Anti-Masonic Convention

Posted: April 20, 2009 in Murder Of William Morgan

Mr. Whittlesey from the Committee next herein mentioned, made the following Report on the abduction and murder of WILLIAM MORGAN, and on the conduct and measures of the Masonic Fraternity to prevent convictions, &c.


The stage which had left Rochester early the same morning, arrived at Murdoch’s tavern before the carriage containing Morgan passed. A gentleman of high standing, of Rochester, was one of the passengers in the stage; when the stage arrived at Murdoch’s tavern, this gentleman called the man aside who then had charge of the tavern, and asked him if he was a royal arch mason; being answered in the negative, he asked for writing materials, with which he wrote a note and despatched a boy with it to Jeremiah Brown residing in that vicinity. Jeremiah Brown came to the tavern soon after, and held a conversation with him. When the stage went on, Brown and the gentleman went on, in it. Soon after, Brown returned to the tavern with two horses, riding one and leading the other. When the carriage containing Morgan came along, which was soon after; Elihu Mather, who was then driving it, beckoned to Brown after the carriage had passed the house a short distance, and Brown went up to him, and appeared to hold some conversation with him. The carriage drove on. Brown took his horses and followed on after it; but it would seem that he left his horses, and got on to the carriage himself. Burrage Smith had followed the Morgan carriage in a sulkey, but he had not overtaken it when the carriage arrived at Murdoch’s. The carriage stopped at evening, at the tavern of Solomon C. Wright, in New Fane, Niagara county, where the road turns off to Lockport, and about three miles distant therefrom. It was here driven into the barn and the doors closed, and the party remained at this place some time, to procure refreshments, and to make arrangements for relieving those who had travelled in the carriage with Morgan all day, and the whole of the previous night, and who must necessarily have been greatly fatigued.
Burrage Smith went to Lockport in his sulkey, and together with Jared Darrow called upon Eli Bruce, the sheriff of Niagara county, and informed him that Morgan was in their possession, and was going to Canada; and requested Bruce’s assistance in getting him along. Bruce and some others went to Wright’s, where several persons were assembled. Bruce and David Hague got into the carriage with Morgan; Elihu Mather drove, and Jeremiah Brown was on the box with him, and they left Wright’s about ten o’clock in the evening. The persons who came there with Morgan, probably most of them went to Lockport that night, and went into Lewiston the next day in a stage coach. At Molyneux’s tavern, six miles distant, they stopped; and Bruce procured Molyneux’s horses, in exchange for Mather’s. An individual accompanied the carriage on horse back. Brown then drove, and they reached Lewiston, fourteen miles distant from Molyneux’s, somewhat after midnight. The carriage was driven around to a back street, and unharnessed. Samuel Burton, one of the proprietors of the stage line, at Lewiston, was called upon for assistance. He called up Corydon Fox, one of his drivers, and directed him to harness a carriage. He did so, and drove up to the tavern. Bruce got upon the box with him, and by his direction, Fox drove around to the back street, where the other carriage was unharnessed, when Morgan was taken out of the one carriage, and put into the carriage which Fox drove. Bruce and Hague got in with him, and Fox, by Bruce’s direction, drove to Youngstown. They called at the house of Colonel William King, at Youngstown, and stopped. Bruce alighted and called up King, who came out with Bruce and both got into the carriage. Fox drove on towards the fort, by Bruce’s direction, and when arrived at the burying ground near the fort, he was told to stop. He did so, when the persons having Morgan in charge, got out, together with Morgan, and all four walked off, arm in arm, towards the fort, and Fox was told he might return. Morgan was hoodwinked and bound at this time. It appears that arrangements had been previously made, for the reception of Morgan upon the Canada side of the river, with persons residing upon that side. After the party left the carriage, they went to the ferry house, and Colonel King called up Edward Giddins, who then kept the ferry. All of them crossed the river, together with Giddins, and landed nearly opposite to the fort, at some distance from any dwelling. Mr. Giddins and David Hague remained at the boat with Morgan, while Colonel King and Sheriff Bruce went into the village of Niagara, to see the masons with whom it had been arranged to receive their victim: They were absent about two hours, and returned with two other men, one of whom was Edward McBride, then a member of the parliament of Upper Canada. After some conference, it was determined to bring Morgan back again, inasmuch as the arrangements for his reception in Canada were not yet complete. This event had probably been anticipated, as both Giddins and the keeper of the fort had been requested, two or three days previous, to prepare the magazine for the reception of Morgan, which they had accordingly done, by removing the principal part of the public property from it. After the refusal of the Canada masons to receive Morgan, the same persons who had taken him across the river, re-crossed with him, and placed him in the magazine, which had been so prepared for his reception and locked him in. This was some time before day dawn, on the morning of the 14th of September, 1826. Morgan was left in charge of Edward Giddins. The fort was unoccupied by troops, and indeed was entirely deserted, except by Giddins and the keeper, and their respective families.
On the 14th day of September, 1826, a royal arch chapter was installed at Lewiston; which event called together a very considerable assemblage of masons, of that degree, from Rochester, Buffalo, Lockport and other places in that vicinity. It would appear from the testimony of one or two witnesses, and the statements of others, that scarce an individual mason, attending that installation, could have been ignorant of the fact, that Morgan was at that time confined in the magazine of fort Niagara. It appears to have been a subject of conversation among them, and several were then informed that such was the fact. On the day of the installation, Giddins remained at the fort, to see that all was kept safe. He, together with John Jackson, went to the magazine, for the purpose of carrying Morgan food. Morgan refused to admit them, and said he would starve rather than fall into their hands; and he made so great an outcry as to render it necessary to dispatch Jackson to Lewiston, to procure the assistance of some one to silence him. David Hague came down in haste, a distance of seven miles, but did not succeed in quieting Morgan. Two other persons were then sent down from Lewiston, and one of them, (Loton Lawson) of whom Morgan seemed to have a great dread went into the magazine, and succeeded in stilling him. In the evening, twenty or thirty persons, besides those belonging to the fort, came from Lewiston, and were at the fort. About midnight, seven persons, all royal arch masons, held a consultation on the plain near the grave yard, some rods distant from the fort, as to the manner in which Morgan should be disposed of. There seemed to be but one opinion among them all: that Morgan had forfeited his life, for a breach of his masonic obligations; and that it was their duty as masons, to see that the penalty was executed. They came to a determination to proceed in a body and seize Morgan, and perform their own duty, by casting him into the river. After they had started to carry this determination into effect, one of the company discovered a reluctance to go such lengths, which encouraged others to remonstrate, and the project was abandoned for that time. On the night of the 15th, a similar consultation was held between four persons, as to the disposition of Morgan, but nothing was decided upon. – At this consultation, Colonel King became offended with Mr. Giddins, for expressing a desire that Morgan should be released; and Giddins surrendered to him the key of the magazine, which was afterwards entrusted to the care of Elisha Adams. It is known that Morgan remained confined until the 19th of September.
As to the disposition of Morgan, after the evening of the 14th of September, nothing has yet been made known judicially, but circumstances are strong, to induce the belief, that he was put to death on the night of the 19th of September, 1826, by being cast into the depths of Niagara river. Several persons have been informed, by those who were understood to be cognizant of the guilty secret, that such was the fact, and Hiram B. Hopkins, has testified, that he as a mason, was informed in January 1827, that Morgan was murdered. William P. Daniels who was called as a witness, at the late trials at Lockport, refused to answer a question, on the ground that he might criminate himself as an accessory to the crime of murder, although he was told expressly by the judge that he must have better evidence, that a murder had been committed, than the public possessed, before he could decline answering on such ground.
It will strike anyone, on hearing a recital of the facts connected with the abduction of William Morgan, that the combination to effect that measure, must have been very extensive, embracing a large number of individuals. The judicial examinations of the subject have brought out very many names as connected in a nearer or more remote degree, with the transaction at some stage of its progress. The bare seizure and transportation of a man from such a distance, rendered the employment of many agents, a matter of absolute necessity, and it is now well known that many knew of it, who took no active part in the infraction of the laws. It was probably known to numbers of the lodge-going masons, in several of the western counties of New York, that some measures were contemplated to be taken for the suppression of Morgan’s intended publication; and it has been judicially proven, that measures, which contemplated the use of violence, to effect this object, were matter of discussion among masons in the lodge room.
It would be naturally supposed, that a conspiracy, so wide spread, the execution and knowledge of which was confided to so many individuals, would not oppose formidable difficulties to a complete exposure by judicial investigation. In the history of crime those which employ the most accomplices, are usually the easiest of detection, particularly if the agency of some partake but slightly of guilt. But such was not the case in the investigation of this violation of the laws, and the difficulties which were encountered, will be hereafter noticed.
In January, 1827, the trial of Nicholas G. Chesebro, Edward Sawyer, Loton Lawson and John Sheldon, for their agency in the conspiracy, was brought on before Judge Throop, at Canandaigua; the three first, under the advice of counsel, pleaded guilty, and the only question, as to the last to be tried, was the identity of the man. This course excluded the testimony in relation to the conspiracy, which was anxiously looked for by the public. Lawson was sentenced to two years imprisonment in the county jail of Ontario county, Chesebro to one year, and Sawyer, to one month. Sheldon was found guilty and sentenced to three months imprisonment.
In April, 1827, Jesse French, James Hurlburt, Roswell Willcox, and James Ganson, were tried at Batavia, in Gennessee county, for the forcible arrest of David C. Miller. They were all found guilty, but Ganson: French was sentenced to an imprisonment of one year, Willcox for six months, and Hurlburt for three months.
In February, 1827, several of the persons who went in the carriage from Canandaigua to Batavia, and arrested Morgan, and brought him to Canandaigua, were tried at the general session in Ontario, for forcibly seizing, and falsely imprisoning William Morgan, and they were acquitted, on the ground that they were protected by the warrant for his arrest. In August, 1827, Harris Seymour, Henry Howard, Holloway Hayward, Moses Roberts, James Ganson, Chauncey H. Coe, Hiram Hubbard, and James Lakey were tried at Canandaigua, for a conspiracy to kidnap and carry away William Morgan, and were all acquited. Application had been made to De Witt Clinton then governor of the state of New York, for the removal of Eli Bruce, sheriff of Niagara county, for his participation in the abduction of Morgan. The sheriffs in the state of New York are elected by the people, but the constitution provides for their removal by the executive, for good cause shown, on charges preferred, after giving the officer time for his defence. This application was pending before the governor, for a long time, but on the 26th day of September, 1827, he issued his proclamation removing Eli Bruce from the office of sheriff.
Eli Bruce, Orsamus Turner, and Jared Darrow, were tried at Canandaigua, in August, 1828, for their agency in the conspiracy; Eli Bruce was found guilty, the two last were acquitted. A question of law, arising out of the indictment, was carried up to the supreme court, decided against the defendant, and he was sentenced to an imprisonment of two years and four months in Canandaigua jail.
In May, 1829, John Whitney and James Gillis were tried at Canandaigua. John Whitney was convicted and sentenced to an imprisonment of one year and three months. The Jury could not agree in the case of Gillis.
In November, 1829, Elihu Mather was tried at Albion, in Orleans county, and after a trial which consumed nearly two weeks, he was acquitted by the verdict of the jury. A motion for a new trial was made by the special attorney, but the supreme court denied it.
In June, 1830, Ezekiel Jewet, and Jeremiah Brown, were tried at Lockport, in Niagara county, and were severally acquitted. In addition to these trials, there are indictments now pending and undetermined, against eighteen persons, some of which will probably not be further prosecuted.
David Hague, William King, and Burrage Smith are dead; William King died suddenly, the morning after he received information of the testimony of Eli Bruce on the trial of John Whitney.
Having thus given a brief history of the abduction of William Morgan, and noticed the trials growing out of that transaction, it now becomes the duty of your committee, to furnish a statement of the conduct and measures of numbers of the masonic fraternity, to prevent the conviction of those implicated in these gross violations of the laws of the land. Appalling as is the conviction which is pressed upon us by the history of that abduction, that hundreds of respectable men, in the western counties of the state of New York, could be found, who would be willing to violate the laws of the state and the sacredness of private property, personal liberty, and human life, to prevent the publication of the secrets of freemasonry; yet, it would be infinitely more alarming, if it should be found, that great numbers of the members of that fraternity, had made use of every possible device to prevent the discovery of a high handed offence, and to obstruct the administration of justice, and the due execution of the laws. The first, however extensive the combination may have been, was but a single outrage; and like hundreds of other fearful crimes, might have been punished and forgotten, and the public have felt secure in the protection of the laws, in witnessing the unobstructed execution of their penalties. The latter, by unhinging the whole administration of justice, would exhibit a state of facts deeply alarming to a community, who eminently repose upon the laws under which they live for protection, and rely undoubtingly upon their due and impartial administration.
When rumours of these outrages first became public, the citizens of the community, in which they were perpetrated, felt themselves called upon to investigate how it was that a peaceable citizen should be forciby seized in a populous village, and transported against his will, one hundred and fifty miles, through a thickly settled country. As worthy of a free government, they deemed themselves bound to ascertain why, and by whom, a fellow citizen, enjoying the same privileges, was abstracted from the protection of the laws, under circumstances which created well grounded suspicions of a horrible fate. The inquiries for information in relation to Morgan, were answered by taunts, reproaches, and ridicule. At first, the members of the fraternity were bold enough, openly to declare, "That if Morgan had been put to death, his fate was no more than he deserved; he had forfeited his life." These declarations were made by perhaps hundreds of freemasons, within two months after the abduction, and there is scarce an individual, who at that early period took any interest in the investigation, but can call to mind distinctly, many such declarations, made by respectable and influential men.
When intimations were thrown out that an appeal would be made to the laws, more than one freemason has been heard to say, that the judges were masons, the sheriffs were masons, and the jurymen would be masons, and set at defiance the requirements of justice.
There seems to have been a determination on the part of the fraternity, not only to suppress all information in relation to the outrages, but even to repress inquiries and questionings, which might tend to elucidate it. Individuals who ventured to make remarks which such an infraction of the laws were calculated to elicit, were made the subjects of unreasonable abuse, and vindictive hostility, by the lodge-going member of the fraternity. The public press, which has, in almost every other instance of alarming crime, been made in some measure the means of its investigation, or at least of making public its details, was, in this instance with a single exception at first, awed into the most slavish silence, by the influence of freemasonry. The conductors of many of the public prints in western New York, were themselves masons, and the proprietors of others, who did not belong to the fraternity, were soon given to understand that it would be most fatal to their interests, to publish any thing in relation to the ill fated Morgan. A single instance may illustrate this species of influence. In the month of October, or November, 1826, Elihu F. Marshall, a quaker and the conductor of a paper, called "The Album," published in the village of Rochester, ventured to say, in an editorial article, that the unlawful abduction of William Morgan ought to be the subject of investigation. The paper with an article of this import had no sooner appeared, than Edward Doyle, a knight templar, and treasurer of the Monroe Encampment, rushed into the office of the Album in a storm of rage, ordered his paper to be discontinued, and his advertisements stopped, and told Marshall if he did not cease publishing articles against the masonic fraternity, many others would take the same course, but that if he retracted the next week, all might yet be well. Doyle then went to the printing office of a royal arch mason, and boasted "that he had shut the quaker’s mouth." We regret to add, that the timid editor quailed under the masonic threat, and in his next paper made a partial retraction of his previous article.


Source: Star, February 28, 1831, page 1


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