Unknown Frenchman

Unknown Frenchman

Birth
Death
31 Jul 1886
Burial
New Albany, Union County, Mississippi, USA Add to Map
Memorial ID
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FRENCHMAN'S GRAVE

When Col. William Falkner (1825-1889) was building the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad in the late 1800s, he used convict labor on the sections between Ripley, Mississippi, and Pontotoc, Mississippi. Local legend has it that many of the 375 convicts leased to his railroad by the State of Mississippi died of mistreatment, and by the hands of trigger-happy guards. It is believed that their bodies are buried in unmarked graves along the railroad right-of-way.

The one exception to the unmarked grave theory is the Frenchman's grave on the edge of Highway 15, about 5 ½ miles north of New Albany, Mississippi. For many years the only marker on the grave was a four-sided wooden picket fence, built by section foreman J. D. Wall. Successor owners of the Gulf and Ship Island Line have maintained the grave down to the present time. The picket fence was finally replaced with a welded steel enclosure. In 2010 latticework and a sign were added to the enclosure by Tommy Covington.

Legend says the Frenchman was visiting Mississippi and was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to railroad labor for a crime that he did not commit. His defense was hampered by his inability to speak English. At some point in time, he received a letter from France saying that his wife was at the point of death. Wanting to see his wife before she died, he tried to escape from the work crew and was shot by a guard.

While the body that is buried in the Frenchman's grave cannot be identified with certainty, the State of Mississippi Penitentiary record #547 supplies the best clue to date. Subject Frank Smith, born in France, was sentenced in Warren County to a term of 3 years for grand larceny. He was shot July 14, 1886, while trying to escape from a railroad construction crew, and he died July 31, 1886.

From THE RIPLEY RAILROAD by Herbert C. Murdaugh 1968
FRENCHMAN'S GRAVE

When Col. William Falkner (1825-1889) was building the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad in the late 1800s, he used convict labor on the sections between Ripley, Mississippi, and Pontotoc, Mississippi. Local legend has it that many of the 375 convicts leased to his railroad by the State of Mississippi died of mistreatment, and by the hands of trigger-happy guards. It is believed that their bodies are buried in unmarked graves along the railroad right-of-way.

The one exception to the unmarked grave theory is the Frenchman's grave on the edge of Highway 15, about 5 ½ miles north of New Albany, Mississippi. For many years the only marker on the grave was a four-sided wooden picket fence, built by section foreman J. D. Wall. Successor owners of the Gulf and Ship Island Line have maintained the grave down to the present time. The picket fence was finally replaced with a welded steel enclosure. In 2010 latticework and a sign were added to the enclosure by Tommy Covington.

Legend says the Frenchman was visiting Mississippi and was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to railroad labor for a crime that he did not commit. His defense was hampered by his inability to speak English. At some point in time, he received a letter from France saying that his wife was at the point of death. Wanting to see his wife before she died, he tried to escape from the work crew and was shot by a guard.

While the body that is buried in the Frenchman's grave cannot be identified with certainty, the State of Mississippi Penitentiary record #547 supplies the best clue to date. Subject Frank Smith, born in France, was sentenced in Warren County to a term of 3 years for grand larceny. He was shot July 14, 1886, while trying to escape from a railroad construction crew, and he died July 31, 1886.

From THE RIPLEY RAILROAD by Herbert C. Murdaugh 1968