A Triple Tragedy - Murder Suicide and a Hanging

On Friday, December 4, 1874, Hiram Smith of Watertown was hanged at the Jefferson County Jail for complicity in the murder of Charles Wenham. Smith went to the gallows insisting upon his innocence, with a Bible in his hands. Smith had been convicted solely on circumstantial evidence, and right from the start, many questioned the verdict. While there may have been military hangings at Madison Barracks, only two men were ever executed for murder by civil authorities in Jefferson County: Henry Evans and Hiram Smith.

Charles Wenham, 23 years old, came to the United States from Cambridgeshire, England in February, 1872 along with a friend, George Babcock. He and Babcock found work at the farm of William Dryden in Copenhagen. They worked for Dryden from mid-March until November, 1872. The harvest over, Dryden had no further use for the men. Wenham secured employment on the farm of William Davenport near Copenhagen, and Babcock went to Lowville, finding work on the farm of Lewis Marcelle.

Charles Sutherland was a nephew of William Dryden's. He came to Copenhagen in 1871 from Lancaster, Ontario and worked with Wenham and Babcock on his uncle's farm during the Spring, Summer, and early Fall of 1872. He was laid off with the others and then found work at the farm of Henry Bushnell of Copenhagen.

Hiram Smith, 25, a native of Cape Vincent, worked as a farmhand for Phillip Harper, on a farm that adjoined Dryden's. He made friends with Wenham, Babcock and Sutherland, and the four of them spent many evenings together in Copenhagen over that Summer of 1872.

It was told that Charles Sutherland had fallen in love with “an estimable young lady” but considered himself too poor to ask her to be his wife. Like many single, young men, he couldn't seem to hang onto money - despite a full season of hard work, he was penniless. Wenham, on the other hand, had big plans, and the plans required money. Unlike his friends, he had managed to save a considerable sum that year, and he revealed to his friends that he was going West, probably to California that Winter of 1872-73.

It was soon after that Wenham received the following letter:

Pinckney, NY, December 24, 1872
Dear Charles – I want to see you in the worst way. I had a letter from a friend of mine in Cleveland, Ohio. He wants me to go up there. He owns some street cars in the city. Wants me to go and be a conductor, and says that if I have a friend to take him along. He will pay me $35 a month. Now I want you to come and see me before you hire with William Davenport. Be sure and see me first. Do not tell any person about it as I do not want any person to know where I am going. Try and come up tomorrow or some night this week. Charles Sutherland

P.S. I wish you a Merry Christmas

Wenham went to see Sutherland. At that time, Wenham told Sutherland that he had decided not to go to work for Davenport, but to set out immediately for the West. It was arranged that Sutherland would pick Wenham up with a horse and cutter (sleigh) and take him to Carthage, where Wenham would board a train and begin his journey to California.

On the appointed date, the two men traveled into the village of Carthage, where Wenham registered at the Levis House. His trunk, which contained all of his belongings, was carried to his room. The two men then visited a number of local pubs as Wenham bade farewell to the friends and acquaintances he had met over the summer and doubtless consuming a considerable amounts of free drinks provided by them.

Later, according to trial witnesses, Wenham and Sutherland boarded the sleigh and headed through West Carthage to the Martin St Road and toward Great Bend and perhaps more saloons, more friends and more free drinks.

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