Perhaps you are familiar with the folklore surrounding our native Boyington Oak. Mary S. Palmer’s book delves into the myth of the tree and the man behind it. You start to feel as if you are a part of the past within these historical fiction pages.
As the story goes, a man named Charles R.S. Boyington was found guilty of murder in Mobile in the year 1834, under questionable circumstances. Before he was hanged, he admonished his accusers with a promise that an oak tree would grow where his body lay. This would, in turn, prove his innocence. Lo and behold, an oak grew and currently stands in the very spot above Boyington’s remains.
Palmer’s story goes a bit deeper into Boyington’s life, the accounts of what may or may not have happened, and the aftermath.
Boyington arrived in Mobile from a ship in the early 1830s and immediately sought to meld with Mobile’s elite. Wanting to buy expensive goods and woo the choicest ladies, he used his wits in gambling along with a nice allowance from his sickly roommate. His roommate, Nathaniel, suffered from consumption or what is now known as tuberculosis. Boyington also worked various days as a printer, but as Palmer’s book would have it, he often called into work due to other obligations.
These obligations came in the form of a young maiden, a daughter of a French-born baron. Rose was a beauty like no other, but with her strict upbringing, which included a chaperone and attending Catholic church every morning, Boyington had to use his smarts to spend time with her. Secret notes containing terms of endearment were exchanged as their relationship blossomed. They’d take long walks among the oaks and Boyington would recite poetry. Here, you start to wonder just how much tenderness between two people you can handle, but then again the times were different. Relationships moved faster, as people’s life spans tended to fall short, and Boyington’s would eventually prove no exception.
After weeks of heartfelt declarations, he was invited to Christmas dinner at the baron’s house, but the meeting did not leave Boyington in uplifted spirits. Afterward, in despair, he gambled all of his funds away. Later, he found himself unemployed. With only his roommate, Nathaniel, to lean on, he asks for more money with negative results. Thinking the only way to avoid his gambling debts and make a better living for himself is to flee, as he had done before, he plans to depart Mobile. With the pretense of also visiting his family up north, he boards a ship, but suddenly police board and he’s arrested.
A body was found stabbed to death, and Boyington seems a likely suspect. Nathaniel was in no state to defend himself and the wounds were harsh. Here, Palmer provides photocopies of the arrest record and trial dates. Pictures are included, as well as letters. Being an aspiring writer, Boyington wrote numerous poems during the six months he was incarcerated before he was hanged. “ … Yet, though my mind calls up the past, to cheer the future view, Soon must the world, the loved of life, Receive my last adieu … ”
Although Boyington knew and lived with Nathaniel, it does not make him guilty of murder. Circumstantial evidence was the only means to convict Boyington, and many people’s accounts contradicted his own. Two members of the jury should have been recused, one being a non-citizen and another already having an opinion of Boyington, yet laws were different at the time. With his family far away and hardly any good words about him throughout the city of around 3,000 people, it just seemed easy to pin the murder on Boyington.
Palmer explains how the whole time, with eloquent words and writings, Boyington remains convinced he will soon be free. As he claimed, an innocent man should not die for something he did not do. Unfortunately, luck was not on his side, and he was hanged on Feb. 20, 1835.
We can look at the history and try to piece it together, but really who was Boyington? Being close to only 20 years old at the time, was he merely an adventurous spirit? Perhaps he really was only looking for love and belonging. Years later, other tales came about as to whom may have acutally committed the murder of poor Nathaniel, but for Boyington, it was too late.
Currently, a few locals are trying to receive a posthumous pardon for Boyington.
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