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1797: Abraham Johnstone

Add comment July 8th, 2020 Abraham Johnstone

(Thanks for the guest post to Abraham Johnstone, who is … also the subject of the guest post. This was originally published, posthumously of course, as The Address of Abraham Johnstone, a Black Man, Who Was Hanged at Woodbury, in the County of Glocester, and State of New Jersey, on Saturday the the [sic] 8th Day of July Last; To the People of Colour. To Which Is Added His Dying Confession or Declaration. Also, a Copy of a Letter to His Wife, Written the Day Previous to His Execution. The original can be found here or here. -ed.)

TO THE PUBLIC.

As the trial, condemnation, and execution of Abraham Johnstone, a Black man, for the murder of Thomas Read, a Guinea Negro, has of late been the general subject of conversation, and is really what may be called a singularly uncommon and peculiar case, as there was not positive evidence of the fact; the proof being founded entirely on presumption, and that even not the most violent, it is presumed that the following pieces will not be unacceptable to the public. The more so as the address to his colour is a series of wholesome admonition, together with some general observations on the present situation of those of his colour &c.

His dying confession is a full and impartial account of himself from his birth unto the time of his execution. He having handed it out of the dungeon he was confined in, on the morning of his execution; before a number of truly respectable persons, and declared that all that was therein contained was the truth, and nothing but the truth, it among other par[ti]culars contains many circumstances respecting the crime for which he suffered not hitherto generally known, and which in justice both to society, and the deceased could not be suppressed: The copy of his letter to his wife is inserted merely to gratify the reader’s curiosity, and that by his having the whole of the pieces left by the unfortunate convict, before him, he may be enabled to form an opinion of the true character, and guilt of the man independent of the malignant assertions, and innumerable falsehoods that have been propagated on this occasion by prejudiced persons.

It must also be remarked that the account of his life is strongly corroborated by a Mulatto man and his wife, both of respectable characters, and now living in Haddonfield.

We must further add, that juries ought to be extremely cautious how they admit evidence founded solely on presumption to affect the life of a fellow creature and deprive society of a member: Proof of so vague and indeterminable nature, being too dangerous to be admitted in this country where I am sorry to say there is but too little regard paid to oaths, and the most glaring perjuries are suffered to pass with impunity; But it is also true that presumptive proof is necessary to be admitted sometimes, but then it should be the most violent, that ought in any wise be admitted to affect life, for that, once gone — can never be recalled. —

THE ADDRESS OF ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE.

Brethren,

IT is with a heart overflowing with love and humble hope in my God and Redeemer, and general benevolence, charity and good will to all mankind that I address you at this (to me, and not only to me but to all mankind) solemn important and truly aweful and momentous time, a time when I am on the verge of eternity, and that there is but a few short fleeting hours for me to remain in this world, and of that short time every moment spent by me even in addressing you my dear brethren, shortens.

Consider my dear friends, and brethren what a miserable and unhappy fate awaits me in a few days, consider what a truly unhappy miserable and melancholy spectacle I in a few short hours shall and inevitably must exhibit Being now a devoted victim to the just resentment of the laws of my country and the rules of society — just resentment — because, after a candid and impartial trial I have been convicted by a jury of my peers, twelve truly good and worthy men whose integrity and love of truth I so well know that had they not conceived themselves clear of all doubts and scruples, they would not have consigned a fellow creature to death, and to so ignominious a death — therefore their verdict having established a presumption of my guilt and my having not only transgressed the positive rules of society, but committed a crime of the blackest dye, a crime justly hateful odious and horrid in the sight both of God and man, I am to suffer death. —

Whether guilty or not guilty is a question that I will not enter upon or attempt to assert at this time, but will wait for a more tremendous and aweful moment, that moment when I am going to be ushered out of this vain frail world and to leave all earthly considerations and affections behind, and enter into a state of immortality, into a world where I shall meet my great Creator face to face, and there must answer for my transgressions while in this world of crosses and vexations before that all merciful almighty and omnipotent Judge who knoweth all hearts who knoweth all actions, and before whom no mortal prejudies nor delusory or malicious suggestions or representations can avail. It is then at that very moment when standing on the precipice from which at the very next instant I must be launched into a boundless eternity where I shall meet that all righteous and omnipotent Judge — then when my pitiable situation and the solemnity and horror of the spectable I shall be exhibiting shall add weight, and death shall give a sanction to my assertions, assertions that shall be sealed with my life, which the law claims forfeit and which to the law I give up as an atonement for any offence I may have been guilty of — Then at that aweful moment shall I declare my guilt or innocence in such a manner as to put it either [b]eyond all doubt or controversy: For tho’ at, this moment I declare my innocence, prejudiced people conceive such assertions to originate in subtuity saying that hope a pardon or reprieve while others attribute it to an unwillingness to confess the fact — both are alike mistaken for as to the first I neither hope, wish nor desire a pardon, being fully satisfied and prepared to die and death might perchance come at some other time when I should not be as well prepared to attend the summons of my dear Creator. Neither is there any thing in death so terrible on a nearer view. Who amongst you all that had a clear and just cause which you were honestly confident that ye should gain would be concerned at meeting before a magistrate on the day and time appointed in the summons? How much less can I regret the being summoned before my heavenly father and judge on the day and time appointed. Yes dear brethern with joy will I rush into the presence of my God and claim from him the reward that is due to my suffering in this life and which I firmly but without presumption hope to obtain, so that on that head I am perfectly at ease and have nothing to fear. As to the second head I have too perfect a knowledge of the attributes of my great Creator and Redeemer and too great a care for my salvation and future bliss, ever to rush into the presence of my Creator with an untruth gushing from my lips, and I must add without resentment or prejudice that my love for truth may have been as great as their’s that question my veracity. — And conceiving it a duty incumbent on me at this time to admonish and counsel you with respect both to your present and future welfare, which God knows has always been next my heart, for I ever and always took a lively interest and pride in forwarding the affairs and assisting all those of my colour, that I could, and had God been pleased to have spared me and granted me a length of days I fondly tho’ alas! vainly hoped to have rendered myself useful to all. But all these vain delusions those phantoms of the brain are now totally evanished, and on one side an horrid and ignominious death stares me in the face, and in a few hours will return this body to it’s kindred clay, while on the other side and but a little farther on I see the most glorious prospect open to me — and the outstretched arms of a merciful God open to receive me into the mansions of bliss and tranquility.

I then my dear friends and brethern take occasion from this, to call, and beg your attention to the following short but necessary council I now offer to you, and which will I hope be treasured up in your minds as the most proper repository, that after my dissolution, you in delivering it to your children, may give a sigh! and say, peace be with Abraham’s spirit — he deserved a better fate: Counsel which I not only think absolutely necessary to promote your prosperity and welfare, in this life, but essentially necessary to your future happiness as I shall direct it to such immediate points as I think most conducive to them two ends, to the thorough and perfect attainment of both of which ends all your thoughts words and actions should be directed, they being the only two and true sources from which real happiness either in this world or the world to come can spring.

In the first place then I most earnestly exhort and pray you, to be upright, and circumspect in your conduct; I must the more earnestly urge this particular from a combination of circumstances that at this juncture of time concur to make it of importance to our colour for my unfortunate unhappy fate however unmerited or undeserved, may by some ungenerous and illiberal minded persons, but particularly by those who appose the emancipation of those of our brethern who as yet are in slavery, be made a handle of in order to throw a shade over or cast a general reflection on all those of our colour, and the keen shafts of prejudice be launched against us by the most active and virulent malevolence: But such general reflections or sarcasms, will be only made by the low minded illiberal and sordid persons who are the enemies of our colour, and of freedom: and to them shall simply, answer that if the population throughout the United States be then taken, and then a list of all the executions therein be had, and compared therewith impartially, it will be found that as they claim a pre-eminence over us in every thing else, so we find they also have it in this particular, and that a vast majority of whites have died on the gallows when the population is accurately considered. A plain proof that there are some whites (with all due deference to them) capable of being equally as depraved and more generally so than blacks or people of colour.

Another circumstance that renders my fate peculiarly unhappy at this crisis, is that it happens at a time when every effort is using for a total emancipation of all our brethren in slavery within this state, and that by men of exalted spirit generosity and humanity–men whose bosoms glow with philanthrophy, good will to all mankind and a love of freedom that shews them to be actuated by the noblest of all motives, that first great principle in true religion, “do to all men as you would be done unto.” Men whose spirit rises indignant at seeing their fellow creatures whom God has created in his own likeness and endowed with immortality, held in bondage to each other, or that one human being shall have it in his power to torture and inflict innumerable pains and punishments such as his ingenuity may devise and as caprice may dictate to him on an unfortunate fellow creature who happens not to hold an equal rank in society with him, tho’ he undoubtedly does in creation and the eyes of the Almighty.

‘Tis thence my dear friends and brethern that I esteem it so peculiarly unfortunate, as it may be made a handle of to retard the truly laudable endeavours of such generous and worthy persons But no, I hope not, I am convinced that it cannot: for such a generous and noble work is too acceptable in the sight of God, and is founded on a basis too solid and firm to be at all shaken by such way-ward untoward or unfortunate and unforeseen accidents, as this proves to be, and as to the scoffs sneers and railings of the spitefully malicious or envious, let them consider but a moment that no man living knows what fate has in embryo for him to suffer, and that no man knows his length of days nor what moment death shall usher him into an endless eternity.

Permit me my dear brethern to express my sentiments more at large on this subject sentiments that I have long indulged myself in the enjoyment of, and sentiments which I firmly hope being delivered to you at this so very solemn time, when nature all patient and without regret is awa[i]ting in peace the fixed day of dissolution, when I shall for ever quit this world of crosses tribulations, and vexations — And in order to do it the more fully and satisfactorily I must beg your attention while I endeavour to point out the vissitudes of fortune our colour have generally encountered, from their first introduction into this country, as also the present hardships many of them endure at this moment tho’ we should all fervently bless God that they are but local, and also the very great blessings that some others enjoy in states where liberality of sentiment and philanthrophy pervades the bosoms of the meanest citizens.

This country was first discovered by the British in 4099. [The text really does read “4099”! -ed.] But they did not begin to people it by sending out colonies until 1606, and the first place they settled at, was a neck of land that run into Pawhatan river in Virginia, they called the place they settled at James Town in honour of the then king, and the river, James, for the same honorary reason. Shortly after religious dissentions caused very many to leave their native country and come hither with their families and goods where they might enjoy a liberty of conscience uncontroled and free from the danger of the religious persuasions that then raged in England. Those truly respectable emigrants settled in that part of this country now called New England, and named their first place of settlement New Plymouth, it was a very considerable time after before that part of Africa called Guinea was discovered, and a much longer time before they attempted to traffic in human beings, and tho’ at that time their earliest and best writers mentioned with abhorrence their cruelties to each other there, yet they did not hesitate to barter and traffic for them, as for other animals, and what is shocking to humanity to relate raise fortunes out of the price of blood, even in this country in latter years. I have known many a man continue the lawful offspring of his loins a slave during life, exposed to every hardship and cruelty because he was a mulatto. How very frivolous and vague an excuse, and such an one as implies the total want of natural feelings, or a total want of morality, for such persons whose ungovernable passions hurries them to the gratification of their gross apetites by a promiscuous intercourse, and carnal knowledge of the bodies of blacks, must either admit them to be human or themselves to be guilty of the most odious and enormous of all crimes, a crime that I blush to name — therefore shall leave it to your imaginations to supply the omission, and indeed I believe it to be an incontrovertible fact, that many of those people employed in that trade get the unfortunate creatures big with child, and then fell child mother and all in order to the enriching themselves by such inhuman and unprincipled means. The continual wars and dissentions between the Aborigines and the settlers left the settlers but little time to cultivate their lands, and besides they were too few to carry on husbandry with any sucess, at least not so extensively as to enable them to benefit themselves by trade in the staple commodities of the country, and Guinea Negroes having some short time before been introduced into the West Indies and found extremely serviceable, they were next introduced into this country for they having tried in vain to make slaves of the Aborigines, but having found all their attempts fruitless they next turned their thoughts to the importation of our colour, particularly to the southward, and it increased astonishingly until the colonies declared their independance, and from that time the importation annually decreased until at last the finishshing blow was given to that most inhuman and diabolical trade by an act of Congress, which expressly prohibits the further importation of negroes into any part of the United States, so that ever memorable era when the doctrine of non-resistance was exploded, the unalieneable rights of man were asserted, and the United States of America were delared sovereign free and independent, we may ascribe our present dawning hopes of universal freedom. It was then that the prospect of total emancipation from slavery which now begins to brighten upon us had birth, it was then that freedom, liberty, and the natural rights of mankind ennobled every sentiment, banished every slavish regard, and expanded the heart with every thing great noble and beneficent, the generous flame spread with rapidity, and communicated itself to every rank and degree; every bosom glowed with an emanated ardour emulative of its noble and exalted source, and all ages and persons, with transports unspeakable thronged around the standard of liberty — but still my dear brethren we were forgotten, or we were not conceived worthy their regard or attention, being looked on as a different species: Even the patriotic who stood forth the champions of liberty, and in asserting the natural rights of all mankind used the most perswasive eloquence the most powerful rhetoric and choicest language the rich treasury of words could afford, those who undauntedly stood forth day by day the advocates of liberty, at night would be cruel rigid and inexorable tyrants. How preposterously absurd must an impartial observer think the man whom he sees one moment declaring with a most incredible volubility in favour of natural rights and general freedom, and the next moment with his own hands for some very trivial offence inflicting the cruel and ignominious stripes of slavery, and riveting it’s shackles — surely in the eyes of any man of sense such conduct must be irreconcilable and just reason to doubt the soundness of his principles as a patriot and a lover of freedom, be given, for, that precept and practice could be so very contradictory, and a man to be in right earnest in the cause he undertakes, is not believed by any person: therefore it justly exposed them to the scoff and derision of their enemies both at home, and abroad, — The New England states first saw into that, or if they did not see into it first, they were the first that were noble minded, generous and disinterested enough to set all their slaves free. Individuals there, first nobly and generously set the glorious example; which was soon after followed by every individual in their states without the intervention of the legislatures of either, all they have done being the passing laws in each respective state to prohibit slavery in future, and at this time there is not one slave throughout them great populous and flourishing states, that compose New-England, and which states are generally peopled by Presbyterians. New-Jersey was the next that endeavoured to follow the glorious example, the Quaker society therein have manumised and set free all the slaves in their possession or in any wise their property, and the like has been done by many other good characters, and they have uniformly frood our friends, and are now using every effort in their power to render the emancipation of our colour general, and have us admitted to the rights of freedom as citizens in this state, in which truly laudable, and generous design they are now ably seconded in this county by some worthy men of other religious persuasions, whom together with all the friends of freedom, and our colour may God bless and prosper, and grant them health a length of days, fortitude and perseverance to put their designs in execution, and that success may crown their endeavours is my sincere with and prayer.

From the first bringing of our colour into this country they have been constantly kept to the greatest toil and labour, to drudge incessantly yet without the smallest hopes of a reward, and, oftentimes denied a sufficient portion of food to suffice the cravings of nature, or raiment sufficient to hide their nakedness or shield them from the inclemency of the weather. Yet, labouring under all those hardships and difficulties, the most unheard of cruelties and punishments were daily inflicted on us, for what? for not performing impossibilities, for not doing what was impossible for human nature or strength to have done with in the time allotted. And if the most pressing hunger should compel us to take from that master by stealth what we were sure to be denied if we asked, to satisfy our craving appetites, the most wanton and dreadful punishments were immediately inflicted on us even to a degree of inhumanity and cruelty. That I do not exaggerate is I dare say known to many of ye that hear me, or that may hereafter read this address to you, and therefore I appeal to ye, as personal knowledge of the facts I have here stated, I declare myself that I speak from experience — I was born to the southward of here, in the state of Delaware, and a slave, and had five masters before I was free, all of whom liked and loved me, and the last particularly, for having once saved his life when another negro man attempted killing him with a knife, but I instantly throwing myself between, saved my master who did not see the knife the fellow had concealed and endeavoured to stab him with. That together with my being always fond of work, and attentive to his interest gained me his friendship and confidence, and induced him to give me my manumission. When I was a slave I was never treated as rigidly or as cruelly as thousands have been to my own knowledge, yet God knows I have suffered incredible and innumerable hardships — ye ought therefore my dear brethren to account it a very great happiness and to bless God that you are in a country where the laws are wholesome, and where the majority of the leading characters are liberal minded, humane, generous and extremely well disposed to all our colour, and endeavour by a just, upright, sober, honest and diligently industrious, manner of life and a purity of morals to improve that favourable disposition in them, and if possible ripen it in to esteem for ye all. Consider, my dear friends, that it is but a very few years since any body could be found that had courage enough to step out of the common road of thinking and object to the insufficient unsatisfactory and unsubstantial arguments used against us, and tho’ some probably might have thought on the subject, and could hav[e] urged weighty and substantial ones in our favour yet they were deterred possibly by private consideration and interested motives, and probably by a fear of encountring popular and vulgar prejudice, from saying any thing on a subject that required to be treated with so much circumspection and caution; but thank God in this enlightend age there will not be wanting men of genius, spirit and candour, who will have courage enough to step out of the common road of thinking — some that cannot but with indignation see reason stoop to the controul of prejudice, and adopted principles, and who without pronouncing that man a vain and impious sceptic who shall dare to suggest doubts and difficulties their forefathers happened never to have dreamed of, can wave without ceremony that compliment usually paid to the opinion most in fashion, and on this and any affair of importance generously give the world their sentiments without reserve: and yet such settled enemies are the generality of mankind to an open freedom of thought (excepting those who turn it into licentiousness) so averse are they to the admission of ideas they were not before made acquainted with, that they are prejudiced against receiving, or had not been familiarised to from their youth, that reflections or representations are only rejected, or not attended to, because they are novel or displeasing to us or repugnant to our interest. But in this country the opinion is not only already broached, but its justice assented to by every body, for even enemies of freedom and our colour, acquiece in the solidity of the arguments urged in our favour. And therefore my dear brethern I exhort you most earnestly to endeavour by your irreproachable conduct to ripen that good disposition towards you into esteem, and by so doing you will make yourselves not only respectable but beloved, and also will thereby furnish your friends with strong arguments and inducements to endeavour the relief of the rest of our brethern, as yet in thraldom.

I have been longer on this head then I at first intended, but it being my wish to give it a full and ample discussion, I have been the more len[g]thy in speaking of it, and having I believe got fairly through it, I shall proceed to the next head that I mean to speak to you of And that is Religion, and on this head too I fear I shall be tedious as I wish to give it a fair discussion.

I most earnestly recommend to you a serious, and regular attendance on divine worship every Sabbath day at least, and as often at other times as you conveniently can. Religion being the basis of virtue and morality, when there is a want of Religion we may thence justly infer a want of both. For religion being the best practical system of virtue and good actions consonant to the will of our heavenly father, that is known, it sooth[e]s and comforts the mind of the afflicted and troubled, alleviates all our distresses, and disposes us to a perfect obedience to the divine will; and good will and peace to all mankind. But in speaking of practical religion, I do not mean that religion that springs from fear, but I mean a religion founded on a love of virtue and a detestation of vice; on a sense of that obedience which is due to the will of the Supreme Being, and a sense of those obligations which creatures formed to live in a mutual state of dependence on one another lie under. I always took the two greatest principles religion to be, “love honour and acknowledge three persons under the one God head, namely the Father Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons and but one God,” and that God I love & adore with my whole heart and soul; these cond is “do unto every man as you would be done unto” which is expersly directed in that divine commandment, “love thy neighbour as thyself”. Indeed I ever conceived public utility to be the touchstone of moral truth, for to receive and communicate assistance, constitutes the happiness of human life: man may indeed preserve his existence in solitude, but can enjoy it only in society. The greatest understanding of an individual, doomed to procure food and raimnent for himself, will barely supply him with expedients to keep off death from day to day; but as one of a large community, performing only his share of the common business, he gains instruction and leisure for intellectual pleasures, and enjoys the happiness of reason and reflection, and the supreme felicity of rendering himself useful to his fellow creatures in a greater or lesser degree according to his ability. This then, my dear frinds I conceive to be true religion, and it is upon these principles that I hope for solvation through the merits of my Saviour. Therefore would strenuously urge you to become as soon as possible members of some religious society, for it is far better to belong to some than none. But, as general benevolence and universal charity seem to be established in the gospel, as the distinguishing badges of christianity, I therefore wish all religious societies and orders well.

And here my dear brethern, I think it necessary to take notice of the cavils raised by some against us, and the foolishly chimerical notion that prevails with such, to say because we are black, we are not to enjoy a future state, nor be admitted to inherit the kingdom of God, and that our Saviour did not die for us, therefore we cannot hope a redemption: while some other speaking idiots would have us to be the feed of Cain all equally fallacious and frivolous: and indeed it is enough to make any unconcerned or disinterested person merry to hear such foolishly frivolous arguments adduced with such solemnity against us. However that I should not be wanting in respect to the whites, nor in justice to my own colour, I shall make such objections to those arguments as will, I pledge myself fully and completely refute them.

As to the first I shall content myself with making one general observation, namely, that God is neither a respecter of persons, nor colours, be they white black, or mulatto, but respects them merely from, their deeds and observance of his divine commands, and I humbly but on confidentially insist that not one living can produce a scriptural nor even respectably rational authority in support of such a vague and nonsensical opinion, therefore that argument fails.

As to the second, that we shall not inhert the kingdom of God, or enjoy a future state, I wonder where such chimerical notion exists, except in their heated brains or childishly prejudiced imaginations; for scripture tells us expressly, “That all that believe shall be saved,” but to go a step farther, and reason the matter candidly, and without prejudice, I am confident that the odds will be considerably in our favour: And first, I will ask all those persons seriously, how the economy of divine providence with respect to us, can be made reconcileable with our conceptions of the nature of the divine Supreme Being and his attributes, upon the supposition of this being the first and final stage of our existence? That we are endowed with reason and reflection, and a sensibility of pain as well as pleasure, is acknowledged to be an incontestible truth, neither can it be denied by any one. Nor is it less evident and unquestionable, that the latter is oftentimes more than overbalanced by the former. To instance only in our poor brethern at this moment in slavery, in the southern states, what exquisite, what affecting tortures do many of them endure (tho’ some few of them perhaps meet a more friendly fate) from some merciless callous hearted monster of a master? How frequently to the pangs of hunger, and a distempered body are there added the most cutting stripes and scourges most liberally and as wantonly dealt out to them by their inhuman masters or drivers, and all this merely for their not effecting perhaps impossibilities! But wherefore all this wretchedness, this unrewarded toil and labour? Wherefore all these agonizing pains and miseries heaped on an offspring of divine providence? — And why our colour because happens to be black? Are we not a living animated part of the creation? Are we not flesh and blood? Do we not as well as they know what sorrow means? Yes; and for them only, their use, or accidentally their pride, their wantonness, their cruelty were we brought into a sensible existence! Shall one being be created, but even under the bare possibility of being made miserable more or less) solely for the use and service of another? Lord what is man? Or rather what are not brutes? The unmerited sufferin is among whites urged with are great strength of reasoning, in proof of a recompence reserved for them hereafter. And must a being that happens to move in a low and humble sphere in society be at once pronounced unworthy of the like provision? But wherefore this partiality to to their noble selves? Why must they plead a right to be dealt with on the part of justice by the Almighty, and yet think it no injury done to us, if our suffering in a state we are forced into by our common Lord and Creator, meet not from him in an hereafter some similar tokens of an universal, and impartial goodness towards his creatures so necessary and essential to the divine nature. But to bring it more closely home to these our enemies. I will ask them; if they would think it just or equitable for the Moors in Algiers to deny a salvation or a recompence in an hereafter to those of this country who are there kept in slavery; and whose colour is white? No, they surely would not, they would laugh at the absurdity of the idea, and treat it with all the ridicule it justly deserved.

That our Saviour did not die for us, and that therefore we cannot hope a redemption through him, is too absurd and ridiculous to merit a moments serious consideration, for our Saviour was the promised hope of the world. And tho’ he said he came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, yet he directed his gospel to be preached to all the Gentiles throughout the world, and we accordingly see that Phillip the Apostle by an express divine command, arose and went to the south and baptized an Ethiopan, an Eunuch who was a black man, for which, see the Acts of the Apostles, chap viii. ver. 26, and that in the earliest ages of christianity the gospel was preached to blacks, tawneys, and whites, indiscriminately, is beyond a doubt, for Abissinia, Ethiopa, Epirus, and many other nations of blacks were early converted to christianity, and have continued in the profession of it ever since, and not one disputes their right to saving grace, and in latter years the Portuguese missionaries have converted and admitted the negro inhabitants of their settlements in Africa, into their communion, without making a scruple about their undoubted right as human beings to salvation, nor was it ever questioned until the subtlety of after ages, in order to gloss their diabolical and inhuman traffick, made a pretext of that vague argument to sanction their unprincipled and inhuman conduct. another argument used to prejudice white people against us was, that negroes eat each other, a matter that I utterly deny, and formally call upon them to produce any one substantial and respectable authority to prove it–they cannot, that negroes sing their war dance around the prisoners taken in battle, I will admit and also that they sacrifice them to their Dhuu, Dhuns, or Gods, but that they ever eat them, themselves, I utterly deny.

As to our being the feed of Cain, it is still more frivolous than the rest, for either their knowledge must be extremely little and contracted, or their memories very weak, else they would have known or remembered that the flood followed after, which drowned all created beings, save what were saved with Noah in his Ark. And thus, my dear brethren, having shown, I trust, the frivolity and insufficiency of those arguments used against us, and that there must be a salvation for us, I earnestly exhort you to a perfect obedience to the divine will, and to a due performance of the four cardinal virtues, faith, hope, charity, and good works; by a constant practice of which, and due attendance with devout and contrite hearts at some place of divine worship, ye may fervently hope to receive that reward promised to the elect of God through the merits of our Redeemer Christ Jesus, which wish ye all in the name of the Father, Son, and holy Spirit, Amen.

I will next, [m]y dear friends, speak to ye on a crime, that alas! too many of you are guilty of, and indeed, it is not confined to our colour alone, but as I do not mean to interfere with the whites who have got able teachers to admonish and reprove them for their faults and transgressions, and as I conceive it to be a duty more particularly incumbent on me to address ye, brethren, I now do so, being actuated by motives of love and zeal for your welfare and interest: it is of lying that I mean to speak to you; a crime which, though truly odious and detestable, is nevertheless, I am sorry to say, too much practised by you. A very justly admired author says, that the character of a liar is at once “so hateful, odious, and contemptible, that even “of those who have lost their every other virtue, it “might be expected, that from the violation of “truth, they should be restrained by their pride. “Almost every other vice that disgraces human “nature, may be kept in countenance by applause “and association; but the liar, and only the liar is “invariably and universally despised, abandoned, “and discovered; he has no domestic consolations, which he can oppose to the censure of “mankind; he can retire to no fraternity where “his crimes may stand in the place of virtues; but “is given up to the hisses of the multitude, with”out friend, and without apologist. It is, indeed, “the peculiar condition of falsehood to be equally “detested and despised by good and bad.” I do not, nor cannot see what a man can possibly promise to himself to get by telling lies? unless it be, not to be credited even when he speaks the truth. But though all lies are justly odious and detestable, yet there are some of greater enormity, and more malignity than others, I mean those lies with which, when actuated by some envious or spiteful motives, ye traduce, blacken, and villify some persons character, and often times without any other motive than the pleasure of hearing yourselves talk, and being listened to. It is an old saying, and a just one, that we can lock up from a thief, but cannot from a liar, for by this you reb a man of what it is out of his power to lock up; his good name, and it would be far better for a man to lose all his money than his good name; for, in taking his money, ye only take what others had before him, and what he might reinstate by industry, but robbing a man of his good name, ye do not, cannot enrich yourselves, and you thereby make him poor indeed, for every effort he can use cannot reinstate his good name, which is dearer to every good man than life.

But for this practice however vile, some have dared to apologize by contending that the report by which they injured a man’s character was true; This, however amounts to no more, than that they have not complicated envy and malice with falsehood, and that there is some little difference between detraction and slander. To relate all the ills that is true of the very best man in the world, would render him the object of suspicion and distruct and if this practice should become, but a little more universal than it now is, mutucal confidence and esteem the comforts of society and the endearments of friendship will be at an end. For after all the bounty of nature and all the labour of virtue, many imperfections will still be discovered in human beings, even by those who do not see with all the perspicuity of human wisdom; and he is guilty of the most aggravated detraction, who reports the weakness of a good mind, betrayed in an unguarded moment, something which is rather the effect of negligence than design, rather afolly than a faul, sally of vanity rather than an irruption of malevolence. It should therefore never be a maxim inviolably sacred with all men, never to disclose the secrets of private conversation; a maxim which, though it seems to arise from the breach of some other, does imply that general rectitude which is produced by a consciousness of virtuous dignity, and a regard to that reverence which is due to ourselves and orhers; for, to conceal any immoral purpose which, to disclose is to disappoint, any crime which to hide is to countenance, or any character which to avoid is to be safe; as it is compatible with virtue, and injurious to society, can be a rule or law only, among those who are enemies to both.

I shall proceed to a second part of this subject — as I think that I have said nearly enough on the first part, and also fear that I become too speculatively refined in my sentiments, and too tedious to my hearers, I shall therefore speak of the blakest and most horrid, audacious, and impious lies of all those that are supported by false swearing, and perjury.

“Swear not at all,” is the command expressly given to us by our Saviour; I therefore earnestly exhort ye my dear friends to refrain from cursing swearing and all manner of prophane language, since you see it is contrary to the divine will and commands, and is one of those sins that afford not the smallest sensual gratification in the practice or commission.

But how much aggravated must it’s heniousness be in the sight of the Almighty, when it is used to support and gain credit for an impudent falsehood. — But horrid as ever them complicated crimes must be in the eyes of the Almighty, how far short do they fall in blackness and horror both in the eyes of God and man, of that most dreadful of all crimes, perjury. That is the crime of the guilty wretch who for some diabolical purpose premeditately, viciously, and willfully, violates theath he is about to take–An oath itself being an affirmation or denial by any christian of any thing lawful and honest before one that hath authority to administer the same for the advancement of truth, solemnly invoking and calling God to witness that what he so deposes is true. The laws and rules of every society wherever the christian faith is professed presume that oaths will be kept sacred, and that no man will perjure himself; therefore faith is given to an oath; and all judgments as well upon the lives as the properties of the citizens or subjects respect are founded upon oath. This presumption is built upon good reason; this country is defined to be a common weal composed of christian people, and christians are such as are baptized and believe in the law of God as revealed by the Holy Jesus our Redeemer.

Indeed if men would but rightly confider the nature of an oath they would never take it without fear and trembling, even tho’ what they were about to swear was truth, if ye were to appear before the President, who is but your fellow creature, would you not approach him with awe and reverence? With what awe, with what reverence ought we then to appear before the Almighty and Omnipotent God our Creator? And if mortals should never approach his presence without trembling, how audaciously impious, how horridly and wonderfully wicked, must that man be who dares appear before him and call upon him to be witness to a falsehood. There is no sin whatever, not even murder itself, that so surely, and in so particular a manner, calls down it’s own punishment in this life as perjury — and the reason for it is very plain and evident; because that abominable crime must in many cases, be hidden from, and escape the judgement of mankind, and be known only to the heart of the criminal and to God whose holy name he has prostituted and made subservient to injustice. And moreover our Saviour expressly says, Luke Chap. XIIth. Verse Xth. ‘And whoever shall speak a word against the ‘son of man it shall be forgiven him: But unto ‘him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost ‘it shall not be forgiven.” Therefore if God did not in a most particular manner furnish it in this world, men would e too apt to conclude, he did not regard rules of government, nor would indeed the punishment of that horrible sin in the next world only answer his wise ends in the moral rectitude of this, for the man who dares to take false oath must, one should think, believe that God does not either know or regard it; and therefore, God, who is all goodness, all justice, will surely convince him of the contrary, by a just and remarkable punishment. For no one who stedfastly believes that God is present, and will punish the person who takes his name to a falsehood, dare venture to tell a lie upon oath, no more than a thief would dare to take publicly a horse away from the stable, before the masters eyes, who had strength enough to take the horse from him, and punish him upon the spot. It is, therefore, the want of faith in believing that God is present and ready to punish, which occasions perjury; and persons who take false and prevaricating oaths (such as have, alas! robbed me of life,) and find they are not punished, increase in hardness, unbelief, and the blackest sin. But the perjurer; who calls God to witness his falsehood, does surely, at the same time, call down his own punishment. Perjury, like poison, most certainly destroys the guilty taker. As the perjurer disclaims all future help from God, so all the evils, misfortunes, and ills of the world must surround him, his gold will dissolve into air, and all his possessions vanish like a dream; instead of health, rottenness will seize his bones, every chronic disease, and every fierce malady will afflict him, age will suddenly surprise him like a midnight thief, and sickness, sorrows, and all the catalogue of human plagues will sink him to the grave; while living, his mind will be a hell to him, and his conscience gnawed incessantly by remorse, and when death takes him from this world, his soul will be cast out among the damned, where there will be nought, but everlasting torments, with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It is a great concern to me to say, but it is a truth, of which I alas! have had woeful experience,) that this most execrable and horrid crime is become too general in this country, for it to offer any security for either life or property. The administring an oath on every slight occasion, and the indecent irreverent manner in which it is administred by some Justices, or Magistrates, tends only to promots perjury, but to subvert all truth and justice. If oaths were seldomer taken, and in a more awful manner administred by persons of suitable discretion and respectability, it would help, in a great measure, to suppress that dreadfully horrid sin. And surely, if it be viewed only in a political light, it is the interest of every state to render oaths as inviolable as words and ceremonies can make them, and must be highly and essentially necessary for the government to keep up the sanctity of an oath in the opinions of men.

The first cause of peoples regard to oaths being lessened, was the decay of practical religion christianity, and the second familiarity. Wise and good men will always pay an awful regard to oaths, and will strictly take care to aver nothing but truth upon oath, and they would do so if they were examined without an oath. But the multitude take up things more by habit than by reason or reflection, and many of those would tell an untruth to favour themselves or friends, who would not confirm the same, if an oath was administered to them in a solemn manner; and this kind of men, that makes the multitude, upon whose testimonies the estates and lives of their fellow-cittzens depends. To these kind of men the formality of administering an oath, is of the utmost consequence and importance, and the familiarizing them to oaths contributes greatly to the spreading of perjury. In order, therefore, to prevent the inconveniencies that arise from the too great familiarity with oaths, it, perhaps, might not be improper, not to administer oaths, but upon the most important and weighty occasions, and then, at such times, in a most solemn, serious, and decent manner.

Therefore, for all the above weighty causes and reasons, as also for your own ease, peace of mind, worldly, welfare, and future happiness, I most earnestly beg, exhort, and intreat ye, my dear brethren, to avoid all strifes, quarrels, contentions, animosities, law-suits or litigations of any kind, for they, in the end, are of no service, but on the contrary, give birth to envy, hatred, and ill-will. Rather chuse, when any misunderstanding shall arise, to refer it for decision to two or three respectable neighbours; and avoid, by all means, the frequent appearing before Justices of Peace to be sworn, for there is an old saying, that familiarity breeds contempt. And surely the taking oaths on such a multitude of occasions as is now daily practised, familiarizes them to the multitude, so as to take off any idea they might have had of its sanctity, and all the other sacred ties and obligations contemplated with it; and, of course, leaves the weight of the testimony uncertain and ambiguous, and scripture says, my dear friends, if,, thy brother smite thee on the right cheek, turn thou the left also,” therefore, my dear brethren, avoid all swearing, and everyand all occasion of strife or contention that might give rise to swearing.

My dear brethern I earnestly pray ye, to be diligent and industrious in all your callings, manners of business and stations in life, be punctual, upright and just in all your contracts, engagements and dealings of what kind or nature soever, be faithful, tende, rand affectionate in all the relations ye bear in society whether as children, servants, husbands, wives, fathers, or mothers. Be decent in your dress and frugal in all your expences, for by that means you will provide for the wants of sickness and old age, refrain from the too great use of spirituous liquors a little is serviceable, but by all means beware of two much, for that irreparably injures the constitution, and cannot add to the enjoyment of those innocent pleasures and recreations necessary to ye as human beings and members of society.–But above all my dear friends avoid frolicking, and all amusements that lead to expence and idleness for, they beget habits of dissipation and vice, and lead ye into many inconveniences, a few of which I will endeavour to point out as the most immediately attendant on such a manner of life.

In the first place then my dear friends, by a few hours frolicking, ye will spend the fruits of many an hours hard labour, and hte oftener ye go to frolicks the greater will be your dersire to go to them, and by frequently going to such places ye unavoidably incur such a heavy expence, and contract such a dissolute manner of, not only soon swallowing up all your earnings, the fruit of many a days hard toil and sweat; but also leaves ye considerably in debt, ye are then harrassed by proesses, Constables and duns, and if ye fortunately can avoid being lodged in jail, ye can but barely prolong your existence from day to day, while your merciless and rapacious creditors, exact such an exorbitant interest. And with the absorbs principle due and entirely swallows up for enormous length of time all the product of your labour, and leaves yourselves and children a prey to the greatest want and penury, but to pursue this picture a little farther, as far as ye yourselves know to be but too true, under all these difficulties your passion for frolicking continues unabated, and ye are determined to indulge it, be the means ever so unjustifiable, for ye will not hesitate to rob, thieve, and plunder, in order to procure some little money, which as soon as ye have procured ye will away to the tavern, and there spend your ill gotting gain in every species of licentiousness, debouchery and excess, thereby fully verifying the old adage “That what is got under the devil’s back goes awayunder his belly” and then in returning home may be drunk, from those scenes of debauchery and obscenity, ye will not hesitate a moment, nor scruple to kill the cow, calf, sheep or hog of your neighbour, or perhaps best friend and even sometimes will have the audacity when ye know the places well, to enter smookhouses or celars of your nearest and best neighbours and friends probably, and take there out whatever pleases ye and should such spoliation be detected, ye will be the first to cry out, and having the care and confidence of your Masters and Mistresses or employers ye with an art and subtlety of which none but those who perfectly know it, can believe: will shrewdly suspect some others and by a thousand circumstances and surmises well irrevocably fix the blame on some poor innocent person, whom a combination of wayward circumstances would render an object of suspicion. That these are stubborn and incontrovertible facts ye well know, and also that whites are equally as culpable in this respect as blacks. Another incontrovertable fact, I appeal to the conscience and personal knowledge of many of ye for the truth of what I have here asserted but do not think my dear brethern that I charge ye all indiscriminately with such refarious acts; no, for on the contrary there are some very good black men, and on the other hand there are some very bad, that there are many, very many; black people who would not be guilty of a mean or dishonest action, is without question but that there are some others that are capable of both, is also beyond a doubt.

I therefore my dear brethern earnestly exhort ye to refrain from such evil ways and courses, as they undoubtly make yourselves detested and justly hated by your neighbours, inimical to society, and helps to throw an odium on the whole colour, which by all means should be avoided, for it is a settled axiom, that the more respectable every several individual in a society is, the more respectable will that society, generally be, and the more disrespectable the several members are, the more disrespectable will the body generally be, therefore dear friends, avoid by all means, the giving occasion for such general reproach.

And now my dear friends as I fear that I have trespassed on your patience and attention too long I shall take my leave of ye, as I also will of this world and its affections–in a few hours more. And as the solemnity of the spectacle I shall exhibit as also the novelty of this address at present, may make some little impression on ye for a moment, and then alas! it will be gone, and forgot-for even the all tremendious thunder affrights ye while the concusive violence of contending elements affects the senses with fear, as being indicative of the divine wrath; but as soon as the noise ceases and the gloom dispess, all farther fear and all thoughts of the thunder or, divine admonitions vanishes with it, or as ye have often observed the parched earth soak in the moisture of a plentiful shower, and exhibit no farther signs of the refreshing dew. — So I fear it will be with respect to these my admonitions. But my dear brethren and friends I beg of ye by frequent readings to impress it on your minds, and early instill those precepts I have laid down unto your children by frequent reading and relating it to them, for as the water by continual and incessant dropping makes an impression on the stone, so will these my admonitions make an impression on your minds by frequent readings and recourse to them, which the more earnestly recommend as I think them calculated to promote your prosperity in this world, and ensure you that everlasting happiness in the next, which that ye may all obtain is the sincere wish, and shall be the dying prayer of your truly affectionate, but deplorably distressed friend.

ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE

Woodbury jail July 2d. 1797.

THE DYING WORDS OF ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE.

Good people all,

MY real name is Benjamin Johnstone. But when I came to Jersey changed it, took my brothers viz. Abraham Johnstone. I was born in the state of Delaware, at a place called Johnny-cake landing Possom town, in Mother Kind-Hundred and County of Sussex. I was born a slave and the property of Doctor John Skidmore who died while I was very young, and I with the other goods and Chattels descended to his Nephew Samuel Skidmore, he being the heir at law. He soon ran through most of the property left him, and was obliged to sell me to John Grey a blacksmith, and from whom I learned that business; by him I was sold after some time to Edward Callaghan, him I did not like, therefore I would not live with him, and insisted on having another master, he accordingly sold me to James Craig at my own request, for he was very loth to part with me, as I was a very handy hard working black. My new masters confidence I soon gained my sedulous and, and unremitting attention to his business and interest and which was greatly increased by the following incident. A black man of his sisters was extremely insolent and rude to her, (she being a widow) made a complaint to my master who was going to chastise him for it, the black was very insolent to my master who he was just going to strike, I was standing near, and knowing the black was esteemed the stoutest man in all that county, and a very vicious bad man, I watched him narrowly for fear he should do my master any personal injury, I having heard that he intended it, and just as my master was going to strike I saw the fellow put his hand behind and grasped a very long knife, at the same time he swore he would instantly kill my master. I seeing the knife, and the meditated blow which my master could not possibly defend himself from, instantaneously threw myself between, and notwithstanding the knife grappled with him, and told him he must bury the knife in me before he should hurt my master, who all that time stood in amaze at seeing the fellows knife. He and I wrestled and fought sometime, but having got the knife away. I mastered him at last and got him fairly under. My master owned that he owed his life to me, and ever after held me very high in esteem, and told me that after such a time I should be free, shortly after he told my time to myself, and gave me a considerable length of time to pay the money in, during that time I went of, and staid away a whole year with a woman, and then was taken up as a run away, and put into Baltimore jail, from whence I let my master know my situation; he had me brought from thence and put into Dover jail, and while I was there he died drunk. The executors then wanted to have me a slave, but being informed of my master’s agreement with me, they did not then attempt it; and Mr. James Clements, merchant, at Mifflin’s cross roads near Dover came to me and took me out by paying the money due, for which I was to work a stated time with him. I did so to his utmost satisfaction, and I am confident that he still loves me, when done with him the executiors of my late master sent for me to chop some wood, and while out in the woods, they came with two Georgia men (to whom they had sold me) and tied me, and these two Georgians took me away 11 miles from there that day, at night were we staved we got our suppers, and I slipped the knife I had to eat mine with, in may bosom, and they being shewn to bed in one room I soon after into another, as I was lying down I cut the cords I was bound with, and having waited until they were asleep I stole away, and come to Mr. Clements and informed him of the business, who advised me to apply to Warner Mifflin Esq. in Dover which I instantly did, who knowing the sooting I was on with my late master, stood my fast friend on the occasion, and obtained for me the manumission which I have got, as yet and which protected me, But one of the brothers executors was extremely dissatisfied and was determined to have me, as also were the Georgia men. To avoid trouble I came to New-Jersey, and changed my name for I well knew that my poor colour had but few friends in that country, where slavery is so very general, and if one negro was befriended, it was feared to be setting a bad example to the others, I accordingly by the advice of all my friends, both black and white came by water up the Delaware to Philadelphia, and there I did not stay long, until I came to New Jersey; and the first place I went to work at when I came here, was Maj. Joshua Howell’s, where I worked six weeks at that time, it being the year 1792, and continued working about some time longer, and went back and brought my wife from Delaware state, and commenced housekeeping. My wife was born free, and we had been long married before my master died. I have one son now aged 13, living with Daniel Mifflin, Esq. who was born free. I have no child living by my wife. I had not long been here with my wife ere many reports were circulated to my disadvantage, and I now solemnly declare without just grounds: The first of which that did me any injury, was, that I had stolen some carpets from Mrs. Lockwood, which report had its rise in the following manner —

Mrs. Lockwood kept a boarding house, and my wife served as cook and house maid. I myself waited at Anderson’s tavern. The flux was then prevalent in Woodbury (it being the time of the Philadelphia sickness) and I was taken very bad with it: people feared that it was the sever I had gotten, and I had no house before that, and then Woodbury was so full, that I had like not to have got a house or place to lodge in: At last the worthy Mr. John Huffman let me go into his workshop — I moved there, but had neither bed, nor bedding. All the stores in town were searched for either, but I could get no more than one coverlid, which I got at Major Donnel’s. Those old carpets hung out of doors on a rail, being laid by as useless, my wife asked Mrs. Lockwood for them, who told her she might have them, by paying for them, and that she must come weekly and work it out; my wife agreed, and thereupon brought the old carpets for me to sleep on, and continued going to Mrs. Lockwood’s as usual to work for two or three days after, at which time I grew so very bad, that my wife stayed to nurse me. Mrs. Lockwood’s house being full of boarders, and having no help but my wife’s, she was greatly vexed, and sent to let my wife know that she must either come and pay the cash for the old carpets, or work it out according to agreement: but my wife returning for answer that she should not go, while I continued so very bad, irritated Mrs. Lockwood to that degree, that she said my wife might as well have stolen them as not have paid for them, and threatened sueing us immediately if we did not send her the money, or that my wife did not go to work. Thus originated that story; for the truth of which I appeal to the personal knowledge of some gentlemen now living in Woodbury, who boarded there at that time.

I was charged as unjustly by William Tatem, Esq. with robbing his smoak house; but I now solemnly declare that I never was inside of his smoak house, nor took nor received thereout a pound of meat in all my life: And moreover, the night his smoak house was robbed, I slept at Mr. Clarke’s in order to cradle for him the next day, and the meat I was seen to carry home through the country at that time, which gave rise to the suspicion, I bought when on my way home, at the Stone Tavern, from Mrs. Sparks, the woman of the house, who happened to be hanging up meat on the very day, and at the time I passed by, as may be fully known on a little enquiry.

I also do solemnly declare that I never took a pound of meat out of the slaughter house of Samuel Folwell, but what I had rendered a strict and true account of to him, and have paid him for.

Mark Brown has also charged me with stealing out of his smoak house, which I likewise declare myself innocent of.

And now before I come to speak of the crime that I am to die for, I shall (in justice to the religious society that I mean to die in the profession of) say a few words on that head. While in Delaware I was a chosen member of the Methodistical society, and in William Thomas’s class. But the manner of my departure from there precluded my getting a certificate there, whereupon, when I came here, I could not according to the mode of discipline be considered a member until I went thro’ a probation, and thereby regularly have got admitted which though extremely well inclined to do, I some how omitted until it alas was too late — and I die in the profession of that faith, tho’ not an actual member.

I must also say, and at this moment do solemnly aver, that I never saw Dillon, who swore against me, above twice to the best of my remembrance, during the time. Tom was missing; neither had I ever or at any time the conversation with him that he swore I had, nor any whatsoever similar to it; neither did I collar Tom the deceased after the trial between him and me, nor did I say a word to him, except that I told him I hoped we were good friends notwithstanding our law suit, and asked him to come with me to the tavern to take a drink. Those who wish a further confirmation of it, may have it by applying to Henry Craver and Timothy Young, both of whom were with me. May God forgive him! I do from my heart.

Richard Skinner also swore to a falshood, but I cannot, nor can any body blame him, for he being a Guinea negro, and not speaking the English language well, it could not be expected that he knew the nature of an oath. The answer he gave in the court on that head, he had merely got by note from my persecutors. That he was actuated by rancour and malevolence is beyond a doubt, for he told Perry and Sarah Paul, Peter Morris and others, from whom he received the first account of Tom’s being missing, “that he never liked me, and that if he could by any means whatsoever, compass my death, or if it was possible to be done, in any manner or wise, he would have me hanged;” and he in a day or two after saw the same people, and told them he had seen me, and related to them the conversation he had with me, which was very widely different from what he has sworn to. But if whites whose educations should make them know better, are capable of committing such horrid crimes, what must be expected from a poor Guinea negro. I freely forgive him — and may God forgive him and bless him.

As to Henry Ivens whose evidence caused my conviction, I here now do solemnly declare, in the presence of that God before whose awful and just tribunal I shall in a few moments appear, that I never since I had existence, nor at any time, told Henry Ivens either the whole, nor any part of what he declared on oath I did, for on the contrary, he used the following words to me; “well Abraham, people say you killed Tom, but I don’t believe it: if I did I would not let you work any more for me, but indeed Abraham, I do not take you to be a man that would kill another: After which, and in the same breath, he put the following question to me with great seeming friendship. “Abraham, now tell me did you kill Tom? you know you may tell me.” My answer nearly word for word was as follows. — “No indeed I did not Henry: nor did I ever kill a man in my life, nor never shall, except I should happen to fight a man and give him an unlucky blow, and then I believe they could not hang me for killing with one unlucky chance stroke when fighting; but I will never fight with any man, nor strike, as I know myself stronger than the general run of men, and then the law can take no hold of me, neither have I ever in all my life seen a man killed nor hung.” Some few nights after, John Williams came there in order to get me to thrash for him, when the report in circulation of my having killed Tom was mentioned, and Ivens said he did not believe it, for that if he thought it was so, I should not work for him; to which John Williams also replied, that he for his part could not give credit to it, and if he thought it was the truth, I should not thrash for him. That was all that passed between us, and I went away with John Williams that night, and did not see Henry Ivens again, untill Huffsey and David Evans had me tied, coming to jail, when Ivens came to us out of a piece of buck-wheat, and after some prefaratory conversation with the others, asked me the following question: — “Abraham, did you indeed kill Tom? I answered “No, nor no other man, nor never have I seen a man killed in my life, though I have been a great deal through the country.” That these were all the words or conversations I ever had on the subject with Ivens, I now in presence of that God before whom I am going to appear do solemnly pledge myself, and for the truth of it do here appeal to Henry Ivens’s own conscience; and if be is yet under such a delusion respecting it as not to acknowledge it, I here most solemnly do invoke my God and Redeemer to be my witness, and appeal to him to be my witness of the truth of these my solemn assertions in his presence, and to your tribunal my God I now appeal. It is not with a desire to satisfy men that I speak, for that to me at this time is no consideration, and I am perfectly at ease with respect to what they may think after my decease: they may, and undoubtedly will think as they please, but it is to ease my mind and conscience on that head, by declaring the truth, and thereby making my peace with that God whom I adore, and before whom I am going to appear; and may that God give Henry Ivens grace to see where he has so grossly erred, and grant him time to repent, and free and full forgiveness, as I freely do; for I most freely forgive him and all the world, for the world can do me no injury. It it true man may hurt the body, but he cannot reach sufficiently far to injure the soul: that belongs solely to God — and may that God bless, forgive, and protect Henry Ivens and family.

Enoch Sharp ought to have narrowly examined what he was about to say before he gave his evidence. He swore, “that on the day Tom was missed, he was at my house, and that the yard was scraped up much deeper than it could be by sweeping. Henry Craver who almost every day saw the place, and who was there that very morning, swore directly the contrary, and Henry Craver is an honest man, and a man of character. Enoch Sharp was but very seldom at my house; he was there after husking time; and after I had got in my corn, I threw the husks in a kind of hollow to make some manure, and there were some ridges between the door and the well, through which I cut a path, and threw the earth I had dug out of there upon the husks, in order to make them rot the quicker, and made the path level to the well thereby. I leave it to any man whatsoever if they have ever known corn husked in August. I had none there before. God for give Enoch Sharp! I freely do, and leave him my blessing, and that the blessing of God may be upon him and his family, is my prayer.

Indeed Samuel Huffsey and William Nicholson have long persecuted me with the utmost rancour and malice, but may God almighty bless, protect, and forgive them both, I do most freely and from my heart. But this is justice to my conscience I must declare on the solemn assertions of a dying man; that I think Samuel Huffsey procured Tom to steal my lease, as I then could have no title to shew for the place I held from him and lived upon, nor for the crop then growing on it, as I was improving the place fast, and doing well for myself, which made me an object of envy and hatred, and one circumstance that is not known I beg leave to inform the public of to wit. That on the unfortunate night that Tom came to my house he came from the landing to Huffseys first, and from thence came at that late hour to my house, tho’ it was near Huffseys house, and Tom was there engaged to work the following week for William Nicholson, and when I asked him in the morning to stay for his Breakfast, he said he would go to Nicholsons where he was going to work, and get it. They both know that it was at their instigation that Tom sued me, and they also know that they accompanied him and acted as his attorneys, at the magistrates. But to put it in a still fairer light, I will ask them, how came they to know at what instant of time Tom came to my house, and the particular conversation that passed between Tom and myself on that night, and that the very day after: And on the day after Sam. Huffsey brought a witness with him and called upon me to produce my lease, or else quit, &c. But let it not be thought that I blame them for Tom’s death, or speak through prejudice. — No, for I cannot impute his death to any body whatsoever, and as to the second I only state the truth impartially, and must think they have seen Tom later than I did. May God almighty bless and forgive them both, and spare them long to their families. I most freely and heartily forgive them, and desire my love and blessing to themselves and family.

And now at this aweful solemn moment when with the ignominious cord round my neck, and standing on a stage beneath that gallows that must in a few moments transport me into that boundless eternity there to meet my righteous, aweful and omnipotent Judge before whom no earthly considerations nor the evil suggestions of prejudiced persons can avail, now at this moment so dreadful and tremenduous. I most solemnly declare with my dying breath in presence of that God from whom I hope to find mercy and forgiveness, and before all the good people here assembled to see me make my exist from this world. That I am innocent, and unknowing to the death of Thomas Read the Guinea, Negro (that I die for) as the child unborn, neither have I been in any wise, knowing privy or accessary to his death, so bear witness of me my God before whom I am going to appear; and do thou Oh! Lord God stamp a conviction of my innocence, on all those prejudiced persons who are so uncharitable as not to credit my dying assertions, and I do also solemnly declare as I am a dying man, that I never have killed, nor been accessary nor privy to the killing any person whatsover, neither have I ever seen one killed nor hung in my life as I always studiously avoided such places, my feelings being naturally so very tender as to make such fights very affecting to me, nor is there any crime of great enormity wherewith I can justly charge myself, except a too great lust after strange women, and that is the only crime that I fear will hurt me in the fight of God; But I feel such a perfect inward calm and peace from a confidence in the divine love and promises of my Saviour; That exulting in that divine and heavenly love which I at this moment feel glow throughly out my bosom and which expands and raises my soul above all earthly things, I go chearfully to meet my Creator face to face, and now say to my Saviour as he did to his heavenly father, “Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit and from the divine assurances I feel within me that he will receive it, I leave this world with joy, and without the least regret.

I most fervently pray that God may bless Messrs. Stockton, and Person, my two lawyers, the Sheriff, and all the people in this jail, and all mankind; and bless and forgive my enemies, and grant them grace to repent and die his holy love and fear, I with heartfelt gratitude, bless them, for they have been the chosen instruments of my heavenly father, to bring me home to him, when I have had a known time to die, and leisure to repent of my sins, for by a longer continuance in this world, I might have died with many transgressions, unaccounted for, I bless and pray for them, and may thou O Lord bless them, and receive my spirit. Amen — I bid ye all an eternal Farewel.

ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE.

Woodbury jail Saturday, July 8, 1797.

LETTER TO HIS WIFE.

My ever dear, ever beloved and adored Wife! my much regretted Sarah,

As there are but a few, very few! short fleeting moments to glide away ere I enter into the mansion, of bliss and tranquility, and take a final leave of this vain transitory and delusory world, wherein I have experienced nothing but crosses, vexations, and tribulations, from all of which, I in a few short, alas! swift passing moments will be delivered, and set free, my paying that general, and certain debt that mankind must pay to nature, and resign in peace this cumbrous load of mortality, this weak body which as yet is faintly animated with vital warmth; but whose soul is full of the spirit, and heart cheering presence of my God, and Redeemer, through the merits of whose sufferings I hope for salvation; to its kindred clay. For of the crime that I am to die for, I most solemnly declare to you my ever dear, ever beloved wife; in the presence of God all just and omnipotent, and all the host of Heaven; That I am perfectly innocent, and therefore am perfectly resigned to death, and satisfied to quit this world, for like a lamb led to the slaughter house, shall I go in a few moments to my death, and have thoroughly resigned myself to the will of my heavenly father. I have fully weaned myself from this frail world and its gross affections, except what con-centre solely in you, on you now my beloved wife, all my earthly considerations rest, and all that in death appears unfriendly or unwelcome is the parting. The parting from a wife so beloved! — From you my beloved Sally; and leaving you behind in the world without husband to protect you, or friend to sooth, console, or alleviate, your distresses, misseries or wants, or support, and enable you to bear up under, and encounter misfortunes, with fortitude, such my dear Sally have I ever been to you. And tho’ sometimes I went astray and lusted after other women, yet still my dear Sally, my true and fond heart rested with you, and love for you always brought your wanderer back: you were to me, my all! my every thing dear and beloved. From the first of our acquaintance, to this moment, I have loved you with unabated fervor, unceasing tenderness; and the purest attachment: and even at this so truly awful and solemn moment, all that seems terrible in death is the parting from you. — My God and redeemer, and him alone possesses the first part (a part pure and uncontaminated) in my affections; and you possess the next; I am sure you cannot be impious enough to expect to hold an equal share with God, it must suffice you to know that in you my all, and only earthly considerations or affections rest, at this moment so truly aweful.

I did hope my dear wife to have seen you once more ere I departed this life. And to have obtained your pardon for all the transgressions I have committed against God, and our marriage bed during the time we have been united, and also to have given you such consel as I thought best with respect to your future conduct; or as I should have deemed necessary, or expedient. And to have bestowed on you the blessing of a dying husband, and have bid you a final farewell, all which I must do by letter as you would not consent to come and see me tho,’ I had the Sheriff’s express permission for your coming, and nobody should have molested you. Indeed my dear Sally had it been your case as it was mine: no earthly consideration should or would have kept me from seeing you. Even was certain death to have been the consequence, and that I was sure I should suffer on the same gallows with you: All! all! I would have braved to have seen my Sally and would executingly embrace you even in death. The cold phlegmatic remonstrances of disinterested persons; who under the sacred name of friend; But strangers to that and every nobler and better feeling and sentiment, are so often interposed under the mask of friendship, and is generally termed good reason; by which they so powerfully operate on the passions of the weak and timorous, as to leave them no will at all of their own, (of all such people my dear Sally beware in future) I say my dear wife that in spite of all such busy-bodys I should have gone to see you, but I will not wound your feelings by pursuing the subject farther, for I well know that your heart is already cankered with grief, and care worn on my account. And my wish is to alleviate and sooth the accute misery and poignant auguish and distress (I well know) at this moment endure: and to speek peace to your bleeding heart, rather than plant a dagger in the rankled wound. Which my unhappy fate and unmerited sufferings has given you, who possesses a mind replete with the tenderest and livest sensibility.

And now my dear Sally, that you see me so thoroughly resigned to my fate, let me earnestly beg and exhort you to alike resigned on and endeavour to encounter this sad blow with fortitude, and true christian regsination to the will of the Almighty. Call in religion to your aid, and take it as one of those way ward incidents directed by the Almighty to try the faith of us poor frail mortals, and if you consider it as such, you will and surely must think it just to murmer at the decrees of the Almighty God our creater: it is true my dear Sally. It is a shameful death to be suspended in the air between Heaven and earth like a dog that at first fight may hurt your feelings, but on reflection it must vanish and leave no trace behind. For in the first place, as nothing can take place, however trival, without divine permission; so no manner of death can be unnatural: But in the second place, only give yourself time to reflect a moment, and then get a testament and read, the 22d, 23d, and 24th, Chapters of the Apostle Luke, you will there find sufficient matter to console, and prevent your tears flowing for me. You will see there how much more ignominous a death our Saviour suffered; he was nailed to a cross crowned with thorns, arrayed in purple, lots cast for garments his sacred sides pierced with a spear by the hands of common garments his sacred sides peirced with a spear by the hands of common soldiers, crucified between thieves on Mount Calvary; All! every species of ignominy and infamy was heaped on the divine immaculate lambs, His life was taken away by false swearing, (Alas! so is mine,) He prayed for and forgive his enemies, (so do I most freely forgive mine,) the only and blessed person of the most high and omnipotent God shed his precious blood on the cross for the redemption of many; He offered himself up the accepted ransom for all mankind; What is my sufferings and death in comparison with his? What have I to fear in a future state, as I will die innocent of the crime I am to suffer for, and confidently but without presumption, hope a reward for all my sufferings, from him who has himself suffered by false witnesses? He who has said take up your cross and follow me, him will I follow with all my heart and soul, through and with all my crosses and trials.

But my ever dear Sally, I beg earnestly when you so read, to consider with attention the chapters you read, and see if you walk in the fear of love of the Lord, consonant to his divine will as therein is revealed, see if frolicking and attending at scenes of the most horrid and abandoned lewdness, excesses, debaucharies, licentiousness, obscenity prophanity and all their attendant train is agreeable to the divine will, ah! no my dear Sally they are not; for God’s sake my dear woman, and for your dying husbands sake, shun and by all means avoid frolicing and all it’s attending evil concomitants, for your personal attendance at such scenes, is inimical to your future happiness, and renders you odious in the sight of God, and contemptible in the opinions of men, for you may rest assured that there is no man of sense, but would as soon take his wife from a bawdy house, as from a frolic; How very dreadful must that one reflection be to any woman of sensibility or delacy of mind or feelings? Oh my dear Sally! for your own welfare and peace of mind, shun all such places: I do not; for amusements and recreations are necessary to promote both your health of body and peace of mind: but by all means, my love let all those you enjoy be rational.

In chusing another husband my ever dear Sally, after I am dead and gone, as you certainly will need one, chuse one that will love and protect you, and whom you will neither fear nor despise when you are a wife: rather than a pretty baby to look at who might through a rage of novelty and ill nature break your heart. Ah! Sally! think some few times through life on poor gone Abraham, and say with a sigh — He is gone — alas never to return! He was constant and kind to me. But I will some day follow. Yes, my dear Sally you will so; and if it is possible for the spirits of the departed to watch, over those they love, upon earth, and that I have divine permission, I will until them; be my beloved Sally, my truly dear wife guardian angel, and should my slitting spirit ever present itself to your view, be not afraid Sally it will be but the spirit that divine permission is hovering on the watch to shield and defend you from any impending danger.

My dear Sally, my white Hat, that you were so fond of, I leave you with this injunction that you wear it yourself while it lasts and give it, to no other person, and two orders for a small sum of money I also leave you, besides all the cloths at Henry Cravers; Mr. Hughes, my good and esteemed friend, whom together with his family may God bless, prosper, and prolong their lives; will hand you my hat and the two orders, the rest of my things being useless to you, I have given them away to different people; the spinning wheel and little box I have given to the little girl that lived with us.

And having now settled my wordly affairs I shall close and prepare to depart in peace.

I’ve kissed this paper — and bid it convey the kiss to you my love: And now my dear Sally, I bid you — Oh — Heavens! — I bid you my dear wife! — not the farewel of a day month nor year — But an eternal — Farewel. —

I earnestly beg your prayers for me; and may God protect preserve prosper and bless you; is the dying prayer of your dotingly fond husband.

ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE.

Woodbury jail July 8th, 1797.

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1872: George “Charcoal” Botts

Add comment January 27th, 2020 Headsman

It’s the old, old story: conniving war profiteer helps client get divorce, conniving war profiteer installs divorced client as mistress, rival lover also awaiting divorced client’s divorce shoots conniving war profiteer, rival lover winds up on Executed Today.

It’s the story of George Botts (hanged January 27, 1872) and D.C. Civil War gadabout Oliver “Pet” Halsted. Friends of the site Murder By Gaslight has the details.

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1929: Peter Kudzinowski

Add comment December 21st, 2018 Headsman

Peter Kudzinowski was electrocuted on this date in 1929 in New Jersey.

The son of Polish immigrants to Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal mining country, Kudzinowski made his way to the Atlantic seaboard as a young man and entered the executioner’s annals by luring seven-year-old Joseph Storelli from New York’s East Village. For the promise of some candy and a movie, the boy accompanied Kudzinowski onto a train out to the New Jersey Meadowlands. Kudzinowski walked the kid into the marshes and slashed his throat.

That was in November 1928.

It was his third homicide but evidently the worst of the lot for the murderer. A couple of weeks later he forced a confused Detroit traffic cop to take his confession. “I’m willing to pay the penalty, and the sooner it’s over, the better,” he explained later to Detroit detectives. “I had to confess. It was troubling me.” On trial back in New Jersey, he reiterated his willingness to die and the likelihood that his body count would grow if released. Jurors understandably spurned his attorney’s desperate insanity defense.

For a time he was a suspect in the cannibalistic destruction of a three-year-old Brooklyn boy named Billy Gaffney. Posterity has cleared him of that crime thanks to the later confession of a whole different caliber of mass-murderer who turned out to be operating in the same environs at the same time — Albert Fish.

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1766: James Annin and James M’Kinzy

Add comment August 1st, 2017 Headsman

From the Pennsylvania Gazette, Aug. 7, 1766:

BURLINGTON (New-Jersey) August 4

At a Court of Oyer and Terminer, held at Burlington, on Wednesday, the Thirtieth Day of July last, came on the Trial of James Annin, aged 54 Years, and James M’Kinzy, aged 19 Years, on an Indictment for the Murder of two Indian Women, named Hannah and Catherine, who had long resided in the Neighbourhood of the Place where the Murder was committed.

It appeared by their own Examinations, and by the Testimony of credible Witnesses, that they had been on the Western Frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia, but that their first Acquaintance began in Philadelphia; that they came to Moore’s Town, in the County of Burlington, on Thursday, the 26th of June last, about Noon, and begged for Charity, and obtained Relief: That while they were eating their Dinners, the two Indians who were murdered, came to the Place where they were, and that the youngest of the Men gave them abusive Language: That the Indians went off, and rested in a Wood, near the Side of the Road: That the one of them was possessed of a clean Shift, and the other of a Piece of new Linen, which they had that Day got: That about 2 o’Clock on the same Day, James Annin sold the Shift, and James M’Kinzy the Piece of new Linen, and a Blanket, about two Miles from Moore’s Town.

That they were parted by Accident, and that many People had seen the Indians lying in View of the Road, and supposed them to be asleep, till Sunday, the 29th of June, when two Persons perceived a Stench, and on going near the Bodies, found they were dead; whereupon the Coroner was called, whose Inquest found them to be murdered by Persons unknown.

On this Alarm the two Criminals were suspected, and pursued.

James Annin was apprehended, and committed to the Goal at Burlington, and the other advertised from the Description given by Annin, and in a few Days taken up by Order of the Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, and sent to Burlington.

The Examinations of the Prisoners, taken before they had an Opportunity of seeing each other, were read, and by each Examination it appeared, that they went to the Indians with Intent to ravish them, if they should refuse their Offers; each acknowledged that he was present at the Murder, but charged the giving the Stroke on the other, and acknowledged also the taking the Goods; in this they persisted at the Bar. The Jury soon found them guilty, and they received Sentence of Death.

On Friday Noon they were hanged at the Gallows; they continued in denying the Fact, and charging it on each other. The Elder declared, he thought it a Duty to extirpate the Heathen, and just before they were turned off, M’Kinzy, the younger of the Men, acknowledged, that one of the Indians, on receiving the Blow from Annin, struggled violently, and that he, to put her out of Pain, sunk the Hatchet in her Head, but that they were both knocked down by Annin.

The youngest of the Squaws was near the Time of Delivery, and had Marks of shocking Treatment, which the most savage Nations on Earth could not have surpassed.

A few of the principal Indians of Jersey, were desired to attend the Trial and Execution, which they did, and behaved with remarkable Sobriety.

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1888: Two in New Jersey, by father and son hangmen

Add comment July 18th, 2017 Headsman

This morning in 1888, two different locales in the U.S. state of New Jersey put two different men to death — respectively hanged by James Van Hise pere and fils, father and son executioners.

George Kearney

(From the New York Herald, July 19, 1888)

In the heart of New Jersey’s great apple whiskey district is Freehold, the drowsy, ancient town where George Richard Kearney was neatly hanged yesterday for the murder of gray haired Mrs. Margaret Purcell, the housekeeper of Mrs. Daniel R. Lyddy, at Elberon, in February.

It is an old fashioned place, and its people are both picturesque and peculiar. Nowhere in New Jersey are the old prejudices and notions cherished as they are in Freehold. The leading newspaper has been going for over three-quarters of a century, and has a circulation of twelve hundred.

But even the fierce heat of journalism has failed to reform or mould New Jersey human nature into modern ideas.

One of the keen features of Freehold philosophy is that a dollar is a dollar. It stares you in the face at every step you take. The genuine native sucks it in with his mother’s milk.

But the last place you would expect to hear that a dollar is a dollar is the cell of a condemned murderer spending his last night on earth.

And yet on Tuesday night men stood in the little brick jail in the rear of the Freehold Court House intriguing to make a few dollars out of the murderer’s agony of mind. The main idea was to get Kearney to confess so that the confession could be peddled for money to the newspapers.

No reporters were allowed to get near him lest the marketable value of the expected confession might be impaired. The most subtle methods were employed to work the negro up to the point of disgorging. He was fed on peaches and coddled. Then he was plied with questions, charged with trying to keep the secret and urged to make all the facts known.

As the night wore on there was a great deal of winking and whispering. Kearney had been worked up, they said, and could not hold out much longer. There was big money in it, perhaps a thousand dollars. So the whispers said. The newspapers would pay high to get a confession.

Every time a reporter appeared to be curious about the chances of a confession the intriguers received a nervous shock. A thrill of horror went through them when it was learned that the HERALD had asked the telegraph operator to hold his wire until midnight. Perhaps some reporter might slyly get hold of the confession. They were such oily, keen eyed fellows, these reporters.

TRYING TO WORK KEARNEY UP.

Kearney held out doggedly. He was innocent of the Purcell murder, he said, and he could not understand why they were so persistent. Even his Bible reading was rudely disturbed by the confession hunters.

The slightest evidence of emotion caused a flutter. When he was seen to weep there was great joy and excitement. Surely he would reveal marketable matter now.

So, while the black browed wretch tried in vain to forget his approaching doom the high toned officials schemed to make a few dollars.

All this was the result of a confession which Kearney made a short time ago, when he acknowledged that he was guilty of an assault upon Miss Angelina Herbert at Eatontown, for which poor old Mingo Jack was cruelly lynched. Under Sheriff Fields, who has charge of the jail, was left out in the cold. Either Prosecutor Haight or Assistant Prosecutor Schwartz sold the text of the confession to a New York newspaper. He divided with no one. Under Sheriff Fields and his father, the Sheriff and all the constables and turnkeys were blazing mad about it according to what the townspeople say. Fabulous stories were told about the amount paid by the New York newspaper for the confession. Some said it was $1,000 and some said it was $100.

Anyhow, the price of Kearney confessions went up. A person who was supposed to have secret means of influencing the murderer to talk was followed about like a man with a straight tip on a race course. A dollar is a dollar, you know. He was treated and flattered. The general impression in Freehold was that to have a one-half interest in genuine Kearney confession was equal to retiring from active business on a comfortable income.

The HERALD reporter who went to witness the hanging had not been in Freehold an hour before he was asked by two different persons for the exclusive use of the last confession of the condemned man. He was sure to break down, they said. Things were being made hot for him.

Later on the reporter learned that Under Sheriff Fields was in a fever of anxiety lest the confession might escape him. He regarded it as a sort of perquisite. One of the death watch officers was pulling a quiet wire to outwit his chief and capture the confession himself.

And Kearney turned the plots all upside down by going to bed without breathing a word of confession, except the private statement he made to Lawyer Johnston.

New York Herald, July 18, 1888:

PREPARING FOR THE GALLOWS.

Hardly had the sun reddened the east yesterday when the murderer got out of bed and dressed himself. He went to the door of his cell and talked with Constable Fleming. When he mentioned his wife he cried heartily. Then he sat down and read the Bible. Now and then some favored person was permitted by the Sheriff to enter the jail corridor and look at the prisoner.

Meanwhile groups of farmers began to assemble in the rear of the Court House, outside of the enclosure where the new scaffold stood. Lawyer Johnston shook hands and chatted with Undertaker Barkalow, who was to bury his client. Men, women and children lingered in front of the jail. The main street put on a busy, metropolitan aspect. All the saloons did a rushing trade.

Then Hangman Van Hise arrived.

He was the hero of the hour. The fact that he was to hang Kearney while his hopeful son was hanging Ebert in Jersey City made him a person of great importance. All the folks in the street smiled and said “How air you?” when he passed. Van Hise is a short man, with a deep chest and heavy shoulders. His features are blunt and coarse. He wears a large red mustache and there is a cold, steady light in his small gray eyes. In appearance he is an ideal hangman.

KEARNEY GETS RELIGION.

While Van Hise was rigging the rope on the scaffold the colored clergymen arrived.

They were Rev. J. Giles Mowbray, of Freehold; the Rev. T.T. Webster, of Fair Haven, and the Rev. Littleton Sturgis, of Asbury Park.

The ministers were admitted to the corridor and Kearney was led out of his cell. He wore a rough white shirt, with a rolling collar, and gray-brown shabby trowsers.

He was a stoutly built man, with a large head, powerful, hairy jaws and thick neck. His smile was snaky and unpleasant to look at. This man of nature had confessed to two horrible outrages upon white women, but denied the last attempt at the same crime which resulted in murder. Brutality and sensuality were stamped plainly upon his dark countenance. He showed the whites of his eyes and his hands trembled as he met the clergymen.

All three kneeled in the corridor and prayed aloud. Their prayers were disturbed again and again by the amateur constables who were having new clubs with red cords served out to them and banged the clubs against every object within reach. The hammering at the gallows also drowned the sound of the prayers.

Kearney knew what the hammering meant. Once he put his hands over his ears.

When the prayers wee done the Rev. Mr. Mowbray poured out some wine and broke bread. He then read the communion service and gave the sacrament to the murderer. Finally he asked Kearney to pick out the religious service he wanted at the scaffold. He sent into his cell for a Bible. Turning over the leaves rapidly he put his black thumb on the eighty-sixth psalm at the words: —

O God, the proud are risen against me and the assemblies of violent men have sought after men soul.

“I want you to read that?” he said horasely.

Kearney next asked that the hymn sung at the gallows should be “Take the name of Jesus with you.” He read over the verse: —

Oh, the precious name of Jesus!
How it thrills our souls with joy
When his loving arms receive us
And his songs our tongues employ!

One or two of the jail officials who looked on at a distance suspected that Kearney was making a confession, and they suffered sharp anguish as they saw a turnkey creep up close enough to hear. If the confession got out it could not be peddled. The officials panted and perspired. Suddenly Kearney leaped up and threw his hands wildly into the air.

“Glory! glory! glory!” he screamed. “I long for the end now. Jesus is mine. I’ve had trials and tribulations here, but there are none above. Glory to God! Glory! Let the end come. Let it come! Glory!”

“MY BLOOD WILL BE UPON THEM.”

His face was convulsed with emotion and tears ran from his eyes. The cries which he uttered could be heard outside of the jail.

When he sat down the clergyman asked him if he wished to relieve his bosom from any secret connected with the crime. He passionately declared his innocence and turning to Mr. Mowbray, said: —

If they hang me they will be taking the life of an innocent man. My blood will be upon them. I had nothing to do with the murder of Mrs. Purcell.

As the clergyman retired Kearney said to a constable that his confession that it was he and not Mingo Jack who assaulted Miss Herbert at Eatontown was true.

“Mingo Jack was innocent,” he said. “They can believe what they please, but I did it. I told the truth in my confession.”

By this time there was a great crowd in front of the jail. Men, women and children pressed against each other in the vain attempt to hear or see some thing.

An old colored woman kept kneeling at the door on the sidewalk and praying in a low voice. A constable drove her away. There was a drove of constables in the flower garden at the jail. Among them was Clay Wooley, who came near having Stanford Potter hanged for the Hamilton murder at Long Branch. Mayor Brown, of Long Branch, passed in to see the execution. The Sheriff was half crazy settling disputes as to who should see Kearney die.

A lot of boys climbed into tree tops which commanded a view of the gallows. Constables drove them away. Up in the tower of the big Court House rows of fingers at the green slats of the belfry showed where a small army of peepers was concealed.

Chief Haggerty, of the New Jersey Detective Bureau, was hid behind a curtain in the window of the jail hospital. The glare of his diamond pin almost revealed him. Nothing was left undone to evade the law, which declares that not more than thirty-eight specified persons shall witness an execution.

Out in the jail yard a reporter who could not gain admittance to the fatal enclosure sat under a cherry tree in a corner half asleep. In a window opposite to him the female prisoners were crowded.

WALKING TO THE GALLOWS.

At last the side door of the jail was thrown open and the death procession appeared.

First came the Sheriff, and after him the prisoner supporter on either side by the Rev. Mr. Mowbray and the Rev. Mr. Webster. The jailer, a reporter, several jurors, S.B. Hinsdale, the official stenographer in the case, and a posse of constables brought up the rear. Kearney walked with a firm step and showed no signs of fear.

His arms were lashed behind hi by means of straps. The black cap falling back from his face like a cowl and the trailing end of the noose around his neck gave him a horrible appearance. As the ghastly figure passed the corridor the female prisoners gasped and shuddered. The murderer was led into the little rough enclosure where the jurors and others were waiting. As the hangman attached the noose to the rope Kearney smiled in the old surly way.

“If you want to say anything, say it to the Sheriff,” said Van Hise.

“I’ve nothing to say.”

The Rev. Mr. Webster started to pray, when the murderer frowned and told him that he wanted no delay. Van Hise at once pulled the black cap over his face.

“Goodby,” said the negro.

“Goodby, George,” groaned the clergyman.

DEATH WITHOUT A STRUGGLE.

The Sheriff signalled to Van Hise, who pressed his foot on a spring at the side of the gallows. The trigger released weights amounting to 650 pounds, which hung over a nine foot pit in the ground. Instantly the body of Kearney was whipped up from the ground. The rope doubled and his head came within two feet of the crossbeam. The body descended with a terrific jar and swung gently to and fro.

It was seen at once that the knot had slipped from the left ear around to the back of the neck and everybody thought there would be a horrible scene of strangulation. The body hung motionless. There was not the slightest motion to show that Kearney was alive.

About a minute after the spring was touched the shoulders and chest moved slightly, but it was merely the usual muscular spasms. The two doctors who were present decided to allow the body to hang for half an hour, after which it was cut down and put in a coffin. The shoes were cut from the dead man’s feet and there was a general scramble for pieces of shoestrings as mementos. Van Hise declared that Kearney’s neck was broken. He was delighted over a telegram from his hopeful son announcing that the hanging in Jersey City was a success.

“He’s a promising young man,” he said. “It’s the first time I have left him alone on a job.”

NO GRAVE FOR KEARNEY.

As none of Kearney’s relatives turned up the Coroner decided to bury the body at the county’s expense. Both the colored cemetery and the white cemetery authorities refused to allow the remains to be buried in their grounds. The Coroner suggested that the coffin might be stood on end in the narrow pit into which the gallows weights dropped and covered over. This ideas was rejected.

“I don’t know where I am to get a grave,” said the Coroner distractedly, after the execution. “I have an idea that I can bury the corpse at any crossroads. It would serve the town right if I buried it on the crossing of the two main streets. I’ll bury it anyhow, even if I have to dig a grave on my own farm. I offered $5 for a grave in a field near the cemetery, but the owner wouldn’t have it.”

The crime for which Kearney was hanged was committed on February 13, 1888. He was coachman for Mrs. Daniel R. Lyddy, and attempted to outrage Mrs. Purcell, the housekeeper. The old woman resisted and he beat her and threw her down a cellar stairs. She was horribly mutilated, but lived for a month afterward. She identified Kearney and made a dying declaration of the circumstances of the crime.

Henry Ebert

(via Augustine E. Costello)

EXECUTION OF EBERT. — On July 18, 1888, in the Hudson County Jail, Henry Conrad Ebert, paid with his life the penalty for the murder of his wife, Elizabeth. The fatal deed was committed on Sunday, November 27th, 1887, and at no time has there been any doubt of Ebert’s guilt.

Ebert dressed himself for the last few steps he was to walk on earth as late as possible, and lingered over the process to an unusual degree. It was not until 9.55 o’clock that Deputy Sheriff Mersheimer informed Sheriff Davis that Ebert had finished his toilet. The particulars that follow, of the hanging, are taken from the daily press:

Precisely at 10 o’clock, six strokes of the Court House bell clanged upon the air. The sound was expected, but caused cold chills to run over those who heard them. How the knell must have affected the doomed man can be better imagined than described.

Sheriff Davis read the list of witnesses, and they formed in double column. The procession passed through the Court House park and entered the jail. They reached the fatal corridor at 10 o’clock.

Sheriff Davis and Deputies Mersheimer and McPhillips left the corridor and went up stairs for the law’s victim. The two faithful clergymen were with Ebert and their presence had a bracing effect. The death warrant was read and then Ebert’s arms were pinioned behind him at the elbows. The deadly noose was adjusted and the black cap placed upon Ebert’s head. All was now ready for the death march.

Sheriff Davis led the way and was followed down the narrow stairs by the two ministers. Next came the murderer with Deputy Mersheimer supporting him at the left elbow and McPhillips at the right. They reached the entrance to the corridor at 10:10 o’clock.

Ebert’s face was deadly pale as he crossed the fatal threshold and caught sight of the grim gallows at the end. His right eye was gone, and the reddened socket seemed to heighten the pallor of his cheeks. [a result of shooting himself after shooting his wife -ed.] He never faltered.

A few short steps brought him beneath the beam. Van Hise Jr. guided him to the cruciform chalk marks upon the floor. The centre point was directly in line with the pendent rope. Ebert’s legs were quickly fastened with straps. A silence that could be felt, prevailed, broken only by the pulsations of the water pipe keeping time to the strokes of the pumping engine at High Service.

Dr. Meury’s voice broke the stillness as the black cap was drawn down, to forever shut out daylight from the murderer’s sight. He prayed earnestly, and as follows:

O, most merciful God, who according to the multitude of thy mercies, dost so put away the sins of those who truly repent, that thou rememberedst them no more; open thine eye of mercy upon this, thy servant, who most earnestly desireth pardon, and forgiveness. Renew in him whatsoever hath been decayed by the fraud and the malice of the devil, or by his own carnal will and frailness, consider his contrition, accept his tears, assuage his pain, as shall seem to thee most expedient for him, and for as much as he putteth his full trust only in thy mercy, impute not unto him his former sins, but strengthen him with thy blessed spirit, and if it be in accordance with thy will. When he shall have departed hence, take him unto thy favor through the merits of thy beloved son our Lord Christ Jesus, to whom with the Father and Holy Spirit shall be all the glory. Amen.

As the “amen” was uttered there was a pause. Then Sheriff Davis signalled to Van Hise, who pressed the gallows treadle. Ebert’s body sprang into the air at 10:13 o’clock.

His neck was not broken, and a horrible sight followed. The knot slipped from its proper place behind the left ear, and was jerked around to the middle of the left jaw. Fully one-quarter of the dying man’s face was exposed as he strangled to death. His hands were bare and turned purple as the oxygen was gradually cut off from his lungs. The forearms raised until the clenched hands repeatedly rested upon his breast.

The lower limbs were forcibly contracted. His feet seemed to reach out for a resting place in vain. The sight appalled most of the witnesses. Many of them turned their heads aside. Dr. Heifer, of Hoboken, said he would not be surprised if Ebert lived for thirty minutes.

At 10:17½ o’clock the weight was raised sufficiently to lower the body until the feet almost touched the floor. The doctors and the newspaper men gathered around the pendant body. The head of the corpse was a few inches higher than the head of the bystanders, and the doctors took turns in noting the condition of the heart.

At 10:20 o’clock the heart rate was 84; at 10:22 it had fallen to 80; at 10:23 it was 60, and at 10:26 the pulsations were inaudible even with a stethoscope. At 10:33 the body was lowered, and Coroner Brackner and his assistants took possession of it. The body was removed to Speer’s Morgue, where an autopsy was held.

Ebert ate dinner with his usual relish, and a short time afterward, Keeper Eltringham asked him if he would like to be shaved. Ebert said he would, and Chris. Munzing, the Newark avenue barber, was called in. When Ebert sat down to be shaved, the keeper said, “You will have to be handcuffed before he begins.” “What for?” said Ebert; “there is no need of that.” “It is the Sheriff’s order,” said the keeper. “Then I won’t be shaved at all,” said Ebert resolutely, and he was not.

Sheriff Davis and the executioner visited the corridor and examined the gallows, and the afternoon passed for the prisoner without incident. He frequently went to the window and looked out at the crowd of curious people who hung over the iron fence. A number of them were his former neighbors, but he did not recognize any of them.

About five o’clock, Rev. Mr. Meury reached the jail. He was accompanied by Rev. John Staehli of Jersey City, who had been selected as his assistant by the spiritual adviser.

Mr. Meury had intended to go to Trenton with Ebert’s brother and counsel to present the petition signed by over 150 residents of the Fourth district, asking for a commutation of sentence, but he was unable to go. As soon as he learned of the unsuccessful result of the appeal to the Court of Pardons, Mr. Meury started for the jail. He went up to Ebert’s cell and broke the news to him. Ebert bore up well, showing outwardly but little change. The faithful pastor then tried to induce Ebert to make a clean breast of the crime, the prisoner with only a few hours between him and eternity, still adhered to his original statement which all the known facts disprove. Mr. Meury came down from the cell about half-past five o’clock, and just at that time Ebert’s brother called at the jail and asked permission to go in and see the condemned man. It did not take Jailer Birdsall a minute to make up his mind, although it was a very trying moment. He directed Keeper Eltringham to refuse him admittance. Young Ebert walked back to the gate and catching sight of his brother at the window of his cell he made a dumb show to let him understand that he had been refused admission. The crowd around the fence pressed in but the young man was too much excited to pay any attention to them. He returned to the door and asked for Mr. Meury. When he saw him he urged him to get permission for him to go in the gallery at the head of the stairs where he could see his brother and call good by to him. Mr. Meury urged Jailer Birdsall to grant this request, but was firmly refused, “I am satisfied,” said Mr. Birdsall; “that my reasons for refusing are good. It will only make a scene and Ebert has already said that he don’t want to see anybody. I don’t think it will be safe to allow them to come together, and I will not take the responsibility. If the Sheriff will come with him and take him in I will not offer any objection.”

Mr. Meury and young Ebert went to the Sheriff’s office, but did not find the Sheriff. The deputy in charge of his office talked to Ebert and convinced him that it would be useless to search for the Sheriff, as the prisoner was in the custody of the Jailer. Young Ebert hung around the vicinity of the jail for a good while. talking to all he knew about the affair.

The Jailer was right, however, for he did not want to run any risks, and the young man’s erratic actions on former visits were enough to inspire any jailer with extra caution.

After the brother had gone a committee from the Council of Red Men called to see Ebert. They were not allowed to do so. They were very much affected by the condition in which they found him, and said that he had been suspended about six months before the murder. They said, “If he had only let us know about his condition or his trouble with his wife we would have gladly helped him; but we only knew that he had fallen behind, and he was dropped under the rule.” They were affected to tears when they talked with the pastor.

Keepers Hanley and Hanlon and Constable Carroll kept watch by turns over Ebert during the afternoon and evening. About eight o’clock Ebert wanted his supper. He ate a hearty meal sent from Jailor Birdsall’s table. There is a peculiar feature about a murderer’s last two or three weeks. Humanity and custom have made it a rule that condemned men, while awaiting execution, shall be fed on a more liberal plan than ordinary prisoners, yet there are no funds for this, and the jailor has to provide it at his own expense. Ebert had had pretty much anything he liked to order for the two weeks previously, and he thought more about his next meal than he did about the next world. After he ate his supper he chatted with Keeper Eltringham about the Order of Red Men, the different processes of making beer and wine in Germany, and when the keeper was changed he spoke to keeper Hanlon about his service in the Prussian artillery service. He said he enlisted when he was seventeen years old, and served until he was twenty-one, and that while doing garrison duty he learned to play the zither and the trombone in the band. He was quite chatty and frequently laughed. He smoked a pipe after supper, and smoked a cigar which Mr. Meury gave him. He was not allowed to have any cigars except those given by the jailer and Mr. Meury, for fear that some dangerous weapon or poison might have been concealed in the cigar. The police drove the crowd away from the front of the jail, and the place was kept pretty clear all night. Pastor Meury went home for a short time about 9 o’clock, promising to return at 11 o’clock. There were few callers except the newspaper men during the evening, but all the principal papers were represented between dark and midnight.

Ebert went to sleep at 11:15 o’clock and slept soundly.

Rev. Mr. Meury, with Rev. Mr. Staehle returned to the jail at 2 o’clock, and went up in about an hour. They found Ebert still sleeping.

Ebert had requested Mr. Meury to admininister the Communion during the day, but when Ebert persisted in refusing to make a confession, the minister would not administer the rite.

At midnight the jail was closed. The heavy iron shutters closed out the sights and sounds of the outer world. No sounds were heard inside of the building. Groups of newspaper men occupied every available space for writing and the night passed quietly. Ebert became restless as morning drew near, and the flies annoyed him by lighting on the wounded eye.

The twittering of the sparrows about 4 o’clock gave the first notice of the coming dawn, and daylight followed very suddenly. The wagons followed and the day’s work began, the sights and sounds of busy life began to come into the jail, still Ebert slept on as unconcerned as if he had no interest in the proceedings.

Rev. Mr. Meury accompanied by Mr. Staehle, went up at four o’clock. They found Ebert awake waiting for them. He greeted them cheerfully and told them that he had slept very well. Mr. Meury asked him if he had anything further to say, and he said, yes. Then Dr. Meury took out a memorandum book and wrote down the statement in German, of which the following is a translation:

I forgive all who have sinned against me. If I killed my wife in a fit of insanity I regret it from the bottom of my heart, as I would never have killed her had I been in a healthy state of mind. I pray God to forgive me, and hope to meet my wife in heaven. I thank the jailor, my pastor, and all who have been so kind to me while I have been here.

The two ministers then examined him as to his spiritual condition, and at his request they decided to administer the sacred communion. They took up the wine and bread at five o’clock.

The Counsel of Henry Ebert were not from the start all sanguine of saving him from the gallows. The verdict reached by the jury was no surprise to them, as their expectations never went beyond a sort of a forlorn hope that the circumstances attending the shooting of Mrs. Ebert by her husband might lead the jury to bring a verdict of murder in the second degree. When that slender prop was swept away it was manifest to them that their application for a writ of error would be denied because they had nothing sufficiently tangible upon which to base any assurance of procuring a new trial for the unfortunate man. Counselor Wm. D. Daly, who through a creditable sense of his duty towards the murderer, fought to the last for him, spent days striving to discover something that might avail Ebert before the Court of Pardons, but as he admitted sorrowfully after returning from that court, his efforts were discouraging, and he was not disappointed that they were unavailing. The main point upon which the lawyers made a plea for clemency for Ebert, was the fact that the killing was the result of a mutual prearranged plan to die together, and to this end the following letter was brought to the attention of the Court of Pardons:

We are being persecuted by the Groeschel family. Fred Groeschel, his wife, and Dorett List, the mother of my wife, have been accepting as true everything which my wife has said during her insanity, and for this reason now they are persecuting me, running me down wherever they can. They are trying to persuade my wife that they may alienate her affections from me. These people, do not know what true love is. They do not know that a true German woman will cling to her husband, even though he should become bad. I, however, was not and am not bad. These people, through their behavior, have made me sick, confused my brain and made me despondent of the love of humanity. My wife dies of her own free will, and has begged me a hundred times to shoot her. I could not do it and would not do it. I am, however, at the present time, in such a frame of mind, that I should like to shoot myself. Should my wife hear this, however, she would be unredeemably lost, and it is better therefore, that we die together. It is my wife’s own wish that we die together, and I do it. I become a murderer in order to make my wife happy.

(Signed) Henry Ebert.

When all hope was gone, Rev. Mr Meury showed these documents to Ebert, and he admitted that they were in his handwriting. The letter was written by him before he left home on the day of the murder. It was intended that it should account to the public for the projected suicide of himself and his wife. It was found wrapped up in a newspaper among Ebert’s effects, which were turned over to his brother by Warden George O. Osborne when the former left the City Hospital. Ebert’s brother did not discover it until after the trial, and then, believing it to be of great importance, he gave it to Mr. Daly, who had him translate it. While it offered proof that mutual suicide was contemplated, in the eyes of the law it did not in the slightest degree mitigate his crime. But it proves beyond all possible doubt that Ebert’s published statement was false, and was made for effect only. It was convincing circumstantial evidence that he meant to kill both himself and wife that ill-fated day. It was quite probable, judging from their wanderings in New York on the day, he having a loaded revolver in his possession, that he or they were merely seeking a favorable opportunity to end their wretched existence. The letter brushed away whatever doubt there might be of his suicidal and murderous intentions, and fixed his responsibility for the fatal crime.

Among Ebert’s effects at the hospital was also found the following:

Tallahassa Council No. 22, F. O R. M.:

“Bury me as a brother and give the balance to our Elsa.”

This is understood to have reference to the money which was to be paid by the Council at Ebert’s death.

Many of the early workers who left their homes on the hill in the morning, paused as they passed, to gaze up at the grim front of the County Jail, where the condemned man awaited his doom. They pointed out Ebert’s window to each other and talked over his fate until the two Third precinct policemen ordered them to move on. At the foot of the hill, three long cattle trains could be seen on the elevated freight roads waiting a chance to reach the abattoir. The lowing of the bovine victims, as they halted upon their unconscious journey to death reminded many of Ebert’s fate, that was coming with equal certainty and even greater speed.

The sun arose, bright and clear, and promised a perfect day. All who felt its influence rejoiced except the man who was to be cut off in the bloom of health and manly vigor. Beneath his window could be heard the juvenile voices of newsboys as they cheerily hawked their stocks of morning papers.

As the hours sped along the crowds in front of the jail, while constantly changing, increased steadily in numbers. Nothing whatever could be seen and little more learned of what was going on inside the building. There was a peculiar morbid fascination about the spot, however, that proved irresistible to many.

The throng of spectators about the jail became more and more dense, and at 8:30 o’clock the end of Oakland avenue, opposite the jail, and the sidewalk of Newark avenue, were practically blockaded. This state of affairs continued until 9 o’clock, when a detail of about 60 police made their appearance. Chief Murphy was in command, with Inspector Lange and Captain Newton, of the Third precinct, to assist him. The crowds were cleared away in short order, and no one outside of those holding proper credentials were then allowed to pass the lines until all was over. A lot of boys who had gained points of supposed vantage close to the windows of the jail office, were particularly sore at being driven off.

When Ebert’s brother applied for admission to the jail, and was persistently refused by Jailor Birdsall, a good many people were inclined to think that it was unnecessarily severe, but the Jailor had good reasons.

About two weeks before, in searching Ebert the keeper found a small package of strychnine sewed into the buckle band of his vest. It was carefully removed and preserved.

When Ebert’s brother was allowed to call on him he handed him a segar. Ebert in taking it did not notice quickly enough that there was something else in the hand that extended the segar. He made motion to cover his blunder, and the motion slight as it was, attracted attention. The segar was tendered while the brothers were parting and as soon as the younger one was out of the room the prisoner was seized and stripped. The keeper found a small package of strychnine in his pocket and upon comparing the package with the other one seized before, it was found that the wrapper was a piece of the same paper in which the first one was wrapped. This proved that young Ebert had smuggled the first package into the jail, After that he could not get near enough to pass him any more articles.

Ebert’s lease of life had expired. His sands of life were run. The fatal noose was about his neck. The signal was given and Ebert’s soul was launched into eternity. He had expiated his awful crime. The gallows had vindicated this outraged majesty of the laws. There was one murderer less in the world. Was the sacrificial warning heeded? Alas, no! Candidates are still awaiting their turn to share a similar fate.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New Jersey,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1852: Samuel Treadway

1 comment March 1st, 2017 Headsman

Hartford Courant, Nov. 20, 1852


Newark Daily Advertiser, Jan. 4, 1853


Baltimore Sun, Jan. 12, 1853


Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 21, 1853

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 4, 1853

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New Jersey,Public Executions,USA

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1884: Howard Sullivan, ravisher and murderer

Add comment December 2nd, 2016 Headsman

From the New York Times, Dec. 3, 1884:

SALEM, N.J., Dec. 2. — The hanging of Howard Sullivan, the negro, which took place at the county jail this morning, was the closing act of a tragedy that has never been equaled in Salem and rarely in any other county in the State of New-Jersey. Ella Watson, on the night of Aug. 18, while proceeding to her home over a lonely road near Yorktown, a thrifty little village, nine miles north of this place, was waylaid, robbed, ravished, and murdered, and her body concealed in some bushes near by, where it was discovered a few days later.

For a time the murder was enveloped in mystery, but the vigilance of two or three detectives, among them a colored man, who exhibited remarkable skill in working up the case, soon unraveled it, and Sullivan was charged with the murder.

He had not been long in jail before a confession was wormed from him,* and when placed on trial before a Supreme Court and three lay Judges, in the Court of Oyer and Terminer, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to be hanged. Sullivan stood the prison life bravely, and not once did he display the slightest emotion.

Sullivan did not go to bed until after midnight last night. A great part of the time he spent in singing and praying, and when not engaged in this he was conversing with his death-watchers.

Confined in a cell on the third floor, the one he formerly occupied, and from which he attempted to escape,** is a colored woman named Sallie Fisher, convicted of the larceny of a watch chain, and sentenced to imprisonment in the county jail for 90 days. Nearly all last night she prayed and wept aloud for Sullivan. Her voice could be heard for a long distance from the jail, and her cries were piteous in the extreme. Sullivan’s mother called to see him and remained with him for some time. The scene between them was an affecting one.

The morning opened clear and pleasant, and Sullivan arose at exactly 7:05 A.M., when he was awakened by the Warden. He left his breakfast untouched, saying he would eat “after a while.” When asked if he wished to make any statement for the public, he said: “There is nothing more that I care to say about the case. I have got no complaint at all to make about my trial or my treatment. I have had all I want to eat and Sheriff Kelty and ex-Sheriff Coles have been very kind to me. I hope to go to a better world, and I believe my sins will be forgiven.”

Sullivan added that he had slept quite as well as usual during the night. After making this statement he ate the breakfast that had been prepared for him. His manner was calm, and when talking to his companions he was almost cheerful.

At 9 o’clock the gallows was tested and found to be in good working order. A few minutes later the condemned man’s fater and mother called to see him, and while they were with him in the cell all others, except his spiritual adviser, were excluded. The father is a bright, honest looking man, 65 years of age, though his appearance does not indicate it.

The meeting between Sullivan and his father and mother, together with the Rev. Richard Miles, Pastor of the Mount Pisgah Methodist Episcopal (colored) Church, of this city, one of his spiritual advisers, was a quiet one. They all sat around a stove in an outer room and chatted pleasantly for a few minutes. Sullivan said to his parents: “If you cry I will want to cry, but if you control yourselves I will.” This was all he said regarding his feelings.

While his family were still with him the Rev. William S. Zane, Pastor of the Walnut-Street Church, and the Rev. W.V. Louderbough, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, called on him and uttered a few consoling words. They have been regular visitors for some time, but took no part in the execution. The Rev. Wilson Peterson, Pastor of the African Church of Bushtown, also called while Sullivan’s parents were with him, and before taking their final leave all joined in singing “Take the Name of Jesus with you.”

Finally, the prisoner’s sisters entered the jail, and his parting with them was distressing.

His sister Emeline fell in a fainting fit and had to be carried out. This sight proved too much for his mother’s nerves, and, weeping and wailing, she was led into another room. When Emeline was taken to the street, on her way to the railroad station, she again fell in a fainting fit, and was actually dragged to the train. Mrs. Sullivan kept up long enough to reach the house of a friend, where she remained until her departure for Yorktown at noon.

After Sullivan’s cell was cleared of all except his spiritual adviser a final prayer in the jail was offered by the Rev. Mr. Peterson, after which, at 10:20 A.M., Sheriff Kelty, in the presence of Prosecutor Slape, read the death warrant. Sullivan was the coolest man in the party.

At 11:18 the jury appointed by the court filed down stairs to the basement and thence to the yard.

Sullivan, preceded by the two spiritual advisers, and accompanied by his friend, ex-Sheriff Coles, followed immediately after. He was dressed in a neat-fitting black diagonal suit, and wore black cloth gloves.

At the scaffold the Rev. Mr. Miles offered a prayer. Then the prisoner’s ankles were pinioned and his hands were fastened behind him with handcuffs

Ex-Sheriff Coles asked him if he desired to say anything, and he replied: “I hope the Lord will bless you all, and I hope to meet you all in heaven. Good-bye. When I fall from here I will fall into the arms of Jesus. It is a warning for all. It is very sad for my mother, my father, for Mr. Kelty, and for every one, but it is not sad for me. It is a marriage ceremony with me, and I want to be there in time for the feast with all those good men that have gone before me. I want all you gentlemen who have sons to take heed and learn them. Good-bye all.”

As the black cap was being adjusted Sullivan bade his friend Coles good-bye. There was just the slightest tremor in his voice as he spoke.

At exactly 11:29 the drop fell. There was a twitching of the body for a minute, and then it hung withut motion. In three minutes Sullivan was pronounced dead; his neck had been broken. The body was allowed to hang for half an hour, when it was cut down and placed in the coffin. It was buried at Bushtown in the afternoon.

* By a Pinkerton detective infiltrated into his cell for the purpose. According to the Chicago Tribune report of the trial, relating that detective’s gloss on Sullivan’s alleged jailhouse confession,

Sullivan said he sneaked up behind Ella Watson unperceived and struck her three or four terrible blows with a cane had had picked up in the woods. She fell to the ground, and, grasping the prostrate form, he dragged it across the road into the bushes, where he attempted to commit a dastardly assault upon the dying girl. She resisted his attempts, but he accomplished his design. Then the girl raised her head and exclaimed, “O, I know you!” “Then,” said Sullivan, “I clutched her by the throat and choked her with all my might. That killed her. I didn’t stop choking her until a shudder ran through her and I knew she was dead.”

** One important moral of this story is that when you have the opportunity to break out of death row, don’t dawdle.


Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 1, 1884

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New Jersey,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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1791: William Jones, “in a country out of the reach of my enemies”

Add comment May 6th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1791, a man named William Jones hanged in Newark, N.J.

Jones cut an apologetic figure at his public execution, and a confession he signed off in the hours before was widely reprinted in New England newspapers. (This transcription is from the Boston Independent Chronicle of May 26, 1791.)

Knowing that without repentance there can be no salvation, and without a sincere confession of our public transgressions, there can be no true repentance, therefore I would give glory to God, exonerate and ease my own wretched mind; and as far as possible, afford that satisfaction to the public, by confessing my crimes, that others may take warning by my awful but just end, and be preserved from such horrid iniquities. This is the only reparation I can make to society, for the evil I have done, for which I am righteously, in the midst of my days, cut off from among men.

I confess I have been exceedingly wicked from my youth. I have been habitually addicted to Sabbath breaking, swearing, keeping evil company, gaming, drinking to excess; and when in liquor, passionate and quarrelsome, and have indulged myself to a high degree in other base and horrid abominations.

But the crime for which I am now to die, I would, with the greatest exactness relate. — I solemnly declare, I never intended to kill Mr. Shotwell, nor had I, at any time, as far as I know, murderous intentions in my heart against him, yet, I was the unfortunate man, that, to gratify my wicked passions, was the occasion of his death. I had long had a spite against Shotwell, because I looked upon it, that he & another man had injured me much, and were the cause of my being obliged to settle a civil prosecution, commenced against me, greatly to my wrong. Therefore I had often said, I would whip, beat or flog Shotwell, but as I never had a thought in my heart to murder him; as a dying man, I never said, I would kill him.

On the evening of Friday the 1st day of April, about or a little after sun down, I saw Samuel Shotwell pass my mother’s house driving cattle or a pair of oxen. In sometime, afterwards, I arose, went out into the road, and followed after him. I met Letts and stopped and talked with him for some minutes perhaps six or eight; then we parted and I followed after Shotwell. I crossed the fence in order to cut off a crook in the road and re-crossed the fence into the road still behind him. About three quarters of a mile from where I had seen Letts, I overtook Shotwell, and, without speaking a word to him, or he to me, I knocked him down with my fist, and there kicked him in the face and head, having on a pair of strong heavy shoes. I then passed the fence into the field opposite to where Shotwell lay. In a short time I saw him rise and go on the road, and I went along in the field. I had thoughts of going to a certain house, at no great distance before us, but before I came to the house, I altered my purpose, and so passed the fence into the road before Shotwell and going back along the way, I presently met him. I knocked him down again with my first, and again kicked him, and left him, and went on the road home. After sitting by the fire a little while, I went to bed, but was very uneasy lest I had beat Shotwell too much.

With regard to the club, of which much was said in the course of my trial, I never had it in my hand, nor did I ever see it, till the next day at the Coroner’s inquest. It was not the weapon I made use of nor had I any weapon whatsoever; but by knocking down Shotwell and kicking him in the manner related, I was the unhappy cause of his death.

I leave this testimony and confession, that my awful conduct may be a warning to others, that they by my dreadful fate, may be admonished to refrain from evil company, and from allowing themselves in drunkenness, wrath, malice or intemperate passions. My wickedness has brought me to this just and awful doom. May all others hear and fear!

WILLIAM JONES

A sad end for Messrs. Jones and Shotwell both; readers of the 21st century as well as the 18th ought to hear and fear.

But to the end of this awful but uncomplicated tragedy, we have this curious broadsheet published later in 1791.

What to make of this artifact?

One notices at first blush that as the document was printed in broadsheet form, it was presumably intended for the enrichment of its publisher … and we might suppose treacherous albeit not unpassable footing on the route from anyone actually party to such an occult missive in real life to a hustler harvesting gawkers’ pennies on the incredible secret. Indeed, it would be a profoundly ill turn for Jones or his correspondent, for no better reason than a gloat, to expose the physician of his deliverance to the sanctions that might attend unmasking. If this pamphlet’s remarkable claims were recapitulated in any other media at the time, I have not been able to locate it.

Even presuming that we have a sensational forgery, our bulletin does have something to say to us yet, and not only about the evergreen human fascination with surviving an execution.

This is a document from the Enlightenment, an interval where the vaunting progress of human ingenuity designed even to steal a march from the reaper himself by reviving the drowned or reanimating the dead.

Hangings were survived sometimes — not commonly, but often enough that the phenomenon was familiar and occasionally the enterprising condemned even schemed to accomplish it intentionally. Such a scenario necessarily inspired artists, whose fabulisms would only have reflected the fancies of their audiences. The scaffold was already being given over routinely as the portal to spiritual escape for the penitent knave crushed by his sin … why not the escapism of the flesh, too?

Maybe our broadsheet publishers took inspiration from the fantastic story a couple of years prior of a different man living through his hanging in Massachusetts. Though that earlier tale was perhaps more overtly crafted for moral instruction, the particulars of the harrowing procedure are much the same: the assistance of an obligingly altruistic doctor, the agonizing pain of resuscitation, and the convenient vanishing into unverifiable distant anonymity. Even Nathaniel Hawthorne would allude via a minor character in The Blithesdale Romance to the legend that an English banker executed in the 1820s had duped the hangman — and not unlike our William Johnson, Hawthorne judged that living phantom and his stolen years “a mere image, an optical delusion, created by the sunshine of prosperity, … [who] seemed to leave no vacancy.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Executions Survived,Hanged,History,Murder,New Jersey,Public Executions,USA

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1841: Peter Robinson, Tell-Tale Heart inspiration?

Add comment April 16th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1841, Peter Robinson hanged for a New Jersey murder. Little could he have imagined that he was on his way to the literary canon.

A wealthy merchant and banker named Abraham Suydam had disappeared, and suspicion quickly settled on Robinson — one of his debtors, who suddenly seemed to be a little bit flush with cash and a timepiece too rich for his station in life.

Robinson was arrested and examined before the Mayor of New Brunswick, and from his confused manner and contradictory statements, it was determined that his house should be searched. Accordingly the Mayor, accompanied by several constables, and a number of citizens, proceeded to Robinson’s house for the purpose of searching it. Every room, nook and corner in the upper stories of the house were searched, but without success. At last one of the constables proposed to adjourn to the cellar and see what could be discovered there. This proposition caused the greatest trepidation on the part of Robinson, who strongly remonstrated against it.

He stated that if the floor of his cellar was removed, it would endanger the safety of the building, and there was no telling what would be the consequences. This only made the party feel the more convinced of Robinson’s guilt, and they immediately commenced operations removing the plank of the cellar. A few boards and the earth underneath only had been removed, when the dead body of the unfortunate Mr. Suydam, to the astonishment of all present, was found. His skull was found to be dreadfully fractured, and his head was horribly disfigured by the marks of blows which had been inflicted on it. From the state of his body, it is supposed that he was murdered eight or nine days ago. (New York Commercial Advertiser (Dec. 15, 1840.)

It is commonly thought — thought there does not appear to be any direct evidence for it — that this nationally infamous body-under-the-floorboards murder helped to inspire Edgar Allan Poe‘s classic short story “The Tell-Tale Heart”.*

Published in January 1843, “The Tell-Tale Heart” features a young man who murders an old man, stashes his body under the floor, then pleasantly dissipates the suspicions of the police until a sensation of the victim’s heart noisily throbbing overwhelms him into a confession:

Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! — no, no! They heard! — they suspected! — they knew! — they were making a mockery of my horror! — this I thought, and this I think. But anything better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! — and now — again! — hark! louder! louder! louder! louder! —

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Poe’s nameless character denies a motive for the crime, attributing it only to the victim’s “eye” — a mythologizing device which has surely aided the story’s longevity.

Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! — yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so, by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

But if Robinson was the source material, the occult power of the old man’s “eye” was nothing but the oldest motive in the world: plain old luchre.

In 1839, Robinson had borrowed $400 from Abraham Suydam to buy a lot and begin construction of a home upon it, but soon found himself (to use a familiar but anachronistic parlance) underwater.

“Every one to whom I owed a few dollars was after me to sue or get me to give my furniture for the debt,” Robinson recounted in a tearful confession 48 hours before his hanging. (We excerpt it here from the April 17, 1841 Baltimore Sun.) “I did so; I did all that I could; I was driven nearly crazy by these debts … I let them take my furniture until there was scarcely any thing left in the house; and I was ashamed to let any one come into it to see how very poor we really was, and how bad off.”

The dunning of creditors and the passion of the crime left the murderer’s mind awash in dollars and cents.

Even facing a far more considerable penalty than bankruptcy, Robinson’s confession is obsessed with the winnowing margins of his former debts; scarcely a paragraph elapses without citation of a meticulous mental ledger-book. Robinson recalled the bills incurred to construct his home (“I bought about $250 worth of lumber … The mason work was done for me by Mr. Chessman; for this I was to pay Mr. C. $210. I paid him $110 in cash, and gave him a mortgage for $100 … I had bought some sash frames for my house of a man, and they came to $22.25” …). He dwelt on his negotiations with Suydam and complained of the lender’s tightfistedness; he recalled the precise value of what he was able to steal from Suydam’s body (“$10 in money, not a cent more … [in] his pantaloons pockets … only two shillings and a penknife”) and the expenses incurred to evade justice (he offered his brother $50 to burn his house down for the insurance, then took a bath unloading Suydam’s gold watch — it “was worth double what I got for it”); yet even so, he was still a little proud of his diligence assailing his debt, in contrast with “Thorne who bought a lot close by mine” and with whom “Mr. Suydam got out of patience.” The killer even had the brass to pat himself on the back for not destroying the papers Suydam had on him: thus, “the relations of Suydam, and his friends, can’t say that they lose any money by the murder.”

So, about that murder.

Luring Suydam to his house to make a payment on Thanksgiving Day, Robinson invited him down to the creepy basement to do business, having prepared his instrument like Patrick Bateman.

At this time I took up a mallet, which I had placed in the basement ready to knock him over with. I then went into the front basement, Mr. Suydam in front of me. I followed behind with the mallet in my hand, he not noticing the same. My intention then was to murder him in the front basement — but my heart failed me. We then went up stairs again in the back room, I carrying the mallet against the palm of my hand. We stood by the fire talking about the house. He was there nearly fifteen minutes. I stated that my wife staid a long time.

He told me that he would go out and take a wall, and return again. He started to go, and I followed, until he got just through the doorway of the back room, which is within three or four feet of the back door, in the entry. I then knocked him down on his knees with the mallet, by striking him n the back of his head, through his hat. He undertook to rise, when I struck him again on the head, and he fell over, and laid still and senseless. I then supposed he was dead, and laid the mallet down; I then went and turned the button of the front door, which all this time was unfastened; and I went down into the front basement. I then went to work and began to dig a small hole; after I had been digging for two minutes, I thought I would not leave the body up stairs; so I went up stairs to bring him down. I saw him on his hands and knees, with his face and hands all bloody. He cried out, “Oh! Peter!” once or twice. Had he begged for his life then, I believe I should have let him off; but I did not want to drag him down stairs alive, and I didn’t want to see him linger there in misery; so I seized the mallet, and again struck him on the head, which knocked him perfectly dead, as I supposed. …

I discovered a chain hanging out of his pocket, and drew from it his gold watch, and put it in my own pocket. I then dug the hole larger, and in throwing out the dirt I threw about half a load of it on his body and head, which completely covered it. He then groaned a little, but I shuddered to hear him, and so I got out and stood upon the dirt and on his head to smother him! He then groaned so hard that I got off from him and struck him with the edge of the spade upon the head, which sunk completely to the brain, and which killed him instantly! …

I now felt as if my heart was completely black, and I was so hardened and callous, and yet so cool and deliberate, that I could have murdered many more. I could, without flinching or hesitating, have killed twenty men if they had come on me one by one.

I don’t believe that I was over a half hour doing the whole exercises of the whole thing! For I had a kind of knack of doing work somehow that others hadn’t. And why, sir, I’ve took hold of floor plank before now, and done forty-five of them in one day, that is, planed and ploughed and grooved them; whereas from sixteen to eighteen is a day’s work for some men.**

As if to complete the American Gothic quality of the crime, Robinson fell through the rope on the first attempt to hang him, then painfully strangled to death on the second try.

* Poe took up a very similar theme — the criminal psychology of a domestic murder concealed by subterranean immurement — later that year in “The Black Cat” (published in August 1843).

** His last wish in this confession: “whatever you do, don’t let the doctors get hold of me and make medicine of me.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,New Jersey,Pelf,Public Executions,USA

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1803: Peter Stout

1 comment May 13th, 2015 Headsman

Peter Stout hanged on this date at the courthouse of Monmouth, New Jersey for axing 14-year-old Thomas Williams to death when the youth, “the unhappy victim of my barbarity, had given me some abusive language.”

Moved to remorse by a post-arrest religious conversion, Stout pleaded guilty knowing it would incur a sure death sentence and admitted all. Oddly, he successfully prevailed upon the sheriff to leave his hands unbound for the hanging — promising with more confidence than a man might be thought to have in his strangulation spasms that he would not lay them upon the rope.

And according to the pamphlet here attached, Stout did fulfill this stoic pledge: “the shock [of the drop] was so great that he raised his right hand within two or three inches of the rope, as though to seize it, but apparently recollecting himself, took it down … closed it with the other, and thus left this world, it is hoped, for a better.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New Jersey,Public Executions,USA

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