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Executions in Sandwich 1809 – 1909

from The Township of Sandwich Past and Present, by Frederick Neal (1909)

Before and after of an unknown condemned man being hung in the town
of Sandwich. Photo taken by Frank G. Kiborn of
1313 Sandwich St. E. Windsor. (Windsor Directory 1923-24)

During the early part of Sandwich’s existence as a District or County
seat, punishment was dealt out with a liberal hand. In those days the law read “Murderers, horse and sheep thieves shall be hung in some public thoroughfare and remain in full view of passersby until the flesh rot from their bones.” It is said that a woman and a man were gibbeted on the brow of the hill near Mill Street and known as Lot 4, East Russell Street [near the Duff-Baby House]. The crime for which they are said to have suffered for was murder.

During the time when the office of Sheriff was held by William Hands two young men, both of Chatham, (one colored and one white), were gibbeted on the brow of the hill on Russell Street, nearly opposite of what is known by the citizens as Cook’s Canal. At that time Bedford Street terminated at South Street and the public thoroughfare continued down South Street to Russell, down Russell for a short distance and then gradually ran towards the river until the River Road was reached along by the Pittsburgh Coal Company’s dock and fish hatchery at the intersection at McKee Road.

The iron frames, or “gibbets,” consisted of an iron bar, which when placed on the person to be punished reached from the back of the neck to his heels. To this perpendicular bar was clasped an iron ring which clasped the neck, another encircled the waist, while two others firmly held the ankles.

The “gibbets” stood on an elevation overlooking the road. This big-boting made a great commotion in the neighborhood, and the exposed remains became so offensive as to excite the strongest opposition to the law.” The dreadful smelling things must be cut down and buried,” was the cry. But who was to do it? Such an action would be in defiance of law and might bring unknown severity upon the heads of the people who interfered. There seem to have been few brave enough to attempt the noisome work.

Sheriff Hands was a man of courage and decision, a conspicuous character that rode about mounted on a strikingly white horse.

One dark night during the heat of the argument regarding the occupants of the gibbets, a white horse was seen in the immediate neighbour-hood of the gibbets, and next morning not a sight was to be seen of bodies. No arrests were made and the worthy sheriff refused to talk on the subject and took no action to discover the person or persons who defied the law.

In 1889, the property on which the bodies of these two men were buried was purchased by Calvin Cook and made into a gravel pit. One day while the labourers were engaged in digging they came upon a quantity of bones and iron frames. The writer, hearing of this discovery, visited the gravel pit and succeeded in saving and securing the complete skeleton of one of the men and the gibbeting irons in which it was enclosed. The discovery and a complete history of the incidents was published in columns of the Windsor Record at that time.

A day or two afterwards Calvin Cook, the owner of the property, demanded possession of them and the writer very reluctantly gave them up. These “irons” have since passed on to other hands.

The Condemned

As far as can be ascertained all the executions that followed up to the present time (1909) took place at the Sandwich jail, the condemned men being hung by a rope from a scaffold.

A man named “Bird” was hanged in 1834 for killing a peddler in the Long Woods, in Kent County. Bird met his victim in Chatham and followed him to the place where the crime was committed. When arrested he had the peddler’s pack with him.

In 1840 a man named Huffman was hanged for murdering his daughter’s illegitimate child in Kent County. Huffman was a Methodist preacher and had a beautiful daughter by whom he fathered a child. His child was found drowned in the Thames River.

In 1838 a man named Fitzpatrick was executed for committing unmentionable crime on a daughter of a prominent family in Amherstburg. He protested his innocence to his last days. Some years after a man named Sellers confessed on his deathbed guilt of the crime for which Fitzpatrick had suffered.

Alfred Young was tried September 27th 1858, and sentenced to be hung on February 20th 1859. Young came with his wife to Windsor from Paw Paw, Michigan, during the fall of 1858. The day of his arrival he wandered with his wife to a lonely back street in Windsor and there shot his wife to death.

Before the day of his execution, he succeeded in making his escape, it is said, by burning a hole in the floor and then digging his way out from under the building. When he made his escape from prison he left a very sarcastic letter addressed to Sheriff McEwan [see biography, The TIMES, September issue #37].

Those familiar with the details of this horrible crime looked upon “the burnt hole in the floor” story with grave suspicion. The hole in the floor would scarcely admit of a child passing through it, and the actions of the jailor in charge at that time were considered not above suspicion and it was openly hinted that he had a hand in the supposed escape.

At any rate a change was made and a new jailor appointed. Young was the first man sentenced to be hanged after the MacKenzie brothers built the new jail and courthouse.

The Township of Sandwich Past and Present, 1909 is available at The TIMES Book & Gift Shop, 560 Chatham Street West for $14 plus gst, (519) 255-9898

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