An NYCHS Timeline
Executions by Hanging
in New York State

(Page 6: 1807 -1812)

With links to more information on selected cases.

Can you fill any data gaps? Please e-mail webmaster Thomas C. McCarthy at


On Aug. 28 James McLean had to be, in effect, hanged twice in order that the death sentence imposed on his conviction for murder be carried out. His "double hanging" was ironically fitting since he apparently had killed two men even though he was tried for the murder of only one of them.

The first courthouse west of the Genesee River was built in Batavia in 1802 and opened to proceedings in 1803. It included the court room, jail, county offices, and a tavern. The McLean case was the Genesse County courthouse's first murder trial.

The strange story of Genesee County's first public execution had its beginning one 1807 spring day when some workmen were laying out a road in a Caledonia section known then as Duncan McColls but today called Graney Road. McLean charged that a whitewood tree on what he claimed as his property had been felled by William Orr in laying out the road.

Words were exchanged, tempers rose and McLean felled Orr with two blows of an ax. Another man, Archibald McLaughlin, tried to minister to the fallen Orr and reproached McLean. That fanned McLean's rage still more and he also axed McLaughlin to death.

Then McLean hid in a hollow log in the woods and eluded search parties organized by townsmen who had been told by a teenage member of the McColl family what he had witnessed -- the two axe murders.

Judge Ezra Platt called out the militia. The manhunt lasted several days and extended into neighboring counties. Eventually the suspect was arrested in a tavern near Canandaigua in Ontario County.

The prisoner was brought to Batavia to await trial. Begun in June 1897, with Judge Daniel D. Tompkins presiding, it was the first murder case tried in the courthouse that had opened in 1803, about two years after Genesee County was established.

As a squatter aka "alien," McLean was not part of the land-owning class aka freeholders. He nevertheless was assigned eminent counsel, "Judge" Nathaniel W. Howell. That attorney immediately demanded that his client be tried by a jury of his peers and argued an all-landed jury could not satisfy that constitutional right. As a consequence, Howell won for McLean a jury, half freeholders and half squatters. Nonetheless, that more representative jury still convicted the defendant.

A black ash tree was cut in two to form the gallows posts set up at a spot that later became the rear yard of C. H. Turner & Son general market. Decades later the stumps of the post were still visible.

The execution drew hundreds into the town from the surrounding areas. What they witnessed was bizarre, if not gruesome. McLean had to be hanged twice because the first time the rope broke. For the second attempt, a bed cord, obtained from a nearby house, was wound double for extra strength and succeeded in sending the condemned to a sleep from which he did not wake in this life.

Genesee County in the 19th century executed seven people using the gibbet. An old county gibbet was found in a barn in Oakfield in 1982. Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia that same year added a small room to the back of its West Wing to house a display of the historic 12.5 foot high county gallows.



A white male named Alpheus Hitchcock, a music teacher, was hanged Sept. 11 for murdering his wife.

After being arrested for fatally poisoning his wife, Hitchcock was brought from his town of Madison to the jail in Whitestown and then tried in a court set up in Judge Smalley's barn in Sullivan.

Convicted, he was later brought to Cazenovia for the execution because the general consensus at the time held that location was the appropriate community to be designated the county seat, although it did not yet have a county jail or court.

Jeremiah Whipple was sheriff. The gallows was set up a half mile east of the village in a farm field opposite to where the Town & Country Plaza is now on NY 20 East.

His execution was the first after the 1806 formation of Madison County.

The first brick courthouse built after the county seat designation became offical held its first proceedings in 1812 but five years later Morrisville became the county seat.

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A black male named Benjamin Tuin was hanged for murder.*


Two men --Rufus Hill and Thomas Qua were both hanged on Aug. 12 for murder.*


A male laborer named Winslow Russell was hanged July 19 for murder.*

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An illustration of Seneca County's first courthouse in Ovid Village from Wayne Morrison's reprint of the 1876 History of Seneca County, New York, 1786-1876 on the Seneca County, NYGenWeb site.

Although not listed in ESPY, the Sept. 6, 1811 hanging of John Andrews for murder was first public execution in Seneca County, according to the Seneca County, NYGenWeb site's excerpts from Wayne Morrison's reprint of the 1876 History of Seneca County, New York, 1786-1876.

Andrews had becn charged with killing John Nichols, an employee in the Andrew Dunlap distillery about a mile and a half outside Ovid Village. Andrews was accused of hitting Nicholas with a club because the victim had refused to give him some whiskey for doing an odd job.

Judge Joseph C. Yates, who later became governor, presided at the June trial in the Ovid courthouse. That first official county building had been completed, with its jail, in 1808, about four years after the county was established. [By the way, New York's Yates County is named in honor of Governor Joseph C. Yates, who approved the act establishing the county.]

Andrews was convicted and sentenced to be hanged "at the Court-House in Ovid Village, on the first Friday in September next."

The gallows was built near the court house so that the very specific sentence could be carried out. The execution took place there under the supervision of Seneca County Sheriff Lewis Birdsall of Junius and Deputy Sheriff Henry Guliek of Lodi, assisted by local militia on hand for controlling the thong near the courthouse and scaffold.

Some spectators had gotten onto nearby rooftops or tree branches.A few fathers held their children high on their shoulders to see better. Afterwards, the gallows stumps served as local landmarks.

1812 A white male named George Hart was executed Jan. 3 for murder.*

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More 'Timeline on NYS Executions' under construction.

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