Historial analysis and the example of the Haynes-Beylor Murder

Posted on October 25, 2008 by


I’ll say it again… the Haynes-Beylor story as I first posted it, if I were to have left it alone, could be considered “shock history.” As a stand-alone story, it left many questions that remained unanswered. It would be irresponsible for an historian to leave a story like this, posted without analysis. The investigative work is absolute necessary.

One of the questions that I was left with was whether or not the story had been exagerated by some Union officers or if it had been exagerated by other local Southern Unionists to fuel action by the Union army as it returned to the area. I found it particularly interesting about the mention of a local Baptist minister being present at the murder. If one was present, I have an idea who the minister may have been. If one was not present, I wonder why someone felt the need to include the minister in the story. The inclusion of the minister does make the story all the more horrific.

The second posting of the incident was told by locals and showed a disconnect with the story as told in 1862 and 1876 by Union officers. The locals recalled the incident, but remembere it as a hanging, not a shooting. Did local local memory of the incident fade and inaccurately recall the details of the murder? If nothing else, one thing can be said because of the distance between the stories of the Union officers and that of the locals, that being that two Unionists were, in fact, killed.

To help clarify details of the incident, I needed to do some digging. First, I wanted to find out if this Haynes and Beylor were real people or if the names did not match with any found in the 1860 county census. In fact, a man named John F. Haynes is present in the 1860 census for Page County. A man in his upper 50s, Haynes was a miller and owned $59 in real estate. Haynes, his wife, and three children lived in Overall (also known as Milford), which is located on the Page-Warren County line. As an interesting side note, three free blacks (listed as mulatto) were also listed as in residence with the Haynes family. The Haynes family disappears entirely from county census records after 1860.

Beylor was not as easy to trace and I was unable to find anything of help to me in my research. Beylor families were, however, present in both Page and Warren County in pre-war and post-war years.

The next step was to look in the county records for wartime trials. I was able to find mention of the trial of James Lee Gillespie (who was found guilty of “treason against the government of the Confederate States”), but could find nothing about Haynes or Beylor. The first thing that crossed my mind was that the record of the court may have been removed to prevent problems for local residents (not only those who may have been involved in the murder, but others as well) in the event Union soldiers combed through the records looking for people to persecute in the wake of the murder. Local stories do show that the town of Luray, upon Gen. James Shields’ occupation prior to the battle of Port Republic (June 9, 1862), faced certain burning because of the murder. However, because Shields was welcomed into a local home so warmly, it is said that he abandoned the idea of torching the county seat.

Regretfully, that is all that I could find about the incident. It would be ideal to find the report that “the account” of that incident that Chaplain Denison mentioned that was written by “the General” and forwarded to the Haynes family via Quartermaster Leonard. Perhaps one day.

Ultimately, my point in telling the Haynes-Beylor story was, as I mentioned the other day in my last post, to show that there is a difference between “shock history” and history under the microscope of historical analysis. If we take history at face value, presented merely as the telling of stories, what justice do we do to the subject matter? For that matter, what justice do we do to those who listen to the story? Why do some find it necessary to tell stories and call it history so that they can provide fuel for a modern agenda? Worse yet, why do some find it necessary to garner support for a “Cause” that ended nearly 150 years ago. Doing so does no justice to history, and I have grown disgusted with people who practice this brand of “history” and call themselves “historians.”

To me, those who present history based on a motivation to sway public opinion, are not historians at all. They call themselves historians, because they take liberal views of what it takes to be an “historian.” The fact of the matter is, however, that it is a necessity, as professional historians, to take extra steps. Professional history should be responsible history, not stories written for the sake of reinventing memory or instigating a hatred of “the other side,” some 150 years after the fact.

I’m sure I’ll revisit this at a later time, but that’s enough from the soapbox for now.