Evidence 50 years late for hanged man

Jadon Gibson

John C. Hamilton was a wealthy citizen of the so-called “Green River Country,” in what is now Metcalfe County, Kentucky. He was a trader in livestock and, at times, slaves. Periodically he sold some of his slaves in Mississippi.

Following a successful trek to Mississippi in 1817 he returned to Kentucky along with Dr. John P. Sanderson, a wealthy farmer who resided near Natchez, Mississippi. Sanderson was interested in buying more slaves and carried a large sum of money.

Dr. Sanderson became sick on the journey to Kentucky and upon his arrival he was a guest in the home of Hamilton’s father. It took him several weeks to recuperate.

Following his recovery John Hamilton left with Dr. Sanderson who guided him to the forks of the road, nine miles from his father’s house. Once there he pointed out the directions to an adjoining county where a sale of blacks was to take place that day. Sanderson wanted to purchase several slaves and to begin his return to Mississippi.

Later that day Hamilton returned home as expected. Late the following day Sanderson’s riderless horse showed up at the house of Hamilton’s father but Dr. Sanderson was never seen alive again.

The sheriff became involved and learned that Sanderson and Hamilton had been seen at several points on the trip to the forks of the road. The last time was less than one mile before they would have arrived at their destination. He learned that Sanderson had not attended the slave auction as planned so he surmised the man had been foully dealt with and a search party was organized.

Sanderson’s corpse was found near the road that led to where the slave auction was to be held. His body was covered with brush. A gun hammer was evident, lodged in his skull. His hat was found in a hollow stump. Under the lining of the hat was a listing of the individual numbers of thirty-one, hundred dollar Mississippi bills. The brass pistol he carried was found hidden nearby. The broken gun hammer was missing.

The bills were found in Hamilton’s possession when he was arrested and the serial numbers matched the numbers on Sanderson’s list. Hamilton’s overalls were found in his father’s barn with blood on them.

“I did not kill Doc Sanderson,” Hamilton exclaimed on the witness stand during his trial. “He was my friend. If I wanted him dead I could have simply neglected him during his sickness and he would have died. I could have then taken his money.

”Regarding the money, Mississippi money can only be used at a discount in Kentucky just as Kentucky money can only be used at a discount in Mississippi. I traded him Kentucky money for his Mississippi money so he could buy his slaves at fair value and not discounted. Likewise I would soon return to Mississippi where I could have fair value by using the Mississippi money I traded from him. It was simply a mutual accommodation to maximize our profit. I have brought my bank records which you can verify. They show that I borrowed an additional $1,000 to make up the sum I needed for the exchange.”

Hamilton further stated that one of his black servants had taken his overalls and gone to a dance where he got into a fight and gotten them bloodied. He hid them in the barn until he would have an opportunity to clean them. This evidence was not corroborated.

The jury deliberated before finding Hamilton guilty and Judge Solomon Sharpe, also convinced of his guilt, showed no mercy. He sentenced him to the hangman’s noose. Hamilton protested the jury’s decision and Judge Sharpe’s sentence. Hamilton’s family exclaimed he was a victim of circumstances, all to no avail.

John C. Hamilton also protested his hanging from the gallows on the day he paid for his misdeeds. It was a sorrowful day. Many residents of the Green River area felt an injustice was done.

An interesting aspect to this story follows. President Andrew Johnson appointed the Honorable Richard Rosseau of Kentucky as the Chief of Mission to Honduras in the later 1860’s. The title was changed to ambassador several years later. Ambassador Rousseau was visited by a Col. Gibson while in Honduras in 1869.

Gibson, a rich farmer from near Vicksburg, Mississippi, told Rosseau that some 35 years earlier he had attended a hanging in the eastern part of Mississippi. He said he was very close to the scaffold and could hear plainly when the sheriff asked the doomed man if he had any final words he wanted to say. The doomed man confessed to an earlier crime in Kentucky, many years before.

“He said that he and a friend, both wanted by the law at the time, were hidden near a road when they saw Sanderson approaching on his mount,” Gibson explained. “He said they rushed out and seized the man, dragging him from his horse. Sanderson resisted as well as he could, took out his pistol but they grabbed and wrenched it from his hand before striking him with it. The gun hammer broke, lodged in his skull.“

Later the two felons heard that someone had been hanged for the crime which they committed. The details of their crime had never been told nor had it come to light prior to the time the confessor “came clean,” prior to his hanging. In the era of public hangings it wasn’t unusual for the individual being put to death, and soon to face God’s judgment, to make confessions of their wrongdoing. The man’s accomplice in crime had been hanged for another murder, at an earlier date, without revealing the killing in 1817.

Mr. Rousseau said Col. Gibson had authorized him to make the facts known and thus erase the stain from John C. Hamilton’s record though more than fifty years late. He was hanged in 1817. copyright 2018 Jadon Gibson

Editor’s note: Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read periodically at bereaonline.com. Don’t miss a single posting!

A Voice for God – a voice for good

My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. Most of us are fortunate in that we haven’t had to face a tragedy such as the terrible shootings that have occurred at several schools and churches during the last few years. My mother told us about a fellow student stabbing and killing one of her teachers while he was at the blackboard during a class. That would have been in Harlan County, Kentucky in the early 1930’s.

It seems as though the killers today are motivated to attack large numbers of unsuspecting individuals with high-powered weaponry. It is absolutely wrong that youngsters can obtain assault type weapons.

It’s like an epidemic. One such event germinates the idea in the minds of others. Usually it is a student or former student at the school and in nearly every case a large amount of planning and preparation goes into their effort. It is likely that friends or classmates notice some change.

Fellow students can sometimes be the best deterrent by notifying authorities upon hearing and becoming concerned by the words or actions of others. Some schools are attacked because they’re “soft” targets and a lot of damage can be done in a short amount of time. Churches are also considered to be soft targets as attendees are focused on worship instead of on danger.

I noticed a newspaper advertisement today that the Treadway, Tennessee Volunteer Fire Department is having an open meeting to provide training and resource information to enhance awareness and assist places of worship on how to stay safe and maintain a safe environment. It is especially recommended for worship leaders but others are welcome. A similar program titled ‘Security and Safety for places of worship will be held at the Lee Theatre in Pennington Gap, Virginia on March 10th. Interested attendees must register with the Sheriff’s office by March 1.

I mention this as it may evidence that groups are mounting programs to apprize groups with knowledge and preparation so their school or church may avoid or lessen the impact of such a catastrophe. It’ll be helpful if many other such programs are held for our citizenry and it may be encouraged by regional church associations, teachers groups and/or school officials.

Likewise police officials may want to devise a program for students, teachers and school officials to protect groups so they will have advance preparation should such a tragedy occur at their facility. Otherwise we’ll continue to hear over and over, at each future tragedy, “I never thought it would happen here.”

My good lord in Heaven has been so good to me. He’ll be good to you too if you keep Him in your heart and thank Him for His blessings. Thank you Lord for all that you do for me. Protect our young ones throughout America oh Lord as they prepare for the future.

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