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Life and Confession of John M'Affee

The confession below comes from a pamphlet sold the day of M’Affee’s hanging. Misspellings and punctuation have been left the way they were. For more information on this, Dayton’s first execution, see the ballad “A serious warning to Young Men” on the Dayton History Books Online web site.







John M’Affee.

Who was executed at Dayton, Ohio, for the


On the 28th of March, 1825.



Signed and Acknowledged by the Criminal

John M’Affee, In the Presence of


Sheriff of the County of Montgomery.



Printed by R. J. Skinner, And For Sale

At the office of the Miami Republican.





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LIFE, &c.


John M’Affee

Who was hung at Dayton, Ohio, on the 28th day

of March, 1825, for murdering his wife.




            I JOHN M’AFFEE was born in year of our LORD 1804, on the 20th of June, of that year, in Huntingdon county, Pa. about fifteen miles from the town of Huntingdon.  My father’s name was Andrew M’Affee, a respectable farmer.  My mother’s name was Elizabeth Cannom, before she married my father. –  My father and mother were both Catholics.  My mother died when I was three years old.  I was then left entirely to the care of my father, who three years after my mother’s death married a Miss Sally Abbott.  About two years after he married the second time, he went in company with one James Entrokie down the Juniata, with a boat of flour.  In attempting to pass the Canawago falls in the Susquehanna, the boat with all its contents was lost, and my father and six others who were on board, met with a watery grave. I was then placed in the care of my uncle Phillip O’Skelly, with whom I lived till I was 14 years of age.  My uncle being a Roman Catholic, I was brought up by him in the doctrines of that Church.  My uncle was his wife used me like their own son – gave me good advice from time to time and cautioned me continually to keep holy the Sabbath day




and to shun all kinds of wickedness.  My uncle sent me three years to school to one William Pringle, one year to Thomas Dodson, and one year to William Hudson.  I was a wild youth and was often corrected for my wickedness by my uncle; and about the time I was 13 or 14 years old I was broke of many of my bad habits.  I can say I was well raised; and, had I followed the advice of my dear uncle and aunt, I am certain I never would have come to this shameful death.  The last winter I went to school, about the close of a quarter, my old grandmother, Polly Cannom, called at the school house where I was, and called me to one side and advised me to leave my uncle because he was Roman Catholic.  I refused to go off at that time, but on my uncle and myself going some weeks afterward to see my grandmother, who lived in Indiana county, and being repeatedly coaxed to go off and leave my uncle, I consented.  I however returned home with my uncle, and remained with him about a month.  He was aware of the advice my grandmother had given me, and talked seriously to me, and earnestly intreated me to stay with him.  He declared if I would remain with him till I was 21 years of age, he would divide his property with me & give me as large a portion as he would allow his sons, but I would not listen to his kind advice, and resolved to make my own course.  Accordingly I started one morning after breakfast and steered for a little place called Newry, on the West Town branch of the Juniata.  My uncle and aunt went almost crazy when I left them.  On my arrival at Newry, I fell in to work with a Mr. Burk, but I did not do much, being young and fond of company, I fell in with a set of wicked fellows, in whose company I soon forgot all the kind admonisions of my uncle and aunt; I contracted debts, got drunk and frolicked – After some time I got weary of my dissipated life, and returned to my uncle, who was glad to see me, and wished me never to leave him again.  But, after remaining with him about a month, I went to see my grand mother, and tarried with her about one month.  I was pretty regular in my conduct while with my uncle and grandmother, and got my credit up again, and got money enough to pay my debts, and went and discharged those I had contracted in Newry.  While with my uncle I stole a three




dollar note from my cousin Hugh O’Skelly, but my conscience checking me for doing so, I paid him some time afterwards, 3 dollars in silver.  It was now summer, and my old companions at Newry got around me as before, and I acted my old tricks over again for some time.  At length I returned again to my uncle, where I remained for some time doing, as when there before, the best I could, for I dare not do ill where he was; consequently I was much thought of by all the neighbors.

            One day a Mr. M’Connell passed by my uncles’ with a drove of cattle, and hired me to go with him to Philadelphia, but I went with him no further than Huntington, having fallen into bad company and getting drunk there.  I resolved to go no further.  And there I remained all winter, doing no good for myself or any other person.  In the spring I returned to my uncle, who had by this time got so out of humor with me he would not receive me, but turned me off.  This grieved me very much, and I resolved once more to go to work and do the best I could.  So I went to work with one Michael Lutsinger the summer and the next winter and got money, and my name up pretty well for a steady boy.  I was now about 17 years old, and had worked at different places.  While employed with one Peter Kaylor, he became offended at two boys, Lewis Shara and George Shara, in consequence of their having taken a windmill of his on Haloeve night, and carried to the top of a dung hill.  Some time after this took place, some persons cut the straps of his (Kaylor’s) windmill and threw the hopper away into the deep snow.  Kaylor blamed said Lewis and George with the mischief, and had them brought before Luke McGuire, Esq. and called on me for a witness, and persuaded me to swear falsely, that I saw said boys there the same evening that the mischief was done.  After I left Kaylor, I worked about in the neighborhood till I unfortunately fell in company with Jones Horner, who persuaded me to marry his neice Dorothy Fox, who lived about the house.  I had never seen her till the Saturday before the day (Thursday) on which we were married.  My uncle was displeased at my marrying Dorothy.  I stayed with Horner till some time in the winter, and my uncle becoming reconciled to my marriage, took my wife and me to his




home.  In the spring I made an improvement in the mountains where I took my wife, but as she was subject to the fits I was advised to leave the mountains, and move to her uncles’, which I did.  I was worth about 500 dollars at that time.  The condition of my wife’s health, and being young, I got discouraged about her, and took again to frolicking.  About this time my uncle persuaded me to move to Miami country, which I resolved to do, and started out for this country in March, and on the 28th day of that month my wife and I arrived at Steubanville, where I remained till about harvest, and was in good credit.  Mr. R. Dickerson, cashier of the bank of Steubenville, hired me about that time to go and work a farm of his near Canton.  I went, and left my wife in Steubanville.  I passed in Canton for a young man, and had often a notion never to return to my wife again on account of her having fits.  I fell in love, while there, with one Phebe Reed, and was on the point of getting married to her, when the news came to Canton, that I was a married man.  I denied it, and the girl was willing to have me, but I took a notion, I would not have her, and accordingly I left her and worked different places till in the fall, when I took sick, and returned to my wife in Steubanville, where I was confined about a month, and my wife took good care of me.  Some time in November we left Steubenville in an Orleans boat, and after being on the Ohio eighteen days we arrived at Cincinnati.  I rented a house in the city for my wife and went into Madison township, west of the Great Miami, rented a house and got to work.  First I thought I would not go back for my wife, but I thought again that my wife and myself were both fatherless and motherless – that she would be in a destitute situation if I left her and I determined to go for her, which I did, and resolved then that I would always live with her.  We got to Madison township about Christmass. My wife and I never had an angry word together, but lived peaceably and lovingly.  On the 28th day of January, 1823, my wife had a child, a sweet little girl.  About four months afterwards one John Warner and his wife moved up to within a quarter of a mile of my house.  Warner and his wife because my wife had fits and I had not much comfort with her, frequently advised me to leave




her and wanted me to go off with Hetty Shoup. Hetty Shoup also wanted me to leave my wife and did not consequently give me much peace.  I often went away, but still had to return home.  When my wife and I were together I could not think of leaving her.  I think she thought I never would leave her; and I never told her I would.

            On Thursday the tenth of June I worked all day with Warner.  The day before Hetty Shoup was there; and Warner and his wife and Hetty herself coaxed me to leave my wife and at last I said I would go with her.  I then determined to kill my wife, and on Friday morning I left home and got to Dr. Treons about 9 o’clock I think, and he was not at home.  My intention was to get some opium.  I stayed about in the neighborhood till afternoon, when I returned to Dr. Treons and got 25 cents worth of opium.  I then returned towards home, but only went about a mile from Miamiesburg till night, and then I proceeded on my way home, where I arrived about 10 o’clock.  My wife was in bed and asleep, but I awoke her and we had a long conversation about our affairs.  I then took out the opium I had in my pocket and laid it on the table and told my wife, there was something to cure her of the fits.  She said she would take any thing to cure her of them and began to eat it.  Then I began to feel most dreadful bad, no person can think how bad I felt.  I walked and walked about the room – I felt so bad.  She asked me what was the matter.  I forgot what I told her.  Shortly after she appeared to take a fit, but it was the effect of the opium.  I felt as if I would have a fit, too.  I felt miserable but I had not heart to lay hands on her, but the Devil got stronger hold of me soon after, and then I went to her and choaked her – she never moved hand nor foot, and soon breather her last.  The child was asleep.  I then left her as she was, covered up by the clothes as she was with the baby. I felt much alarmed at what I had done, and would have given all the world if I had not committed the horrid deed – A deed that I never would have committed if it had not been for Hetty Shoup. – It is true she did not persuade me to kill my wife, but she wanted me to leave her, and go with her.  But I could not think of leaving my wife for fear she would come




to want.  After I finished the dreadful tragedy, I gathered up my clothes and proceeded through Liberty, and when about three quarters of a mile the other side towards Miamiesburg, I endeavored to catch a white horse which I saw in a pasturefield, but did not succeed, and was obliged to go without him.  I then went about two miles from Liberty and laid down in the woods and slept till daylight.  During my short sleep I dreamed about my wife, and about being chased by the constable and the people.  When I awoke I was very cold.  I steered my way to Mullendors mill race on the Miami.  It was late breakfast time, and I was hungry. I asked a man who was digging in the race if I could get work, and he told me he could not afford to hire hands.  He asked me my name, and I told him my name was John Cannom.  Then I went from there up above Shakertown hunting for work but got none.  Late in the evening of the same day I passed through Dayton (having stopped at the Brewhouse and got some beer,) crossed the bridge over the Miami, and went to Andrew Mikesell’s, expecting to hear something concerning my wife.  When I came to Mikesells, Hetty Shoup was as glad to see me as if I had been so much gold.  I got supper and stayed there all night.  Hetty Shoup solicited me strongly never to go home to my wife.  I told her I expected to find my wife dead when I went home.  She said she wished to God she was dead, or that some one would kill her.  After breakfast, (it was Sunday morning) I went to Warners, and when I got there, Warner asked me if I had heard the news.  I told him I had heard no news.  He then said John your wife is dead.  I was struck so I did not know where I was.  He said the people are just going to bury her.  He then observed, John they blame you for killing her.  I asked him if it was a fact, and he said, it is.  When I came to my house, they had just buried her, and the minister Mr. Flory was praying.  I went into the house, and after prayer was over some of the people asked me if I had not killed my wife.  I told them no.  They then took me and tied me, and sent for Squiers Hipple and M’Cormick, who came to Shively’s where those who had arrested me had taken me.  I was then ordered off to jail.  The constable Ja-




cob Mikesell, with some others, then took me to Liberty, from which place I made my escape and went into the woods and slept Sunday night, and in the morning (Monday) I went to Warner’s and got my breakfast.  Warner was in great fear that he would be arrested.  He was also afraid that some one would see me there, and that I would be taken, and advised me to clear out as fast as I could.  He said he would go down to Mikesell’s and make up some fence, and proceeded there thro’ Liberty, and I went through the woods.  At the end of Mikesell’s lane, I met Warner, who told me again to clear myself, that there were forty or fifty men with guns and pistols after me and would soon come up with me.  In a few minutes about twenty armed men passed me, and never saw me, notwithstanding I was standing only about 3 rods from them.  I stood there till they went to Mikesells’ and took Hetty Shoup.  They passed me again without seeing me, but Hetty Shoup saw me.  I saw her look at me and smile.  After they had got out of sight I went towards Liberty and that night I went and slept on a bundle of straw in Andrew Mikesell’s barn.  Next morning, (Tuesday) early, about a dozen men, with guns, passed the barn where I was.  They had watched Mikesell’s house all night.  After they got through the bars, they shot their guns off.  I then got up and followed them till within sight of Liberty, and then steered my way through woods and fields, till I struck the Miami about 5 miles above Miamiesburg.  As there was no canoe in sight, I swam across the river.  Then I made off thro’ the woods, &c. to Lebanon, where I eat my breakfast, about eleven o’clock and then went on to the other side of the L. Miami, about 12 miles, where I remained all night with a farmer.  I started from thence the next day and on the 3d day afterwards, in the morning I crossed the Ohio, at Marietta, in Virginia.  From thence I went to Washington and Pittsburg.  I went to Westmoreland county, to one Peoples, and worked with him through harvest and seeding.  Then I thought I would return to this county and get my child.  As no one had advertised me, I thought they would let me have it and not disturb me.  I came down the Ohio river, in a canoe, and landed at Law-




renceburg, fearing I might be known in Cincinnati, and came up the river to Coens’ where I had intended working at his mill race.  I stayed with him one day and a night.  Next day I got to Warners’ in the evening late.  Says I to Warner, dare I come in?  He told me, yes; and remarked – Are you not afraid?   I told him I was not, because I was clear of the crime of killing my wife.  He said some of the neighbors would shoot me if I remained there and let myself be seen.  I went into the woods and concealed myself on Saturday nearly all day.  I slept with Warner in his house Saturday night until about ten o’clock.  He told me no one knew that I was in the neighborhood, and at the same time he had told the neighbors that I was there, and a young man came in about that hour and asked who was sleeping on the floor.  Warner did not answer him.  I then jumped up and told him who I was.  He then went out of the house.  I put on my boots and clothes, and made up the fire.  In about a half an hour about fifty armed men came into the house and took me off to Liberty that night. After examining me they tied me and took me to jail in Dayton.  Before they started with me, they made me drunk, so that I knew nothing hardly till they were about locking me up in prison.  What had occurred to me since, I leave for others to tell.  I hope my sad fate will be a warning to all young men, to attend to the good advice of parents, guardians, and masters.  If I had never broken the Sabbath day, and attended to the good advice given to me by my uncle, and others – this day, instead of being condemned to die an ignominious death, I might have been a respectable and useful citizen, enjoying the love of my wife and friends, and partaking plentifully of the comforts of this life, with a mind at peace with God and all mankind. – How solemn a warning is my case to young men. – I am only about twenty-one years of age – hale and hearty – full of the vigor of youth, but without a solitary ray of hope that I shall remain longer on this stage of action, than the day appointed for my execution. – May God incline the hears of all men to do his will. – I freely forgive the Court and Jury who tried and condemned me.  I forgive all who ever did me any




harm; and I do sincerely hope and pray that God will forgive me, and take my soul to himself.


                                                            John M’Afee

March 17, 1825




Montgomery Common Pleas,

Term of February 1825



The State of Ohio


John M’Affee


Indictment for Murder



            The first count in the indictment charged the Defendant with the willful and premeditated murder of Dolly otherwise called Dorathy M’Affee, by strangulatiou.

            The second count with murder by beating, bruising and wounding.

            The third count with murder by poisoning.

            Plea NOT GUILTY,

            The above cause come on to be tried on Thursday the 4th day of the term, on the evening of which day the examination of witnesses was closed.




            On Wednesday the cause was argued by H. Bacon, Esq. on behalf of the state; and George B. Holt and Sampson Mason, Esqs. for the prisoners.  The argument being closed, the court charged the Jury, who retired about sun set, and after being out about five hours, returned a general verdict of GUILTY.

            Motion for a new trial, and in arrest of Judgment were respectively made and overruled; and on Friday the 11th instant, being the 11th day of the term, the President addressed the prisoner and pronounced the sentence of the law as follows:



            You stand convicted by the verdict of a Jury of your country of the atrocious crime of murder in the first degree.  I would willingly spare your feelings any comments on the nature and aggravation of your crime, were in not proper to vindicate the public justice of the country for the imputation of severity, and to show that the awful punishment inflicted by the law is not disproportioned to the magnitude and enormity of your guilt.  Wilful deliberate and malicious murder is a crime of the deepest dye, it is equally denounced by the laws of God and man and the Almighty has implanted in every human bosom an instinctive abhorance against shedding the blood of a fellow creature.  Your crime was attended with circumstances of peculiar aggravation, it was committed on a defenceless & unprotected female, to whom you had plighted your faith, whom you were bound by every tie to cherish and protect.  The suppli-




cation that we may be delivered from sudden death is well adapted to our frail and sinful nature, the wisest and best contemplate the awful change from this state of being to an unknown world, with feelings of the deepest and most intense interest – but this unfortunate woman, your wife, the mother of your child, was hurried by you, without time for preparation to meet her God. In the evening she was seated at her door cheerful & healthful with her infant in her arms, in the morning, her body bearing the marks of the last fearful struggle for life, was discovered by her brother, & her child and yours lying beside its murdered mother.  The evidence to charge you with the perpetration of this deed of horror, was wholly of the presumptive character.  Yet your declarations and conduct before and after this fatal event, furnished such strong indications of guilt as to satisfy the consciences and understandings of the Jury of the truth of the charge exhibited against you, and the Court believe that their verdict was fully warranted by the evidence.  And here I will remark that however guilt may strive to shroud itself in secrecy, whatever artifices may be practised to elude detection, the Allwise-being to whom all our ways are known, doth oftentimes, in the dispensations of his providence, confound the presumptious hopes of the wicked, entangle the crafty in their own snare, & by an unlooked for concurrence of circumstances bring to light the hidden deeds of darkness. You have had a fair and impartial trial.  You have been defended with zeal and ability by the counsel assigned to you by the court, the jury was composed of men whose minds were free from prejudices against you many of them from previously formed opinions and prepossessions were peculiarly cautious & scrupulous in a case which affected the life of a fellow citizen.  You are now standing on the verge of an awful eternity, all earthly hopes and fears are fast receding from your view; an ignominious death awaits you and your memory will be branded with infamy.  Turn from this appalling prospect to the only source of hope and consolation which is left to you.  The Saviour of mankind suffered a shameful and cruel death, that by this sacrifice of himself he might open a way of salvation to lost




and ruined man.  In his holy word he has promised pardon and peace in this world and eternal happiness in the next, to all even the vilest of sinners, who unfeignedly repent of their sins & believe and trust in him.  Turn then I beseech you to him with sincere repentance and faith unfeigned – Rely on his gracious promises.  Strive to obtain his favour & you may then look down with indifference on the opinions of erring and sinful fellow mortals, and submit with fortitude and resignation to the dreadful punishment inflicted by the law.  In the interval between the sentence and the execution, you will be attended by such ministers of the Gospel as you may desire, listen to their exhortations unite in their prayers, strive to profit by their benevolent exertions in your behalf.

            The painful duty of pronouncing the sentence of the law must now be performed.  The Court adjudge and sentence that you be taken from hence to the prison from whence you came, and that you be taken from thence on the 28th day of March instant, between the hours of ten o’clock in the forenoon and five o’clock in the afternoon, to the place of execution & that you be there hanged by the neck till your body be dead, and may God Almighty have mercy upon your soul.