Crimes and Punishments.
on the western side of the river had been passed, and the most difficult part of the crossing had been overcome, the horse, completely exhausted, sank, leaving William Wilson to battle with the wildly-rushing waters. By this time a number of persons, despite the storm that was raging, had gathered at the ferry-house, and the utmost anxiety prevailed among them as they watched the bold swimmer struggling with the stream, which ran like a sluiceway to the Delaware. The remarkable muscular strength of the man served him well, and although, physically, he was greatly exhausted when he landed on the opposite shore, two miles below the point where he entered the river on the Philadelphia side, he immediately set about procuring another horse, and, after considerable delay, he started for Chester under spur and whip. The highway by this time was mid-leg deep with pasty mud.
About mid-day at the latter place the storm abated, and as no reprieve had come, Sheriff Gibbons ordered the preliminary arrangements to be made for the execution. Nevertheless, he determined to delay carrying out the sentence of the law to the last moment possible under his warrant, and even after the prisoner had been placed in the cart and the procession, followed by a large number of persons, was on its way to the usual place of execution, he stationed duly qualified deputies at some distance on the road to Philadelphia to notify him by white flags of the approach of William Wilson with the papers he believed he would bring staying the work of death. The solemn cortege had reached the place designated, - a wild cherry-tree on "Hangman's Lot," at the intersection of Edgmont and Providence Avenues, one of the branches extending some distance at right angles to the trunk, and whereon a little over seven years previously James Fitzpatrick had met his fate, - and the last moment designated for the execution was at hand. The unfortunate culprit was ordered to stand up in the cart, and the fatal noose was placed about her neck. There, in the presence of death, she reiterated that her former statement was true in every particular, then, after a few moments were spent in prayer, the last moment for carrying out the mandate of the law had come, and the cart in which she stood was drawn from beneath her feet. Elizabeth Wilson had been landed into eternity, but so engrossed were the spectators with anxiety for the coming of her brother that but few in the assembly knew when she was swung off, so intently were they watching the line of white flags leading to the Queen's Highway.
A deep silence followed, hardly a word was spoken for more than a quarter of an hour save in whispers, when in the far distance a tiny white flag was observed to be waved to and fro, to be caught up and repeated by the other flagmen, and a few moments thereafter a haggard, travel-stained man, bespattered with mud, bestriding a horse struggling from weakness, that put forth renewed effort under the goading whip and spur, came into sight, holding in his hand at full arm's length a paper. The sheriff immediately cut the rope. The hoarse voice of the man shouting "A reprieve! a reprieve!" was now audible, and a few moments thereafter William Wilson's horse fell, throwing the rider senseless, almost under the bough where his sister's body had lately been suspended. He came twenty-three minutes too late. The neck of the unhappy girl had been dislocated, and she had died without a struggle.
When resuscitated, to the surprise of all beholders the man's face was stamped with lines of age and the dark locks of youth had turned to snowy whiteness. Agony in a few moments had done the work of years.
The Pennsylvania Packet for Jan. 12, 1786, refers to the execution as follows:
"On Tuesday, the 3d inst., the woman who was tried and convicted at Chester, of murdering her two bastard children, ten weeks after their birth, was hanged at that place pursuant to her sentence, the respite given by the Honorable Council having expired."
The sequel to this extraordinary case is peculiarly marked with dramatic features. When William Wilson was restored to health, for he lingered for some time after his sister's execution with a low fever, in which he, in delirious dreams, re-enacted his remarkable efforts to save Elizabeth's life, he withdrew himself from the haunts of men, and taking up his abode in the Hummelstown cave in the Swatara Mountains, Dauphin County, led a solitary life, employing himself at his trade in making grindstones, which he sold to Mr. Wolfersberger, of Campbellstown. His cave was furnished with a table, a stove, a bed of straw, and a few cooking utensils. He was cleanly in his habits, and (a noticeable thing in these days) never shaved his face, but let his long, snowy beard sweep his breast, and he employed all his time when not at work with reading diligently his Bible and religious books. He was popularly known as the "Pennsylvania Hermit."
In the Harrisburg Intelligencer of Oct. 13, 1821, I find the following notice of his death:
"Died lately at his lonely hovel among the hills, twelve miles southeast from Harrisburg, Pa., - Wilson, who for many years endeavored to be a solitary recluse from the society of men, excepting as far as was necessary for his support. His retirement was principally occasioned by the melancholy manner of the death of his sister, by which his reason was partially affected. She had been condemned to die near Philadelphia for murder, in the hope of concealing her shame from the world, and the day of execution was appointed. In the mean time her brother used his utmost means to obtain her pardon from the Governor. He had succeeded, and his horse foamed and bled as he spurred him homeward. But an unpropitious rain had swollen the stream, he was compelled to pace the bank with bursting brain and gaze upon the rushing waters that threatened to blast his