A Prayer That Will Live In History

“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 mortals are!

Death is the gate to endless joy,

Yet we fear to enter there.”

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.