Author Topic: William Harper, murderer  (Read 303 times)

Offline rlw254

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William Harper, murderer
« on: Monday 11 October 21 05:23 BST (UK) »
Hi all, this post is about a brick wall of mine. I'm hoping to get some input from fresh eyes that can help confirm or deny a lead I stumbled on to. I will give a timeline:

1. Approximately 1837-1838 ; William Harper (dates unknown) marries Elizabeth Murphy (c.1815, Ireland - 1900, Bourg-Louis, Canada)
2. 2 June 1839 ; somewhere in northeastern America, likely New York, William and Elizabeth have twin daughters Margaret and Mary
3. 1839-1846 ; missing period
4. 1846 ; Mary, and presumably her twin sister and mother, all return to Bourg-Louis (date from 1901 census, Mary is the only one of the three alive at this point)
5. 1 Nov 1847 ; Elizabeth Murphy remarries in Bourg-Louis, Canada

The problem is clear. I have a name and little else for the father of the twin girls. Records (census forms, death records) from the twins indicate he was possibly born in England, Ireland, or New York.

While searching newspaper articles, I wound up reading about a murder case involving a man named William Harper in NYC. Another timeline:

1. Night of 26 Oct 1845 ; William Harper stabs and kills a man named John Kempf in an altercation at the latter's tavern. William Harper is arrested. https://www.newspapers.com/image/329349660/?terms=%22william%20harper%22&match=1
2. 30 Oct 1845 ; John Kempf dies of his wound. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FD1H-F57
3. 24 Dec 1845 ; Trial information, gives age for William Harper as about 26-27 years old. https://www.newspapers.com/image/329355113/?terms=%22william%20harper%22&match=1
4. 6 Jan 1846 ; William Harper is found guilty and sentenced to be hung on 28 Feb 1846. Article mentions a wife and twin girls in the audience. https://www.newspapers.com/image/79061295/?terms=%22william%20harper%22&match=1
5. 22 Jan 1846 ; argument for imprisonment for William Harper rather than death. Recommendation that the sentence is commuted. https://www.newspapers.com/image/79061672/?terms=%22william%20harper%22&match=1  https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/117449204/
6. 15 Feb 1846 ; Governor will convene council in the next day or two to consider life imprisonment. https://www.newspapers.com/image/329257252

Trail goes cold. No February death record found for William Harper.

I am interested in this case for several reasons. First, the timeline works quite well with the dates I know. If William were hung or imprisoned, his wife leaves NYC in 1846 to return to her family for help raising the twins. Second, the rough age of William would put him within a few years of the same age as Elizabeth. Third, and most interesting, the one article in #4 mentions that William had twin girls at the time of sentencing. The twins would be about 6 years old by this point.

How best to proceed? I assume he would have been sent to Sing Sing. It doesn't look like records would have been kept there for the time that I need. The reason I can't find a February 1846 death record could be that he died much later, if imprisoned for life. I can't find any other newspaper articles after 15 Feb 1846.

1850 census in Ossining (Sing Sing) for William Harper, born approximately 1811 in England, murderer, imprisoned in 1846:
https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DCY9-T8R?i=81&cc=1401638&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AMZM3-4MC

Could I finally have found my man?

Online Erato

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Re: William Harper, murderer
« Reply #1 on: Monday 11 October 21 07:06 BST (UK) »
"It doesn't look like records would have been kept there for the time that I need."

Actually, it seems that there are records for the period 1842-1852.

http://www.singsingprisonmuseum.org/blog/finding-your-sing-sing-prison-ancestor
Wiltshire:  Banks, Taylor
Somerset:  Duddridge, Richards, Barnard, Pillinger
Gloucestershire:  Barnard, Marsh, Crossman
Bristol:  Banks, Duddridge, Barnard
Down:  Ennis, McGee
Wicklow:  Chapman, Pepper
Wigtownshire:  Logan, Conning
Wisconsin:  Ennis, Chapman, Logan, Ware
Maine:  Ware, Mitchell, Tarr, Davis

Offline rlw254

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Re: William Harper, murderer
« Reply #2 on: Monday 11 October 21 07:46 BST (UK) »
Thanks, I was just seeing the collection beginning at 1865 before. This brought up some additional details. In 1853 apparently the prison was urged by an ex-governor to pardon William. The was also a letter sent by his brother, which could be an important detail. It is hard to say if the pardon was granted. I will keep searching this collection.


Offline Lisa in California

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Re: William Harper, murderer
« Reply #3 on: Monday 11 October 21 08:12 BST (UK) »
One of the pay sites has an image for an executive order that includes “sentence commuted by Gov ? Wright in 1846” and “sentence commuted, state prison for life”.

It appears that he had not yet been pardoned in 1853. (Unless commuted does mean pardoned?)
Ellison: Co. Wicklow/Canada       Fowley: Sligo/Canada       Furnival: Lancashire/Canada       Ibbotson: Sheffield/Canada       Lee/DeJongh: Lancashire & Cheshire       Mumford: Essex/Canada       Ovens: Ireland/Canada       Sarge: Yorkshire/Canada       Stuart: Sligo/Canada       Sullivan: Co. Clare/Canada      Vaus: Sussex/Surrey      Wakefield: Tuam or Ballinasloe, Ireland       (Surname: Originated/Place Last Lived)  (Canadians lived in Ontario)

Offline RJ137

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Re: William Harper, murderer
« Reply #4 on: Monday 11 October 21 14:57 BST (UK) »
True Sun
Monday, Feb 16, 1846
New York, NY
Page: 1

========

Rondout Freeman
Saturday, Mar 07, 1846
Kingston, NY
Page: 2
=

Offline rlw254

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Re: William Harper, murderer
« Reply #5 on: Monday 11 October 21 15:55 BST (UK) »
The death sentence was commuted in February 1846 at which point he was to serve life. Only years later in 1853 was there apparently an attempt to reduce this sentence further.

I have not been able to find digital copies of the admission records for 1842-1852, does anyone know if these are available? I don't expect to get much information out of it past a general description.

I am quite interested in the lead regarding a brother. The are a few other Harper men born at a similar time in England living in NYC through the later eighteen hundreds. Just guesswork at this point however.

Online Erato

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Re: William Harper, murderer
« Reply #6 on: Monday 11 October 21 16:25 BST (UK) »
The second option for accessing the records is through the New York State Archives ancestry.com portal found here: http://www.archives.nysed.gov/research/how-to-video-ancestry. This service is available to all New York State residents.

I am not a resident of New York but there must be someone on Roots Chat who is and who can search the archives for you.
Wiltshire:  Banks, Taylor
Somerset:  Duddridge, Richards, Barnard, Pillinger
Gloucestershire:  Barnard, Marsh, Crossman
Bristol:  Banks, Duddridge, Barnard
Down:  Ennis, McGee
Wicklow:  Chapman, Pepper
Wigtownshire:  Logan, Conning
Wisconsin:  Ennis, Chapman, Logan, Ware
Maine:  Ware, Mitchell, Tarr, Davis

Offline rlw254

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Re: William Harper, murderer
« Reply #7 on: Tuesday 12 October 21 06:27 BST (UK) »
Thank you, unfortunately even the NY ancestry portal only starts admission records at 1865.