Editor’s note: Mr. MacDougall has chosen to retire from writing this column. We wish him well.

The Otsego Herald for March 29, 1819, compiled, with comments:

Life in a corpse?

From a late Liverpool (England) Paper.

On the 4th of November last, various galvanic experiments were made on the body of the murderer Clydesdale, by Dr. Ure, with a voltaic battery of 279 pairs of 4-inch plates. The results were truly appalling.

On moving the rod from the hip to the heel, the knee being previously bent, the leg was thrown out with such violence, as nearly to overturn one of the assistants, who in vain attempted to prevent the extension!

In the 2d experiment the rod was applied to the phrenic nerve in the neck, when laborious breathing instantly commenced; the chest heaved and fell; the belly was protruded and collapsed, with the relaxing and retiring diaphragm; and it is thought that but from the complete evacuation of the blood, pulsation might have occurred!!

In the 3d experiment, the supraorbital nerve was touched, when every muscle in the murderer’s face “was thrown into fearful action” — The scene was hideous — several of the spectators left the room, and one gentleman actually fainted from terror or sickness!!

In the 4th experiment the transmitting of the electral (sic) power from the spinal marrow to the ulnar nerve, at the elbow, the fingers were instantly put in motion, and the agitation of the arm was so great that the corpse seemed to point at the different spectators, some of whom thought it had come to life!

Dr. Ure appears to be of opinion, that had not incisions been made in the blood vessels of the neck, and the spinal marrow been lacerated, the criminal might have been restored to life.

COMMENT: Today, biology students often apply electricity to the legs of dead frogs to make them move, but they don’t very often practice on human corpses. Dr. Andrew Ure (1778-1857) was a Scottish surgeon in Glasgow, who had (like today’s biology students) been experimenting with frogs’ legs.

The corpse was that of Matthew Clydesdale, a 35-year-old weaver and coal miner, who on Aug. 27, 1818, and while drunk, had attacked Alexander Love, an 80-year-old miner, with his coal pick, inflicting injuries from which Love died a few days later. The jury took only 10 minutes to find him guilty of murder and he was sentenced to death by hanging.

The execution was the first in Glasgow for 10 years, and given the entertainment value of public executions in Scotland, as in America, it attracted a huge crowd. Dr. Ure’s experiments also attracted, and still attract, enormous interest — Google the subject and you will see! His opinion that Clydesdale might have, with electricity, been restored to life was, of course, quite untrue.

Pay your newsboy!!

Geo. Griffith, Post-Rider, is yet alive, and keeps faithful and steady to his old calling — But he cannot pursue his old course, unless people pay him, so as to enable him to purchase bread and cheese for himself, and a few oats for his horse — And there’s the lynx-eyed Printers, who now look at him every week, and speak a language he dislikes very much.

So gentlemen be punctual. March 29, 1819.

COMMENT: George Griffith was born in 1786 in Connecticut and lived in Laurens, where he died in 1857.


DIED — In Cherry-Valley, on the 19th last, Mrs. MARY DIELL, relict of the late Mr. John Diell, formerly merchant of that place.

COMMENT: He was John Diell (sometimes spelled Diehl) (1768-1813). His widow, Mary (Holt) Diell (1771-1819), came from Pomfret, Connecticut, and has been described as “a remarkable woman, much respected through life.” She married John, a widower, in 1803.

One cent reward

Ran away from the subscriber, on the 23 (March), an indented apprentice boy named BARNABAS BEBEE, 18 years of age. Whoever will take up the said runaway shall receive the above reward, but no charges — All persons are forbid harboring or trusting him on my account. WILLIAM MILLIKIN, Burlington, March 24, 1819.

COMMENT: A Barnabas Bebee (ca.1802-ca. 1820), born in Rhode Island, died in Exeter. A song was published, “Lines upon the death of Barnabas Bebee, late of Otsego co., who took his own life through the false love of a young woman.”

A William Millikin was paying taxes in Burlington in 1801.

Van Alstine execution

Just Printed and for sale by H. and E. Phinney, Cooperstown (with privilege of copyright,) ...

The Life, Confession, and Trial of John Van Alstine, together with a full and circumstantial account of his Execution. March 29, 1819.

COMMENT: Pamphlets of this sort were usually available right after any execution. One wonders just who wrote them.

Tobacco sales

A letter from Prince Georges county, Md. states, that the planters of that county sold their tobacco last year for nearly a million of dollars. More than three fourths of the quantity was made within the limits of 20 miles square, and not one twentieth of the soil within these limits was cultivated.

Hogs’ bristles

Wanted in this office, for which a liberal price will be paid in Books or Stationary, if well combed and in good order. January 18, 1819.

COMMENT: Oddly enough, hogs’ bristles were used in bookbinding.