A Grave Injustice
One hundred and eighty-five years ago, a live oak tree sprouted in the Church Street Graveyard as Charles Boyington predicted it would as proof of his innocence. Police charged nineteen-year-old journeyman printer, poet, and musician with the murder of his best friend, Nathaniel Frost, in that same graveyard May 10, 1834. His pleas proclaiming innocence went unheard as an unqualified jury convicted him, and the guilty verdict remains suspect even today. The tainted jury selection process allowed two unqualified men to serve, and the prosecutor used only circumstantial evidence to convict Boyington.
This story is based on events that have since become folklore in Mobile, Alabama. It is about a nineteen-year-old printer, Charles R.S. Boyington, who was unjustly convicted and hanged for killing his best friend in 1835. During this period, the overwhelming majority of the people of Mobile considered all individuals as either God-fearing or evil, without exception. After learning of Boyington's atheistic beliefs, the court of public opinion swung toward him as the guilty party. Exacerbated with knowledge of his checkered past and his inconsistent testimonies, the people gave more weight to the flimsy circumstantial evidence against him. All this coalesced in working up the citizenry into such a state of frenzy that it served to strangle any impartially that they otherwise might have had. The heightened public outrage frightened off any potential witnesses for the defense and biased the jurors and judges to a point that the legal process turned into a sham, with a guilty verdict a foregone conclusion. Boyington's articulation skills and obvious intelligence meant little in the abatement of these preformed prejudices. Convicted by an unqualified jury in 1834 using only circumstantial evidence, he was shackled in Mobile's first jail in 1834 where he wrote poetry to his fiancee to survive. As he predicted would happen to prove his innocence, a tree grew on his gravesite and still stands 175 years later in the Church St. Graveyard.
WORDS OF PRAISE
Mary S. Palmer's book is more than a narrative nonfiction account of Charles Boyington's connection to a haunting oak tree in Church Street Graveyard. It's an investigation into Nathaniel Frost's murder and whether Charles committed the deed; he proclaimed his innocence with his last breath. Dive into this book, study the facts, and decide for yourself.
Paula Lenor Webb, author of Mobile Under Siege: Surviving the Union Blockade, and a librarian at the University of South Alabama
A British citizen serving on an Alabama jury? That's a new one to me. Though certainly not legal, the residents of Mobile apparently got what they wanted, and the judges were disinclined to interfere. The old legal maxim holds, "Justice delayed is justice denied." Though not delayed here, it was undoubtedly denied. A sad chapter in history powerfully captured by Mrs. Palmer.
Ken Wall, Trial lawyer, Constitutional Law Instructor, University of Houston
Boyington Oak is a carefully researched and annotated work of creative nonfiction that brings to life the world of Mobile, Alabama in the 1830s. Based on an infamous murder trial which resulted in a questionable conviction and execution, the story of young Charles Boyington has it all: the dashing young man out to seek his fortune, a beautiful sheltered belle, a ghastly murder, and a ghostly legend that lives on to this day. The perfect historical mystery that will keep you turning pages late into the night!
Cassandra King, New York Times bestselling author of The Sunday Wife
About the Author
Mary S. Palmer, of Mobile, AL, has a BA (Cum Laude) in English from the University of South Alabama and an MA in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. She teaches English at Faulkner University and at Huntingdon College. She has published fourteen books, and two of her plays have been produced. Her short story, The Concrete Block Wall won the Hackney Award in 2016 and Raisin' Cain won the Southeastern Literary Tourism Award in 2014. Her book Tourism Writing: A New Literary Genre Unveiling the History, Mystery, and Economy of Places and Events, written with a grant from Faulkner University, was released in 2018. She is currently compiling a short story collection and completing a murder-mystery series.