A brief narrative of the life and confession of Barnett Davenport. Under sentence of death, for a series of the most horrid murders, ever perpetated in this country, or perhaps any other, on the evening following the 3d of February, 1780. Is to be executed at Litchfield, on the 8th of May.
Davenport, Barnett, 1760-1780.
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AS they tell me, I was born at New-Milford, the 25th of October, 1760, and lived with my parents until I was about nine years of age. By this time, I was become quite expert in using bad lan|guage, having been accustomed to profaneness, from the time I was capable of forming articulate sounds. How early was the infernal dialect become habitual! I was then sent to live with Mr. Nathan Hawley, where I abode about two years and an half. Here I had but little opportunity of going to school, and that which I had, was not most carefully improved; but very little proficiency was made in learning to read. When about eleven years old, as near as I can recol|lect, I ran away from Mr. Hawley's, under pretence of having been abused: But there I began to pilfer, by stealing green corn, which was, (if I rightly re|member) the beginning of that infamous practice, which led me on to the most horrid crimes ever com|mitted. I then went to my father's house, and lived there about one year. Then I was sent to live with one Mr. Ebenezer Bostwick, where I continued part of one summer; but being uneasy, would live there no longer, and returned to my father, with whom I lived till the following spring, when I returned to Mr. Bostwick's. Presently, I grew very uneasy, imagining myself treated with too much severity. Here, my temper, naturally passionate, frequently vented itself in perverse language, or was manifested by a sullen dumbness. Insomuch, that when a Page  6 plough boy, I would frequently either not speak at all, or use such language as is not fit to be repeated. Being now about twelve years of age, I could not read; had scarce ever been in a place of public wor|ships; nor always, where family worship was, attend|ed. That parents counsel's, warnings, and solemn admonitions may come with weight on children's minds, family prayer and public worship are of great importance.

Here I was guilty of pillaging a neighbour's gar|den, stole some water-melons, &c. However small these crimes may appear to some, yet, when viewed in the light of eternity, and as leading to the most dreadful enormities, they must appear awfully fear|ful.

During this year, my time was spent in going to one place to live, and then to another, disquieted, like the troubled sea, which cannot rest.

When I was about thirteen years old, I was sent to live at another place, and not long after, was let out to Mr. Daniel Tyrrell; from whose son, I pretty soon stole some money. I was detected, reproved, admonished, and warned of my danger, by some who reminded me of the notorious Fraie, and his fearful end, similar to which they feared mine would be. I was corrected as well as warned, and my father in|formed, and I was sent to him. With him I conti|nued till the spring following, when I went to live with Mr. Aaron Hitchcock, where I learned to read, though but poorly. Contrary to orders, I rode away his horse, which being discovered, he threatened to punish me. Upon this, I stole a small matter of mo|ney and a silk handkerchief, and run away. Finding Page  7 that I was pursued, I concealed myself by the way|side, and thought within myself, when the two men in pursuit of me rode by, "I loved to see the devils ride. They are got fooled once*." I had once be|fore run away from the same man, with whom, it had been well for me, if I had lived. I was carried back the next day, and corrected. There I was to have lived 'till I was sixteen; but being discontented, I went again to my father's, being now about fourteen.

The next winter my father bound me to Mr. John Stillwell, to live with him till I was of age. With him I lived more than a year. While I lived here, I once laid a plan to murder Mr. Stillwell, and how to conceal it, in the following manner: When we were in the field, drawing logs, and Mr. Stillwell was stooping down to put the chain round the log, I took up the ax to knock him on the head, and then de|signed to draw the log over him, tear him to pieces, and so conceal the murdering of him. But my heart then failed me, not being yet so hardened in sin, as to carry into execution my horrid plan, and perpetrate the shocking crime. It is a maxim, as old as antient Rome, That no man becomes a devil in a minute. Things of trifling value I stole here, such as eggs, hens, potatoes, &c. and sold them to persons near where I then lived, which was at Pitts-Town. The summer following, I stole Mr. Stillwell's horse, and ran away. Before I got to Stockbridge, I turned up the horse; and, about a month after, went home to my father, continuing the wretched practice of pilfer|ing Page  8 green corn, water-melons, and the like, leading a most careless, stupid life, neither reading, praying, or attending any public worship. Indeed, I had now almost forgot that which I once learnt, as to reading.

The winter following, I enlisted for three years, in Col. Brewers regiment, belonging to the State of Mas|sachusetts; went to Ticonderoga, March 1777; tar|ried there till the fort was evacuated by our troops, retreated with our forces; was at the battle of Ho|bartown; then retreated to Sillwater. Here, being one day enraged at a soldier, in my passion, I threw a club at him, which missing him, wounded an officer, and I was punished. When our army, after Gene|ral Burgoyne's surrender, came down to Albany, I was there visited with sore sickness; then went home upon a furlough for 12 days, and, by imprudence, got a very severe relapse.

Early the next spring, I went to Danbury▪ where I kept guard two months; during which, I stole hens, geese, Continental rum and wine. From thence I went to Valley-Forge, and joined the army; but on the road stole some sugar; was at the battle at Mon|mouth; remained with the army till General Patter|son's brigade, to which I belonged, came to Wood|bury, the October following. There I got a pass for one day, to go and see my brother, and was then to rejoin the army. But never joined that brigade again. I went to my brother's, and then to my father's, and on the road stole a pair of stockings. Then went and lived at four different places in Cornwall at Canaan, in less than four months, discontented at each, for some reason or other. I was then hired by a man in Nobletown, to go into the service for nine Page  9 months, and went to Albany and joined Capt. Bovit's company. As the man that hired me, refused to pay part of what he promised, I attempted to return to my father; but was pursued, overtook, and carried back—joined the regiment, (Col. Ransselaers.) From Albany went with a party to the German Flatts, and remained there till about October, 1779. During this campaign, I stole one pair of brass shoe-buckles from a soldier; a piece of linen cloth from one of the inhabitants; a powder horn, powder, bullet-pouch, and bullets, from a soldier. Being one day sent out upon a scout, with some others, we plundered an house, by leave of the officer; and I privately, with|out leave, set it on fire.

Having obtained a furlough of twelve days to go home, on the road stole a pair of silver shoe-buckles; between Sheffield and Canaan stole an horse, and rode it almost home. On the way I stole two shirts, one frock, and a piece of linen cloth, at different places. In the beginning of November, went to live in New-York State; stole one Continental dollar. Returned, and about the end of that month, went to live at Mr. Caleb Mallery's.

He took me in out of pity and compassion, and engaged to let me have some cloathing, of which I stood in special need, and for which I made the most vile, ungrateful, and detestable returns, as the sequel of this tragical story will tell.

Just at the close of the month of January, 1780, about five or six days before my perpetrating the blackest crimes that ever mortals committed, I deter|mined upon the murder of Mr. Mallory and his fa|mily, the first opportunity; and this, merely, for the Page  10 sake of plundering his house; without the least pro|vocation, or prejudice against any of them. The fa|mily in which I now lived consisted of Mr. Mallery, Mrs. Mallery, a daughter in law, a daughter, and three grand children.

I was haunted and possessed with the thoughts of murder, from the time of my first entertaining them, both day and night. Nor could I get rid of them, even when I attempted to do it.—Mr. Mallery's own daughter being a tayloress, went out to work: her sister in law spake of going to pay a visit, and tarry|ing all night: which was the time I fixed upon to execute my bloody, land-defiling, soul-ruining, and heaven-daring plan. With great impatience I waited for, and endeavoured to hasten the daughter in law to pay her visit, while the other daughter was absent. On the 3d of February, she went away accordingly, and tarried that night—A night big with uncommon horror. My heart trembles and is moved out of its place, at the relation of this most tremendous, cruel, bloody, and amazing scene.—Mr. Mallery and his wife with one of the children, went to bed in the same room—he lying in one bed, and the other two in the other. Upon this, I took a piece of cloth and made me a knapsack: and then went to plundering the daughter in law's room, searching for some hard mo|ney, which, I understood she had, but could not find it. After putting some things into my knapsack; with the candle in one had and the swingle in the o|ther, I went into the room where Mr. Mallery, his wife and one grand child lay asleep. First I smote him with my might once or twice on his head; upon this Mrs. Mallery awaking attempted to rise up; I Page  11 turned and struck her one or two blows. Mr. Mal|lery then sprung up; I struck immediately at him; but he partly warded off the blow with his arm, and then struck the candle out of my hand; I then push|ed him back, and down upon the bed, belabouring him with the club—He asked me who I was? what I meant? and said, tell me what you do it for? Then called to his wife to come and help him repeatedly. Who can abstain from tears, while relating these things! Mrs. Mallery made no answer, only shrieks, cries, and doleful lamentations. Having for some time smote Mr. Mallery and pounded him, the swingle split. Upon this, I catched a gun which stood behind the door, and with this instrument of death, proceeded still to smite him: I then turned again, and did the same to Mrs. Mallery, and continued striking till she lay still as well as he.

The child, in bed with its grand mother, was seven years and eight months old. These cruel blows and piercing cries awoke the tender babe, in shocking sur|prize, even while I was killing her grand father; and starting up she asks, her dear but wounded grand mother, what is the matter. She cried out bitterly; she called out for me, or to me, by the name, the plea|sant child used to call me, saying, Mr. Nicholas*. But I continued paying on; feeling no remorse at killing my aged patrons and benefactors. For the child, I seemed to feel, some small relentings, without remitting in the least, my execrable exertions. This anger was cursed, for it was most barbarous and cruel. Page  12 Probably this child was at this time mortally wound|ed; for she gave a few terrible shrieks, which (one would think) were enough to pierce the hardest heart, and reach the center of the most obdurate sinner's soul: And then she lay still, sighing and groaning in the most affecting manner.

The room being now besmeared with blood, and filled with horrendous groans: I went into the other room, lighted the candle, and presently returned to this room, in which expiring groan answered to groan. Nor was Pharaoh's heart harder than mine For a|midst these dying groans and streaming blood, I looked for the key to open the chest where the mo|ney lay; but could not find it. Then I went, got a pestle and broke open the chest. By this time both Mr. Mallery and his wife began to struggle—I mash|ed his head all to pieces with this instrument: And she rising partly up in the bed, I smote her also with the pestle on her head, several times, and she tumbled behind the bed. Before this I saw her face swoln to twice its common bigness, disfigured with wounds, and covered with gore and streaming blood.

To an heart not past all feeling what could have been more shocking! But how unmoved was I, who now set myself to searching for the money of the dead. Having found a considerable sum of paper currency, and some solid coin; and searched among the papers for more, scattering them about. I put on some of the dying man's clothes:—plundering the room in which those still groaning persons, in the anguish of death, then were lying. Then, I went into a room where the two other grand children lay. These were waked up by the preceding blows or Page  13 cries, and asked for their clothes to get up. I told them to lye down, and go to sleep for it was not morning. They cried and asked what was the mat|ter with their grand mother? I answered, she was sick. They asked again, What made her make such a noise? And then they lay down, sobbing*. I then plundered the house of sundry articles. After this, I set a fire in the milk room, another in the outward room, and another up chamber, in the flax and tow. Seeing the house well on fire, and the outward room all filled with blaze, I set off for Blue Swamp, about eight miles from thence. But for want of a track in the snow, was obliged to go about twelve miles to get there. From thence I purposed for Ball Town. Arrived at Blue Swamp, about nine o'clock, A. M. But no sooner had I finished the dreadful scene of murder, than fear attacked me—Fleeing from the burning house and crossing a bridge near by, I was afraid it would break under me, and kill me.—After I got to Blue Swamp (strange to relate) I tarried there from Friday morning till the next Wednesday afternoon: Sometimes I felt alarmed and determined immediately to flee with all possible speed: And in a few moments would sink into a state of the utmost carelessness and remissness. Notwithstanding repeat|ed resolutions, one thing and another would inter|vene, and I could not go. The next day after I got to Blue Swamp, we heard of the conflagration. I concluded, they would think that I was burnt up, and was left to that stupidity, great part of the time, Page  14 as not to imagine they would hear of me. Some|times, I apprehended, I should be immediately taken, then sunk into the greatest security. On Wednesday afternoon, I set off and went to Cornwall, where I put up for that night; when I was pursued and ta|ken in bed. Upon this I confessed the murder; though I falsified the truth as to my having an ac|complice. For I solemnly declare, that no person living knew any thing about my murderous design, or had the least hand in it, either mediately or immediately, but myself—I undertook and perpetrated it alone, a|mazing, and unheard of as it is.

After being sent to gaol, and even before I was committed, I confessed the falsehood, respecting my saying, that I had an accomplice. On the 25th of April, I was arraigned before the honorable superior court of this State, and plead guilty to the indict|ment of murder, laid in against me.

On the 27th, sentence of death was publicly pro|nounced; and, upon the eighth of May next, I am to be executed. O that others may take warning by my dreadful example and fearful end! And avoid those sins which I have committed, and which by a series of wickedness have led me on to the most aw|ful crimes that ever were perpetrated in this land, or perhaps any other; and for which I must (most justly) suffer a violent death, and I greatly fear, ever|lasting burning, horror and despair.


Litchfield Gaol, this 29th of April, Anno Domini, 1780.

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N. B. A number of thefts, which he mentioned, after the minutes of the above were taken, are not inserted; and probably many, which he either for|got or neglected to tell. He is young in years, but old in crimes, having performed that exploit of wickedness, which none other in this land, or per|haps any other, especially in so early life, ever at|tempted. May the sordid life, the unheard of crimes, and fearful end, of this poor, wretched male|factor, be a warning to parents and children. That parents may be more careful to instruct and teach their children; pray with and for them: so that they abstain from profaneness, and other works of darkness, attend public worship, being taught by precept and example. And that children would early call on God, avoid sin and all temptation, as knowing that sins which, to them may perhaps ap|pear small, yet being indulged, open the flood-gates to all manner of impiety, and lead down to the cham|bers of everlasting death

As he is also to be considered in the character of a desorter from the army, having been repeatedly guilty of that dreadful sin, may others take warn|ing, and not dare to do so wickedly, lest they incur the vengeance of Heaven, and of their injured Country.