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Dover’s First Hanging
1788 February 24th
Departed this life Captain Peter Drown in an awful shocking manner, being murdered by Elisha Thomas who stabbed him with a long knife in the pit of the stomach- in the thigh- and through his kidney. O sin- how shocking- how cruel are its effects.
Elder Benjamin Randall, First Free Will Baptist Church, New Durham, New Hampshire.
In February of the year 1788 , at the tavern of Mr. Randall in New Durham, Elisha Thomas, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, got into an altercation with another man, both were badly under the influence of old New England rum. Captain Peter Drown of New Durham, a fine Revolutionary officer, tried to separate them; in so endeavoring he was stabbed by the knife of Thomas and he died a few hours later. Thomas expressed his regret and deep grief at the death of this friend whom he had not intended to wound but he was arrested, brought to old Dover goal, leaving a wife and six children at home. Some little time later, she came to Dover with the youngest child being left at a neighbor’s house, and stayed over night at the jail. In the night the house in New Durham, with the five other children in it asleep; caught fire, and four were burned to death, the oldest one alone escaping. A few days before the time set for his execution, Thomas removed his chains in some manner and tried to escape through the chimney, up through the fireplace which was in his room. He penetrated some way, but soot got into his eyes and nostrils, almost suffocating him, and he also found it so narrow as he went higher that her was compelled to give up his plan, and the sheriff said he was as black as a negro when found.
Departed this life four children of the (alone) Elisha Thomas (Viz) two sons and two daughters- the eldest boy Joseph about eleven years of age, the next a girl Hannah about nine years of age, the third a girl Sarah about seven, the fourth a boy James about five in the following manner (Viz) the house took fire between ten and eleven o'clock in the evening when first discovered and they all burnt to death with the building. -- O! the frailty of man and the uncertainty of all things here below! O! May all both old and young take warning by such shock-- Elder Benjamin Randall.
Bernard Shaw has said , “The most anxious man in a prison is the governor,” and truly Theophilus Dame did seem to have troubles. He was very kind to the prisoner, allowing him to attend church at the First Parish meeting house, then a wooden building on the site of the present one at Tuttle Square, under guard of the sheriff and his posse. The night before the execution, Mrs. Thomas spent in jail with Elisha, departing for New Durham early, when the crowd was coming into town for the spectacle of the first hanging in Strafford County, June 3, 1788. Early the next year a child was born to Mrs. Thomas, fated to go through life as a murderer’s child. When she got a little ways out, she passed teamsters eating their breakfasts, or halting to allow the animals to rest; some whole families were seated on piled up clothing, placed over the loads; some gay blades had their sweethearts with them, on their horses; and certain ones called out to Mrs. Thomas, as she rode swiftly along up the road “here, here, you are going in the wrong direction!” Later, they learned who she was. The gallows had been erected at the foot of Swazey’s hill or ‘brae” as it was then called, because the sheriff said the vast crowd would make a member of his family who was not strong, very nervous and the neighbors residing near Jail hill objected to the vast concourse of spectators expected to swarm in to witness the execution. The crowd soon gathered in the plot of ground near where the scaffold was erected at the foot of Swazey’s hill on land later belonging to Pacific Mills, Payne St. The Taverns near there were very busy, serving food and drinks, and heavy teams were lining the streets. The sheriff shook hands with Thomas, who could barely support himself at the last moment, and showed great tenderness and humanity toward the poor victim. Thomas is buried a little way to the west of the tomb house, as you go up the Avenue in the Pine Hill cemetery, rightside, going up the hill to the chapel. A small stone with E. T. on it is the only marking.
From Dover History by Robert Whitehouse, c. 1987.
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