May 5 1890
A group of men employed by Charles Matranga as stevedores are ambushed at the intersection of Esplanade and Claiborne Ave’s. The men are: Antonino Matranga, Frank and Tony LoCascio, Vincent Caruso, Rocco Geraci, Bastion Incardona and Salvatore Sunseri. Antonino Matranga is wounded so badly that he loses his right leg but they all survive.

May 6 1890
The Matranga men that were ambushed name six men from the Provenzano faction as those who ambushed them. They were Peter and Joseph Provenzano, Antonio Pelligrini, Nick Guillio, Antonio Gianforcaro and Gaspardo Lombardo.

July 15-19 1890
The Provenzano members are put on trial in the Esplanade Ambush case and are convicted.

August 9 1890
The Provenzano crew is granted a re-trial. It is scheduled for October 17 1890. David Hennessey publicly states that he will be testifying in favor of the Provenzano’s at the re-trial.

David Hennessey

October 15 1890
Close midnight Chief of Police David C. Hennessey is shot down on Girod Street, just steps away from the home he shares with his mother. He is severely wounded and is taken to Charity Hospital.

October 16 1890
David Hennessey dies around 9AM without naming his attackers. When asked who they were he would only say “I know who it was and when I recover I will handle it my own way”.

Approximately 250 Italians are rounded up and thrown in jail following the death of Hennessey.

October 17 1890
Antonio Scaffidi is shot in the Orleans Parish Prison by Thomas Duffy, a friend of Hennessy’s who is overcome with grief. Scaffidi recovers from his wound.

October 18 1890
Joseph Macheca, Frank Romero and Charles Patorno surrender to the police.

Mayor Joseph Shakespeare appoints the Committee of Fifty to investigate Mafia activity in the city.

November 20 1890
A grand Jury indicts nineteen Italians in the killing of David Hennessey.

They are: Joseph Macheca, Antonio Marchesi, Gaspar Marchesi (14 year old son of Antonio), Charles Matranga, Pietro Monasterio, Emmanuele Polizi, Antonio Scaffidi, James and John Caruso, Loretto Comitz , Rocco Geraci , Charles Patorno, Pietro Natale, Charles Pietzo, Frank Romero, Salvatore Sunseri and Charles Traina.

January 12 1891
The Provenzano re-trial begins.

January 22 1891
The trial in the Hennessey murder is split into two groups of defendants to be tried separately, the first in a group of nine.

January 23 1891
The Provenzano’s are acquitted of some of the charges in their re-trial.

January 28 1891
The rest of the charges are dismissed in the Provenzano re-trial.

February 16 1891
The trial for the first nine defendants (Joseph Macheca, Emmanuele Politzi, Antonio Bagnetto, Bastion Incardona, Antonio and Gaspar Marchesi, Pietro Monasterio,Antonio Scaffidi and Charles Matranga) in the Hennessey case begins with jury selection which lasts until the 27th.

February 28 1891
Testimony begins in the Hennessey case.

March 12 1891
After two days of closing arguments in the Hennessey murder trial the case goes to the jury at 6:32PM.

March 13 1891
The verdicts are announced at 3pm in the Hennessey case.

A late night announcement goes out to the local papers for publication which called for a meeting of concerned citizens to meet at the Henry Clay statue on Canal Street the next morning. It tells citizens to be prepared for action.

To this day the largest, single occurrence of lynching on American soil happened on March 14 1891 at the Orleans Parish Prison, not much more than a stones throw from what is today known as the French Quarter in New Orleans.

The citizens of New Orleans gathered around the Henry Clay statue on Canal Street at around 10 AM on that Saturday morning. The gathering had been announced in the late editions of the local papers the night before.

The crowd gathering at the Henry Clay Statue, photo of the Henry Clay statue.
The crowd gathering at the Henry Clay Statue, photo of the Henry Clay statue.

The purpose?

“To take steps to remedy the failure of justice in the Hennessey case.” as it was put into the notice.

It further went on to say

“Come prepared for action.”

The Hennessey case referred to the assassination of Chief of Police David Hennessey which occurred on October 15 1890, just a few months prior. Word quickly went through the city that Hennessey had been killed by members of the Mafia and 250 Italians were quickly rounded up. Eventually nineteen of them were indicted. The case against the defendants was split up into two trials due to the size of the courtroom and the number of defendants. The first group of nine men went on trial February 16 1891. There were ups and downs during the trial for both sides but many felt the prosecution had failed to present a convincing case. The jury agreed. Around 3 PM on Friday March 13 they returned a verdict of not guilty for six of the defendants and no finding for the other three (Matranga, Gaspar Marchesi and Incardona). This shocked much of the city and was a relief to others, namely the Italian population. Certain forces within the New Orleans political structure and business community weren’t going to accept the jury’s verdict however. After the announcement in the papers preparations were made by the man who was the driving force in what was to happen the following day, William Stirling Parkerson. Parkerson had a small private army of men he called the Regulators and he quickly obtained the needed equipment for what was to come and stored it in a strategic location for the next day. On that Saturday morning it’s estimated that six to eight thousand people showed up, most probably ready for action already but to be sure, the organizers of the gathering made speeches to help any undecided folks as to the right path to take in the coming moments. They spoke until the crowd drowned them out with calls of action. The leaders of the crowd took heed and started the march off to the Orleans Parish Prison a few blocks away where the defendants were still being held for on a technicality for a charge of “Laying in wait”.

William Stirling Parkerson

They first led the crowd through the streets of the French Quarter to the location where Parkerson had stored guns and rope which were handed out to his Regulators. They then continued on towards the prison. They first stopped in Congo Square, just a short distance from the prison, where they regrouped before continuing on to the front gates of the prison just a short march away. When Parkerson demanded the gates be opened to them they found no co-operation from the prison Warden, Lemuel Davis. Parkerson threatened to tear down the gates and called for explosives to be brought up but before this could happen Parkerson was informed that an easier way to gain entrance might be possible. A small door on the backside of the prison led to Lemuel Davis’s personal chambers. Though locked it might be easier to tear down this door than the front gates.

moments after the lynching happened
Moments after the lynching happened

Parkerson took a small band of men to the private door and they soon accomplished entry to the prison.

Breaking into the Treme St. door.
Breaking into the Treme St. door.

He allowed only a small band of his Regulators inside, between twenty and thirty men,to carry out the task. Inside the prison while all this was taking place, Davis freed the prisoners from their cells so they could make their best attempts at evading the band of men hunting them down.

Breaking into the Treme St. door.
Breaking into the Treme St. door.

Within the next hour or so however the task had been accomplished.

The six men who had been found not guilty the day before along with five from the second group of defendants still awaiting trial were lynched that Saturday Morning.

View The Gallery of The Prisoners Being Killed

[Rich_Web_Slider id=”2″]

More About The Victims of The Lynching

Joseph Macheca

A once wealthy fruit importer, was shot in the head in an upper walkway area of the prison along with Scaffidi and Marchesi.

Pietro Monasterio

A shoe cobbler, shot in the back of the neck in the woman’s prison yard along with Romero, Comitz, Traina, Caruso and Geraci.

Antonio Marchesi

A fruit seller, shot in the chest.

Antonio Scaffidi

A fruit seller, shot in the head.

Emmanuele Polizzi

A street vendor, was dragged outside the prison and hanged on a streetlamp. The rope broke and he fell to the ground. A second rope was used to hang him again but his hands had come untied and he grabbed the rope to haul himself up to the top of the light post. a teenage boy sitting on top of the post punched Polizzi in the face and he dropped down. He again grabbed the rope to haul himself up. At this point the crowd lowered Polizzi to tie his hands again. They hauled him up by the neck again and this time several people in the crowd fired into his body, killing him.

Antonio Bagnetto

A night watchman at a local market, was dragged from the prison badly wounded to the street outside where he too was hung. The first attempt was from a rotten tree limb which snapped under the weight. The second attempt was successful.

James Caruso

A stevedore, shot multiple times. He had been awaiting trial.

Rocco Geraci

A stevedore, shot in the chest. He had been awaiting trial.

Frank Romero

A ward politician, had his head blown off with a double barreled shotgun blast. He had been awaiting trial.

Charles Traina

A plantation laborer,shot in the chest. He had been awaiting trial.

Loretto Comitz

A tinsmith, shot in the head.He had been awaiting trial.

View The Gallery of Victims

[Rich_Web_Slider id=”1″]

There were several theories on who killed Hennessey and why. Hennessey had made more than a few enemies in his time as a law man. Two theories went back a decade. One claimed it was long awaited revenge for the capture of Guiseppe Esposito on July 6 1881. Esposito was a Sicilian bandit hiding out in New Orleans, was captured by David and his cousin Michael Hennessey. Esposito was deported back to Sicily where he reportedly died many years later in a Palermo prison. Supposedly Hennessey’s killing was payback from Esposito’s friends. Another theory stems from the Esposito capture. The Hennessey cousins’s dirct supervisor was a man named Thomas Devereaux who had ordered the Hennessey boys to stay away from Esposito. Devereaux wasn’t known as a temperate man. After the Hennessey’s ignored his order talk turned to threats made publicly and eventuall in October 1881 it turned to shooting. Michael Hennessey was seriously wounded but recovered. Devereaux took one shot to the head from David. He didn’t recover. Devereaux had many friends and another theory was it was also long awaited revenge from friends of Devereaux. Another theory was that the reason Hennessey was killed was his intention to testify in favor of the Provenzano’s.

Many people were not only under the belief that the Mafia had killed Hennessey but that the Mafia had gotten to the jury and either threatened or bribed them. After the lynching the city fathers would declare that the Mafia in New Orleans was destroyed and that David Hennessey had been avenged. Mafia activity did wane for a few years but as we’ve seen many times since then, inattention to the Mafia only lets it grow strong. Many are of the thought that the men that were lynched that day were completely innocent victims. While that is most likely the case for some of them there is evidence to suggest that at least a couple of them did have Mafia ties. Curiously though, the biggest Mafia fish, Charles Matranga who had been one of the original defendants and was judged with no finding, escaped the lynching that day unscathed.

The rest of the defendants that had been awaiting trial were released after that day.

Charles Matranga went on to consolidate his power in what would become the New Orleans Family. He retired in 1922, handing power over to Corrado Giacona and Sam Carollo. He died on October 28 1943.

Gaspar Marchesi later wound up in an orphanage in Rome. He would win a lawsuit against the city of New Orleans in 1893 for $5,000.00

Charles Patorno went on to become involved in politics and become a leader of the Italian community. He died on November 3 1921.

Salvatore Sunseri died on February 25 1929.

John Caruso died on October 19 1920.

The other survivors of that day seemed to have dropped from the history books.

There is talk (finally……. one hundred and twenty eight years later) of erecting some type of memorial in the city to the victims of that day in March at the Orleans Parish Prison. Better late than never I guess.

Main sources for this story are the books Deep Water by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon. Also Vendetta by Richard Gambino and The Crescent City Lynchings by Tom Smith.

Ronald Rawson