Dark and Bloody Cayuga

A Note To My Readers:  Researching my Freece/Freese family (my paternal lineage) along Cayuga Lake, I found a Mr. John Freese that lived in the village of Cayuga.  As I have often discovered when I return to the peaceful little village in the 1800’s,  my paternal and maternal lines have multiple familial and social connections.   My cousin Charlie Baker and I are both family historians and share the same ancestral grandmother, Lydia H. Titus Downing Coapman who lived in Cayuga.  Over the years Charlie and I have marveled at how many of our family members have shared life altering events in that tiny community.

Henry Clay Hutchinson (1830-1878)

As I was trying to establish more information on John Freese, I discovered that he was at the death bed of the mortally wounded  Henry Clay Hutchinson, my cousin Charlie’s grand uncle.  An intelligent and ambitious young man,  Henry  was an engineer and submitted designs for the Cayuga Lake bridge, but his design was rejected.  It was around that time, Henry fell in love with a young beauty from Ohio and anxious not to lose her, promptly proposed marriage.  Henry was content in his marital bliss.   It wouldn’t last.  Henry’s lovely bride gave birth to a full term infant five months after their nuptials and embittered, he had the marriage annulled.   Thereafter, Henry was a surly, contentious man and never remarried.

Henry’s prickly nature led him to suing people so with his sharp intellect and litigious nature, he achieved his attorney’s shingle in his thirties. When his mother, Elizabeth Boardman Hall Hutchinson died in 1877, she had quite a bit of land and just below the grand Hutchinson house,  a Cayuga lakeside lot  which she had leased to Mr. James B. Robinson, a boat builder.

James B. Robinson (1823 – 1911)

Hutchinson House Lake St view

Hutchinson House.  Lake Street, Village of Cayuga

Henry wanted Robinson off the property, but Robinson had built a boat-making shed and ‘apartment for living’ and was running his business and was not about to go. Henry took him to the Supreme Court, but it appears that Elizabeth’s lease was in good faith.  Henry’s half brother, Cyrus Davis, managed their mother’s estate and agreed that Mr. Robinson could continue to live on the property.

Thwarted once again and  true to his disagreeable disposition,  Henry was livid.

He harassed Robinson…breaking out his windows…shooting at the building and chopping at it with an axe. He even tried to sabotage a little potato patch Robinson had planted.  Hutchinson would often rail at the situation and in one instance at the local store owned by John R. Van Sickle and Ransom Olds (two more kin of mine), Henry threatened

“If he did not leave he should put a hole through him, and if one hole was not enough, he should make another.”

The tension was very high,  constant and escalating so Robinson spoke with several members of the village and went to the law for advice. He had Hutchinson arrested on July 9th, but Hutchinson was from a respected family.  So free he went and the law told Robinson to just do his best to ignore him. Robinson tried, but Hutchinson became more and more threatening and even told Robinson’s adult son that he would burn him out. Robinson borrowed a shotgun and kept it by the living room door he was so afraid. Men from the village would walk Robinson to his door to try to help keep the peace. It wasn’t to be.

On July 19, 1878 Henry shot at the house and a confrontation ensued. Finally afraid for Newspaper Auburn NY Evening Auburnian 1878 - 0690 Killing of Henry C Hutchinson Dark and Bloody Cayugahis life, Robinson took up the borrowed shotgun and seeing Hutchinson with the gun, he shot in Hutchinson’s direction. Robinson was not familiar with guns and thought he aimed at Henry’s legs, but Henry was injured fatally…in his abdomen and wrist and leg.

David Coapman (1844-1911)

When the shots were heard, men came running and Henry, lying in a pool of blood,  told them Robinson had shot him. Doc A. J. Cummings, whose wife was a cousin of Henry’s, was summoned and Henry said he knew he was dying so John Freese was summoned to record his testimony and his last will in front of witnesses including Henry’s half brother, Cyrus H. Davis. James Robinson was arrested by Constable David Coapman (my cousin’s great great grandfather and my maternal 2x great grandmother’s brother).  Circles.

David Coapman knew Robinson to be a peaceable fellow and testified to his docile disposition at the trial.

When John Freese, a Justice of the Peace was summoned to the dying man’s bedside, Henry used his last breaths to declare himself harmless and to indict Robinson as a cold blooded murderer and that “this was all the work of Cyrus Davis”.  Then Henry’s focus was on directing his sister, Mary Rebecca Ferree (my cousin’s great great grandmother) to evict James Robinson from his late mother’s property…immediately.   Even to the end, Henry was intractable.

A coroner’s inquest was held on July 22 and after a long list of testimonies, the jury’s verdict was manslaughter in the first degree and the case was set for the grand jury.  The pronouncement of manslaughter was roundly criticized as outside of the province of a coroner’s inquest and only fitting for a trial jury.  On October 12, the grand jury convened and indicted Robinson with 21 indictments, one of which was murder.  He pled not guilty.

Thus James Robinson went to trial in Auburn, New York on October 19th attended by a  jury of his peers – twelve good men from Cayuga County.   From the beginning the testimonies given by several individuals who knew both men were clear about Henry’s  threatening and relentless  behavior.  A long time acquaintance of Henry’s,  James Cox, testified at the trail.

Hutchinson was passionate, unforgiving and vindictive.

Despite District Attorney Sereno Elisha Payne’s summation attempting to downplay the provocations against Robinson and his often declared fear of Hutchinson, the testimonies were irrefutable and Defense Attorney Milo Goodrich’s case was airtight.   Six months after Henry’s death, Robinson’s fate was in the jury’s hands.  After deliberating for a little over two hours, they returned with their verdict.   James B. Robinson was acquitted.   The audience which had been held rapt by the proceedings, rose and applauded the verdict.  Robinson’s wife, son and daughter-in-law, moved to tears, embraced James amid the hand shaking and congratulations.

During all of the trial,  a close friend had removed Robinson’s boat shop and personal belongings and took it to his place on Owasco Lake. James Robinson never set foot on the Cayuga Lake property again.

Henry Clay Hutchinson is buried in Lakeview Cemetery in the Hutchinson family plot- a few hundred feet from the Hutchinson house and the site of his death.

The news coverage was statewide and the village was described as ‘quiet’ and ‘idyllic’ and the shooting an ‘interruption of the peace’ and one headline declared “Dark and Bloody Cayuga”.  The drama of Henry’s life and death gave me a ton of reading material for the afternoon and provided insight into a good amount of characters from Cayuga.  Unfortunately, it left me with no clue as to my relationship to John Freese other than a familial name.

And another topic of conversation for my cousin Charlie and me.

Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright 2018. All Rights Reserved


Finding David Dewees Ferree – Notes from the Field

Dear Readers, this post is  a “discovery” story from November 2008 and just how researchers are family in more ways than one.  I have been fond of sideways researching from day one and with the added magic of GOOGLE, my family…blood and spirit…has multiplied exponentially.

November 8, 2008

Recently I connected with a “shirt tail” cousin named Charlie Baker.  Charlie had been researching his ancestral grandmother, Lydia H. Titus.  Like many avid family researchers, Charlie had “hit a wall”.  For those of you who aren’t genealogists “hitting a wall” is just what it sounds like.  You are cruising along with archival documents that provide the evidence you need to confirm a family member and WHAM.  The wall.  No documentation anywhere…not personal…not legal…not published…a big black hole.  This is where the intrepid detective replaces the historian.  We slip away from the world of the concrete and head into the world of clues and logic.  After all, part of us…the human part…cannot leave someone out there in limbo.

Lydia is my ancestral grandmother, too.  And my brick wall.  Well, one of them anyway.  When everything I knew as a family researcher failed, I did what any cybergeek, lost soul does.  I GOOGLED Lydia.  That’s how I found Charlie and his wonderful blog about his family research.  After years of applying standard research methods,  I have learned that the straightest way to solve genealogical problems is to go sideways.  If you have names of relatives, go visit them and their history for awhile.  Sooner or later your “brick wall” will be right there where they belong…among family.  Charlie knows that, too.

Using census materials, archival records and family lore along with some solid research techniques, Charlie placed Lydia right where she belonged…with our family.  But he knew that it was still going to take  “sideways” and was still in search of something that declared concretely that “Lydia was here”.

So I reached out to Charlie through his blog via his email.  You can’t be too timid about connecting with a promising source.

When I contacted Charlie, we realized that we each had puzzle pieces that straightened out the “sideways” a bit.  Nevertheless, we were both feeling much more reassured that our individual assumptions made the case for Lydia H. Titus.  Sometimes that is as good as it gets and that beats staring at a brick wall.

And one good turn deserves another.  Charlie and I have been emailing about the Titus, Downing, Coapman families since that is what we share.  At one point I had gone off to find out more about our ancestors…Quakers from Dutchess County and shared some of the research with Charlie.  In some prior research I found I could take my family back to Charlie’s again through another line of family members…the Ferrees.  Can you be double cousins?

Charlie has a fabulous blog about the Ferrees.  I have blog envy!  Out of curiosity about the Ferree connection to my family,  I carefully read Charlie’s Ferree information only to discover that in the early 1800’s they had settled in a Pennsylvania location not twenty minutes from me.  Charlie had shared that he couldn’t verify the death date of his ancestral grandfather, David Dewees Ferree.  Time for GOOGLE again.  Almost instantly I found DDF and his family were interred in a small churchyard in the countryside of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

St John’s Cemetery Location

At the very first opportunity, I grabbed my Blackberry, my digital camera and recorder and headed out to the little stone church in Compass, Pennsylvania.

It was  gray and cloudy  and the foliage was past peak, but the few trees that still had leaves were like fiery sentinels.  I had called the church to see if someone could tell me just where the Ferree family plot was located.  St. John’s is a small country church and as is often the case, the minister or the church secretary are not there constantly and so I was invited to leave a voice mail message.  I would be walking through the entire cemetery with no direction.  No problem.  I GOOGLED.  This time I found the map section and accessed the satellite image.  I can do this!

Nestled among the rolling hills of Pennsylvania farm fields, it was everything a country church should be and though the cemetery was a small one, it still meant walking up and down rows upon rows of graves to find David Dewees Ferree.  At the front of the cemetery there was a curious mixture of old and new grave markers and to make it more uncomfortable, the ground was boggy though the weather had been dry and the cemetery sat in full sunshine.  I realized that I must be in an area riddled with underground springs.  Great for farms…not so great for cemeteries.

St Johns Episcopal Cemetery-Old Section

After trekking halfway through the front of the cemetery, out of the corner of my eye I spied the old and weathered pioneer burial section.  Dozens of neatly lined headstones that no longer marked a final resting place had been propped up along the fence.

As I began to walk through the old section, the soggy ground gave way at every foot step and made me hesitant to continue.  BUT I came here to find David Dewees Ferree and that is that.

Row after row of long gone pioneers …the old monuments yielded no sign of David Ferree.  Patience and perseverance paid off in one of the very last row of tombstones…very like the journey we family researchers take.  Be patient.  Something or someone is always there.

David Dewees Ferree Monument

Tucked next to the church’s foundation and an old stone wall, barely touched by weather,  the Ferree headstones were almost pristine.  The names carved long ago in the Pennsylvania bluestone declared each name…each life.  David Dewees Ferree.  Elizabeth S.   Mary.  Diller Baker Ferree .  Adam and his wife Mary.  Allen W. Ferree.

As any family researcher can tell you, these are the moments that transcend the research work and take it to what it really is…a sweet celebration and appreciation of life…yours…those who came before you and those yet to come.

So David Dewees Ferree and his great great grandson, Charlie…thanks for the privilege.  It is nice to meet you.

For more on Charlie Baker’s family, click on www.bakerfamilytree.blogspot.com.


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved