“The most fervent and
impressive prayer ever heard in Monroe county, old-timers
say, was the one Ed Berry, an ex-slave, offered on the
gallows just before Tom Blue was swung into eternity in
1868. Blue, it will be remembered, was hung for the
murder of Wm. Vandeventer near Florida. It was the only
legal execution in Monroe county’s history.
Ed Berry, the father
of our fine old colored citizen, George Berry, took up
preaching while still a slave and was noted for his piety
snd religious zeal. In response to exhortations Ed made
while administering spiritual consolation to the prisoner,
Tom Blue professed conversion and joined the Baptist Church. Berry
rode with him from the jail to the gallows. Blue sat on
his own coffin and ate stick candy all the way. Mounting
the gallows with him Berry offered what will live in history
as the greatest prayer Monroe county people ever heard on a
public occasion. The thousands of people who lined the
bluffs and filled every inch of space in the bottom along
the river near the Palmyra Ford bridge were hushed into
silence as the old Negro preacher began offering his plea to
the throne of grace. His earnestness, eloquence and
reverence soon changed the holiday spirit of the crowd to a
spirit of awed silence and as he concluded a chorus of
fervent amens ascended to heaven.
Following the prayer,
the unlettered old preacher sang an old hymn, the first
verse of which, as his son George recalls, went as follows:
“Why should we
start and fear to die?
What timid souls we
Death is the gate to
Yet we fear to enter
Following the prayer
and song, the prisoner stepped forward, stood without a
tremor as the noose and black cap were adjusted, and went
bravely to his doom. Sad to relate, Tom Blue did not
commit the crime for which he was executed.
Source: The Monroe
County Appeal Centennial Edition dated 13 August 1931;
submitted by MaryBeth Kirtlink.