Genealogy Trails

Wayne County, Indiana


    There have been two cases of conviction for murder in this county. The first of these murders was committed by Henry Crist, in the killing of Chambers, his son-in-law. The parties lived in the township of Washington. Chambers's wife had repeatedly made complaint to her father of ill treatment by her husband. Crist went to the house of Chambers, and at¬tacked him with a butcher knife. Chambers ran; and, while running, Crist seized a rifle which hung over the door, and shot him: he fell, and, in a few moments, expired without speaking. A neighbor, Mrs. Flint, was present and witnessed the deed. Crist was arrested, and put into the jail at Salisbury. This jail was made of square, hewed logs, some of which may yet be seen lying near the house of Enoch Rails-back. The principal witnesses were his wife, a young son, his daughter [Mrs. Chambers,] and Mrs. Flint. He was found guilty, and sentenced to be hung. The people from the remotest parts of the county attended to witness the execution.

    The prisoner was conveyed to the gallows in a wagon, seated on his coffin. Daniel Fraley, a Methodist minister, yet remembered by some of the old settlers, standing in the wagon, preached a sermon to the people. At its close the rope was adjusted around his neck, the cap drawn over his face, and the wagon drawn from under him—a mode of execution not practiced at the present time. The murder was committed in the autumn of 1815, and the execution took place on the first of April, 1816.

    To the foregoing statement, principally taken from Rev. Ira, C. Smith's book, before referred to, we subjoin the following:

    When Crist's son, a youth of about fifteen, was called to the witness' stand on the part of the prosecution, Crist said to him: "Now, sou, tell the truth, though it may convict your father." It is said this son, after the execution of his father, took charge of the body, and conveyed it home on a sled, in the night, and alone, through the woods, a distance of ten or twelve miles.

    An account of the second murder trial and execution, was written for the Indiana True Republican, in 1867, which is in substance as follows:

    Hampshire Pitt was tried in November, 1822, for the murder of William Mail. Both parties were colored men. The murder occurred on the farm now owned by Thomas C. Straw-bridge, about four miles north of Richmond, on the Newport turnpike. Says the writer: "Pitt lived with a woman ostensibly his wife, between whom and Mail he suspected an improper intimacy. His suspicions were thought to be well founded, and there was for him, on that account, considerable sympathy. Though a bad man, he was a smart, plausible old fellow. He was a tinker by trade, and therefore a useful man. Traveling, as he did, among the people, mending their old pewter ware, and supplying them with new plates, basins, &c, and withal making himself agreeable, he had become quite a favorite. A large part of the bone and muscle of the young Hoosiers of that day is made up of mush and milk partaken from basins of his manufacture. For one, I am ready to acknowledge the full extent of my obligations in this respect,"

    Pitt meeting Mail, and being greatly enraged, cried out to him as he advanced, " You are there, are you ? Bill Mail, you have been in the habit of calling me old man; my name is
Hampshire Pitt, or General Pitt; and if you call me old man again I will put this through you!" flourishing at the same time a dagger, with which he almost instantly stabbed him to the heart. He was promptly arrested and confined in the old log jail at Centerville, which stood immediately east of the place where the present jail stands.

    He was tried and found guilty; but Associate Judges McLane and Davenport, over the objections of Judge Eggleston, granted a new trial. The next jury rendered a similar verdict.

    The day of execution was a very unpleasant one; yet thousands of men, women, and children flocked to witness the scene. A rude scaffold was erected, under which the doomed man was driven in a cart. There was no trap-door or other arrangement to give him a fall, thereby breaking his neck and shortening his suffering. The rope was adjusted and the cart drawn on, leaving him suspended until he was dead.

    Before the day of his execution, Pitt engaged another colored man, by giving him his horse, to take charge of his body and see it interred. Having got the horse, the colored man sold the body for ten dollars in advance, to two physicians for dissection, and left the country. Pitt having been informed o£ the fact, sent for Christopher Roddy, who promised to take charge of the body after the execution, and keep it from the physicians. At the execution, Roddy was present with a coffin on a sled, and the physicians with a wagon without a coffin. After the body was cut down, a struggle for the body ensued, and Roddy prevailed. He conveyed the body in the coffin to his home in Salisbury, and guarded it through the night, and buried it the next day. But fearing the body might be found, he disinterred it the next night, and, it is said, carried it on his shoulder, without the coffin, some seven miles and buried it in the woods. The next day he felled a number of forest trees across the grave; and the doctors never got the body.

    Roddy is reputed as having been an intemperate, profane, and very wicked man. But he seems not to have entirely lost his sense of honor, having faithfully fulfilled his engagement with Pitt. He was a Revolutionary soldier, and had served during the whole period of the war.

     Allusion was made to the criminal code of Indiana territory, which authorized whipping for certain crimes. The writer in the True Republican, who, in the winter of 1866, from his review of the recorded proceedings of " The Courts in the early times in Wayne County " has furnished most of the information respecting the two cases of murder, informed us also that whipping, as a punishment for crime, was legal, as late as the year 1820. The following was the judgment of the court in the case of a conviction for larceny: "It is considered that the defendant do make his fine to the state in the sum of five dollars, and that he restore to said
the said one dollar and fifty cents, in silver, and one ten dollar note on the Lebanon Banking Company, of the value of ten dollars, and that he receive on his bare back five lashes. This part of the penalty, however, was remitted by the governor.

Source: History of Wayne County, Indiana by Andrew W. Young 1872

Return To The Main Index Page