1892 lynching of a black man in Port Jervis reflected a long history of segregation 125th Anniversary of Port Jervis's Most Shameful Day
June 2, 1892 Lynching Of A Black Man On Main Street Reflected A Long History Of Segregation

P.J. Foley is the man suspected of having framed Robert Lewis as part of a blackmail scheme he was using against Lena McMahon, the white woman Lewis allegedly "assaulted."  Sent to the Orange County jail in Goshen on the blackmail charge, Foley made bail, disappeared, and was never tried. Two years later Lena McMahon was briefly committed to a  mental  institution after a pasteboard box containing  the remains of a baby were found in her New York City boarding room.  There is no reason to believe that gruesome detail and the Port Jervis scandal were related.

          For those who talk about it at all it's almost always done in hushed tones.   And though many dark stories telling of the night that made Port Jervis infamous have been told, few people alive today have ever read the actual newspaper accounts from that awful time.
           While the horror of that disgraceful tragedy is what most often first comes to mind it does so at the expense of forgetting those who struggled in vain to stop the rumor and racism crazed mob from lynching Robert Lewis to a tree near the corner of East Main Street and Ferguson Avenue. Among several others who reportedly attempted to rescue the powerless victim were two police officers, a doctor, and the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church.  Also trying to help was lawyer William Crane, brother of famed author Stephen Crane, and whose home within shouting distance of the lynching site still stands where it did on that fateful June 1892 day.  Yet despite the noble parts there is no denying it's a sordid bit of history made all the more unjustly cruel by not a single person being charged with Lewis's death.

            Now, with its ongoing arrival of optimists and well-heeled newcomers eager to put a bright fresh face on a worn and tired one, Port Jervis has come a long way from when a segregated community of color was found where today's splendid woodland trails near Reservoir #1 have opened to increasing use.   Known by more than one name, but especially that which used the n-word in front of "Hollow," this settlement on the far outskirts of town had been there from at least the last years of the Civil War.  When it was relocated by the water works company in 1883 to other land it owned at the end of North Orange Street, over 150 lived there.   This again isolated setting would remain home to people like Robert Lewis well into the 20th century.  

            But just as the history of the courageous efforts upstanding citizens made to save the life of a doomed man have been forgotten, also lost is the triumph of how a  place once filled with poverty and hardship has evolved into a beautiful recreation area free to be enjoyed by all.  

             To recognize that historic progress and respectfully remember those who lived there, a historical marker was until recently in the process of being arranged for placement in "The Hollow."   Unfortunately, a controversy arose about using the word "segregated" that caused the marker project to be suddenly and unexpectedly abandoned.

            Although over 200 markers from the Deep South to the Rochester, New York, home of gifted abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, use the word "segregated," recalling the truth about a historic reality was apparently more than some in the Port Jervis area who became involved with the project could bear. 

            Wantonly censoring a harmless word describing the sometimes troubling past is nothing like what happened to Robert Lewis 125 years ago today but it does just the same smother and bury the meaningful history of a place that deserves far better and a genuine measure of redemptive justice.
              Like the deep scar it is, the shame of Robert Lewis's death will to some extent always remain but bringing the cleansing light of a new day to shine upon such a wound can serve to help heal and act as a mindful cautionary tale for the ages.    A marker remembering an otherwise forgotten refuge set in a place that  has now become so much more remains a good place to start.  

The Hollow
A segregated community of color settled c. 1863.
When moved by water co. to North Orange St.
in 1883, more than 150 people lived here.

Above historical marker text is that which was
deemed inappropriate and censored

Read actual scanned historic newspapers about the lynching of Robert Lewis and "The Hollow" at the links below.  PLEASE NOTE:  Some may find words and language used in these articles offensive.     

 The June 2, 1892 lynching of Robert Lewis.

Final testimony and verdict of special inquest into Robert Lewis's murder

The 1883 exodus from N----r Hollow

Also see list of 245 historical markers that use the word "segregated" https://www.hmdb.org/results.asp?SearchFor=segregated                   


Copyright 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011,  2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2017, 2018