Robert Wilson will present an ignominious slice of Tennessee history based on his book The Eyes of Midnight: A Time of Terror in East Tennessee. Probing the dark side of Victorian moral behavior in neighboring Sevier County, Wilson will discuss his historical research and book, depicting citizens draped in white sheets – not unlike the Ku Klux Klan representatives – who made anonymous visits in the dark of night to enforce their idea of justice.
Get the full story on Monday, October 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Sharon Lawson Room.
Wilson, a retired Knoxville New Sentinel editor and 40-year newspaperman who lives in Blount County, was commissioned to write The Eyes of Midnight by Richard Way, a history enthusiast and member of the board of directors at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center in Townsend.
Wilson will describe an inglorious period of Sevier County history and elaborate on how the White Caps had the authority to police morality and how they were able to “exercise their power over presumed offenders.”
Wilson says, “In the 1890s, a vigilante group known as the White Caps held sway in Sevier County, exacting moral justice on wayward citizens – particularly women – and virtually controlling the throttle of the government engine. Ordinary citizens feared the night when the White Caps might come calling, dragging their victims out into the darkness and administering a lashing with hickory switches, known as wythes. In the beginning, legal consequences for their actions was non-existent because the beatings were seen as deserved punishment for indiscretions that ran afoul of community standards and Victorian moral behavior.”
Wilson says he will also share how “the influence of the White Caps extended into the very core of county government and legal system, assuring immunity from prosecution for the brutal treatment. Ultimately, White Cap activity degenerated into simple crime – home invasions and robbery. The end of the organization resulted from a horrific double murder that culminated in the last two hangings on the courthouse lawn in Sevierville.”
The Internet Archive also provides a digitized version of the 1899 book by E. W. Crozier, The White-Caps: a History of the Organization in Sevier County (Public Domain. Click to flip the pages).
Open to the public, this program is sponsored by the Blount County Public Library, located at 508 N. Cusick Street, Maryville. For more information about library programs or services, call the library at 982-0981 or visit the Web site at www.blounttn.org/197.