William L. (William Leete) Stone.

Letters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams online

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their duties on this occasion.*

It was early in November before this proclamation was
issued to the public in the region of the excitement. In the
mean time no little fault had been found by the people of
the west, because of the moderate tone of the first procla-
mation, and the absence of any specific reward. Complaint
was likewise made of the second, because of the small
amounts of the several rewards proposed, — the highest be-
ing only three hundred dollars. But at the time it was is-
sued, from the causes stated in the first part of this letter,
neither Governor Clinton, nor his advisers at Albany, could

+ Videapper.dlxE.

24



186 LETTER XVII.

have had any just idea of the enormity of the offence, or ot*
the extent of the excitement.

During the months of November and December, the ex-
citement continued to increase, and extend its sphere of ac-
tion among the people. At the November term of the
General Sessions of the Peace for the county of Ontario, in-
dictments were found against Nicholas G. Cheseboro, Loton
Lawson, Edward Sawyer, and John Sheldon, for a conspi-
racy to seize William Morgan, and carry him thence to for-
eign parts, and to secrete and confine him there. A second
indictment was likewise found against the same parties, for
carrying the conspiracy into execution. These indict-
ments, by consent of parties, w^ere sent to the Court of
Oyer and Terminer, to be held at Canandaigua, in January
then following. Meantime the committees were engaged
in pushing their investigations with all possible perseve-
rance and assiduity. In the course of their inquiries, they
ascertained some further particulars respecting the myste-
rious night-ride, from Canandaigua to Rochester, or Han-
ford's Landing, in no wise calculated to lessen their appre-
hensions for the safety of Morgan. The carriage driven by
Hiram Hubbard, as formerly related, stopped at the village
of Victor, ten miles from Canandaigua, It was first driven
into the yard of the tavern, kept by Dr. Thomas Beach,
and from thence into the yard of one Enos Gillis, in the rear
of the barn of the last-mentioned personage, and about for-
ty rods from the house of Beach, entirely out of sight of the
road. Among the company in some way connected with
this mysteriously moving carriage, which was not allowed
to stop where it could be seen for any time, was a man by
the name of James Gillis, who then resided at Montmoren-
cy, in Pennsylvania ; and it is supposed that his presence
among the conspirators affords a solution to the remark of
Ketchum, to Mrs. Morgan, at Canandaigua, that a man from
Pennsylvania had taken her husband off in a private car-



LETTER XVII. 187

riage, having a warrant for him. James Gillis now took a
horse from his brother's stable, and proceeded forward. A
hostler was likewise sent to bring out a horse for Lawson,
whom he knew, and on returning to the tavern, he heard Dr.
Beach, in speaking earnestly of some one, declare : " Damn
him, he ought to he drawn and quarteredr James Gillis
was seen the next day, but disappeared immediately, and
was not found again for many months. Enos Gillis was ex-
amined before the grand jury in November, but soon after-
wards removed away, and never afterwards showed himself
in the county, or country, where it was probable he might
be called on to testify. Hubbard's carriage was closely
curtained on his way to Hanford's ; but the curtains were
rolled up after he had discharged his company in the road,
near the forest. The agents dispatched by the committee,
to traverse the line of the ridge road, ascertained that be-
fore Hubbard's carriage arrived at Rochester, which was
just at the breaking of the morning light, a carriage belong-
ing to Ezra Piatt, a Royal Arch Mason, and the keeper of
a livery stable, in that town, was procured and sent for-
ward in advance of the Canandaigua carriage, and directed
to stop at a sequestered place near Hanford's tavern. A
variety of circumstances not essential to the narrative,
proved, very clearly, that the carriage which started thus
early out of Rochester, was intended for the relief of that
driven from Canandaigua to Hanford's. Indeed, when cal-
led before the grand jury, Hubbard himself swore that the
party which left his carriage in the " secluded" place, got,
into that which had been sent from Rochester, and which,
after taking up his passengers, proceeded thence, on the
ridge road, towards the Niagara. This carriage was next
particularly noticed at Clarkson, fifteen miles further west,
in consequence of its stopping in the middle of the road,
while the driver alighted for a moment, and went into the
tavern. The carriage then proceeded on, with the curtains



188 LETTER XVII.

kept close down, although it was a very warm day. Two
and a half miles further on, at the house of a Mr. Allen, the
carriage again stopped, and the horses were changed — the
fresh team being taken from the field where they were
working, for that purpose. The driver from near Han-
ford's to this place, soon afterwards absconded, and was not
heard of for a long time afterwards. The mysterious car-
riage, closed carefully as before, arrived at Gaines at about
12 o'clock at noon, on the 13th of September — passed di-
rectly through the village, and stopped about a mile west
of it, in the road, at a distance from any house. At this
place Eliiiu Mather came up, with a pair of horses belonging
to his brother, James, who lived at Gaines. These' horses
were placed before the closed carriage, and Mather him-
self, although a man of property, engaged in a good busi-
ness, mounted the box, and drove on, to the surprise of the
inhabitants along the road, who knew his circumstances.
On his return, he stated that he had driven the carriage for
his brother. When the close carriage arrived at Ridge-
way, a man named Jeremiah Brown, supervisor of the
town, and formerly a member of the legislature, suddenly
took his horses from ploughing in the field, fed them, and
placing them before the mysterious carriage, mounted the
box himself and drove on to Wright's tavern, nearly north
of the village of Lockport. At this place the carriage was
driven into the barn, and was so strongly guarded, as to
prevent any persons — and there were many collected there
— from holding the least communication with, or even from
seeing it. There was to be an installation of a chapter at
Lewiston, on the i4th, the day following, on which occa-
sion a clergyman, of Rochester, — yet in orders, unfortunate-
ly for the church, though in another state, — delivered the
address. He is represented to have given a most extraor-
dinary toast at the dinner of the celebration, which may be
noted hereafter. But it has nothing to do in this place.



LETTER XVII. 189

This clergyman, however, was the only passenger in the
stage from Rochester for Lewiston, which preceded the
carriage whose progress I am tracing ; and on arriving at
the town of llidgeway, he stopped the stage long enough to
send into the field, for Brown to come to him in haste : He
did so, and they held a private conference. When the close
carriage, came along, Brown very readily and spontaneously,
as it were, took his horses from the plough in the field, to
relieve those in the harness of the carriage, as I have just
mentioned. There were many people at Wright's, some
of whom were armed, as it appeared, and it was told the
committee, by some one at the house, that they had had or-
ders to prepare a supper that night, for a number of Ma-
sons. The care with which the carriage was secluded, in-
duced some inquiries, and it was rumored about amongst the
people, that it contained a prisoner whom it was necessary
to guard. At about 10 o'clock, that night, this carriage
drove away from Wright's, towards Lewiston, and when
it arrived at Mollineaux's tavern, four miles farther on, Eli
Bruce, the sheriff of the county of Erie, in which they then
were, was with it. He went into the house, woke up the
landlord, and desired him to put a fresh pair of horses be-
fore the carriage. The son of Mr. Mollineaux opposed let-
ting the horses go, unless he went with them himself, as he
said they w^ere young, and he was opposed to placing them
in the hands of strangers. Bruce, however, would not list-
en to this, but pointing to Brown, said he had a careful driver.
Mather stopped at this place, and Brown drove on — re-
turning to Mollineaux's just before day light on the morn-
ing of the 14th The horses were very much exhausted, hav-
ing been driven twenty-six miles, as he admitted, since he
had taken them. The next trace of the mysterious car-
riage discovered by the committee, w^as the information,
that during that night, Bruce, with Samuel Barton, a stage
proprietor, called at the stage oifiGe, at Lewiston, for a car-



190 LETTER XVII.

riage and horses to go to Youngstown. A driver, named
Corydon Fox, was called up, who harnessed a team to a
carriage. He then called at a tavern, as directed, for
Bruce, who got into the carriage, and directed him to drive
round into a back street, in front of Barton's dwelling house,
which he acordingly did. Arriving there, he found a car-
riage, without horses, standing in the middle of the street,
with the curtains closed down. Bruce here descended
from the carriage ; and Fox, who kept his place on the box,
saw a third man assist him (Bruce) in taking a man out of
the other carriage, and transferring him to their own. Not
a word, nor a whisper, was uttered during this movement,
and the same gloomy silence remained unbroken until they
reached Youngstown, six miles. At this place they stop-
ped in front of the house of Col. King, who was called up
by Bruce. While the latter was holding a conversation
with King, the driver thought he heard a call for water
from within his carriage, and Bruce replied — " Yes, you
shall have some," but none was brought. King now came
out, and entered the carriage with Bruce ; and Fox was
dh'ected to drive tov/ards Fort Niagara — about a mile dis-
tant. They stopped near the grave yard, about eighty
rods from the fort, towards which four persons who de-
scended from the carriage, directed their steps. Bruce
shortly turned round, and calling to Fox, dismissed him, by
tellinnr him to ero about his business.

vSuch, in substance, was the purport of the information
collected by the committee, during the months of November
and December. It will at once be perceived that this nar-
rative,* taking it in connexion with the history of the occur-
rences at the Canandaigua prison, as given in a former let-
ter, reduced it to a moral certainty, that Morgan had been
thrust into thd carriage, at Canandaigua, and kept in a state

* Abriilgcd from the report of the Lewiston committee.



LETTER XVII. 191

of duress, until Bruce and others left the carriage near the
burying ground, close by the fort at Niagara, in the gloom
of night. This moral certainty, as it respects the identity
of the person who was taken from the carriage driven by
Fox, was increased, by his conversations, on the morning
of the 14th of September, with a Mason by the name of
Paul Mosher. In relating his night jaunt down to Youngs-
town, Fox stated, that when King came out of his house, on
stepping up to the carriage, he thought he understood him,
[King,] to say, " what, Morgan, are you here !" Mosher not
knowing what to make of the aflair, spoke successively to
two other Masons, who both expressed a belief that the
person alluded to was Morgan. And one of them com-
mented on the imprudence of Barton, in having sent a dri-
ver who was not a Mason, on such an errand. Fox, who
had been speaking of the circumstances about the village
of Lewiston, was admonished to keep his own counsel, at
the peril of losing his place ; and within a few days after-
w^ards, his lips were sealed, as it was hoped, by having the
honors of masonry conferred upon him, free from the custo-
mary fees and charges. Such a step could not have been
taken, without a dispensation by the unanimous vote of the
lodge. But with all this chain of circumstantial testimony,
there was yet no satisfactory legal proof of the facts, which
had thus, beyond doubt, transpired. The story, however,
was told to the public, and it is not to be supposed that such
an excitement as had already been kindled, would burn
less fiercely with these additional materials for combustiom
The connexion of Bruce with the mysterious carriage,
having been thus satisfactorily established, he was ar-
rested on the 29th of December, and brought before a ma-
gistrate at Youngstown, on the charge of having forcibly,
and without due process of law% held William Morgan in
duress for some time, and having secretly and illegally con-
veyed him thence to parte unknown. Five witnQssfgs were



192 LETTER XVlI.

examined before the magistrate, and the facts ah'eady con-
nected with the name of Bruce, were clearly established.
Bruce made neither explanations nor defence ; but as no
proof was adduced on the examination, that a William
Morgan had been forcibly seized and carried away from
Canandaigua or elsewhere, nor that force, violence or re-
straint, had been exercised upon the person of any indivi-
dual in the carriage, he was discharged.

On the assembling of a gi'and jury for Monroe county,
in this same month of December, the presiding judge of the
court strongly charged them to investigate the circumstan-
ces of the outrage, which was then the leading theme of dis-
course in all mouths. They called many witnesses before
them, but failed in eliciting any satisfactory information, al-
though of the number examined was Ezra Piatt, who had
furnished the carriage from Rochester. Edward Doyle, one
of the witnesses, refused to testify, lest he should criminate
himself. The jury found no bills ; but having ascertained
that Morgan had been taken through that county, they
made a presentment, stating that fact, from which the
following passage is quoted : — " From the great caution
** which seems to have been observed, in keeping both Mor-
" gan, and the place of his destination, from the view and
*' knowledge of all but such persons as may have been con-
" fidentially entrusted with the design, and who would de-
** cline giving evidence, upon the ground that it might tend
" to criminate themselves, the grand jury have found it im-
" possible to establish, by competent testimony, the unlaw-
'* ful agency of any citizen in this county, in that transac-
«tion."

Another public meeting was now called in Rochester, and
committees upon the subject appointed. This meeting was
attended by Burrage Smith, and John Whitney. A num-
ber of masons were placed on the committee. But it was
soon ascertained, by the other members, that " all their pro-



LETTER XVII. 193

**■ ceedings were divulged by these masonic associates, not-
** withstanding an honorary obligation to the contrary."

The sitting of the Court of Oyer and Terminer for the
county of Ontario, at which the first indictments were to be
traversed, was now approaching ; and, as the excitement
was very great, the District Attorney of that county, Bowen
Whiting, Esq., believing that if the persons indicted were
tried by counsel there, the public excitement would not be
allayed, let the result be what it might, addressed a letter
to Governor Clinton, on the 7th of December, making this
representation, and requesting the attendance and assistance
of the Attorney General at the trials. This letter was re-
ceived by the Governor on the 1 1th, and a copy thereof im-
mediately, on the same day, transmitted to the Attorney
General, as appears from the following note from the Gov-
ernor himself: —

^^ Albany f llth December, 1826.
*' Sir,

" I enclose to you a copy of a letter from the District
Attorney of Ontario County, by which it appears that your
attendance at the Oyer and Terminer, on the 1st Monday
in January next, in that county, is considered highly impor-
tant.

" Concurring with the Circuit Judge, and the District At-
torney in that opinion, and hoping that you will find it not
inconvenient to attend on that occasion, I consider it my duty
lo request it. " I am, &c.

« DE WITT CLINTON,
^ Samuel A. Talcott, Esq.

*^ Attorney General"

The Attorney General did not attend the trials, but for
what reasons I am not informed.

I havQ the honor.. &(?;
S5



194 LE-TTiTR xyfir^



LETTER XVUL

, New- York, Feb. 14, 183i^.
Sir,

The Circuit Court, and Court of Oyer and Terminer^
for the county of Ontario, commenced its sittings on Mon-
day, January 1st, 1827. The present governor of this stated-
then a circuit judge, presided, associated with whom, upoi>
the bench, were, tlie Hon. Nathaniel W. How^ell, first judge
of the county, and judges Younglove, Atwater, and Brooks.^
The first of that series of extraordinary trials which have
occupied so wide a space in our judicial annals during the
last five years, was now commenced, by the arraignment of
Cheseboro, Lawson, Sawyer, and Sheldon, on the several
indictments heretofore mentioned, to wliich they severally
pleaded not guilty. Great interest w^as manifested on this
occasion, by all parties.' Deputations from the diflerent
committees organized by popular meetings-, were in attend-
ance, and more than one hundred witnesses, who had been
subpoenaed, were present, together with an immense con-
course of people^ The case, in all its features, was without
a precedent, aad a deep' and universal anxiety existed among
the people, to have the dark mystery unriddled. The bar
presented a formidable array of counsel on the important
occasion, embracing most of the professional talent in that
region of country. The prosecution was conducted by
Bowcn Whiting, the District Attorney, assisted by seven
other counsellors, viz : John Dixon, Wm. H. Adams, J.
Wilson, T. F. Talbot, H. W. Taylor, O. Benjamin, and C.
Butler. The couiisel for the defendants were, John C.
Spender, M, H.- Sibley, II. F. Pcniicld, and W. HubbeU.



LETTER XVIIK IDS

On Tuesday morning, the second day of the term, the
pubhc prosecutor moved on the trials. The first witness
called was David C. Miller, but to the surprise of every
body, it was found that he was absent. Subpoenaed by
both parties ; and having, borne sucii a prominent part in
the transactions which had so deeply agitated the commu-
nity, and being, moreover, €0 much interested in having .the
guilty punished, his absence was a matter of astonishment
It having been satisfactorily shown to the court, that Miller
was at home in Batavia, and in good health, attachments
were granted at the instance of toth parties, and the trials
were postponed, to allow time for their ircturn.

On Wednesday morning January 3d, the .motion to bring
on the trials was renewed, — when Ciieseboro, Sawyer, and
Lawson, severally withdrew their pleas of not guilty, and
pleaded guilty to both indictments ; — reserving the right to
move the court in arrest of judgment upon cither. The
^counsel for Sheldon then stated that he admitted that the
offence charged in the indictment against Jiim, had been
commatted, but denied having had any participation there-
in. Under these circumstances the case went to trial ; but
4t will readily be perceived that the admissions of the de-
fendants only left it necessary for:the prosecution to identi-
fy Sheldon with the conspiracy. Of course the scope of
•the inquiry was greatly narrowed, ^and the interest propor-
tionately lessened. The particulars of the taking of Mor-
gan from the prison, and the active participation of Lawson,
:the presence of Chescboro and Sawyer, &c., was proved
accurately as I have related the facts in a former letter.
The wife of the jailor .testified, that according to the best of
-her knowledge and belief, the defendant at the bar, SheldoU:,
vvvas the same man who came to the jail with Lawson, calling
Jiimself Foster, and who assisted in dragging Morgan away.
A number of witnesses were examined to prove an alibis
and the testinoiony was vexy strong tliat tlie defendant ha4



196 LETTER XVIII.

been sitting at Kingsley's tavern the whole evening ; that
he lodged there that night ; and consequently that lie could
have had no participation in the transactions at the jail.
There was, however, among the witnesses on the part of
the prosecution, a Mr. Green, an. inn-keeper, from Batavia,
who swore, positively, that the defendant came to his house
late in the evening of the 10th of September, took supper,
and lodging, and breakfasted there on the following morn-
ing. He, (the defendant,) entered into conversation with
the witness ; said that he had been suspected of having
kindled the fire in Miller's office, and desired him, (the wit-
ness) to recollect that he had lodged in his house that night.
The defendant talked a good deal upon the subject of Mor-
gan's proposed revelations, avowed himself a Royal Arch
Mason, and said he had been in that neighborhood several
days, to assist in suppressing the book. He likewise sent
forKclsey »Stone, with whom he held some private conver-
sation ; and while there wrote a letter in hieroglyphics, which
he addressed to General Solomon Van Rensselaer. The
witness, a respectable man, was very positive, as to the
identity of Sheldon, and, in regard to all the circumstan-
ces — particularly of the letter, which he saw the defendant
sign with his own hand, * John Shel don.' On the other hand,
Kelsey Stone w^as introduced as a witness in behalf of the
defendant, and swore, that according to his best recollec-
tion, he was not the man whom he had been sent to meet at
the house of Mr. Green, in Batavia. The person whom he
had there seen was a stranger, to him unknown ; but he was
confident Sheldon was not the man. In other respects, his
testimony fully confirmed that of Green. It was proved,
however, by the Canandaigua witnesses, that on the morn-
ing after Morgan had been carried away, the defendant had
appeared to know much about the subject. To a Mr. Pres-
eott, he had said, " Morgan is carried olf : I know all about
*♦ the business, but shall pot tell you. I know who went



LETTER xrin. 197

*• into the jail after Morgan — he does not live in this village —
" Morgan has gone where the people of this country will ne-
*' ver see him ; but if his family will accept the funds which
" the Masons have provided for them, they will be well
*' enough off," The impression of the jailor's wife, that the
defendant and the man Foster, were one and the same per-
son ; the positive testimony of Green ; and confessions like
that which I have just quoted, from the lips of the defendant
himself, were too strong against him, and he was convicted.
Sheldon, afterwards, made a deposition, which was filed of
record, and in which he swore that he was not at the jail at
the time referred to ; that he had not been at Batavia within
eight years ; that he had never seen the w^itness. Green,
until in court on that occasion ; that he had never visited
the jail in company with Loton Lawson ; that he was not
the man whom the jailor's wife had supposed to be Foster ;
and that he had never seen or known William Morgan.
His admissions upon the subject, he also deposed, " were
" made in the way of romance, and from amusement only."
And so it afterwards appeared ; for it was by subsequent
disclosures clearly proved, that Sheldon was in truth and in
fact an innocent man, although the witness. Green, was ab-
solved from the imputation of perjury, from the fact which
afterwards appeared, that the mysterious stranger who w^as
at Green's house, under the circumstances mentioned, was
a Mr. Averill, from Orleans county, whose dress and ap-
pearance so strongly resembled those of Sheldon, as to
occasion the mistake.

Among the witnesses sworn upon this trial, were, Dur-
rage Smith, and John Whitney, of Rochester. Both of
them objected to answering any questions, because, in do-
ing so, they apprehended that they might criminate them-
selves. After being well instructed by the court, however,
as to their privileges, they testified in part. Smith admitted
that he came to Canandaigua from Rochester, on the 12th



198 LETTER Xtlll.

of September. He also admitted that he saw Lawson, but
declined answering the question whether he had heard any
conversation between Lawson and others about carrying
Morgan away. His objection having been overruled by
the court, he then admitted that he did hear Lawson in con-
versation with three or four others, upon that subject, on



Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 17 of 49)