Condemned for Love book cover

At the Corder farm in northern Fauquier County, Va., the job of caring for the cows fell to Elvira, the daughter of a white couple, Nathan and Elizabeth Corder. Each afternoon she herded the animals into the barn and milked them.

Only later, after Elvira ran away with Arthur Jordan, a black farmhand, did the family realize that their romance was apparent in how she did these chores. Elvira was later returning to the house for supper each evening, and Arthur had started carrying the milk pails for her from the barn to the dairy. The Corders, later described as one of the “first families” of the county, thought little of it at the time.

Then, during the Christmas season in 1879, the couple ran away together. Elvira was pregnant, and the pair fled, eventually settling in western Maryland. Nathan followed but could not find them, and a policeman who spoke to him in Alexandria, Va., described him as angry and heartbroken. He had promised his wife he would bring Elvira back “dead or alive.” As for Arthur, a married man with an infant daughter, “I certainly will kill him,” Nathan said.

For all their careful planning and defiance, Elvira and Arthur did not anticipate how her family and neighbors would react to their flight. Or perhaps they did and didn’t care. If so, it was a fatal mistake for theirs was an impossible love. By January 1880, Arthur was hanging from a tree in the Warrenton Cemetery in Fauquier. Elvira was alone, still in Maryland, never to return home.

In Condemned for Love in Old Virginia: The Lynching of Arthur Jordan, author Jim Hall recounts the story of Arthur and Elvira. He describes how an interracial couple, seeking only to live in peace, learned that they were not free to love. In their world, white men made those decisions.

The Confederate Memorial in the Warrenton Cemetery in Warrenton, Va.
The farmland near Wheatfields, the Corder farm in Fauquier County, Va.

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