiding.

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 melancholy sight.

POSTSCRIPT

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

 
 

SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: T MOTIVE: PC

MO: Killed first wife, second wifes suspected lover, and a male neighbor

DISPOSITION: Suicide by gunshot during murder trial, 1852.

 
 



 

 

 

 
 
 
 
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