I have been type-cast as a judge here at Historic Washington State Park. I play Judge Conway in the 1844 trial down at the 1836 Courthouse and I portray Judge Royston in the 1880 trial at the 1874 Courthouse across the street from my home. This latter reenactment takes place next on Saturday evening, May 7, 2016, so we have been practicing to make it as authentic as we can.
We have some of the old court records and several newspaper accounts detailing the crime and the trial. It was a famous case regionally and lots of people showed up for the trial and later for the execution. The man was found guilty in the actual trial but in our reenactment, we select a jury from the audience and they have yet to find him guilty. We have performed the 1880 trial three times. Twice they found him innocent and once we had a hung jury. The prosecutor will have to work hard Saturday evening to get the historic verdict.
The trial concerned the trial for first degree murder of a man named Sid from the Thomas plantation five miles northeast of Washington. Sid’s wife was very ill. Dr. Hart from Washington was deer hunting on the Thomas place and two field hands found him on his stand and told him he should go check on Sid’s wife, Easter, as she was very ill. The good doctor went and prescribed medications and nourishment for her and instructed Sid as to how to administer the cure.
Immediately after the doctor left, Sid got on a horse and raced through the backwoods to the general store in Washington, where he bought a quantity of strychnine, saying he needed it for pest control. Easter died a horrible convulsive death that very night and Sid buried her the next morning. The hands on the Thomas place were in an uproar, suspecting Sid, and there was some talk of taking the matter into their own hands. When the storekeeper heard of the death and the suspicious circumstances, he told the sheriff about Sid’s purchase and the sheriff went out and arrested Sid. He issued an exhumation order and Coroner Ogden from Fulton came up and, with Dr. Hart and other individuals, fulfilled the order. The stomach was full of strychnine.
The trial was swift and the jury found Sid guilty. The newspapers reported that over 2,000 people attended the execution and editorialized that more would have been in attendance if the creeks had not been out of their banks. Apparently they were having the same kind of flooding we have recently experienced.
Interestingly, Colonel Daniel Jones performed very well as Sid’s defense attorney. It was said that he took on cases of that kind often, seeking to help the underdog. There was not much he could do for Sid, though, as circumstances made him look very guilty. It is good to see, however, that the community took care to be attentive to detail, with a deep desire for a fair trial. Otherwise the hands on the Thomas place would have seriously erred and civilized justice would not have been served.