Horrible Tragedy By A Lunatic Near Sulligent – Noe and DeGraffenried Murders 1867


Noe Murder (3)


by Peggy R. J. Horton wphor@sbcglobal.net

On December 1, 1867, one hundred forty-five years ago, three lives were taken in the Pine Springs community of the then Jones County, present day Lamar County.  Those lives were Mary (Fitzgerald) and Thomas R. Noe, Sr., my great-great grandparents, and Dr. Metcalfe  “Mack” DeGraffenried.

Peter Noe had moved his family from Tennessee to Alabama between 1820-1825, buying land in 1825.  Thomas, his son, bought 40 acres in 1835, added 119.89 acres in 1857,  and 160.16 acres in 1858.  Thomas and Mary had eight known children; their youngest daughter was my great-grandmother Hester Jane Noe who was married to William “Buck” M. Davis.  The Noe family was well known in the area, had raised their children there, and had other relatives living near-by.  Of four sons who served in the Confederate Army, only one lived to return home.

The story most often told of the murders is the following from “Early Settlers of Alabama” by Col. James Edmonds Saunders:

The DeGraffenrieds – Second Part. — Page 312 “………The burden of the family then fell on two young girls, who heroically performed their parts, and educated their younger sisters and brothers, sending one of them, Metcalfe, (Mac) to a school of high grade, to be educated in medicine. But fortune frowned upon them, for the war came on, and in their new and prosperous home they were broken up. They had a brother who was a practising physician to aid them, when a most untoward event happened. The Doctor was visiting a patient one day where lived a man named Briggs, who had once been in a lunatic asylum, and had been sent home as cured. While the Doctor was stooping to arrange the fire, Briggs struck him across the back of the neck, with the iron poker, and killed him.”

 Additional information told that Dr. DeGraffenried was at the Noe home to tend to a sick grandson of the Noe’s, believed to be the son of George Robert Noe (he is listed as Robert G. Noe on the 1850 Marion County census but is George R. Noe on the 1860 census, and George Robert Noe on U.S. General Land Office records, and on his Civil War record).  During the night, the grandson had been frightened of  BRIGGS and had crawled beneath his bed.  BRIGGS took an axe handle that been drying near the fire and killed the three adults.  When the black man who worked for the Noes came the next morning to light the lamps and start the fire to prepare breakfast, he found the bodies of Mary and Thomas Noe and Dr. DeGraffenried.  The young boy crawled from beneath the bed, and he and the hired man ran to report the murder to the authorities.  BRIGGS was captured, hiding in the loft of a barn and led the authorities to where he had hidden the murder weapon.

The above furnished partial answers for the “Who, What, Why, Where and When” but additional questions were unanswered.  What had Briggs done to be committed to the asylum the first time?  Did Dr. DeGraffenried have a wife and children?  Did Briggs have a wife and children?  How long had Briggs been out of the asylum?

Some answers were found in the Alabama 1867 Voting Registration and Loyalty Oaths.

As a result of the War Between the States, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act which required the comanding officer in each military district to register all male citizens 21 years old and older before September 1, 1867, in every county who were qualified to vote and who had taken the loyalty oath.  The Registration book had columns for Name, Race, County of residence, Precinct, Length of residence (in state, in county, in precinct), Book and page where the individual’s Loyalty Oath was recorded.

Alabama 1867 Voter Registration Records from Alabama Department of Archives and History:

Name                    Race       County      Precinct       Election District

Briggs, Samuel        White        Jones         Noe’s                  32

Noe, Samuel C         White        Jones         Noe’s                  32

Noe, Jr, Thomas R   White        Jones         Noe’s                  32

Noe, Sr, Thomas R   White       Jones          Noe’s                  32

Davis, William M      White      Jones      Millville*               32

*Millville was changed to Detroit at the request of the US Post Office between 1867 – 1870 as it is listed as Detroit on the 1870 census.

 The above furnished the first name of BriggsSamuel; that he had lived in the same precinct as the Noe family, and near Hester Jane and William M.  Davis.  It also revealed that he had lived in the State, the County, and the Precinct for twelve months.

An item in the THE WEST ALABAMIAN newspaper of Pickens County, AL, told of a lunatic named Briggs who had killed two men and a woman, that he had been jailed, and that he had been a Methodist minister.

Horrible Tragedy by a Lunatic

A man name Briggs was confined in the jail at this place on Sunday last for the killing of two men and a woman with an axe, in Jones County, Ala. — For years Briggs has been deranged, but this, we understand, is the first act of violence he has committed and or attempted to commit. At one time he belonged to the Alabama Methodist Conference, and was regarded as an able and efficient minister until he lost his mind. The West Alabamian 18 December 1867 Pickens County, Alabama.

The news of the murders appeared in other papers across the country.

Though a couple of the newspapers mistakenly identified one of the victims as “John R. Noah,  there is no doubt that two of the victims were Thomas R. Noe and his wife Mary. 

The following articles furnished a few more details about the murders.

 Wholesale Murder by a Preacher

Near Melville, Ala., on the night of the 30th ult., a Methodist preacher named Samuel Briggs murdered Dr. DeGraffinreed and Mr. John R. Noah. According to the Tupelo Mississippian’s account. Briggs and DeGraffinreed were in conversation when Briggs arose from his chair, seized a piece of wood, and struck DeGraffinreed, knocking him into the fire and killing him; whereupon Mr. John R. Noah, an old gentleman, at whose residence Briggs and DeGraffinreed were, jumped out of bed apparently to rescue DeGraffinreed, when Briggs fell upon him with his stick of wood and beat him to death. The wife of Mr. Noah attempted to escape by the door but was overtaken by the murderer and killed with the same instrument. Briggs escaped and at last accounts had not been arrested. Memphis Dailey December 21, 1867

Killed By a Lunatic

A Methodist minister named Briggs killed two men and a woman at Milleville, Ala. He was a lunatic who had been released as cured. He committed the triple murder with an axe handle. The victims were all aged persons in the house where he was staying. Boston Herald December 27, 1867.

DeGraffenried Family

 There are various spelling of the DeGraffenried name – “DeGraffenried” and “DeGraffinried” are the most common.  Several variations of the name were found and each name is written as found in the records.

Checking online we found at Tracking Your Roots, that Metcalfe “Mack” DeGraffenried was on the census for 1850 Hancock Co, AL, listed as a Doctor, living with his parents Abraham and Mariam DeGraffenried and siblings.  In 1858, Hancock County became Winston County, and Dr. DeGraffenried is listed on the 1860 Winston County living with his sisters and brothers.  Their father had died and was buried at the Moulton Old City Cemetery, Moulton, Lawrence Co, AL.  The date of death and location of burial for their mother is unknown.

Emily M. Cox was one of twin daughters born to Mahaley (Floyd) and Nathaniel D. Cox, on 4 Jul 1841 in Dalton, Murray Co, GA. The family, on the 1850 Hall Co, GA, census, moved from Georgia to Alabama.  Between November 1857 and September 1860, Nathaniel had bought over 400 acres of land in Marion County, and are on the 1860 Marion County census.  Nathaniel Cox (b. 8 Jan 1810, d. 30 May 1865) and Mahaley Cox (b. 18 Dec 1809, d. 30 May 1865) are both buried in the Old Union Baptist Cemetery in Marion County.

Emily and Dr. DeGraffenried were married about 1860-1861.  No marriage license has been found for them.  Based on the 1867 Voter Registration Records for Winston County, they probably lived in Winston County at that time.

The 1867 Voting Registration and Loyalty Oath for Winston County had the information that  Dr. DeGraffenried was born 21 Feb 1820 in Rutherford Co, TN – this was one of the few counties that included birthdays and place of birth as part of the Loyalty Oaths.  All who registered were listed in state for “twelve months” and in county for “three months”.

According to Tracking Your Roots, the Doctor and Emily had two daughters – Missouri DeGraffenried, b. abt 1861, and Mary F. Irene DeGraffenried, b. abt 1868.  Their dates of birth point to Dr. DeGraffenried as their father with Emily as their mother, but their names and dates apparently have been switched.  Emily had a third daughter by another husband, whose name has not been verified.  Determining which was which was a puzzle, and with a different man named as the father of one believed to be the daughter of DeGraffenried added to the mystery.

There is no definite proof of who is who but what is documented is:

On the 1870 Marion census, Emily, age 28,  is listed with two daughters, Mejrenas Degnaenried, age 9, born abt 1861, and Mary F. Degnaenried, age 2, born abt 1868.

On the 1880 census, Emily, age 35, is listed as Emily M. Bond, with three daughters, Mary F. Bond, age 17; Mack Bond, age 11, and Jennie Bond, age 6.  No record of a marriage between Emily and a Bond has been found, and no further record of Jennie.

On the 1900 census, Emily Degraffinried, age 55,  is  listed as a Widow, with one daughter, Mack I. DeGraffinried, age 32, b. May 1868, Divorced, living with her.

On the 1910 census, Emily Degraffenried , age 66,  is listed as the mother of 3 children with 3 living, and Mc Degraffenried, age 39, divorced.

On the 1920 census, Emily Degraffinried,  age 78, is listed with Mack Thrasher, age 51, Widow.   (No record of a marriage for Mack to a Thrasher has been found.)  She is listed as Mack DeGraffenried living alone on the 1930 and 1940 Winston Co, AL, census where she had moved after the death of her mother.   A Marion County marriage license dated 19 Feb 1891 was issued for M. I. Degraphenreed  and Henry Pickard.  In 1930, Henry is listed as a Boarder, divorced, in Winston Co, AL.   Mack died 16 March 1949, in Winston County and is buried in the Old Union Baptist Cemetery, Marion County.

A Marion County marriage license dated 14 Dec 1898 was issued for Mosouria A. Degraffried and Walter S. Scott (Walter L. Scott).  On the 1900 census, Missouri is listed as age 25, b. Feb 1875 (possibly Missouri was called Jennie at one time).  From 1900 through 1940, Missouri’s age is consistent with 1875 as the year of her birth – her headstone has her birth day as 19 Feb 1875.  She died 27 Oct 1949, Walter Levi Scott died 27 Oct 1944, and both were buried in the Old Union Baptist Cemetery.

Through the years the census records show that Emily’s father, Nathaniel Cox, had lived near or next to her until his death, as did her brother James Cox, and her sister Elizabeth J. Cox who was the widow of William Jasper Dickinson.  William had served in Company K, 5th Reg’t, Alabama Cavalry and had died 25 April 1863. Elizabeth drew a Confederate Widow’s Pension until her death 14 Nov 1920.

 On the 1900 Marion County census, Elizabeth J. Dickinson, is listed as Household #163, next to Emily at Household #162, with the following people living with her:

1900 Marion Co, AL – Goddard – Dist 62 – HH 163 – p. 191A

Household Members: Name Age

Elizabeth J Dickinson 60  Head Widow  b. Jan 1840

Mary F Hooker 39  Niece  Widow b. Jan 1861

James N Hooker 17  Nephew  b. Mar 1883

Lillie M Hooker 10  Niece  b. Dec 1889

Denver F Hooker 6  Nephew  b. Feb 1894

Claud H Hooker 4  Nephew  b. May 1896

Elma L Hooker 1  Nephew  b. Feb 1899  (Elmer)

The Alabama Deaths and Burials Index, 1881 – 1974, lists Mary F. Hooker, b. abt 1861, d. 26 Dec 1945, and identifies M. P. Barns and Emley Cox as her parents.

 Based on the above, it appears that Mary Floyd Hooker was the first daughter born to Dr. DeGraffenried and Emily, and that M. P. Barns/Bonds was not her father. Her headstone has her birth date as 18 Jan 1861 (not 1868 as first noted), and her death date as 25 Dec 1945. (Mary’s full name was found on one of her son’s Death Certificate and on another son’s World War I Draft Registration.)   Born about six months after the death of Dr. DeGraffenried, Mack I. DeGraffenried’s headstone has her birth date as  31 May 1868,  indicating that she was the second daughter born to Dr. DeGraffenried and EmilyMissouri Arvilla, whose age indicates that she was born in 1875 (19 Feb 1875 is the date on her headstone), would be the third daughter of Emily, possibly fathered by Barns/Bonds.  No records of Barns or Bonds have been found.

 Emily’s Death Certificate names Mack DeGraffinried as her husband;  Mack’s Death Certificate names Emley Cox as her mother, and Missouri’s Certificate names Emmaline Cox as her mothertheir father is not named.  Emily, Mack, Missouri and Walter, Mary Floyd and two of her sons are buried in the Old Union Baptist Cemetery in Marion County.  There is a S. P. Hooker buried there who was probably Mary Floyd’s husband; one son’s Death Index named his father as Palk Hooker and two others have his name as Polk Hooker.  No burial site for Dr. DeGraffenried has been found; he may be buried in the Old Union Baptist Cemetery in an unmarked grave or in the Old Moulton City Cemetery in Winston County.

Emily submitted an Application of Widows of Deceased Soldiers or Sailors of the Armies of the Confederate States or the State of Alabama on 16 May 1907 in which she stated that the Doctor was a Sergeant in the CSA.  Elizabeth, her sister, had submitted her Application for a pension 6 May 1899.  Emily may have waited to apply for a pension because she did not have the proof that was required.  (see Attachment #1)

Life must have been hard for Emily and her young daughters after the Doctor’s death  and as the years went by, her resources had dwindled.  One of the letters to the Board of Pension Examiners dated July 2nd, 1907, stated that “technically her proof is not exactly as it should be, but she is poor, has no one to support her and we believe her to be a worthy old woman…….”  (see Attachments  #2 & #3)

The pension was granted and she was placed in Class 4.  In October 1914, her eligibility was questioned because she had not submitted proof that her husband had served during the War.  Several supporting statements were submitted by others, stating they knew Dr. Mack DeGraffenried during the War, that they knew he was a surgeon or assistant surgeon but didn’t know which unit he was in; and that they knew “he would give the soldiers certificates as to their condition……the army officers would always recognize them”.  In November 1914 she submitted an affidavit from a man who swore he had known Dr. DeGraffenried and the unit and company he had served in.  The authorities again granted her a pension, changing her to a Class 2, which she drew until her death in 1926.  This affidavit is the only record found that he had served in the CSA.

On the Pension Application form for a pension as a widow of Dr. Mack DeGraffinriedEmily ‘agreed’ with the statement that she had never remarried after the death of her husband.  Apparently her marriage to Barns/Bonds was of short duration and/or overlooked by the Pension Board.  Through the years when they signed for their pensions, the signatures (marks) of Emily and Elizabeth were nearly always signed one after the other on the Receipts of Pension Warrants.

Briggs Family 

Samuel Briggs is on the 1850 Dallas County, AL, census with his parents,  Mary J. and Charles N. Briggs, and siblings, living in Summerfield.  According to the census he was age 16, born about 1833 in Virginia (later records give his birth state as Alabama).  The 1860 Dallas Co, AL, census confirmed this was the correct Briggs – he was listed as a Methodist minister, living with an Adams family.  Briggs’ parents are listed a few pages further over, with a Methodist minister living with them.  The 1880 census confirmed that this was the Samuel Briggs who killed the Noes and DeGraffenried :

1880 Tuscaloosa Co, AL – Courthouse – Alabama Insane Hospital -Line 22 – p. 708A                                    

 Samuel Briggs   47  AL          Column 10 – Married           Column 19 – Insane

The 1880 census showed that Briggs had married, sometime between 1860 and 1867.  He has not been found on the 1870 census records.  There was a family with a T. C.  Briggs, age 30, female, listed as Head of the family on the 1870 Marion Co, AL, census, with two sons and one daughter.  No connection has been found between them and Samuel Briggs.  The T. C. Briggs family has not been found on later census records.

A younger brother, Charles H. Briggs, b. 20 Sept 1841, served in Company C, 4th Reg’t Infantry, and became a Sergeant in March 1863.  He had been hospitalized a few times due to sickness and  received a Surgeon’s certificate of disability.  In 1864 he was wounded and eventually assigned to detached duty with the Medical Purveyor.  He then had “extra duty” as a Clerk with the Medical Purveyors Department under Lt. Gen’l Longstreet, sometimes traveling with supplies.  Between 1866 and 1870, Charles moved to Texas, is listed on the 1870 Hays Co, TX, census in San Marcos.  He is listed living with a Methodist minister and his family, continuing the association with the Methodists. He worked as a Merchant and later farmed.  He married in 1874 in Hays County and remained there until he moved near Abilene, TX, and died 20 Feb 1925.

Agnes Briggs, a younger sister, married Joel W. Vest, a Methodist minister, 11 March 1866, and both are listed with her parents on the 1870 Dallas Co, AL, census.  By 1880 they were living in Guadalupe Co, TX.  When Agnes died, the following appeared in The Nashville Christian Advocate 1894 -1896, abstracted by Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith:  July – December 1894  –  August 16, 1894

AGNES VEST daughter of C. N. and M. J. Briggs; born Sussex Co., Virginia, November 16, 1843; moved to Dallas County, Alabama in her childhood; married the Rev. J. W. Vest, March 1, 1866 and moved to Texas in the fall of 1873; died July 18, 1894; educated at Centenary College – Summerfield, Alabama.

The Alabama Hospital for the Insane (later called Bryce Mental Hospital) had opened in 1861, so it is possible that Samuel had been a patient there.  According to the 1880 census reports, he was a “Criminal inmate” diagnosed as  “Mania –hom(icidial”).

It is not known when or where Samuel died or where he was buried.  The hospital had three cemeteries, all considered to be private.  Patients who died at Bryce and did not have another place to be buried or didn’t have family to claim the remains were buried there. The white patients had a marker made of wood and the blacks had a marker made of concrete.  A number was placed on the marker which could be cross referenced to the patient’s name.  You have to have an appointment to go to the cemeteries and have an escort to the graves.

Some questions were answered, but several remain unanswered:

Did the daughters of Dr. DeGraffenried know he was their father?  Had they been told how their father died?  Did the ones who furnished the information on Mary Floyd when she died not know her real father?

Was Samuel Briggs separated from his wife?  Was that why he was at the Noe’s that night?  What caused Briggs’ actions that night?  Was there a criminal trial?  If so, where was it held?  Why was Sumpter County, AL, listed as his home on the 1880 census?

Had Dr. DeGraffenried known Charles when he was assigned to the Medical Purveyor’s  company?

Neither Dr. DeGraffenried nor Briggs have been found on the Alabama State Census for 1866 – where were they?

While it is understood that the Noe family and DeGraffenried family suffered in the loss of their loved ones, the life that Samuel Briggs led was certainly not what his parents had envisioned for him.

When the 1880 population census was taken, an additional census ‘of Defective. Dependent, and Delinquent Classes’ was required for a complete enumeration of the insane with an account of their condition.  Each inquiry was to be answered as fully as possible.  When you read the questions and answers, you can comprehend a little of the kind of life Samuel Briggs had for his remaining years.  (see Attachments #6)

The “Who, What, Where, and When” have answers.  Unfortunately, the “Why” for Samuel’s action is still unknown and may never be answered – just explained as the act of a mentally unbalanced man.