John T. Terry Collection

Identifier: MSS.0987

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

This collection contains a letter written in 1882 by a Mississippi law enforcement officer describing racial violence and efforts to prevent a lynching. The letter is addressed to "My darling precious Cora" and is signed "John".

The writer refers to himself in the letter as "an officer" and likely worked for the Leflore County Sheriff. Most of the letter describes an incident in which he was called to the hamlet of Shellmound "to settle a disturbance between the white people and negroes." A white man had killed a black man and been arrested, but "the negroes was cutting up and making a good many threats and got the whites excited. They sent runners up the river and down here for help to guard the young man that night." John gathered a group of men and went to Smallmound, where he found a white crowd "had got after a negro, a brother to the one that got killed and wanted to mob him." The man escaped, but "they were out all night nearly hunting him but never found him. They shot at one or two others and wounded one slightly. They had the negroes so frightened that it was impossible to get any of the witnesses." Nonetheless, the white offender was held pending trial, and the crowd dispersed "pretending that they were going to disband." Instead, they continued their manhunt until "they ran up on a negro and killed him." John, meanwhile, was two miles away protecting the original offender's father (who was afraid of being attacked by the victim's family) when yet another black man was taken captive by the white vigilantes. John writes: "I was afraid they were going to kill him too and I set up nearly all night to keep them from hurting him. Being an officer, I managed to keep him safe until next morning. I brought him on to Greenwood for I knew he would be killed if I left him up there. He is in town now. Told me this morning that God would bless me for protecting him."


  • 1882 August 1

Conditions Governing Access

This collection may be viewed only in the reading room of Special Collections in the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Collections should be requested 2-3 days prior to visiting in order to facilitate easier access. For questions or to request a collection, contact

Biographical Note - John T. Terry

John T. Terry was born on March 5, 1856. He married Cora Lesly Harris on November 28, 1882. Cora was the granddaughter of Greenwood Leflore, who the town and county is named for. John Terry died on December 4, 1901 in Greenwood, Mississippi.

John T. Terry is the presumed author of this letter though the letter is only signed 'John'. In the letter, he mentions that he will "very soon be married" to Cora, and a John and Cora Terry were married in Greenwood three months after this letter was written.


.1 Linear Feet (1 folder)

Language of Materials



This collection contains a letter written in 1882 by a Mississippi law enforcement officer describing racial violence and efforts to prevent a lynching.

Physical Location

Special Collections & Archives

Finding Aid for the John T. Terry Collection
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Library
1101 19th Ave. S.
Nashville TN 37212 United States


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