When I first started looking for things to do in Washington Court House, I was hoping to find some kind of history as to why the city has that strange name. Apparently, there already was a Washington in Ohio (in Guernsey County, now called Old Washington), and since this Washington was a county seat…and therefore had a courthouse, it would be called Washington Court House. Also I learned that has only been its official name since 2002. That’s not enough for a full blog post, so I dug deeper, and found out about one of the town’s darkest days.
On October 9, 1894, William “Jasper” Dolby, an African-American man sexually assaulted Mary Boyd, a white woman, inside of her house in a small community just outside Washington Court House. Dolby managed to escape his pursuers, but was caught almost a week later in Delaware, Ohio. During his capture, Dolby confessed to his crime.
Upon return to Washington Court House on October 16, many of the local residents from the small community Boyd lived in began congregating near the court house Dolby was being held in. Rumors swirled that the mob wanted to lynch Dolby. Word of this soon spread inside the courthouse.
Before a mob could form, the Sheriff called on the local militia to assemble at the courthouse under the command of Col. Alonzo Coit. Because Dolby had confessed already, word spread quickly to other people in the community, and a much larger crowd began to form the next day. The officials in charge of the situation were seeing it begin to spiral out of control, Dolby was quickly sentenced that day to 20 years in the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus. The final step was getting him there. The locals just weren’t going to allow that, however.
Eventually, the crowd pushed through the lines of militia and were trying to break down the doors of the courthouse. That’s when Coit ordered his men inside the courthouse to fire their weapons at the crowd, through the doors. A handful of men on the outside were killed by the bullets, almost two dozen were injured. Believe it or not, this didn’t make the crowd disperse. In fact, the crowd now became enraged at the militia, and attempts were made to kill Coit and his men, and blow up the courthouse. Governor William McKinley eventually sent the National Guard in to help quell the riots.
Eventually, cooler heads began to prevail, and the crowd slowly dispersed. Dolby was put on a train and made his way to jail in Columbus. Dolby served 13 of his 20 years, and was released with good behavior. He eventually got married to a woman he met while in jail. It’s largely believed that Coit had a bounty on his head for the remainder of his life if he ever again set foot in Washington Court House. Coit was tried and acquitted on charges of manslaughter.
Governor McKinley said of the incident “Troops were sent to act in aid of the civil authorities, who were powerless to quell a mob that was seeking to overthrow the law and its orderly administration. Lynching cannot be tolerated in Ohio.”
To this day, Washington Court House lives with the aftermath of this event. The doors that Coit’s men shot through were never replaced. The doors are on the south side of the courthouse, facing Main Street. Standing up at the top of the steps, it was rather overwhelming imagining that kind of scene taking place. A fascinating reminder of a tragic event in Ohio’s history.
“the law was upheld as it should have been…but at fearful cost.” – William McKinley