A Brief narrative of the trial for the bloody and mysterious murder of the unfortunate young woman, in the famous Manhattan well. Taken in short hand by a gentleman of the bar.

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Title
A Brief narrative of the trial for the bloody and mysterious murder of the unfortunate young woman, in the famous Manhattan well. Taken in short hand by a gentleman of the bar.
Publication
[New York? :: s.n.,
1800]
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Subject terms
Weeks, Levi
Sands, Gulielma, d. 1799
Murder -- New York (State) -- New York
Trials (Murder) -- New York (State) -- New York
Crime -- New York (State) -- New York
Link to this Item
http://name.umdl.umich.edu/N27791.0001.001
Cite this Item
"A Brief narrative of the trial for the bloody and mysterious murder of the unfortunate young woman, in the famous Manhattan well. Taken in short hand by a gentleman of the bar." In the digital collection Evans Early American Imprint Collection. https://name.umdl.umich.edu/N27791.0001.001. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections. Accessed July 16, 2024.

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A BRIEF NARRATIVE, &c.

ON a subject of this important magnitude, in which the Public Mind is irresistibly interested; where a transaction is to be developed, the mere contemplation of which makes the soul shudder with horror; where the guilt or innocence is to be ascertained, of a man crimina|ted with an accusation of such diabolic import, we deem it our duty to give the earliest information in our power.

Is he guilty, let the culprit be held up to public detes|tation in all his blackness, and receive the punishment of his crime; but if innocent, let the unfortunate youth re|ceive as public an acquittal. Let us wipe from his fair fame every foul stain of suspicion—let us regret that his character has been traduced, his feelings lacerated, his very existence endangered by an accusation as false as it was cruel, as unfounded as it was destructive.

This celebrated cause brought forth the talents, as well of the prosecutor for the people, as of the advocates for the prisoner. But the professional activity of the former,

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was not the only power with which the unfortunate pri|soner had to cope.

A thousand rumors of a vague and incongruous nature, were circulated by the tongue of public report. Absurd and malignant stories were at every corner repeated, cal|culated to prejudice the public mind.

It is unfortunately too common for the less liberal part of the community, to transfer their abhorrence of the crime to the person who is suspected of its commission; forgetful of that golden maxim, that we should deem e|very man innocent, until, to an impartial jury of his fellow citizens, his guilt is made manifest.

We have also heard, but for the honor of human na|ture we hope our information is not correct, that one or more disinterested individuals, have exerted themselves with peculiar activity to procure the conviction of the pri|soner.

However desirous we may be that truth should be dis|covered, and crime brought under the sword of justice— and however we may applaud the exertions of those whose professional duty calls on them to drag the assassin from his concealment into open day; yet our feelings recoil at the idea of intruding services in a case where the life of the prisoner is at stake—where a conviction will crimson the altar of public justice with the blood of a fel|low creature.

But we cut short our preliminary remarks, and haster to the more important occurrences of the trial.

A bill having been found by the grand jury, and the prisoner duly arraigned, Monday was appointed as the awful—the eventful aera of his fate▪

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On this momentous occasion, the chamber of justice, the avenues of the city-hall, and the streets adjacent, were thronged with an eager multitude of our enlight|ened populace;—A multitude, whose patience was only equalled by their clemency.

Precisely at ten o'clock, the sun shining with consider|able brilliancy, and the weather being a little windy, the prisoner arrived, properly guarded. He was also attended by a numerous train, a volunteer guard of citi|zens, as distinguished for decorum of behavior, as for respectability of appearance.

The court being opened in due form, and the jury sworn, the prisoner was brought to the bar.

Here let us remark the collected composure of his manner, and the open expression of his countenance. His appearance interested us greatly in his favor. We waited with anxiety for the testimony—convinced that if his was not the expression of conscious innocence, he was indeed a man incapable of feeling, whose bosom was not to be assailed by any remorseful sensations.

The court room being excessively crowded, the con|stables were directed to clear it of all superfluous spec|tators; and we were much delighted to see the alacrity with which this respectable class of officers exerted them|selves, in the execution of the power delegated to them; —an alacrity which we have in every instance witnessed. They appear fully convinced of the authority they pos|sess, and perfectly disposed to exercise it in its amplest extent.

The prisoner being placed at the bar, was then called by name, and directed to hold up his right hand. Hav|ing complied with this established usage, his indictment was read, in which the accusation was contained, a|mong

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a number of other important and truly relevant allegations customary on such occasions.

The Attorney general then opened the prosecution, and introduced the witnesses on the part of the people. These being fifty or sixty in number, and many of them deposing matters of trivial import, we shall not go into the detail; but merely remark, that the general tenor went to connect circumstances of a presumptive nature; but which so connected, might establish a conclusive mass. The nature of the case being such, that in proof of the prisoner's guilt, presumptive evidence only could be ad|duced.

The testimony was brought forward to establish certain particulars which, if properly proved, would have formed a connected chain of evidence, from which presumption would arise sufficiently pointed to convince the minds of the jury, producing the same con|viction of his guilt, that would arise from positive testi|mony. But if these proofs were rebutted, or differ|ently explained by opposing testimony, it would fol|low, that the most violent suspicions might originate from circumstances of a harmless nature, and the most pointed evidence might take its rise in error and miscon|ception.

The following is the import of the material part of this evidence, which we have selected from a confused mass of tedious unimportant matter.

It was endeavored on the part of the prosecution to prove, that the prisoner had been in the habit of paying very particular attentions to the deceased—that about 8 o'clock of the evening on which she was missing, he had come to her uncle's, where she resided, and had de|parted about the same time at which she was supposed to have left the house, which was about twenty minutes af|ter

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eight o'clock. A woman living in the neighborhood of the yard in which the horse and sleigh of Ezra Weeks, brother to the prisoner, were kept, deposed, that some|time about eight o'clock, being in her house, with her doors shut, she heard the gate of the above yard open, and a carriage come out, whether a sleigh or chair, she could not tell, and in about half an hour, she heard it return, and the gate again shut. She admitted that she had never heard this gate open or shut, except at this particular time, though it was in continual use—she was also certain that the evening was Sunday, though she ap|peared very incorrect with respect to the time of the month. She also admitted that she did not recollect any of those particulars till about twelve days after, when she was informed of the unfortunate end of the young woman, and of the time when the event happened. It is also to be noted, that this witness appeared to be greatly advanced in age, and her memory not very tenacious on most particulars.

An evidence was adduced to prove, that about the time mentioned, a one horse sleigh without bells, was seen on the road, containing a woman and two men, who ap|peared laughing very merrily.

Three other witnesses deposed that about half after eight o'clock, being in a sleigh in the middle road, a one horse sleigh passed them on a gallop, without bells, and containing two or three persons, but from the darkness of the night, they were not able to speak decidedly as to the number, nor were they certain as to the sex of all the persons it contained. As the sleigh passed them, the witnesses huzza'd, in the manner frequently customary on such occasions. The persons in the one horse sleigh took no notice of their shouting, but passed them in per|fect silence.

Two witnesses, a man and his wife, who reside in the

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vicinity of the Manhattan Well, being regularly sworn, declared, that about tbe hour in which this catastrophe is supposed to have happened, they heard exclamations of a female in distress, and distinguished the words "O Lord have mercy, do help me!" The old man looked through his window; but on being asked, declared that he did not discover any sleigh; though it was observed that from the nature of the ground, it was not impossible but a sleigh might have been kept from his view in a kind of hollow between his house and the well.

Another witness deposed, that he passed not far from the Manhattan Well about nine o'clock.

The time was ascertained by his having noticed the hour a few minutes before, at the house he left.

He heard a voice, as of a female in distress, and went in the direction of the Well to discover the cause. He heard the voice twice, but did not distinguish any words. His wife called him, and told him she believed it came from a house in the neighborhood—he therefore desisted from his examination. He declared that he saw no sleigh, and the sounds were not again repeated.

Another witness deposed, that passing near the well the morning after the event, he saw the traces of a one-horse sleigh, which had went out of the road and struck into the field, turning extremely near to the well. He remarked, that the circumstance being very singular, ar|rested his attention: he did not perceive whether it bore the marks of a pleasure sleigh, or a wood sleigh. The latter appeared to have been the impression on his mind, as he thought that some carmen, riding for sport, had turned out of the road through whim.

From the unfrequented nature of the ground, it being out of the common road, the counsel for the prisoner

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discovered, by their questions, their opinion that these traces of a sleigh might not have been made on the pre|ceding night.

Two other circumstances were adduced, which ap|peared at first view, extremely unfavorable to the pri|soner.

He had declared, that he had never been at the well in his life, and a witness was brought to prove, that he had seen him examining the depth of the well, a week before this unfortunate circumstance occurred. This evidence deposed, that about eleven o'clock on a Sun|day morning, a week before the young woman was mis|sing, he saw a young man by the well, with whom he had some conversation; and this young man fastening two pieces of wood together, which had been left from the wood work, sounded the well in different places, mentioning to him the depth. But the witness declined swearing to the identity of the person, declaring that he could not take his oath that the prisoner was the man.— He also described accurately the dress of the person he saw at the well, which happened to be particularly sin|gular.

The persons who lived in the house with the prisoner, and the man with whom he boarded, being called, de|clared that they had never seen clothes of this descrip|tion in his possession.

The attorney general seeing the incompetence of this testimony, dismissed it.

The other unfavorable circumstance was, that the prisoner, immediately on being taken, asked if they had found the body in the MANHATTAN WELL.

But it was proved by several witnesses, that the muff

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of the deceased being discovered, had led to a suspicion that her remains would be found in the well. It was also clearly proved, that this circumstance of the finding of the muff, had already been communicated to the pri|soner.

These are the material evidences against the prisoner; To save time we have accompanied some of them with the manner in which they were opposed or proved groundless.

The evidence on the part of the prisoner was opened by Colonel Burr, in an eloquent and masterly manner.

It went to prove, that he was a young man of much worth, of mild and amiable manners, and of a very gentle and affectionate disposition. Several witnesses were brought to shew, that his conduct to the unfortu|nate young woman in question, had been civilly atten|tive▪ but not more so than to other young women in the house, or than was consistent with propriety.

It was clearly proved by a number of witnesses, that he was at Mr. Ezra Weeks, his brother's, on that even|ing, from before candle-light till eight o'clock. It was proved by a witness who lodged in the family of the deceased, that he came home about two minutes before or after eight o'clock: that the prisoner, with the de|ceased and family, were together: that shortly after, one of the company looking at his watch, it was ten minutes after eight: that about four minutes after this circum|stance, he left the room. It appears from the evidence of the family, that about this time, the prisoner took his leave; and it was supposed by the family, that the young woman, who had gone up stairs, went away with him. This from the evidence, must have been about a quarter after eight.

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It was further proved, that some company who had been at Mr. Ezra Weeks's, (the brother of the prisoner) remained with him till about twenty or twenty-five mi|nutes after eight, when they departed; and in conse|quence of the darkness and slipperiness of the evening, Mr. Ezra Weeks stood at the door with the candle, and lighted them. He returned, but had not sat down be|fore his brother, the prisoner, came in as usual, to re|ceive directions for the work of the next day. The interval unaccounted for, of the prisoner's absence, was thus reduced to ten or fifteen minutes; in which time, if at all, he must have perpetrated the crime—must have gone to the Manhattan well, about a mile, and returned; and must have composed his appearance, and overcome all kind of agitation, and all signs of haste or exertion.

It was proved by evidence, that the sleigh of Mr. Ezra Weeks had bells: that the boy who took care of the horse had sed him as usual, locked the door, and ei|ther kept the key in his pocket, or placed it in the kitchen. It appears that the bells were on the harness before and after this transaction, and in the opinion of the lad who had the care of the horse, it would have taken about ten minutes to remove the bells from the harness, and put the horse to the sleigh.

It was satisfactorily proved by numerous witnesses, that the behavior of the prisoner in the evening prior to the young woman being missing, was perfectly composed and cheerful as usual. It appears that on his return, his conduct was the same, perfectly free from every kind of agitation, that he eat a hearty supper, and received di|rections for making 8 doors of different dimensions, and executed them accurately without further instructions.

It also was proved, by a person who worked in the same shop with him, and who having heard some surmises

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hinted to his disadvantage, paid very particular attention to his appearance; that his subsequent conduct was uni|formly the same as ever; that he paid the same attention to the superintendance of the work, and never exhibited the smallest sign of guilt or agitation.

A variety of other witnesses were brought forward— some invalidating the testimony brought against him and others, tending to establish his innocence; but those al|ready detailed, appeared to remove every doubt from the minds of the spectators.

The evidence of several medical gentlemen of respect|ability, who had examined the body, was also taken; as was likewise the professional opinion of a physician of eminence, who had not inspected it.

From their testimony, it would appear possible, that the deceased had received her death from drowning, without having sustained any previous violence.

Some evidence was produced to show, that for a short time prior to her unfortunate end, she had exhibited marks of occasional gloom and melancholy; but several witnesses also deposed to the gaiety and cheerfulness of her disposition.

As the counsel for the prisoner did not sum up, we had not an opportunity of judging how far they meant to enforce this point; and we could only infer the con|clusion they were disposed to draw.

The evidence on both sides being closed, we anticipated that flow of eloquence which was to be expected from the abilities of General Hamilton and Brockholst Livingston, for the prisoner, and of Mr. Colden, the prosecutor for the people.

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But the Attorney general rose and requested that the court would postpone the pleadings on the cause, ex|pressing his inability of entering into it at this hour, de|claring that he had not slept in eight and forty hours; and that if after hearing the summing up of the gentlemen for the prisoner, he was obliged at five or six o'clock in the morning to enter upon a reply, in which he must consider the evidence, it would be totally out of his power.

The harrassed appearance of the attorney general, sufficiently substantiated his assertions, as he appeared sinking under the fatigues he had suffered in the course of this lengthy trial.

The court declined a compliance with this request, alledging the exhausted state of the jury, who had alrea|dy been locked up one night in the picture room, and that if the court adjourned, the jury must of necessity be committed to the same kind of durance, and that two nights passed in this manner, might make some of them sick, and prevent a determination of the cause.

We heartily concurred with the court in opinion; for though the examinations of the paintings, must doubt|less have been very edifying and amusing to the jury on the former night, yet it is doubtful whether a repetition of the pleasure, would not have been so exquisite as to have produced a cloying effect.

The counsel for the prisoner expressed their opinion that the merits of the cause, by no means required any length of time in summing up the evidence; and propo|sed leaving the matter to the court and jury without fur|ther comment. This proposal was accordingly acceded to.

Chief justice Lansing, then arose and delivered a ju|dicious

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and appropriate charge to the jury. He declined going into the mass of the evidence, but detailed the most striking and important testimony; showing the de|ficiency of motives to induce the prisoner to the commis|sion of the crime, entering into consideration of the most material evidence against him, and evincing the opinion of the court, of its deficiency to prove the guilt of the prisoner. He concluded, by directing them to decide ac|cording to the conviction produced in their own minds, by the evidence produced, without being biassed, by any report they might have heard circulated, before their arrival at court, or by any regard to the consequences which would result to the prisoner.

The jury retired, and returned in less than two min|utes; their names were then called over; the prisoner was ordered to hold up his right hand, and having again complied with this established and important custom. The jury pronounced him NOT GUILTY.

We again remark the prisoner's collected behavior thro' the whole course of the trial—the perfect innocence and artlessness of his countenance. Guilt could never have lurked under such a conduct. His face appeared the in|dex of a virtuous and benevolent heart; his deportment that of a man incapable of the smallest approach to the crimes with which error had accused him.

We participated in the indignation excited by the per|secution he had suffered—by the malignant attempts which had been made to inflame the public mind, and prejudge his cause. The most shameful falshoods had been circulated. A story had been spread abroad res|pecting a witness in New-Jersey, who had come forward and confessed himself an accessary in the murder.

This tale was destitute of the smallest foundation, and perhaps originated in the sanguinary malice of some

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wretch, who, for purposes unknown, was eager to bring this unfortunate young man to an untimely end.

Other stories of a similar nature were diffused, ten|ding to criminate the prisoner with the blackest character; and to have credited the account of popular rumor, we would have supposed his whole life had been one con|tinued tissue of enormities.

This affair is thus brought to a conclusion, as far as it implicated the character of the prisoner. He has been tried by a jury of his peers, the whole transaction has been minutely investigated, and he is declared Guilt|less.

It only remains to warn our fellow-citizens of one too common error:—When a man has been suspected of an offence of this horrid nature, a degree of odium not to be removed, is apt to attach itself to his character.

The world cannot easily forget that he has been sus|pected, and even an acquittal does not always convince them of his innocence. Yet the injustice of this proce|dure must be evident, on a moment's reflection. How many guiltless persons may, by circumstances, be ren|dered liable to suspicion? Is it not then dreadful, if even innocence, publicly established, shall not be rescued from the most degrading punishment of guilt—the loss of public good opinion!

We have attempted in this narrative, to give a just account of the trial, and a faithful statement of the evidence, together with every circumstance worthy of note, that fell under our observation. The careless and inelegant style in which these are recited, we ac|count for on three principles, independent of deficiency in point of ••••ility:—The first is, the excessive fatigue we have undergone in ••••tending this lengthy trial, which has deprived us of two nights ••••st, and rendered us unfit for any occupation. The second is, the

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extreme haste which we, though thus fatigued, are obliged to exert —writing and printing at the same time, that our competitors in this historical employment, may not get the start of us. The third is, our entire indifference whether our readers are pleased with our style or not. We are faithful in giving them the matter, and we care very little about the manner.

We now conclude with assuring our enlightened fel|low-citizens, of the full acquaintance we possess with their fondness for the marvellous. We well know the gratification they receive from the story of a ghost, the history of a murder, or any other agreeable source of amusement. And they may rest assured, that we will let slip no opportunity of delighting them with plea|sant recitals of this kind, provided they remunerate, our services, by purchasing our publications with the neces|sary liberality.

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