"John Presswood, Jr., History of the life and last confession of the woman murderer, as made by him in the jail at Smithville, Tenn., on the 19th day of May, 1872, five days previous to his execution."

Searching through a package of old papers, Justice F. L. Foutch of Alexandria, found the confession of John Presswood, the second man ever hanged in Dekalb County. The confession of Presswood was printed in pamphlet form, and sold for a dime. It also includes a short history of his life.

The first man to pay the death penalty in Dekalb County was a negro. (Note: He was a slave and his name was Jim. He was convicted of killing another slave.) Presswood was hanged 37 years ago and the trap was sprung by Henry Blackburn, then sheriff of the county.

The execution was public and thousands witnessed it. The confession is remarkably well preserved and Justice Foutch has kindly allowed its publication by the Times. The breaking of the rope to which Presswood referred was a hanging at Gainesboro a f ew days before.

Presswood was baptized the day before he was hanged. May 19, 1872.

By request of John Presswood, Jr., we hereby agree and write a brief sketch of his life and confession, in his own language, which is as follows:

"I was born in McMinn County, East Tennessee, and lived there with my parents until I was nearly grown, and the only account that took place while we lived there that I desire to speak of is, that while I was one day plowing on a rented farm there was a widow woman, by the name of Elizabeth Burt, cutting stalks in the adjoining field."

"I stopped my horse and went where she was and she had a new hoe, and I walked up to her and asked to let me see her hoe. She handed me the hoe. I looked at it and then asked her to go to the creek. She said she would not do it. I then raised the hoe and struck her on the forehead with the handle near the hoe. Her head was somewhat hurt and bled some. When I struck her she sorter staggered and got down on the ground. I then left her and went back to my horse and plowed back to the other end of the field; took my horse out and went home, a distance of about half a mile. When I got home I told my folks about it and my two oldest sisters went immediately to see about her."

"They found her at her father's house a distance of a little over a quarter of a mile from the field. She made the same statement to my sisters that I have given and said that I was all over in a tremble when I struck her. (You see I had been having chills all the spring and was very weak, and had took so much quinine that I did not know what I was doing)."

"After my sisters came back the were all hallowing and scared and my brother came in who was plowing in a field for himself, and after a while I went to bed. I did not feel good-sorter sick, and did not sleep, much and about 2 or 3 o'clock I got up a nd me and my brother went up to my uncle's, about a mile off. My father was not there. We then went on out on the big road and met him."

"My brother then told him what I had done, and my father says, 'John what do you mean? I have a good notion to take a wythe and wear you out.' "

"We all three then went back to my uncle's and talked awhile about it and then started on toward home, and when about half way my father told me that if I wanted to stay that I might do so, and me and my brother Jim turned back and stayed until about sundown, and we then started back and went to my aunt's away up in the country and got there way in the night."

"Next morning about daylight, Jack Hart, her brother, and Snyder, and one Lot came to my aunt's and coch us under the bed, and they took us and went on toward home, when we met father, and father put me on his mare and let me ride on to Hart's."

"Nothing was said to me while at Hart's by the woman. They then took me to Esquire Bobbs' and we had a part of a trial that evening, and they then guarded me back to my father's that night, and the next day they finished the trial, and they agreed to whip me. Hart wanted to do the whipping, but my father objected, and they then agreed that my father might whip me which he did. He gave me 39 lashes with a hickory wythe on my back."

"We then went down on the Tennessee river and rented a place and made a crop, and stayed there about 10 months, and then moved to White County, on the land of one Thurman. We then bought the land from him, and lived there until Mrs Billings was kille d."

"On Sunday before she was killed my father and mother went to the Widow Barton's for a visit, and left me and my sisters and little brother at home and after a while I started and went over to Mr. Wright's. They were at dinner when I got there, They asked me to take dinner, but I did not feel like eating. I wanted Mr. Wright to go with me over to the wheat patch that he and I had sowed on the halves. He said he was tired and did not feel like walking. I then went on to the wheat patch and on to T om Clouse's and went on down across a big hollow, and across to Love's mill pond and then up the ridge to Billings'. When I got to the house Mrs. Billings and her little children were alone-no one else was there at that time. I stepped up to door and sa ys good evening. She said good evening, and said come in, and I went in and set down. I asked her if they were all well. She said they were. She asked me if my folks were all well. I told her the were. That is all that was said until Steve Johnson a nd Dan Kerby came to the house. They came in and stayed awhile. Steve was wanting to see some of his hogs that were running over there."

Wanted To Tell Truth

"When we all started I told her to come over to see my mother and sisters. She said she would, and told me to tell them to come and see her. I told her I would."

"Now it is said that she told me to tell one of my sisters to come and stay with her that night. But if she did I did not understand it that way. I know I am bound to die and want to tell the truth."

"Steve Johnson, Dan Kerby and myself started off together. They were both riding. Steve rode up to a big stump and told me to get up behind him and ride. I told him that I would walk. We soon parted and when I got home I saw them riding on up the road toward Steve Johnson's."

Wished For A Wife

"When I got home, Stacy Ann and Jane Rigsby were at our House. After I had my supper one of my brothers wanted me to go with him to the Rigsby house. Said he had promised the Rigsby girls he would come. I refused to go, said that I did not feel wel l, but my mother told me to go, and we went on a little after dark. Stayed there until about 10 o'clock in the night. Then we all went back home together and I told my sisters to get me some supper that I was hungry. They done so, and after I eat I fi lled my pipe and smoked and went to bed and left them sitting up. They sat up and hour and a half after I went to bed. I did not sleep for sometime. I was studying about the women and wished I had a wife. I finally went to sleep and I dreamed that Jim Billings had gone, down the river on a raft, and that his family was by themselves. (But I did not know at that time that Jim had gone down the river). So I concluded that I would go over there and if there was any person over there I would come back. So I got out of bed with my shirt and drawers only on-bareheaded and barefooted and walked as easy as I could to the door and pulled the door open as easy as I could, for I did not want to make any fuss, but the door shutter was bade of boards and the fl oor was of puncheons, and the door could be raised on the hinges, so it had to scrape the floor. And after I got out I pulled the door a little at a time till I got it together and closed. Then I started through the garden and got over the fence and dow n the other side of the garden and struck the path and kept on the path to the mill road. I kept on down the mill road until I got to the big gate in one hundred yards of the Billings' house. After I got through the gate I went on toward the house."

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