Thursday, January 09, 2014

Terrible Crime in Port Richmond - 1862

Doing a little research in the NY Times' on-line archives, I came across the sad story of a murder in Port Richmond over a hundred years ago. Done for nothing more than "paltry robbery", Alabamus Harrison, brother of Dr. John Harrison, was strangled with his own necktie. Without doing way more research than I'm capable of on my laptop, I can only suspect that John and Alabamus were the sons of the famous Dr. John T. Harrison and whose elm tree was the reason for Elm Park's name.   The following are excerpts from the various NY Times articles covering the crime, the investigation and the trial.

November 21, 1862
The murder of ALABAMUS HARRISON, at Port Richmond, Staten Island, is yet undergoing investigation by Coroner DEMPSEY. The affair is still enveloped in painful mystery to the good people of that village and the law officers, but it is thought that certain suspicions arising from the drift of the evidence, may yet lead to some tangible proof as to who committed the murder. The funeral of the victim takes place to-day.

November 23, 1862
Coroner DEMPSEY and a jury are yet investigating the murder of ALABAMUS HARRISON, at Port Richmond. Staten Island, assisted by Justice GROSHON and Dr. WM. G. EADIE, who take a devoted interest in unraveling the mystery of the tragedy. Lengthy sittings are held and numerous witnesses examined, and, as the inquest progresses, the prospect of fixing upon who committed the murder grows better. The inquest began on last Wednesday morning. On Friday, the evidence warranted the arrest and imprisonment of JAMES MOORE, an Irishman, who was the first witness, on suspicion; and yesterday morning, SAMUEL SNEEDEN, one of the jurors, was committed to prison on still stronger suspicion. SNEEDEN is a young man, a widower, and a ship-carpenter by trade, who has hitherto borne a passable character. MOORE's antecedents are rather unfavorable. These worthies, it is now suspected, are accomplices in the murder; and a married woman, named MARY DUFF, is thought to be an accomplice after it not before the fact. Paltry robbery alone appears to have been the incentive to the terrible crime.

November 26, 1862
The inquest at Port Richmond, Staten Island, on the murder of ALABAMUS HARRISON, is yet in progress. From the testimony of Drs. EADIR and HARRISON, (the latter a brother of the victim,) it would seem that the murder was committed in doors, and the body left in the street afterward, as the underclothes were not at all wet, although a heavy rain fall during the night. From sickness in infancy the deceased was partially demented, and being incapable of following any kind of employment, he was supported by his relatives. His habits were irregular, but harmless. He frequented the liquor-saloons, and on the night of the murder visited two of the worst of the "lager-bier" saloons, which are resorted to by the abandoned of both sexes. Their vile character was never fully known till revealed by this inquest. The citizens are now highly incensed at finding that such places exist in the village, and threats are quite openly made of tearing down the buildings. JAMES MOORE, one of the parties under arrest on suspicion, is not an Irishman, as heretofore stated, but claims to be a native of Rochester.

February 22, 1863
THE MURDER AT PORT RICHMOND. -- SNEEDIN and MOORE, the men who were committed by Coroner JAMES DEMPSEY, for the murder of ALABAMUS HARRISON, at Port Richmond, Staten Island, have been indicted by the Grand Jury of Richmond County, and will be tried in April next. The only witness permitted to go upon personal recognizance was Mrs. HOUSMAN, who recently left Port Richmond without notice to the Coroner of her removal. Coroner DEMPSEY therefore, sought to arrest her, and after several days' search, he found her in New York, took her back to Staten Island, and put her in the County jail to await the time of the trial. She denied any intention of flight, but the circumstance of her change of residence without notice decided the Coroner's mind on that point, and he acted as he believed it was his plain duty to do in the matter.

   I wish there were more detail about the case. I'd like to know where the lager-bier saloon was and where poor Alabamus' body was found. Port Richmond in 1862 was a pretty small town. Where was there a lager-bier saloon that everybody didn't know about it already? A century and a half after the fact, are there any descendants of the Harrison family? If so are they still on the Island? It's a thoroughly depressing piece of history with little larger significance. But what it is is a reminder of human frailty and how easy it is to slip into somewhere horrible.