Part two of a lengthy set of Reminiscences about the Village of Hamilton, written by the caretaker of the Central Public School, Thomas Ralston and published in the Hamilton Spectator on March 3, 1885.
A VERY EXCITING CASE
It was a trial for murder, of James, John and Chris Young, three young men who lived with their father, a farmer near Ryckman’s Corners. The accuser was a man confined, at that time, in jail for stealing wheat. He swore that he was present when the three Youngs killed a young man then employed by their father, and afterwards saw them put the body in charcoal pit, thus destroying all trace of their victim.
Warrants were issued for the arrest of the young men, James and Chris were taken at once, but, not so John, who, before he was secured, had a very exciting experience. He had made up his mind to cross the lines at Buffalo and try if he could not find the man he was accused of murdering.
He left his father’s on horseback, but no sooner had he emerged from the lane into the road leading to Hamilton than he was called by a constable, who had been watching the Youngs’ house from the tavern on the corner. He immediately mounted his horse and gave chase. John, looking around, saw him, and then commenced a most exciting race. Down the mountain they came at a fearful pace, John about a quarter of a mile ahead, but the constable gaining rapidly, and with a large horse pistol in his hand, shouting at John to surrender.
But this John had not the least intention of doing. So they came down John street, and as Young turned Sheldon’s corner into King street, the constable fired at him but missed. Young kept on his way down the Niagara road, while the constable turned into Carey’s barn to procure a fresh horse.
HERE HE WAS FORTUNATE
in finding a racehorse called Skuball, on which he transformed his bridle and saddle, and he was in trim to renew the chase in a few minutes. In the meantime, John had kept up a good pace until opposite the First Methodist church, where his girth broke and he came to the ground. He was up in a moment, and casting his eye up the road, could as yet see nothing of the constable; he hastily tied the girth and again mounted.
Just at this moment, the constable appeared around the corner. The pursuit and flight again began; but John’s horse could not long hold out against a fresh antagonist, and when opposite Crosswaite’s – about two miles and a half below the village, Young slipped off and fell into the woods. The constable gave him a parting shot from his horse pistol and gave up the pursuit. He returned to the jail and gave up the warrant to the high constable. This official immediately saddled his horse, and went in search of Young down the Niagara road. He called at John Gage’s, who was a constable, and he, having armed with a rifle, accompanied the high constable.
They rode all night, arriving at Chippewa early in the morning, and, upon going to the barn to have their horses fed, discovered Young lying asleep on some straw. He had walked the whole distance during the night. He was secured at once, and a horse being provided, his legs were tied under the animal’s belly.
Thus secured, the trio started back, John gage riding in the rear with his rifle on the half-cock, and the high constable leading the horse by the bridle.
John Young being securely jailed, the trial came on at the next King’s bench, and the three brothers were acquitted, there not being a single item of evidence in corroboration of the story being told by the King’s informant. Having gained their liberty, John Young again departed to the states in search of the man they were accused of murdering. He was not long in finding him. They returned together and, in company, visited all the people in this neighborhood, thus convincing everyone who had not already been convinced, of their innocence.
The wretch who endeavored to have the three innocent men hung, was tried, found guilty and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment and to stand (in the pillory) three times, two hours each time. He had a hard experiment while in te pillory, being pelted with eggs both stale and fresh; he stood it out and then disappeared.
This pillory above and stocks beneath were erected on the vacant space between the log jail and John street.
Two young ladies from Beverly at one time for the space of two hours. They were not subjected, however, to the usual pelting process as the high constable stood at their side during their term.
Those sentenced to be flogged were triced up to three ring-bolts in the pickets surrounding the jail. Thirty-nine lashes was always the sentence, and one, sometimes more, underwent this punishment after every sitting of the courts. The high constable, being rather tender-hearted, gave each victim before he was taken out to receive his flogging a tin cup (nearly a pint) of whiskey mixed with gun powder, this was said to deaden the feeling.
How sweet that may have been, no one seemed to care for this style of punishment. Long imprisonment was impossible on account of the limited space of the jail, and there being no penitentiary at the time, the more serious offences were sentenced to transportation to the United States. This at least was the only plan they could take in the limited time they were allowed to vacate his Majesty’s dominions – forty-eight hours – and if they were caught in that country after that time, hanging was the penalty.
The time of holding court was like a fair – booths were erected on the vacant space next John street, where the hungry and dry could obtain ginger-bread, pumpkin pies and spice beer. Jurymen, witnesses and clients came from long distances and had to stay during the sitting of the court at their own expense – no allowance being made either for jurymen or witnesses – for two or three weeks.
On these occasions, the taverns were filled, and an immense quantity of whiskey drank: it was very cheap – three cents brought half a pint. Ten cents a quart, and eighteen cents a gallon, when purchased by the barrel.
Training day was a very lively and exciting one in the early times of the village. The first Gore met annually on King George III’s birthday – June 4. They mustered on the commons where the wood market now is. The men clustered around their captains, answered to their names, after which the regiment formed in line, the colonel paced along the front, and the men were dismissed.
Each captain then marched his company to the store and, going inside, ordered a gallon of black strap. The insidious compound was made up by mixing three quarts of whiskey and one quart of West India molasses. All kinds of utensils were brought into service to hold the mixture while being passed around to the brave men who waited it, drawn up in line on the road, and it was no unusual thing to see a stalwart sergeant passing along the front carrying a chamber utensil in one hand and a tea cup in the other, giving each man as much as he chose to take.
The black strap soon got in its blow, and fights were numerous and bloody. It was a general belief that no law existed on training day, so that all disputes during the year were settled at that time.
THE CHOLERA BROKE OUT
in the village in 1832. The first case occurred in a frame building in the rear of the Rob Roy hotel. A shoemaker lived there, and it was his wife who was the first who died.
Two cases then occurred in the house on the corner – a tavern – both fatal. No one was attacked in that neighbourhood nearer than the corner of Catharine and Jackson streets; but numerous persons were attacked in all parts of the village. It proved fatal in most cases in about three hours. No remedy seemed to avail.
There lived here at the time a gentleman named McKenszie. He published a paper in a small house which stood where Myles’ coal yard now stands – at the corner of court house square and Hughson street. He had been a hospital steward during the war of 1812-13, but had never studied medicine. He commenced practise on the cholera patients and under his care some recovered.
His services immediately came into great demand. His system consisted in giving parched corn made into coffee to stop vomiting, burnt brandy and loaf sugar for the purging, and a strong mixture of salt and water injected into the veins of the patient. It is said that he injected as much as three pints into one of his patients who recovered.
McKenzie afterwards got a licence to practise, but became involved in the rebellion of ’37, and left the country.
Those who died of the cholera were buried in all haste – some, it is said, were put into their coffins before they had drawn their last breath – especially was this said of Mr. Tidd, the keeper of the jail. He and his wife both fell victims, but none of the prisoners nor neither of the turnkeys, of whom they were two, and one of them had a wife, took the disorder.
After the death of Mr. Tidd, the prisoners were all turned out, they promising to come back again when wanted; but none were again seen except one McDougall, who was in for horse-stealing, and he only again occupied his former cell after a long and spirited chase down Main street.
Every time the steam boat landed emigrants at the wharf, some were either suffering or immediately attacked with the disease. To care for these people a hospital was established on the height in one of the barrack rooms, then standing. This was put in charge of an old soldier named Hyslop. He, as he was accustomed to say, had been in climes that would freeze you toes off, and was thus prepared for all contingents.
A QUART OF WHISKEY A DAY
was his usual ration, and he got away with it without apparently being the least affected.
The heights, at that time, were covered by hazel-nut bushes, and among these were large numbers of rattlesnakes. Hyslop had caught two of great size and kept them in an empty flour barrel by his beside. They could just get their heads partly over the upper rim of the barrel, but no far enough to have any purchase to raise themselves.
The old soldier, who was neither afraid of cholera or rattlesnakes, did not remain in charge of the hospital long; he was taken down with cholera and died within three hours.
Few of the cases taken out to this hospital recovered, as they were, in almost every case, in the last stage when taken there. A quarantine was established, and Robert Hughson was appointed boarding officer. Capt. Richardson, with his steamboat, came through the canal, and was making his way to the foot of James street when he was met by Mr. Hughson and ordered to stop, and be examined. This he refused to do, and ran his boat up to the wharf.
The boarding officer was powerless alone, so he took a horse and came up to the court house, where the court happened to be in session. He laid the matter before the presiding judge, who issued his mandate, ordering the steamer’s crew to be brought before him.
The high constable took all the constables attending court, and with Mr. Tidd, the jailer, and Robert Hughson, proceeded on the double-quick to Land’s wharf, where the steamer had gone. All armed themselves, as they passed through the woods with clubs.
Arriving at the wharf, the steamer was boarded fore and aft, when
A MOST DESPARATE FIGHT
took place with the crew who resisted the boarding party, using iron wrenches and hand spikes, but they were soon overpowered and marched up to the court house, where they were soundly lectured by the judge and dismissed. The law had been vindicated, and Capt. Richardson promised to submit to quarantine in the future.
AFTER THE CANAL
was made through the beach, the town took a very decided start. More stores and taverns were opened, one of the latter, Benley’s became the stage house of a line of coaches run daily between Niagara and Sandwich by Mr. Stephenson, of St. Catharines, of which Milton Davis was a partner and agent in Hamilton.
All the pork, wheat, and pot and pearl ashes, east of London, was brought here by sleighs in the winter for shipment. Forty or fifty loaded sleighs coming in one string down the John street road. More commodious storehouses and wharves were created at the foot of James street.
The store keepers then commenced to go to Montreal for their goods. They had before obtained their supplies from Niagara. Wheat at this time sold for five York shillings (62 ½ cents) a bushel, pork $2.50 per hundred, wood 75 cents per load, potatoes 10 cents a bushel, butter 10 cents per pound and apples could be had for the picking. 1
"Hamilton As It Was : Something Over a Half Century Ago : Remarkable Incidents Told By One Who Was There and Knows All About Them"
Hamilton Spectator. March 3, 1885