From the Charlestown Free Press.
TRIAL OF EBENEZER COX,
For the Murder of Col. Dunn.
The case of EBENEZER COX, indicted for the murder of Col. Thomas B. Dunn, late superintendent of the United States Armory at Harpers-Ferry, in his office, on the 29th day of January last, came up for trial on Tuesday the 20th instant, in the Superior Court of Law for Jefferson county, before the Hon. RICHARD A. PARKER. The prosecutor for the commonwealth JOHN E. PAGE, Esq. was assisted, in the examination of the witnesses, by EDMUND I. LEE, jr. Esq. When the prisoner was brought to the bar, the Court inquired if he had counsel; he replied that JOHN R. COOKE, Esq. would appear for him. Mr. Cooke stated, that he was not aware the prisoner considered him his counsel, but he should deem it his duty to act for him. The prisoner was then arraigned; and notwithstanding his confession of the crime before many persons, and on several occasions, pleaded Not Guilty to the indictment. The Grand Jury which found the bill, consisted of the following persons, viz:
Edward Lucas, jr. foreman,
John James Frame,
William C. Burns,
Wm. T. Washington,
Sam’l W. Washington,
Considerable time was spent in obtaining a jury. After the venire was exhaused, the by-standers were summoned. In all, sixty-one veniremen were called; 3 of whom were challenged peremptorily by the prisoner, and 45 were excused by the Court, they having formed and expressed decided opinions upon the case, from a pervious hearing of the testimony. The following jury was eventually impannelled, at about 6 o’clock, P. M. viz:
Sam’l H. Allemong,
The trial then proceeded; and although the heat was excessive and almost overpowering, yet the court room was crowded throughout the whole examination. Great anxiety was evinced to witness the entry and deportment of the prisoner. When he appeared, every eye was upon him with a scrutinizing gaze, yet he appeared totally unembarrassed, and answered to his arraignment with an untrembling and audible voice.
The following is the substance of the testimony:
James Stephenson testified, that on the day of the murder of Col. Dunn, which was on the 29th of January, 1830, he was in the Clerk’s office of the Superintendent at Harpers Ferry, being a room on the floor above the office of Col. D. Mr. Armistead Beckham, the master armorer, came in; they were conversing a few minutes, when they heard someone enter the lower office, whom they believed to be Col Dunn, from the circumstance of hearing him stir the fire– a practice which Col. Dunn had, when first coming into the office– Shortly after, they heard a sudden and extraordinary noise. Witness did not at that time think it the report of a gun– it was a dull, heavy sound as if the house was falling. Mr. Beckham exclaimed, “there’s something wrong below!” and being more active than witness, immediately ran down the steps, witness following him. When Mr. Beckham had reached Col. Dunn’s office, he exclaimed, “My God! Col. Dunn is murdered!” Asked Mr. Beckham, “Who’s the murderer?” — he replied, “Eb. Cox.” When the office door was opened, witness saw Col. D. lying on the floor, on his back, weltering in his blood; as he approached, Col. D. cast his eyes upon him imploringly. Did not see Cox at this time; afterwards saw a musket lying near Col. D. with the muzzle within two feet of his breast, and the butt towards the door; examined the wound, and found it a very large one; saw something white, mixed with blood, supposed to be the contents of Col. D’s. stomach.
[Armstead Beckham, a principal witness, was sick, and unable to attend this trial; but his evidence before the examining court, was nearly as follows: That on the day of the murder of Col. Dunn, had business in the upper office, (the clerk’s office); heard some one come into the lower office, (same building,) presumed to be Col. Dunn; heard the fire stirred. In about five minutes after, heard a heavy noise and a shrick; supposed the stove had fallen; hastened down, and saw Ebenezer Cox going from the office; witness thew open the door, and saw the corpse of Col. D. a gun lying beside him, about 15 inches from his breast; Col. D. never spoke; a large account book lying on the floor near him, bloody; the wound was very large, in the left breast, running down obliquely. Witness instantly gave the alarm of murder; Cox was within a few feet of the office, when witness saw him, and continued walking off. Witness cross examined– Said he knew of no threats (except by rumor) which the prisoner, had ever made against Col. Dunn. Witness thought Col. D. was killed a large duck shot; also judged, from some expressions of the prisoner, that he did not like the deceased; had seen the accused frequently with a musket, having brass mounting, &c.]
Philip Strider, on the day of the murder, the 29th of January, 1830, had some business with Col. Dunn, and placed himself in a position where he could see the door of his house and the office door– about 25 steps from the latter. This was a short time after the second bell-ring, (2 o’clock) In a few minutes his eyes still towards the office door, saw Ebenezer Cox enter, with something under his cloak, which made the right side stick out; what it was, he could not tell. About a minute and a half after Cox went in, witness heard a report, which he then took to be the proving of gun-barrels, (a common operation at the armory;) immediately after the report, saw Cox come out of the office, shut the door with his right hand, draw his cloak around him, fold his arms, and walk deliberately away. Instantly, Mr. Beckham and Maj. Stephenson came down the steps from the upper office; Mr. B. threw open the office door, and gave the alarm that Col. Dunn was murdered. Witness then entered the office, which was full of smoke, found Col. Dunn lying on his back, who turned his eye towards him anxiously, but never spoke. The gun was lying near the body of the deceased, and appeared to have been just discharged. Cox had nothing in his arms when he came out, as witness believes. Cross examined, witness stated that he saw no one else in the street near the office; was so situated, and his mind so engaged to see Col. Dunn, that he thinks no one besides Cox could have gone into the office door without seeing him.
William Smallwood, on the day of the murder was returning to his work in the armory, after dinner, about 2 o’clock in company with William Adams. After passing the superintendent’s office a short distance, (about 20 yards,) Adams and himself stopped in conversation; while standing thus, saw Ebenezer Cox pass them and proceed towards the office with a musket on his shoulder; noticed that the musket had a white mark on the butt, as if a name had been erased. In a short time, witness heard a singular report; turned to ascertain whence it proceeded; saw Cox return deliberately, with his arms folded, without the gun. Armistead Beckham immediately came round the corner of the office, proclaiming the murder of Col. Dunn, and pointed to Cox. Witness then went to the office, and found Col. Dunn dead, and a musket lying by him, which he recognized, by the white mark on the butt, to be the same which he had seen on Cox’s shoulder; noticed the wound in the left breast of the deceased; the wound was large, the flesh much torn, but did not pass through; seemed to go towards the heart; saw the contents of the stomach on the floor, and a large book near, bloody, &c. Cross examined– When witness saw Cox, the latter was passing down the Potomac, towards the office, the gun on his left shoulder, exposed, not concealed; musket about four feet long, though it would be difficult to conceal it under the cloak. Saw several persons standing near; did not see Cox go into the office, as he (witness) was on the side opposite to that in which the door is situated. Of the habits of the prisoner, did not know much– was out of employ, and did not see him often.
Samuel B. Harding, on the day of the murder, was at Harpers-Ferry, with Mr. John Conard, nearly opposite to the door of the Superintendent’s office; Col. Dunn passed them, spoke pleasantly, and proceeded to his office. Saw Philip Strider come up in view of the office, intending to go in on business, witness saw Ebenezer Cox come down the street; did not at first sight observe the gun, but afterwards saw what he thought was the muzzle of a gun sticking out from Cox’s cloak as he entered the office door. Witness thought it was about half a minute after Cox went in, until he heard a report; did not think of any mischief being done, (had but little time to think of it,) until Mr. Beckham exclaimed that Mr. Dunn was murdered. Saw Cox moxing off obliquely; the impression was, that he wished to keep the office between him and the spectators. Cross examined, witness saw nobody near, except Conard, Strider, Duke, and Smallwood; Cox never turned his head while in sight. Did not know much of Cox’s habits for three months previous, having been but seldom at the Ferry latterly.
Frederick Hendschy stated that the day before the murder, Cox came to his house in Maryland; stated that he had been up at Brien’s iron-works to get work, where he was offered wood-cutting; said he could not cut wood, and was much vexed at and cursed those who had offered him wood cutting;– Cox spoke abusively of Mr. Dunn; said he had called him a d—d rascal to his face; would ask him for work once more, and if he did not get work, he would be d—d if he did not make an altoration at the place. Witness laughed at Cox, and told him, he supposed the alteration he would make, would be to leave the place; Cox shook his head angrily, and replied, “I say nothing.” Prisoner seemed in a bad humor all the time he was at witness’s house. Cross examined– Was well acquainted with Cox–was not intoxicated– though on other occasions he had a rash way of speaking.
Johnson Garrett states, that on the day of the murder, he was at Irwin’s blacksmith shop; it was a while before dinner, saw Cox standing on the hearth before the fire, appearing to be in a very dissatisfied state of mind, cussing, &c. Cox remarked that (if something was not done, which witness did not here) he would commit murder before night; d—d if he wouldn’t &c. Witness left Cox in the shop; there were three or four persons in it, Jonathan Irwin, Joseph Welsh, Rawleigh Coons, and he thinks Henry Coons. Witness saw the body of Col. Dunn, after his death; the wound was large; the doctor put his hand into it; the orifice was oblique towards the heart; did not see any shot or bullets.
John A. Schaeffer, on the day of the murder of Col. Dunn, was returning to the armory a little after bell-ring (2 o’clock,) was probably 12 or 13 steps from the office; heard a loud report; saw Cox coming from the direction of the office, spoke to him, he appeared much terrified, had his arms folded in his cloak. Witness saw Mr. Beckham approaching the office door, who asked what was the matter, threw open the door, and exclaimed, “My God! Col. Dunn is murdered! Ebenzer Cox has murdered him! Stop the murderer!” Witness went to the office door, was among the first to enter it, the room was full of smoke; saw no person in the room except Col. Dunn, who was lying on his back on the floor, a gun near his left side, a large book near– saw the wound; it was very large, and the flesh much torn; the charge seemed to have entered obliquely. Col. Dunn was lying a yard or so from a chair, on which he seemed to have been previously sitting. Witness knew Cox well, but did not know how he spent his time when unemployed at the armory.
William Adams was returning to the armory, after, dinner, on the day of the murder, in company with Mr. Smallwood; stopped to converse; saw Ebenezer Cox pass with a musket on his shoulder, exposed; soon heard a report, which he supposed to be that of a gun; turned his head towards the bridge to ascertain whence it came; saw no one, but soon heard Mr. Beckham exclaim, “Stop Cox, he has murdered Col. Dunn!” Did not notice Col. D. lying dead. Witness noticed the Cox pass again; went to the office, and saw white spot on the butt of the gun, saw the brass bands, &c. and recognized it to be the same which Cox had on his shoulder when he passed.
Singleton Chambers, on the day of the murder, was at work in the Armory; heard Col. Dunn was murdered, went to the office and saw him lying dead; proceeded after Cox between the shops, found him in the water-wheel house, leaning against the wall, about 3 feet below the street; called for help and assisted to take him.
Rueben Stipes saw people running, and heard that Cox had shot Col. Dunn; went in pursuit, looked into closets, &c.; heard some one say, “here he is!” found several persons standing near a little house over a water wheel hesitating about going in. Witness went in and found Cox lying with his cloak over his head; seized him, and said “come out here, you rascal!” Cox said, “What have I done? what do you want?” Witness replied “you know what you have done; come along.” Prisoner then exclaimed, “Hurrah! I’m fond of fun!” As they passed the house, Mrs. Dunn was heard shrieking: prisoner cried out, “Hurrah for shave-tail! fond of un, by G-D!” &c. Corss-ex. In answer to question about prisoner being drunk, witness did not know what he was.–Witness saw the wound in Col. D’s breast, it was large and entered obliquely. When witness tied the prisoner on the house, to bring him to jail, he said to him, do you not feel miserable? He replied, “no–fond of fun,” &c.
Henry Bideman lives in Maryland with Mr. Hendschy– The day before the muder of Col. Dunn, Cox called upon him where he was at play, at school, and asked for the gun he had loaned to witness, as he (Cox) wished to go to his grand-mother’s in Loudoun. Witness gave him the gun, which he had loaded with a heavy charge of buck shot. While the gun was in possession of witness, it had letters upon the butt; when he saw the gun in court, the letters appeared to have been scratched off.
George B. Beall, after the body of Col. D. was removed, had the key of the superintendent’s office handed to him; he saw the coat which Col. D. had worn that day, and observed, near the large opening which the charge appeared to have made, a shot-hole in the coat, about half an inch from the main wounds found a letter in the breast pocket, much broken and bloody, and a large part of one corner defaced and taken off.
Jonathan Irvin saw Cox in his blacksmith shop almost every day; when busy paid but little attention to what any one said; did not hear Cox say any thing which attracted his notice.
Joseph Welsh was in Irvin’s shop the day of the murder of Col. Dunn; did not hear particularly what Cox said; thinks he would have noticed any extraordinary expression. Garrett was not in the shop then, but was afterwards in the yard.
Richard Williams, a magistrate of the county, was then called, to recite the substance of Cox’s voluntary confession a short time after his imprisonment. Witness was called upon by Thomas Griggs, Esq. the Commonwealth’s Attorney, to go to the prison and receive Cox’s confession on oath; went with Mr. G for that purpose. Mr. Griggs informed Cox that his confession must be entirely voluntary, and admonished him against indulging the vain hope of reaping any advantage on account of the disclosures he might make. Cox then made the following statement, in substance: That he went to Mr. Dunn’s office for the purpose of asking once more for work, determined, if his request should not be granted, to shoot Mr. D; that on making the application, Mr. D. refused him; he then said to him, “So you are determined not to give me work?” “I cannot give you work,” was the reply; whereupon, Cox says, he raised the gun and pointed it to Mr. D’s head; Mr. Dunn jumped up, exclaiming ‘My God!’ he then discharged the gun at his breast and left the room so full of smoke that he could not see whether the shot took effect or not. [That part of his confession charging others as his accomplices, was omitted, as not necessary to the investigation of the case then pending.]
Robert T. Brown, clerk of the court, was called upon and detailed a similar confession made to him by Cox previously to making that above stated before the justice and the commonwealth’s attorney. The jailor had informed Mr. B. of Cox’s wish to see him, stating that the latter was in a “bad way.” Mr. B. therefore went to the jail at Cox’s request, who told him he had some very bad feelings, and wished to make some disclosures. He states to witness that he went to Mr. Dunn’s office, and found him sitting by the fire; asked him if he meant to give him work; Mr. D. said ‘No, I cannot;” Cox asked his reasons; ‘You know them already.’ ‘You are then resolved to give me no work?” “I am.” Cox then raised the gun, intending to shoot Mr. D in the head; Mr. D. exclaimed “My God!” and sprung from his seat, as if to catch the gun, when Cox discharged it at his breast, and instantly left the office enveloped in smoke.
Mr. Brown was also present when Cox made the confession as above stated by Mr. Williams.
The evidence being thus closed, on the part of the commonwealth, and none being offered by the prisoner, the prosecutor briefly stated to the jury the nature of their duties under the law; that although the life of the prisoner seemed to be in their hands, the simple inquiry with them was, “Is he guilty of the crime with which he stands charged?”– With the infliction of the punishment, they had nothing to do; the law pointed that out clearly. He would not insult their understanding, by recapitulating the evidence, or by suggesting to them what effect it ought to have upon their minds. Independently of the facts proved by the witnesses, they had the most conclusive testimony in the confession of the prisoner himself.
The Jury then retired to their room, and in fifteen minutes, returned with a verdict of GUILTY OF MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE.
The time occupied in procuring a jury and examining witnesses, was about five hours. — When the jury returned from their chamber with the awful verdict, Cox on this as on all other occasions, preserved his undaunted firmness. His countenance was watched with the closest scrutiny by many, but not a muscle was seen to move. If any emotions were at any time visible, they exhibited their effect in no other way than by driving an unusual quantity of blood to the face; and for this effect a sufficient cause may be found in the excessive heat of the crowded room. So that it is impossible to say that any one could detect the smallest change from that perfect calmness which it seems to have been his pride to display.
On Saturday last, Cox was again led to the bar; and it having been reported that the intended on this occasion to address the court, an immense crowd filled the room. When it was demanded of him, by the clerk, agreeably to the usual form, whether he had anything to say why judgement should not be rendered against him, he replied with a calm and firm voice, that he had nothing to say.– JUDGE PARKER then pronounced, in a most solemn and impressive manner, the following SENTENCE.
I am about to perform a very painful duty, not rendered less so by the absolute certainty of your guilt. I commisserate the unhappy situation of one so young and in some respects so gifted, notwithstanding it is the proper, natural, inevitable consequence of your own conduct; and if I advert to the circumstances of your case, in terms of severe reprehension, it is to vindicate the just sentence of the law, and from no feeling of resentment towards you. The generous sympathies of human nature, are rather apt to be excited in favour of, than against a fellow being, who may be considered as already dead to the world; and under such circumstances we are too much disposed to forget the astrocity of the offence, in anticipating the punishment of the offender. It requires some effort to overcome this feeling, and to pronounce without reluctance, the stern, yet righteous judgement of the law.
An impartial jury of your country, have said, upon their oaths, that you are guilty of MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE. The evidence justifying their verdict, independent of your repeated, voluntary confessions, was sufficient for your conviction; and when combined with them, was full, conclusive, and irresistible. It has exhibited an instance of crime, which considering all its circumstances, and comparing the diabolical act with the alledged motive, is almost without a parallel. It seems, that having been dismissed from employment in the Armory at Harpers Ferry, by the predecessor of the amiable and unfortunate Mr. Dunn, you applied to him to be reinstated; an application which for sufficient reasons was refused– that for this provocation alone, you, in concert, as you alledge, with others similarly situated, coolly determined to revenge yourself, by taking his life– that having failed in one attempt, you went to his office, in the open day, under the pretence of making a second application, armed with a musket, which you had previously loaded for the purpose–that finding him alone, and closing the door after you, you repeated your application for work, and upon his telling you that he had none for you, you instantly and barbarously, in the hearing and almost in the presence of his family, shot him through the body, before he had full time to rise from the chair on which he was seated, or opportunity to make even one appeal to Heaven for mercy. This is a summary of your own free, and I fear unconcerned disclosures, corroborated (except as to the alledged conspiracy) by the testimony of numerous witnesses; and it proves that you crime had all the ingredients of murder in the first degree. It was wilful, deliberate, premeditated killing, under as slight a provocation as ever instigated a human being to a similar outrage; and the act was as daring and desperate as it was malicious.
To such an act, so perpetrated, the law affixes the penalty of DEATH in its most ignominious form. “He who (maliciously) sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” This is the sentiment of all nations, civilized and savage– a sentiment produced by necessity, approved by Reason, and sanctioned by the voice of Heaven itself.
Your days are therefore numbered, and you must prepare to die. Since the forms of the law have been scrupulously respected, and you have had upon your trial every advantage its humanity grants: since your guilt has been rendered manifest by unexceptionable testimony, acknowledged by yourself, and declared by the unanimous voice of twelve jurors free from all objection: you have nothing more to expect or to hope from MAN. If pardon is to be obtained for such a crime as you have perpetrated it is not from any Earthly tribunal you must seek it. Whether by prayer and repentance, you may obtain it elsewhere, and thus avert the more damning consequences of guilt, is not given to us to know. Our dim views extend not beyond the grave, except that we are assured, the mercy of GOD is infinite. But in reference to that assurance, could I hope to make any impression upon one who has hitherto exhibited so little sensibility, I would advise, exhort, nay intreat you, by every affecting consideration, to employ the few days which remain to you in this world, in making serious preparation for another. It is fearful to think that you, who are now standing before a living man, in the pride of youth, the glow of health, and enjoying the full consciousness of animated existence, must be sore shor; and certain a period tease to live; but it is still more awful, to reflect upon your appearing in so impenitent a state, before the JUDGE of the quick and the dead. I beseech you, then, to ponder upon the folly and danger of persisting in such a course. It is not firmness– it is desperation, proceeding from the same principle of false prime, which, in addition to vicious company and the unrestrained indulgence of unruly passions, has conducted you through wicked courses to this Bar.
One other consideration I feel bound to urge. You have confessed yourself guilty of the murder of Mr. Dunn; and you have, on oath, implicated several others in that horrible transaction. The bare suspicion which this accusation has excited against them, seriously affects their character and worldly prospects; and if persevered in to the last, may effectually destroy both. If, from any unknown and unaccountable motive, you have accused them falsely, commence the preparation I so earnestly recommend, by an act of justice. Do not add the guilt of Perjury, unatoned for and unrepented of, to your other crimes; nor die with a lie in your mouth. With this last solemn admonition, I proceed to order and adjudge, —
That you, EBENEZER COX, shall be taken from the place where you now stand, to the common jail of the county, and be there kept in safe and strict custody, until Friday the twenty-seventh day of August next; on which day, between the hours of ten o’clock in the forenoon and six o’clock in the afternoon, you shall be conveyed to the place of execution, by the Sheriff of this county, and then and there HANGED BY THE NECK UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD. And may God have mercy on your soul!
We have never heard any thing delivered from the bench with so much feeling. Although Judge Parker has performed the painful duty of pronouncing sentence of condemnation against criminals, in very many instances, yet he was much agitated and affected on this occasion. The last words, in which he recommended the wretched culprit to the mercy of his Creator, thrilled thro’ every bosom and touched every heart.
Many a tearful eye was seen amongst the audience, and some wept outright. The prisoner, however, betrayed no excess of feeling– less indeed than must of the by-standers. He stood perfectly calm and firm. We cannot say that he exhibited any hardihood; on the contrary, he appeared somewhat subdued at the conclusion of the awful sentence — One the same evening, he was, at his own earnest request, visited in the jail by Judge Parker and his Counsel, Mr. Cooke. We are informed that he then evinced a deep feeling of penitence– that he wept bitterly, admitted his guilt and the justice of the punishment which he is about to suffer, and apologised to the judge for his apparent insensibility whilst in the Court house. He said that his enemies were then present, and would have derived pleasure from witnessing his aggonies. He further declared, that he blamed no one, and promised that he would make no attempt to commit suicide. It may be proper to state, that we have been informed of other occasions heretofore, on which he also displayed great agony of mind, in the presence of individuals who visited him in prison.
His appearance in court, was that of a genteel young man of good countenance. He was neatly and genteely dressed; and as he sat at the bar, during his trial, in the centre of the crowd, it was impossible for a stranger to distinguish the criminal.
We cannot close this account without remarking, that the fate of Cox should be a solemn warning to the young, against the vice of INTEMPERANCE. But for this, the miserable young man, whose brief career is so soon to be terminated by a violent and ignominious death, might still have been an useful and respectable man, enjoying the endearments of friends and relatives, and all the privileges of a free citizen. Now he is the wretched tenant of a prison, loaded with chains, deprived of every enjoyment, and divested of all earthly hope, — doomed to expiate his crime upon the gallows, a spectacle to gazing thousands, while his name is consigned to eternal infamy.
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