The crowd that gathered in the little lake-side village of Mayville New York on that mid-May day in 1835 was enormous. Between 8,000 and 15,000 people crowded into the village which normally counted a population of less than 700 people. Men, women and children came on foot, horseback or by wagon. Everyone laid aside their usual tasks and treated the day as a holiday. The 207th Militia Regiment was on hand under the command of Colonel William D. Bond to keep the peace. The jostling crowd milled about the village that served as the county seat for Chautauqua County looking for the best viewing spot for the big event. No one wanted to miss it, and few would, for nearly one quarter of the entire population of Chautauqua County was there. All these people were there to see one man: Joseph Damon, who had been sentenced to hang by the neck until dead for killing his wife. The day promised to be the event of the century.
Public hangings were rare, and that of Joseph Damon would prove to be the last in New York State. Despite the grisly spectacle of a hanging, there was a festive air and the excited people were sure to be rewarded with a memorable spectacle. The gallows had been constructed on a level spot on the top of a knoll to provide good visibility. The spot, just behind the former Mayville School on Academy Street that now serves as government offices, was widely visible. Down the slope to the east, stood the Chautauqua County Courthouse where the prisoner had been tried and convicted. To the west of the execution site along the Mayville-Sherman Road, stood another knoll that provided a clear, if distant, vantage point of the gallows. The historic crowd assembled on the slopes between the two knolls, and cast their eyes upward to the site of the execution.
Some say that Damon was transported to the gallows by cart, but one eye witness reported that Damon walked up the hill to the gallows from his jail cell in the courthouse. He was accompanied by a circle of guards with fixed bayonets, and a fife and drum corps played a march later known as "Damon's March." A cart followed along, carrying his coffin.
At the top of the hill, Damon climbed the four or five steps up the gallows. He was an imposing figure, nearly six feet tall and powerfully built and he walked with a firm step. At Damon?s request, Reverend Joseph Sawyer, a Baptist Minister preached a service. Sawyer gave the traditional service from Chapter 11 verse 19 of Proverbs, "He that pursueth evil" while Damon calmly sat on his waiting coffin and listened. Afterward, Damon addressed the crowd and spoke for a full 30 minutes arguing that the witnesses had lied, that if he had killed his wife he must have been insane, and that he had no recollection of committing any act of violence toward her. He argued that he was unconscious at the time, but he did not explain why he would have been unconscious and how an unconscious man could beat his wife to death with an iron poker.
Finally, the preliminaries were over and a white shroud was lowered over his head. He stood on a trap door in the platform with the noose around his neck. If the noose was properly adjusted it would have been adjusted to the left side of his neck. On the signal, the trap door would give way and the weight of the falling man would jerk the rope taunt and, hopefully, instantly snap his neck. This would give the prisoner the much desired immediate death, and avoid a slow strangulation and the "dancing at the end of a rope" that occurred if the neck did not break.
Strangely enough, Damon's neck didn't break and he didn't dance at the end of the rope. When the trap door of the platform dropped, the fastenings on the rope gave way, and Damon hit the ground, uninjured. He calmly said he wished they would loosen the rope around his neck as he "wanted to breathe once more." The failure of the rope was an unexpected and shocking development. Some thought this was a sign that the hanging should not go forward, "You have hung me once, now let me go." The rope was readjusted and Damon stated his wish "that it be done quick." It was. On the second try, the equipment functioned properly, and he died as the sound of the drop echoed in the nearby forest.
Joseph Damon's Early Life
Joseph Damon was born on March 18, 1800 in Worcester, Massachusetts. His parents Stephen and Hannah Loring Damon brought Joseph and his brothers Stephen, Martin and North Eells to Chautauqua County in 1816. The Damons also had two daughters, Rebecca and Anna, although both may have been daughters- in- law.
Stephen and Hannah established a farm in the southern part of the Town of Pomfret on Old Chautauqua Road. Their son Martin was a stone cutter and the product of his labors can be seen in the old cemetery in Fredonia. Some of the best examples of Damon stone cutting are in the Charlotte Evergreen Cemetery including the headstone for Major Sinclair, a soldier of the Revolution. In the old cemetery in Fredonia, there is an elaborate stone for Captain Thomas Abell who died in 1814. It is carved in high relief and shows the angel Gabriel sitting on a cloud with a trumpet and ?Ye Dead Arise? and ?Come to Judgment.? In the 1930?s, a descendant of Captain Abell commissioned a copy of the stone which had worn away. This copy can be seen today in the Fredonia Pioneer Cemetery.
Martin was said to have a sarcastic wit. In one exchange, the local Fredonia physician saw Martin at work and asked him if it was customary to letter the stones before the person had died. Martin replied, ?Not unless I hear he is your patient.? All four of the brothers were rough men, but it was generally agreed that Martin was the best of the lot. Little is known about Stephen and North, but they may well have also been employed in the Damon Quarry as stone cutters.
Joseph was a rough, bad tempered man. He liked his drink and was known to be abusive to his wife. History has not recorded what set Joseph off on April 24, 1834 but he was clearly in a state. Late in the afternoon he went to the nearby home of his parents? and angrily accused them of making trouble in his family by siding with his wife in a dispute the couple was having. Joseph returned home from his parents? home, and with his two young children nearby, brutally beat his wife on her head with the iron rod. When the evil deed was done, he called to his brother Stephen, who lived at the home of their parents, ?For God?s sake come in, I am afraid I have killed my wife.?
The family sprang into action. North Damon hurried into Fredonia to summon Doctor Benjamin Walworth, who also served as County Judge, and Doctor Crosby to Joseph?s residence. The doctors rushed the 3 miles to the Damon home only to find Joseph's wife lying on a bed, near death. Her hair, face and pillow were clotted with blood. Joseph was covered in his wife's blood and the bloody fire poker stood by the fireplace, making it clear what had happened. While Dr. Walworth's medical training could not help the dying Almira Damon, he used his legal authority to order Joseph Damon into custody.
Statement of Joseph's Mother Hannah
Mrs. Hannah Damon, sworn, said she was the mother of the prisoner, resided but a few steps from him, came into the country with him, recollects the day his wife was killed. A short time before it happened, while Martin, her husband and herself, were eating supper, the prisoner came in, and said something to Martin about making a disturbance in his family. Martin said he had not made any disturbance, and the prisoner was pacified with him. The prisoner was then lying on the bed. He generally lay down when he came into the house. The prisoner then accused the witness of upholding his wife in going to meeting. Witness replied that religion was a good thing, and a little would not hurt him. The prisoner went out, and it was but a few minutes before witness heard the cry at his house. Witness observed when the prisoner came into the house, he did not look as he usually did. He looked wild, his eyes looked like a crazy person's. Witness was the first who got to the prisoner's house after the alarm. When she went in, prisoner asked where Martin was. Witness replied he had just gone home. Prisoner then went to the door and called Martin, he returned, and they put the prisoner's wife on the bed. The prisoner had been out of health a great deal. His complaint was in his head. He complained of his head often. The prisoner and his wife had not quarreled lately. They used to, some: she was a high tempered woman, and used to drink too much, but lately the liquor had been kept locked up, and it was well known in the family that the prisoner locked it up to keep it away from his wife. The witness knows Job Damon was crazy. He is own cousin to the prisoner. The prisoner's general conduct toward his wife was very kind and affectionate. He was very fond of her, and of his children also. Witness did not know as Martin and his wife quarreled.
Cross examined by Mr. Smith.--- And said she lived across the road from the prisoner's house. Had lived there fourteen years, with the exception of about two years, when she lived where Mr, Hilton now lives. Never knew of the prisoner abusing his wife since she lived there. Never knew of prisoner's wife being lame. She knew that the prisoner posted his wife in the newspaper, it was because she went off; she had ran off several times. She has not gone away for two or three years past. Never knew of prisoner turning her out of doors. Never knew of any quarelling between them, and never heard the cry of murder there before. Did not hear anything this time, till the children cried out. The sun was about half an hour high when the prisoner came into witness' house. He first complained of Martin for injuring his family. Martin said he had not. He stayed about ten minutes. He acted strange, looked wild. Witness saw it when he first came in; never saw him look so before. Witness lives in a log house with one window, with six panes of glass in it; is seventy one years old. Cannot see to read without spectacles. Had no spectacles on when prisoner came in. Don't recollect whether the door was open or not. She can see to do her work but not to read. She could recognize an acquaintance as well as ever. There is no chimney in the house, but an openining in the roof much larger than a window.
Western Democrat and Literary Inquirer - (published every Tuesday) Fredonia, Chautauqua County , New York - January 20, 1835
Joseph Damon was indicted on the charge of 1st degree murder at the September term of court in 1834. 1st degree murder requires proof of premeditation or evidence of an act committed with a deprave mind, regardless of human life. While incarcerated, Damon was the beneficiary of an expensive upgrade to the prison cells at the county courthouse.
Damon's trial was the last trial to be held in the old courthouse as a new court house was to be constructed (the current courthouse in Mayville, is actually the third structure). The presiding judge was Addison Gardner, circuit judge of the Eighth Circuit. Also in attendance were County Judges Philo Orton, Thomas B. Campbell, Benjamin Walworth and Artemus Hearick. Sheldon Smith, a talented legal practitioner from Jamestown and District Attorney Samuel A. Brown of Jamestown prosecuted the case.
A ool of 60 were drawn for jury duty of which 12 were selected. The jurors were Solomon Jones, Thomas Quigley, Aretus Smith, Walter Woodward, Don S. Downer, Anson R. Wyllis, Daniel S. Richmond, Thomas R Treat, Samuel S. Forbush, Isaac Cornell, Harvey Egleston and Nathan A. Alexander.
Damon was ably represented by James Mullett of Fredonia and Jacob Houghton of Jamestown. Mullet was a popular attorney among the early residents of Chautauqua County and he was considered talented and accomplished. He provided Damon with an eloquent defense and delivered a powerful closing argument to the jury, which was considered one of the best ever heard in the county. While Damon?s guilt was a foregone conclusion, Mullet raised an insanity defense, and also argued to spare him the death penalty. He filed appeals on several exceptions to rulings of the trail court, but the Supreme Court upheld the lower court?s rulings.
The testimony showed that Joseph was in Fredonia until 3 o?clock in the afternoon of April 24, 1834, tending to his usual business. He was observed to be in his right mind at this time. He went home and hauled in a load of wood, then turned his team out to pasture. He went across the road to the home of his parents where he had words with his mother. He accused her of supporting his wife's desire to go to "meeting" (church), and accused both of his parents of being against him. He was jealous of his wife?s activities, and to our modern ears, he sounds paranoid. Joseph laid down on a bed and rested a few minutes, and when he got up to leave his mother observed that his eyes looked wild and that his demeanor was "singular."
When Damon arrived home, he sent his 12 year old daughter, also named Almira, outside to pick up "chips." The girl heard a noise, and went into the house to find her mother laying on the floor, bleeding profusely. Her mother appeared lifeless to the little girl, and the child immediately cried out for help. Her grandmother Hannah Damon and her uncle Martin were just across the street, and they ran into the home in response to the child?s cries.
Together, the two adults moved Almira?s bloody body into a bed. Almira was unconscious and barely alive. She would continue to cling to life for another hour before succumbing to her numerous injuries. Her arms were bruised, and she had four deep wounds on the top of her head, and three on the back. Each of the seven blows had fractured her skull. Dr. Walworth testified that any one of the wounds by itself would have been sufficient to kill her. Almira was described as a small, weakly woman, and Joseph as a strong athletic man. She never had a chance against her brutal attacker.
Damon's trial for the murder of his wife took two days. Twenty-one witnesses were presented by the prosecution and ten by the defense. Joseph?s brother Martin was too ill to attend the trial, but he gave a deposition on Joseph?s behalf which was read aloud in court. The population of Chautauqua County at the time was 40,000 people and there had never been a murder case during the 23 years the county had been organized. As would be expected, the trial was attended by numerous spectators.
The jury was only out for two hours before it returned a verdict of guilty. Witnesses said Damon did not react to the verdict. At the request of Damon's attorney, the court postponed sentencing to permit the defense to take an appeal. The defense hoped to obtain a new trial be securing a ruling that the trial court erred in permitting the prosecution to use its challenges to strike a juror whose religious beliefs did not permit imposition of the death penalty.
Ultimately, the appeal was denied and the matter was scheduled for sentencing. In March 1835, a sentence of death was imposed, and the execution date was set for May 15, 1835. Sheriff William Saxon was responsible for carrying out the hanging.
Burial and Disinterment
After the hanging, the cart holding Damon's coffin was backed up to the gallows and loaded by three of his friends. The group started over Town Line Road to Stockton on their way to the Pioneer Cemetery in Fredonia. However, the funeral cortege was delayed when it stopped at West?s tavern in Centralia for liquid refreshment. Eventually, the drunken group and the corpse arrived at its final resting place.
A man like Joseph Damon would not be expected to rest in peace and he didn't. His final rest was disturbed by inquisitive medical students who years after his death exhumed his body and harvested a thigh bone for a souvenir. No one knows where those bones are today.
All the news articles of the day describe the crime in detail, but fail to mention Mrs. Damon's first name, her maiden name, or any information about her family roots. It is almost as if in death all that mattered was the state of her bludgeoned corpse. However, a search on Ancestory.com reveals that her maiden name was Almira Parish, and she was born in Otis, Massachusetts on 16 April 1802 to Benjamin and Jenne Parish. She would die a violent death just 8 days after her 32nd birthday.
May of Almira's major life events- birth, marriage, and death- occurred in April. Almira and Joseph married on April 11, 1822 in Fredonia, New York. A year later, Almira and Joseph had a daughter they named Almira after her mother. Two years later, they had a son whom they gave the grandiose name of Napoleon Jackson Damon.
It is not clear where Almira was buried. There is no stone for her in the Pioneer Cemetery in Fredonia where her husband was reportedly interred after his execution. Perhaps she was buried on the family farm, but this is only a guess. Her poor battered skull and the iron bar ended up as souvenirs and in the 1800?s were reportedly owned by Elias Forbes of Fredonia. What became of them after that is anybody's guess.
Joseph Damon's Final Words as Printed in the Fredonia Censor 1835
Through the politeness of Elder Sawyer we have been furnished with a sketch of the life of Joseph Damon, who was recently executed in this county for the murder of his wife. Having no doubt that there are many of our readers who did not attend the execution, who are anxious to learn what were the exercises of his mind while in prison, in view of his crime and the penalty thereof, we have concluded to lay it before them through the medium of the Censor. Some have doubted the propriety of the publication from the circumstance that his professions of repentance did not bear the stamp of sincerity -- but for this, as well as all else, he has gone to give an account to a higher tribunal than that of mortal man. We intend in our next to publish the excellent and impressive sermon of Elder Sawyer, delivered upon the gallows at the time of execution.
I, Joseph Damon, the third son of Stephen and Hannah Damon, was born in Holden, Worcester County, Mass. on the 18th March, 1800. Here I resided about seven years, when with my parents I removed to the town of Sterling, within the limits of the same county, and there resided about five years. From this I removed with my father's family to the state of Vermont, town of Hanover and county of Windsor. My stay here was about seven years. When at the age of eighteen, I bought my time of my father for $100, and went to the trade of a carpenter and joiner with a cousin of the name of Job Damon, in Chester, Vermont.
About the same time, I came to this county (Chautauqua) and commenced labor in the town of Pomfret, but in consequence of some embarrassing circumstances attending my father's pecuniary affairs, I soon returned to Hanover, and, on my arrival found it necessary for me, in order to obtain a power of attorney, to revisit this county, and to go into the state of Ohio to find an absent brother. -- Having accomplished the object of my journey, I returned to my father's house, but after taking legal advice concluded to relinquish further effort to recover the property which was the object of pursuit. It was then that I accompanied my father's family to this county and located in the town of Pomfret where we have since resided to the present time.
Notwithstanding, in consequence of previous arrangements, it became the duty of the other brothers to make provisions for the future maintenance of my father and mother, yet in a short time the principal care devolved on me, and to me they looked for support in their declining years.
At the age of 22, I formed an acquaintance with an amiable young woman by the name of Almira Parish (whose family were also from Massachusetts,) and to whom I was subsequently married, April 11, 1822. At the time of my first acquaintance with Miss Parish she was courted by a respectable young man to whom she had promised herself in marriage; but on a more familiar acquaintance with me, she concluded to relinquish her former suitor, and to be united with me for life. With her I lived in love and friendship for about the space of twelve years, and she bore me two sweet children, a daughter and son, the eldest of which is in her twelfth year, and the youngest in his ninth year.
I wish now to state, and it is that which I consider corroborated by certain witnesses, (the testimony of others to the contrary notwithstanding,) that I have endeavored to live in peace and good understanding with all men since the time I have been on the stage of active life; though I do not profess to have been free from the frailties and imperfections of human nature, and am willing to acknowledge myself a sinful erring mortal, and my life to have been full of defects; but I do profess to have endeavored to live peaceably with my family, and with the world at large. I know it was testified in court by one of the witnesses on my trial, that I had whipped my wife, and by another that I did repeatedly kick her out of doors, but in reference to which I am constrained to say it is entirely incorrect. At the time alluded to by the last witness, I have to acknowledge that I did put my wife outside the door, and closed it against her, and for this I am exceeding sorry and am willing to confess it was wrong.
It was alleged by the witness that my pretence for so doing was, that I was jealous of my wife, and that I pretended to discover a fondness in her for another man, improper conduct, &c. This I deny. I never had in my life, the least occasion for such suspicions respecting my wife, nor never, to my knowledge, expressed any. I consider her to have been as virtuous a woman as ever lived, and to have conducted herself at all times with becoming propriety.
I wish here to state, and in this relation I do consider that I say nothing but the truth, and which I say as a dying man, and speak nothing but what I expect to meet another day, and that too at the Judgment seat, that for about six years past I have been laboring under the influence of bodily indisposition. This indisposition was first (as I suppose) brought on by hard labor and heavy lifting, as my employment was during this time principally in the stone-quarrying business, adjusting stone for market, which necessarily required heavy lifting and hard work. There was, it is certain, a powerful tendency of the blood to the head, a heavy pressure of the veins, great dizziness, confusion of the mind; and, at times, indescribable distress; so that not unfrequently when engaged in drawing stone, though but a short distance, I have frequently unloaded and returned home, unqualified for business, and would always when convenient be excused and very often laboring with my brothers, and persons came to do business with me, have requested them to do it that I might be released. I did not consider myself qualified in these turns to do business. My physicians advised me to desist from hard labor, and made prescriptions of nut-gall in spririts to prevent an internal bleeding, and also frequent bleedings were performed, after which I experienced relief for a season. The disease however affected me much in most of my business, whether at home or abroad, and not unfrequently has been very embarrassing to me; and I consider that it has been increasing upon me and I regard myself to have been growing worse instead of better. On the dreadful day which terminated the existence of my dear companion, my nearest, dearest earthly object, and whom I loved as I love my own soul, I was very unwell. It became necessary for me to go to the village of Fredonia, to attend to some pecuniary concerns which at that time pressed me; and I made mention of it to my wife. She kindly remonstrated, saying I had better not go, that I looked unwell and had better remain at home. But the necessity of the case required I should go, and I accordingly left home, I should think about seven o'clock in the morning. I accordingly started with my team, and a tomb table to convey to the burying ground for Mr. Sheppard. In loading the stone which was quite heavy, I felt my old complaint very sensibly, and the more so in unloading it at the place where I left it, and I believe I complained at the time, of my ill health, to Mr. Sheppard.
Here I received some money, went and paid it over to Esq. Tucker and started for home, I should think about 11 o'clock. This is all I recollect as to the transaction of business at the village. After I arrived at home I lay myself down upon the bed for a while, and then arose, took my team, and went to the woods for fuel. And this is the last of which I have any distinct recollection, until I found myself on the way to the village in company with the constable. I have, too, a very indistinct recollection of the physicians, Walworth and Crosby, being at my house in the evening, but it seems to me like a dream. But whether I drew one, two, or three loads of wood, what I did with my team, how the colts came at the shed, tied, or eating oats, as was stated by a witness, or of going over to my mother's, and having conversations, &c. &c. Of these affairs I have no recollection. And what is said of the dreadful scene that took place at my house, and of my calling in the aid of my brother to assist in laying my wife on the bed, and of sending away the children, &c. &c. -- of these things, I do assert as a dying man, and with eternity in the prospect, I have no recollections whatever. And certainly, I can have no object in saying anything but the truth at this time. I can alter nothing, my destiny I consider as fixed and certain, and to utter deliberate falsehoods under circumstances of this character, and I must injure myself most of all. I feel myself an undone and ruined man as to this world's hopes and prospects. I have no doubt but my dear wife has fallen as is represented, and fallen by my hand, and is to me a consideration the most heart rending and indescribably distressing. Her image is before me by night and by day, and I have no desire to live, life is no object to me, indeed, to live, would be to drag out a miserable and wretched existence, but for the concern I feel for my dear helpless and dependant children.
But I say it, and it will be my last, my dying words, -- I am insensible, -- and Heaven is my witness, -- I am unconscius of having laid violent hands on that dear woman. She is the object of my fondest recollection -- my dreams are sweet which I fancy myself in her society -- and I often wish that her presence would cheer the darksome person where I lie and weep, and mourn.
I wish now to give some further expression of my feelings at the time I was first made sensible of what I had done, and since up to the present. And here I can only say, language fails of expression. Towards evening of that dreadful day, I began to be somewhat sensible that something awful had taken place, but which to me seemed like a dream. I went to bed with the officer who had me in custody, and it seemed to me that I was sleeping all night with my eyes open, but when the morning came I think I was more sensible still, and began to feel the dreadful state I was in, and what I had done. On this day I was permitted with the officer to return to my once loved, but now more than gloomy dwelling, -- and oh, to see my once loved wife, and my weeping children, and afflicted parents and friends, -- and it was worse to me than a thousand deaths. But to remedy the calamity -this was impossible. I then returned under the care of the officer and stayed another night at the tavern, the place where I spent the preceding night. This night my sleep departed from me, and it was a night of anguish, such as I had never before witnessed. And on the morning of the third day, the day on which the funeral services were to be observed, surpassed anything I had ever before witnessed. The tolling of the bell, the funeral procession, the gathering of the people from every direction, and then to think it was the funeral of my wife, and under circumstances of so aggravated a character, cut me to the life, and my distress was greater than I could well endure. I felt a deep solicitude to attend the funeral, painful and heart rending as was the scene, and expected to enjoy the privilege, though a painful one. The officer, as I supposed, and also the people in general had no objections, until at length I was informed that some who regard themselves as leading men in the community, thought it would not be admissible. And to prevent what was intimated to me of the character of disturbance on the occasion, I was prevailed upon to relinquish an attention to the funeral solemnities. But I have still to learn where would have been the impropriety of my attending at the house of God, of bowing at the altar to receive the benefit of prayers, and to have listened to the instructions of God's holy word from the sacred desk. When the funeral procession passed me as I sat at the window, my feelings were indescribable. I should then have been willing to have died and gone and laid down by my wife in the silent grave, but for the solicitude I felt for my dear children. None can know, and I hope none will ever be made acquainted with the feelings of that dreadful hour -- After the funeral services were over, I sent for my children and requested an interview with them before I left the place for the prison. Here a scene opened of which before I could have had no conception. My children bathed in tears, and to reflect that I, their father, and only remaining parent, had contributed to their distress, but added to my own -- and then to part with them and to hear the expressions that they uttered, "Good bye, Pa, Good bye Pa;" -- and it seemed to me that I could not endure it. 0, heart rending expressions still fresh in my memory, never to be forgotten while life remains. And 0, may God have mercy on my dear children!
That night I went with the officer to Westfield on my way to prison. And this too was a gloomy journey to me. Every object on which I cast my eyes wore a solemn gloom, and every thing seemed to frown. The night, especially, was to me a night of deep distress, and no ease nor quiet could I find. It was a long, painful, gloomy, frightful and deeply afflicted season. The next day I went to Mayville, the county seat, and was committed to prison. This was on Sabbath, April 27th, 1834. And here I have remained now a little more that a year, and truly I can say, the longest and the most distressing year of my whole life.
On my commitment to the dungeon I can never describe the sensations of my mind, nor can anyone who knows nothing of it from their own experience. To exchange liberty for entire confinement, and the society, once prized, for solitude, and to dwell thus retired and alone, and to hear little more than the clanking of chains and the doleful confusion of bars and locks - these were all to me gloomy and dreadful. It was in vain that I endeavored to compose my mind by rest, reading, meditation or anything else. Sometimes I tried to pray, and then my sins came over me like mountains, and I had no peace. In this state I remained for a month, perhaps more, when, to add to my distress, my children came to see me in prison. Then my former sensations were all revived, and although gratified to be permitted to see them, yet, to contemplate their situation, and the cause of it, as well as my own, and the scene was overwhelming. Their stay was short, and I again left to ponder these things in my mind. In this state I remained, and with a dreadful sense of my undone condition as a poor lost undone sinner, for near seven months. I was frequently visited by Ministers of the gospel, and pious people, who advised me to give my principal attention to the reading of the scriptures, and to pray to God for the pardon of my many sins. At first, in reading, I could not realize what I had read, my mind was all confusion, and myself in a state of amazement; but after a while I began to sense the truths the word of God contained. And the same remark will apply to my attempts to pray.
I tried a great many times without much sense of my real condition, and the need in which I stood of the pardoning mercy of God. About the time alluded to, I think I had a deeper sense of my condition than ever before in my whole life -- had different views of God, of his holiness, justice and faithfulness -- different views of the evil of sin, and of myself as a sinner. In this state I remained some time, and at a certain season, I think it was day time, and while reading the Bible, it seemed to me that my load of guilt was removed, and I do think that at that time God forgave my sins. The Bible appeared to me in a different light from what it ever had before -- it was precious to me, and afforded me great satisfaction in reading it. When I attempted to pray the exercise was more pleasant and easy, and I felt it to be a blessed employment, in which from that time to this I have taken great satisfaction. Religious people and religious exercises have been my delight ever since that period. I then had different views and feelings towards my enemies from what I ever had before. I felt that I could from my heart forgive them and pray for them, and I hope they will look to God and obtain forgiveness.
I wish here to make one remark and I regard it a duty to myself and others. Undoubtedly some persons have heard me make some remarks from which they would be led to the conclusion that I had embraced and believed the doctrine of universal salvation. I now state, that in this sentiment I was never settled, nor do I now believe in it. I believe, in order to salvation, we must have godly sorrow, and evangelical repentance for sin, and that this repentance and forgiveness of sins must be had in this life or we cannot be happy in the world to come. And of this I hope I am deeply sensible, and it is my most ardent desire not to be deceived on this subject. It is my daily and almost constant prayer to God to forgive my sins, and here to qualify me for heaven and glory. And I can truly say that my only hope of salvation and eternal life is in and through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
I have now for some time been looking forward to death, and I can truly say, I contemplate this subject in a different light from what I formerly did. am reconciled to die. I have not for some time had an anxiety to remain in this world. Here I have no home nor say. There is but one thing that makes it desirable for me to live. That is the case of my dear children. They twine like cords about my heart. And to think they are to be left orphans in this wide world, surrounded by sin and temptation -- 0, how much they need a tender and faithful guide; but I endeavor to commit them to God, and pray he will preserve them and finally conduct them to glory.
I feel, too, a deep solicitude for my family connections and friends. My dear aged Father, now almost ready to depart, -- I hope he will have grace to support him the residue of his days, and in the hour of death. And to all the family I wish to leave my dying warning voice, prepare for another world.
For my parents I can honestly say, they have discharged in a great measure their duty to me, and brought me in very strict to observe the Sabbath, and to refrain from all immoralities of every kind until I came for myself. Since then I have lived like a man of this world, and but too regardless of eternal things. In this I have done wrong and for all my defects I ask the forgiveness of all my friends, and of God.
Before I close this brief imperfect sketch of my life, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge the kindness and marked attention of Mr. Holmes, the Jailor, and also of his family. I do think, that no man, arrested as I have been by the strong arm of the law and confined for the crime alleged against me, could in this respect have been more fortunate than myself. Every member of this family have uniformly been pleasant and shown me every lenity in their power to do; and my own mother could not have evinced more attention and made for me more comfortable provision than has Mrs. Holmes. For all which I tender my hearty and sincere thanks, and this is all that I can do. I feel it my duty also to say, in reference to the former sherif, and the present high sheriff of the county, that they have both treated me with kindness and have seemed to feel deeply for my case. I have nothing against either of them, but feel that I have every reason to respect them both. And to all the friends, and these are numerous, who have called upon me during my confinement, many of whom profess to be pious, as well as others, and also a number of the ministers of the gospel who have evinced a solicitude for my welfare and of that of my dear family, I still bear them in grateful remembrance, and shall to the close of my life. And when they cease praying for me I hope they will not forget my dear children.
For my Counsel, James Mullett, Esq. I have every reason to express my warmest gratitude. He has been to me a kind and affectionate friend, one whom I have every reason to respect as a man and a citizen, and who has for me done every thing in his power. And in my final settlement with him, I am perfectly satisfied, and have no other feelings towards him than that of real friendship, confident that he still has for me and my dear children a deep anxiety. From my heart, I wish him well.
Yesterday, the 12th May, I parted with my children for the last time. The bitterness of death, in my opinion, is not to be compared to this. But the struggle is over. I have left them in the hands of God, and there leave all my dear friends and myself.
I am now waiting the fatal day and hour to arrive. And 0, may God grant me grace for the dread moment. Thou blessed Jesus, who hung on the cross, and blessed thy foes in death, let me then hear thee sweetly and kindly saying to me as to the Penitent Thief,
''This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise."
It is my request, and I have communicated it to the Sherif, that Elder Sawyer be permitted to visit me as much as is convenient, and attend with me on the day of execution, and preach on the gallows, a sermon suited to the occasion. For Elder Sawyer's attention, faithfulness, and prayers to God on my behalf, I feel grateful to God, and to him. I wish also to state that what Elder Sawyer has written has been at my particular request, and not in sentence or sentiment that is penned but is my own, and what I have myself dictated to him. What is thus written I have had time to read over and deliberately meditate upon, as I have for a number of days retained the same in my cell.
Signed with my own hand, JOSEPH DAMON.
The following letter was written by the unhappy criminal while in prison:
Mayville, Ch. Co. N. Y. May 13, 1835.
To my dear Father, Stephen Damon, To my Brothers, and Sisters, and to my Children:
The limited period of my existence draws to a close. I, your son, your brother, your father will soon be gone forever. 0, could I have thought I was born to be publicly executed for crime; and thus bring down the grey hairs of fond parents to the grave, involve my brothers and sisters in lasting sorrow, and make my dear children doubly orphans. But distressing as all this is to my soul, there is to me one consolation, and one too on which I wish my friends hereafter to reflect, when I am dead and gone. This event, this dreadful calamity of mine and yours, was not the result of cool, deliberate, premeditated wickedness. I know, and you know that it is otherwise Judged by the court and jury, and that the public mind is against me; but notwithstanding all this I know that what I have done, is that of which I am perfectly unconscious. But my fate is sealed -- my destiny is fixed -- my bounds are set -- the hour is numbered -- and I look but a little before me to my dying moment. Before I depart, and as I never expect to see you more in this world, I wish to leave a few remarks behind, that you may peruse and meditate when I am dead and gone.
To you, my dear Father, what shall I say, I hardly know what language to improve. I reflect on your aged and infirm state, on all the afflictions that have attended you on your journey of life thus far, and especially on your present lonely condition since my dear mother is gone to the silent grave. But 0, could I ever have thought myself to have contributed in this way to fill your cup of sorrow and deep affliction. Better for me that I had died in infancy or in childhood. You have watched over me in infancy and childhood -- have evinced a deep solicitude for my welfare -- have set before me good examples -- have given me wholesome counsels -- and I had hoped, and have felt deeply solicitous to live to administer to you in your declining years, and to have contributed to your comfort by my care and attention in the last moments of your existence. I can truly say that this has been one part of my deep distress, to be deprived of this privilege. But of this I am deprived -- and of this benefit you are deprived; and then to add to the burdens of life, the weight of declining years, and the sorrows and troubles incident to old age, the manner in which I am cut off from the family, and from the land of the living. 0, my Father, have you grace by which to be supported in such a trial? May God sustain you, and hand you down safely through the dark valley of the shadow of death. My kind mother I can never never forget. I often reflect on my last, the parting scene with her. At my trial, she was a mother still, and when she left the court room, and passed the place where I was sitting, she throwed her arms around my neck, and there we kissed each other. The next day I saw her again and for the last time in this world. But 0, I hope I shall see her in heaven, and enjoy her society there forever. I had a good mother, but she is no more. Perhaps her trouble on my account was the means of shortening her days -- but her tears are all wiped away -- and there are no tears in heaven. Dear Father, do you experience the comforts of life -- but above all do you experience the comforts of religion?
I do hope and pray that your sorrow on my account may not overcome you. Let me say to you, dear Father, I feel willing to die. Not that I think my sentence just, for if ever a man in this world committed an act under the influence of derangement, I certainly did. But I feel submissive to my fate. I hope that by the grace of God I am prepared to die.
Death has no terrors to me. I think I can meet it calmly, and with submission to God's will; and I commit myself into the hands of God.
I ask your forgiveness, dear Father, for all and every offense I have ever committed against you, for all the grief I have ever caused you. I know you will forgive me, and I hope God has forgiven me. 0, what a world of sorrow, disappointment and distress is this -- we shall leave it soon, and I hope for a better, even an heavenly. Let not your grief rise too high on my account, trust in God, wait patiently the few days you have to remain here, and 0, I hope we shall meet in heaven.
And to you, my dear Brothers and Sisters let me say, listen a moment to the expressions of your dying, and before this shall reach you, deceased brother. We have been permitted in providence to dwell together for a number of years under the same parental roof, and God has spared our lives until we have reached mature age, and settled in the world, and to be located in different parts of the country. Could we ever have thought that any of our number would ever have come to such an end. But it is my fate to expire on the gallows. The consideration to me is often dreadful, and not barely on account of the distress of dying in this way in itself simply considered, but to be made a spectacle to the world, and to be the cause of lasting sorrow to my dear friends. But it would be more painful still to reflect that I was in fact guilty of deliberate murder, and to suffer a conviction too that my friends believed me to be thus guilty. But I know that not one of them believe this of me. But, dear friends, I must die, and I submit to death without one murmuring word. I think I have experienced that, since I have been here confined, that the world cannot give nor take away. I believe in the reality of the religion of the Bible. -This will support in the severest affliction, and in the hour of death, and will only qualify us for heaven and glory.
Some of you, dear Brothers and Sisters, indulge a hope in Jesus Christ, and some of you do not. If such of you as profess religion, I would say stand fast, and never give back so long as you live. Continue to the end and you will experience eternal life. The letter I have just received from my dear brother M. gives me unspeakable satisfaction. I do hope as he expresses, that God has been merciful to him, and that he and myself will yet meet in the realms of glory.
To such of you as are living without hope and without God in the world, 0, receive it kindly from your dear brother, when I say to you, you must be born again or you can never enter heaven and glory. You must break from all your sins, repent in dust and ashes before God, live lives of holiness and righteousness all your days, and delight in the duties and services of religion here on earth, if ever you would finally be saved. -- 0, my Brothers and Sisters, you twine like cords about my heart, but we must be separated here for a season -- but do let us strive to meet in Heaven, never more to part.
And I wish too you may feel, and I trust you will render solicitude for my dear children -- they are left fatherless and motherless in this unfriendly world. 0, see to them, feel for them, and when they need help them. I feel that I should do so for any of your dear children, if thus bereft, and I feel that my wife who is gone would do so too. Dear Brothers and Sisters, farewell. May the Lord have mercy on you, and bless you forever.
To the dear children that God has given me I have a few words for them to reflect upon, when I am dead and gone. Dear Almire and Napoleon, your Father loves you. You had a dear Mother, and she too loved you. Your mother, as I am told, came to her end by my means. I loved your mother, as I do you her children. That I should be the means of terminating your mother's existence, I have no knowledge. The Court has decided that what I did, was committed deliberately, and have sentenced me to be publicly executed. I shall never see your faces again in this world -- no, my dear Son, I shall not come home to you after I am hung. It has afforded me a painful satisfaction that you have visited me during my confinement -- but our visits are all ended. Dear children, I hope when I die I shall go to heaven. And now, will you remember what your father says to you? Be good children. Remember that God made you, and you must love him. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Learn to read the Bible, and practice its requirements. Refrain from every thing that is wicked, and live in peace with all your associates. It is the wish of your father that you would early acquire the habit of going to meeting, attending the Sabbath school if possible, and be sure and attend to the counsels of the aged, and the good.
Wherever you live, be obedient, kind, and faithful, and in this way endeavor to secure the confidence and esteem of all around you. You, dear children, are not to blame for being orphans, and none but the wicked will ever cast such a slur upon you. You are not to feel any embarrassment on this account, but to endeavor, by living well, to endear everybody to you. And it is in this way alone that you will secure the good will of all, whose good will and confidence are worth possessing. And now, children, remember these things. And may God, even God himself, bless you, secure you from the evils of this world and after having lived lives of virtue on earth, receive you to heaven at last. For Jesus has said "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God."
And now a word to my neighbors, and I have done. I need not, dear neighbors, recapitulate the scene of my sufferings, and the occasion of my death. Of this you are all aware. I feel it is due from me to say, I have been blessed in general, with kind and affectionate neighbors, who have showed us favors in sickness as well as in prosperity. -- The separation I have endured from your society has been painful, but it is a pleasure to me to know I share your sympathies still. I leave you, dear friends in peace and love and have no hardness towards any, and any have injured me I forgive them, and hope to be forgiven of you all, and of God.
And now, dear friends, farewell.
Signed with my own hand, JOSEPH DAMON
After Damon?s death, his brother North went to Canada, taking his wife Catharine Sacket Damon with him. North Damon died sometime between 1882 and 1901 in East Garafraxa, Wellington, Ontario. Rumors circulated that he too was executed for murder. His descendants still live in the province of Ontario.
Joseph's brother Martin died soon after Joseph's execution. Stephen Jr. continued living in Chautauqua County and died in Dewittville in 1838.
Joseph?s daughter Almira was only 12 when her mother died and 13 when her father was executed. It isn?t clear who raised her to adulthood since her Uncle Martin and paternal grandmother Hannah Damon both died in 1835, the same year Joseph was executed. Her paternal grandfather died two years later, and her Uncle North moved to Canada. Perhaps her maternal grandparents were alive to raise the poor orphan, or maybe an aunt or neighbor was able to step in.
Whoever raised her, Almira Damon grew to adulthood in Chautauqua County. In 1847, at the age of 24, she married Jesse Ross. Their first two children were born in Chautauqua County, and in the 1850?s they moved to Erie County, Pennsylvania where they had two more children. Almira died in Edinboro Pennsylvania in 1861. She was only 38 years old, and her youngest child was only 2 two years of age.
Joseph and Almira Parish Damon?s son Napoleon, who was born in1826, disappeared from the public record after his father?s execution. No marriage or death notices can be located for him. Goodness knows what kind of life the son of a violent murderer can carve out for himself. One has to assume that he moved out of Chautauqua County and changed his name to escape the shadow of his father?s shameful crime.
Weeks. Lyman and John Hampden, Legal and Judicial History of New York Volume 3. 1911.
Robertson, Dolores, the Hanging of Joseph Damon and the Damon Brothers, 16 July 20014. www. Benealogy.com/forum/surnames/topics/damon/531
Shepherd, Douglas, H. The Joseph Damon Skeleton. 2012.
Sampson, C.B. The Crime and Hanging of Damon, 6 October 1934. http://www.mcclurgmuseum.org/collection/library/lecture_list/damon_joseph_by_sampson.pdf
"Trial of Joseph Damon"- Daniel Reed Library