The Legend of Sam Lions Trail
The story of Sam Lion is a 150 year old narrative of brutally and deadly revenge between a slave and his overseerer. There are several versions of the tale which have been assured and measured of immortality by having a Martinsville road, Sam Lions Trail, named after the story's principal character.
But there are also some people who doubt that the story happened at all. Paul DeHart, retired librarian, and now Martinsville's archivist, said he believes the stories have been "mostly made up". As far as I'm able to tell, it's (Sam Lions Trail) was named for him because he (Lion) helped clear part of it."
Sam Lions Trail is in Forest Park, an area of about 750 homes in the southeast part of the city. Around the mid 1800's , it was a 1050-acre tract belonging to the Hairston's pronounced(Harston), a family of prodigious farmers and slave owners, were headquartered at the Beaver Creek Plantation of Virginia 108.
The story goes that Sam Lion, the son of an African chieftain, was brought to this country and bought by one of the Hairstons, along with about 150 other slaves. As the slaves started to walk from the auction stand, the hot, tired Prince slipped and almost fell. "Watch it there, Sam" came the harsh voice of a red-headed overseerer known to everyone as Red Tupper. From then on the Prince was know as Sam. Legend has it that the slave acquired his last name because he acted noble and with courage as a Lion.
It is said that the Hairstons divided their land into sections and sent Sam Lion and other slaves to clear one area. Instead of climbing all the hills to get to work, Sam Lion cleared a path around them.
Red Tupper was a harsh overseerer, it is said, he beat his slaves for little reason. One day he beat Sam lion the slave, knowing little English, responded, "if you beat again, I kill." Tupper merely laughed. But the next day Lion stopped to pick up a chain he had dropped, Tupper hit him with a whip. Lion reportedly straightened up and roared.. "didn't believe?" The slave then picked up his axe, swung it and killed his overseer. Lion fled into the nearby woods and for three years, he lived off the land, sleeping in caves and watching for signs of anyone searching for him.
In time, it is said, Lion was happened upon sleeping in a cave. He was taken to jail, and found guilty of murder. He ws hung in the public square.
The land which once belonged to Patrick Henry passed through several ownerships before falling into the hands of Rives S. Brown, Sr. sometime in the early 1900's another 1,118 acres were added to the parcel. The land, farmed by Brown, Sr. was dubbed Forest Park.