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Lynched by a mob

John Conway
Posted 2/2/24

On June 2, 1892, an angry mob of several hundred men dragged Robert Lewis nearly half a mile through the streets and hanged him from a tree.

Lewis, also known as Robert Jackson, was an African …

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Lynched by a mob


On June 2, 1892, an angry mob of several hundred men dragged Robert Lewis nearly half a mile through the streets and hanged him from a tree.

Lewis, also known as Robert Jackson, was an African American, and he was lynched because he had been accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. Tragically, incidents like this were not uncommon in America at that time, but this lynching did not take place in Georgia or Mississippi, but in Port Jervis, NY, just a few miles from Sullivan County.

Estimates are that there were more than 4,700 lynchings in America between 1882 and 1968, and about 1,200 of those took place in states other than those that were part of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Although lynchings were relatively rare in the Northeast during that time period, they did take place here, and only Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island had no recorded lynchings in those years.

In addition to being a gruesome and despicable crime, the lynching of Robert Lewis and its aftermath is a fascinating story, with several intriguing twists and turns. It has often been cited as the inspiration for Stephen Crane’s critically acclaimed short novel, “The Monster,” published in 1898, and the author’s oldest brother, William Howe Crane, a prominent lawyer and judge in Port Jervis at the time, was one of a handful of locals who tried desperately, but ultimately unsuccessfully, to stop the lynch party. William Howe Crane, of course, has his own ties to Sullivan County as the founder of the Hartwood Club in Forestburgh.

The story of the lynching of Robert Lewis has been told in book form more than once in recent years, but never any better than in the 2022 book, “Lynched by a Mob” by former Port Jervis Police Detective Michael J. Worden. The book won a gold medal in the true crime category of the 2023 Independent Publisher Book Awards, also known as the IPPY Awards, and the 2023 Next Generation Indie Book Awards also awarded the book a gold medal in true crime.

Worden has put together a truly captivating oral presentation about the incident, which he has dissected as a true detective would dissect a complex crime, and has even had one of his presentations of the program broadcast on national television.

“Nobody was ever held accountable for the lynching of Robert Jackson,” he writes. “It is one of the only unsolved homicides in Port Jervis history. How could a crime such as this go unpunished? A coroner’s inquest, and two separate grand juries failed to bring anyone to justice, despite good citizens identifying some of the perpetrators. What happened at the coroner’s inquest? What about the grand juries that sat and heard evidence?”

These are the questions Worden presents-- and attempts to answer-- in both the book and his program. He has “meticulously reconstructed the testimony of the coroner’s inquest, witness by witness, utilizing over a dozen sources to fully examine and evaluate that aspect of the story. He located never before published court records which shed new light on the grand juries that heard the case, and why they likely didn’t return any indictments for murder.”

In fact, Coroner Joseph Harding concluded his inquest with the verdict that Lewis had died “at the hands of persons unknown” which is now largely understood to be the euphemism used to  close many inquiries into lynchings that for whatever reason were meant to remain unsolved.

Worden also delves into the tantalizing possibility that Lewis, or Jackson, was set up, by a mysterious newcomer to Port Jervis known only as P.J. Foley. All in all, it makes for an enthralling program.

Now, through the efforts of Town of Highland Town Historian Debra Conway, Michael J. Worden is bringing the program to Sullivan County.

In honor of Black History Month, the Town of Highland is sponsoring Worden’s program at the Town Hall in Eldred at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 10. Admission to the program is free. In the event of inclement weather, the event will be rescheduled to Saturday, February 24 at 2 p.m.

In addition to presenting the program, Worden, who is also the Town Historian for the Town of Deerpark, will have his book on hand to sign and sell.

Debra Conway says she saw Worden’s program on C-Span and was impressed enough to seek him out and to set up the program in Eldred.

“The story is riveting, and made more so by the fact that this act of racial terrorism took place so close to home,” she says. “The horror of the story will shake you to your core, especially if you have believed that something like a lynching could never happen here. The presentation is something everyone should see for so many reasons. It will make you think.”

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and a founder and president of The Delaware Company. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.  


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