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An Unparalleled and Abominable Deception!

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An Unparalleled and Abominable Deception!

This is the story of a very clever man who could accomplish almost anything that was needed. He was also very deceitful, which was an asset as a thief. He committed several thefts in Nova Scotia but evaded capture and escaped to Saint John where he committed more thefts. He was finally captured, again in Nova Scotia, and returned to Saint John where charges had already been laid.

The story, then, is of his “unparalleled and abominable deception” in escaping jail by a mastery of deceit. The story is true as far as I can tell. Some of the principal characters were actual people of the time, for example. The appearance of a slave character is also very in period.

The events took place in 1812 to 1815, but the narrator wrote in the first person in 1910. This was because Walter Bates was writing from the old records of the jailer. The story is from Henry More Smith, the Mysterious Stranger, Saint John, 1910, and the following excerpt is edited and condensed.

St John City Hall

The old City Hall and Jail in Saint John


Henry More Smith was unknown to us when he arrived in Windsor, N.S. in July of 1812. He pretended to have emigrated lately from England and sought a job as a tailor, but also said that he could turn his hand to any kind of business. He was decently clothed, genteel, and prepossessing in his manner. Although a stranger, he seemed to be acquainted with the Province. He avoided companionship, associated with few, and concealed all knowledge of his previous life.

Smith engaged with Mr. Bond, a farmer in the village of Rawden, who agreed to hire him for a month on trial. He conducted himself with propriety and honesty; was industrious, careful, and useful, to the entire satisfaction of Mr. Bond. He was perfectly inoffensive, gentle, and obliging; using no intoxicating liquors, refrained from idle conversation and all improper language, and was apparently free from every evil habit.

Mr. Bond was a Baptist, which gave Smith an easy means for ingratiating himself into the family. He attended morning and evening prayers, was always marked with regularity and seriousness and, in the absence of Mr. Bond, would officiate in a solemn and devout manner. This secured the confidence of Mr. Bond himself, and also the affections of his daughter who resolved to give her hand to him in marriage. Neither Bond’s objections nor the remonstrances of her friends could dissuade her, and she left her father’s house and went to Windsor, marrying Smith who was then going by the name of Frederick Henry More.

After his removal to Windsor, he united the business of tailoring with that of being a peddler. He visited Halifax often, always setting out in the forenoon and returned the next morning. He would return with quantities of goods of various descriptions and sometimes with money. A gentleman, speaking of him as a tailor, remarked that he could make an article of clothing in a superior manner. In fact, his genius was extraordinary, and he could execute anything that he put his hand to. A young man applied to him for a new coat, and he accordingly took his measure and promised to have the coat ready on a certain day, which he faithfully fulfilled.

About this time a number of unaccountable thefts took place in Halifax. Articles of plate, silver watches and many other things were taken from silversmith’s shops, for example. Three volumes of the Acts of Parliament relating to the Court of Admiralty were missing from the Chief Justice who offered a reward of three guineas for their return. A few days later, Mr. More produced the volumes, which he said he had purchased from a stranger, and received the reward. Next, the young man whom More had furnished with the new coat was passing through Halifax when he was arrested by a gentleman who claimed the coat as stolen. This threw immediate light upon all those unaccountable robberies, and a warrant was issued against More, who made an escape.

In July of 1814, More made his appearance in Saint John, going by the name of Henry More Smith. He lodged at Mr. Stackhouse’s home, in a bye-place within a mile of the City, and came into the town upon foot. He became acquainted with the officers of the 99th Regiment, and, perceived that the Colonel’s carriage horses were of different colors. He said that he knew of an excellent black horse in Cumberland that would match his black one perfectly, and the Colonel agreed that he would give fifteen pounds for it. Smith then proposed, that if, the Colonel, would advance him the fifteen pounds, he would leave his own horse in pledge, and take his passage in a sloop bound for Cumberland, and bring him the black horse. The Colonel paid him down the fifteen pounds. This opened the way to Smith’s plan. He had observed a valuable saddle and bridle belonging to Major King next to the place where he was lodging. He planned to steal these in the night and then to steal a horse and to ride her to Nova Scotia. He would then sell the first stolen horse, steal the black horse from Cumberland, bring him to the Colonel, receive his two hundred dollars, and without loss of time transport himself within the boundaries of the United States.

This scheme failed on execution, and proved the means of his apprehension. Already in possession of saddle and bridle, he spent most of the night in fruitless efforts to take the mare, which was running at large. He then recollected a fine horse near Norton, about thirty miles along on his journey. So he set off on foot with the bridle and saddle passing as a peddler. Night came on, and put him in possession of a fine horse which he mounted and rode on. But with all the certainty of success, his object proved a failure. From the want of sleep the preceding night he became exhausted, and stopped in a barn belonging to William Fairweather to take a short sleep, and start again in the night. But, as fate would have it, he overslept and he was seen crossing the bridge by daylight. Had he succeeded in crossing in the night, he would have carried out his design; for it was not till the afternoon of the same day, that Mr. Knox the owner of the horse, missed him. Pursuit was immediately made in quest of the horse. Mr. Fairweather’s, information directed the pursuit in the correct direction and Mr. Knox, through means of obtaining fresh horses on the way, pursued him through the Province of Nova Scotia as far as Pictou. On the 24th July, Mr. Knox had Smith apprehended by the Deputy Sheriff, John Parsons, Esq., and taken before the County Justices in Court then sitting. Besides the horse, there were a watch and fifteen guineas found with the prisoner; and a warrant was issued by the Court for his conveyance to the gaol of Kings County, New Brunswick. Mr. Knox states that he, the prisoner, made several attempts to escape from the Sheriff, and that unless he were well taken care of and secured, he would certainly escape. He was received into prison for examination on the warrant of conveyance.

The prisoner had rode all day in the rain, and it was thought necessary to put him into the debtors’ room, handcuffed, where he could warm and dry himself at the fire. The day following he was removed into the criminal’s room, where irons were unnecessary; and, he appeared quite peaceable and reconciled to his situation. On the 13th of August I received a letter from Ward Chipman, Clerk of the Circuit Court, noting that the prisoner had been apprehended in Nova Scotia and recommending that he be examined in accordance with New Brunswick practice.

Judge Pickett, Mr. Justice Ketchum, and Mr. Knox, attended the examinations, in which the prisoner said his name was Henry More Smith, twenty years of age, came from England, was born in Brighton, where his parents were living, and that he expected them out to Halifax in the spring. He also stated that he came to St. John on business, where he fell in with Colonel Daniel, of the 99th Regiment, who proposed to give him two hundred dollars if he would bring him a black horse. He said that he missed his passage on the vessel and that he set out on foot; where he was overtaken by a stranger with a large horse and a small mare, and he offered one of them for sale which he accepted. That horse did not answer his purpose, however, and he bartered with a stranger, a Mr. Churman, for a swap whereby he also obtained the saddle and bridle. He then produced a receipt which he said Churman gave him.

Smith further stated that he proceeded to Cumberland, and bargained for the black horse which was the object of his pursuit, but not having money to pay for him without selling the one he rode, he proceeded to Truro to sell his horse to Captain Dixon. He was obliged to wait till Monday to sell his horse, however, and was there apprehended by Mr. Knox and charged with stealing his horse. He was taken before the Court, had all his money, his watch, and his horse, taken from him, and was sent to King’s County gaol to take his trial. He complained, that he had no money and no one to speak for him, and that his case was desperate. He also complained of having been badly used by Mr. Knox on the way.

After this examination he returned to prison where he submitted to confinement without a murmur; but complained of great pain in his side occasioned by cold he had received. He was anxious to send for his portmanteau, which was with Mr. Stackhouse near Saint John. The portmanteau, he said, contained his clothes, which he needed to sell to raise money for a lawyer.

It so happened, on the day following, that I and Dr. Adino Paddock Sr. called at Mr. Nathaniel Golding’s tavern, in Hampton where we perceived a man mounting a horse and riding off in haste. On inquiring who he was, we learned that he was a stranger and that his name was believed to be Chuman or Churman. I observed that that was the name of the man from whom the prisoner said he purchased the horse, which was also confirmed.

After my return from Saint John I informed the prisoner what happened. He was elated with the idea of this being the man that had sold him the horse, and that if he could be brought to justice, it would secure his own liberty. He was anxious to employ a lawyer but did not know of any to whom he could apply, so he was recommended to Charles J. Peters, Esq., attorney, in St. John, who would exert himself in his behalf most faithfully. He sent an order to Mr. Stackhouse for his portmanteau which contained some money and other things. Mr. Peters was then engaged, which brought much satisfaction to the prisoner. Smith then gave me the key to the portmanteau so that some items could be sold, and I found it filled with valuable and fashionable clothing, a spy-glass of the best kind, a small magnifying glass in a tortoise-shell case, and a variety of books and many other useful articles. There was no suspicion that the contents of his portmanteau were not honestly obtained, but only that he had been handsomely fitted out by affectionate parents. He soon commenced selling off his little stock, and persons wishing to purchase from him were permitted to come to the wicket door. He never failed to excite pity from them. Many, from pure sympathy for his unfortunate situation, paid him liberally.

The prison was then kept by Mr. Walter Dibble, to whom I am indebted for many of the particulars relative to the prisoner. This made it less necessary for me to visit the prisoner very often.

On the approach of his trial, he was encouraged to rely upon his attorney, with assurances that he would give his case all possible attention. He was dissatisfied with his attorney, however, and he turned instead to the Bible, perusing it with much seriousness. His whole demeanor was such as to engage much interest in his behalf.

About this time he discovered symptoms of a severe cold, being troubled with a hollow sounding cough, and complained of a pain in the side, but still submitted to his confinement without complaint. He would frequently advert to the ill-usage which he had received from Mr. Knox on his way from Pictou, and particularly of a blow in the side with a pistol. He thought that there was a gathering in his inside, which was very painful. All this was accompanied with a feebleness of body and his situation was such as to excite sympathy. Efforts were therefore made to render him as comfortable as possible.

His disease continued to increase, and his strength to decline, with pain in the head and eyes, dizziness, sickness at the stomach, frequent raising of blood, and increased painfulness of his side. On the 11th of September I sent for a doctor, who examined his side, and gave him some medicine. On the 12th, he appeared a little better; 13th grew worse; 14th unable to walk, very high fever, with frequent chills of ague; 15th vomiting and raising blood more frequently. On the 16th the Rev. Mr. Scovil visited him and found him very ill, and sent him toast and wine. The same day the doctor attended and gave him medicine, but he got no better and was vomiting whatever he took. On the 18th he grew worse and was visited by Judge Pickett and several other neighbors. On the 19th the doctor said he was too ill to be kept in that damp room. The 20th found him still declining. Mr. Thaddeus Scribner and others went in to see him, inspected the room, but found no dampness that could injure him.

The Rev. Mr. Scovil visited him on the subject of his approaching end. The prisoner conversed freely on the subject, and expressed his conviction that there was little or no hope of recovery. On the 22nd the prisoner was very low: violent fever, chills and ague, inflammation of the bowels, evacuations of blood, extremities cold, and strength greatly reduced. He could only just articulate above his breath. He was understood to say that he should die, as the doctor refused to attend him in that room, and the sheriff refused to remove him.

His situation, and simplicity, passiveness and resignation had excited pity. Rev. Mr. Scovil and a great number of neighbors came and sat with him, and then left with the impression that he would not live till morning. In the morning, I went to the gaol early and found him lying on the floor, naked and in great distress. He was taken to his bed and continued in an almost lifeless state till the afternoon, when he appeared to be really dying. After some time he had a fit which he said was a family infirmity. He said that that God would have him and asked Mr. Scovil to pray with him.

John Dibble and Charles Cambreau were appointed by the sheriff to sit with the dying man through the night and in the next morning a letter was dispatched to his attorney stating that he was near death and asking what measures should be taken in light of a likely enquiry into the injuries he had received from Mr. Knox. He replied that there should be an inquest, and that a doctor’s report should be obtained as to the cause of death.

The sympathy and compassion of the neighborhood was excited and the family of the Rev. Mr. Scovil was especially concerned. They and others sent treats and gifts, but the prisoner could consume none of them. The death-watch continued, and the doctor finally agreed to attend after being threatened that his absence could be held against him in court. Smith made out his paltry will, for the end was at hand, and someone even thought that they had seen his ghost passing through the streets.

Finally, Smith had a fit and his limbs went cold. His watchman went to the kitchen to heat a brick to warm his feet and, returning to the prisoner’s side, found that he had disappeared. He would have had to pass the jailer and the Rev. Mr. Scovil, who were nearby, but they had seen nothing. Smith had not only effected his escape, but had also carried his money, his boots, and every article of clothing away with him.

It is impossible to conceive or describe the astonishment with which everyone was filled. At this moment, Amy, Mrs. Scovil’s wench appeared carrying a feather bed which Mrs. Scovil had sent for Smith’s comfort. “Misses send this bed for Smit to die on,” she said, but was told her to take it home again and tell her mistress that Smith was gone. Amy ran home and told her mistress that “massa say Smit dead and gone he no want im bed!” “Ah!” exclaimed her mistress, “poor man. Then, Amy, you may run and carry this shirt and winding sheet, to lay Smith out in.” Amy obeyed, but was told “you may take them back, Smith is gone!” “Where he gone, massa?” “I don’t know,” said he, “except the devil has taken him off!” Amy hastened back to her mistress, and told her that “massa say Srnit be dead and gone, and the devil has taken him away!” The sheriff, who had not been present gave the news the same misinterpretation: “Ah poor fellow, I expected it. What time did he die?” He was corrected, and exclaimed that it was an “unparalleled and abominable deception!”

Thus, by means of a counterfeit illness, while melting the feelings and sympathies of the whole neighborhood fooling even the physician himself, did this accomplished villain effect his release, and was now again running at large, glorying in the issue of his scheme.


Written by johnwood1946

November 23, 2016 at 8:57 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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