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The Lynching Project: Dade County

Dade County

Dade County was founded in 1837 and was named after Major Francis Langhorne Dade, a Virginian who played a large role in helping to enforce the treaty that ended the First Seminole War. Angry about the treaty, a group of militant Seminoles ambushed him and his men, killing Dade and all but three of 108 men. This is currently known as the 1835 Dade Massacre, which leads to the U.S. laughing the second Seminole war.

Dade County is a very unique area a was long isolated from the rest of Georgia by its geography of mountains and rivers, which contributed to it's resident's separatist attitudes. The was no road to connect Dade county to the rest of the state until the establishment of Cloudland Canyon State Park in 1939. Before the construction of the many facilities and access roads to the park, travelers from elsewhere in Georgia could drive to the county only by way of Alabama or Tennessee.

Dade County had a short-lived state secessionist movement before the American Civil War. In 1860, residents wanted to secede from the Union but, did not immediately because of lawmakers cautioning them. According to legend, in 1860, the people of Dad county grew impatient and announce their own succession from Georgia and the United State. While their succession had no legal effect, it was symbolic and spoke volume about the people of Dade County. Dade county official succeeded along with the state of Georgia in 1861 and rejoined the union with Georgia in 1870.

Currently, Dade County has approximately 16,633 residents. Dade county is about 174 sq mi, with 174 sq mi of that being land and only .2 sq mi being water.

Thomas Roof/ Tom Ruffin

Thomas Roof/ Tom Ruffin was murdered March 8th, 1888 in Dade County, Georgia. He was accused of the assaulting/ attempting to rape a married white woman. According to the March 9th edition of the Trenton GA Dade weekly time, Tom Ruffin was accused of assaulting Mrs.Morrison at “Diamond Hill”. He was found 2 days later (Thursday) in Chattanooga and was brought to trial before “Squire Gureton”. He was identified as by Mrs.Morrison and others who saw him immediately after the deed. Mrs. Morrison testified that Tom Ruffin came to the house of Mrs.Castleberry, where she was visiting and demanded something to eat which Ms.Morrison gave him. He allegedly left then returned after a short time, finding her door fastened, he broke the lock and assaulted her. She said he threw her down twice but once he heard assistance coming, he threw a large stone at her, which only grazed her shoulder. He shouted to her “Go GOD Damn you, I’ll Kill you” and he ran off. He was committed to jail on default $5 of a 600 bail.

According to Sheriff Byrd, at about midnight, when he opened the doors he was met by a large mob of 25 to 35 men who demanded the keys to Ruffin's cell. Once the sheriff refused they broke open the door with sledgehammers, which they brought for that purpose. This also let out the other prisoners (the sheriff said he felt powerless).

The mob became hostile when approached by Dave Atum came from Cole’s store with a lantern. They told him to put his light out and when he refused they shot at him and a number of stones were thrown at him. Lucky, he managed to escape to the courthouse. One of the lynchers Dignified as “ghost in white” went in the courthouse and told Mr.Major, treasurer of the county that Ruffin had made a full confession of his crime.

Sunday Morning, his corpse was found swinging from a rater over the wagon scales on the public square.

Neal south/ Neal Smith

Neal south/ Neal Smith was murdered October 3rd, 1895. Neal Smith was a trusty convict who was responsible for carrying water for a railroad section gang working on the top line of the track which went to a coal washer, which was located near the foot of the mountain, an area known as the Lower Cole City. Miss Margie Henderson, daughter of Bill Henderson, lived in Lower Cole City and was returning home after visiting her sister who lived on top of the mountain, Upper Cole City. When spotted by the convict, he allegedly gave an excuse to his boss and left the upper track to go to the lower track and a distance ahead of Miss Henderson. He waited for her to approach and then attacked her, striking her on the head with a rock. This rock was near ten inches in length and two inches in diameter. She tried protecting herself by putting her hands on her head, but he pounded her hands, breaking her fingers. She carried a penknife and he used her knife after beating her unconscious and dragging her down the side of the mountain on a slope of about 60 degrees during his attack.

The crime was allegedly committed on October 1st, 1885. After being left for dead, Miss Henderson was found unconscious and stained with blood by another trusty Negro convict. The Negro who discovered her was first charged with the crime but, the track boss remembered Neal Smith, whom he had permitted to go to the coal washer building at a late hour that afternoon, and much longer than making the trip was necessary. They later found the clothes that he was wearing during the assault and Miss Henderson’s penknife in his possession. This was on Thursday, October 3rd. After being apprehended, about 200 men or more waited in the yard in front of the gate if the stockade. Once the gate was opened, several men enter and made their way to the doors of the prison. With little effort, they collected Neal Smith, who had been double shackled and had a necklace was about his neck. A large ring on his leg shackles had been passed over a building chain. Only a few minutes after being apprehended was the ring around his next severed. The mob marched on narrow gauge track to the point where Miss Henderson had been attacked on the Tuesday before.

There, they struck him on the head with the same rock he allegedly had beaten Miss Henderson with. Next, he was then dragged down the steep 60-degree slope of the mountain on the same trail where he had dragged the girl to a large flat rock eight feet square. Then an angry Mob member used a sharp knife to slash at his body from his ears down to his torso. Then, with a going away backhand slash with the knife, this man said to the congregation, “He’s yours.” After being strung up, his body faced a fusillade of fire from many kinds and makes of firearms. Neal South’s body fell just off the rock that marked the place of his crime. After the lynching, many visited at the girl’s sister’s and were allowed to pass through the hall to view through the open door Miss Henderson lying on the bed and having convulsions, then four days after the attack. This scene only incited those who viewed it, and with little encouragement, they would have started out to exterminate the colored race. Furthermore, at about 2 am the same evening, angry monster suggested and was in motion to decapitate Smith’s head and place it on the top picket in the center of the gate in the iron fence that then surrounded the courthouse. Attached was to be a note of warning to all Negroes. Luckily, an individual talked them out of it by suggesting they use that ax to build a pyre and cremate the body in a way destroying and evidence of lynching and to save the expense of a coroner’s inquest, also burying expense. Neal Smith was later cremated.


In efforts to memorialize its lynching victims, Dade County has published the story of Neal South/ Neal Smith on its history website. This serves as a harsh reminder of Dade county’s past but, also a marker of its progress. The Dade County lynching victims are honored at the  Memorial of Reconciliation, Peace & Justice in Alabama.


Brundage, W. F. (1993). Lynching in the New South Georgia and Virginia, 1880 - 1930. Urbana, Ill.: Univ. of Ill. Pr.
Dade County History. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Dade County, Georgia. (2019, March 15). Retrieved from,_Georgia
Gilpin, C. C. (2018, April 26). Teaching Activities for: 'A Lynching Memorial Is Opening. The Country Has Never Seen Anything Like It.' Retrieved from IMAGE
Lynching Victim. (n.d.). Retrieved from,_GA.jpg
NEATHERY, F. (2009, April 11). TRENTON, DADE IN 1800s RECALLED. Retrieved from
Trenton GA Dade Weekly Times. (n.d.). Retrieved from