Had kids been selling newspapers in Granby in 1906, as they did in the major cities such as New York or Boston, that February they would have been yelling “Read all about it! White Cappers drag Willis Griffin out of town!” Citizens would have flocked to buy a newspaper to read the details of the civil suit brought by Willis E. Griffin against former Deputy Sheriff Charles Allshouse and other Granby residents.
In January and February of 1906, Griffin had separated from his wife and was renting a room at the home of Dr. Alfred Weed and his wife, near Mechanicsville in Granby. In return for staying in their home, Griffin did chores around the farm to pay the rent. Weed knew Griffin as he had treated him as a patient a few years prior, but he was getting tired of seeing him around the house. Legally, Weed saw no way out of it—Griffin had signed a lease with Mrs. Weed to rent two rooms in the house.
Weed considered how he might get rid of Griffin, mindful of the lease. Someone suggested Weed rough him up, which might force him out. Weed attempted this with a stick to strike Griffin from behind. However, his plan was foiled when he tripped during the attempt and fell on top of Griffin. Griffin, realizing what Weed’s intentions were, got up and hit Weed in the face, giving him two black eyes. Weed fled the house and his friends upon seeing him, wanted revenge on Griffin.
On the night of February 6, 1906, 13 men walked to Mechanicsville Road from Salmon Brook Street in search of Griffin. But when they got to Weed’s house, Griffin was nowhere to be found. The men quickly learned that Griffin was at John Barden’s house two miles away and made their way there.
Not only was Griffin at Barden’s house, but Mrs. Weed was as well. As she was leaving, she overheard two men lurking outside talking about getting Griffin. She doubled-back to warn Griffin and Barden about what she heard, causing both men to leave the house with shotguns to find the men Mrs. Weed had overheard. As they headed out, Barden and Griffin ran into the group of 13 men, which included Deputy Charles Allshouse.
Allshouse told Griffin and Barden to put down their guns, as he would protect them. Once they placed their weapons down, Allshouse told the men, “Take him and do what you are a mind to with him.”
The gang first roughed up Barden before turning to Griffin. The group placed a noose around his neck and proceeded to kick and horsewhip Griffin until they got to the Massachusetts line. Here, they told him not to come back to Granby or else they would tar and feather him.
After the beating, Griffin walked five miles to his brother’s house in East Granby to recover. His injuries were extensive; he had several teeth knocked out, his face and neck were scratched and cut up and his legs were bruised so badly, he could barely walk. When Griffin’s sister found out about the beating led by Deputy Allshouse, she complained to Sheriff Smith and demanded an investigation. The Griffin family hired Joseph Barr as their attorney and Griffin sued the “white caps” (referring to the early 20th century movement of farmer vigilantes) for $10,000.
Deputy Sheriff George Wilson of Enfield served papers on Charles Allshouse, Lucius Allshouse, H.L. Cowles, Frank Green, Eugene Godard, Edward Godard and Louis Gregory as well as attached real estate liens to their property. Other men charged in this case were George Avery, Jesse W. Ruic, Phillip Devnew, Martin Case, James Drake and Fred Drake. All these men were represented by Attorneys Theodore Maltbie and James Lee Loomis, who asked the judge for a speedy trial because many of their clients had an economic hardship with property liens. The judge tried to accommodate; however, the trial took place nearly two years later. The trial itself lasted one week.
When Griffin took the stand, Maltbie tried to find inconsistencies in his testimony. After all, it had been nearly two years since the beating. To his frustration, he was not able to shake the plaintiff. Maltbie tried to call his character into question, Maltbie called Griffin a “moral leper” and said that he deserved to be thrown out of town. Maltbie stated it was the defendants’ “duty to remove the cancer from town” and proceeded to tarnish Griffin’s reputation by calling other witnesses to the stand who stated that Griffin had no moral character, he was worthless and deserved what he got.
Judge Shumay, who was presiding over this case instructed the jury before deliberations, “that a man had been disarmed, tied with a rope, run up the road and whipped for two miles. It was for the jury to decide whether that was necessary for the defendants to protect themselves from assault.” The jury took a long time to come to a decision but ultimately ruled in favor of Willis Griffin. While they didn’t agree with the $10,000 in damages Griffin asked for, they awarded him $300 from the defendants.
This case got national attention as newspapers from various states reported on it, including the Atlanta Constitution, the Birmingham News, the Bismarck Tribune, Boston Globe, Fall River Daily Evening News, and the Hartford Courant. While many people may say nothing ever happens in Granby—that certainly would not have been said in 1906 and certainly not in a court room in 1908.
Want to learn more about the Griffin-Allshouse civil suit or the people involved with this case? Join the Salmon Brook Historical Society; call 860-653-9713 or visit salmonbrookhistoricalsociety.com