Easton author Joseph Koper has released his first book - a riveting account of racial injustice in Talbot County, painstakingly pieced together from the headlines and court records of a century ago.
In the wake of World War I and the “Spanish flu” pandemic, economic and racial tensions flared across the country. The Eastern Shore of Maryland was not immune.
In April 1919, a successful Black farmer named Isaiah Fountain set out by foot from his home in Williamsburg, Maryland, to Easton, Maryland, the county seat of Talbot County, in search of his missing wife. He had dispatched her on their wagon to withdraw money from their bank in Easton, but she failed to return.
Finding she had made the withdrawal as planned, but had then left their horse and wagon behind in Easton, he suspected she had headed north to her parents’ home in Camden, New Jersey.
The next day, he bought a train ticket and followed her. Happily, when he reached Camden, she agreed to return home in a week. Unhappily, the timing of this domestic spat - precipitating his trip out of town - was about to kindle the most dire and vengeful suspicions in Talbot County, becoming a living nightmare for Isaiah.
A teenage White girl who also lived near Trappe reported having been raped by a Black man on the same afternoon that Fountain was in Easton searching for his wife.
These coincidences set off a catastrophic chain of events for a man who was almost certainly innocent: a hurried investigation, arrest, trial, 9-minute deliberation by an all-White jury, conviction, appeals, retrial, second conviction, and hanging.
Along the way Fountain narrowly avoided being lynched by angry mobs and unbelievably, escaped twice from custody, evading massive manhunts before being recaptured.
Unfortunately, not even three unimpeachable White witnesses who testified that Fountain was in Easton at the time the rape occurred could save him.
In July 1920, Isaiah Fountain earned the bitter distinction of becoming the last person to be legally executed on the Eastern Shore - on a custom-built gallows inside the Talbot County jail.
In telling this harrowing story for the first time at book length, Koper also chronicles a secondary story line - a “media war” between Easton and Baltimore newspapers, which saw the case very differently from each other and blazed away with one accusatory salvo after another.
P.S. - A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR
Listen to Joseph Koper discuss the research and findings that went into his publication of this outrageous, true-life saga of life under Jim Crow justice on Maryland’s Eastern Shore — the near-lynching, double escapes, trial and retrial, and final execution of Isaiah Fountain.