Trial of the Cobourg Conspirators

Trial of the Cobourg Conspirators - 1839.


The Cobourg Star contains a very full report of the trial of SAMUEL P. HART and others, to the conviction and punishment of whom, we alluded a few days ago. The indictment contained seven counts, the nature and scope of which were stated by the Attorney General, in his address to the Jury. From this address we make the following extract with respect to MOON, who turned Queen’s evidence in the case, and upon whose information, principally, the prisoners were convicted:–

Gentlemen of the Jury: do you not see the hand of Providence in the bringing forth of the evidence? Moon had connected himself with their political plans; but when murder was mentioned – when he found he was expected to become the midnight assassin, that virtuous feeling which the Almighty has planted in every bosom, asserted its away, and he, at the risk of this own life, determined to save that of others. That feeling may lie torpid, may be suppressed; but totally destroyed it cannot be. Yes, gentlemen, Moon came forward in obedience to its Impulses, and, gentlemen, (said the Attorney General,) I honour him for it – I proclaim it, I honour him; and assert that, as the guilty sinner who repenteth, deserves to be received into Heaven, so does this man deserve to be received into respect, by every loyal inhabitant of this Province: I have heard his story, and assert that I believe every word he uttered.

The first two witnesses examined, were two sailors who were on board the schooner which conveyed the prisoners and their confederates from OSWEGO to COBOURG. They saw the party on board the schooner; they consisted of ten, in all. The schooner was bound to the head of the Lake; but, after proceeding some way, they found her going a different direction – the Captain, whose name was TERRY, saying he had to land some passengers at COBOURG. The prisoners had a great variety of arms, such as pistols and bowie-knives, in a trunk, which they occasionally took out, and practised with them. HART appeared to have the command of them; and they said they were going to COBOURG, to murder a man of the name of McCormack, who lived there, and was Custom House Officer. Their next object was to rob the Bank, and, if possible, to burn the town. They said they were going to rob a man, who lived at the back of COBOURG. Four of the passengers were landed about four miles below COBOURG–four of those being at the bar of the court; another four were landed next night, at WHITBY. The schooner then proceeded to River Credit, where she was loaded, and returned to OSWEGO, where she was seized.

The next witness was HENRY S. MOON, who said he knew all the prisoners at the bar, and HART, personally, for nearly three years. MOON had been working part of the summer, about fifty miles from ROCHESTER, in the State of NEW YORK; and upon his way home to COBOURG, in July last, he met the prisoner HART, at ROCHESTER, at the tavern of MONTGOMERY, who had escaped from KINGSTON, and who had kept the tavern in Yonge Street, where the rebels assembled. MOON then entered into a long account of his conversations with HART, and of the projects of that individual. The following portions of the evidence of MOON, will, however, be sufficient to show the whole plan of the conspirators: –


Hart told me what they had come over for,–that it was their intention to rob Maurice Jaynes, a man who lives in the back concession, about two-and-a-half miles from Ash’s; and they also intended to rob the bank, to get what money they could. Our conversation at that time was short. Hart told me six had come over. I asked if Sprague had been there; he said no, but that they had sent for him. We then went into the room, where I was introduced to Lett and Wilson. When I first entered, Lett had come two-thirds of the way down stairs without a shirt. While we were in the room, we saw Asa Woolcott and his wife coming towards the house. We all ran up stairs together. I told Hart he was in great danger: he replied, not perhaps in so much as others. Hart and Wilson lay down on the floor, Wilkinson the bedstead. As we sat, Baker was on my left hand, and Lett on my right. We entered into conversation. Lett told me his name was Benjamin Lett, – that he had cost the Province about £6000. There is a man, said he, pointing to Wilkins, who was an officer at Prescott, and for whose head the Government would give a great deal. While we were whispering, Hart made frequent motions for us to be silent: we stopt, but commenced again immediately. They showed me their pistols, which I examined, and the knives: there was a trunk there, in which they kept them. Lett put on his belt: it contained four pistols and a bowie knife: he buttoned up his coat, and asked me if I could observe anything; I said no; he then told me such was his every day dress when on the other side. They were all present then except Kennedy, (whose real name, I afterwards discovered, was Owen Molson) who, they said, had gone for Sprague. The first thing I asked was, was Anderson with them, (I had known Anderson before) Hart said that was the reason he wished me to come over, as the upper party had no leader, but that Anderson had gone with them. We then began to plan how to proceed, and how we should escape. I advised them to take to the bush, upon which they appeared very angry, and said Hart had told them there were persons on this side ready to succour them, and who would have a craft ready. Hart said that there were, and that they need have no fear, as a certain person had been seen walking from the wharf with another person. Hart did not mention the names of the persons referred to. They then said they were going to Jayne’s. Hart then said that before they left the Province he had gone to Maurice Jaynes’ to see where he kept his money: that the excuse he made was to get some money changed, and that Jaynes kept his money in a pail, in a churn, in the inner room, and that it could be easily got at. The name of the person who was to have the craft ready was not mentioned. The men said they must first see their way was clear, and see Sprague about it before they undertook anything. We conversed as to the best plan of robbing Jaynes – as to whether all should go, or only a part, Lett said he would go with another man and do the job himself.

I told him it would be a difficult matter to do it, as Jaynes’ family would rally the neighbourhood; and suggested that they should make all the family lie down on their faces except one, who would show them where the money was. Some one spoke of the means to be adopted to carry off the money; I proposed a bag, to which Baker remarked that will never do, as it would rattle through a bag pretty quickly. Lett proposed to call out the family one by one, and as they came out make them give up the money; but Baker said that will never do, as we tried the same plan at Taylor’s, and Mrs. Taylor, having overheard the demand made from the others, had concealed the money in her bosom, and so they had got far less than they expected. It was decided that Jaynes should be first robbed, but the plan was unsettled on. They said the work could be done before bed time, and that then they could get through all the business that night and escape. After Jaynes they were to go to Mr. Boulton. As I had received notice from Sprague that the Boultons were to be cut off before January, I was particular in inquiring as to the fate of the Boultons. Boulton had served some paper on me to get possession of the farm I lived on. I showed it. I was told not to mind, as before that the farm would be mine. I knew they had a great desire to get rid of both Messrs. Boulton, particularly the younger, on account of the part he took at the Durham meeting in Cobourg. Mr. George Boulton has long been considered as an enemy to the people, and was to be made away with. The great object of the party was to rob. After this they intended to go to Henry’s. Hart said, he knew that Robins slept at Grigg’s and that no one would be there except the old man and his family. I asked how they intended to get in. Hart said we will break open the door, and here we shall have to take the old man’s life, and he keeps the keys always about his person, and would not give them up. This was Sunday night. Mr. Ash’s family now came home from Cobourg, where they had been to meeting. We then took tea. All were present when the attack on Mr. Henry’s house was mentioned, and all agreed. None of Ash’s family were present. After tea we went up stairs to lay plans. Neither Kennedy nor Sprague was present. It was dark: the moon had not risen. I said I would go into Cobourg, and see Sprague and said, as I might be known, and suspicion raised, I will put on Lett’s coat and hat. Did so. Rode up to Cobourg, did not see Sprague, returned to Ash’s. When I came back, Lett and Hart were in the kitchen running bullets by the stove. Young Ash and a woman whom I suppose to be his wife were in the kitchen. It was now bright moonlight. Shortly after I saw old Mrs. Ash talking to Hart, while Lett continued running bullets. The sweat ran down his face. I went up stairs. Hart came up and sent Wilson down to watch the gate. While Baker and I sat by the window, we saw a man who Baker said was young Woolcott, talking to Hart. We were every near to them, and I overheard Woolcott say that the waggon was not ready. Hart and he continued in conversation. Hart afterwards told us that it was Woolcott, and that if we put off the business till tomorrow night Walter Woolcott would do anything with us. Some time after Hart came up with Kennedy. I then asked if Sprague had come and Hart said he had. I then asked where he was. Hart said down stairs. Sprague came up, and as he passed me he drew his hand backwards across my face, after the manner of one giving another a slap, and said what were you here too? Yes, said I, I am. We then again conversed over the matter. The plan of escape was changed, and Hart suggested to take Downer’s schooner, which was then at the wharf. We were all present except Wilson, who watched the gate. It was next debated whether the men on board should be put on shore at the wharf, or to take them out some way, and then send them ashore in a boat. The latter plan was thought best, and it was determined to put the business off till the next night, when we were all to meet at Ash’s. I asked Kennedy to ride my horse into Cobourg. Sprague and I went on foot. When we had got a little distance from Ash’s I asked Sprague are you going to join these men? Well, says he, I don’t know; are you? I said I would not, as I did not like to be near Lett, who had fire in his eye, and would, I remarked, as soon murder me as any one else. We went on together. Kennedy was on horseback, and considerably ahead. I told Sprague I was going to enter a complaint against the men, and wished him to come with me to do it; he said, you must do it yourself: I said I would; I am not going to become a midnight assassin, if I was a Patriot. Just before we entered Cobourg we talked the matter over again; I told Sprague, you see this is going to ruin us; I feel sorry for the men, but it would be too bad to allow them to go. Sprague said you had better go and do it: we then parted. I went home, found Robert Williams there. Before I had left his house I told him to go home with my wife and wait there till I came back, and I would tell him what took place. I asked Williams to sit down and I would tell him. I did so, and said, if this is reform, I am done with it forever. Asked Williams to stay till daylight, did not feel safe, but was too proud to tell him I was afraid. I felt sick at heart after what I had seen; went to bed, roused up again; Williams had gone.–Williams lives about three miles from my house. Before I went to bed I told Williams I was going to bring the men to justice. I was then employed in repairing bridges, which had been torn down by the heavy rains. My wife did all she could to dissuade me from giving information and told me my life was not safe, as they had persons friendly in the country who would murder me. The next morning I went into Cobourg to set my men to work; did so, and then went to see Mr. D’Arcy Boulton. –It was between nine and ten o’clock when I saw him, told him I had something of consequence to tell him, and asked him if I could see him at twelve o’clock. Bade him not speak to me if he met me in the street. Mr. Boulton was going to the Town Hall. I met Sprague, which delayed me some time, as I was very anxious to get him to go to work; being suspicious that he would give information to Hart and his party. I had some business with Mr. Conger, about getting a man to come and help me to work. Met Mr. Conger, and Mr. Boulton together. I asked Mr. Boulton what title he had to my land, as if he had not one, my title was good. He told me, if I would call at the office, he would show me. I asked this question to deceive Mr. Conger, and as an excuse for going into Bolton’s office. I went there. Mr. McCarthy was there. Mr. Boulton sent him away, making some excuse about business. This was about twelve o’clock. Mr. Boulton requested me to let Captain Clark know it. They then sent for Squire Benjamin Clark, to whom I gave a full account, described the men, and made an affidavit as to the facts. Saw Kennedy on Monday; took tea with him at Foster Sprague’s house. At half-past six, I returned from work, went to Sprague’s where I saw Kennedy; when he came in we all sat down together. After Kennedy asked me to take a walk with him. We went into the garden. He seemed anxious to induce me to go further into the garden; I did not think it prudent to do so, so refused. He said I wonder whether it is found out, as if I thought it was I’d lay my course. I told him I did not know how it could be found out. I told him to go down and that I would follow. As I left Sprague’s I saw Kennedy going across the fields by the Seminary; he was going pretty quickly. I then went to Benjamin Clark and told him now was the time to go. I went on before, and had got some length, when, seeing no one coming, I turned back. I met Capt. Clark and another person, with whom I went as far as Captain Boswell’s gate. When I saw Kennedy, he was going on a good trot. I then though Sprague had told him all was discovered, and I was very anxious to have Mr. Clark and his party go on; as if the persons escaped it would be thought I was deceiving, and I would have incurred the hatred of the friends of the prisoners. I stopped about ten minutes at Mr. Boswell’s gate, and then returned alone to Sprague’s. I stopped at Cotter’s and asked Boggs what the matter was. When I got to Sprague’s I met Henry McCarthy, Sprague and his wife at the gate. I asked them also what was the matter. McCarthy left. Sprague’s wife advised him to go away; he appealed to me, and said, I leave it to Moon, he knows whether I should or not. I advised him not to go. I had a good deal of trouble in inducing the prisoners to put off till Monday night the execution of their plot. It was at night every thing was to be done. Does not think that the party would have taken any life, unless to obtain money.

Cross examined by Mr. Boulton. – Has never been concerned with Hart in this plan. Mr. Hart spoke to me at Rochester. I understood, from Hart’s language, that he was only building castles in the air. I had been putting up a frame for Deacon Messenger. I made fun of Hart’s suggestion to Mr. McCarty and Mr. Dean: thought, at first, the matter had reference merely to reform; I was ready to join a political scheme. Sprague told me he had seen the man with spectacles. I was never really to enter into any transaction with such men. Hart did not tell me any thing about it the first time: never saw Lett before to my knowledge: do not know of what country the others are—have no opinion on the subject. If they were inhabitants of Cobourg or its vicinity I think I should know them. Had never seen a Bowie knife previous to February last, when one was shown to me: the knife now produced is a bowie knife. I was never willing to go into any plot to take away life. I had once joined in a political party. I had given up the hunter’s cause some months, from the character of the persons I had seen engaged in it. Lett was a stranger to me.

The sworn hunters have a particular knock. I was initiated as a hunter. I always understood that a hunter gave two knocks – Ash gave three: –one, two, three.

[A dispute rose here, as to whether he was obliged to give the knock: the Judge said he could not compel him, but said that witness had better do it; witness, however, declined.] Witness said he had taken an oath not to divulge any of the secrets of the hunter’s lodge.

His Lordship. – How comes it then that you did not divulge them?

Witness. – It was to save life.

The following is a more correct statement of the sentences pronounced upon the conspirators than that which we formerly gave:--

HART : – Seven years hard labour in the Penitentiary, and to give security, himself in four hundred pounds, and two sureties each in two hundred pounds , for here years’ good behaviour on leaving it.

WILKINS WILSON AND BAKER : – Five years Penitentiary, and security the same as Hart.

THE ELDER ASH : – Six months imprisonment in the District Gaol, with a fine of one hundred pounds, and to give security for three years good behaviour, in addition, the same as the others.

THE YOUNGER ASH : – Twelve months imprisonment, and a fine of fifty pounds. Security was the same—three years.



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