An NYCHS Timeline
Executions by Hanging
in New York State

(Page 9: 1818 - 1819)

With links to more information on selected cases.

Can you fill any data gaps? Please e-mail webmaster Thomas C. McCarthy at
1818 A white male named Abraham Casler was hanged on May 29 for murder.

According to Jeptha R. Simms' History of Schoharie County on the Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site, Casler's 1818 execution was the Schoharie's first for a capital offense after the county's formation April 7th, 1795.

A Mrs. Best, an innkeeper's wife, gave testimony supportive of the prosecution's case that Casler administered opium and arsenic to Mrs. Casler while the Montgomery County couple stayed at the Bests' inn on a journey through Schoharie County. Apparently Casler wanted his wife out of the way in order that he might marry another woman who had become the object of "his unholy desires." [Simms, Ch. XX]

According to William E. Roscoe' History of Schoharie County on the Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site, Casler had married a Miss Spraker but "his immorality and love for another woman" made the home situation unpleasant. Pretending repentance, he persuaded his wife to journey with him by wagon to start anew elsewhere. At the Bests inn on the road from Punchkill to Middleburgh, Casler attended to his wife who complained of feeling ill. Her family who had not been told of her illness became suspicious after Casler suddenly disappeared following the burial. The body was exhumed. Examination detected the opium and arsenic.

Tried and convicted Sept. 12, 1817, before "Judge Yates," Casler was publicly executed on the hill east of the courthouse the following May.

* * *

A soldier named James Hamilton was hanged on Nov. 6, 1818 for murder.

According brief entry descriptions for an August 1818 story in the Detroit Gazette and for October and November 1818 stories in the Cherry Valley Gazette (Otsego County), major Benjamin Birdsall died Sunday, July 14, 1818, having been shot by James Hamilton, "an Irishman." The major had been with the U.S. Rifle Corps and was survived by a wife and four children. Hamilton was convicted at a trial in Albany County Court of Oyer and Terminer in October and executed the next month.


Kit Crumpton performed a great service for history researchers on the web by transcribing Life and Dying Confession of John Van Alstine (title page image above) and posting it on the Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site. This Timeline adapts as its logo the 1819 gallows image.

On March 19, a 40-year-old white farmer named John Van Alstine aka Van Alstyne was executed for murdering Schoharie County Deputy Sheriff William Huddleston Oct. 19, 1818.

Jeptha R. Simms in his History of Schoharie County on the Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site and David Minor on his excellent Eagles Byte Historical Research site both provide very readable accounts of the case.

The most detailed report to be found on the web is the transcription of a "12 1/2 cts" pamphlet that its 1819 publisher, H. & E. Phinneyen of Cooperstown, titled:

Life and Dying Confession of John Van Alstine EXECUTED MARCH 19, 1819 For the Murder of William Huddleston, Esq. Deputy Sheriff of the county of Schoharie. With a full account of his TRIAL, Before the Honorable Ambrose Spencer, in Schoharie, Feb. 17, 1819 Together with a full and circumstantial account of his EXECUTION, His behavior under the GALLOWS, and his LAST AND DYING WORDS to the spectators.

The booklet opens with a copyright statement signed by Richard R. Lansing, Clerk of the Northern District of New York, to the effect that "on the 18th day of March, in the 43rd year of the Independence of the United States of America, A.D. 1819, GILES H. HUBBARD, of said District, hath deposited in this office the title of a Book, the right whereof he claims as Author and Proprietor in the words and figures following, to wit: A Life and dying confession of John Van Alstine, executed March 19, . . ."

That would mean Hubbard filed the copyright claim for the "dying confession" book the day BEFORE the execution!

Perhaps Hubbard was just getting a headstart by describing as a "dying confession" the words in the book attributed to Van Alstine. Regardless, the text makes fascinating reading, not merely for details about the case, but also for conveying the temperment of the times.

Indicted in November, 1818, Van Alstine was arraigned at a special Oyer and Terminer, held at the Schoharie courthouse Feb. 16, 1819, and pled "Not Guilty." The trial began Wednesday morning, Feb. 17, before Chief Justice Ambrose Spencer. Also present were Judges Beekman, Bouck, Shepherd, Shafer, and Hager. At the prosecution table were District Attorney Henry Hamilton and Moses I. Cantine, Esq. The defense attorneys were Jacob Gebbard and Thomas J. Oakley.

The web page Kit Crumpton created for her transcription of Life and Dying Confession of John Van Alstine on the Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site includes the pamphlet's map of Van Alstine's farm (from which the above image was taken). Its caption explains the map's markings for specific locations related to facts in the case.

The testimony of each of the dozens of witnesses for and against was summarized in the booklet. While no one testified to seeing the killing, witnesses established

  • that Deputy Sheriff Huddleston had arrived on horse back at the defendant's farm to execute judgments against Van Alstine,
  • that Van Alstine had been uncooperative and hostile toward Huddleston,
  • that Huddleston and his horse did not return home afterwards,
  • that Van Alstine professed no knowledge of their whereabouts when searchers came looking for them,
  • that Van Alstine fled the region and headed for Canada under an assumed name,
  • that searchers returning the Van Alstine farm found Huddleston's body in furrowed field as well as other incriminating items,
  • that fellow passenger Elias W. Slocum, aboard a boat on which the fugative had booked passage as John Allen, suspecting him of being Van Alstine for whom Governor De Witt Clinton had offered $250 reward and Sheriff Abraham Keyser, $100, as reported in a newspaper, arrested Allen/Van Alstine and lodged in Buffalo jail. (Had a sudden storm not caused a delay in the boat trip, Van Alstine might have made good his escape.)

The jury returned a guilty verdict at 5 P.M. the same day. Judge Spencer the next day, while sentencing the defendant to be hanged in the early afternoon of March 19, 1819, recalled that only nine months earlier Abraham Casler had been executed in the county. The judge, out of consideration for Van Alstine's family, said he would not order his body disected.

The next section of the pamphlet, an apparent autobiographical sketch by Van Alstine in the first person, described his life and events involved in the case. The booklet's closing section detailed the execution. It told how:

The Schoharie County courthouse in which Abraham Casler and John Van Alstine were tried in their separate murder cases and its jail in which they were held had been built in the very early 1800s. The facility was destroyed in 1845 by a fire set by inmate George Burton. A replacement was built the following year but that courthouse burned down in 1870. The 1846 jail survived the 1870 fire. A new courthouse was built on the old site in 1870 with the 1846 jail at its rear. An illustration of the 1870 courthouse and the 1846 jail appears in William E. Roscoe' 1882 History of Schoharie County on the Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site.

  • "A very large concourse of people had assembled."
  • "The Prisoner . . . took his place, seated on his coffin, in a sleigh drawn by two white horses, being dressed in a white frock, with a white cap, tipped with black; behind him was another sleigh, with his friends, who were to receive his body after his execution."
  • "A procession arranged by the Sheriff . . . began to move at about 1 P. M. escorted by two companies of horses, [a] company of light infantry, and one or two companies of militia, accompanied with solemn and impressive music."
  • "The place of execution . . was on a rise of ground, about one fourth of a mile easterly from the Court House."
  • "The exercises were opened by singing the 240th Hymn, the prisoner joined in the singing."
  • Rev. Mr. James N. Austin of Carlisle delivered a forceful prayer in which the prisoner joined, the clergyman's hand upon the condemned man's shoulder. Rev. Mr. George A. Lintner of Schoharie led singing of the 241st Hymn verses.
  • "The prisoner again joined in singing, and appeared remarkably firm and composed; the rope being about his neck and fastened to the gallows."
  • "Mr. Lintner addressed the audience . . . [and] observed that he had spent considerable time with this unfortunate man during his confinement [and] that he believed Van Alstine possessed a contrite heart and . . . had given himself to Christ . . . for salvation."
  • "Van Astine, now addressing himself to the Sheriff and wishing to know as to the strength of the rope about his neck, said, 'is it strong?' and receiving assurance that it was, said, 'keep up courage.'"
  • "The Rev. Mr. Wait of Schoharie then . . . exhorted the assemble to prepare for that . . . day in which all should be brought to judgement."


    So who was Giles H. Hubbard, author of the 1819 Life and Dying Confession of John Van Alstine pamphlet that Kit Crumpton transcribed and posted on the Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site?

    Who was the author so close to the execution scene that he could hear and recall even the words the prisoner addressed only to the sheriff?

    Would you believe the author was the sheriff?

    Well, according to Chapter IX of William E. Roscoe' 1882 History of Schoharie County on the Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site, Giles H. Hubbard and his brother Aaron settled at the beginning of the 19th Century in that part of Schoharie County which became known as Smithtown. Giles, a graduate of Union College, had fitted himself for the law, but succeeded Abraham Keyser as County Sheriff on Feb. 9, 1819; that is, a month before Van Alstine was to be executed.

    Giles H. Hubbard served as sheriff until February 12, 1821. Aaron was elected to the Legislature in 1816, 1817, and 1819.

  • "After a few minutes, [Van Alstine] began to address himself to the people, . . .[saying among many other things] 'I have had a bad temper--I could not be drove--no person ever had a more stubborn will than mine; but, I beg you all to pray for me; I desire you all to love like one family, as we are all the children of God. . .'"
  • "The several clergymen as well as the Sheriff, now took leave of him, each taking him by the hand, and biding him a final adieu--his appearance being firm, and showing scarcely any signs of agitation."
  • "The clergy and the Sheriff having descended the ladder from the scaffold, the unfortunate man proceeded '. . . Oh! what have I done! I am a dying man, and a miserable sinner. . . . Gentlemen, I give you all a fair warning. I hope you will avoid sin. The Lord has enabled me to thus speak. I am not ashamed to stand on this scaffold--I feel happy--I would not change situations for a thousand worlds. I am resigned--now I am ready--God be merciful to me.'"
  • "The Sheriff on leaving the scaffold, had mounted his horse . . . a signal from the Sheriff, caused the fatal spring to be touched--the platform fell, and almost instantly poor Van Alstine followed--his weight falling suddenly, having broken the rope!"
  • "The fall deprived [Van Alstine] for a few moments of all sense, and it was sometime before he was sufficiently recovered to reascend the ladder, which however, he very soon did with some little assistance. Another rope was soon prepared, and the Sheriff, having adjusted it, again shook hands with him."
  • "His cap was not drawn down over his face, and he appeared as though he wished it to be left off without having his eyes covered--he was told that the cap should cover his face, on which he said, 'Must I do it?' and being answered in the affirmative, he pulled it over himself, and offering up prayers to heaven, the fatal spring was again touched, and he was swung off about 2 minutes before 3."
  • "He appeared to expire without a struggle. His body hung for about 30 minutes, when it was taken down, and delivered to his friends."

* * *

On April 16, 1819, two white males James Teed and David Dunning were hanged for murder.

According brief entry descriptions for 1819 stories -- March, April and May -- in the Cherry Valley Gazette (Otsego County), James Teed and Richard Dunning were accused in the death of a Richard Jennings. They were tried at Orange County Oyer and Terminer Court in Goshen along with Hannah Teed, David Conklin and Jack Hodges, the latter an African-American.

Apparently, the men were convicted and sentenced but only James Teed and David Dunning were executed.

* * *

Erastus Root (above), who served as one of murder defendant Nathan Foster's attorneys, later became Assembly Speaker, State Senator, U.S. Congressman and NYS Lt. Governor.

On Aug. 6, 1819, a 60-year-old white man named Nathan Foster was hanged for the murder of his wife. He was charged with poisoning her.

The Masonville resident was tried in the Delhi courthouse. Erastus Root and Samuel Sherwood were the attorneys for the defendant. Both later became U.S. Representatives. Root also became a NY State Assemblyman, Assembly Speaker, State Senator, State Constitutional Convention Delegate, and Liuetenant Governor. The Delaware County district attorney was assisted in the prosecution of the case by NY State Attorney General Martin Van Buren, the future 8th President of the United States.

As explained at length in this Timeline's Page 8 entry for the 1817 Margaret Houghtaling execution, a state attorney general or an assistant state attorney general might found at the prosecution table, along with the local district attorney, trying a capital murder case in most any one of the counties of New York during much of the 19th Century.

Samuel Sherwood (above), who served as one of murder defendant Nathan Foster's attorneys, later became a U.S. Congressman.

Delaware County Sheriff Martin Keeler of Kortright supervised the the carrying out of the death sentence. Foster was executed without ever confessing guilt.

Interestingly, the 19th Century Delaware County historians whose works, transcribed and posted on genealogy and history web sites, including the Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site, mention the Foster case seemed more focused on a murder for which he was never formally charged.

David Murray, W.W. Munsell and Jay Gould's separate histories of the county each devoted more attention to the tenuous connection of Foster to the death of Colonel Ichabod Alden during the Cherry Valley massacre four decades earlier than to the proven poisoning of Mrs. Foster.

Resentment against Foster for allegedly having been a Tory during the Revolution flamed anew with the wife murder case. To some, it may have possibly looked like a chance to right an old wrong while also righting a new wrong. Murray and Gould's histories repeated a third-hand report implicating Foster in the death of Alden during an Indian attack on a Patriot fort that the Revolutionary colonel commanded. Munsell also repeated the hearsay -- quoting someone quoting someone supposedly quoting Foster -- but, to Munsell's credit for balanced reporting, he also noted that historian Colonel William L. Stone in his book on the Native-American pro-British warrior Brant, attributed Col. Alden's death "to an Indian."

* * *

On Oct. 22, 1819, a white seaman named George Brown was hanged for murder.*

While web searching turned up nothing about a seaman George Brown being hanged in October 1819 for murder in New York, the curious coincidence did surface: A pirate named George Brown, captured by a federal cutter out of New Orleans, was hanged in Galveston Bay in October 1819.

* * *

On Dec. 3, 1819, a soldier named John Godfrey was hanged for murder.*

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