Near this spot on the afternoon of August 16, 1830, John M. Jones was hanged in Lynchburg's first public execution. In May of 1829, Jones, A Lynchburg slaveowner, had killed George Hamilton on the James River waterfront in a dispute over Jones's lover. In at trial presided over by Judge William Daniel, Sr., Jones was found guilty of first-degree murder, and sentenced to execution by hanging.
On the day of the execution, Jones was taken to the gallows on the hillside, which at that time was on the edge of town and not yet a part of the cemetery. The scaffold was surrounded by a dense crowd of several thousand people "of all colors, sex and ages, some on foot, others on horseback."*
A sermon was delivered by a local minister, and other clergymen led the crowd in hymns and prayers before Jones was finally covered with a hood and prepared for hanging. When the trap fell, much to the shock and dismay of the spellbound onlookers, the rope broke and Jones fell several feet to the ground. After having a drink of water, Jones again climbed the scaffold and was successfully hanged. Because it was believed his neck was not broken, officials let Jone's body hang for nearly an hour as the crowd slowly dispersed.
Because this hanging was such a terrible calamity that engaged the disgust of many citizens, it would be thirty years before Lynchburg attempted a public execution again.
*The Lynchburg Virginian, August 19, 1830: p2, col. 6.