The Isaiah Fountain Case: Outrage and Jim Crow Justice on Maryland's Eastern Shore is 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 One 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.
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 of Maryland -- on a custom-built gallows inside the Talbot County jail.
"Isaiah Fountain, a Black resident of Talbot County, Maryland, narrowly avoided being lynched by a local mob after he was charged in April 1919 with raping a 14-year-old White girl named Bertha Simpson. But the hangman's noose caught up with him 15 months later, the culmination of an appalling miscarriage of Jim Crow justice on Maryland's Eastern Shore that made him what [the author] calls the 'second victim' of the assault on Simpson.... This rigorous account clearly shows that Isaiah Fountain suffered a fate he didn't deserve."
- Kirkus Reviews
"This is a well-researched, well-written story of a very important-and ultimately tragic-part of America's past. The story of Isaiah Fountain is a must read, particularly for anyone seeking to learn more about America's difficult past. This century-old story was new to me and I am grateful to Joe Koper for this magnificent book."
- Paul Brandus, Dow Jones/MarketWatch and USA Today columnist and White House correspondent, West Wing Reports
"A well-researched tragic story."
- John R. Wennersten, author, Maryland's Eastern Shore: A Journey in Time and Place, and professor emeritus of environmental history, University of Maryland-Eastern Shore