The Chairman is Horsewhipped (Yet Receives Little Sympathy from the Student Body) (1839)
    by Thomas M. Winters, Graduate Research Assistant (Art History)

On March 20th, 1839, having just finished a lecture, Chairman of the Faculty Gessner Harrison was returning to his office when he suddenly became the subject of a shocking and violent degradation.  Two recently expelled students by the names of W.L. Binford and T.B. Russell, who were apparently holding grudges against Mr. Harrison as a result of their dismissals, accosted the Chairman, Binford seizing him whilst Russell struck him several times with a horsewhip.  The Chairman would later express his surprise at having become victim to such a vicious attack, noting in his journal that neither of the men had received any provocation from him that day, or at the time at which they were dismissed from the University. Naturally, a crowd soon gathered to witness the affray, and one of its members eventually intervened to free the Chairman, who subsequently rebuked Binford and Russell for their disgraceful actions.  Upon hearing these words the attack recommenced.

Later, having, in the Chairman’s words, “satisfied their purpose of injury,” the two men fled on horseback on the road towards Lynchburg.  A warrant for their arrest was swiftly obtained and given over to the local sheriff, along with the promise of a reward of $100 for their apprehension.  Two days later it was reported that one pursuer had tracked the fugitives down in Nelson County and managed to seize their horses and baggage, but that Binford and Russell had evaded capture.  Robbed of their means of transport however, the couple had made the somewhat unwise decision to return to Charlottesville on foot, where they were spotted.  Having been discovered, the two men fled once again, with a posse of constables in hot pursuit.  That night they were tracked down in Fluvanna. Russell was shot by one of the constables attempting to arrest him, but somehow managed to escape; Binford, though, was captured, escorted back to Charlottesville, and locked up in the local prison.

Upon receiving word of Binford’s apprehension, the Chairman and the Proctor of the University went into town to attend to the former’s immediate trial.  When they got there, however, they discovered that they were not the first to have arrived.  A crowd of around 150 students were gathered around the jail.  As the Chairman later wrote, “some [were] threatening an attempt to brake (sic) it open, and all [were] seemingly ready to commit acts of great extravagance.” After consulting with several upstanding gentlemen of Charlottesville, and with Binford expressing regret for his heinous actions, it was decided that the University would not benefit from prosecuting the matter further, and that Binford would be released on the conditions that he write a letter of apology and that the riotous crowd of students outside of the prison disperse peacefully.  Which they mostly did, the exception being a small group who stopped at the store run by Mr. Bailey, local shoemaker and special constable, in order to do damage to his establishment in revenge for him helping to capture Binford.  What happened to Russell is unclear, although the Chairman did, in the days following the incident, grant leave of absence to several students who wished to attend to their wounded friend during his recuperation somewhere out in the country.


University of Virginia. Journals of the Chairman of the Faculty. Vol. 6 (20-22 March 1839): n.p.


Cite This Entry

Winters, Thomas M. "The Chairman is Horsewhipped (Yet Recieves Little Sympathy from the Student Body) (1839)." JUEL, September 14, 2015.


First published: September 14, 2015 | Last modified: July 1, 2018


Chairman's Journal Volume 6