The Life and Crimes of Winslow Russell

On October 24th, we presented the accounts of several Hoosick murders in a dramatic fashion on the lawn of the museum. During this event, Zachary Green of Buskirk portrayed the infamous scoundrel, Winslow Russell, wearing a top hat, long coat, and testy attitude. The script he used – abridged slightly from Russell’s original – is below.

PART 1

         I, Winslow Russell, was born in Guilford, in the county of Windham, and state of Vermont, on the 15th day of March, 1775.

         To the ill-timed and weak indulgence of my parents, may perhaps be more justly attributed, than to any other cause, the irregularity of my life, and the wickedness of my practices. O that parents who love their offspring and are solicitous for their temporal and eternal felicity, may in future guard against a foolish fondness for their children, and against too easily indulging them in their weak or wicked inclinations.

         In my infancy I was unwilling to go to school, and was therefore but seldom constrained by my too indulgent parents so to do. Being of an uneasy and irritable disposition, and my temper being seldom corrected, I was unwilling to learn, and of course was never qualified to abide by the precepts of morality and duty, or even to receive them with a due impression, in my youth; to form a shield to my heart in the morning of my days, and led me through life so as to promote my temporal and spiritual interest. O how important is it, for those who have these all important concerns lying near their hearts, to give the infant mind a right direction, and guard against passionate severity with respect to their dear offspring, to be equally careful not to admit of a criminal and fatal indulgence.

         In the course of my life I have committed many crimes against the sacred laws of God, and the wholesome regulations of my fellow-men, on which I trust, through the mercy of Heaven, I am now enabled to look back with penitence and contrition of heart, and sincerely to pray for forgiveness, through the merits of the dear Redeemer.

         As I before mentioned, I was born in Guilford, and resided there with my father, until he removed, with his family, to the town of Hoosick, where, in process of time, my wicked and incautious conduct terminated in the death of an unhappy fellow creature, and subjected me to the present solemn distress which surrounds me, and must, by the righteous sentence of the law, soon be closed by ignominious death. In Hoosick I was all the time among vain and profane company, and lost that satisfaction of mind that once gave me so much pleasure. I remained in a dark state for about twenty years, which was till I came here before you, but not without many accusations of conscience from time to time, and I look upon my departure from God as the merciful cause why I am brought to this untimely end, that I might be brought to repent of my sins and turn unto God.

         In Hoosick I married the daughter of Mr. Cronkhite, but instead of reforming my life, I continued to be frequently guilty of acts of petit larceny, some of which will be related in the course of this narrative, as a warning to others, to avoid the dangerous paths that have led me to guilt, disgrace and ignominy. In my youth I lost sight of what great things God had done for me, and went on in my old sinful way, which has so often since given me much trouble; so much so, that God seemed to pursue me, particularly when I went to meeting I have sometimes been so troubled in mind that for fear any person should observe my agitation I have gone off before the assembly dismissed. 

         Soon after my removal into Hoosick, with my father, I felt myself to be of an uneasy petulant disposition, and not having money at all times, to admit of indulging my appetites, was often induced to be guilty of acts of petit larceny, or stealing, to gratify my passions and lusts. These wicked acts, I had at first the art to conceal, which led me on from step to step, until at length my conduct became so atrocious, that my guilt was made public, and openly disclosed; yet still my neighbors, in pity for my youth and inexperience, generously and benevolently forgave me, in several instances, and prevented me from suffering the demerit of my conduct.

         But alas! That evil disposition, which in my present duress, as a culprit doomed me to death, I am led to deplore; that wickedness which being unrestrained in infancy grew with my growth and strengthened with my strength, instead of being abated, filled my life with iniquity, and was the ruling principle of my conduct.

         Among other sins, I frequently abused my too indulgent father, the protector of my childhood and youth, and strove with him who had supported me in infant years. Being of an athletic frame, and of a wicked and revengeful disposition, I frequently took advantage of my strength, in an abusive manner to show my superiority and to abuse my relations, friends and companions. This conduct, I can now see, was calculated, and in the end had the effect to drive the natural love and affection of my friends, relatives and acquaintances from me.

         And now, my friends, neighbors, and fellow men, it is my earnest request, that as far as you can conscientiously do it, you would pardon my offences, and pray for my forgiveness at the bar of that supreme Judge of Heaven and earth; while as a warning to others, I make known some of the atrocious crimes that have rendered me a subject of sorrow, and a criminal justly doomed to death by the laws of society.

         My life has been treacherous, and my death is by sentence to be ignominious. In the beginning of my felonious acts, I stole a sum of money from an innkeeper at Hoosick Falls, for which theft I was apprehended, and should have been brought to shame, in all probability, had not another man, from motives of humanity, come forward and settled the business. Happy would it have been for me, if I had duly estimated the benevolence of my friend, and reformed my manners, but this was not the case; I was glad to escape, but my heart was not softened by the tenderness of my friend, my manners were not reformed, nor was I able to emit a repentant sigh.

I frequently drank too freely to still upbraidings of conscience, and went about to taverns amongst bad company, drinking, cursing and swearing. My business was chiefly swapping horses. I was very easily irritated, particularly when the worse for drink, which gave me many opportunities of quarrelling and fighting, and not unfrequently brought me into difficulties. Another difficulty I got into was when at Mr. Dyer’s tavern, where I met with Jacob Odicarrick and another man. We all got intoxicated and Jacob Odicarrick and the other man got to fighting, when I went and took the man off Jacob Odicarrick and went to get a grog for them at Jacob Odicarrick’s desire, who gave me a ten dollar bill to get changed; but Mr. Dyer said he would not change it but would give me a grog on my own account; then I put said bill in my pocket, thinking to keep it on account that Jacob Odicarrick cheated me out of part of the price of a horse in the following way. He had a horse from me to work for his keeping, which he worked so hard that he was much reduced in value, and he exchanged him without my knowledge or consent. Afterwards I was prosecuted for a debt, and the exchanged horse taken and sold by my creditors, when in the possession of said Jacob Odicarrick, for about twenty shillings more than I owed him, which money he kept and said it was to pay himself for keeping my horse. However, sometime afterwards it was suspected (for he did not know, being drunk, when he gave it to me) I had the said ten dollars, and I paid him the money, and we were good friends ever since and he was satisfied that I was not much to blame.

         Addicted to wickedness, the crime of stealing was not my only, perhaps not my most degrading one. I had as before mentioned married a woman of my own choice, but how far I strayed from the path of a kind husband towards a tender companion, my fellow-creatures will judge from an incident that I think it my duty to mention, that others may take warning from my wicked conduct.

         One day, being overcome by an unjustifiable fit of passion, I threw a knife at my wife, with such force that it stuck in her breast bone, and this too at a period when from the peculiarity of her circumstances, as my wife, my tenderness ought to have been excited towards her, and my love in a particular manner to have been manifested. In this, and in various other incidents, I now am sensible, that I conducted towards my wife and children, in an inhuman, wanton and cruel manner; and while I relate my own wickedness I shall endeavor to cast a veil over the imperfections of my wife, as I hope any reader will do, from a conviction that we must all shortly appear at the bar of the God of Nature, before an impartial tribunal, where there will be no shuffling, but while the secrets of all hearts are laid open, it will be rendered evident, that charity covers a multitude of sins.

         With respect to my wife, however, I must say, that she has not been the most prudent of her sex, and my earnest prayer is, that my untimely fate may bring her to suitable reflection and repentance.

         In the year of our Lord 1809, I lived in a house belonging to Levi Nichols, and as a pretext to raise money, I set fire to the house, and then sent my wife (as she knew of the fact) out abroad to beg for commiseration. Mutual sin creates reciprocal antipathy, and in many of my past acts which cannot be here related, I have been actuated by a cursed spirit, which has brought me to the ignominious punishment I am about to suffer: I wish to disclose some more of my crimes, that if possible, I might relieve my conscience a little.

         I once was coming from Pownal, and on my way, discovered a horse and saddle at the house of Capt. Abel Russel of Petersburgh. I took the horse privately away, and as I could not conceal him, turned him loose in the road and sold the saddle to Mr. Broughton of Hoosick, and was some time after detected.

         Once, coming from Mr. Haskin’s Inn, in Pittstown, in company with Mr. Oudekirk, and being a little intoxicated, which I hope, all who read this will in future refrain from, we stopped to rest in a grove, and Mr. Oudekirt fell asleep, when I pilfered a 10 dollar bill from his pocket, and gave it to my wife, who concealed it, first in the wall of the house, and from thence removed it to a bundle of tow aloft from the floor.

         At another time I called on Mr. Daught to keep my cow, which he said he could not conveniently do, but told me that I might come and take bundles of hay sufficient to keep her, and in doing it, after killing his fowls, I secreted them in the hay and feasted on the produce of my ingratitude. I stole an ax from Mr. Pain. But I need not attempt to be particular, for my whole life has been a scene of felony and wickedness.

         One thing I had almost forgot to mention is that Mr. M’Kay often accused me of stealing a saw from his mill, but I now declare that I never did steal it, nor do I know who did. I understand many other bad things are laid to my charge, which I declare are entirely false. I never have committed any great crimes to mankind but what is above mentioned, and the one for which I am about to suffer. Nor was I a malicious man, but always passionate, which has often brought me into trouble, and I have been as often grieved for it.

PART 2

         The crime for which I am now about to suffer is as follows: On the 26th day of March last, I, Winslow Russell, rented a house of Michael Bockus and agreed to board him a week in each month for the rent. He was considered as a man that might work but would not, and was looked upon as a dangerous man amongst children. A number of people drew up a petition to have him taken care of, when that gentleman, John Haveland, Esq. and Mr. John Hains, one of the poor masters, came to me and enquired if I thought he would work, to which I replied he would not, having often tried him, but in vain. They then desired Bockus and me to stay at home till they went to Mr. Gardner’s and returned again. When they returned, Bockus was gone out and did not return till the next day, but they told me I must board him all the time for the use of his house and land, and Mr. Haveland desired me to make him work at all events, and if he would not, to whip him, and when I said we could not make him work, he added “put it on to him and make him work at all events.” On the twenty-fourth of April last, in the morning, I, being lame in my shoulder, desired him to get up and make a fire. He got up, opened the fire, and stood over it a considerable time. I several times told him to make the fire, but he went out and stayed some time and returned without any wood, and I had to get up myself, went out and brought in a log that lay outside the door and threw it on the hearth. He then jumped up from the fire, kicked the log towards me and took a chair and struck me with it. I then took a piece of an ax handle that stood near the fire and struck him with it. He then went to several of the neighbors, who would not let him in, and returned to my house after breakfast. I then went up to his father’s, and Michael followed me. When he came in, his father took a stick, struck him, and turned him out. He then went up to Mr. Foxe’s, and in the afternoon his mother requested me to see where he was. I went and found him at Mr. Foxe’s and brought him home about sundown. I requested him (my arm being lame) to go and split some wood, which he refused to do. I told him he should and took a fish pole in my hand to intimidate him. He then went up to his father’s and I followed to bring him back. He returned with me but was very angry. I then took an ax and cut off a piece of the fish pole and gave him the ax, desiring him to split the wood and I would carry it in. I went forward a little distance, but he refused to go with me. I turned back with an intention to scare him and make him come or take the ax and split the wood myself. As I advanced towards him, he raised the ax to strike and said, “take care.” My wife called to me and said, “Winslow, take care – he will strike you with the ax.” I then, in a passion, struck him two blows with part of the fish pole, and he fell. Perceiving I had hurt him, I, with help, carried him into the house, and laid him on the bed and felt very much alarmed, fearing I had injured him seriously, but still thought he feigned himself worse than he really was. When supper was ready I tried to get him up and prevail on him to eat, but could not. I sent for his father and continued all night with him, wished to send for a doctor, but his father and people who were present thought there was no occasion. About midnight he had a fit (which he was subject to) and had two violent fits, after which he seemed to get better, and his father went home about daylight. He soon after appeared to be worse, as if the fits were coming on again, when I again sent for his father. I then lifted him up and he expired.

         As I had struck Bockus on the head, those who were present intimated that it would be better for me to keep out of the way until it was ascertained whether his death was occasioned by the blows I gave him. I then went to about half a mile distance where I remained till about three o’clock in the afternoon. I at that time felt so conscious of my innocence as to any intention of murdering Bockus (as it was never my intention to kill him) that I concluded on returning, and was on my way home when I was arrested by some people who came in pursuit of me.

         My dear fellow mortals!

         I beg leave to address myself to you, as a dying man, condemned by the laws of my country to die. But I believe, if the truth had been known, I should not have been brought in guilty of willful murder. It was stated in evidence, on my trial, that I had threatened Michael Bockus that he must either work or die, which I may have said, as I know that I was too much in the habit of speaking in that manner, but without any forethought or bad intention. I acknowledge it was a very sinful way of speaking and would advise all who are addicted to the like to refrain from it, as the consequence may be fatal. I do not know but it has been so to me. We have no right to say anything that we have no right to do.

         I now forgive all my enemies, and I pray for one more than the rest, that is, my poor old mother-in-law. O! that she may see the injury she has done me, and may God in His infinite goodness forgive her – and I beg forgiveness of all those that I have injured. Father, mother, wife, children and relations, I now say I am very sorry my sins have brought this disgrace on you, but when I consider how gracious God has been to my soul for the sake of Christ, I have great reason to be thankful that I was overtaken in this state of my wicked career and brought to this goal, as I might otherwise have been allowed to go on in a thoughtless life to the pit of destruction. God’s ways are best, and I hope I am fully resigned to His holy will, who, to His praise be it spoken, I have reason to believe has pardoned my sins. I beg my parents, family and relations will forgive me all offences. I pray God may have you all in His holy keeping – so farewell.

         To people in general, I earnestly beg they will take warning by me and not resist any inward calls to repentance – which I have too often done to my sorrow now, and probably that is one reason why God has left me to come to this end. I would also advise all to keep back from bad company, and refrain from Sabbath breaking, cursing and swearing, and disobedience to parents, and strive against all sin in the strength of God. Believe in, and seek God with all your hearts, and He will, according to His promise, be found of you.

         I neglected to mention, in its proper place, that since my condemnation I was tempted to take my own life, but I have reason to be thankful that for some weeks past such an idea has been discarded from my mind, and I think, to the praise of God’s free grace, I ought to mention that after great temptations – I believe it was on the 8th of this month, about midnight, when praying, these words – “go, sinner, sin no more,” were impressed on my mind, and gave me great relief, which has increased since – but I am not altogether without doubts and fears, but have reason to be thankful that my hope grows stronger and stronger, which good work I hope God will perfect before I leave this world.

         I now beg leave to tender my grateful acknowledgements to the ministers and good people who were so kind as to visit me in prison. The many prayers that have been put up for me I hope have been heard and graciously answered. May God be with you at all times, and I hope you will be enabled by Him to go on in the good way rejoicing, and be the happy instruments of bringing many sinners to God.

         It only remains, therefore, for me to say that I die justly by the sentence of the law, for although I had not murder immediately in my intention, I was spiteful in my rage, and thoughtless in my procedure.

         Penitently confessing my sins, my earnest prayer is that my fate may be a warning to thousands and my confession the means of keeping them in the paths of virtue.

         I die in peace with all mankind – if I have enemies I hope and believe I can freely forgive them, and I humbly implore their forgiveness, and prayers for the salvation of my soul.

From virtue’s peaceful, sacred paths, in devious tracts I stray’d,

And now my forfeit life I lose, in hopes of Heavenly aid.

To all the world farewell.

PART 3

Dear Mother-in-law,

         I am sorry to have to write you on such a subject as follows, but as a dying man think it my duty to say something that may, through the blessing of God, be useful to you. I think you have been the means of my coming to this untimely end by giving in your evidence in the way you did. I don’t wish to hurt your feelings too much, as you might forget some circumstances, but must say I cannot understand how you could say some things that to my knowledge did not take place at the death of Michael Bockus – but I sincerely pray God may show you wherein you have wronged me, and forgive you all your sins. You must soon die, and perhaps I shall be in eternity before this will reach you. I bless God for His goodness to me, and now hope, through the favor of God for Christ’s sake, to be happy hereafter – and that you may find the same favor before you die, and meet me where there will be no more sin nor sorrow, is the ardent prayer of your sincere well-wisher,

Winslow Russell.

N.B. Believe in Christ, and God, according to His promise, will be found of them that seek Him in sincerity.

My dear Father and Mother,

         I once more write to you, and probably this will be the last letter that you ever will receive from me, as I expect to die in a few days, therefore I will send this as a small token of my regard for you. I feel concerned for you, and therefore again request you will not be grieved above measure on my account, but be resigned to the will of God, as I have reason to believe I am. Blessed be God for it, and I hope to meet you both in a happy eternity before long. May God take you both into His holy keeping and direction is the sincere prayer of your loving and affectionate son,

Winslow Russell.

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