Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Unwritten Law.

Robert McBride was the wealthy operator of a cotton seed oil mill in Newnan, Georgia. He had come to Georgia from New Jersey, and quickly entered the vigorous business life of Newnan, with interests in several mills and factories. In 1893, he was a quiet and gentlemanly, 44 year-old bachelor, living in a boarding house run by Patrick Meehan and his wife.

Meehan was a successful traveling salesman for a Louisville, Kentucky, whisky distiller, whose job kept him in the road for long periods. In August 1893, Meehan was in New York City, and Robert McBride decided to use this opportunity to express his affection for Mrs. Meehan; his feelings for her had been steadily growing during the two years he spent under her roof. When they were alone on the front veranda, McBride told Mrs. Meehan that he wished to have a confidential conversation with her. Mrs. Meehan was taken aback and told Meehan that if he had anything confidential to say he should write it down and send it to Mr. Meehan, and she left the porch.

Her curiosity got the best of her, and sometime later Mrs. Meehan came back and asked McBride what he wanted to say. He told her that he loved her. Mrs. Meehan went into a paroxysm of indignation saying she planned to telegraph her husband and tell him of the insult. McBride apologized profusely and begged her not to tell her husband. Then, attempting to explain his actions, and to persuade Mrs. Meehan to keep quiet, he said he knew that a strange man visited the house when her husband was away, and he even knew the signal he used to let her know he was there. To demonstrate, McBride went outside and shook a small tree near the house. This accusation only made Mrs. Meehan angrier and McBride was compelled to leave the house that night.

Though he had been born in the north, Robert McBride was well aware that he had violated “the unwritten law” of southern etiquette, he had insulted another man’s wife. He went to Atlanta and explained the situation to his friend, Dr. Thomas Longino, asking him to intercede on his behalf with Mr. Meehan. McBride said he would do anything, even sell all his holdings and leave Newnan, if Meehan would accept his apology. At the same time, knowing his life was in danger, McBride finalized his will and wrote a letter explaining his actions, which he gave to Dr. Longino for publication in the event of his murder. Dr. Longino suggested that he travel to Savanah until the matter cooled down.
Scene of the Killing.
As 4:35, the afternoon of August 14, Robert McBride was waiting on the platform when the train carrying Patrick Meehan arrived in Atlanta. Meehan recognized McBride instantly when he stepped off the train and, with a pistol in each hand, he went up behind Meehan and without a word fired one shot into his temple and one in his neck. A third bullet grazed the shoulder of Mr. C. S. Reid, who had been talking to McBride at the time. McBride fell to the ground and moaned, “Lord have mercy.” He died soon after.

Meehan walked casually down the platform and was quickly arrested by a patrolman. “All right,” said Meehan when he was apprehended, “I did the shooting, but I was justifiable.”

Public sentiment quickly turned against Meehan. Though he denied shooting McBride from behind, eye witnesses at the depot said otherwise. Reid said McBride never saw the man who shot him.

But by the time of Meehan’s trial the following December, public opinion had changed and most now believed that Meehan had done the right thing in shooting the man who had insulted his wife. The jury took only eight minutes to deliberate and when they returned a verdict of not guilty, presiding Judge Clark reportedly rubbed his hands in glee and said, “It is grand; it is grand.” When the verdict was read, more than a thousand spectators who filled the courtroom, erupted in loud applause.

Originally posted June 27, 2015.


"Cheered His Acquittal." Patriot 18 Dec 1893.
"Knew He Must Die." National Police Gazette 2 Sep 1893.
"Loved Another Man's Wife.." Daily Inter Ocean 15 Aug 1893.
"Made Quick Work." Daily Journal and Journal and Tribune 17 Dec 1893
"Said he Loved Her." Atlanta Constitution 15 Aug 1893.
"The Atlanta Tragedy." Columbus Daily Enquirer 16 Aug 1893.
"'The Unwritten Law'" State 15 Aug 1893.


Time after Crime says:
June 6, 2016 at 8:31 AM

All because a man told a married female he loved her did he force himself on her? Well Not that I read so why was this a grave crime smh they were so quick to judge back then

NorthsideRasta says:
January 21, 2018 at 4:48 PM

Southern civility & mmanners? That is hilarious and phony at the same time.More like barbaric & morally reprehensible customs.

Unknown says:
December 28, 2019 at 5:03 AM

That was just cold blooded murder. If they wanted a veneer of 'civility and manners' Meehan could have followed the Coda Duello and challenged him properly. Failing that he could have handed over one of the two pistols he carried and evened the odds. Better yet been an adult and simply walked on. I would suspect the verdict represented economics more accurately than justice.

dirtyD says:
April 27, 2020 at 8:56 PM

My word. That is disturbing. A credible man died because he told a woman he loved her. His murderer did nothing wrong. Well, that's a bunch o' 💥⭐🐂.

Insert Name Here says:
October 6, 2022 at 1:57 PM

I mean, they really enjoyed owning people, so this isn't terribly shocking.

Post a Comment