Joseph Vermilion was born 1862 in Annapolis. Vermilion was describe as 5’5, very good looking, with a short beard, and with extraordinary courage.
The Vermilion’s family moved to Marlboro, Maryland in 1885, and they quickly grew a reputation for
lawlessness and the citizens of Upper Marlboro, Maryland feared them. The citizens claimed the Vermilion broke into and robbed the barns for tobacco and other goods.
On November 22, 1889 Joseph Vermilion father John Vermilion Sr. was forcibly taken from his home by two white men. John was attacked, tied to a tree, all his furniture was removed from his house, and his house was burned down.
John Vermilion was told to gather his stuff and family and leave Maryland immediately.
On November 23, 1889 the barns and tenant house of Thomas Black and General Horn burned as well as a small unoccupied house belonging to James Hamilton. Justice Ryan occupied the tenant house at the time.
A few men was arrested for the crime committed on John Vermillion Sr., but they were quickly released by Justice Ryan. It was believed that Joseph Vermillion had committed the arson out of revenge for the unpunished burning of his father’s house.
After the arson, the police begin arresting members of the Vermillion family. Among the arrested were Edward, John Jr., George, Lloyd, and Joseph Vermillion, and Charles Bell a brother-in-law of the Vermillion’s.
John Vermillion Jr. was the only member of the family that was willing to talk about the occurrence.
John Jr. testified to his brother’s guilt, allegedly stating that on Saturday, November 23, Joseph came to his house and told him he would get revenge on those who would not give his father justice. His brother tried to persuade Joseph not to carry out his threat. He claimed that later that night, Joseph returned to his home carrying a coal oil can. Joseph then announced to John Jr. he had created “a little fire of his own.” Joseph then disappeared and was not seen again until his arrest along with four of his brothers and a brother-in-law.
Joseph Vermillion pled not guilty, claiming he was out of the county when the arson occurred, and was sent to jail until the grand jury acted. Although there was no evidence against any of the other Vermillion brothers, thirteen people swore peace warrants against them and they remained in jail at $500 bail.
The family was being held in jail awaiting Joseph’s sentencing on the night of the lynching. Around 2:30 a.m. on December 3, 1889 a mob of masked men came to the jail. Joseph’s brothers saw the attackers approaching the jail and pled with the jailer not to open the door, but it was reported that the jailer, Mr. Ridgeway, claimed he could not hear them. The men came to the jail doors and pretended to be Constable Mitchell with a prisoner. When the jail keeper opened the door, the mob seized him. The men went upstairs and broke the lock off Joseph Vermillion’s cell. They cut the shackles that bound Joseph to the floor. Joseph attempted to fight off his assailants. Several of the lynch mob were left bleeding from his attempts.
The Lynching of Joseph Vermillion
The men took Joseph by the neck and hung him from a bridge crossing over the Patuxent River. Joseph Vermilion’s body hung from the bridge with the shackles still attached to his feet. His body was taken down later that day after several citizens stopped to view it. A jury of inquest was called to review the lynching. They ruled that Joseph Vermilion had “met his death by lynching by parties unknown to the jury.” John Vermillion, the oldest brother, told the newspaper that he thought he had recognized a number of the lynch mob, but declined to name them.
After the inquest, Joseph’s body was taken to the county jail. After allowing time for visitors to view the body, the men placed him in a stained pine coffin. His body was then buried at the jail’s cemetery directly beneath Joseph’s cell window, next to Michael Green, another man who had been lynched in Upper Marlboro eleven years ago. When Joe Vermillion was buried his brothers were still being held in jail, and the two brothers with a window over the jail cemetery were reported to have wept as his coffin was lowered into the grave.
“The Sun” newspaper stated:
“The lynching of Upper Marlboro’s of a prisoner in jail on a charge of barn burning is a most discreditable incident, and on which the thoughtful and law abiding people of Prince George’s County will, no doubt, deplore and strongly discountenance…There is consequently not even the excuse ordinarily advanced in behalf of lynch law of a probability that adequate justice would fail to be meted out by the courts…Vermilion is said to have been a notorious lawbreaker, but the men who hung him have committed an act more flagrant than any of which he was accused” (“The Prince George’s County Lynching,” The Sun, 4 December 1889).
After the lynching of Joseph Vermillion, it was reported that the Vermilion family had publicly stated they would move to West Virginia. The brothers’ bail was paid on condition that they leave the state. They were to leave the state at 7:30 am the following week, accompanied by William R. Wickham. Their father, John Vermillion, would meet them en route in Washington DC. Only Lloyd Vermilion would later return to the area. On September 2, 1894, twenty-five-year-old Lloyd Vermilion’s body was found in a ditch by the road in Upper Marlboro. Three men were arrested for his murder, Benjamin and John E. Lawson, and Asa Tucker. The dead man’s brother Joseph Vermillion, the newspaper reminded readers, “was lynched for burning barns.”
Joseph was only 27 years old at the time of his murder.