Archive for June 21st, 2010

Joseph Damon – A Murderer Swung Twice

June 21, 2010

AN EXECUTION.

A man named JOSEPH DAMON, was executed at Mayville, Chautauque county, New York, on the fifteenth ult. for the murder of his wife.

He walked from the jail to the gallows, ascended the scaffold unassisted and with a firm step, and remained calmly seated there, while a sermon was delivered by a clergyman. He then rose and addressed the assembly in a speech of about thirty minutes, being for the most part a repetition of previous statements, that witnesses had sworn falsely, and that if his wife came to her death by his hands he must have been insane, as he had no recollection of committing any act of violence toward her.

Having shaken hands with the officers and gentlemen on the scaffold, the halter being adjusted and the cap drawn over his face, he was swung off, but the rope slipping from its fastness on the beam above, he dropped upon the ground with but little or no injury to himself. —

He merely observed that he wished they would loosen the rope around his neck as he “wanted to breathe once more.”

The sheriff complied with his wish, and Damon re-ascended the scaffold, and, during the adjustment of the rope the second time, he intreated, “that is be done quick.”

He was then swung off the second time, and thus, with a few struggles, closed the career of Joseph Damon. It is stated that about fifteen thousand persons witnessed the execution!

The Peoples Press (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Jun 5, 1835

Fredonia, NY (Image from http://imagesofwny.com)

OLD TIME HANGINGS.

Executions In Those Days Caused Much Interest — Witnessed By Large Crowds.

The executions of the present are very different from those of 75 or 80 years ago. In those days the affair was public and always attracted large crowds. In the Jamestown Journal of last week, was a description of the hanging of Joseph Damon at Mayville on May 15, 1835, as told by the late Henry S. Aiden, shortly before his last illness, he being an eye-witness to the affair:

Mr. Aiden was then a boy about 14 years old and like hundreds of others was early on the ground to see and hear all that took place. It became a holiday for the people of Chautauque county. From every point of hte compass came wagon loads of men, women and children, all hurrying to reach Mayville. Not one in that crowd by look or tune showed any sign of the solemnity of the occasion.

A wagon, containing a coffin was backed up to the jail door. At the appointed time with a slow step Mr. Damon, attended by officers, came out and was helped to a seat in the wagon. The state guards had been called out for the occasion and were drawn up in two lines, one on either side of he wagon with a band, consisting of fife and muffled drums.

When all was in readiness the musicians played what has since been known as Damon’s March and led the way to the scaffold, erected on the hillside near the present site of the high school building. The guard formed a circle about the scaffold and stood with fixed bayonets. Rev. Sawyer preached the funeral sermon from Prov. 11:19. Mr. Damon listened with marked attention and at its close made some remarks, warning the young to abstain from intoxicating drink.

Assisted by Sheriff Saxton and other officers the prisoner was led up four or five steps and placed on the trap, the rope adjusted and the trap sprung. The falling of the body followed by the cry: “You have hung me once, now let me go,” unnerved the boy of 14 years and when the rope was again adjusted he could bear the sight no longer and turned his face away.

While he was being jostled about in the crowd which he said was the largest he had ever seen, he heard two men discussing the scene. One remarked that he thought it a pretty poor place for women and children. The remark was overheard by a woman who snarled in a not very pleasing tone:

“I have just as good a right here as you have.”

The crowd dispersed, the first execution in the county completed, and the last public execution in the state.

The body was turned over to three men who represented the family and who started in a two-horse wagon for some point in the northern part of the county.

Eight miles from Mayville the three men became thirsty and stopping at the John West tavern refreshed themselves with a liberal supply of whiskey.

LeRoy Gazette (LeRoy, New York) Jun 22, 1908

The first murder trial to be held in the county did not come until 1834, more than thirty years after the first settlement, and was one of the last trials to be held in the old court house. On the 24th day of April, 1834, Doctors Walworth and Crosby, of Fredonia, were called to the residence of Joseph Damon, about three miles from the village. There a terrible tragedy had been enacted. The wife of Joseph Damon was found on a bed with face, hair and pillow on which she lay stiff with her clotted blood. The blood smeared fire poker, which then stood near the fireplace, was unmistakable evidence of the instrument used to commit the horrible deed.

Damon’s trial occured on September 22, 1834. Judge Addison presided, with Hon. Philo Orton, Thomas B. Campbell, Benjamin Walworth and Artemus Herrick, judges of the county court, as associates. Samuel A. Brown, district attorney, and Sheldon Smith, of Buffalo, appeared as counsel for the People, while the prisoner was defended by James Mullett and Jacob Houghton, of Fredonia. Damon was convicted, and sentence of death was pronounced at the oyer and terminer held in March, 1935.

On the 15th of May following, a gallows had been erected in the open field at Mayville, on the west declivity of the hill, not far from the present Union school building. The sheriff, William Saxton, called out the Two Hundred Seventh regiment of the militia, with William D. Bond in command, to serve as a guard on this occasion. A public execution took place; men, women and children from all part of the county came to witness the scene on foot, horseback, and in wagons, the day having been made a general holiday; the number of spectators was estimated at from eight to fifteen thousand. When the drop fell, the fastenings of the rope broke away, and Damon fell to the ground.

He then appealed to the sheriff to postpone the execution, but public sentiment had not reached the deep aversion to legal public executions, and the rope was readjusted and the hanging was completed. This was the last public execution to take place in Chautauqua county.

Title: Legal and Judicial History of New York, Volume 3
Authors: Lyman Horace Weeks, John Hampden Dougherty
Editor: Alden Chester
Publisher: National Americana society, 1911
Pages 305-306 (Google book LINK)