The Otsego Herald for March 22, 1819, compiled, with comments:
In South Carolina
From the Charleston Courier, Feb. 22.
LYNCH’S LAW. A gang of desperadoes have for some time past occupied certain houses, infested the road leading to this city, in the vicinity of Ashleys Ferry; practising every deception upon the weary, and frequently committing robberies upon defenceless travellers.
As they could not be identified, and thereby brought to punishment, it was determined by a number of citizens to break them up, and they accordingly proceeded, in a cavalcade, on Thursday afternoon, to the spot, having previously obtained permission of the owners of some small houses, to which these desperadoes resorted, to proceed against the premises in such manner as circumstances might require.
At a house commonly called the Five Mile House, they found a number assembled, who were ordered to quit the building in 15 minutes time; but not evincing a disposition to do so quietly, fire was instantly communicated to it, and in a short time it was, together with some out buildings burnt to the ground.
The citizens then proceeded further up the road to another place of their resort, where the same summons was sent in. The occupants thought proper to comply with the terms and hastily beat a retreat.
The party of citizens then returned to town; but with a determination to follow up the blow they had thus given, should further depredations be committed
To such an extent had these out-laws carried their excesses of late, that waggoners coming into town were under the necessity of carrying their rifles in their hands for defence against robbery — and when they could allure the unwary traveller into their houses, he was sure to be either swindled of his money by gambling, or robbed of it in the moment of unguarded security.
COMMENT: The origin of the term “Lynch’s Law,” and from it the term of “lynching,” has long been argued. In recent times, of course, it has been used largely to refer to racist mobs hanging or otherwise killing African-Americans, with no legal authority, believed to have committed crimes or violated racist customs.
This article is the first reference to “Lynch’s Law” that I have seen in The Otsego Herald, and it may well come from a certain William Lynch (1742-1820), a Virginian, who claimed it in 1811, and who ended up in South Carolina where this story originated.
Nature’s care of animals
The horse, the deer, and birds, double their covering in the beginning of the cold season, and shed it in the Spring when a warm garment is no longer serviceable. The beaver removed to the lower latitudes changes its fur, and the sheep its wool, for a coarse hair, to allow the escape of heat.
The course and black shag, of the bear, on the contrary is converted in the arctic regions into the finest and whitest fur, to retain the vital flame. In short, the softness and density of hair in animals seem always in proportion to the coldness of that country. The Canadian and Russian fur are therefore, better, than the furs of climates farther removed from the north.
It is well known that the fur of the ermine is the most valuable of any hitherto discovered; — and it is in winter only that this little animal has it, of the proper color and consistence. Nature has provided some animals with another resource; when the season becomes too cold for their constitutions, they sleep or emigrate into warmer climates.
Let the naturalist turn his eye, to whatever region or climate he pleases, and each will give evidence of an overriding and unerring providence.
COMMENT: At a time when men’s hats were largely made from beaver fur — and hats were even called “beavers” — it was well known that the best beaver skins came from the northernmost range of these animals, to the obvious advantage of Canada.
Execution of Van Alstine
Friday last ... he was taken from the gaol in Schoharie county ... under a military escort, and moved with music, to the place of execution. The crowd was so numerous and pressed so heavy on the military, that it appeared almost impossible to keep any kind of order.
(A lengthy series of hymns and sermons, by various clergymen, followed.)
The Sheriff now adjusted the cord which tied his hands, and the clergy spoke to him in a low voice, and after a short lapse of time; Van Alstine addressed the spectators, observing in substance, that he was brought to the wretched situation in which they beheld him, by an unrestrained indulgence of his passions; and that he was satisfied he ought to suffer. ...
He now said he was ready; and offering up prayers to God, pulled his cap over his face, having previously shook hands with all the Clergy and Sheriff. Every thing being in readiness, the sheriff caused the fatal spring to be touched — the platform fell, and almost instantly poor Van Alstine followed — his weight having broke the rope!
At this awful moment, the minds and tempers of the spectators can be better felt than described. The fall appeared to have deprived him of all sense — and it was several minutes before he was sufficiently revived to re-ascend the ladder; which he however very soon did, with some little assistance.
The fatal rope was again prepared, and again the sheriff shook hands with him. He now pulled his cap over his face, and again offering up prayers, the fatal spring was again touched; and he was swung off. ... His body, after hanging about half an hour, was taken down and delivered to his friends by the sheriff; and a funeral sermon was yesterday delivered at his usual residence, by the Rev. Mr.Lintner.
The number of spectators are estimated from 10 to 12,000.
COMMENT: John Van Alstine had been convicted of the murder of William Huddleston. Attending public executions was for many years a favorite form of public entertainment, and everybody present was expected to put on a good show. As usual, a pamphlet of Van Alstine’s trial, confession and execution was also placed on sale.