Chapter Four in this series is taken from the 1874 book written by Christian Cackler Recollections of an Old Settler. I am leaving it in first person as he wrote it. The chapters are my divisions and most of what I include is taken word for word though some has been changed for ease of reading. I did struggle with whether to include this particular portion, as Portage News is dedicated to positive news, but as it is a historical event and focuses more on the circumstances surrounding the actual execution, and not the execution itself, felt it was appropriate. You will find the previous chapter links below.
The first person executed in the county was Henry Aunghst in November 1816 for the willful murder of Epaphras Matthews on the 20th of August, 1814. He was condemned upon circumstantial evidence. It was Asa K. Burroughs, as sheriff, who executed him. On the day of the execution, he was led up on the scaffold by the sheriff, and Timothy Bigelow, of Palmyra, who was a Universalist preacher, preached a short sermon on the scaffold, his text being “O, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of this death?” It was the first Universalist sermon that I had ever heard preached, and I have never forgotten the text. Universalism was looked upon in those days as being outside of the Christian churches, but Aunshst (or Unks) heard the sermon through and then made a prayer in Dutch and acknowledged his guilt of the crime a few minutes before he swung off.
Matthews, the murdered man, I think was a son-in-law of a man living in Ravenna at the time by the name of Fuller. Matthews was coming from the east with a one horse pedlar’s wagon and came through Pittsburg. Aunghst fell in company with him there and they came together to within a mile and a half of Ravenna when he killed Matthews and carried him about ten rods into the woods and unharnessed his horse and let him run, and then drew his wagon into the woods. He came to the village and got dinner at David Greer’s and then disappeared, no one knowing where. In about ten days after, the murdered man was found by way of the crows and buzzards that had collected around his remains. When they found the body, the question was, how came he there? And who killed him? And where the murderer was, no man knew.
Robert Eaton, who lived two miles west of Ravenna, and Lewis Ely, brother-in-law of John Campbell of Campbellsport, were appointed to ferret out the perpetrator. They took the backtrack they supposed towards Pittsburg, and found at different places where two men had staid over night with a pedlar’s wagon. They got some description of the men and went on to Pittsburg. There they hunted around and found that a man had been to work at a nail factory who bore the description that they had got previously, and obtained his name, which was given as Hunks or Unks, but did not learn where he was. They obtained a complete description of him, and made search, but got no trace of him, but ascertained that he formerly lived east of the mountains in Pennsylvania; they came to a blacksmith shop, where a man had hired out who answered his description.
They asked him many questions, and also asked him if he had not been working at a nail factory in Pittsburg. He answered that he had been at work there. They then asked him if he did not go west from there with a pedlar. He hesitated to answer that question, and exhibiting guilt, they then charged him with the crime, which he partly acknowledged, and they arrested him and brought him back to Ravenna and put him in the jail. When court set, he was asked if he had any counsel and he replied that he had not. Benjamin Tappan and Elisha Whittlesey were assigned by the court to defend him. He was kept in jail nearly two years before he got a trial. As there was a defect in the first indictment, a second indictment had to be returned in order to hold him. When he was tried, he was found guilty of murder in the first degree and executed as before mentioned. Unks was a large and muscular man; I should think he was six feet and six or seven inches in height.
Next Chapter – Interesting Highlights of the History of Franklin County Part I