February 3, 1780
America’s first mass murder is carried out by Barnett Davenport
Davenport was only 19 when he used a swingle, a 2-foot-long wooden knife-like instrument with a blunt edge used to beat flax for linen production, to murder his benefactors and their 8-year-old granddaughter. He then stole any valuables the house held, reassured the couple’s younger grandchildren, aged 4 and 6, that everything was fine. Davenport set fire to the house to cover his tracks, killing the 4- and 6-year-olds in the process. He was quickly apprehended, confessed to the murders in grim detail, and was sentenced to 40 lashes before death by hanging.
Part of his confession is as follows:
“After putting some things into my knapsack; with the candle in one had and the swingle in the other, I went into the room where Mr. Mallory, his wife and one grand child lay asleep. First I smote him with my might once or twice on his head; upon this Mrs. Mallory awaking attempted to rise up; I turned and struck her one or two blows. Mr. Mallory then sprung up; I struck immediately at him; but he partly warded off the blow with his arm, and then struck the candle out of my hand; I then pushed him back, and down upon the bed, belabouring him with the club — He asked me who I was? what I meant? and said, tell me what you do it for? Then called to his wife to come and help him repeatedly.
“Who can abstain from tears, while relating these things! Mrs. Mallory made no answer, only shrieks, cries, and doleful lamentations. Having for some time smote Mr. Mallory and pounded him, the swingle split. Upon this, I catched a gun which stood behind the door, and with this instrument of death, proceeded still to smite him: I then turned again, and did the same to Mrs. Mallory, and continued striking till she lay still as well as he.
“…Amidst these dying groans and streaming blood, I looked for the key to open the chest where the money lay; but could not find it. Then I went, got a pestle and broke open the chest. By this time both Mr. Mallory and his wife began to struggle — I mashed his head all to pieces with this instrument: And she rising partly up in the bed, I smote her also with the pestle on her head, several times, and she tumbled behind the bed. Before this I saw her face swoln to twice its common bigness, disfigured with wounds, and covered with gore and streaming blood.
“To an heart not past all feeling what could have been more shocking! But how unmoved was I, who now set myself to searching for the money of the dead. Having found a considerable sum of paper currency, and some solid coin; and searched among the papers for more, scattering them about. I put on some of the dying man’s clothes:—plundering the room in which those still groaning persons, in the anguish of death, then were lying.”
The full confession can be read here: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N13253.0001.001/1:3?rgn=div1;view=fulltext