Peggy Facto was hanged on the Broad Street
arsenal lot on March 18, 1825. Peggy allegedly strangled her baby by
tying a string around its neck, then tossed the child onto a fire. The
dead baby was hidden in the woods and was later "dragged out by dogs."
Peggy Facto - March 18, 1825 - hung
in the Arsenal Lot on Broad Street (approximately where St. John’s
Academy stands) for the murder of her new-born child; strangled with a
cord then thrown in the fire. Francis Labare tried as accomplice and
acquitted. Her body was given to the medical society. "A great many
went to see her body, although it had been agreed that it should not
be seen. Many young men went. So much talk was made of this that they
said that no other body should ever be given to the doctors."
Recollections of Mary Williams Torrey at 21.
[General Sessions Book shows both Indicted for murder in October
Peggy Facto - Murderess or Victim?
In the 186 years between 1639 and 1825, eleven
women are known to have been put to death by hanging. Peggy Facto was
one of them. In Daniel Hearn’s Legal Executions in New York State: A
Comprehensive Reference 1639-1963, the entry related to her execution
Peggy Facto, white. Murder.
This young woman disposed of her illegitimate baby but denied criminal
intent to the last. Few details survive about this case. She was
executed at Plattsburgh on March 18, 1825.
Based on new research by the author using source
documents, a more detailed picture is now available. But still the
pivotal question remains: was Peggy Facto a murderess, or was she the
victim of society’s prejudices?
On September 5, 1824, a new-born infant was found
dead in a wooded area of Beekmantown, in Clinton County, New York. A
string was around its neck and much of its body had been consumed by
fire. In October, the Grand Jury indicted Peggy Facto and Francis
Labare with Murder and with Conspiracy and Abetting in the First
The Indictment charged that
Peggy Facto and Francis Labare . . . not having the fear of god
before their eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of
the devil . . . as soon as the said infant was born with force and
arms . . .being alive then and there being in the peace of god . . .
feloniously, willfully and with malice aforethought did make an
assault . . . and did take a certain string . . . of the bredth of
one inch and of the length of two feet . . . and . . . so being
fixed drawn and tied around the neck of the said child . . . did
choak and strangle . . . and did cast throw and push into a certain
place then and there situate wherein there was a great quantity of
fire and . . . the said infant child by the fire was then and there
burned to death and killed roasted and in part consumed . . . and
there instantly died.
Trial was held before Circuit Court Judge Reuben H.
Walworth of Saratoga Springs at the Court of Oyer and Terminer in
Plattsburgh on January 19, 1825. The defendants were tried separately
on the same day, with Peggy Facto being first. According to Judge
Walworth’s trial notes, the People called a witness who knew Peggy
Facto, saw her in August when she was “far gone in her pregnancy,” and
after the child was found, saw evidence of the delivery. Another
witness told of finding the child about 12 to 14 rods from Peggy
Facto’s house, with a string tied around its neck, wrapped up in a
linen cloth, burned, with the side of its head broken in. He and
another man who saw the child where it was discovered stated they
could not tell what sex it was, but that it appeared to be “full
grown,” and there was hair on the head where not burned.
Mary Chandreau testified to Peggy Facto’s
pregnancy, and to a conversation she said she had with the defendant
in the jail. She said that Peggy Facto told her that she took a string
from her gown to tie the child’s neck. Mrs. Chandreau asked the
prisoner [Facto] “why she did not send for her & she said the one that
was with her would not go for her.”
The verdict against Peggy Facto was guilty. In his
later communication to the Governor, Judge Walworth said that “the
testimony on the trial being so irresistible that the jury was out but
a very short time. . . .” It appears that her trial was immediately
followed the same day by that of her co-defendant, Francis Labare. The
same witnesses testified again about Peggy Facto’s pregnancy, finding
the dead child, and jailhouse conversation with Peggy Facto.
Peggy Facto, who did not testify in her own trial,
was then sworn to testify in that of Francis Labare. According to
Judge Walworth’s notes, she swore that
On the night of the delivery she asked [Labare] to go find her
mother & he refused. She then asked him to go find Mrs. Chandreau &
he refused, and next asked him if he meant to let her die there & he
said the damned old bitch, I can do better than she can. She then
requested him to help her & he did & then the child was born & he
took it out and went off & was gone an hour, and when he returned .
. . he came towards her with a knife & threatened her life if she
said anything about it.
She added that Labare never had anything to do with her except one
night. The notes next state that Francis Labare was sworn, but give
nothing of his testimony.
The verdict regarding Francis Labare was Not Guilty.
When he sentenced Peggy Facto to death, Judge
Walworth sounded ferocious. The full text of the sentencing was
printed in the January 29, 1825 edition of the local newspaper, the
Plattsburgh Republican. Key passages are quoted here.
It is with emotions and
feelings the most painful, that I enter upon the discharge of the
important duty which devolves upon the court, and which I am now
compelled to perform. It is to pronounce the sentence of the law,
which is to deprive a fellow mortal of existence, and send her to
the bar of her Creator and her God to answer for the conduct of her
past life and where her destiny must be fixed for eternity.
If in the discharge of this
most painful duty, which can ever devolve on those who are entrusted
with the administration of human laws, I should in dwelling upon the
enormity of the offenses which you have committed, and the
unexampled wickedness of your past life, make use of strong language
to show the aggravation of your guilt, and the depravity which you
have exhibited; be assured it is not for the purpose of wounding
your feelings, neither is it intended to oppress or afflict one on
whom the righteous judgment of heaven is so heavily pressing. It is,
if possible, to awaken you to a proper sense of your awful
situation. It is, if possible, to reform you and prepare you to meet
the ignominious death that awaits you. It is, that by contrition and
repentance, you may be enabled to shun a punishment more dreadful
than any which can be inflicted by human laws –– the eternal ruin of
your guilty soul.
From the testimony given in
your trial, there can be no doubt of your guilt, or of the
aggravated circumstances attending the commission of the crime.
There is every reason to believe you were immediately and directly
concerned in the murder of your helpless infant, whom you were bound
by the laws of society, and the ties of nature, to cherish and
protect. Yes, there are very strong reasons for the belief that your
own wicked hands have perpetrated the horrid deed. And if there was
any other guilty participator in the murder, that your own
wickedness and depravity instigated and persuaded him to participate
in your crime. To the crime of murder, you have added the crime of
perjury, and that in the face of Heaven, and even on the very
threshhold of eternity. I am also constrained to say, it is much to
be feared, that you will meet more than one murdered child, as an
accusing spirit at the bar of Heaven.
Wretched and deluded woman! In
vain was the foul and unnatural murder committed under the
protecting shade of night, in your lone and sequestered dwelling,
where no human eye was near to witness your guilt. In vain did you
endeavour to consume your murdered infant in the fire. In vain did
you secrete the body, and endeavour to obliterate all traces of your
wretchedness and shame.
Miserable and infatuated
mortal! You forgot the eye of your God was fixed upon you. The eye
of that God who suffers not even a sparrow to fall without his
notice, and to whom the light of the day and the darkness of the
night are one and the same. . . .
Your crime with all its
aggravations is now before you, and you are about to receive the
sentence which is shortly to deprive you of life. . . . When again
in the solitude of the prison, where you will be permitted to remain
for a few short weeks, reflect upon all the circumstances of that
horrid night when your infant was strangled by the hands of its
mother. Reflect upon the situation of your husband whom your
depravity has driven from your bed and from your bosom –– upon your
aged parents whom your crimes will send to their graves in sorrow.
Reflect upon the situation of your poor orphan children, in whom you
have entailed disgrace and infamy, - and who are soon to be left
friendless and unprotected, to the mercy of an unfeeling world. And
when your feelings become softened by these reflections, let me
again entreat you, before the curtain of life falls forever, and
before the Judgment seat of your God, that you fly for mercy to the
arms of a Saviour, and endeavour to seize upon the salvation of his
Listen now to the awful
sentence of the law which I am compelled thus to pronounce upon you.
You are to be taken from hence to the prison from which you came,
and from thence to the place of execution, and there on the 18th day
of March next, between the hours of twelve at noon, and two o’clock
in the afternoon, you are to be hanged by your neck until you are
dead –– and your dead body is to be delivered to the president and
members of the Medical Society for dissection. –– And may that God
whose laws you have broken, and before whose throne you must then
appear, have mercy on your soul.
According to the April 23, 1825
Plattsburgh Republican, “After conviction, a strong feeling
prevailed in favor of having a pardon granted; and we were among the
number who thought it desirable that the governor should commute her
punishment.” The article also referred to strong criticism of the
judge and jury, and the claim of newly discovered evidence, which the
newspaper referred to as “probably some old woman’s story.”
Every death sentence imposed now is automatically
reviewed by the Court of Appeals. But the Court of Appeals did not
exist until 1847, and it appears that no appellate court reviewed
Peggy Facto’s conviction and sentence. Instead, the trial judge made
an “official report” of the case to Governor DeWitt Clinton. That
report was dated January 24, 1825 and is referred to in the Governor’s
letter denying clemency. The Governor quotes Judge Walworth as
reporting to him that
I became satisfied that the woman was perfectly abandoned and
depraved and that she had destroyed this child and probably the one
the year previous, not for the purpose of hiding her shame which was
open and apparent to everybody that saw her but for the purpose of
ridding herself of the trouble of taking care of them and providing
for their support.
On February 28, 1825, Gov. Clinton wrote to Peter
Sailly, Esq. of Plattsburgh, acknowledging a February 13 letter from
Judge Walworth which enclosed a petition signed by Sailly “and a
number of respectable citizens soliciting a pardon for the said Peggy
Facto either on condition of leaving the United States or otherwise.
The petition states three grounds for the interposition of the
Executive. Doubts with many
as to the guilt of the convict.
as to this being a case that requires a public
as to the policy of executing any person for the
crime of murder when the public opinion is much divided on this
In his letter to Sailly, the Governor quotes Judge
Walworth as reiterating in his February 13 letter that he has no doubt
as to her guilt and that “her execution would have afforded an example
beneficial to the community.” However, he now has “no hesitation in
saying, after the feeling which has been produced, that the execution
of this woman would be worse than useless . . . . I do therefore join
with the petitioners in recommending a pardon for this unfortunate
Despite this urging, Gov. Clinton denied the
petition for clemency. He addressed each of the three reasons,
disposing of the first two by stating that “The representation of the
Judge and the facts of the case clearly establish the guilt of the
convict and the frequency of the horrible crime of infanticide evinces
the necessity of penal influence.” He noted that “some enlightened and
benevolent men disbelieve in the justice, and many doubt the
expediency, of the punishment of death.” He agreed that it should be
inflicted only “in flagrant cases.” However, he suggested that those
who signed the clemency petition may well be wrong in questioning the
efficacy of the example of execution, “[a]s their excellent character
elevates them above those feelings which govern the conduct of the
depraved and abandoned and they cannot realize in their own sentiments
the motives that predominate with that of the community. If terror
loses its influence with them then indeed the life of no man will be
He concluded that “[i]f a pardon were granted in
this case, it would be a virtual declaration of the impunity of
On March 18, 1825, the death sentence was carried out.
At a few moments past twelve the prisoner
was brought from the jail in a state of feebleness which required
the assistance of the officers, by whom she was placed in the
vehicle prepared for the purpose –– when the procession moved on,
formed by the Light Infantry company under the command of captain
Sailly, and the Rifle Company commanded by lieut Couch –– the whole
under the command of captain Baily. A crowd preceded and followed
the cavalcade on foot and in waggons –– the latter class were a
great part females of various ages from the decrepitude of the
grandmother, down to the rosy cheek’d maiden in her teens, all eager
to witness the rare show, in which the death of a human being was to
afford food for their curiosity. Many of these had come from a
distance, in spite of the badness of the roads, which could scarcely
When the prisoner arrived at
the gallows which was plated in a field west of the meeting house,
she was taken from the waggon and placed upon the scaffold by her
attendants –– to whose honor it may be said –– that not one of them
could refrain from tears . . . .
[After joining the Monsigneur
in prayer] she declared she was innocent of the crime for which she
was to suffer –– and then she forgave all her enemies. She was then
lifted up by one of the officers, who was about to proceed to the
performance of his duty, that on her uttering a faint scream excited
either by terror or hysterical affection, he allowed her to be
seated for a moment, when she become composed, and signified her
readiness, upon which she was raised, and the cord adjusted, during
which she again declared herself innocent, and prayed for the
forgiveness of her enemies, and while in the utterance of these
words, the bolt was pulled, and the platform dropped, and with
scarcely a convulsive motion, her soul was consigned to the land of
The crowd was orderly and
quiet, and no fighting or disturbance took place among the lower
order until late in the day.
Once her body was cut down, the
crowd dispersed, many of the people making for local taverns and an
afternoon of late-winter talk of the hanging and murder. A group
from Grande Isle, [Vermont] who walked across a frozen Lake
Champlain to witness the execution, had to take boats back because
the warm weather broke up the lake's ice. Meanwhile, the woman's
body was turned over to the local medical society for dissection.
A women who later wrote her recollections commented
that "A great many went to see her body, although it had been agreed
that it should not be seen. Many young men went. So much talk was made
of this that they said that no other body should ever be given to the
Locating records from this case has been a
challenge. The Indictment was found in a cardboard box filled with old
indictments in the basement of the Clinton County Government Center,
but there were no other records from the trial. The Educator at the
Kent-Delord House Museum had a typed reproduction of Gov. DeWitt
Clinton’s letter denying clemency, but not a copy of the original.
Eventually the author found a handwritten draft of the letter with
Gov. Clinton’s papers held at Columbia University. The clemency
petition has not been located. It may be with some petitions from that
time period that are in the custody of the Executive Office at the
Board of Parole. After extensive searching, the State Archives found
Judge Walworth’s trial notes. Many issues of the Plattsburgh and
Malone newspapers are on microfilm at Plattsburgh State University,
but none could be found which described the discovery of the body, the
arrest and charging of Peggy Facto and Francis Labare, nor any
information about them, nor any articles about the clemency petition
and controversy over the sentence, except the April article quoted
1. Governor DeWitt
Clinton’s letter is at Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript
Library, DeWitt Clinton Papers, Letterbooks of DeWitt Clinton 1825,
Microfilm Reel 6, Special Collections Library, Call Number X978 C-61,
2. Judge Walworth’s trial notes
are in the New York State Archives, J3011 Transcripts of testimony in
Circuit Courts and Courts of Oyer and Terminer, Box 3-Clinton County-
3. The Indictment is in stored
records at the Clinton County Government Center.
4. All newspaper articles are in
the Periodical Microfilm Collection at Plattsburgh State University
This article was published by The Historical
Society of the Courts of the State of New York in the Spring/Summer
2004 issue of the Society Newsletter.