Archive for September 29th, 2017

1848: Harris Bell

Add comment September 29th, 2017 Headsman

From the New York Commercial Advertiser, Oct. 3, 1848:

Honesdale, Pa., Sept. 29, 1848.

I have just returned from the execution of Harris Bell. He was the murderer of Mrs. Williams, the wife of Rev. Gershom Williams, of Scott township. She was going from her house to the Sabbath school on Sabbath morning, when, in passing through a piece of woods, she was seized by Bell for a brutal purpose and died amid her struggles.

Bell was apprehended not long after the commission of the crime, and has lain in prison in this borough about a year and two months.

I visited him in prison and was officially, and by his own request, desired to attend him to the scaffold. Although an unpleasant duty, yet how could I decline the request of a poor man under such circumstances?

Bell was nurtured of vicious parents, and cast forth upon the world destitute of education and of any religious knowledge, and was left like a wild animal, to rove abroad and pick up his food as a vagabond. He commenced an abandoned life in early years, was instructed into vice by others, and always lived in its practice. His mind, or what mind he had, was weakened by his vicious courses, and his passions were inflamed so as, at times, to defy all self control.

Twice he was imprisoned for attempts to commit the crime for which he suffered, and he was shut up some five years in the penitentiary.

While in prison here, he exhibited a diversified character, sometimes making a shrewd observation, and then a foolish speech to excite a laugh. But he had sufficient intelligence and conscience to know right from wrong, as was evinced by his concealing the evidence of the murder, and by other irrefragable proofs.

Condemned by an intelligent jury, he was sentenced by Judge Jessup to die. An application was made for his reprieve, for the purpose of having his sentence commuted to imprisonment for life by the Legislature, as the Governor in this state cannot commute a sentence though he can pardon; but this was unavailing. Governor Johnson passed through our borough a few weeks since, and visited Bell incognito, at the request of the counsel for the defence, bur mercy could not be extended to him.

He freely confessed his guilt, acknowledged his dependence on the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse him from guilt, and seemed to feel that he had truly repented and would be saved. He was executed in the prison yard, or rather in a building without a roof prepared for the occasion, and every thing was conducted with propriety.

He was attended by two clergymen, twelve witnesses, and the various officials which the law allows. Religious services were held on the scaffold, and Bell himself addressed the spectators in an appropriate manner. At the close of a prayer by one of the attending clergymen, the scaffold dropped and Bell was suspended for about twenty minutes; and when he was taken down, life was extinct.

His body goes to the surgeons for dissection.

At Bell’s request, the Rev. Mr. Rowland will preach a funeral sermon in the Presbyterian Church on Sabbath evening. I wonder what kind of sermon it will be. It is rather singular to preach a funeral sermon for one who has been hanged, but I imagine that the preacher knows what he is about, and will at least have a crowded house.

It makes me nervous to see a man strangled to death, even though it is according to law. Yet I fully believe in the justice and expediency of capital punishment, in some cases.

Yours &c.

A SPECTATOR

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pennsylvania,Rape,USA

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