|Rights||No Copyright - United States (NoC-US)|
|Publisher||Digitized by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah|
|Article Title||Trial of Alexander McLeod for the Murder of Amos Durfee|
TRIAL OF ALEXANDER MCLEOD FOR THE murder of Amos Durfee. The rebellion in Canada, in 1837, came very near involving the United States in war with Great Britain. It was fomented by many on both sides of the frontier, and was chiefly stirred up by William Lyon Mackenzie. Mr. Mackenzie was a wiry, restless, energetic, and honest little Scotchman, who was born in Forfarshire, in Scotland in 1795. At seventeen years of age, he commenced business in Dundee, where he kept a circulating library, the contents of which he had generally transferred to his own head. He afterward went to England, and was employed as clerk by Lord Lonsdale. In 1820 he arrived in Canada, and was employed in superintending the construction of the Lacbine Lachine Canal. In 1823 he kept a store of books and drugs -- food for the mind and medicines for the body -- In Toronto. From 1824 till 1833 he edited and published the Colonial Advocate, at Niagara, and managed to incur the hatred of the government, which tried to suppress his paper, and the wrath of the mob which destroyed his office. In 1828 he was elected Member of Parliament from York county to the Colonial Legislature, and got expelled five times for libeling the Assembly. Each time he was expelled he managed to get re-elected, till the Assembly refused to issue new writs for election. In 1832 he went to England with a petition on grievances to the Home Government, and while there published in London a book of "Sketches of Canada." In 1836 he was elected the first Mayor of the city of Toronto, and in 1837 got up a serious rebellion. The insurgents took possession of Navy Island, in the Niagara river, below Buffalo, and organized an army with which to invade Canada. Mr. Mackenzie delivered speeches in Buffalo and elsewhere, urging American citizens to join the rebellion. The steamer Caroline was cut out of the ice on the 28th of December, 1837, and on the 29th commenced her trips to Schlosser, opposite Navy Island, and conveyed arms and men to that island. The Canadian authorities has spies on hand, who kept them well informed, and under the direction of orders from Sir Allan McNab, surrounded the steamer on the night of the 29th or morning of the 30th, surprised the party on board, consisting of some thirty persons, killed one Amos Durfee, beat and wounded several others, who escaped by rushing through falling swords or jumping into the water, cut the Caroline from her moorings, towed her into the middle of the river, and sent her, in a blaze of fire, over the Falls of Niagara. Mr. Mackenzie fled to the United States, where he was tried for a breech breach broach of our neutrality laws, and sentenced to eighteen months= imprisonment at the jail in Rochester. He then published a paper called Mackenzie=s Gazette, and became connected with the New York Tribune. Many of the statistics on Government Reform and on slavery, used by Horace Greeley, were furnished by Mr. Mackenzie. About 1841 he commenced the publication, in umbers, of a book entitled "The Lives of One Thousand Illustrious Irishmen," which was suspended after the publication of two numbers containing sketches of some hundred natives of Ireland and their descendants. About the same time, being employed in the New York Custom House, he discovered in the attic of that building a mass of letters written by the leading politicians of New York, which he published in a pamphlet, which created more political excitement and amusement than any other publication of that day. Of course he lost his situation in the Custom House. Having obtained a pardon for his part in the rebellion of 1837, he returned to Canada in 1850, and in 1858 was elected again to Parliament. His friends purchased him a small annuity and a residence near Toronto, where he died in 1861. Amos Durfee, in trying to escape from the Caroline, was shot through the head, and was found dead on the railroad track at Schlosser. President Van Buren, in his message, in December, 1837, recited the facts to Congress. He had hoped that American citizens would not promote insurrection in the territory of a power with which we were at peace, but regretted to say that this had not been the case. From official and other sources, he had learned that many citizens of the United States had associated together to make hostile incursions from our territory into Canada, to aid and abet insurrection there, in violation of law, and in disregard of their duties as American citizens, and that citizens of the United States, in conjunction with Canadians, had made a forcible seizure of American property, and applied it to the prosecution of military operations against the authorities and people of Canada. He stated that the results of these operations, which he called criminal assaults upon the peace and order of a neighboring county, had been fatally destructive to the misguided or deluded persons who had engaged in them, and that a state of feeling had been produced on both sides of the frontier, which called for prompt and vigorous interference. The affair was made the subject of a communication from Mr. Forsyth, our Secretary of State, to Mr. Fox, the British Minister, and Mr. Fox promptly answered that the burning of the Caroline, with all its consequences and incidents, was done by the British Government, and justified it as a measure of proper and necessary self defense, that it was a government act for which individuals could not be answerable. The British accounts of the gathering at Navy Island, denounced the conduct of the American sympathizers as robbery, arson and murder. The government of the State of New York was charged with neglect in allowing the store-houses, which contained the arms and ammunition of the State to remain unguarded, and to be broken open, from which, in open day, cannon and other implements of war were carried away to be used against the peace of Canada. The British accounts complained that the invasion of Canada was under the command of an American citizen, that the authorities of the State of New York took no measures to prevent this invasion, that they had allowed the Caroline to be cut out of the ice in the harbor of Buffalo, and to be used for the purpose of bringing over to Navy Island men, army, ammunition, stores and provisions, and that her destruction would prevent supplied and reinforcements from passing over to the Canadian rebels, and American sympathizers, who had congregated on Navy Island, had deprived the force on the island of the means of passing over to the main land of Canada. On the 22d of May, 1838, Mr. Stevenson, the American Minister, in an official note to Lord Palmerston, demanded reparation for the destruction of the Caroline, stating that our government considered that transaction as an outrage upon the United States, and a violation of United States Territory, committed by British troops, and planned and executed by the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. But no response or apology was made during the administration of Mr. Van Buren, and the controversy was handed over to President Harrison and the cabinet for settlement. Alexander McLeod, a somewhat noted character in Canada, had frequently boasted that he had killed Durfee, and afterward being found on the American side of the river, he was arrested for the murder. The British government announced its responsibility for the transaction, and Mr. McLeod was brought up on habeas corpus, but the New York courts refused to release him, and held him for trial. Here was a conflict of State Rights which very much embarrassed our government. The feeling was very fierce against McLeod in Niagara County. The case came on to be tried, finally, at Utica, on the 4th of October, 1811, before Judge Gridley and a jury, in a Court of Oyer and Terminer of Oneida County, to which the case had been transferred for a fair trial, which the prisoner averred he could not have in the county in which it occurred. On behalf of the prosecution there appeared Willis Hall, Attorney-General of the State of New York, Timothy Jenkins, District Attorney for Oneida County, J.L. Wood, District-Attorney of Niagara County, and Seth Hawley, of Buffalo. For the prisoner appeared Joshua Spencer, C. Gardner, and Alvin Bradley. Judge Philo Gridley was a native of Oneida County, born in 1796. He was appointed judge in place of Denio, resigned. He was known as the steam judge, from the rapidity with which he went through the court business. He died in 1861. Willis Hall was born in Granville, New York, in 1801. He was graduated at Yale College, in 1821. He was admitted to the bar, and practiced for about four years at Mobile, Alabama. In 1831 he returned to New York, and was sent to the Legislature in 1837. In 1811 he was Attorney-General of the State, and in 1812 was again a Member of the Assembly. In 1843 he was stricken with paralysis, from which he never wholly recovered, but continued to practice law for nearly a quarter of a century, with shattered health, and somewhat enfeebled, but still brilliant intellect. He was an enthusiastic friend of Henry Clay, and refused to support General Taylor for President. Mr. Spencer was an able lawyer, of Utica, whose fame extended over the State and beyond its boundaries. It was in his office that Francis Kernan, the present United States Senator studied law. The array of counsel on both sides was able and brilliant, and London and Washington concentrated their attentions on the little city of Utica. Had Mcleod been found guilty, and executed for the murder, there was little hope of preventing a war between England and this country. The British Minister at Washington, during the controversy, was the Right Hon. Henry Stephen Fox, a crafty old diplomatist, nephew of the celebrated orator, Charles James Fox. He died in Washington, in 1816. The prisoner when brought into court was described as one who had lived well and felt much at ease. There was no great difficulty in obtaining a jury. The jurors generally answered that they had neither formed nor expressed an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the prisoner, and that they had no conscientious scruples against finding a verdict in a case involving life and death. Mr. Hall had asked the first juror called as to his views of the public policy involved in this case, but the judge pronounced the question altogether beyond the pale of necessity or regularity in challenging jurors. One juror, however, had himself excused on this ground, and though the judge said it was not sufficient he was allowed to stand aside. Two were excused on account of conscientious and religious scruples against the taking of human life, two on account of sickness, and several were peremptorily challenged by the prisoner=s counsel. Attorney-General Hall proposed that one juror, who had answered satisfactorily, should stand aside till the panel was exhausted; but, after a long argument, the judge decided against the proposition. Mr. Hall opened the case before the jury. He spoke of the important duty devolving upon himself and upon the jury, and of the great excitement pervading the country from one extremity of the Union to the other. He read to the jury the indictment found against the prisoner at the Niagara Circuit, with its different accounts - charging in one that the murder was committed with a gun, in another that it was done with a pistol by ????, and by other parties unknown?, the prisoner being present ????? and assisting. Mr. Hall said he was prepared to prove by the assertions of the prisoner that he was present at the destruction of the Caroline and the murder of Durfee, that he was about Navy Island and Schlosser immediately preceeding the murder; that he was busily engaged in enlisting people to go upon the expedition to capture the Caroline; that he was at Schlosser inquiring what time the Caroline would be there, and that after the outrage he had exhibited a pistol and a sword stained with blood, which he boasted was "the blood of a d---d Yankee," with other corroborating facts. A great many witnesses were called for the prosecution but none of them had seen Durfee killed, nor had any one seen, with certainty, McLeod among the persons capturing the Caroline. The principal proof against him was his own vain boastings . The proof hardly came up to Mr. Hall's opening. William Wells testified that he was the owner of the Caroline. He had fitted up the boat and ran her to Schlosser, on the 29th of December, 1837; got her there about six o'clock, and made her fast to the dock. He then took his supper, set the watch, and went to bed. The witness detailed at length the seizure of the Caroline, and was subjected to a severe cross-examination by Mr. Spencer. He acknowledged that he had run the boat to Navy Island, and had taken among other things a six pounder, some muskets, and a quantity of provisions. He had seen on the island about two hundred and fifty persons and eleven pieces of cannon. The force on the island seemed to be under the command of Van Rensclaer? He testified that he had received about ten dollars for freight carried between Schlosser and the island. He bought the boat for eight hundred dollars on the 1st of December, had her cut out of the ice in Buffalo harbor on the 28th, and she was destroyed on the 29th. Daniel J. Stewart testified that he was on board the Caroline when she was captured. She left Buffalo about eight o'clock on the morning of the 29th, and at six o'clock made fast to the dock at Schlosser for the night. He was placed as watch on deck about one o=clock. Soon after boats were discovered nearing the Caroline. His first impression was that the boats were manned by Indians. He hailed the boats "Who comes there?" and the answer returned was, "Friends." The witness described the capture of the boat, and that the orders given were, "Show the d---d rebels no quarter." James Field testified that he kept a hotel at Schlosser. Heard the noise on the Caroline about 1 o'clock, got up and went out, and found Durfee lying dead. He lay partly on this face, with his feet to the water. It appeared as if a ball had been shot through his head. The cap, which was lying near him, had two holes in it corresponding with the holes in his head. It appeared to be singed near the hole in the back part. He was about four feet from the water. One gun was fired from his house at the men who had captured the Caroline, but this shot was fired five or six rods below where Durfee was found. John Hatter testified that the gun fired from Field=s house was loaded with powder only. Mr. Field got the powder, and it was fired only to scare the parties taking away the Caroline, and that was the only gun about the house. James H. King, mate of the Caroline, testified that he was awakened by the noise of the party boarding the boat. He was struck several times by swords, and was wounded in several places. The lowness of the cabin prevented the free use of the sword, and he used the blankets as a shield. When the attacking party entered the cabin they shouted to the witness "Roll over, you d---d Yankee, and give us those mattresses?" They throw out the bedding, and set it on fire. One of them said: "What shall we do with this fellow?" "Kill him," said one. "Take him prisoner," said another. "We don't want prisoners," said another, and so after considerable "banging" he was allowed to go ashore. Gilman Appleby testified that he was on the Caroline, and when wakened by the noise tried to escape to the shore. He was struck on the breast with a sword. Witness jumped into the water, and as he rose to the surface some one struck him on the back with a boarding pike. He made his way to the shore, and there he found Durfee on the railroad track lying dead. There were thirty-three men on board the Caroline, ten of whom comprised the crew. The rest were "dead heads." The strongest proof of McLeod's presence at the murder of Durfee, was by the witness, Samual Deown, who had been a bur-keeper at Chippewa. He swore that he saw the men return from the burning of the Caroline, and that McLeod was among them. On being asked how sure he was that it was McLeod, he answered: "As sure, sir, as I see him sitting there now before me." The fourth day the defense commenced and succeeded in pretty clearly proving that McLeod was not present. Mr. Spencer summed up the prisoner in a very able argument. He was followed by Attorney-General Hall for the prosecution in one of his ablest efforts. Judge Gridley delivered the charge, reviewing the evidence, and concluding in these words: "If the evidence will lead you to say that he is guilty, then, although your decision should wrap your country in the flames of war, you will fearlessly pronounce it. On the other hand, if he be innocent, you will so pronounce him, regardless of threats or murmurs, or fear of abuse; and may the God of truth enable you to decide according to those principles of truth and equity, which are the foundations of the Eternal Throne." In twenty minutes after retiring, the jury returned with the verdict of "Not Guilty." The prisoner's keen gray eyes kindled up, and, taking his hat and cloak, he retired from the court house with his able and successful counsel. There is no doubt that the General Government did as they could to have Mr. McLeod acquitted. Mr. Crittendon, the Attorney-General of President Harrison, and Daniel Webster, his Secretary of State, wished the authorities of the State of New York to allow McLeod to go free, and to hold the British Government responsible. Mr. Webster, in his great speech in the Senate of the United States, April 7th, 1846, defining his negotiations with Great Britain on this and other subjects of dispute, in speaking of the decision of the Supreme Court of New York refusing to surrender McLeod on the habeas corpus, said, "On the peril and at the risk of my profession reputation, I now say that the opinion of the Court of New York, in that case, is not a respectable opinion, either on the result at which it arrives, or the reasoning on which it proceeds." But McLeod went free, and Mr. Webster obtained an apology from Great Britain for the invasion of our territory; but "Durfee's ghost walks unavenged." -- B Hon. [Honorable] Wm. [William] E. Robinson, in N.Y. Weekly.