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Samuel Bierfield

(???? - 1868)

Samuel Bierfield is believed to have been the first Jew lynched in the United States. Bierfield was born in Latvia and arrived in Toronto, Canada in the late 1850's.  He moved to Tennessee from Toronto in 1866.  Bierfield and his African-American clerk, Lawrence Bowman, were attacked in Bierfield's store in Franklin, Tennessee on August 15, 1868, and forced outside by group of masked men believed to belong to the Ku Klux Klan. The men shot Bierfield five times, four times in the head at point-blank range, and then left him for dead in the middle of the street.  Bowman was injured in the violence, and later died of his wounds.  No one was ever convicted of the crime.

Two days after the lynching, the Nashville Union and Dispatch published an article attempting to placate the fears of the local Jewish community that this was a war waged against them by assuring them that Bierfield had been a murderer, among the very few criminals of their nation, based upon the letter written by the negro Israel Brown to John Nolin [sic]. The article went on to state It is known that the terrible Ku-Klux Klan had nothing to do with this murderer's execution. In the letter, the contents of which had been widely publicized in the area, Brown stated that Bierfield had hired Brown and others to murder Jeremiah Ezell, a white farmer who had been killed the previous month, on July 18. Brown himself had escaped. John Nolan, the supposed recipient of the letter, stated that he did not know any Israel Brown.  Captain George Judd and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Gelray were dispatched by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands to investigate the case.  When they sought to see the actual letter they were told that it had been lost, leading Judd and Gelray to conclude that the letter was a forgery intended to deflect suspicion.  Judd and Gelray determined that the likely motive for the muder was jealousy and rivalry over the growing success of Bierfield's business.  

In September, John Pogue Jr. was arrested and charged with Bierfield’s murder, on the strength of the eyewitness testimony of one Ed Lyle. However, Judge John Hugh Smith released Pogue after seven people came forward providing him an alibi. The Republican Banner wrote that Lyle had named Pogue in order to collect the $500 reward offered for information in the case.

Source: Wikipedia;
Paul Berger.  Untold Story of the First Jewish Lynching in America, The Forward, (December 8, 2014).