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Peter Crosby

Crosby, Peter (15 Aug. 1844? – 14 Mar. 1884), first Black sheriff of Vicksburg, Mississippi, was born into slavery, the son of Peter and Sallie Crosby in Clarke County, Mississippi. The younger Peter lived in that county in the southeastern part of the state, for 20 years. Even though he was enslaved, by 1864 he had saved enough money from working as a shoemaker to buy four mules, and a carriage to transport him and his wife, Martha, over 150 miles west to Vicksburg, in Warren County, Mississippi. Civil War records show that he enlisted as a private in the 5th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery there on March 1, 1864, aged 20 in Company C. His enlistment shows that he was tall, six foot three, and was described as of “dark yellow complexion,” born in Clarke County and was enlisted by a Captain Miller. Crosby had several siblings and two of his brothers, Pleasant Crosby and Henderson Crosby also served in the 5th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery. While in the army, Peter’s property was seized by the federal government. During this time, Peter Crosby joined the Republican Party and served various roles in Warren County. He was a coroner, ranger, and was elected treasurer in 1871, taking office on January 1, 1872. And despite the seizure of his property, in 1872 he and his wife still had enough money to buy a lot of land in Vicksburg. Crosby became a known outspoken Black political figure delivering speeches about the injustices of Black people. It was evident that he had ambitions for a higher office and newspapers noted his intelligence and radicalism. At one meeting Crosby appealed for full and equal civil rights for the freedmen. “We do not intend to be satisfied in part,” he declared, “we want the whole hog.” (cited in Waldrep, 149). Since over 70 percent of the Warren County population was African American, genuinely equal voting rights would ensure that the views of the Black majority would be paramount.

According to U.S. Census data, the 1860 Warren County population included 6,896 whites, 37 free Blacks and 13,763 slaves. By the 1870 census, the white population had increased by about 15% to 7,907, while the Black population had increased by about 42% to 19,660. With this increase in the Black population, in November 1873, Crosby was elected Sheriff in a landslide beating his Democratic opponent 2,308 to 485. Though this was an incredible victory for Black political rights it came with many challenges. Crosby was not only the Sheriff but a Tax Collector. The white minority in Warren County, including the wealthiest and most powerful former owners of enslaved people, made clear that they would resist any Black man who attempted to collect their money. 

The election of Sheriff Crosby and other Black officials, brought many whites together in effort to remove them from office. An all-white Taxpayers’ League was resurrected which then turned into militia-like groups. These groups accused other Black elected officials of stealing money, including Circuit Court judge Thomas W. Cardozo, his successor, Alfred Dorsey, and Chancery Clerk George W. Davenport. They also accused Crosby of embezzlement when he was treasurer and of covering up the crimes of Cardozo and the others as Sheriff.

On April 7, 1874, Crosby formed a grand jury to deliberate on the accusations of his fellow elected officials. The grand jury refused to indict any of them. This sent the accusers into a frenzy as they would have to wait at least six months before they could bring the same charges to another circuit court. They felt something must be done. 

Racial tensions continued to rise and white conservatives in fear of a riot moved their families from Vicksburg, while the whites that were eager and ready for a fight stayed behind prepping for an all-out war. 

In November, a new grand jury indicted Cardozo, Dorsey, and Davenport. The Taxpayers’ League demanded the resignation of Crosby, Davenport and a Justice of the Peace, Sydney Brooks. They refused.

Next the Taxpayers’ League sent Lawyers to demand Crosby’s resignation. He still refused. Later, two members from the Taxpayers League arrived at Crosby’s office demanding his resignation while stating that there were 600 white men outside who would remove him from office. At this time, fearing for his life and facing an angry mob, Crosby reluctantly signed a letter of resignation.

Escaping from the crowd, Crosby made his way to Jackson, Mississippi, to see the white, Northern Republican Governor, Adelbert Ames and tell him about the events in Warren county and his forced resignation. Governor Ames instructed Crosby to gather men of his own and stand their ground. He returned to Vicksburg and published a proclamation in the form of a handbill. In the proclamation, Crosby addressed both Black and white citizens to come together and support him for his has been forced to resign by a mob of 600 men. The handbill was distributed in Vicksburg and read by Black ministers that Sunday morning, December 6, 1874 to their congregations. Once the whites saw this handbill, they also gathered and prepared to fight.

On Monday, December 7, 1874, a group of whites that opposed Crosby and a group of Blacks that supported him, marched into Vicksburg. There are various testimonies giving different accounts of who fired first, and there are various testimonies of the number of people were killed. One historian’s account of the Vicksburg Massacre notes that it “lasted for more than a week. When it was over, as many as three hundred black men were dead and an untold number of black women had been attacked, robbed and sexually assaulted.” (Dorsey, 1 )

Events in Vicksburg drew national attention as they highlighted the willingness of white supremacists in Mississippi to violently resist Reconstruction and destroy Black political power. On December 14, 1874, a US Congressional committee convened a hearing on the massacre. After the hearing, the federal government reinstated Crosby as Sheriff. Racial tensions and strife continued such that Crosby couldn’t carry out his duties. Whites would only deal with his white deputy J. P. Gilmer and sometimes even avoided him because of their opposition to having a Black Sheriff.

Crosby fired Deputy Gilmer on June 5, 1875, after he had been caught in criminal acts. A few days later the two men got into a dispute in a saloon. Gilmer shot Crosby in the head, leaving wounds that newspapers reported were nearly fatal. Crosby, however, continued to work and hired a new Chief Deputy, another white man, Thomas C. Bedford. Crosby continued to face death threats, and he finally resigned his role of Sheriff on October 28, 1875.

The 1880 US census records show that, in 1876, Peter and his wife Martha had a son, Charles, and in 1878 a daughter, Martha. Peter Crosby served many roles thereafter. He was a coroner, Peace Officer and elected Justice of the Peace in 1881. He maintained that role until his death in 1884. Peter’s brother Pleasant hired an African American attorney Willis Mollison to probate Peter’s Will and he also pursued retaining Peter’s property that was taken from him during the Civil War. It is not known if Mollison and Pleasant Crosby succeeded in their efforts. 

The forced removal of Peter Crosby as Vicksburg’s Sheriff was one of several events signaling the end of Reconstruction in Mississippi. The assassination of State Senator Charles Caldwell at Christmas 1875 was another. In that year’s elections, white militia groups and the KKK intimidated enough Black voters to end Republican rule in the State. Once white Democrats controlled state local politics again, they changed the laws to erode Black voting rights. In 1890, Democrats rewrote the state constitution to prevent all but a handful of African Americans from exercising their right to vote 

White conservatives had effectively erased much of what formerly enslaved citizens and white allies had accomplished a decade earlier. In the election campaign of 1875, whites dominated the field that Blacks did not nominate a candidate. White vigilantes patrolled the county day and night. Blacks could only hold political meetings in secret, in the swamps outside of town. Whites proudly proclaimed themselves “unreconstructed” and predominated in most political positions. Some African Americans like Peter and his brother Pleasant were, however, able to retain their positions as Justice of the Peace in the early 1880s. In 1892, Willis Mollison, the attorney who handled Peter Crosby’s will, was appointed District Attorney. He was the first and last African American to attain that position until the 1970s.

Online Resources

Peter Crosby, U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865, https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/discoveryui-content/view/11484:1107


Dorsey Jr, Albert. “Vicksburg’s Troubles”: Black Participation in the Body Politic and Land Ownership in the Age of Redeemer Violence, Ph.D. Dissertation, Florida State University 2012.


Waldrep, Christopher. Roots of Disorder: Race and Criminal Justice in the American South, 1817-80. University of Illinois Press, 1998.


United States Congressional Serial Set 1659. Vicksburgh Troubles (1874-75).


Danita Jones

Key Events


Peter Crosby is born into slavery in Clarke County, Mississippi, the son of Peter and Sallie Crosby.


Peter and his wife Martha move to Vicksburg, in Warren County, Mississippi.


Peter and two of his brothers Pleasant and Henderson enlisted in the 5th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery.


Crosby is elected Treasurer in Warren County, Mississippi.

November 1873

Crosby is elected Sheriff in Warren County of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

November 1874

A grand jury indicts a few Black elected officials and demands Peter Crosby’s resignation from the office of Sheriff. Peter refuses. A mob of 600 white men force Peter to sign a letter of resignation.

6 December 1874

A handbill written by Crosby to encourage support for him as he was wrongly removed from office is read by Black ministers to their congregation.

7 December 1874

A group of whites that opposed Crosby and a group of Blacks that supported him, march through the streets of Vicksburg. A battle begins and lasts over a week. This is known as the Vicksburg Massacre where as many as 300 Black men were killed and an untold number of Black women were attacked.

14 December 1874

A US Congressional committee convened a hearing on the massacre. After the hearing, Crosby is reinstated as Sheriff.

June 1875

Crosby is shot in the head by his former Deputy, Gilmer, but survives.

28 October 1875

After continued death threats, Crosby resigns as Sheriff.


Peter and his wife Martha have a son, Charles.


Peter and his wife Martha have a daughter, Martha.


Crosby is elected Justice of the Peace in Warren County, Mississippi.

14 March 1884

Peter Crosby dies in Vicksburg, Mississippi.