Skip to comments.New Milford historian unearths account of America's first mass murder
Posted on 01/29/2011 8:27:40 PM PST by Pharmboy
New Milford historian and researcher Michael-John Cavallaro, vice-chairman of the Conservation Commission, with a one-of-a-kind Revolutionary War era confession of a local man hanged for a mass murder of the Mallory family in Washington, Ct. Cavallaro tracked down the illusive, 14-page document at the University of Virginia. He will be giving lectures about the murders in New Milford and Washington in February. Photo: Nanci Hutson / The News-Times |
WASHINGTON -- In this sleepy town during the Revolutionary War, a 19-year-old Continental Army soldier committed a murder so gruesome the local historian who unearthed his treachery still mourns the long-dead victims.
"It's a helluva story,'' said Michael-John Cavallaro, a New Milford history detective and author. "Nothing like this had ever happened in the Colonies.''
At just about midnight on Feb. 3, 1780, Barnett Davenport -- horse thief, robber and deserter -- bludgeoned to death his new employer, Route 109 farm and grist mill owner Caleb Mallory, and his wife, Jane.
The Mallorys' three grandchildren -- a 9-year-old granddaughter and grandsons age 6 and 4 -- were asleep in the house.
After robbing the family, Davenport burned the home down with the children inside, according to a 14-page confession Cavallaro discovered last summer in archives at the University of Virginia.
The children's mother and an aunt, who also lived on the farm, managed to avoid the carnage because Davenport -- who carefully plotted what is purported to be the first mass murder in America -- encouraged them to take a trip out of town, the confession explains.
"He was just a very sick individual -- I call him Forrest Gump the dark side,'' Cavallaro said of Davenport, who served at Valley Forge under Gen. George Washington and also under the infamous Benedict Arnold.
Cavallaro's research into the Mallory murders started about three years ago while working on a book he is still writing, "Slavery, Crime and Punishment on the Connecticut Frontier.''
He has since written a movie script about the murders with the preliminarily title "Gateway to Hell.''
Two years ago, Cavallaro published "Tales of Old New Milford: The History, Legend and Lore of a Connecticut Frontier Town.''
Davenport was born to mill owners who lived in the Merryall section of town, the third of four brothers.
In his confession, which Cavallaro believes was likely transcribed by a popular clergyman -- he suspects the Rev. Judah Champion of the First Congregational Church in Litchfield -- Davenport is portrayed as a sociopath from childhood.
At age 14, Davenport confessed, he was obsessed with committing murder but he suppressed the urge for a time, instead committing robbery and thievery that continued even after he enlisted in the Army at age 16.
After the murders, Davenport managed to hide out for six days before he was captured.
Yet there is another twist.
Prior to his arrest, Barnett's younger brother, Nicholas, who lived in Torrington, was arrested. By using Nicholas' identity when he was hired at the Mallory farm, Barnett Davenport had managed to frame his brother, Cavallaro said.
In the few historical accounts of the murder Cavallaro found early in his research, it was believed Nicholas was an accomplice or at least covered up the murders for his brother.
The only existing copy of Barnett's confession, which Cavallaro tracked down last summer, debunks that theory.
Sentenced by none other than New Milford's own founding father Roger Sherman, Barnett Davenport was sentenced to 40 lashes and hanging at Gallow's Lane in Litchfield in May 1780.
Nicholas was sentenced to 40 lashes and life behind bars at Newgate Prison, Cavallaro said.
Indeed, Nicholas was forced to stand in the gallows and watch his brother be hanged. He then went to prison, but managed to escape, be returned, and then be released after two years.
Cavallaro is an accomplished storyteller and his well-researched version of this Colonial murder and mayhem is riveting and disturbing.
It is a tale very few know, and Cavallaro said he has not been able to find any descendants of the people involved.
Washington resident and history buff Joe Mustich said he was unaware of the Mallory murders until he saw information about the lecture Cavallaro will give Wednesday at Gunn Memorial Library and Museum.
Gunn curator Stephen Bartkus was aware of the murders, but the confession Cavallaro uncovered illuminated what was previously speculation or misinterpretation, he said.
"It was a very brutal, horrid murder, and to think it happened in little old Washington,'' Bartkus said. The Hartford Courant and The New York Times carried the story. "Word spread quickly throughout New England.''
Cavallaro said, "As I was chasing down the story, it was all very clinical. It took me a while to realize what a horrible, horrible thing this truly was. And I mourn the victims.''
Read more: http://www.newstimes.com/default/article/New-Milford-historian-unearths-account-of-984284.php#ixzz1CULj0NnT
Murder most foul/cold case ping for RevWar/Colonial History/General Washington ping list...
How disturbing! What an intriguing tale.
First mass murder—if you exclude mass killings of Indians by whites, of whites by Indians, and of one tribe of Indians by another tribe of Indians. Opechancanough caused a lot more deaths in 1622.
Yep...the same thing occurred to me...I assume that they meant that the first mass murder by an individual.
Covered by your exclusionary list, the Deerfield Massacre was the first thing that came into my mind.
No kidding. One of my ancestors was captured by the French and Indians in 1704 after his mother, brother, and sisters were brutally killed by Indians.
And let’s not forget witch killing hysteria.
I am working on a historical novel about serial/spree killers in 1799. In one year two brothers/cousins killed at least 40 people, and some before, and although one was caught and killed the other escaped to kill a few more before being killed 4 years later. They were called the Harpe brothers. They were apparently loyalists who rode with Banastre Tarleton, the cruel cavalry officer riding for the British portrayed in the Rev. War epic by Mel Gibson, The Patriot. As the war ended they moved to Kentucky and Tennessee. I would be grateful for any information regarding these men or their women’s descendents, especially Sally Rice, the preacher’s daughter.
Thank you so much for posting this. I live 7 minutes from New Milford, CT. and have not read about this.
New Milford is a rural town, loaded with New Yorker’s who have homes there.
I am sure the Liberals are upset that he was given lashes and hung-after all, he couldn’t help himself.
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Not to mention what those murderous mormons did at the mountain meadows massacre.
Well, it's a start.
Learn something new everyday.
——He will be giving lectures——
Making money giving lectures is the way of the world for academic pros. You hire me, I’ll hire you.
I attended a book reading the other night via our State Historical Society. It was based on the book, ‘Badger Boneyards; The Eternal Rest of the Story’ by Dennis McCann (who spoke & is a friend of the family) and it was very interesting.
He’s unearthed (pun intended!) stories about various people buried here in Wisconsin and their life stories. Really interesting reading.
Shameless plug for Dennis:
Indeed, Nicholas was forced to stand in the gallows and watch his brother be hanged.
My father witnessed a hanging while serving in the US Army during WWI. In the ranks was the perp's brother.
The crime? Rape.
I think he means mass murder in the criminal-judicial sense, as opposed to skirmishes and battles to gain/protect territory and unlike a single murder, which may be a crime of passion, accident (manslaughter) or pre-meditated.
Tarleton was an all around bad guy. After the atrocities in our War of Independence (which did include burning people alive in their own houses, as shown in the “Tavington” character in “The Patriot”), Tarleton went back to England and became a Member of Parliament. As an MP he was an ardent SUPPORTER of the slave trade, and one of the most vicious opponents of William Wilberforce’s efforts in ending it.
“I am sure the Liberals are upset that he was given lashes and hung-after all, he couldnt help himself.”
They would really freak out if the electric chair had been around back then. Get whipped, then sit in the hot seat???;)
Did someone say murder?
“Mass Murder” would be a great name for a diet plan.
Nothing ? Just Micajah "Big" Harpe and Wiley "Little" Harpe, who began their depredations in North Carolina around 1775, then moved to Virginia's Kentucky settlements. Plus failed militia captain and river pirate Samuel Mason, said to have scouted for both the British and the Colonial militia during the Revolution, having lived at the French settlement of Kaskaskia befor the shootin' war began, preying on Spanish traveles and farms near the Spanish settlement of San Luis, now St' Louis, Missouri. In later years Mason set up shop at a cave on the Ohio River, inviting flatboaters and other river travelers to his Liquor Vault and House of Entertainment- whereupon the visitors were killed, their gullets filled with gravel, and the bodies then dumped in a quite river backwater.
And then there's Simon Girty. Maybe the worst of them, and maybe not.
Thanks for this...I do remember those nice guys from NC now that you mention it. Well, the CT guy wanted to glom the fame...
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