Page images
PDF
EPUB

which time the plaintiffs examined 246 witnesses in 27 days, and the defendants 249 in 40 days. Captain Abel F. Fitch, who raised the cavalry company known as the Barry Horse Guards," and a commissioned officer of the State Militia, was made the principal object of the informer's wrath, as well as of the railroad company's treachery. He or they must fall in this contest; and so it proved, for the high-minded pioneer of a Jackson county township died in the Detroit jail, while waiting to vindicate his honor, and rescue himself and his friends from the villainy and the corruption which banded themselves together to work his destruction.

The notorious George W. Gay, the real incendiary, a most consummate liar, a dark perjurer, died in the same jail before the beginning of the trial. Scoundrels equally as vicious were present to take up the course of perjury allotted to Gay. Henry Phelps, Herman Lake, and Jacob Wolliver were willing instruments in the hands of the railroad company, and one unprincipled lawyer (name not given), who instructed the creatures in all the refined villainies and the art of perjury. Thus were they prepared for the cross-examination. The trial dragged its weary way along for months; but the end was at hand. Mr. Van Dyke addressed the jury for the prosecution; Wm. H. Seward, for the defense. Van Dyke, in his address, asked the jurors to believe that the guilty, among the large number indicted, comprised: Ammi Filley, Lyman Champlin, W. W. Champlin, Erastus Champlin, Eben Price, Richard Price, 0. D. Williams, Wm. Corwin, Eben Farnham, Andrew J. Freeland, Erastus Smith and Aaron Mount. He distinctly pointed out those men as guilty in the first degree, while in regard to M. T. Laycock, John Ackerson, and Daniel Myers, he stated that their evidence did not point directly to any of their criminal actions. The remaining 22 prisoners he declared innocent, and advised the jury to let them go and sin no more.

Wm. H. Seward, in reviewing the evidence, showed clearly that the prosecutors relied wholly on the evidence of some of the most disreputable creatures that ever brought the blush of shame into the face of true manhood. The whole proceedings were illegal from beginning to end; yet, since it was evident that law was to be prostituted to the service of a wealthy corporation, and in the face of morals and decency brought down from its high pedestal, he closed his brilliant peroration with the following reference to the first victim of that strange tragedy:

“Remember that you are mortal, and that he is immortal; that before the tribunal where he stands, you must confront him and vindicate his character or your own judgment. Remember that he is now free. He has not only left behind him the dungeon, the cell, and the chain, but he exults in a freedom compared with which our liberty is but slavery and bondage. You stand then between the dead and the living. There is no need to bespeak the exercise of your candor, of your impartiality, of your caution. You will, I am sure, be just to the dead and the living, because under circumstances so solemn, so full of awe, you cannot be un

[ocr errors][merged small]

just to the dead, nor false to your countryman, nor to your God.”

The great lawyer was convinced of the innocence of his clients, nor did the verdict of that jury and the sentence of that judge remove his firm belief that his clients were the victims of purchased treachery, rather than so many sacrifices to justice.

The verdict “guilty,” was rendered at 9 o'clock P. M., Sept. 25, 1851. On the 26th the prisoners were put forward to receive sentence, when many of them protested their entire innocence, after which the presiding judge condemned 12 of the number to the following terms of imprisonment, with hard labor, within the State's prison, situate in their county: Ammi Filley, 10 years; Orlando L. Williams, 10 years; Aaron Mount, eight years; Andrew J. Freeland, eight years; Eben Farnham, eight years; William Corvin, eight years; Richard Price, eight years; Evan Price, eight ears; Lymån Champlin, five years; Willard W. Champlin, five ears; Erastus Champlin, five years; Erastus Smith, five years.

Now the crime had passed from the criminals to the jury and again to the State. Never was sentence pronounced upon a more innocent array of citizens. The guilty had escaped, and in their travels left the mark of Cain in their tracks; for the blood of one victim and the curse of men who lived in servitude followed them, took effect and doomed them to that spiritual punishment which ever accompanies the thorough ruffian. The State, however, did justice to its victims within a few years. Gov. Kinsley S. Bingham was elected governor a few years later, the names of the living and dead cleansed from the stains which the hired villains of a corrupt jury left upon them, and the release of the prisoners ordered. Previously a few of the imprisoned men were released; Aaron Mount died within the prison in 1852, and Orlando D. Williams found a means to escape in 1853. He was not re-captured until the issue of the proclamation announcing an amnesty to all the victims of bribery and evil laws. The Jackson Republican in after years embodied in a very able editorial the following reference to this important event:

“And thus were the ends of justice defeated, and money and power and villainous craft triumphed over innocence and helpless

They killed their vile tool (Gay) whose pretended “confessions' they produced; they killed the high-minded, but to them dangerous, man, who had discernment enough to see through the treachery of their unprincipled hirelings, and influence enough to defeat their base designs, if once restored to liberty; and two years after the inauguration of this war-four months after the culmination of their meanness and insufferable oppressions in the arrest and abduction, to a distant city, of 50 innocent citizens, from the youth of 18, to the old bed-ridden man of 80—they incarcerated 12 of them in the State's prison, there to languish for years, separated from family and friends, and homes, not to appease the wrath of a growing and thriving corporation, for 'it' was guilty only of flagrant errors and much injustice, which wiser members in sober moments have acknowledged and deplored, but to satisfy the

[ocr errors]

ness.

{

**W' .....

1:"//**********

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

hatred, glut and vengeance of a few, whose robberies and heinous crimes had brought them to shame and to a prison experience, which they repeatedly swore should be inflicted upon those that helped to send them there. The last words of Fitch were: Who will vindicate my character ? It would seem that the man's own life and the character of his accusers were sufficient vindication of his own, and though his untimely death gave power to the enemy, and the conviction of some of his own companions in misfortune had served to cast a stigma on their names, his character was then, and is yet, vindicated by all who have ever known him, or who have ever given a single impartial thought upon the details of the conspiracy against him and his companions. Abel F. Fitch died a crushed and heart-broken, but guileless, man, and an honest Christian gentleman. The fact that the prisoners were all pardoned at the suggestion of the railroad company and their lawyers, that a tender of damages was made to them after being released, and that the witnesses, to this day, all stand convicted for perjury, is of itself vindication enough for all; while their victims were in prison for a crime they never committed.”

[blocks in formation]

The following letter from Mr. Fitch, under date May 6, 1851, was addressed to his wife and child. It is a lengthy epistle, but sufficiently interesting to claim the reader's attention:

“I have just received your letter, and was pleased to hear that you were well, and in such good circumstances for help, etc. I heard that Sebastian had gone home. I do not think that I should try to do much farming; I would not employ more than one hired man, as I do not think more would be profitable under the circumstances. Take good care of the stock, etc., and, as I wrote before, let things move along as quietly as possible. Court sits here next week, when some of us will have our trials. We are very uncomfortably situated, but try to get along as well as we can. It comes very hard for Dr. Moulton. Dany was here yesterday. We all have bad colds, otherwise health is tolerably good. Mr. Washington Gay, the man we are charged with conspiring with, is but just alive here in jail, and if he has told things to some of the railroad folks, which they say he has, criminating us from Jackson county, so palpably false and wicked, I do not wonder that he dies the death he seems about to die-loathsome and disgusting the extreme. However, he may be innocent, and the charges against him as corrupt and wicked as they are against us; but he is as poor and loathsome an object of pity as I ever saw, and the last end of some others I could mention, I have faith to believe, will be like his, for the proceeds of false swearing may flourish for a time, yet their 'last days will be spent in some loathsome prison, where there will be none to care for or pity their sad condition. If Divine vengeance was ever meted out to man while here on earth,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

those who have entered into this secret plot against us will most assuredly receive their full share.

“You are well aware that I have been very cautious in all my operations for the last year, knowing, as I did, that large rewards were offered for my conviction, and that secret spys were lying in wait for me, and when they found they could not draw me by any pretext into any of their schemes, they finally pitched upon this depot scheme, and now seek to convict me and others. They never can do it! They will be worse confounded than those who undertook to build the Tower of Babel. Next Tuesday the bail in the criminal suits will be fixed, and then I should like to go home and prepare for my trial, for it does not seem as though I should stand it here much longer, and we have no means of making any preparation for trial here; yet I suppose our enemies would be glad to keep us here until our energies were all impaired or weakened, so that we would fall an easy prey.”

This letter bears the signature: Abel F. Fitch. There are 10 letters from Mr. Fitch preserved, the last of which is dated June 29, 1851. They are all very well written, but toward the close the sentiments of a heart bowed down with care and anxiety are appar

His sympathy with his fellow-prisoners, and their widows was of no ordinary kind. Set on a strong foundation, it finds expression in the letters, and is confirmation strong that he and his neighbors were the victims of some terrible plot.

ent.

DEATH OF ABEL FITCH.

Mr. Fitch was imprisoned in this city April 19, 1851, and was under confinement until his death, charged with being one of the leaders among the persons then on trial in the railroad conspiracy" case. Living in easy circumstances, if not in luxury, before his imprisonment, the nauseous atmosphere of the jail engendered disease, and he was attacked with dysentery Aug. 16, 1851. On August 21 his recovery in the jail being despaired of, he was removed to the hospital of the Sisters of Charity, where he was kindly attended to by the Sisters, and a part of the time by his affectionate wife; yet, notwithstanding the care bestowed upon him, his weary heart and cruel persecution tended to his death on Aug. 24.

The Tribune, in its reference to the subject, says; “We forbear expressing an opinion on the matters with which the deceased is charged, -content and believing, from the character he has maintained in the State, and especially in the vicinity of his residence, where he has always been known as a kind and conscientious man and neighbor, charitable to the poor and unfortunate, that his last dying words, uttered in the full possession of his mental faculties, and with a full realization of his situation, the awfully solemn rites, performed at his own request, and expecting every passing moment to prove his last, should have their full effect, as we doubt not they will upon every unbiased heart.”

[ocr errors]

THE VICTIM OF THE CONSPIRATORS.

At 3 o'clock P. M., Aug. 23, Mr. Fitch became conscious that he could not live, and talked calmly and firmly of his approaching death. He desired that Lawyer Frink might be sent for to consult about his worldly matters. Prosecuting Attorney Stuart, with Drs. Rice and Pitcher, arrived. An examination was held, and an opinion expressed that he could not survive the night. Mr. Stuart went to the bedside of the dying man, when he inquired, “What is to be done now?” and said, I shall die a martyr to liberty.Later he remarked that he put his trust in God, and desired that he might be baptized. The solemn rites were performed in the presence of the Sisters, and in the midst of the ceremony, while committing his soul to his God, he declared his entire innocence of the crime with which he was charged, said he never violated the laws of his country, that he had simply expressed his opinions, as he had a right to do, and thought it not just that he should be punished. Mr. Fitch then called his wife to him, bade her good-bye, and then bidding adieu to other friends around him, closed his eyes for a moment. Recovering again, he exclaimed; “ There is dear little Amanda; I had nearly forgotten her; remember me to her. I dread to die with this charge resting

Will not the truth come out and my character be vindicated ?" Being assured by Mr. Frink that his character should be vindicated, he expressed himself prepared to die, and presently he took the hand of his wife, and pressing it to his lips, he said: "Amanda, it is hard to part! I die of a broken heart.” Having spoken, he fell into that slumber that knows no waking. His remains were taken to Michigan Center, where one of the greatest funeral corteges was formed that ever followed the corpse of a citizen of this county to a grave, within the Jackson cemetery.

Wm. M. Gunn, one of the persecuted men, died Aug. 23, 1851, from diseases fostered within that Detroit prison.

From beginning to end of these proceedings, Judge Livermore, Judge Johnson, Hon. Austin Blair, J. A. Dyer, E. Pringle and many other members of the Jackson Bar interested themselves in behålf of the unfortunate victims of the conspiracy; but their honest efforts could not cope with an array of villainy, and so the innocent suffered. May the time come when upright judges and jurors, who observe their oaths, will supplant all that is vicious in the administration of the laws, so the people may be saved from all the evils which spring from corruption on the bench, in the juryroom, and from the perjured ruffian in the witness-box.

upon me!

THE STRIKE OF 1877.

The strikes of 1877 were as rash as they were impolitic. There did not exist one justifiable point to which the disaffected employes could refer. Grievances existed, but they were irremediable. Depression cast its hideous shadow over every branch of

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »