Burn Bridle Press – Bucks County History

Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

The Baby Beneath the Floorboards – 1789

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In the March of 1789, John Carcaddon made a grisly discovery beneath the floorboards of Hanna’s Brew House in Newtown. Stuffed into a drain beneath the floor was the month-old body of a dead child. He later testified:

he took up a pine Board of the floor to throw the water into it being a drain, and after throwing of a considerable quantity of Water off, the passage appeared to be stopped and upon examining the cause found a hair Cloth under which I found the Infant wrapped in an old piece of Calico

The coroner called an inquest, and a jury was convened to determine the circumstances of the child’s death. Witnesses were called, and suspicion soon fell on a woman named Phebe Stover. Catherine Clucker was called before the jury and testified:

that Phebe Stover was taken Ill in the night about a Month ago, that her husband proposed sending for a Doctor, that she would not consent to it, next day she came into my room continued Ill, that Doct. Torbet was sent for, that he came two different times, that Doct. Asked her how long she had been with Child she answered about four Months and a few days—that she and her Husband frequently quarreled—that she [illegible] this deponent that she thought she had miscarried but would not tell her

The doctor, Samuel Torbet, confirmed her story, reporting:

that he was called upon by the Husband of Phebe Stover that he went with him and found her very Ill, her symptoms I thought were such as threatened a Miscarriage—and found she had been in that situation for some time—and proceeded to treat her as one in that situation—she told me she had been pregnant about four Months and a few days to the best of her knowledge—that he saw no symptoms of her having Miscarried that he told her if she had not already Miscarried she certainly would

It seems clear that the Phebe Stover miscarried, but it’s a mystery why she would attempt to dispose of the body in this disturbing manner.

Today, the County Coroner looks into the death of anyone who dies without being attended to by a doctor. In the early years of Bucks County only exceptional deaths were investigated, and the early coroner’s records are far less frequent and are mostly dedicated to violent, accidental, or otherwise suspicious deaths.

(Source: Bucks County Coroner’s Reports, #20, March 13th, 1789. In the collection of the Bucks County Historical Society)

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Written by Moses Doan

October 31, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Blood Running Down the Wall: Murder on the Neshaminy in 1692

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Pennsylvania’s First Murder

On March 3rd, 1692, the body of an unknown person was found near the mouth of the Neshaminy Creek. When the coroner examined the body, he determined that the victim had been “willfully murthered” about six weeks earlier.

Suspicion fell on Swedish ferryman Derrick Jonson (alias Clawson) when large blood stains were found in his house. The court record states:

upon a due examination of things it appeared that a Considerable Quanty of blood on the wall and on the bed of one Derrick Jonson als Clawson about the Supposed time that the above murthered person lost his life was discovered & the Said Derrick refused to give any account of how the Said blood Came there

He was arrested and imprisoned by the sheriff. During the interrogation, Jonson claimed that the blood came from a man that he’d hired to thresh grain for him three years earlier, and that he’d shown the blood to various people since then, “fully as much as it was.” This story is doubtful. When the coroner examined the blood at Jonson’s house, he reported that “it had run in Several Streames down the boords on the wall which Streames Continued untill they went behind the planks that lay on the ground floore.” Regardless of the circumstances, the person that lost that much blood surely died.

When his wife Brighta was interrogated, she claimed, “the blood Seen on the wall was discovered between day and sun rising & that there was a Sheete hanged on the out Side of the bed in a manner of a Curtaine & that there was no blood on the bed.” She also claimed that she hadn’t put fresh straw in the bed since the previous year, implying that if someone was murdered in the bed there would be blood in the straw.

Jonson plead not guilty, but after a year of imprisonment without trial the court convicted Jonson of the murder. While the case was circumstantial, it seems clear that someone was killed in that bed, and that Jonson destroyed evidence by replacing the straw and attempted to conceal the stains by hanging a sheet over the bed. He was hanged on July 9th, 1693, making him the first criminal executed by the government of Pennsylvania. There wouldn’t be another execution in Bucks County for 40 years.

Wolf Heads

If the murder case doesn’t make Jonson seem scary enough, it might help to picture him decapitating wolves. At the time there was a bounty of wolves, and the standard practice was to deliver their heads as evidence that you’d killed one. In 1688, Jonson (under the alias Derrick Clawson), filed a complaint that “he delivered to Arthur Cook & James Harrison 3 wolves two of them bitches & one dog,” and that he hadn’t received the full bounty. In this case the court ruled in his favor.

 

Written by Moses Doan

October 31, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Crime, Death

Solebury Friends Meeting Cemetery Tour 2013

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Solebury Cemetery Tour

Next weekend I’ll be leading a tour at Solebury Friends burial ground. It was a big hit last year, with about 80 people in attendance. The press release is below. Hope to see you there!

Quaker Cemetery Tour

WHEN: Sunday, October 27, 12 noon to 1:30 p.m., rain or shine
WHERE: Solebury Friends Meeting Cemetery
2680 North Sugan Road
New Hope, PA 18938

Local historian Jesse Crooks will lead us through the fascinating stories of those buried at Solebury Meeting Cemetery, which opened in 1809. Along with seeing the burial plots of many locally famous Quaker families like Reeder, Eastburn, Paxton, Ely, Comfort, and Kitchen, we will visit the plot sites and learn the histories of freed slaves and the unknowns in Stranger’s Row. Insightful points of Jesse’s talk cover daily elements of people’s lives and how they dealt with the great issues of the Civil War, slavery, pacifism, and the poor.

Please join us for this very popular, free event. Donations, however, are welcome!

Light refreshments will be served.

QUESTIONS? Call 215 297 5091 or email info@soleburyhistory.org.

Written by Moses Doan

October 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Solebury Friends Meeting Burial Map

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SoleburyFriendsMeeting-Burial Map-1907(small)

This map of the Solebury Friends Meeting graveyard was drafted in 1907, based on an earlier map from 1866. Unfortunately the 1866 map has suffered some damage and it’s difficult to make out most of the handwriting. The handwriting matches that in the burial book in the Swarthmore archive, which also dates to 1866. That book makes reference to a previous burial chart used as a reference for the 1866 map. It cites “extracts from the old chart” about decisions the meeting made about laying out the graveyard. There are also sections in the list of graves in which the writer of the 1866 book omits names, stating that they were illegible on the old chart.

Illegible on Old Chart

In all likelihood this original map no longer exists, and the names omitted on the 1866 map are probably lost forever.

The 1866 and 1907 maps were almost lost as well. My great-grandfather used them as a reference when creating the modern burial map in the 1960s. Apparently he never returned the maps to the meeting, and I found them in a box of maps that had been stored in my family’s barn.

I deposited them in the archive of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College along with the rest of the meeting’s original records. While there, I used their excellent overhead scanner to digitize the maps. Click on the map above to see the full image.

Written by Moses Doan

October 8, 2013 at 1:37 am

A Fatal Mistake

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A grim report from the Doylestown Democrat, Tuesday Morning, December 20, 1881:

A Fatal Mistake.–The Shot Intended for a Muskrat Lodges in the Head of a Man

A shocking tragedy occurred at D. L. Hamaker’s mill dam, one mile northeast of Petersburg, Lancaster county, about 7.30 o’clock Tuesday, which at last accounts bids fair to result in the death of the victim, William Gnyer. Mr. Gnyer was on a gunning expedition after muskrats, to the mill dam of Hamaker’s. He had taken a position on the old dam, at the place where an opening had been made for the water to pass through, lying low and waiting for the appearance of the muskrats. Meanwhile a party of youths, ranging in age from fourteen to eighteen years, put in an appearance for the same purpose. Gnyer was not visible to the party, owing to his recumbant position, and he likewise was ignorant of their presence. While the young man was intently watching, Gnyer elevated his head for an instant, when Graybill, one of the party, mistaking the object for a muskrat, fired a heavy charge of birdshot which entered Gnyer’s head, directly alongside the left temple. Gnyer was discovered lying insensible upon the breast of the dam with his left eye completely shot out, the ball hanging down upon his cheek, and an examination indicated that a portion of the charge of shot is lodged in the brain. The wound is a mortal one. Gnyer is a laboring man, aged between thirty-five and forty years, is married and has a wife and two children. Young Graybill, who fired the fatal shot, is aged eighteen years, and is the youngest son of Jacob Graybill.—Patriot.

I’m assuming “Patriot” refers to the paper originally reporting the news.

Written by Moses Doan

October 14, 2012 at 3:21 am

Posted in Death, Hunting

Recollections of Solebury Friends’ School 1836-1846

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In the fall of 1897, prominent Solebury resident Eastburn Reeder, then an old man, was asked to recount his experience at the Solebury Friends’ school to the current generation of students. Reeder started school there in 1836, the first year it was open.

Solebury Meeting has since converted the school building into a residence for their caretakers, which just so happens to be the house I grew up in. The building was heavily altered long before I got there, but evidence of the original open floor plan can be seen in the uneven room sizes and odd layout. Other evidence of its prior use can be found in the old outhouse, where four wooden seats indicate that it was built for a well-trafficked public facility. Now used as a shed, the outhouse also once served as rabbit hutch for a previous caretaker, a serious alcoholic so poor that he had to raise rabbits for meat.

The former school house, as seen from the graveyard.

The following is his address, as recorded in the Daily Intelligencer, October 9th, 1897, which I’ve transcribed from microfilm:

In Days Gone By.
———————————————————————————————–
Recollections of the Solebury School from 1836 to 1846.
———————————————————————————————–
A Paper Read at the Closing Exercises of Solebury First Day School
by Eastburn Reader, 10th Month 3d, 1897—A Story of Two Boys.
———————————————————————————————–

A few weeks ago I was asked to give this First-day school my recollections of Solebury meeting of Friends of sixty and fifty years ago. Since that time these words have been continually coming to my mind—“How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood.” Whether they were suggested by the effort to turn my mind backward to the day of my youth, or whether they are to be regarded as an evidence of approaching age, I will not stop now to inquire. I have not been able to rid myself of that thought. Like the ghost of Banquo in the story of Macbeth, “it would not down ;” it would not leave me. I am asked to-day to give my recollections of Solebury school, its teachers, and the scholars attending it, from 1836 to 1846, a period of ten years, and all of it more than fifty years, and some of it more than sixty years ago.

We, (my sister and I) began going to school here in the spring of 1836. I was nearly eight years of age, and my sister a little over five. Our mother went with us the first day, and we all walked to the school house. Whether mother went with us on that day to assist in carrying our books, and dinner, or to tell the teacher who we were, or to protect us from imaginary danger along the road, I never knew. After the school opened, mother walked home, and that was the only time that I ever recollect being taken to or from school. After that we had to rough it, like the rest of the scholars, having no protection from the storms, except an umbrella, or an occasional cloak or shawl. Elizabeth Ely was the teacher that summer, and continued to teach the school for four or five summers after that time, being succeeded by Annie Martin and Sarah Murphy in summer, and by Moses E. Blackburn, Albert Pearson, Charles Murphy, and Edward A. Magill in the winters.

Solebury township had not then (1836) accepted free school law, and our tuition was paid for by our parents at the rate of three cents per day. The teachers made out the bills regularly at the end of each month, which we carried home to our parents. The school was a large one, and the house was crowded to its fullest capacity. It was so large that our teacher had to employ her sister, Sarah Ely, to assist her in hearing some of the classes. The desks were arranged around the walls of the room, the boys occupying one side of the house, and the girls the other side, while a few benches in the centre of the room were occupied by the small children, and by those who did not need desks, having neither books, slates, pens or pencils, but recited their letters etc., at the teacher’s desk. I have a list of over seventy-five names of children whom I can recall to mind as having attended that school during the period that I attended it. These companions of my youth, where are they now? How many are yet living? How many deceased? And how far and widely have they been scattered? I have undertaken the task of ascertaining these points, and although the task is far from being completed I have good reasons for believing that a majority of them are still living. Out of a list of 76 names, 32 are know to be deceased, and 44 are believed to be now living. This, I think, is a remarkable showing for health and longevity—44 out of 76 beings is over 60 per cent. living, and all of them now over 50 years, and many of them over 60 years of age. During this entire period of ten years, we were called upon but once to note the death of but a single one of our school mates, and that was a little boy between 5 and 6 years of age.

The dead, where are they? Of the 32 who are known to be deceased 12 of them have been buried in these grounds. They lived out their allotted lives in this vicinity and have been gathered in with their fathers. Of the other 20, fifteen of them lie in cemeteries in different parts of this State ; three in New Jersey, one in Ohio and one in Bombay, in far away India. The 44 living are believed to be now scattered almost, if not quite, as widely, only five or six of us left remaining within a reasonable walking distance of the school.

It is my object to ascertain the date of birth of all, the date of marriage, of those who married, and to whom married, the present whereabouts and address of those who are living ; and the date of death of those who have died, and the place where they are buried. I am aware that to accomplish this will be no easy task. It will take time, and I may find cases where it will be impossible to gain information I desire. I have already, in the very threshhold of the work, met with some very pleasant and encouraging experiences, and I have also met with some very sad and discouraging experiences. After I left Solebury school in 1846, I was away from this neighborhood most of the time for nearly three years. When I returned in the spring of 1849, and looked around for my former companions, what did I find? I found several of them married, and obeying that command which God gave to Noah in Genesis 8 : 16-17. Others had gone I knew not whether. To ascertain this as far as possible is my object, and while I am waiting for the returns to come in, I will tell the children a story of my recollections of my school boy days.

A STORY OF A BOY

I will tell a story of a boy, or rather a story of two boys. Almost every boy who goes to school, has his chum. This must be natural among boys, or so many of them would not do so. I had my chum. He was one year older than I. He was a boy very peculiar in disposition, and seemed to have the power of moulding me to his will. Everything he said or did, to my mind, was exactly right. Our desks and seats were side by side. This is not only for one term of the school, but it lasted as long as we both attended this school. To secure this end on the last day of a term of school we would each of us leave a book in our desks, in order to secure possession of them for the next term. In these books he taught me to write these lines—

“Steal not this book my honest friend,
For fear the gallows will be your end.”

These lines were signed by our respective names and were supposed to be potent against depredations. We had full faith in this, and our books were never stolen. I have said that my chum had a peculiar disposition. He was inclined to be a rover—he was going to be a sailor, to be a captain of a ship. He said I should be a farmer and have a large plantation. I was to produce articles for him to carry in his ship to other countries of the world. Every day as we studied our geography together afforded him an excellent opportunity to mature his plans. He located my plantation on the Atlantic coast somewhere between Charleston and Savannah. With a stroke of pen and ink he converted a promontory or cape to an island.

This is necessary, he said, so that he could approach my plantation from every side. I was to raise rice and cotton for him to export. To enable me to do this it would be necessary for me to have large numbers of slaves, which he would go to Africa for and capture and bring to me. I will say just here, that our teacher was his aunt, and boarded in his father’s family. She was a very strong anti-slavery woman, and often spoke to us of the sinfulness of slavery and the wrongs of the poor slaves. Whether it was to be in oppostion to the views of his aunt and teacher, that he decided to make a slave holder of me, I never knew. I was to be married, he said, and have a family, but he was to be a sea captain, and they never married or had families. His stories of adventure were so captivating that I believed everything he told me. As I was to marry and live on a plantation and have a family, I began to think about a wife early in life. Every day, instead of studying our lessons in geography, he would say to me “Let us transact business.” That is to say, he would buy up what I had produced for export, and bring back to me any product of the earth that I might desire. This gave us knowledge of geography, in a measure, but it did not give us very often much knowledge of the lesson for the day. Very frequently were the orders given to us by the teacher, “Boys, you must get this lesson over after school.” Then we would put ourselves down to work and soon master the lesson.

I recollect one day in particular as we opened our atlas, my chum told me that he had on board for me a large number of very valuable Araibian horses, fresh from the desert, that he had, with great difficulty, secured for me. He said his ship was now in sight of land, and would soon be in the harbor. He then put up both hands to his mouth to blow the trumpet announcing the arrival of his vessel. He blew louder than he know, for the noise of the blast attracted the attention of the teacher and the entire school. We were ordered to the teacher’s desk at once. Which of us had made that noise? Neither of us would tell. Then both must be punished, and that severely. The teacher had a small chestnut sprout in her desk, from which the bark had been peeled, and it had become very dry and brittle. My chum held out his hand to receive the punishment first, and after receiving a few sharp cuts, he cried out lustily, or pretended to do so, and was sent to his seat with his face deeply buried in his hands upon the top of his desk. It was my turn next, and as I did not cry, for in boy parlance, “it didn’t hurt a bit,” the teacher naturally looked to see why the punishment had not the same effect on me. Her eyes were small, black and fiery, and her expression almost convulsed me with laughter. The blows upon my hand were renewed with redoubled force. At every blow, two or three inches of the switch flew off the end, and it was speedily used up. The boy was still rebellious and defiant. The teacher was too conscientious to use a ruler, but something more must be done.

Accordingly, I was led by the shoulder over to the girls’ side of the schoolroom, where “room was made” for me on the bench between two of the oldest and largest girls in the school. I suppose they were 18 or 20 years of age. They appeared to me then as mountains of flesh, both being large and fat. I was not placed opposite to a window where I could look out, and had nothing but white wall to gaze upon. I could not even see the girl on the other side of the two between whom I was placed. I could not see over or around them, and was almost buried from sight. Had I been placed between two other girls, whom I could name, and nearer my own age, I should have liked it far better. I was compelled to remain there until school closed for the day. When the school was dismissed I was told to remain. The teacher busied herself with mending our goose quill pens, and setting the copies for the next day, until all the scholars had time to reach their homes. I wondered what was to be done with me next. The teacher told me that she had made up her mind to write a note and send it by me to my parents, telling them to keep me home from the school. I promptly told her she could send no such note home by me. Then she would send it by my sister, who would not go home without her brother. I said my sister should not take the note either. I do not know whether it was the tears of my sister, or what it was, but the teacher all at once took a sudden change. She began to talk to me. She told me what a great interest she had felt in me, and what pains she had taken, and how hard she had tried to do her duty by me. And as she talked on in this strain, her tears began to flow as rapidly as her words. This overcame me entirely. I could stand punishment, and scolding, but entreaties and tears I could not stand. I yielded, and promised obedience for the future. The note home was neither written nor sent. As I look back upon this little incident after an interval of sixty years, I can but look upon it as a victory for us both. It was a victory for the teacher, most certainly, for the boy not only promised, but gave obedience. It was a victory for the boy over himself, and it was not necessary to punish him afterward, and he continued to go to that teacher for several summers. She was a faithful, conscientious teacher, and tried hard to do her duty by us. She afterward removed form Solebury to Philadelphia, where she died many years ago, and was buried in Friends’ burial ground at Fair Hill. I intend some day to visit her grave as a deserving tribute to her memory

I cannot close this little story without telling what afterwards became of my chum. After he left school he studied medicine, and graduated with high honors. I believe he was soon appointed a ship surgeon, which was an object of his ambition. In the year 1851 he was appointed by the President of the United States Counsel to Bombay. He remained there for seven years, dying there in 1858. A short time before his death he married, and as they were making arrangements for their wedding trip home to visit his parents his wife was taken sick with some fatal disease peculiar to that country, and soon died. He was also smitten with the same disease, and died. When the news of their deaths reached this country I went to see his parents and sympathize with them in their great affliction. They told me it would be impossible for their bodies even to be brought here for burial. The distance was so great and the nature of the disease such as to render it impossible. I do not even know the name or nationality of his wife, and I may never be able to ascertain it. But I shall never forget the sorrow that was depicted upon that mother’s countenance as she told me the sad story. She had followed to the grave all the rest of her children in early life save one. This was her first-born and favorite son, and those lines of deep sorrow were never entirely obliterated from her countenance, and she lived for many years.

I hope there will be seen in this simple story a lesson for young boys and girls of this , our First-day school. That lesson is—get mementos, or keepsakes of some kind from your teachers and from your most intimate friends. You have far greater facilities to do this than we scholars had sixty years ago. Then photographs were unknown. I have not a single picture of one of my schoolmates or teachers. You can get them now at a very small cost. If you cannot get these, then get a few lines from a favorite author, written in their own handwriting, and signed by their names and date. And more than all, do not suffer yourselves to lose all knowledge of their address. Then no matter how widely the companions of your youthful days may become scattered in this wide world of ours, you will know and feel that you have the power of reaching them, and of communicating with them in a few days at most. It will be a source of great gratification to you when you grow to be old. I have here a card in my hand, a little red card, which I received from my first teacher more than sixty years ago. It was my first card, and is dated 8th mo. 7Th, 1835. I was not then seven years old, I have kept it to this day, and every year it grows more precious to my sight. The picture upon it represents Noah’s Ark riding upon the waters of the Deluge. Underneath the picture of the ark is printed the command given by God to Noah to enter the ark :

“Cometh thou and all thine houses into the ark,” Gen. 7 : 1.

Noah is represented as standing on the front of the ark, sending forth the dove to see if it could find land, the story of which is beautifully told in the following lines:

“The dove set free from Noah’s hand,
Wandered a weary space,
But could not find the solid land
Or gain a resting place.
‘Tis thus the soul that strays from God,
No comfort can obtain,
‘Till it return to its abode
And finds the Ark again.”

I do not know what then prompted my young mind to choose this card, but now its picture and its lines have to my mind a deep significance.

*Note: The chum is Dr. Edward Ely, 1827-1858, who served as consul in Bombay under President Polk. (Battle Vol.3 p.814)

Written by Moses Doan

June 12, 2012 at 5:34 am

The Twice-Buried Murderer Joseph Blundin

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A man sharpens a cradle scythe, similar to Joseph Blundin’s murder weapon.

Today a house sits on the southern corner of Court & East Streets, as nice and unremarkable as any other house in Doylestown. Few would guess that 177 years ago a murderer was buried here. Even fewer would guess that 157 years ago they dug him back up.

This is the story of the executed murderer Joseph Blundin and Doylestown’s forgotten burial ground.

A Crime of Passion

Joseph Blundin was a farmhand with a young family at the time of the crime. He appears on the 1830 US Census living in Bristol with his wife, both in their 20’s, and three children, all under 5 years old. The account of the crime and the public support for Blundin in its aftermath paint him as normal man driven by his circumstances to commit a horrendous act.

The murderer and victim were harvesting oats on the farm of Samuel Headly, probably the S. Headly marked with a red “X” on this map from 1857. The murder occurred somewhere on the road from Headly’s farm to Bristol.

On the day of the crime Joseph Blundin and his victim, Aaron Cuttlehow, were working together harvesting oats on the farm of Samuel Headly near Bristol. J.H. Battle recounts the details of the crime as revealed during the trial:

The prisoner and deceased were at work on Sunday, July 27th [1834], with other men, five or six, engaged in cradling oats. At dinner one of the hands ran out of doors with a pie, deceased and the prisoner chasing him. In their playfulness a shoe was thrown which hit the prisoner. Shortly afterward the deceased came into the house crying, and said the prisoner had hit him on the head with a stone. This disturbance was settled, and they all went to the field to cradle oats. When nearly done a quarrel arose between the prisoner and the deceased, and the prisoner was thrown down and received several blows from [the] deceased in the face. The deceased with another then helped him upon his feet, and his knees giving way under him, they assisted him up a second time. The prisoner then took his cradle and started for home. He was asked to ride twice, but refused, and said, angrily, he would walk. From fifteen minutes to half an hour later he was overtaken by the wagon, walking slowly. He was asked to get up and ride. The prisoner made no reply, but raised his cradle from his shoulder and struck at the deceased hitting the cradle of the deceased, which he raised to guard the blow; the deceased at the same time losing his cradle from his hand, which fell upon the ground. The deceased (Cuttlehow) then sprang from the wagon to make his escape, but stumbled and fell as he reached the ground. When he had crawled a few paces the prisoner came upon him with his cradle uplifted and struck the scythe through the neck of Cuttlehow. The latter cried, “Take it out, take it out!” sank on the ground and died in one or two minutes. Some one said to the prisoner: “He will die,” who replied: “Let him die.” Liquor had been used in the field, but there was no satisfactory evidence that the prisoner was intoxicated. The jury was out eleven or twelve hours, and returned a verdict of murder in the first degree.

We don’t know who started the fight, but it’s clear that the dead man had seriously beaten Blundin in the earlier scuffle, and that Blundin was emotionally distressed by the fight. Instead of escalating the conflict he attempted to walk home alone, only to be confronted again. After being pushed one last time by the other farmhands, he lashed out and killed Cuttlehow with the tool he happened to be carrying. All of this evidence portrays the crime as a temporary lapse by an otherwise decent man rather than the premeditated work of a cold-blooded killer.

After he was sentenced to die by hanging, the public rose up in support of him. While the facts of the crime were not disputed, the death sentence issued seemed harsh and unnecessary. Battle reports that even Charles E. DuBois, the Deputy Attorney-General for the Commonwealth, “was overcome with emotion in reading the indictment to the unfortunate man.” The citizens of Bucks County appealed to the government for mercy, petitioning the Governor Goerge Wolfe and both houses of the State Assembly in an attempt to have his sentence commuted to life in prison. They attempted to save Blundin through multiple avenues, begging for the Governor and legislature to take action in his case specifically as well as attempting to change the state laws regarding criminal sentencing by giving the governor the power to commute death sentences to life in prison or by abolishing the death penalty altogether.

The general thrust of their appeals can be seen in the debate that took place on the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where a representative named Harrison introduced an amendment:

…in accordance with the wishes of a large number of constituents; men of the highest respectability who believed, and honestly believed what is set forth in petition to the legislature, that at the time Joseph Bliindin committed the act for which he has been sentenced to death, he was not in a sound state of mind. The unfortunate individual was born and brought up in his vicinity; he has a family consisting of a wife and several children, and a general feeling pervades that community, that he should become the object of legislative mercy. In addition to these wishes in of Joseph Blundin, a general feeling was manifested in favour of the abolishment of capital punishment in all cases…

Unfortunately, Blundin’s supporters failed in their attempts. Those opposed to the measures claimed that any action in his case was unconstitutional, either by violating the separation of powers or because such a law would affect one man instead of all people under their jurisdiction. Finally, after multiple stays of execution, Blundin was scheduled to die on Friday, August 14th, 1835 between noon and 3pm.

Blundin made one final attempt to save his own life by escaping from the Doylestown jail. Battle describes the failed escape as follows:

On a Sunday in May Blundin attempted to make his escape from the jail. He managed to cut off the rivets of his hopples, burn a hole through the floor, and, after gaining the jail yard attempted by means of a rope formed of his bedding, to scale the outer wall. The fastenings gave way when the prisoner was near the top and he fell to the ground, where he lay in a bruised and helpless condition until found in the morning by the sheriff. Such was the sympathy of the public that a rumor that the sheriff left the means of escape within reach of the prisoner and then left the building to give him an opportunity to use them, obtained general credence and no marked disapproval. The unfortunate man was carried back to his cell and on the day appointed by the governor’s last respite was executed in the yard of the jail. The prisoner was unable to stand on account of his injuries, but he met his fate with resignation and courage.

Then, by way of the gallows, Joseph Blundin found his temporary resting place in the now forgotten potter’s field.

The Doylestown Potter’s Field

In the first half of the 19th century this plot of land was the county potter’s field, a burial place of last resort for the indigent and a site to inter the unclaimed bodies of strangers and prisoners. Very little is recorded of the Doylestown potter’s field. Like the almshouse, the courthouse, and the county jail, the potter’s field probably came into being around the time that the county seat moved from Newtown to Doylestown in 1812. I could only find the potter’s field on one map, W.E. Morris’ 1850 atlas of Bucks County:

The only mention of those buried here comes from W.W.H. Davis’ History of Bucks County, Volume II:

The old “potter’s field,” where several persons were buried, including one Blundin, of Bensalem [actually Bristol], hanged for murder about 1838, at the corner of Court and East streets was sold several years ago by authority of an act of Assembly and now belongs to a private owner.

I was able to act of Assembly that Davis mentions. Passed on May 7th, 1855, the act instructs Bucks County to remove the bodies and sell the land, stating:

…it shall be the duty of the commissioners of the county of Bucks… to remove or cause to be removed to the burial ground of the Bucks county almshouse, the remains of all persons now interred in the public burial ground, situate at the corner of Court street and East street, in the borough of Doylestown, and known as Potter’s Field, and that the same shall no longer be used as a place of burial.

The almshouse opened in the spring of 1810, and the first inmate to die there was a black woman named Dinah, allegedly 115 years old. According to almshouse records (List of Paupers in the Almshouse 1810-1833, p.31, available on microfilm at the Spruance Library), Dinah died on April 20th, 1810, and the almshouse supplied her with a “cape shirt hankercheif and coffin” for her burial. While I haven’t been able to find any information about the almshouse burial ground, it preceded the Doylestown potter’s field by at least a couple years and was probably used concurrently.

At some point, the almshouse stopped using their own burial ground and began interring inmates at Doylestown Cemetery. I talked to Kat Landis, whose family oversees cemetery, and she said that the back row of the cemetery was laid out as a “Strangers Row” with inexpensive plots. According to her, this area became the burial ground for inmates from the almshouse, prisoners from the county jail, and people who died at the Doylestown hospital. This “back row” is now in the center of the cemetery near the main gate, since Hope Cemetery was added next to Doylestown Cemetery and the two were later unified. My guess is that when these cheap plots became available there was no more need for a government maintained burial ground. I have found some written evidence of this in the Almshouse and Hospital Register 1872-1889, which reports that inmate Henry Puff was buried at Doylestown Cemetary on the November 29th, 1883.

Doylestown Cemetery was founded in 1849, and probably wasn’t in operation yet when the 1850 map was made. By 1857, however, the cemetery is presented in the atlas published by Khun & Shrope. You can see that the Dolyestown Cemetery has been added to the map, but the potter’s field is gone:

Whether Joseph Blundin and the others buried in the potter’s field were actually disinterred may be up for debate. The graves in potter’s fields are usually unmarked, and the success of disinterment would depend on how systematically the graves were laid out and how well the locations were recorded. I’m sure they made their best effort to clear the land of bodies before selling it to a private owner, but after 20 years in the ground did the county remember the location of Blundin’s grave? He probably lies on the almshouse grounds, but every time I pass the old potter’s field I wonder if any graves remain.


(The house now standing on the potter’s field.)

Written by Moses Doan

June 8, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Bristol, Crime, Death, Doylestown, Graves, Maps

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