Scales, William N.


Scales, William N.
Seales, William N.
William Scales was born in Boone County in 1865, as enslavement was ending in Kentucky. His father was Frank Scales and his mother was a woman named Patsy. According to a jailhouse interview, William was separated from his parents at about 10 years old, though the cause for the separation is not known. In 1870, Frank Scales was recorded as a farm laborer, working in Kenton County, but Patsy’s location at that time is unknown.
William Scales was committed to the Cincinnati House of Refuge in 1879 at age 14 for petit larceny, by order of the police court. This is the first extant public record found that lists him by name. The next year he is found listed as an inmate at the House of Refuge in the 1880 census record. It’s likely that William was a runaway when he began to get into trouble.
The House of Refuge was part orphanage, part reform school and was located directly north of the Cincinnati Work House. William’s inmate registration record shows: he had both a father and mother, they did not drink, he had not been admitted prior to 1879, his appearance was good, he did not use tobacco nor liquor, but he did swear and he was illiterate. As compared with other children his age on the registration, William’s evaluation was on the higher end of the positivity scale.
At some point prior to 1884, William was released from the House of Refuge and had found work as a stable boy in Cincinnati. According to a later interview, William was caught attempting to “molest” the four-year-old daughter of his employer while she was playing in the loft of the stable where he was working. He fled the scene, but later returned and stole some clothing. A short time after this incident, he was again arrested for petit larceny and sent to the Cincinnati Work House for a nine-month sentence.
Upon William’s release from the work house in 1885, he learned that his former employer at the stable intended to press charges against him, either for the attempt on his child or the later theft of clothing, or both. As a means of escape, William Scales returned to Boone County and found work on the farm of Sam Hind. Hind had employed his mother Patsy in 1880, so this may explain William’s arrival there in 1885.
On September 5th of that year, William Scales was accused of committing rape upon the five-year-old daughter of Richard Lunsford, a tenant on the Hind farm. He was immediately detained by Sam Hind, who stopped Lunsford from shooting William, the law would handle it. William was taken first to the depot in Walton, where the local constable took his confession and charged him. He was then transported without incident to the Burlington jail to await trial.
In Burlington he was housed in the upper chamber of the jailhouse in hopes that this would keep him safe from vigilantes. The upper room was not as secure as the cells on the ground floor, but Scales was under guard and harder to reach. The plan to fool an angry mob did not go as the jailer had hoped.
When the mob arrived in the dark of night on September 11th, 1885, their demands for the keys to the jail were rebuffed. Several then went to work breaking down the reinforced exterior door to the upper chamber where William was being held. Their focus on this door indicates they had some knowledge where Scales was being held in the special chamber. Once the door was compromised, Scales was roughly extracted from the building and fell down the stairs, cutting a long gash across his head in the process. They then marched him off to a waiting wagon and headed to the direction of the “lynching tree” where Smith Williams had died in 1876 and young Charles Dickerson met his fate just over a year before Scales.
According to a reporter who had followed the assemblage from town, as the mob began to hang him, William was able to untangle himself and break the straps that served as a noose, leaving them attached to the tree branch. In their drunken state, the men had forgotten to bind Scales’ hands, but were able to keep the injured man from getting away. A new plan was hatched, but they were now a lynch party without a rope. Soon, one was obtained from a toll-keeper as they progressed up the pike to the new location, a few miles away. The second attempt at hanging was completed; William Scales’ body was discovered the following morning.
Scales family
Birth date
Place of birth
Boone County (Ky.)
Scales, Frank
Scales, Patsy
Death date
11 Sep 1885
Place of death
Burlington (Ky.)
Death and burial information
Cause of death: Lynching
Farm laborer
Employed by
Hind, Samuel
Related resource
Cincinnati House of Refuge

Linked resources

Items with "Participant: Scales, William N."
Title Class
1885--William Scales Accused of Rape and Lynched Event
Items with "Child(ren): Scales, William N."
Title Class
Scales, Frank Person
Scales, Patsy Person