Lynching Of Fred Rochelle
Lynching Of Fred Rochelle

Edited by Spessard Stone

Article, Courtesy of Kyle VanLandingham

Introduction: Canter Brown, Jr., In the Midst of All That Makes Life Worth Living Polk County, Florida, to 1940, 2001, Chapter 10, "As The Century Turned, 1895-1906," page 203, wrote: “As whites pushed Jim Crow policies through the 1890s and early 1900s, enhanced tensions across the color line resulted in racial violence on a large scale. Lynchings punctuated the passing months and years, with Florida in the lead on a per capita basis. Polk for the most part-with the possible exception of the Mulberry vicinity-had resisted this trend from the early 1870s until 1901, when a Bartow mob lynched accused rapist Fred Rochelle, hanging and then burning him alive...”

Kyle VanLandingham on September 15, 2002 e-mailed: “I sent you a copy of the Bartow 1901 news story about the lynching of Fred Rochelle. Canter mentioned it in his Polk Co. book. I heard about the incident when I was a kid. My grandmother told me all about it and years later I found the newspaper articles. The victim, Rena (Smith) Taggart, was my grandmother's first cousin. Rena was the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth (Parker) Smith and granddaughter of Streaty Parker.”

Virginia W. Westergard and Kyle S. VanLandingham, Parker & Blount In Florida, 1983, gave that Rena Smith Taggart was the daughter of Thomas W. and Elizabeth (Parker) Smith and the granddaughter of Streaty and Mary Eve (Blount) Parker. On page 194, they noted: “Rena b. 1875, Polk Co., Fla.; d. 1901, Polk Co., Fla. She married Ed Taggart, 1895. He was a baker in Lakeland, Fla. Rena was killed by a Negro with a butcher knife. He was subsequently apprehended and burned to death.”

The article from the Bartow, Polk County, Florida, Courier-Informant of June 5, 1901 follows:


Rochelle Meets Death at Hands of Mob

Taken to Scene of his Crime

Placed on a Hogshead, Coal Oil Poured on and Match Touched-- Mob Quiet but Determined.

Fred Rochelle, the fiend who outraged, tortured and stabbed to death Mrs. Taggart, on Tuesday morning of last week, was not captured until late Wednesday afternoon. Several colored men had voluntarily joined in the search and, though he had been seen by several persons, both white and colored, at various points, they had not at the time known of his fiendish crime. Three colored men, Max Bruton, James Alexander and James Hodge, were going to their work about three miles southwest of town, when Rochelle called to them and asked if that was not Bruton, who said, "Yes, come over here, Fred, I want to talk to you." Rochelle approached and in answer to questions, told the awful story, but, when he found the men intended to arrest him he broke and ran. Two of them gave chase while Hodge, not believing the other two could catch Rochelle, jumped on his wheel and started to town to give the alarm. But, after a long chase, Bruton and Alexander caught the brute, and intended to bring him in when two young white men came along and they turned him over to them.

The young men brought the prisoner to town where a crowd of cool headed, but determined citizens took charge of him, despite the sheriff and his deputies. In the presence of the throng he answered the questions put to him as cool and unconcerned as though the matter was an everyday occurrence, detailing the awful crime in a perfectly unmoved way. To the credit of this community, it should be remembered that the whole affair was conducted so quietly that those living three blocks away heard nothing of it.

After due deliberation it was decided to take him to the scene of his hideous crime. As they passed his victim's home her stepfather asked that further action be deferred until the men who had been scouring the country could get back, most of them having already been notified by telephone. The crowd consented, and about 7 o'clock he was placed upon a hogshead filled with inflammatory material, and chained to the trunk of a tree. Around the hogs head, lightwood was piled, but it was a few minutes past 8 when coal oil was poured over the pile. The negro, who maintained his utter indifference, saying he knew he was going to hell. At last, asked if he was ready he said, "All right," and the husband of his victim touched a lighted match to the pile, there was a burst of flame, and in eight minutes there was only a charred mass to tell the tale. Awe struck the throng turned homeward, and by midnight the town was as peaceful as ever, and ever since has been trying to forget.

See also Odell Robinson, “This is Lizzie’s Story," Polk County Historical Quarterly, Volume 37, Number 4, May 2011, pages 1-7.

September 16, 2002