Floyd Allen (1856–1913)


Floyd Allen was the central figure in one of the most sensational and bizarre incidents in Virginia criminal and legal history, the so-called Hillsville Massacre. In the great Carroll County shootout in Hillsville on March 14, 1912, a judge, a sheriff, a commonwealth’s attorney, a juror, and a spectator were all killed by shots fired by Allen and others after Allen was convicted of assault. Allen and several members of his family immediately fled the courtroom but were later captured and convicted of murder. Allen and his youngest son, Claude Swanson Allen, were both executed for their crimes.

One of seven sons of American Civil War veteran, landowner, and local official Jeremiah Allen, Floyd Allen was a farmer, storekeeper, and occasional officeholder in Carroll County in southwestern Virginia. As head of a clannish mountain family that had a reputation for feuding, law breaking, moonshining, violence, and even murder, Allen had been charged with assaulting sheriff’s deputies and freeing his nephews, who had been arrested for fighting. According to Roanoke lawyer Robert C. Jackson, Allen was “overbearing, high-tempered, [and] brutal, with no respect for the law and little regard for human life.” But the Allens blamed their troubles on recently elected Republican county officials with whom they had had several run-ins and who, they claimed, were out to get them because they supported the Democratic Party.

Fearing an unfair trial conducted by their political enemies, Floyd and his kinsmen were determined that he not be sent to jail. On the day of his trial, they filled the courtroom, armed with pistols. Court officials, including the county clerk, Dexter Goad, also carried concealed weapons. Found guilty and sentenced to one year in the penitentiary, Allen rose up and proclaimed, “Gentlemen, I ain’t a going.” At that point, shots rang out in the courtroom, killing Judge Thorton Massie, Sheriff Lewis F. Webb, Commonwealth’s Attorney William M. Foster, a juror named C. C. Fowler, and witness Betty Ayers, who died the next day. Several others were wounded, including Allen himself. It was never determined who fired the first shot. Members of the Allen clan fled into the hills, while the wounded Allen hid out in the Hillsville Hotel. All involved in the shooting were apprehended, including two who were captured in Des Moines, Iowa, six months later.

On May 18, 1912, after a brief trial in which he pled self-defense, Allen was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. His son Claude received the same sentence in July and four other family members also received prison sentences. Despite an outpouring of pleas to commute the sentences, Governor William Hodges Mann refused, but he did grant four reprieves, perhaps hoping that the Allens would confess to a conspiracy to murder and eliminate any doubt about their guilt.

The day before their scheduled execution, with the governor traveling to an out of state speaking engagement, a last effort was made to persuade Lieutenant Governor J. Taylor Ellyson to commute the sentences. Mann was informed of this and immediately returned to Richmond, whereupon the executions were carried out as scheduled on March 28, 1913. A progressive commitment to state authority and law and order had prevailed over old-style individualism. Years later, Governors E. Lee Trinkle and Harry F. Byrd Sr. commuted the sentences of those members of the Allen family who were still in prison—the final chapter in the “Hillsville Massacre.”

March 14, 1912
After Floyd Allen is convicted of assault, he and others open fire in a Carroll County courtroom, killing a judge, a sheriff, a commonwealth's attorney, a juror, and a spectator in what became known as the "Hillsville Massacre." Allen and his family flee the scene.
May 18, 1912
After pleading self-defense for shooting and killing five people at the Carroll County Courthouse, Floyd Allen is convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair.
July 1912
Floyd Allen's son, Claude, is sentenced to die in the electric chair for his involvement in the Carroll County Courthouse shooting known as the "Hillsville Massacre."
March 28, 1913
By order of Governor William Hodges Mann, the executions of Floyd and Claude Allen are carried out despite a number of public pleas to commute their sentences.
  • Hall, Randal L. “A Courtroom Massacre: Politics and Public Sentiment in Progressive-Era Virginia.” Journal of Southern History 70 (May 2004): 249–292.
  • Hall, Ronald W. The Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy. Hillsville, Virginia: Carroll County Historical Society, 1998.
  • Moore, James Tice. “Floyd Allen.” Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1, 78–82. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
  • Williamson, Seth. “Hillsville Massacre. ” The Roanoker Magazine, November 1982.
APA Citation:
Heinemann, Ronald. Floyd Allen (1856–1913). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/allen-floyd-1856-1913.
MLA Citation:
Heinemann, Ronald. "Floyd Allen (1856–1913)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 19 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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