“Sufferers’ Land” Post #21 – Trial and Punishment

The Huron County Court of Common Pleas convened on Tuesday, May 18 at the Court House in Norwalk. A Grand Jury met the same day. Two days later, they indicted the three Indians for first-degree murder.

The trial began the day after the indictment. A crowd assembled, so many that a large number had to stand outside in the yard. Being a prominent member of the community, Platt secured a seat inside, and later gave Sally a first hand account.

He witnessed a fair trial. After hearing only a portion of the evidence, the prosecutor dropped the charge against the boy Negossum and released him, to the applause of the audience.

The evidence against the other two Indians was compelling, however, and after a short deliberation, the jury found them guilty. The judge asked if they had anything to say before he passed sentence, but they refused to speak. He sentenced them to be hanged on Friday, July first, and had them led back to jail to await execution.

Sally and the other settlers were curious how the Indians were taking their impending deaths. They learned that the two men were particularly concerned about hanging, which they considered an ignominious death. To discover what it felt like, they practiced choking each other until they almost passed out. The results disturbed them and they became so depressed that the sheriff, in sympathy, gave them whisky to dull their anguish.

The day of execution dawned warm and sultry. Early that morning, settlers from all over the county assembled around the gallows, erected on a knoll behind where St. Paul’s Episcopal Church now stands. Seven or eight Indians from the condemned men’s tribe arrived to witness the execution, including several who had assisted in recapturing the prisoners after their escape.

At the appointed time, the condemned men approached the knoll, escorted by a rifle company commanded by Captain Burt. They were dressed in shrouds and were intoxicated, having begged for whisky earlier that morning. After mounting the gallows and having nooses placed around their necks, the men were asked if they wished to say anything. Negosheek mumbled a few words. The men dropped to their deaths and several women turned away and began to cry.

After they were dead, the authorities took down their bodies, placed them in coffins, and buried them on the knoll. The Rifle Company and civil officials marched to Captain Boalt’s house. He treated them to a big dinner, and they listened to a funeral discourse, a rather macabre scene to us, but probably considered appropriate at the time.

For months afterwards, the settlers of the Firelands worried that friends of the executed Indians would exact revenge. Platt, not having a gun, kept a sharpened hoe hanging near his front door against such an eventuality. However, perhaps because the court had found the boy Negossum innocent, the Indians felt that justice had been done. They never attacked.

As time went on, settlers cleared the forests and farms replaced the Native American’s traditional hunting grounds. In 1843, the remaining tribes departed Ohio for reservations further west. Their time had passed. [1]

Please like this post and let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you.

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[1] The account of the murders of John Wood and George Bishop and the capture, trial and execution of their killers is from an article by W.C. Allen in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1865, pp. 43-52. Platt Benedict’s reaction to this incident is described by him in “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 21.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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