As will be seen by the preceding chapters, few sections of Pennsylvania are as rich in historical episodes as Erie County.
In addition to those already mentioned, the county has been the scene of
numerous events of more than common interest.
The King of France
One of these was the visit of Louis Phillippe,
future King of France, accompanied by his brother and a servant. They spent a
day or two at Erie,
in 1795, with Thomas Rees, sleeping and eating in his tent on the bank of the
lake, near the mouth of Mill Creek.
In 1825, the county was honored by a visit from Lafayette, who was making a
tour of the country whose independence he had periled his life and fortune to
establish. He was accompanied by his son, a companion and a servant, on their
way from New Orleans to New York. They reached Waterford, where they were hospitably
received, on the evening of the 2d of June, and stayed there over night. A
committee from Erie met them at Waterford, and the
party left the latter place early on the morning of the 3d, by way of the
turnpike. At Federal Hill, they were met by a body of military, who escorted
the distinguished guest to the foot of State street, where they were greeted
with a national salute and formally presented to the United States
naval officers and other prominent citizens. From there a procession marched
to the house of Capt. Daniel Dobbins, where Burgess Wallace welcomed Lafayette in the name
of the borough. He was then taken to the residence of Judah Colt, who was
chairman of the reception committee, and introduced to the ladies. Meanwhile,
a public dinner had been in course of preparation, under the supervision of
John Dickson, which was the grandest affair of the kind known up to that day
in the incipient city. The tables, which had been erected on a bridge over
the ravine on Second street,
between State and French, were 170 feet long, elegantly adorned and covered
with an awning made of the sails of the British vessels captured by Perry.
After the dinner, toasts were offered, among them the following by the hero
of the occasion:
A name which has a great share in American glory; may this town ever enjoy a
proportionate share in American prosperity and happiness."
Lafayette and his party left at 3 o'clock in the afternoon of the 3d, and
were accompanied by numerous citizens to Portland,
at the mouth of Chautauqua Creek, N. Y., where he took the steamer Superior for Buffalo.
Benj. Wallace was Chief Marshal of the procession which escorted the great
Frenchman from Waterford,
and Joseph M. Sterrett commanded the Erie Guards,
who met him at Federal Hill.
Another incident of special interest was the brief residence of Horace
Greeley in Erie,
as an employe in the office of the Gazette. His
parents settled in Wayne Township in 1826, and in the spring of 1830 Horace,
who had remained in New England to finish his apprenticeship, came on foot to
visit them, secured employment as above, and stopped in Erie until the summer of 1831. During most
or all of the period of his stay, he boarded at the house of Judge Sterrett, then proprietor of the Gazette. He was tall,
ungainly and unprepossessing, poorly and outlandishly dressed, careless of
his appearance, and the boys and girls with whom he associated were disposed
to make a good deal of a butt of him. In society matters, they undoubtedly
had the advantage of the homely young printer; but when it came to literary
and political discussions, he was superior to the best of them. He was very
fond of talking politics, and was regarded as an oracle on subjects of that
nature. He left Erie for New York in August, 1831, reaching there
with only $10 in his purse. His father and mother died in Wayne Township,
and some of his family are still residents of the county.
Erie has been visited by no less than nine of the Presidents of the United
States, viz.: Harrison, in 1813; Buchanan, in 1840; John Quincy Adams, in
1843; Taylor and Fillmore, in 1849; Lincoln, in 1861; Johnson and Grant, in 1866;
and Garfield at various periods between 1860 and 1880; besides, two
Presidential nominees, viz., Douglas, in 1860, and Greeley, in 1872. Harrison
visited the place as General of the Western army, in company with Perry,
after the battle of Lake Erie. They
proceeded together to Buffalo.
The purpose of Buchanan's visit will be explained further on.
Ex-President John Quincy Adams reached Erie
by steamer, and remained from 7 to 9 o'clock in the evening. He was welcomed
by Hon. Thomas H. Sill, on behalf of the citizens, and the Wayne Grays and
the three fire companies paraded in his honor.
President Taylor was on a journey up the lakes for recreation from the cares
of office. He came by way of Waterford,
where he was taken sick. On reaching Erie,
he was too ill to proceed any further. He remained in the city some ten days,
stopping with Dr. W. M. Woods, of the United States Navy, in a dwelling on
the site of the rear portion of the German bank. Vice President Fillmore came
up from Buffalo
and met the President, remaining with him until the next day. On departing,
the United States steamer Michigan undertook to
fire a Vice President's salute, when the gun exploded, killing two men.
Finding that his condition unfitted him for proceeding further, the President
returned to Washington,
where he died in less than a year. He was accompanied on the trip by Gov.
Johnston, of Pennsylvania, Surgeon Ward and Col. Bliss of
the United States Army. Gen. Reed tendered the President and the use of the
steamer Niagara, the finest on the lake, to convey him to Buffalo, but he declined, and was carried
on the Diamond, an ordinary small steamer. During his stay in Erie, all of the
President's telegrams and messages passed through the hands of William S.
Brown, Esq., who was Deputy Collector of the port. President Taylor is
described as a plain, modest man, who avoided all ceremony and show.
Stephen A. Douglas stopped in Erie
to speak in behalf of his own election. He delivered a speech in the West Park.
Lincoln passed through Erie
on his way to Washington
to be inaugurated. He made a few remarks from the balcony of the old depot.
His remains were taken over the Lake
Shore road in 1865.
Erie was one of
the points favored with a speech by President Johnson in his famous
"swing around the circle." He was attended by Gen. Grant and
William H. Seward, the latter of whom also spoke.
quite a lengthy address to his former townsmen, from an east window of the
Union Depot, during the campaign of 1872.
Garfield, being a near neighbor, made frequent
trips to Erie,
both political and social. He spoke in the court house during the canvass of
1878, and spent a few minutes at the depot on his way to New York in 1880.
Of less famous visitors, the number is without limit. Every candidate for
Governor since 1830 has thought it necessary to make a trip to the city, and
many of the eminent political speakers of the country have favored its people
with addresses. The most famous lecturers, actors and musicians in America since 1850 have nearly all appeared
An Exciting Campaign
Of the twenty-five Presidential campaigns in this country since the adoption
of the constitution, that of 1840, when Harrison and Van Buren were the
opposing candidates, was probably the most bitter and exciting. The feeling
between the two parties was intense, and the meetings everywhere were
characterized by a retaliatory spirit that has seldom if ever been exhibited
in politics. At a conclave of the magnates of one party, it was agreed to hold
a mass meeting in Erie on the 10th of September, the anniversary of Perry's
victory. The other party, determined not to be excelled, and fearful that the
prestige of the day might give their enemies an advantage, resolved to hold a
convention of their side at the same time. This decision created the wildest
indignation among their antagonists. The excitement ran up to fever heat.
Both elements made the utmost exertion to get out their adherents. Runners
and bills were sent all over the western counties of the State, as far down
as Mercer County, as well as through Eastern Ohio and Western New York. For
several days before the 10th, the roads leading to Erie were crowded with
men, women and children, on foot, in wagons and on horseback, many carrying
banners and all shouting themselves hoarse for their favorite candidates. On
the eventful day, the town was crowded as it never had been before and
probably never has been since. It was feared that collisions might occur
between the embittered partisans, but the danger was fortunately averted by
holding the conventions in different sections of the town. The Whig gathering
assembled on a vacant lot on Second street between Holland and Mill Creek,
and the Democratic in the West Park, about facing the Austin Block. James
Buchanan, afterward President of the United States, was the chief speaker for
the Democrats, and Francis Granger, of New York, subsequently appointed
Postmaster General, presided over and was the leading figure of the Whig
convention. Old citizens who were present -- and few people in the county
remained away -- recall this assemblage as the most wonderful within their
The Only Execution
Although numerous persons have been tried for murder, it is worthy of note that
but one execution for that offense has ever taken place in the county. The
history of the crime and the manner in which it was punished were described
in the Erie Dispatch of June 15, 1882, extracts from which are given
"The transcript of Justice E. D. Gunnison revealed the fact that on the
23d of December, 1836, Henry Francisco was arrested for poisoning his wife
Maria, to whom he had been married but three weeks, and the indictment, a
peculiar instrument, sets forth that the grand jurors, upon their oath, say
that on the night of the 22d of December, in the year of our Lord 1836, Henry
Francisco, not having the fear of God before his eyes, and being moved and
seduced by the devil, did advise and cause Maria Francisco to take drink and
swallow down her body four ounces of laudanum, etc. The indictment was
returned at the February sessions, 1837, and on November the 7th, of the same
year, Francisco was put upon his trial for willful murder.
"The jury which tried him was composed of the following well-known
citizens of this county: Richard Stillwell, David Matthews, Cyrus Sherwood,
John S. Barnes, George W. Walker, Benjamin Avery, Jr., John B. Jones, Dr. G.
Webber, Matthew Lytle, James Stewart, James Dickson.
"The evidence was in the main circumstantial, but after a patient trial
the jury agreed upon a verdict at 1 o'clock during the night, and on the 11th
of November, 1837, Judge Shippen sent for Francisco
and pronounced the dread sentence of the law, viz., that he be taken from
that court room to the jail, and from thence to the place of execution and
there be hanged by the neck until he be dead, and God, in His infinite
goodness, have mercy on his soul, etc.
"The closing scene in the criminal's life was an awful one compared with
modern executions when the victim is jerked into eternity with the utmost
dispatch immediately after his arrival upon the scaffold. Sheriff Andrew
Scott pinioned Francisco's arms in his cell, and a procession made up as
follows started with solemn tread for the fatal spot in the jail yard. First
came the Deputy Attorney General from Harrisburg, with Dr. Johns, the jail
physician, then Sheriff Scott and three deputies, followed by the jury that
convicted the culprit. Next came the prisoner, supported by the Rev. Mr. Lyon,
of the First Presbyterian Church, and Rev. Mr. Glover, of the Episcopal
Church. Three guards brought up the rear. The above were the only witnesses
to the execution, but a large crowd was out on the street waiting for a
chance to see the corpse after being cut down.
"Upon reaching the gallows, Francisco was placed beneath the beam and
over the drop, and Mr. Scott proceeded to strap his legs. The condemned
conducted himself with great firmness, betraying no sign of fear for his
fate, and when the preliminaries were adjusted a final leave-taking scene
occurred. The prisoner shook hands with his jailers and spiritual advisers,
and with the jury. To his waiting executioner, he was profuse in expressions
of gratitude for kind and humane treatment, and it is stated that while
pouring out his thanks he said he should never forget the Sheriff's kindness
as long as he lived. The farewell being over, he closed his lips forever to
mortal man, and henceforth addressed his Maker only. The Sheriff slipped the
noose over his head and pulled down the cap that was to spare the witnesses
the horrible sight of his distorted features while undergoing strangulation.
All was silent as the grave as the neighboring clock chimed quarter after
two. The drop was to fall at 2:30. Rev. Mr. Lyon knelt down and offered a
most impressive prayer, and when he arose Sheriff Scott, according to the
usage of those days, told the poor wretch how many minutes he had to live,
and adjured him to make good use of them in petitioning for mercy at the Throne
of Grace. Francisco bowed his bag-covered head and from beneath the cap came
muffled words of prayer. He stopped occasionally as though to think of what
else to ask of God, and at each halt in his prayers the Sheriff's voice
solemnly informed him of the number of minutes left. To the witnesses, the
suspense was awful, and a shudder ran through them when Francisco's time had
dwindled into seconds. Then it was that the wretched man's tongue was
loosened. With the diminution of his lease of life came an increased flow of
passionate words to the Giver of mercy. He seemed to be terribly anxious to
say all he had to say in the given time and as the seconds flew on his
volubility was such that he could not be understood. In the middle of his
passionate prayer the bolt was drawn, the drop fell and Francisco's body
lunged down the trap, and after three minutes of violent contortions it hung
motionless at the end of the rope. So ended the only execution in this
county. It occurred on the 9th of March, 1838.
"In thirty-five minutes, the body was cut down and inclosed
in a neat coffin, which was screwed down in jail, but such was the great
curiosity to see the body that those charged with the burial had to unscrew
the coffin twice. The body was interred at the corner of Seventh and Myrtle
streets, on the property now owned by Superintendent H. S. Jones."
Indictments for Murder
The Erie Dispatch of July 21, 1883, gave the following list of persons
who have been indicted in the county for the crime of murder during the
period between 1820 and 1883:
1821 -- The first trial for murder that was ever held in Erie county place in
the year 1821. On that occasion, James McKee was put upon trial for the
murder of John Sivers, in what is now Summit
Township. The trial took place in the old court house, and the prisoner being
convicted, was sentenced to seven years in the penitentiary, where he died.
1824 -- The second trial for a capital offence was that of Benjamin Laws for
the murder of Fuller, at North East, in 1824. The trial took place in the
academy, the court being held there until the new court house was rebuilt.
Laws was convicted and sentenced to a long term of imprisonment in the
1828 -- Polly Reuby, charged with the murder of her
illegitimate child, was brought to trial in the court house that stood on the
park, and was acquitted after a protracted trial. A man named Griffin was
tried at the same court, charged with the murder of William Crosby. He was
1835 -- At the November sessions of this year, an indictment for murder was
found against Hugh Young for the cruel and bloody murder at Waterford of John
DeCamp. The murdered man was beaten to death with a
bludgeon. His assassins fled, and were never heard of afterward. In this
year, also, Ransom Eastwood, of Venango, was shot
dead, and John Eastwood, of the same township, was charged with his murder.
The accused had a long trial, and was acquitted.
1836 -- For the savage murder of Griffin Johnson, in Mill Creek Township,
Ebenezer Eldridge was arraigned on the capital charge, and was convicted as
indicted. He escaped the gallows, and was sentenced to ten years in the
1837 -- The Francisco murder trial was held this year.
1850 -- Thirteen years elapsed before another Erie citizen was put upon trial
for his life. John B. Large and Erastus Johnson
were charged with the murder of a young boy. They were convicted and
sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. In the same year, Thomas Porter
was acquitted of the murder of Asphad Porter,
killed with a stone.
1852 -- Two years afterward, Samuel Stone, of Fairview, was indicted for the
murder of Rachael Hammond. Stone was sentenced to two years and eight days in
1854 -- William W. Warner was arraigned for killing an illegitimate child. He
was acquitted on the grounds of insanity, and was sent to an asylum.
1855 -- Ezra Starr and Charles B. Cooper were arraigned for murder, but the
case was nol prossed
and they were discharged.
1856 -- The Hayt murder, well remembered, was the
judicial sensation of this year. Walter Hayt was
convicted of murdering his niece, and was sentenced to ten years in the
1857 - John Masters and Joe McBride were indicted for the murder of Dennis
Sullivan. Masters was acquitted and McBride was never found.
1858 -- In Mill Creek Township, Joseph Botonelli,
keeper of a little hotel above the almshouse, was shot dead by George H. Rerdell, who, being convicted, was sentenced to six years
in the penitentiary.
In this same year, Jacob Faust was tried for the murder of Capt. Matthew Densmore down at the dock. Faust was convicted and
sentenced to eleven years and nine months in the penitentiary.
1859 -- Charles Fisk, of Waterford, was arraigned for shooting John Fenno through the heart. He got two years and five days
in the penitentiary.
1860 -- Mallisa Sprague was indicted for the murder
of her child, but the jury found her not guilty.
1862 -- Daniel Cummings was tried for the murder of Johanna Cummings, and was
sent to the penitentiary for eleven years and three months.
1863 -- There were three murder trials in this year. Nathaniel Cotterell, of Waterford, was charged with the killing of
William Burt, and was acquitted. Mary Quinn was tried and acquitted of the
murder of Patrick Cutler, killed with a brick, and Peter Carrier, for the
murder of William Thompson, was sent to the penitentiary for ten years.
1865 -- Erastus Stafford was stabbed to death, and
Jacob A. Tanner was tried for the murder. He got four years. In the same year,
William Greer was shot dead in front of a North East drug store. An
indictment for murder was found against one Dr. Lucius
Mott, but he was never found.
1866 -- Mary Mulholland was charged with the murder
of her illegitimate child, and Michael Corcoran with the murder of Dennis Twohy. The grand jury threw out both bills.
1872 -- The murder of Hugh Donnelly by James Nevills,
resulted in a verdict of not guilty on the grounds of insanity.
1874 -- Fred Cooper and Jane R. Cooper were tried for the murder of Caroline
Cook. Both were honorably acquitted. In the following Quarter Sessions,
Charles J. Cowden was tried for the murder of Jane Cowden, and was acquitted.
1876 -- George C. Adams was indicted for the killing of William H. Clemens.
The case was nol prossed.
1880 -- Philip Schwingle was charged with the
murder of his brother Charles, and was sentenced to two years in the
1883 -- Mary Jane and Samuel Young were accused of the murder of their
brother. They were held for trial, but the grand jury ignored the bill.