State of Delaware

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The Death Penalty in Delaware
1650 through 1849


An excerpt:
A vessel had been wrecked on the coast near the present breakwater and one of the sailors, a Turk, reached the shore where he was taken prisoner by a party of Indians, who sold their captive to Peter Alrichs, nephew of Governor Alrichs. Peter, among other things was a slave dealer and was chiefly instrumental in fitting out the ship Glide which brought the first cargo of slaves from Africa to the shores of the Delaware.

The unfortunate Turk was sold by Peter to an English planter in Maryland. Subsequently the Turk and four other slaves escaped to Delaware, but were pursued and captured. While they were being conveyed in a boat to New Castle, when near Bombay Hook, the Turk made a desperate fight for liberty and during the struggle and before he could be subdued he wounded two Englishmen seriously a third slightly.

In the confusion which followed, he sprang overboard and succeeded in reaching the shore but he was shortly recaptured and taken to New Castle, where he was heavily ironed and imprisoned. D'Hinoiassa (the governor) refused when the application was made to him to deliver the prisoner to the English claiment, but declared, that as the Turk had committed a crime within the jurisdiction of the City Colony, he must be held on that charge. He thereupon ordered him to be arraigned before Van Sweeringham, who sat as the judge at the trial.

The prisoner, practically ignorant of the language in which he was called to make his defense, was convicted of having resisted and wounded his captors. Although the laws of Holland applicable to the colonies provided that in criminal cases where the punishment was capital five judges must actually preside at the trial, the miserable Turk notwithstanding that violation of law was sentenced to be hanged.

On Sunday, October 19, 1662, the sentence was carried into execution. The Turk was hanged at Lewes, his head being afterwards "cut off and placed on a post or stake at Horekill." This incident is also memorable because it is the first case of capital punishment in the Delaware river settlements.
[Proceedings of the Delaware County Historical Society, Volume 1, January 1902, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]


In 1687, Judith Roe murdered a passing stranger using an ax. With her children present, she killed him for his money and clothes.
[Submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]


New-Castle, April 23. At a Court of Oyer & Terminer and Goal Delivery held at this Place for the County of New Castle upon Delaware, before Col. John French, Samuel Lowman, Benj. Shurmer and James Steel Esqrs., Eleanor Moore and Elizabeth Garretson received sentence of Death upon their being convicted of the Murther of a Bastard Child born of the Body of the said Eleanor Moore. [Boston Gazette - Boston Massachusetts, Monday May 7, 1722, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]

. . . related news:

New-Castle, May 10.
The last Speech of Eleanor Moore at her Execution on Wednesday the 9th Day of May instant, who received Sentence of Death at Newcastle upon Delaware the 24th Day of April last, together with Elizabeth Garretson, for murdering a Female Bastard Child, born of the said Eleanor. [American Weekly Mercury - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Thursday, May 17, 1722, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]

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Elizabeth by reason of the confession of the said Eleanor, was respited.
I Eleanor Moore am brought hither to suffer for that unnatural Crime, whereof I was legally convicted and justly condemned. I have endeavoured, to my great Sorrow, to mitigate my great Offence, by unjustly charging the fact upon another. God has been graciously pleased to stop my Career and rebuke my Badness in the Particular. And therefore, as I render him Thanks for his Grace bestowed upon me to speak the Truth from my Heart, so I do freely and without Reserve confess, That what I said to the Charge of Elizabeth Garretson, at and before our trial, she the said Elizabeth Garretson, was not guilty of, for that she neither delivered me of the DChild, nor conveyed it away, nor buried it.

I was delivered ('tis with great Concern I speak it) out of Doors, by my self, at some Distence from the Dwelling House of the said Elizabeth Garretson, near to a Hog Pen, and afterwards laid the Child by the Side of a fallen Tree, being satisfied it was born alive by my hearing it once cry, from which Place I removed it, and buried it my self, without the Knowledge or Advice of the said Elizabeth Garretson, she and I having no manner of Discourse about the said Child, or how it was disposed of, otherwise than that she would be now and then relating to me what was commonly reported amongst the Neighbours about me. And I heartily ask God and the said Elizabeth Pardon and Forgiveness for impeaching her so grossly, and imposing upon my Judges, so as to rank her in the same Transgression with my self. And I beg that this my Confession may be looked upon as the true and genuine Sense of my Soul, notwithstanding my persisting in my Accusing of her in so open and presumptuous a Manner. And I pray that this publick Satisfaction which I am now to pay to Justice, may be a Caution to those who now surround me, and to all others who may come to the Knowledge of my grievous Sin and fearful Punishment, to apply themselves in their Youth to remember their Creator, and to avoid loose Company and Sabbath-breaking, which by sad Experience I now find must needs end in Sorrow and Disgrace.

By what I have said, I hope, you charitably believe I am penitent, and as such I beg your Prayers for me, that I may find Acceptance at the Throne of Divine Mercy, through Him that died for my Offences, and rose again for my Justification, even Jesus Christ, that one Mediator between God and Man; To whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be Glory and Honour for evermore, Amen. Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit.
[ American Weekly Mercury - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Thursday, May 17, 1722, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]


A Mrs. Catherine Bevan was sentenced by the Court of New Castle Co. (Delaware), to be burned alive at New Castle, in 1731, for the murder of her husband. It was the intention of the kind-hearted sheriff to hang her by the neck over the pile of fagots, in the hope she would strangle to death before being burned. But some accident happened to the rope - it broke, slipped, or was cut, after the fire was well under way, when she dropped, bound hand and foot, into the blaze. Struggling to free herself from her bindings, she nearly escaped from the pyre, and had to be pushed back into the flames, and held there by the sheriff and the crowd, while she died a lingering and horrible death, in conformity with the sentence of the Court.
[Welsh Settlement of Pennsylvania By Charles Henry Browning - Philadelphia 1912, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]


In 1731 an execution took place at New Castle which, it is to be hoped, was exceptional in the annals of the colonies. Catherine Bevan, together with a servant named Peter Murphy, were indicted, tried and found guilty of the murder of the woman's husband, Henry Bevan. The conviction would seem to have been obtained principally upon the confession of the servant. By the common law at that time the murder of a husband by his wife was petit treason, and the punishment was to be drawn and burned. Accordingly on September 10, 1731, the man was hanged and the woman burnt pursuant to their sentence. A gruesome account the affair appears in Franklin's "Pennsylvania Gazette" for the September 23, 1731:

"She deny'd to the last that she acted any part in the murder and could scarce be brought to own that she was guilty of consenting. Neither of them said much at the place of execution. The man seemed penitent but the woman appear'd hardened. It was designed to strangle her dead before the fire could touch her; but its first breaking out was in a stream which pointed directly upon the rope that went round her neck, and burnt it off instantly so that she fell alive into the flames, and was seen to struggle."

[ University of Pennsylvania Law Review -1908 Philadelphia, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]


At a council held at Philadelphia, Wednesday the Seventh of August 1754.
Then the Record of Conviction of James Duffy, of the County of Kent upon Delaware, for the Murder of John Brown of the said County, was read, and Ryves Holt, Esquire, One of the Justices of the Court of Oyer and Terminer for the Countys upon Delaware aforesaid, having represented to the Governor that the Fact was proved before the Justices of the said Court to have been perpetrated in so unmanly and cruel a manner that he could not be recommended to his Honour's Clemency, a Warrant was, therefore, made out and signed for his Execution on Wednesday, the twenty-first of this Month.
[Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, Published by J. Steverns, January 1851, Submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]


Margaret Sexton murdered her four year old step-son in New Castle. During a review of the facts of her case, the crime was described as "barbarous and willful" and she was not given a reprieve. Margaret was hanged in June 1757 for her crime.


At a Court of Oyer and Terminer, held at New Castle the 28th ult. The following Persons were capitally convicted, and received Sentence of Death, viz. Margaret Sexton, for the Murder of her Husband's child; Cornelius Gassery, a Soldier, for the Murder of his Wife; David Brown, and Thomas Coughlin, both for Burglary.
[New York Mercury - New York, New York, Monday, May 9, 1757, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]
David Brown was the son of Godfrey Brown.


At a Council held at Philadelphia, on Monday 23d of May, 1770.
Present: The Honourable JOHN PENN, Esquire, Lieutenant Governor, &ca. Benjamin Chew, James Tilghman, Lynford Lardner, Esquires.
The Governor laid before the Board a Transcript of a Record of the Conviction of Hugh Barclay for Burglary, by which it appeared that a Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Goal Deliver, held at New-Castle, for the County of New Castle, on Monday the 16th Day of April last, before John Vining, Richard McWilliam, Caesar Rodney, and David Hall, Esquires, Justices of the Supreme Court, and of the said Court of Oyer and Terminer, the said Hugh Barclay was tried and convicted of Felony and Burglary, committed in the Dwelling House of Richard McWilliam, Esquire, in the County of New Castle aforesaid on the 25th day of December last, and hath received Sentence of Death for the same.
"The said Record being taken into Consideration, and the said Justices having reported nothing in favour of the Criminal, The Governor, by the advice of the Board, issued a Warrant for his Execution on Saturday the ninth Day of June instant.
[Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania: October 15th, 1762, to 17th of October, 1771, Theo. Fenn & Co. Harrisburg, 1852, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]


At the Court of Oyer and Terminer and general gaol delivery held last week at New-Castle, Sarah Kirk was indicted for the murder of her husband, and found guilty. - Her Counsel moved for a new trial; because, one of the jury had not taken the oath of fidelity to the state, and the Court adjourned to consider the point until Monday the 18th instant. [Independent Gazetteer - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Wednesday, June 20, 1787, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]

. . . related news:
On Monday last came on at New-Castle (Delaware) before the court of oyer and terminer, the new trial of Sarah Kirk, for petty treason, in murdering her husband; when she was found guilty and condemned to be hanged, agreeable to the law lately passed for altering the punishment of that crime. [New York Morning Post - New York, New York, Wednesday, October 17, 1787, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]

. . . related news:
On Wednesday the 12th inst. Sarah Kirk was executed at New-Castle, State of Delaware. She behaved with those sentiments of penitence and resignation, which became her unhappy situation.
[Daily Advertiser - New York, New York, Thursday, December 27, 1787, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]




From our earliest infancy, we are taught to look to our war of independence, for examples of the purest self-devotion, and most exalted patriotism, which ever adorned the pages of a nation's history. Upon the brilliant actions of our ancestors, in that memorable struggle, time has set his seal; and admiring millions of their grateful sons, daily offer up at the shrine of liberty their orisons, for the perpetuation of the inestimable blessings, won by their valor, and transmitted to posterity. No one now, doubts, the high and holy motives, which impelled them to hazzard in the doubtful contest their fortunes and their lives. And the world has long since admitted the justice of their cause. Every child in the nation among the first words of his language should be learned to lisp the names of the heroes of the revolution; and be made familiar with their deeds of noble daring, in the cause of liberty and their country; that early appreciating, the worth of their inheritance, and the price paid for it, they may ever stand ready to defend it.

Removed as we are, far from those portentious days, which, as has been aptly said, "tried men's souls," we can now look back, and view through the calm medium of reason, the causes which led to the revolution; and the motives which actuated the different parties, which by their conflicting opinions and actions, convulsed the infant republic, and protracted the period of the consummation of its independence. A considerable portion of the people in all sections of the country, had a different notion of the causes which led to the sanguinary contest, from that entertained by the whigs. They had been educated in the belief that England was not only the greatest nation known to the world, but that she had also been a most kind mother, - watching with anxious solicitude over the safety and welfare of the infant colonies in the days of their weakness, and that it would be the height of ingratitude, now that they began to wax strong, to rend asunder their union, cemented as it was, by the ties of consanguinity, a common language, and like manners and customs. They were proud of their paternity, and did not believe the grievances complained of by the patriots, of sufficient consequence to warrant a resort to arms for their redress. They looked upon the whigs as traitors to their king, whose supremacy they believed themselves bound, as good subjects to maintain. Many of this class, at first, took sides with England; while others entertaining the same opinions, endeavored to maintain a strict neutrality.

For a time, the war, on the part of the patriots was. Conducted solely by the aid of volunteers. But their ranks, by losses in battle and other causes, began to grow thin; and it was considered indispensable to their success, to resort to drafts from the whole body of the militia, for the purpose of filling them up again. In carrying out this system, it would of course, often happen, that the lots would fall upon some, whose hearts were with the cause of the enemy against whom they were detailed to do battle. It should not therefore be a cause of wonder, that when these were compelled to mingle in the strife, they should prefer giving their aid to that side, with which their feelings were enlisted. And it is hardly to be doubted, but that the extreme measures of coercion resorted to in many instances by the whigs, was productive of far more evil to the cause than good; fur they often made active enemies of such as would have gladly remained quietly at their homes, pursuing their ordinary domestic avocations.

Two most violent parties were thus formed among the people; wholly dissimilar in their opinions and sentiments, and uncompromising in their hostility towards each other, And it is deeply to be deplored, that in those days there were false patriots, who called themselves whigs, eager to gain a name in arms without much risk of their persons. Of such, were some militia captains and their followers, who never joined the regular army, nor sought the enemy in their serried ranks, where fame was only to be found at the point of the bayonet, or the cannon's mouth; but whose time was wholly occupied in hunting and persecuting the unarmed and powerless, and commonly unresisting royalists. These were not of the heroes of the revolution; and to them and their memory we owe neither gratitude, nor veneration. When the tories as they were called, were attacked in their homes, when their property was pillaged and destroyed by these pretended patriots, they would some times attempt defending themselves. Upon which they were proclaimed traitors to their country - informations lodged against them in the criminal courts for treason, - and their persons dragged forward for trial. Indictments for treason were found against many of them; all of whom we believe were acquitted.

Among the cases alluded to above, there was one which from its sad consequences, seems to deserve recording, as a warning in all time to come, against the indulgence of party animosity, by which, reason is often dethroned, and blind unthinking vengeance rules in her stead. Even in our days of law and good government, in our calm moments of reflection, we are compelled to own to ourselves, that party feeling sometimes makes the best of us unjust. How much greater then, must have been its influence, when life and living were staked on the issue, and the only arbiter was the sword. No wonder then, that wrong and oppression sometimes took place in the sacred name of liberty. The case we mean, is that of Cheney Clow; against whom, in 1782 a charge of treason was made in the court at Dover, for Kent county; in pursuance of which a warrant for his arrest was issued, directed to John Clayton, Esq., then sheriff of said county. The sheriff having been informed that Clow had notice of the proceedings against him, and well knowing his character for courage, apprehended difficulty in arresting him, and therefore called to Lis assistance a considerable number of persons, whom he caused to be well armed, and proceeded at night to the house of Clow, which was situated in the forest of Kent about twelve miles from Dover. When he arrived there, he found the door closed and barred against his entrance. He made himself and his business known, and commanded Clow to open the door and surrender himself a prisoner. The summons was answered by the discharge from the house, of several muskets, none of which how ever took effect. The sheriff and some of his party immediately commenced in earnest to break down the door, with axes, and whatever other means was in their power, some using the buts of their guns for that purpose, while in the mean time those in the rear continued constantly firing at every part of the house where they supposed a ball might enter. The assailed during this time fired many shots in such rapid succession against the party, that they supposed he had gathered for his defence a number of friends. During the contest, a musket ball passed quite through the body of a man by the name of Moore, belonging to the sheriffs party, of which he died immediately; and another was wounded slightly, in the neck, the ball first striking the brass of his bayonet belt and glancing in that direction; by which circumstance it was supposed his life was saved. At length the door gave way; and the sheriff and his party rushed into the house, (over bedsteads, barrels, boxes, chairs and other lumber, with which the entrance had been barricaded,) seized and secured the delinquent. They were considerably surprized to find within, no one save Clow and his wife. She had as it appeared been moulding bullets, and there was then lead melting over the fire for the purpose of continuing that occupation. From the quick succession of shots fired by Clow, it was supposed that his wife kept constantly loading guns (of which several were found,) up to the time when their bullets gave out. She had received a serious wound in the breast, of which she made no complaint; nor did it impede her efforts to assist her husband in his defence. A fond, devoted, and confiding wife; she did not stop to consider the justice of the cause, but resigned herself to live or die with him, who, what ever he might be in the estimation of others, was more than all the world to her. Clow now asked permission to dress himself, which Mr. Clayton readily granted. He put on a full suit of British uniform, such as was then worn by captains in their army, and expressed his readiness to set off for his prison. The sheriff then secured him on a horse, placed him in the midst of his company and started in the direction of Dover.

When about half way from Clow's house to Dover, the sheriff and his company, were confronted by a furious militia captain and his troop of horse. The captain demanded his prisoner from Mr. Clayton, and swore he would hang him on the next tree. But Mr. Clayton, who was as brave as generous, determined to maintain the supremacy of the civil power against the military arrogance of the officer alluded to, and for which he was famous, and refused to deliver his prisoner to his hands. The sheriff was nobly supported by his men, and the discomfitted captain had to depart without effecting his sanguinary purpose. A violent quarrel was the consequence, between the civil and military officers, which was never made up during their lives. Mr. Clayton was justly indignant at the conduct of this lawless leader, who had thus openly avowed his intention to commit a murder on the body of his prisoner. The prisoner shortly after this interruption, was lodged securely in jail to await his trial.

A court of Oyer and Terminer was called expressly for the purpose of the trial of Clow, and held at Dover on the tenth day of December 1782, before William Killen and David Finney, justices of said court. An indictment for treason was found by the grand jury against the prisoner, and he was placed at the bar of the court for trial. He plead not guilty - exhibited a captain's commission in the British army, and placed himself upon the footing of a prisoner of war. He was acquitted. But so great was the excitement of the multitude against him, (of which feeling it is supposed the court in some degree participated,) that they demanded a continuance of his imprisonment; which it is thought was the cause of the following sentence which appears in the record, immediately after the entry of his acquittal. "Whereupon, it is considered by the court here, that the prisoner enter into a recognizance in the sum of ten thousand pounds, with two sureties, in the sum of five thousand pounds each, conditioned for the good behaviour of the said Cheney Clow, during the continuance of the war: that he pay the costs of prosecution, and stand committed until this judgment is complied with!" The amount of bail demanded, and the order of the court that he should pay the costs, precluded all possibility of his enlargement; for he was a poor man, and such friends as he had, were in like circumstances. While he was still detained in prison, his enemies fatally bent on his destruction, having failed to effect their purpose in his trial for treason, prefered against him a charge for the murder of Moore.

Again a court of Oyer and Terminer was called, and held before William Killen and John Jones, justices of said court, at Dover on the fifth day of May 1783; at which Cheney Clow was indicted by the grand jury, for the murder of Moore. The record of the trial and conviction, is in the following words: -
"The prisoner being brought to the bar and charged upon the indictment aforesaid, pleads not guilty; and for trial, puts himself upon God and his country, and Gunning Bedford, Esquire, attorney general, who follows for the said Delaware State in like manner. Whereupon, came a jury by the sheriff empannelled and returned to wit: - Rich'd. Banning, George Saxton, Caleb Furbee, Henry Bell, Robert M'Clyment, Thomas Emory, Ja's. Johnson, Ferdinand Casson, Waitman Furbee, John Brown, John Cole and Nathan Pratt, good and lawful men, who being tried, chosen, sworn and affirmed to say the truth in and upon the premises, do say, that they find Cheney Clow, the prisoner at the bar, is guilty of the murder whereof he stands indicted, and so they say all. Whereupon, it is considered by the court here, that the said Cheney Clow be taken from the place from whence he came, and from thence to the place of execution, and there be hanged by the neck until he is dead."

While the trial was proceeding, a Col. Pope officiously drew up a troop of horse before the court house, with a view, it was thought, of intimidating the jury; while a general clamor was raised out of doors for his conviction.

Clow undertook to defend himself on the grounds, that it was not proved that Moore was killed by him; that if he was, it was by accident and without malice, while defending himself; and that such killing could not be considered murder, even if proved against him; as he was at the time a British officer, and had the right to defend himself to the last extremity, against the citizens or soldiers of any other nation, who offered to deprive him of his liberty.

The evidence given by John Clayton, Esq., the sheriff, at the trial, was sufficient in itself to have insured Clow's acquittal, had due weight been allowed to it. It was in substance, that from the circumstances attending the death of Moore, he was fully of opinion, that he did not meet his death by a shot from Clow, but was accidentally killed by one of his own men, who was firing in the rear of some of the party among whom was Moore, at the time he fell. And he gave as a reason for the correctness of his opinion, that the hole in Moore's back, (the bullet having passed quite through his body) was small and smooth, while that in front, was much larger and ragged, or torn. Thus satisfying him that the ball must have entered his back; so that it was impossible it should have been fired from the house, as Moore's face was towards the house when he fell. And in this statement the sheriff was supported by such of his company as were examined.

It is said the only testimony which bore the semblance of evidence against him, was that of a certain John Bullen; who stated simply, that in a conversation he had with Clow in the jail, Clow said to him "that if he did kill Moore it was by accident." The testimony of Bullen was of very little consequence in itself; and taken in connexion with Mr. Clayton's testimony and those who agreed with him, it amounted to no evidence against Clow. But in the then state of high party excitement, it was enough, and was made the ground of the verdict of guilty against the prisoner.

At that time it was the duty of the governor to fix on the time and place of execution, and issue his warrant in accordance there with, to the sheriff of the county. The governor was greatly inclined to pardon Clow, for it is said he did not believe him guilty. The consequence was, that he kept respiting him from time to time; still delaying to issue his warrant, but deterred from granting his pardon by the clamors of the multitude who were exceedingly anxious for his execution. A few persons were bold enough to ask for his pardon, and strange as it may appear to us at this day, petitions were widely circulated and numerously signed, calling on the governor to cause him to be executed. So great was the fury of the people, that sheriff Clayton was in constant apprehension that they would attempt to break the jail, for the purpose of murdering his prisoner; to prevent which he slept in the same room with Clow, well armed, every night for many months; for Mr. Clayton was among the few who thought he ought not to suffer the punishment of death, for the murder of Moore, of which he believed him innocent, or for any other cause.

And here let us pause in the progress of our history, while we endeavor to account for the apparently savage disposition of the people towards Clow. We may perhaps find the causes of it in the state of the country at that time. The war, on the issue of which, they had staked their all, had been raging for seven years. They had not only been contending with a powerful foreign nation, but were much impeded in their operations, by the motions of a body of men living within their own borders; who were constantly acting as spies upon them, or openly taking part with the enemy. These they called tories, and to them attributed the protraction of the war; which had been so disastrous in its consequences. For they had not only become impoverished in their estates, but there was scarcely a man, who had not to mourn the death of some dear friend, or near relative, who had bravely fought and fell while nobly struggling for that independence, which they believed would have been long since attained, had that class of people to whom Cheney Clow belonged, instead of exerting their influence and power against their country, taken part, heart and hand, in its favor.

The vacillating course of the governor was so long continued, and Clow's mind kept in such constant inquietude, that life to him became a burthen. He was also under daily apprehensions from the violence of the people, who were constantly demanding their victim. Under this state of feeling he wrote to the governor either to grant his pardon at once, or send to the sheriff the warrant for his execution; for that life under the circumstances of his case was worse than death. On the receipt of this letter, the governor yielded to the dictates of the multitude, instead of the pleadings of mercy; and soon after, the sheriff received Clow's death warrant! It is said that Clow heard the news of his fate, with the utmost composure. His once indomitable spirit had been quelled. Life seemed to have lost in his eyes every charm; and his thoughts were wholly placed on another state of existence. His heart had become as soft as that of a little child. No more he asked for mercy; he complained of his fate no more, and uttered no reviling against the authors of his death. When the day, and the hour came for his execution, with a steady step he walked to the place appointed for that purpose, singing all the way in a clear and unbroken voice, a hymn which he had learned in the prison. While under the gallows, and in his last agony, a strange, but strong revulsion of feeling seized upon the crowd assembled to witness the last sad act of the tragedy, which they had labored so long and so hard to get up! And a late, but unavailing remorse, sunk deep into the hearts of many. Soon every one agreed, that Cheney Clow had fallen a victim to the ill-judging violence of party feeling - but the scene had closed, and repentance and mercy came too late, to prevent an act which must ever be deplored; and which ought to be ever remembered, as a warning against the madness of party spirit.

Among the few who would have saved the life of Clow, had it been in their power, was Caesar Rodney. The same who signed the declaration of independence; whose patriotism was undoubted; and who had recently been governor of the State. He declared on the day of the execution that he had never wished to be governor until then, and then only, for the sole purpose of having it in his power to pardon Clow.

His wife, who had so bravely participated in his defence, never deserted him. She continued to plead for his pardon up to the last hour of his life. She remained in Dover until he was taken down from the gallows, then departed with his lifeless body, which she interred, we know not where. The humble dwelling, the scene of his arrest, and of his exhibition of such daring bravery, untenanted, was suffered to fall to decay. In a deep, dark forest, apart from all other dwellings, near Kenton, in Little creek hundred, there yet remains a heap of logs, which are pointed out to the curious, as CHENEY CLOW'S FORT.
Source: The Delaware Register and Farmer's Magazine, From February to July, 1838. William Huffington, Dover, Delaware. Transcribed by Mary Kay Krogman.
See Bios for more information.


An excerpt from a saga-like article in an 1837 newspaper article:

Patty Cannon had a daughter who was a very handsome woman, and had been twice married. Her first husband was a notorious kidnapper, named Henry Bruinton, alias Brereton who died on the gallows; the second was Joe Johnson. In Bruinton's time Patty Cannon's house was frequently visited by persons from the South, who came to buy negroes; and the story was told and believed, nay, rendered certain, that many such persons, after visiting Patty, were never heard of again. At length the murderers came out, and the murderers were detected. Two traders, one of whom is named Ridgell, with a sum of money, came to Patty's one evening to purchase negroes; she artfully detained them by the kindest treatment, entertaining them with apple toddy and other gentle mixtures, while she sent out Bruinton and two men of the name of Griffin, to fall a tree across the Laurel road, to which town the travelers were destined.

When they were gone, Patty, dressed in men's clothes and armed with a musket, started by a short cut through the forest, to join the murderers. When the traders came to the tree their horses stopped, and all four of the murderers, who were lying in ambush, fired at once. Ridgell was shot through the body; but he had energy enough, for the moment, to defend his life, and being armed with pistols, he and his companion fired into the cover where the murderers were lying, and drove them from the field. Mr. Ridgell was carried by his friend to Laurel, where he died that night. Governour Haslett offered a reward for the murders, and they were all arrested. One of the Griffins turned state's evidence, and convicted his brother and Bruinton, who were hung. Patty, the fiend in human shape, escaped on account of her sex, a nolle prosequi [unwilling to pursue] having been entered.

After the execution of Bruinton and Griffin, the brother Griffin, the State's evidence, went into Maryland, where he murdered two men, the last of whom was Mr. Horsey, the postmaster at Snow Hill, in Worcester county . . . for the entire article, see Kent County, Delaware News (Crime)
[Ithaca Herald - Ithaca, New York, Wednesday, June 7, 1837, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]

Excerpts from "Daniel Rodney's Diary" narrow the dates: April 1813
- Saty 10 Captn Dills Company of 51 men came in from Kent - Coll Davis at the Shffs request detatched Cap Kolloch and 20 men to attend the Execution of Henry Brereton & ____ Griffin on Tuesday next at Geo Town - for the murder of _____ Ridgell of Carolina.

- Tues 13th The Montesq went up the Bay - Brereton and Griffin were hanged this day at Geo. Town abt 12 Oclock a great concourse of People attended from this and the adjoining Counties.
[Rodney's Diary and Other Delaware Records by Daniel Rodney, Published January 1911, Allen, Lane & Scott, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]


Execution for Murder. - On Thursday last, John Smith was executed at New Castle, Del., for the crime of murder. About eleven o'clock the prisoner was brought out of prison, dressed in the clothes for execution. An affecting discourse was delivered by the Rev. Mr. Dodge, from Proverbs 28:13 - after which, an appropriate address was made to the audience by the Rev. J. E. Latta. About one, the prisoner was taken back again to jail to prepare for execution. At half past two o'clock he ascended the cart, in which he was conveyed to the gallows, near a mile from the town, and at three was launched into eternity.
[Norwich Courier, Norwich, Connecticut, Wednesday, January 10, 1816, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]


At the Supreme Court, held last week, in Georgetown, Sussex county, in this State, a man by the name of WILLIAM PIPER, was brought to trial for the horrid crime of murdering his mother. His case was argued by the States Attorney Mr. Rodgers, for the State; and Messrs. Robinson and Wells for the criminal, but the evidence was so clear and conclusive against him, that the jury had withdrawn but a short time on Tuesday evening, before they returned with a verdict of GUILTY. On Wednesday morning the sentence of the law was pronounced against him, by his Honor Judge JOHNS, in his usual solemn and impressive manner, in the presence of a crowd of spectators, who appeared to be more affected than the miserable victim of infuriated passion. Delaware Gazette, March 29.
[City Gazette, Charleston, South Carolina, Thursday, April 6, 1820, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]

. . . related news:

A man by the name of William Piper was hanged at Germantown, Del. on the 18th ult. for the horrid crime of matricide which he perpetrated during a fit of intoxication.
[Vermont Intelligencer, Bellows Falls, Vermont, Monday, May 8, 1820, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]



Dover, (Del.) Dec. 13.
Saturday the 5th of January next is appointed for the execution of Henry Barratt. The venerable chief Justice, in pronouncing the sentence of the law, was affected to tears. But the prisoner manifested a degree of carelessness and unconcern, which evinced a consummation of depravity entirely disproportioned to his years. And what is very remarkable, his career of vice is said to have been short.

We are informed that this poor fellow, now probably not more than twenty one years of age, had until lately sustained the reputation of a faithful servant, and exhibited the marks of at least an ordinary good disposition. That about a year before he committed the crime for which he is now justly doomed to the gallows, he was allured into the company of a gang of unprincipled negroes, who frequented a tippling house kept by one of them in the neighborhood of his master.

And in one short year this company, and this tippling house prepared a youth, apparently not worse than others in his situation, not only to take the life of an unoffending fellow slave; but to accompany that murder with the most shocking atrocities, and meet the legal consequences with a remorseless indifference. Are not these fact a practical commentary on the effect of tippling houses? A loud call upon society to exterminate these sinks of wickedness which are now planted in almost every neighborhood.
[Alexandria Gazette (Virginia), Friday, December 28, 1821, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]

. . . related news:

On Saturday the 5th ult. was executed at Dover, (Del.) Henry Barrett a negro, for the murder of Henry Douglass. The conduct of the unfortunate man while under the gallows, showed he was perfectly resigned to his fate, and no doubt is entertained, but he has exchanged this world for a happier one. - Wilmington, (Del.) Gaz.
[Nantucket Inquirer (Massachusetts) Thursday, February 7, 1822, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]

. . . related news:

Note: Likely a reporting error with the names switched . . . a separate article in the National Advocate, New York, January 18, 1822 states "A negro named Henry Douglass, was executed for murder, on the 5th inst. In Dover, (Del.)."


Jacob Elliott the negro who stabbed John Kean in September last, in Wilmington Del. was executed near New Castle, on the 31st ult.
[Alexandria Herald, Alexandria, Virginia, Friday, January 10, 1823, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]


GEORGETOWN, (Del.) June 13.
A murder of a very atrocious nature was committed in Nanicoke hundred, Sussex county, Del., and within a few miles of Georgetown, on the morning of the 1st inst. The horrid deed was committed by Elisha Sharp, who in the morning got up, leaving his wife and child of little more than a year old, asleep. After putting out the fire in his house, sending his daughter to procure more fire, and his son to feed his cattle, he beat his wife and child with an axe helve until they were dead. The son suspecting his father, returned, and peeped through some of the crevices, and observed his mother raise her arm to her head; he ran immediately to his uncles who lived neighbor; but before they reached Sharp's house, the dreadful deed was done. The wife's head was much fracture; the child's bruised, but the bones unbroken. Whilst the coroner was holding his inquest, Sharp, who had fled to the woods, came to the house and gave himself up. He was brought to this place, confessed his guilt, and committed to prison. From information received from his neighbours, and his own confession, he committed the act in a fit of jealousy, and killed the child, because, as he says, it is not his, and he did not wish it to heir his property; but his wife has always borne an irreproachable character among her neighbours.

Sharp had always been remarkably industrious; borne the character of an honest and upright man in his dealings, and he has accumulated a handsome property
[National Gazette - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Saturday, June 18, 1825, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]

. . . related news:

The trial of Elisha Sharpe, (who was some months ago committed to jail in Georgetown, Delaware, for the murder of his wife and child,) terminated on the 11th inst. The jury brought in a verdict of guilty. - Ib.
[Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) November 2, 1825 - Submitted by Nancy Piper]



GEORGETOWN, De., Oct. 14 - The Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol Delivery, commenced in this place on Monday last, Chief Justice Harrington, and Judges Davis and Dingle, on the bench, for the trial of Robert Morris, charged with the murder of Capt. Charles Hilborn, who was murdered in August last on board the brig Mary, then lying the Delaware Bay, off Lewistown. Attorney General Frame, on the part of the State, and Caleb S. Layton, Esq., Counsel for the prisoner. - The trial was ably conducted on both sides. The prisoner's Counsel displayed much talent and ingenuity, but nothing could withstand the overwhelming evidence that was produced against him. The Jury, after having attentively listened to the charge of the Chief Justice, which was eloquently delivered, and displayed a profound knowledge of the law, retired but for a short time, and returned with a verdict of Guilty of the awful crime of murder.

Anderson, who was charged with being an accomplice in the foul deed, was brought in yesterday to receive his trial. The Jury, after having heard all the evidences which could be produced against him, which was entirely insufficient to convict him, retired but for a few minutes, and returned with a verdict of Not Guilty.

Robert Morris was yesterday afternoon brought into Court, and was sentenced by Chief Justice Harrington, to be hung on TUESDAY, the 8th of November next. The sentence was delivered in a very affecting and appropriate manner. [Evening Post - New York, New York, Tuesday, October 18, 1831]

. . . related news:

In Sussex County (Del.) Court, on the 11th ultimo, Robert Morris, a sailor, was tried and found guilty of the murder of Capt. Charles Hilborn, of the brig Mary of Philadelphia. The M. was bound to Cuba, and the murder, as has here of re been stated, was committed when the brig had proceeded down the Delaware to Lewistown Roads. [Georgian - Savannah, Georgia, Friday, November 4, 1831]

. . . from another source:

Remarks. - Robert Morris was an Englishman by birth, was shipped at Philadelphia whilst in a state of intoxication and on being ordered from his berth whilst opposite Lewistown, in the Delaware Bay, was pulled by the captain from the berth in which he was lying, and then stabbed the captain with a long Spanish knife. He was a man of remarkable muscle, and of great firmness. He walked to the gallows and adjusted the cord about his neck, telling the sheriff where the best place was to fix the know. The rope broke, in consequence of his request that the sheriff would make the drop long, to kill him instantly. On being taken up again, he offered to place the rope over the hook, remarking, that he would die like a man, and without a struggle. Such was indeed the fact; he never exhibited the least appearance of fear, nor moved a muscle, that could be discovered.

He stated, after his convition for murder, that he had no intention to kill Captain Hilburn, but that he shipped on board the brig whilst intoxicated, and when he became more sober, he wanted to be set on shore, as he was not pleased with being on board so small a vessel and weak manned, having been accustomed to being on board of men-of-war, having been on a four years' cruise with Commodore Hull, of the United States service, who could, if present, testify to his good behaviour and undoubted bravery.

I certify the above statements to be truths taken from the record and personal conversation myself with Robert Morris. In testimony of which I have hereunto set my hand, this 27th February, 1840 at Georgetown, Delaware, JOSHUA S. LAYTON.
[American Phrenological Journal, published by The Proprietors, 1840, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]


On Monday afternoon, a colored man named Thomas Morgan was executed at New Castle, Delaware, for the murder of Joseph Spencer, his brother-in-law.
[National Gazette, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Saturday, June 22, 1839, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]



HUNG. - Perry Bailey, the negro convicted of rape on Mary Ann Sythens, a white woman, was hung in Delaware, on Wednesday last, at the intersection of the Hare's Corner road and a road leading toward Wilmington, a mile or two north-west of New Castle. He died almost on the instant, the drop being very high.
[Baltimore Sun - Saturday, February 10, 1849, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]

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