On December 14, 1870, a double hanging took place in Kingston, Ontario. The two men, James Deacon and Daniel Mann had both been convicted of murder in unrelated cases.
James Thomas Deacon was born December 12, 1838 and raised in [South] Fredericksburgh.
The Deacon family had emigrated to Canada in 1812, and James’ parents, Thomas and Mary Deacon, eventually settled in the Hawley area. The 1845 Assessment for Fredericksburgh shows Thomas and Mary on Lots 24/25, Concession 2, with two children under 16. Apparently the family left the area shortly after, as they do not appear in 1846.
The 1851 Census finds the family in Frontenac County. By this time Thomas and Mary had five children; Elizabeth, 15; James, 12; Eliza Ann, 8; Deborah, 4; and Peter Andrew, 1.
On January 20, 1861, James married Mary Jane Ward, a daughter of William and Nancy Ward. James was 22, Mary Jane, 20. The young couple are included on the 1861 Census for South Crosby Township, Leeds County, living in a one-storey log house. In 1864, a son, Thomas, was born to the couple.
Also, according to the 1861 Census, James’ parents were living in Richmond Township, County of Lennox, and three of his sisters were working out as servants in Adolphustown. Elizabeth with Lewis and Deborah Huyck and Margaret with Burger and Elizabeth Huyck, both in north Adolphustown. A third sister, Eliza, is also said to be working in the township, but her exact location is unknown.
It is said that in 1866, James was convicted of sheep steeling and spent a year in the county gaol in Kingston. After his release the next year, the family moved to Clarendon township, in the County of Lennox and Addington.
By early 1870, Mary Jane was expecting another child and apparently experiencing some difficulty with the pregnancy. As a result, she and James went to stay with Mary Jane’s relatives so that she might recuperate. Her brother, James Ward, was married to Lydia Jane Vankoughnet, a daughter of Ezekiel Vankoughnet, also originally from Fredericksburgh. Lydia Jane suggested that her sister, Caroline, be hired to attend to Mary Jane during her illness. Caroline was hired and the trouble began.
The Clarendon Poisoning Case
November 5 1870
The Grand Jury found a True Bill today, against James Deacon, for the murder of his wife, Mary Jane Deacon, on the 25th July last in the township of Clarendon, by administering poison to her.
The names of 18 witnesses for the Crown are on the back of the indictment and the case will be a lengthy one. The prisoner was brought into court at one o’clock this afternoon and placed in the dock. He was very well dressed in a suit of dark clothing and appeared quite composed. He is about 32 years of age and of rather prepossessing appearance. The indictment was read by the Clerk and the prisoner was called upon to plead thereto.
Deacon in reply to the charge, said in a true voice, “Not Guilty.” The case is fixed for Tuesday next.
Nov 5, 1870 Daily British Whig
The Trial – Day One
November 8 2021
At half past twelve o’clock, the prisoner, Jas. Deacon was brought in to be tried for the poisoning of his wife in the Township of Clarendon. He was dressed in a black cloth coat and light vest and trousers, neck tie and collar were scrupulously neat. He had a pale, anxious countenance and every motion in the court room attracted his attention.
He is a man about thirty years of age, dark complexion, with black close beard and thick brows, deep-set eyes and high cheek bones.
Mr. John McIntyre appeared as his counsel, considerable time was occupied in selecting a Jury, the attendance of Jury men being short and twelve challenges being made by the counsel. On four Jury men his Lordship imposed a fine of $6 each for not being present when called on. In one case on the Juryman appearing at a late stage the fine was remitted. The following Jury was obtained at last; James Galloway, Thomas Miller, John Jack, James Murphy, Nicholas Briggs, John Daly, Thomas Hutton, Jacob Hamilton, James Brown, James Byrne, Joseph Gordon, Dunham Ash. The witnesses in the case, twenty in number, were called and conducted out of Court. The indictment against the prisoner was then read to which he pleaded as before, not guilty.
The Hon. A.N. Richards, Q.C., opened the case for the crown. He repeated the serious charge and asked the jury, as the case would be a long and tedious one, to exercise their patience. He impressed on them that a case of poisoning does not give occasion for those alleviating circumstance, which a blow or stab in hot blood, in a moment of anger, permits of, it must be done in cold blood and with premeditation. Then he, at length went into detail on the circumstances of the case (which will appear below) of the connection of the prisoner with the girl VanKoughnet; of his very singular conduct to his wife; and of the many evidences the prisoner gave of a design to poison her. Mr. Richards pointed out the dreadful features of a case of poisoning and especially of wife poisoning and opened the way to the evidence.
The prisoner kept his eyes intently fixed upon the counsel during his address and his whole attention appeared absorbed by his words, while he nervously twitched his beard with his left hand, which he for the most part kept to his face. He appeared particularly annoyed at interrupting noises and looked angrily around when such occurred.
Almira VanKoughnet, sworn – I reside in the township of Clarendon about four miles from prisoner. I know the prisoner. He had a wife and one child about five years old. He came to my house on the 25th of July to get my husband to go to Mr. Shaw’s. He asked me to go with him as his wife was not smart. I went with him and arrived at about eleven o’clock. We had dinner. The wife got up to dinner. We had potatoes, bread, tea and a few huckleberries. After tea prisoner said he would go to James Ward (wife’s brother) and with him to her mother. Myself and wife went into the field to pick green peas and get potatoes. We both cleaned them and prepared them for supper. We had tea without prisoner. He returned in about an hour. He said he had had something to eat at Ward’s but would have some more. He then said, “Here are some salts sent by your mother, which you must take right away.” He put them in a cup, poured on what I supposed was water and mixed them with a spoon. He gave the mixture to his wife and then said “See here I can eat salts out of my hand.” I cannot positively swear that he did eat anything. I did not see anything in his hand. I do not know why he said he could eat salts. When she had taken the mixture she went and laid down on the bed and the prisoner on another. She then complained of pain, and asked for the camphor bottle, and I got it and poured some in my hand and bathed her face. She called for water and asked to have her face bathed with it. Prisoner got up and asked her if she was better. She replied that she was worse and complained of cramps in her hands, legs and her neck, which bent her head on one side. She asked her husband to bear down on her legs. They were cramped up. She said, “Don’t rise from my legs.” I suggested that some person were called in (I mean a doctor). He replied it was no good – it was too late – he said that she was dying – he afterwards said, “She is dead, dead.” It was, I suppose, about fifteen or twenty minutes after she had taken the dose when she died. The cramps were both in her legs and arms, she seemed to suffer much. I suggested that perhaps she was only in a fit – he replied, “No, she is dead.” Her mouth was shut, her legs cramped and her hand cinched and her arms cramped. I then said I would go for some one. The prisoner appeared to feel a little bad. It was dark when prisoner came in. He went for Mr. Hartman. I remained all night. I saw her naked body the following day, there were black spots on the side and arm. I left about two o’clock on Wednesday. I did not see the prisoner in her coffin.
Cross examined – When I went to prisoner’s house his wife complained of pain in her head – she laid down after she took the salts. I saw him with what I suppose was a paper in his hand. She did not ask for salts that I am aware of. She died on Monday and was buried on Wednesday. I have seen a person in an ordinary worm fit. I though it must be a fit or something of the sort.
Direct examination resumed – I do not know the state of her mind. We took supper upon potatoes, peas and water and we had some cucumbers.
Margaret Ward, sworn – I am sister-in-law to prisoner’s wife. I live about five miles from prisoner. I got to prisoner’s house on Tuesday; the last witness was here when I arrived. The coffin arrived on Wednesday. I saw the body put in, it was large. I mean it was swollen. The stomach was so bloated that we had to press down the coffin lid and fasten it. I saw some spots on the left side of the arm and neck. The hand was clenched. Her feet were drawn out of joint, turned inwards, one sole of the foot towards the other. There was great difficulty in getting on the stockings. Her mouth was open. I went to prisoner’s house in May last. There were there Caroline VanKoughnet, prisoner, wife and child. Caroline VanKoughnet dug potatoes. I remained all day. I saw him give her a slap on the head at tea table and she cried. Caroline VanKoughnet and prisoner went out into the field and ‘carried on’, threw one another down and fell on top of one another. They remained out until dark, and came in when she threw herself on the bed and he threw himself beside her. He put his arm around her. I did not see any other liberties taken. Prisoner’s wife did nothing but cry. Afterwards she said, “Come Jimmy, let’s go out and get some wood,” and they went out hand in hand. They remained out a long time and upon their return his wife remarked that they had remained long enough to make the wood, to which he replied that it was “none of her G-d d—d business.” Next day Caroline and prisoner went out to work in the fields. When they came into the house he grumbled that the work was not done in the house and said that it was hard that Caroline had to work so hard and then come in and do the housework.
Cross-examined – I know a substance called rye-smut. I never knew it used for anything but for fly poisoning. I do not know that prisoner’s wife used it. I know prisoner’s neighbours have used it as fly poison.
Benjamin Davy, sworn – I reside four miles from the prisoner’s residence. Prisoner is a squatter on public land. He owns no land. His house is a small shanty and has small barn; he was poor and worked out for a living. I was called to take away the corpse. I got to the house pretty early. The coffin was closed, and the husband said she could not be seen, as her body had swelled so they had to screw down the coffin lid. The coffin was put in a rough box and I took it to the burying ground; it was lowered into the ground; a man named Hicks ordered it not to be buried. It was lowered into the ground and left in that state till night, when I went and put some boards over it and the ground, and covered them with earth and straw. The same day Deacon told me he had got salts from her mother and gave them to his wife; and she died shortly afterwards. On the following Sunday we took the body up for the coroner; the grave was in the same state. I do not know anything particular about the deceased. She was quite able to do her work. She had had tumour but had got over it.
Cross-examined – The tumour she had had affected her health, but she had got over it. She was well enough, but not robust.
J.R. Smith, M.D., sworn – I reside at Harrowsmith; was called in on 28th July to hold a post-mortem on the body of Mrs. Deacon; arrived there on Sunday when the coffin was opened; the body was in a decomposed state, the head on the left side; elbows out; hands clenched and feet arched; I removed the stomach and opened the uterus; it contained a child six months old, dead; the stomach contained some peas; the heart was empty; there was clotted blood in the lungs; I put the stomach in a jar and the coroner sealed it; this was put in a box; we brought it towards Kingston – 20 miles, when our horse broke down; we then gave it to two constables who brought it to my place, and I subsequently brought it to Prof. Dupuis, Kingston; I did not examine the head.
Half an hour was spent in cross-examination, but no new material fact was elicited. Witness used rye-smut in mid-wifery cases; think it might produce convulsions, but no paralysis.
The prisoner during the foregoing examination was perfectly self-possessed, and smiled pleasantly at any amusing occurrence between any witness and his counsel. A portion of the time he lolled back in his seat and gazed complacently upon the crowded audience.
William Bachier, sworn – I reside about two miles from the prisoner. He has worked for me. I keep a little shop. I know Caroline VanKoughnet. She worked for prisoner last summer. He sold me his only cow. I paid him in goods out of my shop. I had a talk with prisoner about poison, with which he said he wanted to kill foxes. Never knew of any difference existing between him and his wife. He told me last spring his wife would not live long. He said she could not suffer her confinement. Recollect Mrs. Deacon (the deceased) being at my house talking to my wife. They were having a friendly conversation. Prisoner came in while thus engaged. As soon as he appeared deceased stopped talking immediately.
The grand jury entering at this juncture of the proceedings, the examination of the witness was discontinued for a few minutes, after which Mr. McIntyre proceeded with the cross-examination.
I was present when the body was exhumed. There was quite a number of people in attendance. Prisoner was there also. The body was opened by Dr. Smith, of Harrowsmith. The stomach was taken out and placed in a jar. I brought it, accompanied by prisoner and another constable, in a wagon to Kingston. I stopped at his place on my way to the city. The jar was not removed or interrupted either time.
John Cowdy, Coroner, sworn – I was the person who held the inquest on the body of Mary Jane Deacon in August last. I was present when the body was opened and saw the stomach taken out and sealed up in a jar. It was in my charge, placed under lock and key until the following morning. I last saw the stomach in care of one of the special constables.
Prof. Dupuis, Queen’s University, sworn – I am Professor of Chemistry in Queen’s College – by consent of the court, the witness read the following written statement; Report of the analysis of the contents of the stomach of a Mrs. Mary Deacon, supposed to have died from the effects of strychnine. Prepared an analysis of the contents of said stomach after Stas’s process, as given by Bowman, for the elimination of strychnine. After three processes, with some modification, succeeded in eliminating upon the whole what I judged to be one fifth of a grain of something which I immediately proceeded to test as follows: 1. It burns upon lighting with a sooty, smoky flame. 2. It has an exceedingly bitter taste. 3. It crystallizes in small tufts upon the evaporating dish. 4. It is not coloured distinctly by nitric acid. 5. Bichromate of potash and Ferricyanide of maguanese, each gave on being applied to the solution in sulphuric acid a rich, brilliant, purplish-blue tinge. 6. Carbonate of potash gives long acicular crystals. 7. Sulphocyanide of potassium gives a white precipitate. 8. Bichromate of potash gives golden yellow stellate crystals, which produce a flow of colours upon adding strong sulphuric acid. 9. Perchloride of mercury also gives acicular crystals. 10. Iodide of potassium gives a white precipitate. Since all of these are indicative of strychnine, and since no other known substance can furnish answers to all these tests in succession, I have not the least hesitation in pronouncing the substance in question to be strychnine.
Direct Examination – This substance could not be formed artificially in any body. Must have entered as strychnine. If placed in pure water it would sink. A small quantity will dissolve. It has a very better taste, much more so than Epsom salts. It is capable of absorption and might possibly be in the system without being discovered. It is assumed that a greater quantity is taken than is afterwards discovered. It must be absorbed after death. The time in which strychnine takes effect varies from five or ten minutes to ten hours. Average time about two hours. It would be sufficient to kill a full grown person. The symptoms are – first, nervousness; then titanic convulsions of great severity, attended by strong muscular action before death, more particularly in the hands and feet.
Cross-examined – There is no hurtful substance in the common huckleberry. Strychnine could be dissolved better in Epsom salts than in pure water. I have not tried physiological tests for strychnine; have no faith in the system. (Here a loud burst of applause rose from a large number of medical students who occupied the gallery, which caused such interruption that his Lordship directed the constables in attendance, that if any further conduct of that character was attempted, to arrest the offenders, and he would commit them to gaol for contempt of court.)
Dr. Horation Yates, sworn – I have been a medical practitioner in Kingston for the past twenty-seven years. I have heard the evidence of the last witness. The symptoms of poison are titanic convulsions, with occasional spasms. Five minutes is sufficient to cause death – two or three hours at the longest. When the stomach is full of food it takes longer time. When under the influence of strychnine the feet would be turned outward and the muscles contracted. The absorption would occupy some time. The quantity of strychnine found in the stomach did not cause death, but what was absorbed, which would continue only while life remained, any change after that being chemical, not vital. For the period she lived there was sufficient time to allow of the absorption going on. Supposing the deceased to have taken one grain, that would allow four-fifths for absorption and one-fifth for chemical detection.
Dr. Herbert Saunders, sworn – I am also a medical practitioner. I can analyze. I heard Professor Dupuis’ evidence and agree with him in the course of the several tests. I analyzed a quantity of Epsom salts brought me by Mr. Kirkpatrick, County Crown Attorney. I found no strychnine in it.
Ann Shaw was next called and sworn – I am the wife of William Shaw, storekeeper. I know the prisoner at the bar, lived about ten or twelve miles from him. My husband owns a shop in the township of Miller, adjoining Clarendon. Prisoner came to my house in June last, when I was feeding chickens. He said “You have a fine lot of fowls.” I said, “Yes!” He said the foxes were so bold that they came in the day time and carried his away. I said “Why don’t you shoot them?” He replied, “I have no gun.” I then asked him why he did not get some poison and think I said that Mr. Shaw (her husband) kept it. On the 26th of July prisoner came to the shop and wanted to see Mr. Shaw, who not being at home, he said he would remain there for awhile. He asked me for poison, which I told him I would not give him. A short time after he went out, and Caroline VanKoughnet came in. Prisoner returned in about three quarters of an hour. He looked at Caroline Vankoughnet and said – “I thought it was you I saw coming up the road!” They laughed and seemed to enjoy each other’s society. They both remained at my house all night. They were together a good deal the next day. I became angry at their proceedings, when prisoner left and commenced his work. Caroline VanKoughnet also left to go home, but stopped on the road to speak to prisoner; he was working in the field. Both stood and talked in the rain some time. Prisoner, Caroline VanKoughnet and my husband were in the shop together the following day. The young woman was making some purchases.
Cross-examination – I have known the prisoner since a child. I always spoke favourably of his wife. I have known the deceased about eight years. I have heard that the prisoner liked his wife and seemed anxious for her well-being.
William Shaw, - am husband of the last witness, I keep a shop in the Township of Miller. I keep strychnine for sale purchased it from Dr. Skinner’s drug store, Kingston. It is in small vials of about half a drachm each. Prisoner bought about half a drachm from me in a bottle ostensibly to poison foxes. He enquired if the fur was of any value, I said not; in my shop together the prisoner and Caroline were very familiar. I let him have a dress worth $7 for her. I rode off with them afterwards and they sang love songs and psalm tunes together. Deacon took off his coat to keep her warm.
Julius Guitfreidarz, sworn – is Deacon’s nearest neighbour, he came to me and told me he had poison to poison foxes on Sunday, the day before her death he his wife to Sunday school, a mile and a half. Prisoner came and asked me what strychnine was like, I said like salts. He agreed with me and said he had bought some from a pedlar for one dollar to poison foxes. He had it somewhere near the house. Mrs. Deacon at this time was active and healthy. Next day the prisoner asked me to go to Shaw’s to get him some Epsom salts and other things. He took the order and got someone else to go.
The evidence was only half through at this stage, 7 p.m. and the court adjourned until tomorrow morning, when the case will be resumed and concluded before the afternoon.
Nov 9 1870 Kingston News & Daily British Whig
The Trial – Day Two
November 9 2021
This morning, the jury in the poisoning case, after being locked up all night and having received two good meals for the first of which they had a hearty relish after 12 hours fasting, returned to Court and the counsel for the Crown at once proceeded with the examination of the witnesses for the prosecution, of whom there were ten remaining unheard. The prisoner Deacon, on being again place in the dock, betrayed the same nervousness, ill-distinguished by his forced calmness.
Sophia Harman, Clarendon, sworn – On Sunday the day before her death, the deceased was ill and I was called in to see her after dinner; she was lying on the bed; prisoner told her to get up, that he had some tea for her; she asked me to raise her and I did so; she tried to drink but could not do so, as her teeth became clenched and her body took cramps and convulsions; prisoner said she had taken them at dinner; she said she had never felt so before and Deacon thought so too; nothing was said about poison; prisoner had previously asked me if Mr. Hartman had any stuff to kill foxes; he seemed to live on good terms with his wife. That day she had wished for her mother, as she was told that she was to die in her confinement.
William Ward – I live near prisoner’s; my wife and myself were sent for to go to Deacon’s on Sunday evening; deceased was then ill; she said she had been to Sabbath school that morning and got dinner afterward; she took at that time some herb tea she had got from an Indian woman and which she regularly made use of; she did not think it had hurt her; Deacon told me that it was injuring her and that she had fallen into convulsions after drinking them and that he had thrown the herbs out. I found them and discovered that they were common huckleberry roots. Mrs. Deacon described the sensation she had – a pain under her left ear, down her neck and back and generally all over her body; next afternoon (Monday) at five o’clock he came to our house for some salts; my mother (Mrs. Deacon’s mother) told him we had none and sent him to Mrs. Watkin’s; she did not tell him to give salts to Mrs. Deacon.
Cross-examined – The prisoner said at request that if any poison was in his wife it was given by him as no one else had given medicine to her; several witnesses were present; the talk was generally about poisoning.
Jane Ward, sworn – Lives 5 or 6 miles from prisoner’s; went to Deacon’s on Sunday afternoon; she had just recovered from cramps and was pale; she took her medicine before dinner and thought it was not that which did her harm. Deacon thought differently and would not let her take any more. She said she had felt all right in the morning and in the afternoon the queer feeling was in her head such as she never had before. She felt as if she was going to fall into eternity at once, as if she was poisoned. She continued to get better all that night. Prisoner and wife were contentious and fretful.
Alois Schangar, sworn – Deacon came on Tuesday morning and ordered a coffin in a hurry. He saw prisoner and Caroline familiar together. Deacon seemed sorry at his wife’s death.
Isaac Hicks, sworn – I live about ten or eleven miles from Deacon’s. Prisoner brought Caroline’s clothes to my house on July 10th. She lived with me for two weeks. Deacon visited the house frequently in the evening. He came to the house on Friday before the murder and said his wife was sick; he wanted to hire a girl, as he did not think his wife would live long. He was going to Shaw’s for medicine. I attended the funeral and prevented the burial. Deacon said he never had poison in the house. Next day I told him it was going to be proved that he had bought poison. He said if there was poison found in her, it was him that gave it, and he was willing to die for her. They lived happily as far as I know. Witness described the position of the body similarly to Dr. Smith.
Ann Lauder, sworn – Lives 2 miles from Deacon’s. On the Monday evening came for me; his wife was dead when I got there. I staid all night and undressed her next day. Her arm and side were black and the mouth closed. Prisoner remained in the house helping us. He said she had been out on Sunday and got a severe cold.
James Ward, recalled – Prisoner told me on Sunday evening that his wife got in before the storm.
Maria Watkins – Lives three miles from Deacon’s. He came to my house about 6 p.m. on the Monday and got about two tablespoonfuls of Epsom salts. I bought them in Perth. He said he wanted them for his wife.
Mary Alice VanKoughnet, sworn – I visited Deacon’s for the first time last spring, to see my sister. She was standing at the door with me. Deacon passed out and went down into the field. Heard him talking, he came back soon saying that he had seen a ghost of his wife and that she was to die inside of two months. Could not say that his wife heard it.
Mrs. Perty, sworn – I live four miles from Deacon’s, keep a tavern. A few days before the death of the deceased, Deacon broke a looking-glass in my place. I asked why. He said because he was such a hairy man. He said Caroline’s mother had called him a bear, but what would I say if he was to be her son-in-law in two months. He said Caroline was a fine, beautiful and good working girl. Deacon was locked up in a room in my house, he was saying how good he was to his wife and that if any poison was found in her it was him that gave it. He was willing to die for it.
Caroline VanKoughnet, sworn – (The witness is a girl about eighteen, of small figure and tolerably good looking. She was neatly and appropriately dressed and there was nothing in her manner to indicate a person of loose or improper habits.”
- I know the prisoner. He hired me on March last. I was to go to work “right along”. I was to have $2 ½ per month with a rise as the work increased. I am 18 years of age. After I had been there about a month prisoner came into the house about daybreak and said he “had a token” of Mary Jane’s death (his wife). But not to tell her as it would hurt her feelings. One evening after, just about dark, prisoner had gone out and came up to me at the door of the house; he said “I have seen another token, which said I am going; he said the token looked like his wife; he told me not to tell the wife as she would feel hurt. I remember when my sister was present at potato planting. We were at the door. I heard a voice in the direction of where he was; he came up and went into the house; he said that he had seen a token that told him his wife would die within two months. It was not long after before I left. He had chickens; they were all eaten but two one being alive when I left and one was missing. I never heard anything about foxes. I worked out in the field. I once and a while worked with the prisoner. I overdrew my wages to the amount of $6. I remember prisoner packing up his clothes to leave his wife; he did once threaten to leave. He was going to look for a better farm. He had two heads of cattle. He and his wife sometimes appeared to live happily together and sometimes they did not.
In the cross-examination witness said that the
rumors of particular intimacy with the prisoner and her were false. There was
nothing of the kind. She left because of the ghost stories. Upon the occasion
of the ghost’s appearances, prisoner told me that the ghost told him to get
married again, but he did not say to me that he was to marry me and I was to
The jury returned a verdict of “Guilty”. As the fatal word was pronounced there was a murmur and shudder throughout the Court room, but the prisoner appeared the calmest of all. His face maintained its pale rigidity but a slight twitching of the fingers on the side of the dock betrayed an inward emotion. He was at once removed from the dock under a strong guard and as he passed out on his way to gaol, his knees trembled visibly.
Nov 10 1870 Daily British Whig
Death Sentence on James Deacon
Nov 11, 1870
The Court opened precisely at half past nine o’clock, the Hon. Chief Justice Hagarty taking his seat on the bench punctually at that hour.
The Hon. A.N. Richards, Q.C., moved that the judgment of the Court be pronounced on James Deacon for the crime of which he has been convicted.
His Lordship – James Deacon, stand up. Have you anything to say why the judgment of the Court shall not be pronounced against you, for the willful murder of your wife, Mary Jane Deacon.
Prisoner Deacon – I have a few words to say to the Court in this world ere I meet my Maker in the next. I am as innocent of the charge as the babe unborn. As I expect to meet my God, I will leave this world with a clear conscience, so, my Lord, do with me as it seemeth good in thy sight.
Deacon then stood motionless with his gaze fixed intently upon the Judge, who proceeded in impressive language to pass the dreadful sentence of the law.
He said: James Deacon, I think it only fair to the Jury who tried you to say that they did right; if I were on the Jury, I should have given the same verdict. During my long experience on the Bench, I have not known a more dreadful case. You chose to appeal to the searcher of all hearts from that verdict and invoked the --- of the Almighty wisdom to attest your innocence. I can only repeat that I approve of the finding of the Jury; it is a just and righteous verdict, and I hope that God will have mercy on you. You have chosen to call on Him – I hope you will not call in vain, for he always protects the innocent and bestows his mercy even on the guilty. I feel it my duty to warn you and to tell you in the most solemn language it is possible for me to invoke not to expect any mercy on this side of the grave, for your crime has been a most diabolical one. You sacrificed two lives, those of your wife and your unborn child, who could not appeal to you for your commiseration. Approaching as your wife was her confinement, if ever there was a time she should claim from you, her husband, protection and sympathy, it was surely then I have pity for you, although you had none for them. Unless a witness was produced who saw and knew the poison actually to be put in the cup, I cannot conceive of a stronger case. If you are innocent, the death of your wife is most unaccountable.
Here prisoner said: - My Lord, I would like to speak.
[Yes, you can speak, but it will avail you nothing]
My Lord, I am guilty of buying poison. I was always accustomed to wait upon my wife and to do her bidding. For ten years she has been my lawful wife and I have been a loving husband to her. If she died by poison it was no fault of mine, but if it was my mistake in giving her the medicine, I hope for God’s mercy if I should meet him tomorrow.
Judge – Then may God forgive you. I do not desire to lacerate your feelings in this, to you, awful moment, but I implore you to look to the world to come, for the time of your dissolution is fast approaching. Death by poisoning is one of the most wicked and fearful modes of taking human life. Its’ very vindictiveness is diabolical, therefore I implore you not to hope for mercy in this world, but to look to your eternal soul. The judgment of the court and the sentence of the court on you James Deacon, for the willful murder of your wife, Mary Jane Deacon, is that you be taken back to the place whence you came and on Wednesday, the 14th day of December next, to the place of execution, and that you be then and there hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may God have mercy on you, for you are past man’s mercy in this world!
Deacon sat down without a trace of emotion, his countenance livid, his eyes glassy and fixed on vacancy.
Nov 12, 1870, Daily British Whig
The Condemned Men
December 9 1870
The criminals, Mann and Deacon, continue in usually good health and spirits, considering their position and appear, particularly the first named, to be more than ever resigned to the awful fate which awaits them; although, occasionally, when they allow their minds to wander into a deep reverie, a slightly perceptible lack of courage is evinced at the ignominious death they are doomed to suffer on Wednesday next, 14th December. Both convicts, who are visited daily by several clergymen and others, to administer to their spiritual wants, eat well and retain their accustomed strength, having at no time sought or required attendance from the surgeon since their confinement in gaol. On Friday of last week, Sheriff Ferguson received telegrams from the Under Secretary at Ottawa, stating that, in answer to petitions presented to the Governor General, no reprieve could be granted to either of the criminals and that the extreme penalty of the law must be carried into effect. By whom and from whence the applications were sent to his Excellency is a mystery, as Mann and Deacon, each in turn manifested great surprise on the replies being read, but while so doing listened to the announcement of the last ray of hope having vanished as a matter fully expected and already made known to them. The drop, which originally was only intended for one, is being altered so as to execute the two men at once; but in compliance with the new law, this will be conducted strictly private, the prison officials and a limited number of persons only gaining permission to witness the scene. The doors facing the gallows on the outside of the gaol will be opened, but even then everything in progress in the interior will be entirely hidden from view, the space occupied by the doors being closed up within a few inches of the upper semi-circle though which to admit sufficient light for the execution. After life has been pronounced extinct, the bodies will be cut down and handed over to a coroner, who will hold a public inquest thereon.
Dec 9, 1870 Kingston News
The Confession of James Deacon
December 13 1870
The confession I am about to make is made of my own free will and at my express desire. Mr. Corbett has consented to take it down for me. I wish it made public so that my case may be a warning to all men to flee from temptation, whenever the evil one tries to ensnare them. If I had done so I would now be a free man instead of a condemned criminal. Through the evil influence exerted over me by a false and wicked girl, I am now waiting to suffer death for my sins. Every word I am about to say will be the whole truth.
I do not intend to screen myself, nor do I intend to screen others, but tell the truth to my fellow man, as I will have to tell my God when I stand before his great high throne. There will be no hiding anything from him for all man’s secrets will be revealed and his heart laid bare.
I first became acquainted with Caroline VanKoughnett a year ago last February at my father-in-law’s. My wife was ill at her father’s awaiting her confinement. My wife’s sister-in-law proposed for me to hire her sister, Caroline VanKoughnett, to nurse my wife in her confinement. I hired her accordingly. At this time I was staying with my wife at her sister-in-law’s. I have very sore eyes and Caroline insisted on nursing and attending on me as well as my wife.
It soon became known to me that she was in love with me. Her actions told me this. She was all the time kissing and talking of love to me. I did not at this time feel any return of affection for her. This state of affairs lasted as long as two months. My wife was quite well by this time, so there was no further use for a girl and we discharged her. We hired her again the next spring, as my wife was not able to attend to all the work outside and in doors. She requested me to hire Caroline VanKoughnett. I hired her and took her to work with me in the sugar bush. This was in April. As soon as we were alone, she commenced the same kind of actions as she carried on with the year before at her sister’s. She kept getting worse every day until I was completely led away from my wife.
I was now on as intimate terms with her as if she had been my wife. She told me that if I would poison my wife she would marry me in three weeks time. She kept urging me to do this every day and said if I did not, she would. All that the witnesses said against me at my trial concerning our behavior was true. I could not even go out of the house for a few minutes without her following me and behaving improperly. My wife used to tell me that when I was absent from home, she could not get any good out of Caroline for she was always talking about me and watching for my return. My wife told me Caroline had wished her dead. Had I not had a kind, forbearing wife she would have put us both out of doors, for Caroline and I often went beyond the limits of decent behavior right before her.
My wife now told me we had no further use for a girl, so we consulted together and discharged her. After this, whenever I had to go away from home to the store or any other place, I was sure to meet her in my way. She proposed to me that I should go to work for Mr. Shaw and she should go to work for Mr. Hicks, who lived next to Mr. Shaw’s. This was done so we could be near to one another. She had, by this time, completely bewitched me and had caused me to lose all the affection I ever had for my wife. I am sorry to say that I, a man of mature years could be so easily led astray by a young girl from my lawful wife – one whom I had no reason to treat as I did.
She was all that was good and kind to me, and if I had only cherished her as I ought to have done I never would have been where I now am. Caroline used to come over to Shaw’s after her work was done to see me. She asked me if I was never going to get rid of my wife. This constant urging of hers nearly set me mad and I determined to poison my wife on the very first opportunity. The first thing I did was to buy half a drachm of strychnine from Mr. Shaw, pretending to him that I wanted to poison foxes. I administered the poison several times to my wife in water and tea, but I did not give her large enough quantities to cause death until I gave it to her in the salts. As soon as my wife was dead I came to my senses and if I could only have brought her back again to life! I would have given the whole world if it had been in my possession.
My love for my wife came back to me with double force and the illegitimate love vanished. Then it was that I saw my folly. If that girl had never mentioned poisoning to me I never would have been here. I am making every preparation for meeting God, and hope that my earnest desire for salvation will be acceptable to him. I hold no malice against my fellow man and am satisfied that the jury did their duty in finding me guilty. I die in peace with all me and hope God in his mercy will forgive me my sins.
Signed, JAMES DEACON
Dec 13 1870 Daily Wabash Express
Visit to the Prisoners in Their Cells
December 13 1870
Two reporters for the Toronto press, sent down to describe the execution, paid a visit to the prisoners in their cells on Tuesday (December 13). The Globe’s reporter gives the following account: -
Deacon’s cell was first visited. He shook hands warmly with each of the party and freely entered into conversation. His parents, he said, taught him religious truths when he was young, but he had been led astray, and had gone from bad to worse. When asked if he felt prepared to meet death, he replied. “Oh, yes! It is but from death to glory,” and expressed great confidence that his sins had all been forgiven. He had been a great sinner, he said, but Jesus had bid him come as he was and he repeated a few lines of the hymn, “Just as I am, without one plea.” &c. About a week ago, he said, he experienced a change of heart. Before that he had been in great agony of mind about his guilt. “But,” said he, “I got down on the floor and prayed all night and before morning it pleased God to give peace to my soul.” He seemed to take great comfort in repeating his assurance that he would be saved. It is of course impossible to deny that his convictions are not sincere, but one could not listen to him and to his sights and groaning without a feeling that he was in a measure acting a part, that though not intending to deceive, he was deceiving himself, trying to persuade himself that it was all well with him rather than feeling certain it was. He appeared to be a weak-minded creature, without energy of character and of little or no moral perception. He said that he loved his dead wife, and was thankful to God that his love for her was growing stronger every day. He seemed considerably dejected, notwithstanding his efforts to keep up his courage; and being a man of no spirit whatever, there are some fears that he will give way when the trying moment comes, and have to be carried to the scaffold. His two brothers, one of whom lives in the States and the other back in this country, visited him two weeks ago and bade him a last good bye.
Dec 14 1870, The Kingston News
The Double Execution in Kingston
December 14 1870
Not since the time of the Rebellion has a double execution occurred in Kingston until today, when the prisoners Daniel Mann and James Deacon were executed for their respective crimes. Both prisoners were sentenced to be hanged on the 14th of December and Sheriff Ferguson and Mr. Gaoler Corbett had made every preparation for the event. The hour of execution was at eight o’clock.
Very little public sympathy appears to have been evoked for either of the criminals, but there has been much more compassion felt for Mann than for the wife poisoner Deacon. Both were clearly and fairly convicted of atrocious crimes, the very atrocity of which blunted the public sentiment against them. No effort was made by public petition to stay the execution of the sentences in either case. Since the time, however that the condemned manifested repentance the local clergy have taken great interest in ministering spiritual counsel.
At seven in the morning different clergymen and the spectators admitted into the precinct of the gaol began to arrive. The clergy were led upstairs to the room occupied by the prisoners and engaged in devotional exercises. The reporters for the press and other spectators waited in a room downstairs until near the time of execution, when they were conducted to the corridor at the foot of the drop, where they could see through the grated door the bodies as they fell from the platform above.
The crime of which Deacon was found guilty
and doomed to suffer death; namely wife poisoning, was of a much more heinous
nature than that of Mann; being, according to his own confession, from which
we take the following extracts, engaged in pursuing his dreadful work for
some time. He first became acquainted with a young woman named Caroline
Vankoughnet; a year ago last February; at which date she was called in to
attend his wife, who was ill. The prisoner had also very weak eyes and the
girl insisted on nursing him by which means she soon became very intimate
with him, her actions towards him being always loving, which she displayed on
every possible occasion. The prisoner’s wife discovered this and dismissed
her from service. Circumstances requiring it, she was again employed shortly
afterwards and renewed her former proceedings. She was dismissed a second
time, but to no avail, as the girl hunted him from place to place – or his
mind followed her to such an extent, that, unable to control his feelings,
he, on the suggestion of Caroline Vankoughnet, procured a vile of strychnine
from a store, on the pretence of poisoning foxes, to kill his wife. The
poison was administered several times in tea and water, but never in
sufficient quantities to cause death, until Sunday, 25th July,
when a much larger dose was given in Epsom salts. The conduct of the prisoner
previous to this aroused suspicion in the minds of some of his neighbours, at
whose instigation the body was exhumed. A coroner’s inquest was held and the
testimony adduced being very strong against him,
Mr. Corbett, Gaoler, informed the reporters that he went into Deacon’s cell at eleven o’clock the previous night and he then appeared in a happy frame of mind, Deacon saying that he longed for the morning and was quite prepared to meet his end and that he deserved the fate he was going to suffer. The Rev. Mr. Loizeaux, Plymouth Brother, was up all night at the gaol. The prisoners had no breakfast in the morning, except a cup of tea.
At eight o’clock, a black flag was sent up on a staff erected over the place of execution and the bell of St. James’ Church, the nearest church, was tolled. The flag was up for an hour. There were very few persons in the streets about the gaol, and those who passed that way looked at the flag and moved on. At the back of the gaol a mixed crowd, estimated at 200, gathered for a time.
All the clergy testify to the religious conversion of both prisoners. Rev. Mr. Hulin said Deacon had a smile on his countenance and was cool and deliberate up to the last moment.
There were very few persons on the scaffold. The Sheriff, the Gaoler, Dr. Oliver, the Gaol Surgeon; the Rev. Mr. Bland, Rev. Mr. Hulin, Rev. Mr. Sutherland, Rev. Mr. Aylsworth and a Plymouth Brother, the Rev. Mr. Loizeaux, Dr. Sparham and Dr. Day were present. There were two hangmen, both masked with black gauze bag, enveloping their heads and dressed in a sort of smock frock, which completely invested their persons. The prisoner Mann was brought into Deacon’s room shortly after seven o’clock and there was a very affecting greeting as described by the clergymen. The two shook hands and expressed their great pleasure at seeing each other. The clergy present then engaged in devotional exercises until the executioners came and bound the prisoners, pinioning their hands behind them and tying their legs together with cords. It had been arranged that prayers should be said in the Debtors’ Room, but this arrangement had to be dispensed with and therefore a programme for the reading of portions of Scripture, etc., was omitted. Both prisoners displayed almost equal fortitude and were both resigned and even anxious to meet death. It is said that in the procession to the scaffold Mann displayed a slight but yet perceptible nervous tremor, but the “abounding of grace” as described the Rev. Mr. Bland, seemed to neutralize the nervousness. Both walked willingly and resignedly to the scaffold uttering exclamations and invocations. Both convicts at the last moment took affecting leave of the turnkeys and officers of the gaol. It was arranged by the sheriff that on a given signal and while the clergymen were on their knees engaged in prayer that the drop should fall. At the devotions on the scaffold the Rev. Mr. Hulin read from I Corinthians, 15 Chap., commencing at the 42nd verse. Afterwards the Rev. Mr. Bland engaged in prayer. It was while so engaged and precisely at eight o’clock that the signal was given. The drop fell with a great noise and the men fell about six feet. The fall was not sufficient to break either of their necks, so that they died by strangulation. Mann was bareheaded, but Deacon had on a black cap. Mann had on his party coloured convict’s clothes and an old pair of slippers. Deacon was in grey trousers and vest and in his shirt sleeves, wearing a red checked woolen shirt. The rope caught Mann’s chin so as to force back his head and he breathed heavily a minute or two and his nostrils dilated, but he scarcely struggled, while Deacon’s body moved with great contortions, his arms being drawn up to the full extent of the cords and dropped again, several times and his legs being bent under him and stretched out alternately. A suppressed moaning was heard for a few moments which came altogether from Mann. It was ascertained by the gaol surgeon that Mann’s pulse beat for thirteen minutes and Deacon’s for ten minutes. Mann’s feet were within four inches of touching the floor.
The bodies were allowed to remain suspended for about forty minutes after which the Sheriff gave orders for them to be cut down which duty was performed by the executioners. The spectators were requested to retire into the Debtor’s Room to allow of this being done privately and after its completion the executioners were secretly passed out of the gaol and the spectators again admitted below the drop. The two bodies were placed in rough pine boxes with the ropes still around their necks and which the surgeon had removed to allow of an examination of the bones of the neck. It was found that Mann’s neck had suffered considerable dislocation by the stretching of the ligaments, but that Deacon’s had not stretched nearly so much, although Deacon was a heavier man. Mann had more rope, the knot having slipped somewhat and he fell upwards of a foot lower than Deacon and this no doubt accounted for it. The appearances of strangulation were witnessed by a number of medical students whom the Sheriff permitted to attend with this object. The marks of the rope, the turgidity of the blood vessels and other common appearances after death by hanging were pointed out by the different medical men present. It was also remarked that although motions were observed in the limbs of the executed for a short time after they fell these were involuntary and that consciousness must have been speedily lost by strangulation, notwithstanding that the heart continued to beat as in Mann’s case for nearly a quarter of an hour. It was the medical opinion that Deacon died of strangulation but that Mann died of apoplexy or congestion of the blood vessels of the head. The rope had caught on his chin and had not compressed the larynx, thereby permitting the utterance of moans such as he was heard to make.
After the execution, the Sheriff prepared a certificate of the fact to lay before the Government. It was drawn up in the formal way provided, and was signed by Sheriff Ferguson, Charles Corbett, George S. Sparham, D.W. Aylsworth, Clergyman and B.W. Day, M.D. as official witnesses.
An inquest was held on both bodies by Dr. Barker, coroner, at ten o’clock, two juries being sworn, one for each criminal. Mr. David Cunningham was foreman of the jury over Deacon’s body and Mr. Alderman Tomkins over that of Mann. The evidence adduced was the same in both cases and consisted simply of the testimony of the Sheriff, the Gaoler and Harding, the turnkey as to the identity of the prisoners and the facts of the execution. Dr. Oliver, the gaol surgeon testified to the death of the criminals. The following verdict was given in each case: That James Deacon was hanged in pursuance of the sentence of death on the 14th December, within the precincts of the County Gaol of Frontenac.
The Sheriff having received an order for the bodies to be interred in the gaol yard, this disposition was made of them. Application had been made in Mann’s case for interment in the cemetery, as he expressed a desire that his friends should suffer no disgrace by his body being buried in unconsecrated ground, but he law provides for interring in the prison yard and the Sheriff was directed to carry out the law.
Dec 14 1870, The Kingston News
After the Hanging….
What became of Caroline VanKoughnet?
In the 1871 Census, Caroline, age 18, appears in Miller Township, Addington County, living with her mother, age 56 and a younger sister, Mary, age 16. All three are listed as ‘servants.’
It is said that Caroline later married and moved to the U.S.
What became of Thomas Deacon?
The young son of James and Mary Jane appears in the census records for 1871 and 1881 in Addington County, Clarendon/Miller Township, (age 7 in 1871) and living with his aunt and uncle, James and Jane Ward. James was the brother of Mary Jane Deacon. In the 1891 census, he is still living in the same area, aged 26, and listed as a ‘domestic.’
For further information, check out “Haunted Talks,” “Two for the Rope” - a podcast available from the Haunted Walk of Kingston. The story of the Mann/Deacon hanging starts at the 6.45 minute mark.