Remembering the last hanging in Roane County
By Robert Bailey and Jere Hall
The last execution that took place in Roane County was the hanging in Roane County was the hanging of Isaac Fain in the courthyard of the historic courthouse in November 1884. Fain had been tried and convicted of murdering Thomas Curren.
The case was a spectacular one and was well covered in newspapers of the day, (often with conflicting information) but the salient facts seem to be as follows:
Fain worked as a section hand on the Cincinnati Southern Railroad. He was a small black man about 21 years old with a violent temper. On March 29, 1884, while working near Emory Gap, he had an altercation with his section boss, Thomas Curren. Sharp words exchanged between the two men and Fain was fired. He hung around the work site most of the day, muttering threats against Curren, then left in the late afternoon and returned with a double barreled shot gun.
He stayed out of sight until he had a clear shot at Curren, cursed him and emptied the gun into his victim's back, killing him instantly.
Fain threw down his gun and fled to the mountains. A large party of men scoured the countryside for about a week until he was captured near Loudon. He was jailed at Kingston, but moved to Loudon for safe keeping because of word that a large lynching party was on the way.
He was later returned to Kingston, charged and tried for first degree murder in the historic courthouse. After about 40 minutes of deliberation, the jury brought in a guilty verdict and he was sentenced to death. Although his case was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the death sentence was upheld.
Fain spent the last months of his life studying the Bible and praying while a gallows was being built on the south lawn of the historic courthouse. The scaffold was walled with boards on three sides, and canvas covering on the east (Third Street) side. On the fateful day of his execution in November 1884, he was led to the gallows by the sheriff, securely shackled. After he climbed the steps to the platform, the canvas was thrown back and Fain faced a crowd of 3000 to 4000 people who had come to town to witness his execution.
The doomed man then preached a sermon, confessing his crime and urging his audience to turn aside from sin and accept God. He stated he was ready to go to Jesus, saying, "It is much better that I die today and go to glory than to live out my sinful life and go to hell."
As he stood with the rope around his neck, he uttered his last words: "I ain't scared one bit, hanging ain't anything. Tell Aunt Julia I'm going home on the evening train."
After he was hanged and pronounced dead, Ellen Curren, the 16-year-old sister of Thomas Curren, entered the enclosure and stared at the body, leaving with an expression of pity on her face and tears in her eyes.
The Chattanooga Daily Times stated: "The last legal hanging in Roane County previous to this occurred in 1860 when Joseph Jones . . . was executed for outraging his mistress."