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Prior to the Boorn trial, there were few murder convictions in Vermont. According to Randolph Roth, who compiled all of the available research, there were seven in all. Richard Chamberlain, Jr., was found guilty of murdering a man who tried to take his gun away at a training in Newbury in 1773. His punishment was to be branded with an “M” on his forehead. An Abenaki council con- victed a man named Toomalek for murder of a rival in 1779 or 1780, and an execution followed, performed, as custom dictated, by Toomalek’s nearest blood relative, on the ground floor of the Newbury courthouse, after a referral to the Rev. Clark Powers, to be sure it was “agreeable to God.” Sally Hotchkill was guilty of murdering her newborn child in Orwell in 1796, although there is no record of any sentence. Cyrus Dean was hung for murdering three federal agents at Burlington in 1808. James Anthony was con- victed of murdering his friend Joseph Green af- ter a night of gambling in Rutland in 1814, and hung himself on the morning set for his execu- tion. Thomas Chambers and George Moore, sail- ors with McDonough’s fleet, were found guilty of murdering Caleb Hill with a shotgun blast to the back in St. Albans in 1815 after Hill attempted to arrest them, mistakenly assuming they were Brit- ish soldiers. Both were pardoned by the legisla- ture in the next term. In 1815, Samuel E. Godfrey was convicted of the murder of Thomas Hewlet, warden of the Windsor State Prison, by a knife. Godfrey mistook the warden for the overseer of the weaving room, where Godfrey had been ac- cused of making extra cloth to steal it. He was ex- ecuted in 1818. RANDOLPH ROTH, AMERICAN HOMICIDE

erations/vtboornsummary.html. 7

Stephen, Jesse Boorn; Manchester, Russell Colvin, Dreams, Court, NAT’L STAND., Dec. 21, 1819, at 3 (correcting the “erroneous impression” that had “gone abroad, respecting the conviction … ”). See Stephen Boorn, Russell Colvin, Man- chester, Albany, Vermont, N.H. SENTINEL, Dec. 4, 1819, at 3 (stating that the conviction “is said to have taken place in consequence of the following remarkable dream,” referring to Amos Boorn’s

(2009). 8

Richard H. Underwood & Carol J. Parris, Crimesong: Some Murder Ballads and Poems Re-

night vision). 9

visited, 12 J. SOUTHERN LEGAL HIST. 5, 15 (2004). 10

ER, Jan. 11, 1820, at 3. 11

BERKSHIRE JOURNAL, Jan. 13, 1820, at 4. 12 The present courthouse was built in 1822,

through public subscription, and remodeled in 1849. MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY, MANCHESTER,

IMAGES OF AMERICA (2011), 25. 13

SPARGO, supra note 2, at 31. The town’s popula- tion was 1,503 in 1820. ZADOCK THOMPSON, A GAZ-


“An Act Constituting the Supreme Court of Ju-

dicature, and County Courts, defining their pow- ers, and regulating judicial proceedings,” March 2, 1797, LAWS OF VERMONT (1798), at 76. Dudley Chase was born on December 30, 1771, at Cornish, New Hampshire. He graduat- ed with honors from Dartmouth (1791), read law with Lot Hall of Westminster, and after admission opened an office in Randolph. He was Orange County State’s Attorney (1803-1812), Represen- tative to the House from Randolph (1805-1812), Speaker of the House (1808-1812), and U.S. Sen- ator (1812-1817). In the fall of 1817, he resigned his Senate post to accept election as chief judge of the Vermont Supreme Court, and in succes- sive annual elections served four years. In 1821, he was retired, but then served in the Vermont House for one year (1823-1824), and elected to the U.S. Senate in 1825, finally retiring in 1831. Dudley Chase died on February 23, 1846, age 74. Frank Fish, Dudley Chase, in WALTER HILL CROCKETT, 5 VERMONT THE GREEN MOUNTAIN STATE 86-87 (1926).

16 The Manchester Murder,” WOODSTOCK OBSERV-

Joel Doolittle was born on April 1773 in Rus-

sell, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale in 1799. He became first tutor at Middlebury Col- lege in the fall of 1800, and the following year was admitted to the bar. He was elected to the Council (1815-1818). He was elected assistant judge of the Vermont Supreme Court in 1817, and to successive terms until 1823. After a year, he was elected Middlebury Town Representative in 1824 and once in Montpelier reelected to the Court that year, before he retired. Following his retirement he continued in the practice of law in Middlebury. He was president of the Council of Censors in 1834. He died on March 9, 1841. Frank Fish, Joel Doolittle, in CROCKETT at 87. William Brayton was born on August 22, 1787, at Lansingburgh, New York. He attended Williams College at the age of thirteen, but did not grad- uate. He moved to Franklin County and studied law, locating an office at Swanton after his ad- mission in 1807. He was appointed chief judge of the Franklin County Court in 1815, and elected to represent Swanton in the Vermont House in 1817. That year he was elected to the Supreme Court, and he remained on the court through five suc- cessive elections, ending in 1822. Those years he lived in St. Albans, but after leaving the bench moved to Burlington, where he practiced until his death on August 5, 1828. Frank Fish, William

Brayton, in CROCKETT at 87. 15

Judge Skinner returned to the Court after

three years as governor from 1820 to 1823, when he was elected chief judge in 1825. He continued to be elected annually until 1829, when he de- clined reelection. Frank Fish, Richard Skinner, in

MOULTON, supra note 2, at 79-80. 17 DEMING, supra note 2, at 71.

CROCKETT, supra note 14, at 83. 16

18 AMERICAN STATE TRIALS, supra note 2, at 86-87. 19 SARGEANT, supra note 2, at 10. Id.


21 AMERICAN STATE TRIALS, supra note 2, at 85. 22


Id. at 89-91. Id. at 91.

24 DEMING, supra note 2, at 67. 25 MOULTON, supra note 2, at 53.

Jesse and Stephen were not the only victims of the story. After their conviction, the Baptist Church excommunicated their mother, “without the form of a trial,” as Leonard Sargeant put it, “because it was supposed she must have been accessory to the murder.” Mrs. Boorn was rein- stated after Russell’s return. SARGEANT, supra note


2, at 10. 27

State v. Conklin, 109 Vt. 207, 212 (1937). 28 GEO. W. WARWELL, ESSAYS IN LEGAL ETHICS 138-39

(2d ed. 1920). 29

As constable in Middlebury, Deming wrote, he had observed “some of the iniquity practised in


our courts of law.” DEMING, supra note 2, at v. 31

SCHOOL (1856). 32

33 34 35

Id. at 321. Id. at 324. Id. at 327. Id. at 331.


RIES 60 (J. Jefferson Looney ed., 2011). Sargeant’s letter to Jefferson, asking for a listing of the books in the former president’s library, was dated

November 1, 1814. 37

38 39

SARGEANT, supra note 2, at 10. Id. at 16. Id. at 10.


42 43

Id. at 77. Id. at 139. Id.

44 SARGEANT, supra note 2, at 9. 45



Haynes, supra note 2, at 239.


Id. at 8.

47 SPARGO, supra note 2, at 79-80. 48 SARGEANT, supra note 2, at 16. Id. at 17-22. Id. at 22-23.

49 50

51 Lucius Chittenden included the Boorn case in

his PERSONAL REMINISCENCES 1840-1890, 339 (1893). Chittenden hoped that the dreadful experience of the Boorns would not be repeated, “if judges will require positive proof of the corpus delicti, and after the crime is absolutely proved will fol- low the rule of law which disregards circumstanc- es consistent with any hypothesis of innocence, and admits in evidence only those which are in- consistent with any theory except that of the guilt

of the person charged with the crime.” 52

Sherman Moulton was born in New York City

on June 10, 1876, and moved to Randolph in 1890. He was educated at Randolph High School, Dartmouth College (A.B., 1898), and Harvard Law School (LL.B., 1901). He was admitted to the Ver- mont bar in October of 1901, and located in Bur- lington in 1903. He served as city grand juror, ex- ecutive clerk to Governor Charles W. Gates, re- porter of decisions (1916-1919), and was elected Chittenden County senator. Shortly after taking office, he was elected superior judge on Febru- ary 1, 1919. He held that office until appointment as chief superior judge on April 2, 1926. Gover- nor Franklin Billings appointed him associate jus- tice of the Supreme Court on November 1, 1926, upon the resignation of Fred Butler. On Septem- ber 23, 1938, following the death of George M. Powers, Moulton was appointed chief justice by Governor George D. Aiken. He retired April 1, 1949. He died on June 16, 1949. Frank Fish, Sher- man Moulton, in CROCKETT, supra note 14, at 189-

Moulton was not the first Vermont Supreme Court judge to write about the case, however. Russell Taft had an article published in The Green Bag about the murder trial. Russell Taft, The Boorn Murder Case, in 17 THE GREEN BAG 701-707

190. 53

(1905). 54

MOULTON, supra note 2, at 59.

55 State v. Burpee, 65 Vt. 1, 15, 25 (1892); see also State v. Croteau, 23 Vt. 14 (1849) for the

precedent overturned in Burpee. 56

57 58 59 60

MOULTON, supra note 2, at 61-62. Id. at 62-63. Id. at 63-64. Id. at 67. Id. at 77.

61 SPARGO, supra note 2, at 37. 62

Id. 63 Id. at 44. Spargo was disgusted by those who

argued against capital punishment on religious or moral grounds, and in his report he dismisses “these chronic or congenital dissidents” as “im-

perious to reason.” Id. at 45. 64

Id. at 76. 65 EASTON GAZELLE, Jan. 17, 1820, at 3.

66 NEW YORK DAILY ADVERTISER, Feb. 5, 1820, at 2. 67 A Marvelous Murder Case, BARRE GAZETTE

GERALD MCFARLAND, THE COUNTERFEIT MAN (1990). McFarland accessed sources that Sargeant and Moulton did not, and likely could not have seen. Although written to prove the Colvin who came to Manchester that December was an imposter,

(Barre, Massachusetts), (Aug. 10, 1860), at 2. 68

McFarland’s research is impressive. 69

110 (1844). 70

MOULTON, supra note 2, at 61; GARNER, supra note 70, at 226.

AGE 278 (2d ed. 1995). 71


Ruminations: The Trials of Jesse and Stephen Boorn

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