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250th Anniversary Publications
Stocks Stood As Warning to Those Who Strayed
Judy Baehr
Staff Writer for The Daily Journal

In any society, there are always some people who don't abide by the rules.

In May 1753, a pair of stocks and a pillory were ordered to be placed near the court house at Cohansey Bridge. Joseph James Jr. was employed to build them, a task for which he was paid five pounds.

But some crimes demanded a stiffer punishment, and in 1758, the first execution was recorded in the county.

The crime was horse-stealing, which at the time was a capital offense. Horses were not only a means of transportation, they were a valuable source of labor on farms and at early industrial sites.

Francis Pickering (alias Mason, alias Price), and Simon Hussey (alias Anderson), were arrested for stealing a horse and mare belonging to Charles Davis. The two were Maryland natives who had come to Anytown a short time before.

The county jail had been built, but it was considered insecure, and the board of freeholders sent a special message to the chief justice of the state. The message induced him to solicit the governor to convene what was known as a special "oyer and terminer" session, or trial.

The governor agreed, and on Aug. 22, 1758, Samuel Nevill, one of the justices of the Supreme Court, presided over the trial.

Both men were convicted and sentenced to be hanged on Sept. 18.

Hussey, a youth of about 20, was believed to have been persuaded to take part in the crime by the older Pickering, who apparently had a reputation as a horse-thief. The justices and many inhabitants of the county petitioned the governor for clemency.

David Ogden, a justice of the peace, was sent to Perth Amboy with the petition, and clemency was granted. Hussey escaped the death penalty, spent two months in jail, and was released.

Pickering was hanged on the day appointed by Sheriff Maskel Ewing. The hanging took place on what was then a common, later incorporated as part of a Presbyterian cemetery on Broad Street.

One account said that Pickering, a remarkably handsome man, had taken the horse for some purpose, and meant to return it. It was said he was within a mile of Davis' homestead when he was arrested.

The law's severity was such that in 1769 the legislature passed an act stating the punishment of death, "which by the law as it now stands is directed to be inflicted upon every person indiscriminately convicted of horse-stealing," had not served its purpose.

From that point on, the penalty for a first offense was corporal punishment or any other penalty decided on by the court; for a second offense, the death penalty would be invoked.

Since then, the harshness of even that law has passed away.

Taken from The Daily Journal;
Special Commemorative Section - 7/1/98