Executions in Poughkeepsie
During the week ending Nov. 4, 1806, at a Court held in the
Village of Poughkeepsie, Judge Daniel D. Tompkins presiding, Jesse Wood, was tried and
convicted for the murder of his son, Joseph Wood, and sentenced to be executed on the 5th
of the following December. The circumstances attending the murder were these: Joseph and
his brother were engaged in a quarrel. The dispute rose to such a pitch that Joseph shot
his brother, fatally wounding him. The father hearing the report of the gun, hastened to
the scene and found one of them upon the ground bleeding, and Joseph standing over him
with a gun. The father snatched the weapon away, and each tried to assist the wounded
brother. In this position they were discovered by other parties, and the brother soon
expired. At the trial Joseph accused his father of having committed the deed, and th
father strenuously accused the son. The wounded brother was unable to tell which was the
guilty one; as the father had the gun in his hand when first seen, the preponderance of
evidence was against him, and he was executed. Joseph some years after, when on his death
bed, confessed that he himself was the murderer, and that his father was innocent of the
crime for which he was hung.
A man named Shaffer was tried about the same time, having murdered his sister by splitting
her skull open with an ax. The evidence being conclusive, he too was sentenced to suffer
the extreme penalty of the law.
Executions in those days took place in public, and were made the occasions of a general
gathering of the people for miles around. The gallows on which Shaffer and Wood were hung
was erected on the grounds a short distance below the southern terminus of South Hamilton
street, between the residence of Hon. J. O. Whitehouse and Springside. Thousands upon
thousands were present, covering all the surrounding elevations.
The morning of the execution opened bright and clear. Joseph Thorn, Sheriff of Duchess
County, had previously issued an order to Capt. Slee, directing him to parade his company
of artillery, for the purpose of escorting the condemned to the place of execution. At
about 10 o'clock, the Sheriff entered the cell of the prisoners, which was on the lower
floor of the old court house, where he found them in charge of their spiritual advisers,
and apparently resigned to their fate. After securing their limbs, to prevent their
escape, the Sheriff led them forth into the corridor, where they were permitted to take
final leave of their friends. Then, accompanied by the ministers, they were taken outside,
placed in a close carriage, and driven to the scaffold.
The prisoners approached the fatal instrument with a firm step, and retained their nerve
to the last. Everything being in readiness, and the condemned were at once placed upon the
gallows, which was of the old drop style. Jesse Wood, to the last, persisted in declaring
his innocence; and the spectators were greatly shocked at this apparent hardened iniquity
in giving utterance to what they supposed a falsehood at the very threshold of eternity.
The death warrant was read to the condemned, followed by prayer by the clergymen. After
being permitted to shake hands with those who accompanied them, the black cap was drawn,
and they were launched into another world. We believe those to have been the last public
executions in Duchess County.
General History of Duchess County, 1609 to 1876,
by Philip H. Smith, Pawling, NY, 1877, pgs.
354 - 356.