The Ocean County Compendium of  History
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Thomas Williams Murder

Pamphlet Courtesy of Rutgers University Special Collections
Photograph by Steven J. Baeli

An Account of the Murder, &c
On the morning of Friday the nineteenth day of November, A.D. 1802, a boy, by the name Thomas Williams, son of Daniel Williams of the township of Dover, in the county of Monmouth, the state of New Jersey, was found, not far from his father’s house, murdered in a horrid manner – his scull broken – his head nearly half cut off, and an axe lying within a few feet of the body. An inquest being called by the magistrate to enquire how the defunct came to his death, Peter Stout of the same township, aged about 26 years, was summoned and sworn as one of the jurors. On view of the body and of the circumstances attending its situation, no doubt could exist with the jury, who soon brought in their verdict “wilful murder by some person, or person unknown,” Peter Stout agreeing with the rest ad fighting the inquisition.

It is said that shortly after the act was committed, Peter Stout was suspected by some to be the perpetrator, but it was not until the third day afterwards that those suspicions became so violent as to lead to measures being taken for apprehending and securing him. He made no attempt to flee from justice and was arrested at his own lodgings, and by virtue of a warrant, issued by Daniel Conkling, esquire, committed to the goal of Monmouth county.

On his first appearance at the place of confinement his countenance exhibited the strongest marks of horror and guilt. The evening of the same day of his commitment he desired that a minister of the Gospel might be sent for, and was attended the next morning by the Reverend Doctor Woodhull; to him the prisoner appeared to labour under extreme agony of mind, acknowledged himself to have been a great sinner, saying that drunkenness and a long course of ill conduct had brought him into his then deplorable situation, and occasioned his ruin.  He continued in the utmost distress of mind for the space of four or five weeks, then became somewhat composed. From the fist of his confinement he had sedulously attended to reading the scriptures and other books of devotion. An indictment for wilful murder was found against him at the general quarter sessions of January, and an order made for handing up the indictment to the court of oyer and terminer to be held in the succeeding April.

Sometime before the sitting of the court at which the prisoner was to be arraigned, he received baptism, and behaved in all respects, in the opinion of the clergy who attended him, as a true and sincere penitent. When charged on his indictment he betrayed not the least emotion of fear.  Being asked by the Attorney-General whether he pleaded “guilty or not guilty as he stood charged?” He answered “guilty.” – When asked by the court if he knew the consequences of his pleading guilty, and (agreeably to the humane provision which the law has established) whether he did not wish to have counsel assigned to advise him, he informed the court that he knew the consequences, and did not wish to have counsel assigned him. When set to the bar to receive the sentence of the law upon his conviction, the attention of the court, and the numerous inspectors, was highly interested by the serenity and composure of the countenance with which he appeared, and which he preserved unmoved during the whole time the sentence was delivering, to which he listened with much attention.  On being told by the Attorney-General that he stood convicted of murder, and asked if he had aught to say, whey sentence should not be passed upon him, and upon his avowing that he had not, his Honor, Justice Kirkpatrick proceeded to pass the sentence of death.

Sentence“He that sheddeth man’s blood, by man’s hand shall his blood be shed” was a precept of the divine law. The same principle has been carried into the code of every nation, ancient and modern, savage and civilized, down till the present day. Indeed, so universally has this sentiment prevailed that we can hardly withhold our belief that it was originally written, in indelible characters, by the finger of God on the heart of man – and in conformity to this general sentiment in the institutions of New Jersey, certainly among the most mild that have ever been established for the government of man, we find it enacted that he who committeth murder shall be punished with death.

This is a deplorable situation, and one which exhibits you to the world as a melancholy spectacle of human depravity. – Your crime, too, has been perpetrated under circumstances which greatly aggravate your gilt. It was not against an enemy – it was not against one who had given you provocation, or offence – it was not against a man, your equal, who had strength and prudence to defend or protect himself, that you devised this evil; but without provocation, or offense, or any thing to excite the turbulent and wicked passions of the human breast, you have pursued the innocent, the young, the weak and defenceless, in his lonely walks, and there with prepensed  malice have risen up against him and slain him.  You have thus, not only provoked the judgment of God, by a direct violation of divine law, but you have also rendered yourself unfit for the society of men, and exposed yourself to be cut off from the land of the living, and that by an ignominious death.

Deplorable however as this situation is, blessed be God, it is not altogether hopeless.  The most high God, the Judge of all the earth hath declared himself to be “The Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin.”  To him that repenteth himself of sin, he is able and willing to forgive him his sin, even to the uttermost.

Permit me therefore most earnestly to recommend it to you to employ your small remains of life on reviewing your past conduct – to let your transgression sink deep into your heart, to humble yourself before the throne of the Heavenly Grace, and with repentance implore the forgiveness of your sins, and the acceptance of your soul.  And for your greater encouragement in this important work, let me remind you that our blessed Lord, the Saviour of the world, was pleased to say to the penitent thief upon the Crofs, when expiring in the agonies of death, “This day shalt thou be with me in Paraside,”  Glorious hope!  Blessed consolation to a dying penitent!

Having now set before you the nature of your crime, and the awful situation into which it has brought you; and having also directed your attention to the only source from which a dying man can draw consolation, it only remains for me to perform the painful task of pronouncing the sentence of the law upon you, which is,

That you be taken from the bar of this court, to the prison of the county from whence you came – that you be there safely kept until Friday the thirteenth day of May next, that on that day you be taken from thence, between the hours of twelve and three in the afternoon to the place of public execution, and there be hanged by the neck until you shall be dead.

And my the God of Love in his infinite goodness and mercy receive your soul.

ConfessionMade in the presence of Simon Pyle and Caleb Lloyd, and signed by the prisoner a few hours before his execution.

A few days previous to the commission of the crime, for which I justly received the sentence of to law to suffer death, Thomas Williams, a boy of about fourteen years of age, the unhappy victim of my barbarity, had given me some abusive language, such, however, as did not deserve personal chastisement from me; but as I was that time hardened in guilt from a long and continued course of licentious conduct and crimes, the offence was deemed sufficient to inspire me with the horrid resolution of taking his life.

Having formed this design I only waited a suitable opportunity to put it into execution, and it offered but too soon.  A few days afterwards (it being some time in the month of November last) supposing that the boy had gone out into the fields, I took up an axe, which lay at the door of David Letts’ house where I then resided, and walked out, early in the morning, to meet him. We met, and after speaking to each other as in a friendly manner, walked together for some distance toward the house of David Letts. I cannot say that I then felt angry with the boy, but believe myself to have been urged on by the devil to commit the act.  I stepped suddenly behind the boy and gave him a stroke on the back part of the head, with the eye of the axe, which felled him to the ground. – As he fell he exclaimed O dear!  I gave him, as I think, a second stroke on the head, threw down the axe and retired to a short distance. – Supporting him not quite dead I again advanced, and to complete the horrid work I had begun, gave him another stroke with the edge of the axe on the back of the neck which put an end to his existence.

Leaving the axe at the place of execution, as I had no wish that my crime should be concealed, or to take any measures for my own safety, I returned home, and soon afterwards set out for Samuel Brinley’s, who lived at a short distance and kept a public house, in order to get some liquor to drink.   I had been long in the habit of drinking to excess, and at that time particularly felt an inclination for drinking to relieve my mind.  On my way I stopped at the place where I had committed the murder, rubbed my hand over the bloody face of the deceased, and then on my pantaloons that the blood might be discovered upon me.  When I arrived at Samuel Brinley’s I held out towards him the palm of my hand that he might observe the blood.  There was blood also on my face, and by way of engaging Mr. Brinley’s attention, I observed to him that my nose had been bleeding, and went to the door and washed myself in a tub of water.  I afterwards went to mill for David Letts, and when I came home, felt again an inclination for drinking, and set out for Reuben Potter’s shop, from whence I procured a person, with whom I sent one dollar, to go and buy liquor; but owing to the uneasy state of my mind went home without waiting his return, and retired to my chamber.  While up stairs I heard some person telling the family below of the act that had been committed, and immediately John Potter called my, and relating to me what I too well knew, took me to the place where the deceased lay, and where some people had collected together to view the bloody scene; but no one at that time charged me with being the perpetrator.  I was still hardened and regardless of whatever should happen to me.

I next went to Mr. Potter’s to get the liquor I had sent for, and on my way begged of God that my guilt might be discovered.  In the afternoon, being the same day on which the murder was committed, I was told at David Letts’, that I was judged to be the person who had killed the boy; not withstanding this, I staid at home the night of that day, and slept with as much composure as usual.

Having as before stated, no desire to provide for my own safety, I continued at home until some time in the forenoon of the next day; when I was summoned to attend as a juror upon the view of the body of the deceased.  At first I felt a disinclination from going, and accordingly made some excuse; but on Mr. Letts’ coming home and being also summoned as a juror, proceeded with him to the house of Daniel Williams the father of the deceased, and was sworn to enquire as to the manner of the death: We soon came to a decision, unanimously agreeing to find a verdict of “wilful murder.”  I did not as yet feel impressed with a proper sense of the enormity of my crime, but remained in the state of indifference and unconcern, giving myself up to intoxication, swearing and other ill conduct, when on the third day after the murder, I was apprehended and taken before a magistrate, who (upon the oath of David Letts, to whom in conversation I had given cause of suspicion) issued his warrant by virtue of which I was brought to the prison in which I am now confined, and from which I shall this day depart to suffer, by an ignominious death, for the crime committed by me, of which I now heartily repent, and hope to be forgiven through the infinite mercy of God.

[signed] PETER STOUT,

Monmouth Prison
May the 13th, 1803

A further account of the behavior of Peter Stout, and his conversation while in prison, as related by the Rev. Simon Pyle who attended him at sundry times during the latter part of his confinement.

When I first came to visit the prisoner, he informed me that for some time after the murder was committed, he remained impenitent, and almost insensible of the dreadful consequences of his crimes, until at length he was brought to reflect upon his past disorderly and riotous conduct, and keeping the worst of company, which had ended in the loss of the property which he had inherited from his father, and in the dreadful situation to which he was then reduced.  This, like the reflection of the prodigal, brought him to himself in this state of captivity and distress.  He had been often tempted to think that his “sins” were “unpardonable,” and that the “mercy of God” was “clean gone.”  About ten days previous to the sitting of the court at which  he was to be arraigned, he requested me to attend him.  I found him to all appearances a true penitent, desirous of waiting upon God by faith, in order that he might obtain “the end,” even the salvation of his soul, and desired to be baptised.  In about days afterwards I attended in order to administer this ordinance; I examined and conversed with him a considerable time, and concluded that he had passed a converted change “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.”  He told me he could say with the blind man in the gospel that he knew “one thing;” that whereas he had been blind he could now see, could see every thing in a new light – he could say things he once loved, and with the Apostle, that he loved God because God loved him.

The thoughts of appearing before the court to answer to his indictment had at first been grievous to him, but his terrors departed like clouds and darkness before the rising sun.  He received the holy ordinance of baptism.  After his condemnation, he still desired I would visit him, requested that the sacrament might be administered to him and that his confession, which he wished to make, might be taken down in writing, in order to be published after his death, as a solemn warning to others, particularly his former profligate companions that they might refrain from all evil practices.  He acknowledged that the death he was about to die was too good for him, and that should the world of mankind have persuaded him to deny the murder, he would not have done it.

He wished not for a reprieve, desired no to die a natural death, unless such should be the will of providence; but of choice was willing to die the death to which he had been sentenced, that the example might serve as a warning to others.

The sacrament being administered, he with much apparent candor made the confession signed by him on the day of execution, and further related, that from early life he had been much addicted to wickedness; that the sins of drunkenness, profane swearing and Sabbath breaking, and the keeping of bad company had been the cause of his ruin; that for some time he had endeavored to refrain from excessive drinking and other evil habits, read the scripture and attended the preaching of the Gospel; but found his resolution too weak, long to withstand temptation, and he relapsed into his former practices, doing many mischievous actions merely to injure persons who had given him only slight offences, without, in the least benefitting himself; that in such course of life he had continued, until he became so hardened that he scarcely felt any checks of conscience for any crime that he committed.

After his conviction I made use of every opportunity to visit him, to pray with and for him.  He appeared to possess great firmness of mind, and his peace was, for the most part, like a gentle river, till the day before his execution, when through the devices of the enemy of souls, he was under severe temptations and conflicts of mind.  In this state he sent to request my attendance.  When I came and enquired what was the matter with him, Oh! said he, I feel very different from what I did when I saw you last.  I enquired whether he felt condemned for any thing which he had said, or done, or left undone as known duty.  Upon examination he could not say that he did.  I told him if his conscience condemned him, God was greater than his conscience, knew all things, and would condemn him also, if guilty; but if conscience did not condemn him, he should not cast away his “confidence, which hath great recompence of reward;” for it had been a calm uninterrupted peace with him from the time God had converted his soul, until then.  I told him he was in that state of mind of which the Apostle Peter spoke when he said, “Though now for a season (if need be) ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”  And herein I saw the wisdom of goodness of God.  Divine Providence was preparing him for the arduous trials of the next succeeding day.  The prisoner appeared to be under deep exercise of mind.  I prayed with him for some time, and left him pleading with the Redeemer to cleanse him from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, that he might be perfected in holiness in the sight of God.  On the next day when I came to visit him for the last time, I found him composed and happy in mind.  After signing his confession with a steady hand, he requested me to remain some time with him, we spent about half an hour in prayer to God, and were exceedingly blessed with the Divine presence.  The prisoner seemed to be filled with that “perfect love which castest out fear,” and cold say in triumph, “O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory?”  Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  “This (said he) is the happiest day I ever saw,” and, “did my friends but know how happy I am, and how willing to die, they would rejoice;” he added that he would be glad if his hour was come.

The ExecutionOn the thirteenth day of May, an immense number of people assembled to behold the exit of the prisoner who spent the chief part of his time in devout and fervent exercises.  A little after twelve o’clock he was taken from the prison; at his particular request he was brought out of the prison unbound.*

The concourse of people was so great that it was with difficulty the guards opened a passage to the place of execution.  Here it was supposed four or five thousand persons had assembled, they were on foot, on horseback, in carriages and on trees.  Here divine service was performed by the Rev. Doctor Woodhull at the request of the prisoner, who had previously pointed out the text to be preached from, and the verses to be sung.  It began with singing the 17th Psalm, long metre, from the 3d verse.  The sermon was from the following words: “Lord remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom, and Jesus said unto him verily I say unto thee, to-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”  Luke XXIII, 42.43.  This was followed by an exhortation from the Rev. Mr. Brindle.  The concluding verses were from the 51st Psalm 3d part, beginning with the 4th, and ending with the 6th, which is,

“My soul lies humbled in the dust
“And owns they dreadful sentence just,
“Look down, O God with pitying eye,
“And save the fool condemned to die.”

At the prisoner’s request his hands and arms were perfectly at liberty.  This being the case, he had expressed a doubt whether he should not take hold of the rope with his hands, saying if he thought he should he would have the confined – they however were not.  After taking leave of the Clergymen, he put on his cap – pulled it over his face – clasped his hands as if in praying posture – the scaffold left him – the shock was so great that he raised his right hand within two or three inches of the rope as tho’ to seize it, but apparently recollecting himself, took it down – closed it with the other, and thus left this world, it is hoped for a better.

*He begged this indulgence of the Sheriff, promising him that he would not take hold of the rope.

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