An NYCHS Timeline
Executions by Hanging
in New York State

(Page 7: 1813 - 1815)

With links to more information on selected cases.

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

Re-enactors fire their 1812 replica rifles at Sackets Harbor Battlefield state park. Sackets Harbor historic sites include Pike's Cantonment near where solider James Dougherty is said to have killed John Wait. During the War of 1812 and its aftermath, eight soldiers were executed in New York State. Four were killed by firing squad for desertion and their bodies hung as an example to others. A British soldier was hanged as a spy. The remaining three soldiers -- including Dougherty -- were hanged for separate murders.
A soldier, Thomas Burns, was hanged on June 4 for murder.*
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On August 6, a soldier, James Dougherty, was hanged for the murder of John Wait. The execution took place at Plattsburgh near the lake shore on the "Boynton Road." The condemned man's body was given to the medical society.

Wait, who lived in Salmon River, was killed as he returned from delivering wood to Pike's Cantonment. The nature of the Dougherty-Wait encounter that led to the murder remains an open question.

The cantonment or encampment along the Saranac River derived its colloquial name from the fact that after Congress had declared war on Britain in 1812, U.S. 6th, 15th and 16th Regiments were stationed at Plattsburgh under Col. (later General) Zebulon Pike.

Naming a camp for him must have seemed only natural, given that his 1806 exlorations in what is now Colorado led to its famous peak being named for him.

Pike's Cantonment (see X above left) at the Saranac River was near the road to Salmon River.

While not the highest mountain in the state (30 others are taller), its Manitou and Pike's Peak Railway is the world's highest cog railroad and highest train in the U.S. The vista from Pike's Peak prompted Wellesley College English professor and minister's daughter, Katharine Lee Bates, to write her poem (later set to music) "America the Beautiful."

Zebulon Montgomery Pike

The War of 1812 U.S. troops at Plattsburgh, after months of living in tents, were able to begin construction of log barracks on Nov. 28, 1812. The encampment, known variously as as Camp Saranak, Camp Plattsburgh, Cantonment Sarenac and Pike's Cantonment, was the scene of much sufferiing and many deaths during the long winter. Pike himself took ill.

By following spring, he recovered sufficiently to lead his men into battle at Fort York, Toronto. He was killed there April 27, 1813, when a powder magazine exploded. He was 34 years old. For more, visit:


The city of Fort Smith, Ark., takes its name from the military installation around which it grew. The fort was named after its 1817 founder, Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Smith, who three years earlier, among other War of 1812 duties at Plattsburgh, N.Y., presided at the William Baker court martial.

On March 25, 1814, British Army (103rd regiment of Infantry) sergeant William Baker, was tried by a general court martial presided over by Brigadier General Thomas A. Smith at Plattsburgh, N. Y. Baker was convicted of spying and sentenced to be hanged.

The execution was carried out the next day on a sand ridge between Court and Brinkerhoff Street. For many years afterward, boys on still moonlight nights would go to the place where the gallows had stood and shout three times "Baker, for what was you hung?" Some claimed to hear the wind whistle back "N-o-t-h-i-n-g."

The fort that Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Smith established near the junction of the Poteau and Arkansas Rivers became a major post for something approaching peace, law and order in the so-called Indian Territories. The fort also became part of the legendary Old West. It is featured in many Westerns, including Clint Eastwood's "Hang 'Em High" and John Wayne's "True Grit."

Baker's presiding military trial judge, Thomas Adam Smith, was originally from Virginia and Georgia. He had attained second lieutenant rank in 1803 and advanced to lieutenant colonel in 1810 while on duty in Flordia. When the War of 1812 developed, he joined the Army of the North under Gen.William Henry Harrison.

On May 4, 1814, General George Izard took command of the right wing of the Army of the North. His Plattsburgh headquarters staff included Smith who had been promoted to brigadier-general four months earlier. It was after that promotion but before Izard took command that Smith presided at the Baker court martial.

In June, Izard sent a light brigade of about 1,400 men under Smith to occupy the village of Champlain five miles below the Canada line. As the war drew to a close, Gen. Smith was assigned to the Ninth Military District at St. Louis. In May, 1816, Smith established, in what is now Illinois, Fort Armstrong on Rock Island. The location had first been charted as a possible fort site a decade earlier by then Lt. Zebulon Montgomery Pike during his explorations of Mississippi River territories.

For 21 years, starting in 1875, Judge Isaac C. "Hanging Judge" Parker held sway in the Fort Smith courthouse. The illustration above depicts a Fort Smith execution during the Parker era.

In 1817, Smith established another fort, this near the junction of the Poteau and Arkansas Rivers. The military installation and the city that grew up around it became the Fort Smith. so much embedded in the history and legends of the Old West, including but not limited to "Hanging Judge" Isaac C. Parker. The number sentenced to death at Fort Smith by Parker is given by the National Park Service as 160 and the number of those actually hanged as 79. Other sources put the actual Parker-sentence hangings at 88. Deputy Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Carburn of True Grit was a fictional character intended as a composite of the federal lawmen working in Judge Parker's court and, therefore in a sense, "working for Judge Parker."

Gen. Smith resigned from the army in 1818, to become Receiver of Public Moneys at New Franklin, Mo. By about 1825, he was able to acquire a large tract of land in Saline County, Mo. where he established a plantation he called "Experiment." He died there in 1844.

For more, visit:

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On June 4, 1814, four American soliders were shot for desertion and their bodies hung on display as a warning to the other troops. ESPY lists their names as John Black, Mahlon Christie, George Orcote, and Isaac Kent.

Other sources provide no names but give more details about the execution and the background circumstances. However, some variations arise even though most seem to agree on some main points. ESPY dates the 4-soldier exection as June 4, 1814, whereas one account places it happening in the spring of 1812 and yet another has it taking place not long after New Year's Eve 1813.

Roadside historical marker calling attention to the War of 1812 Flint Hill Encampment. Although not noted on the sign, the general region includes where four deserters were shot and hung as a warning to other troops.

The History of the Parkside Area and Community declares that:

The newly incorporated Village of Buffalo was burned to the ground on New Year's Eve in 1813. Its 400 residents fled to the Granger and Chapin farms in Flint Hill and the Buffalo Plains area, which was to become Parkside. Troops stationed at Granger's farm suffered through the winters with epidemics and starvation causing hundreds of deaths.To discourage any further desertions, five deserters were shot and hung near what now is the intersection of Crescent and Florence avenues in Parkside.

The Flint Hill and the War of 1812 quotes a soldier's letter reporting, "Four for desertion and one for mutiny have lately been shot at the camp, which nearly caused a rebellion." The Friends of Flint Hill history brochure notes differences concerning the exact location of the execution:

Both pioneers, Barton Atkins and William Hodge recalled this first execution in Buffalo as taking place underneath a large oak on the grounds of the camp across from the present corner of Dewey and Main Streets. Another account places the site near the present corner of Florence and Crescent Avenues. In any case, it was under a large oak in the spring of 1812 that soldiers knelt in a row to be shot for desertion. Their bodies were then hung to discourage others who might have the same idea.

Cover of the study guide for use with Galafilm's award winning 4-part educational documentary series "The War of 1812."

One of the most detailed accounts comes from a biography attributed to Jarvis Hanks from Pittsford, Otsego County, who recounts starting his War of 1812 service as a drummerboy. This very readable report, featured on Galafilm Multimedia's excellent "The War of 1812" site, indicates that the execution took place in 1814. The Hanks narative also helps explain the confusion over the number shot; that is, why some accounts say five, some say four. According to Galafilm's Hanks:

Five men were sentenced to be publicly shot for the offence of desertion. They were dressed in white robes with white caps upon their heads, and a red target fastened over the heart. The army was drawn up into a hollow square to witness the example that was about to be made of their comrades who had proved recreant to the regulations of the service.

Galafilm illustration
of War of 1812 drummerboy
Jarvis Hanks.

Five graves were dug in a row, five coffins placed near them, also in a line, with distance between coffins and graves to enable the criminals to kneel between them. About twelve men were assigned to the execution of each offender. Their guns were loaded by officers, and they were not permitted to examine them afterwards until they had fired.

All things being in readiness, the chaplain made a prayer, the caps were pulled down over the eyes of the poor culprits, and the word of command given: "Ready! Aim! Fire!" They all fell! Some into their graves, some over their coffins. . . .

At this time one of the condemned slowly arose from his recumbent position to his knees and was assisted to his feet. His first remark was, "By God, I thought I was dead." In consequence of his youth and the peculiar circumstances of his case, he had been reprieved, but the fact was not communicated to him until this moment. . . The platoon assigned to him had guns given to them which were not charged, or at least had nothing but powder in them.

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Much information here on the James Graham case comes from material on the very excellent and highly recommended Delaware County, NY - Genealogy and History Site started by Joyce Riedinger in September, 1996.
On July 29, 1814, a white male named James Graham, identified as a farmer, was hanged in Delhi for the murder of Hugh Cameron and Alexander McGiffrey earlier that year.

According to David Murray's Centennial History of Delaware County, NY : 1797-1897, a quarrel developed between "Graham, an Irishman," and Hugh Cameron and Alexander McGilfrey at a logging bee. Graham left the gathering before them. En route home through a wooded area, Cameron and McGilfrey were killed. The murder weapon apparently was a handspike reputed to be Graham's.

In Delaware County's early settlement days, when a large clearing had to made in the woods, neighboring farm families would be invited to a "logging bee" during which the men and older boys, using axes and other tools they had brough with them, would fell trees and use oxen to haul the timber away. The women and older girls would busy themselves preparing the meals. Rum and/or whiskey would be amply available. Most times these "bees" were peaceful community gatherings for mutual help and socializing. But hard drinking could occasionally contribute to angry incidents happening between "bee" participants who only hours earlier seemed to have been working well together.

Graham was later arrested and placed in the jail that was part of county seat Delhi's first courthouse built in 1798, about a year after the county's formation. At some point soon after his initial incarceration in the case, Graham made an escape.

W.W. Munsell's The History of Delaware County makes mention of how blacksmith Mat Ray "forged the irons for the murderer Graham -- made to order and weighing forty pounds -- and assisted in putting the 'jewels' on the prisoner after his escape and recapture."

Jay Gould in his History of Delaware County notes that Graham, after his recapture and return to the Delhi jail:

. . . bethought himself of fortifying his cell in such a manner as to prevent the ingress of any one, and for this purpose he wedged the bedstead firmly between the door and the partition; he then broke the hearth of the stove into suitable pieces, and prepared to defend himself to the last minute. . . . none dared to approach the door of the cell, with the exception of one Smith, who made strong pretensions of . . . willingness to aid in his escape. . . Smith reached his hand, which was cordially grasped by Graham, not doubting for a moment his sincerity. He was soon undeceived, however, for Smith seized his arm with a firm hold, pulling it through the door and calling for help.

The prisoner was held in this position until a hole was made in the back part of the cell large enough to admit the body of a man, when the officers crawled into the cell and succeeded in securing and ironing him. The weight of the irons was 40 pounds.

On June 16, after his recapture, Graham was indicted. He was tried the next day. Convicted, he was sentenced on June 20, according to court records, to remain at the jail

until 29th day of July next, then, between the hours of 12 o'clock and 2 o'clock,to be taken from thence and hung by the neck until he be dead, and his body delivered to Asahel E. Payne and Ambrose Bryan, surgeons, for dissection."

After a 1920 fire destroyed the first Delhi courthouse and jail, killing an inmate serving a minor sentence, a second building was constructed. In 1871, the replacement was itself displaced and made into a village hall to make room for the third courthouse sketched above.

The execution drew hundreds, perhaps even thousands, to Delhi, beginning the preceding day. The gallows had been built within a short walking distance from the jail. The site selected was surrounded by hills that formed a natural amphitheatre. A battalion of militia lined up in such a way as to create a secured square area that included the gallows. Sheriff Robert Leal, arm in arm with the prisoner, walked to the scaffold, accompanied by clergy, judges, other officers. Graham declared he "never murdered or stole." The sheriff, who had mounted his horse and had been giving Graham updates on the minutes remaining, informed the condemned man that no more time remained. Leal drew his sword and used it to release the latch that set the gallows into operation.

The handspike that had been entered in evidence as the murder weapon eventually became part of the Albany Museum collection.

In 1820, a fire destroyed the courthouse and its jail, killing a young inmate, Abram Coon of Andes, who had been serving a petit larceny sentence.

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Mike Hollingsworth's A Bit of the Past site includes a walking historical tour map that depicts the arrangement of roads and buildings in Peterboro. The structure where the condemned woman stayed the night before her execution is designated on the map as No. 13. For this NYCHS presentation, an arrow has been inserted to point out No. 13.
On Sept. 30, 1814, Mary Antoine aka Antone, 21, a Native American, was hanged in Peterboro, Madison County, for murder.

The last night before the execution, she was securely lodged in a building that had been built by Jasper Aylesworth in 1800 as the first frame dwelling in the town. In 1801, the brother-in-law of the Peter Smith, the town's founder for whom it was named, operated a tavern in the building. In 1808, the county's first newspaper, the Madison Freeholder, started publication there.

During Peter Smith's years as a fur trader and John Jacob Astor's partner, he learned the Oneida language and became friends with Oneida Chief Skenandoah for whom Smith named his first son. According to The Gerrit Smith Virtual Museum, developed by Syracuse University Library and NY History Net, among others:

"Back Street Mary" E. Messere's Our Olde Towne site includes an image of the historic frame structure above with text telling how Peter Smith's land agent Jasper Aylesworth made the first two-acre clearing that became the Peterboro Village Green.

[Peter] Smith made use of this relationship in negotiating a lease for a large tract of Oneida land. The lease was invalidated by the State of New York, which subsequently purchased the land from the Oneida, and re-sold most of it to Smith. The State's action has been ruled invalid, and remains the the subject of an unsettled dispute with the Oneida people.

An Oneida, Mary fatally stabbed with a knife another woman, also a Native American, with whom Mary's boyfriend, from the Stockbridge tribe, had taken up after ending his relationship with Mary.

Even though later in life, Peter Smith (sketch above) moved to Schenectady, he still identified himself as 'Peter Smith of Peterboro.' His father, Gerrit, owned during the Revolution the farm near Tappan where Benedict Arnold's contact, British Major John Andre, was hanged as a spy. Peter gave his father's first name to a son. That Gerrit Smith took a leading role in the anti-slavery movement. His Peterboro home served as an Underground Railroad "station."

The witness whose testimony at trial most helped convict her was a local farmer named John Jacobs. He figured also in her apprehension for the crime.

Appearing unremorseful about her violent act, Mary was quoted as saying that the victim deserved to die for taking away her boyfriend.

On the day of execution, authorities had arranged for her father, Abram, and brother who lived on a farm near Siloam to say their good-byes to her. They did so on the scaffold, stoically shaking hands without sign of emotion and then walking away without looking back.

However, Abram had openly vowed before and after his daughter's execution that he would kill Jacobs whom he blamed for Mary's death. For years, Jacobs stayed away from Madison County. But reportedly after receiving assurances transmitted to him from Abram that no harm would befall him, Jacobs returned.

One day when Jacobs was hoeing a field with a group of men, Abram approached in a friendly manner, shaking hands in greeting each one in turn. But as he greeted Jacobs, Abram pulled a knife and fatally stabbed him.

Eventually apprehended, Abram was tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

Exactly nine years to the month after his daughter's execution, the 73-year-old warrior -- he had fought on the American side during the Revolution -- was hanged for killing the prosecution's chief witness against her.


SUNY Buffalo history professor Dr. Albert L. Michaels' site includes photos of historic Forest Lawn Cemetery by Seth Colby and Stanford Lipsey with captions by Richard O. Reisem. One photo, from which the above is taken, shows Scajaquada Creek that flows through tunnels under much of Buffalo, emerges in and meanders through the cemetery, provides water for Delaware Park Lake and continues its westward flow.
A male named Thomas Burk, not otherwise identified in ESPY, was hanged for murder.*

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In August 1815, two soldiers, Charles Thompson and James Peters aka Peterson, were publicly hanged for murder.

Theirs was the first murder trial in that part of Niagara County that in 1821 became Erie County.

Held in June 1815, the trial resulted in their conviction for the killing of a local resident James Burba.

Thompson, Peterson and a third solider were supposed to be scouting Scajaquada Creek but went further than their orders, encountered Burba, quarreled with him and killed him. The third soldier escaped apprehension.

For more, visit:

  • New York State Unified Court System Eighth Judicial District's A Brief History compiled by Jeannine A. Lee, senior law librarian, Supreme Court Library/Buffalo

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On Oct. 6, 1815, a 60-year-old farmer, a white male, named Barent Becker was hanged for murder.*

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