Nelson Wiley Evans.

A history of Adams County, Ohio, from its earliest settlement to the present time, including character sketches of the prominent persons identified with the first century of the country's growth .. online

. (page 49 of 120)
Online LibraryNelson Wiley EvansA history of Adams County, Ohio, from its earliest settlement to the present time, including character sketches of the prominent persons identified with the first century of the country's growth .. → online text (page 49 of 120)
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and window to the west, the latter opening into a porch in the rear
of the hall and west room. The fire place in this room was as capacious
as that in the room north of it. The right of the chimney in the north
room was a stairway leading to two attic rooms, sided and ceiled with
boards over the north and south rooms. These rooms were quite
small and no doubt had been used as sleeping rooms for guests. The
porch to the north of the west room extended along it and the south
end of the hall. The west room had the long stone single chimney,
and over it an old-fashioned wooden-mantle of walnut, carved and
figured, which, when the home was built, was the pride of the pro-
prietor and the envy of his neighbors. The spaces between the outer
weather boarding and the inner ceilings of the room had been filled
with mortar. The floor boards, though very wide, were tongued and
grooved and the weather boards were put on pointed instead of over-
lapped. It is probable there had been additions to the house, but they
were gone when we visited it. The grounds about the house were at
one time tastefully laid out, and traces of the vanished beauty were
still apparent. Two locust trees, the largest the writer ever saw, stand
in front of the house to the south. They are each at least ten feet
in circumference and not less than loo years old. Between them had
stood a monster cherry, and the trunk, prone on the earth, spoke of the
grandeur when alive. At the northwest of the house, about ten yards
distance, stands a living black heart cherry tree which measures thir-
teen feet, six inches in girth. Its spreading limbs, projecting hori-
zontally, are as large as ordinary trees of its kind.

While this house overlooks the one great highway, the Ohio
River, and the other great highway, the Chesapeake and Ohio Rail-
road, with all boats and trains in view for miles, it is now one of the
most inaccessible spots in the state. The hills in front descend sheer
into the Ohio River without any shelf or bottom land within nearly
a mile on either side of the property. It is only approachable by a
road coming through farms from Gift Ridge in the rear and
it is two miles from the station over the roughest and
most primitive of roads, over stones and up and down hills to the
nearest turnpike, or public highway. In early days when roads were
of no consequence, it had a direct road to and from Manchester. The
fact that the home is so out of the way has perserved it. Had it been
upon a public highway, it would have been destroyed by fire, or torn
down years ago. There are seven fine springs flowing from the hill-
sides near the residence.

In a military point of view it is strategic. A fort on this property
would command the Ohio valley up and down for mile^, would com-
mand the Kentucky hills to the south and the Ohio hills to the north.
Fort Thomas, near Newport, Kentucky, should have been located here,
and whenever it becomes necessary to have forts along the Ohio
border, there will be one here.

At this place. Gen. Massie dwelt occasionally for the five years,
from 1797 till 1802, but the shades of oblivion are so fast darkening
the history of this hardy pioneer that little can be learned of his resi-
dence at that time. Gen. Massie's wife was Susan Meade, of Chau-



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MISCELLANEOUS ' 886

merie, Kentucky, formerly of Maycox, Prince George County, Va.
Her sister married Charles Willing Byrd, Secretary of t&e
Northwesit Territojry, succeeding Winthrop Sergeant and United
States District Judge for Ohio from March 3, 1803, until August 11,
1828. Judge Byrd bought this property, 600 acres, in 1807, of his
brother-in-law. Gen. Massie, for $3,100, and moved there in June,
1807. He was then thirty-seven, and his wife was thirty-two, and his
children were Mary, aged nine; Powell, aged 6; Kidder Meade, aged
five; William Silonwee, aged two; and his daughter Evelyn, was bom
there in August, 1807. Judge Byrd had been born and reared at the
princely estate of Westover, seven miles from Williamsburg, Va., and
his wife on the large estate of her father,^ Col. David Meade, at Maycox,
right opposite Westover. Both had been reared in all the luxury that
the times of their childhood knew. From 1799 to 1807 they had re-
sided in Cincinnati, then an insignificant village, and why Judge Byrd
wanted to bring his young wife and babies to this wilderness, no one
can now conjecture. Here he and his family saw the first steamboat
descend the Ohio in 181 1, and here his patient wife went to her ever-
lasting reward on the 31st day of February, 1815, and was buried under
a walnut tree some 200 yards from the house. Her grave is shown to
this day.

That must have been a mournful procession of the Judge and his
family, he then forty-five, Mary seventeen, Powell sixteen, Kidder
twelve, William ten, and Evelyn eight, accompanied by his neighbors,
bearing the fair daughter of Virginia, who had graced its best society
and seen and known as the father's friend, the immortal Washington,
to her last resting place, in the then primitive Ohio forest. There
her remains have reposed for seventy-nine years, and though, in that
time, the whole face of nature about the spot has changed, and wilder-
ness and forest have yielded to plains and fertile fields and pleasant
homes, yet if it is aught to the dead as to the scenery about the place
of their last repose, there are no finer views anywhere on earth, horizon
or sky, than surrounds this hallowed earth, and no fairer place for
the fulfillment of the decree of **earth to earth" on the mortal part,
could have been selected.

After this, the place being intolerable to Judge Byrd, and craving
human society, he moved with his sons to the village of West Union,
which had been laid out in 1804, and sent his daughters to Chamerie,
Ky., to be reared by their grandfather. Col. David Meade. He sold
the station to John Ellison, son of Andrew Ellison, of Lick Fork, for
$4,000. John Ellison resided there from 1818 to 1829, the time of his
death, and here most of his large family was born. His wife was
Annie Barr, whose father, Samuel Barr, had been killed in a battle be-
tween Kentuckians under Maj. Simon Kenton, and Indians under
Tecumseh in March, 1792. Here all but the two eldest of John Elli-
son's children were bom. Andrew was born in 1808, in Manchester,
and spent a long life there. Sarah, the second child, was born in 1818
in Manchester, but was married at the station to the late Thomas W.
Means, of Hanging Rock. There John Ellison's daughter, Mary K.,
was married to William Ellison, her distant cousin, and there her sis-
ter Esther was married to the late Hugh Means, of Ashland, Ky.

25a



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386 HISTORY OF ADAMS COUNTY

Jane Ellison, another daughter was the wife of David Sinton, of Cin-
cinnati. She was bom there, but was married to Mr. Sinton at the
home of Thomas Means, at IJnion Landing. She died in Manchester,
Ohio, in 1853, and is buried there in the Presbyterian churchyard. Her
daughter is the wife of Hon. Charles P. Taft, editor of the Times Star.
Here the late John Ellison, the banker of Manchester, was bom,
and here he spent a happy childhood and boyhood, whose joys he
never tired of recounting among his friends. While the Ellisons re-
sided there, the Station had many distinguished visitors from Cincin-
nati, Maysville, Hanging Rock and other points. Among others, Mrs.
John F. Keyes, nee Margaret Barr, a daughter of Samuel Barr, before
mentioned, spent the summer of 1832 here and remained till after the
frost to escape the dread pestilence, the Asiatic Cholera, then preva-
lent. She returned to Cincinnati after the first frost in the fall of 1832,
and was at once taken with the cholera and died within a few hours.
The pioneers who knew this place, who had many joyous meetings
here, and their natural foes, the Indians, are all gone to the shadow
land, but the beauties of the land'scape and of the natural scenery,
which charmed the untutored savage, the hardy pioneer and the deer
hunter, the early settlers, still remains to produce, like sentiments in those
who choose to look upon it.

THE TRIAL AND EXECUTION OF DAVID BECKETT.

The most noted case in the annals of crimes in Adams County,
is that of The State v. Beckett. This is so, not from the fact alone
that it records the first homicide committed within the county after its
organization, nor from the fact that the trial resulted in the only legal
execution of the death penalty ever imposed in the county; but, the
circumstances under which the crime was committed, the brutality of
the act itself, the inexplicable conduct of Beckett after committing
the deed, the momentous questions of law raised by the attorneys for
the accused qn his trial, and the scenes and incidents attending the
execution of the condemned, all conspire to make it the most inter-
esting and sensational criminal case in the history of the county.

History of the Crime.

In the autumn of 1807, David Beckett in company with John
Lightfoot, started down the Ohio River in a craft called a pirogue, for
the purpose of trafficking with the settlers and hunters along the way,
exchanging salt, some primitive articles of household, powder and lead,
for grain, whiskey and pelts. The trip promised to be a prosperous
one, and the prospect of gain so aroused Beckett's covetousness, that
he determined to kill his companion and possess himself of the craft
and its cargo. On the evening of the 5th day of October, the pirogue
was moored to the Ohio shore at "Cook Jennie" bar at mouth of Aleck's
Run, on the farm now owned by A. G. Lockhart, in Green Township,
and after partaking of a hearty meal of broiled vension, and indulging
frequent draughts from a demijohn of whiskey set aside from the stock
for the occasion, the traders retired to the boat for the night. Beckett
had designedly urged Lightfoot, his companion, to drink copiously



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MISCELLANEOUS 887

of the whiskey in order to stupefy him before making the contemplated
assault. In the night while Lightfoot lay in a drunken stupor, Beckett
arose, seized an ax, or large tomahawk conveniently near at hand,,
and dealt Lightfoot a murderous blow with the sharp edge of the in-
strument on the side of the head, sinking it into the brain up to the
eye. Then seizing the limp and bleeding form of his victim, he dragged
it to the side of the boat and rolled it overboard into the river. Hav-
ing disposed of the body of his victim and whatever articles there were
bearing evidence of the bloody deed, in and about the boat, Beckett
determined to go to Limestone some miles below, at that time one of
the principal landings and marts on the Ohio for western emigrants,,
and there sell the boat and cargo and flee the country. However the
following day, while on the way to Limestone, he stopped at the resi-
dence of William Faulkner who kept a sort of inn and trading estab-
lishment near the mouth of Brush Creek. To him Beckett disposed
of his possessions taking as part pay a horse which he immediately
mounted and rode away. Shortly after this, the body of Lightfoot
having been discovered, and Faulkner being found in possession of the
boat and cargo, he was accused of murdering the traders, arrested
and thrown into jail, although protesting his innocence of the crime.
About this time, the horse which Beckett had ridden away, escaped
from him, and he supposing that it had returned to its former owner,
came back to the vicinity in search of the missing animal. He was
accused of being implicated in the murder of Lightfoot, placed under
arrest and taken to the jail at West Union, then recently made the
permanent seat of justice of the county. This was in the latter part
of October, 1807, and at the sitting of the grand jury of the county, the
following month of November, an indidttnent was returned against
Beckett for murder in the first degree.

The Indlotn&ent.

As fully illustrating the form and character of such legal docu-
ments of that day and age,\ the indictment is here given in full, verbatim
et literatum.

State of Ohio, Adams County, Court of Common Pleas, Novem-
ber Term, 1807, Adams County, ss.

The grand jurors empaneled and sworn to enquire for the body
of the county aforesaid, in the name and by the authority of the State
of Ohio, upon their oath present, that David Beckett, late of -Green
Township, in the county of Adams, aforesaid, Yeoman, not having
the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the
instigation of the devil on the fifth day of October, in the year of our
Lord, one thousand eight hundred and seven, with force and arms, at
Green Township, aforesaid, in the county aforesaid, in and upon one
John Lightfoot, in the peace of God and of the said state, then and
there being, feloniously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought did
make an assault; and that he, the said David Beckett, with a certain
ax, of the value of fifty cents, which he the said David Beckett, in both
his hands then and there had and held, the said John Lightfoot, in and
upon the left side of the head of him, the said John Lightfoot, then
and there feloniously, wilfully and of his malice aforethought, did



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388 HISTORY^ OP ADAMS COUNTY

Strike, giving^ to the said John Lightfoot, then and there with the ax
aforesaid, in and upon the above said left side of the head of him, the
said John Lightfoot, one mortal wound of the breadth of three inches,
and of the depth of two inches, of which said mortal wound, the said
John Lightfoot then and there instantly died, and so the jurors afore-
said, upon their oath aforesaid, do say, that the said David Beckett,
the said John Lightfoot, in manner and form aforesaid, feloniously,
wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, did kill and murder, against
the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and against the
peace and dignity of the state of Ohio.

James Scott,
Prosecuting Attorney, A. C.

His ArraiKnn&ent and Plea.

Stdte of Ohio, Adams County,

Court of Common Pleas,
November Term, 1807.
The grand jury having returned to the court an indictment against
David Beckett, for the murder of John Lightfoot, the said David
Beckett was set to the Barr and having heard the indictment aforesaid
read, and it being demanded of him whether he was guilty of the mur-
der aforesaid or not guilty, he said he was not guilty, and made his
election to be tried by the Supreme Court next to be hodden within
and for the county aforesaid. Whereupon the said David Beckett was
remanded back to the jail of Adams County.

Joseph Darlinton,
Clerk Adams County.

Delay of the Trial.

Through the efforts of his counsel, Henry Brush and William
Creighton, Esquires, the trial of Beckett was delayed for one year
from the finding of the indictment. The most important question
raised by the defense for the consideration of the court, was whether
the court had jurisdiction over the place where the crime was com-
mitted. Since Lightfoot was killed on a boat upon the Ohio River,
the learned counsel for the accused contended that the place of the
crime was not within the jurisdiction of the State of Ohio, basing their
argument in support of the contention on the language of the deed of
cession of the Northwest Territory by the State of Virginia to the
United States: "The territory situate, lying, and being to the north-
west of the river Ohio." This raised the question of what constitutes
the southern boundary Hne of Ohio; whether the bank on the north
shore of the river, low water-mark on that shore, or the middle of the
current of the Ohio? As the question had not been judicially deter-
mined till that time, the court took the question under consideration
for future decision. [This question was again raised by counsel for
the defendants and fully discussed by Hon. Samuel Vinton in the case
of the Commonwealth of Virginia v. Peter M. Gamer et al, before the
General Court of Virginia in 1845.] At the next sitting of the court, it
was announced by the court, that inasmuch as the evidence disclosed



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MISCELLANEOUS 389

the fact that the boat upon which the crime in question was com-
mitted, was fastened by means of a rope to a tree on the Ohio bank
of the river, the place of the crime was within the State of Ohio, and
that the court had lawful jurisdiction of the offense, and would pro-
ceed to the trial of the accused. So accordingly at the October term,
1808, the Supreme Court of Ohio, western division, held in the town
of West Undon, the Hon. Samuel Huntington and the Hon. William
Sprigg sitting, David Beckett was put on his trial for the murder of
John Lightfoot, as the following record will show:

State of Ohio, Adams County, ss. The state of Ohio to the sheriff
of Adams County: You are hereby commanded to summon thirty
good and lawful men of the county aforesaid (in addition to the stand-
ing jury of the present term) forthwith to appear before the Supreme
Court now sitting within and for the county aforesaid, to make a jury
well and truly to try the prosecution now depending in the said court
against David Beckett, and have there this writ. Witness the Hon.
Samuel Huntington, Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of the State
of Ohio, this seventeenth day of October, 1808.

Joseph Dariinton, Clerk S. C. A. C.

The above named persons I have summoned to attend as within
directed.

Serving $2.00. John Ellison Jr., Sheriff, A. C.

The Venire for Tliirty Jurors.

Needham Perry, David Robe, Joseph Keith, John ElHson, Sr.,
Moses Baird, Job Dinning, Eli Reeves, David Means, John McColm,
Neal Lafferty, William Armstrong, John Finley, George Harper,
David Bradford, Andrew Boyd, Daniel Collier, Alexander Campbell,
James Allen, Samuel Milligan, David Hannah, Robert Anderson,
David Thomas, Levin Wheeler, John Kincaid, Thomas Lewis, Joseph
Currey, Simon Fields, Simon Shoemaker, William Mclntyre, Isaac
Edgingfton.

From the above venire and the standing jury for the term, the fol-
lowing named persons were selected as

The Trial Jury.

David Means, John Wickoff, Daniel Collier, Job Dinning, Andrew
Boyd, Eli Reeves, Samuel Milligan, George Harper, David Robe, John
Campbell, David Thomas, David Bradford.

The TriaL

The prosecuting attorney, James Scott, himself an able and pains-
taking lawyer, assisted by John W. Campbell, a bright young attor-
ney who had recently located in West Union, and who afterwards be-
came a United States judge, convinced of the guilt of Beckett, spared
no effort to bring about his conviction. On the other hand, the attor-
neys for the accused, Henry Brush, one of the learned members of the



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390 HISTORY OF ADAMS COUNTY

bar at that day, and afterwards judge of the Supreme Court of Ohio,
and the brilliant young advocate, William Creighton, the first Secre-
tary of State of Ohio, believing the earnest protestations of innocence
made by the accused to be true, and urged on by the hope of victory
in a contest so. widely observed by the people, and in which the stake
was not alone fame and reputation — but a human life — met every as-
sault of the prosecution during the trial, steel clashing with steel.

Scores of witnesses were called and examined ; and the many sin-
gle subpoenas that were issued during the progress of the trial indicate
the earnestness with which the contest was waged. A theory of the
defense was that William Faulkner was implicated in the muder of
Lightfoot to the extent at least of guilty knowledge of the crime. And
public opinion was divided as to the guilt or innocence of Faulkner,
even up to the day of the execution of Beckett. After consuming
nearly a week in the trial of the case, it was given the jury, which after
due deliberation, reported the verdict through its foreman, David Brad-
ford, "Guilty in manner and form as charged."

Thereupon the court pronounced the death penalty to be imposed
upon the prisoner at the bar. His attorneys filed a motion in arrest
of judgment and for a new trial, which on consideration by the court
was overruled, whereupon the following order was directed to the
sheriff having the prisoner in charge :

October term of the Supeme Court sitting in and for the County
of Adams, in the State of Ohio, in the year of our Lord, one thousand
eight hundred and eight.

State of Ohio, Adams County, ss.

The state of Ohio, to the sheriff of Adams County ; whereas at the
aforesaid term of our Supreme Court, sitting in and for the county
aforesaid, David Beckett was convicted of the murder of John Light-
foot and thereupon received judgment to- wit; that he be taken to the
place from whence he came and from thence on the tenth day of De-
cember next to the place of execution, and that he be then and there
hanged by the neck until he be dead. Execution of which said judg-
ment yet remains to be done. We therefore require and by these
presents strictly command you that on Saturday, the tenth day of De-
cember, next, you convey the said David Beckett now in your custody
in the jail of Adams County, to the place of execution and that you
do cause execution to be done upon the said David Beckett in your
custody so being in all things according to the said judgment. And
this you are by no means to omit at your peril. Witness the honor-
able Samuel Huntington, Chief Judge of our said court, this twenty-
second day of October in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight
hundred and eight, and of the State of Ohio, the sixth.

Joseph Darlinton, Clerk S. C. A. C.

The above bears the following indorsement: "Executed, John
Ellison, Jr., Sheriff, Adams County."



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MISCELLANEOUS 391

Scenes and laeldeats at the Execution.

On Saturday, December lo, 1808, at the town of West Union,
gathered the first of the three notably large assemblages of the people
in the history of the county. They came in wagons, on horseback, and
afoot, from .every section of this county and those adjoining, and from
the region of Kentucky opposite along the Ohio River. It was a won-
derful, outpouring of the people, not only to witness the execution of
the condemned, but to see and hear that eccentric and sensational
itinerant preacher, Lorenzo Dow, who it was said, would be present to
try his wonderful powers on the doomed man to elicit from him the
facts as to the guilt or innocence of William Faulkner, accused of
complicity in the murder of John Lightfoot. By noon of that mem-
orable day the straggHng village of West Union was literally swal-
lowed up by as motley a crowd as ever gathered in the state. Back- '
woodsmen, boatmen, traders, merchants, mechanics,* lawyers, preachers,
women and children, all formed a surging mass, now crowding through
the court house; and now engulfing the jail in which Beckett, in irons,
was being prepared for his last hour on earth ; now scrutinizing the rude
and barbarous gibbet from which the condemned would soon swing
by the neck; and now listening with bated breath to the words of his
awful confession as they fell from the lips of the doomed man.

The gibbet, consisting of two huge upright timbers firmly planted
in the ground, with strong connecting cross-beam at the top, stood to
the north of the northeast corner of the public square, near the present
site of the Christian Union Church. Here was erected a rough plat-
form from which Lorenzo Dow, Rev. William Williamson, then in
charge of the West Union Presbyterian Church, Rev. Abbott Godard,
and Rev. Robert Dobbins, then residing in Adams County, addressed
the people preceding the execution. In the biography of Rev. Robert
Dobbins, it is stated that he and Rev. Dow on the morning of the
day of the execution went to the cell of the condemned man to elicit
the truth from him as to another being implicated in the crime for
which he was about to suffer. "Rev. Dow first interrogated the priso-
ner, and being dissatisfied with his answers, left the cell. Rev. Dobbins
then conversed with the prisoner and urged him to tell the truth, and
spoke of the awful consequences of appearing before his Judge with a
falsehood upon his soul. He finally succeeded in eliciting from the
prisoner the fact that the implicated man was not guity."

The condemned was then made ready, bound, and placed in a vehi-
cle bearing his coffin, and driven to the place of execution. Here the
Rev. Williamson preached a sermon from the text, "Oh I Israel, thou
hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help."

Rev. Dow then delivered an address from the words, "Rejoice,



Online LibraryNelson Wiley EvansA history of Adams County, Ohio, from its earliest settlement to the present time, including character sketches of the prominent persons identified with the first century of the country's growth .. → online text (page 49 of 120)