Jane Elkins

A Female slave, Jane Elkins, becomes the first woman to be legally executed in the State of Texas when she is hung on Friday, May 27, 1853 beside the Dallas County courthouse.

Jane was an African American woman born around 1800. The first legal record of Jane was when she was sold by Edward Welborn to John Young. The Bill of Sale included the following wording: "I have this day sold to John Young, a negro woman named Jane, and child about twenty years, which said negro I warrant to be sound both in body and mind, and a slave for life. The said John Young, in consideration of said property, has this day paid to me the sum of $400, I bind myself to and warrant and defend the title of said negro unto said Young, his heirs and assigns forever. Given my hand this 17th March, 1844. Edward [his X mark] Wellborn."

    According to Texas census records, Young then sold Jane to Mr. Smith E. Elkins, also of Dallas. Elkins’ wife, America Elkins, hired Jane out to a widower, Andrew C. Wisdom, who lived north of downtown Dallas around the Cedar Springs area with his two small children. Jane was to take care of the children and do housework.

    For reasons that remain unknown, Jane killed Wisdom with an ax as he slept. The investigation led to Jane, who was arrested, jailed and tried for murder. On Tuesday, May 10, 1853 the Dallas County Grand Jury indicted Jane for murder. The case was assigned to Judge John H. Reagan, 9th District Court, in Dallas County. The judge ordered a special venire in order to locate thirty-six jurors for the case, which became the State of Texas vs. Jane, a Slave, Case #188. The jury was made up of only white, Southern men. The verdict of guilty was issued on Monday, May 16, 1853.

    On Tuesday, May 17, 1853 Jane was sentenced by Judge Reagan to death by hanging. "The State of Texas vs. Jane (a slave): Murder Pursuant to law, the prisoner Jane a slave who has on yesterday by the verdict a jury been found guilty of murder in the first degree was brought into open Court for the purpose of receiving the judgment thereof. And it being demanded of said Jane if she had anything to say why judgment and sentence of death should not then be passed upon her, and the said Jane saying nothing thereto. It is therefore ordered adjudged and decreed by the court that the sheriff of Dallas County keep the said Jane in close confinement in the common jail of Dallas County until Friday the 17th of the present month of May, and that on said Friday the 27th day aforesaid, between the hours of Eleven o’clock AM and 3 o’clock PM the sheriff of said Dallas County takes said Jane from the common jail of said County and carry her to a gallows erected for that purpose, and that between the said hours of 11 o’clock AM and 3 PM he hang the said Jane by the neck until she is dead and that a certified copy of this judgment be delivered to the sheriff."

    The slave named Jane was hung outside the Dallas courthouse on May 27, 1853. Historian Daina Ramey Berry writes that “on the day Elkins was executed, several hundred people traveled to Dallas to see her die. The public spectacle of hangings was common at the time, but also suggests the desire of whites to witness what they believed was justice.

    However, even in death, Jane’s body was still controlled by white men. Berry writes that after her hanging, Jane’s body was placed in a shallow grave near the courthouse where the execution took place, and that “members of a medical fraternity resurrected her. Jane’s corpse became a ‘medical cadaver’ and was likely used for research.” This was a common practice in early Dallas. It is not known if America Elkins, Jane’s owner at the time of her execution received payment for Jane’s body or if it was simply taken from the grave. Historically, Jane has become identified as Jane Elkins, giving her the last name of her final owner.

Sources:

Terry Baker. Hangings and Lynchings in Dallas County, Texas: 1853 to 1920 (Fort Worth, Texas: Eakin Press, 2016): 1.

Daina Ramey Berry, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation (Boston: Beacon Press, 2017): 115.

Cite this Page:

Donna Gosbee, “Jane Elkins,” Human Rights Dallas Maps, accessed November 18, 2018, http://humanrightsdallasmaps.com/items/show/2.

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