Murders and Executions in Poughkeepsie

Transcribed by Debbie Axtman

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Murders and 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.

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Transcribed by Debbie Axtman

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Copyright Dutchess, ALHN October 10, 1999

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