Daily Archives: January 14, 2015

Could it be . . . murder?

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1902’s “History of the Police Service of Albany” includes a chapter titled “Homicides of Two Centuries.”

“Were one to fully describe all of the crimes committed in the City of Albany and vicinity, it would take many books the size of this one, so the best that can be done is to mention some of the leading cases of homicide and a few of the lesser malefactions. The record begins in the year 1687, and there is found about 142 homicide cases in this period of 214 years, but there has been but twelve executions for murder; eighteen received life sentences; twenty-nine were acquitted; four were sentenced for twenty years; fifty-two received sentences varying from thirty days to fifteen years; six committed suicide; nine escaped; three were adjudged insane, and two got off with fines. It will be noted that the number of murders is very small for a city and county so old and with so large a population made up of people of such varied nationality and pursuit.”

 After glossing over a case of treason (tomorrow, dear readers, tomorrow), the history writes that:

Among the early executions in Albany was that of James Hamilton, the murderer of Major Birdsall. Hamilton was indicted on the 8th of October of 1818. His trial was a short one, and a verdict of guilty was returned by the jury almost immediately after retirement. The death sentence was passed on October 12th, the date set for the expiation of his crime on the gallows was the 6th day of November.

In the early part of the nineteenth century public executions were in vogue. Hamilton’s death was witnessed by thousands. The gallows was erected back of Elm street and west of Eagle Street in that portion of the city known as Hamilton Hollow.

The first attempt to execute the murderer was a failure, for after Hamilton had been swung off, the rope broke. The condemned man adjusted the noose himself the second time, testing it before placing it around his neck. As he stood ready to be hurled to eternity, he requested the vast concourse beneath him to unite in singing the fifty-first psalm:

Show pity, Lord, oh Lord, forgive,
Let a repenting sinner live.

Shortly after the rope was cut and the body subsequently removed.