Commits murder and gets away with it

There is an ancestor on the Shepard side of our family by the name of Walter Palmer. He was a Puritan born about 1585 in probably, Yetminster, Dorsetshire, England who emigrated to Salem, Massachusetts in June of 1629. When his daughter Grace married Thomas Minor in Massachusetts in 1634, our Palmer surname line ended. (This line of Minors eventually married a Lantz and daughter Susannah Lantz married Edmund Hays.)

Walter has the honor of being the first ancestor I have run across in my tree who commited murder, and got away with it.

This map shows the locations in Stonington, Connecticut of our ancestors Thomas Minor and Walter Palmer1 where they settled in about 1653.


In 1630 a servant by the name of Austen Bratcher was to be punished by whipping, and Walter Palmer, a giant of a man at around 6’4″, was to do the job. Apparently he was quite enthusiastic about his responsibility, so much so, that he killed the man. The charge put forth by the court is stated below:

“the strokes given by Walter Palmer were occasionally the means of death of Austen Bratcher & so to be manslaughter.”


The court records have no details about why  Austen was being punished, but one wonders if the offense merited such an enthusiastic response. A jury trial was held:

 “Jury called on September 28, 1630 to hold an inquest on the body of Austin Bratcher.” “…that the strokes given by Walter Palmer, were occasionally the means of the death of Austin Bratcher, and so to be manslaughter. Mr. Palmer made his personall appearance this day (October 19, 1630) ; stands bound, hee & his sureties, till the nexte court.” At “a court of assistants, holden att Boston, November 9th 1630” numerous matters were taken up and disposed of, including the trial of Walter Palmer…” “A Jury impannell for the tryall of Walter Palmer, concerning the death of Austin Bratcher…The jury findes Walter Palmer not quilty of manslaughter, whereof hee stoode indicted, & soe the court acquitts him.”

One of the witnesses in the trial was William Chesebrough who happened to be a very good friend of Walter’s. William was a gunsmith who traded in illicit goods, such as guns and rum, with the local indiginous people. (Although, he always vehemently denied any such rumors.) Maybe his testimony persuaded the jurors to acquit his good buddy Walter.

After the trial Walter went on with his life as if he had done nothing wrong. His fellow citizens didn’t hold a little murder against him either, he took the Oath of a Freeman on May 18, 1631 (An oath drawn up by the Pilgrims during the early 17th century meant that the person was an established member of a colony who was not under legal restraint, and vowed to defend the Commonwealth and not to conspire to overthrow the government),2 and continued to be a respected member of the community until he died.

So I guess the world being what it is, as usual, being one of the top dogs in town is all it takes to get off of a murder rap.

3.General source:

Mutiny and murder…

I have to say that I never expected to find anything truly cringe worthy in the course of researching my ancestors. When I found a few adulteries, bad seeds, ne’er do wells, slave owners, a murder or two, I wasn’t surprised. After all when you have enough ancestors, there are bound to be a few skeletons in the closet, so I was prepared.

But what I found out about one of my 8x great grandfathers did indeed render me speechless (if only for a short while). Capt. John Braddick was a ship’s captain, ship owner, slave owner and slaver. And, if finding out he was a slaver wasn’t enough of an ick moment, how about adding the juicy detail that he was most violently murdered aboard his own ship, by his crew.

Capt. John Braddick is believed to have been born about 1675, probably in England, the son of Capt. John Braddick and his wife, whose name is not known. He also had a sister, Grace Braddick who married John Vail. We descend from both of these siblings. And when Montral Goble Shaw married Charlotte Hatch, in 1909, the line was brought back together again with the birth of my grandmother Lois (and her siblings too, of course).

Braddick’s home was in Southold, Suffolk County, Long Island. His first wife, (my 8xg grandmother) Mary (Dyer) Braddick kept the home fires burning while John was out and about doing his ship business until she passed away sometime before 1715. He sailed out of Boston quite a bit, among other ports in the area, and spent much time in the Caribbean. He had no problem making deals with pirates and trading in illegal goods along with assisting his mother country (that would be England) during times of war.

However, today’s focus is on his death.

In the winter of 1733 sometime after leaving the Island of Madeira, on their way to Barbados in the Caribbean, four crew men aboard the Recovery murdered their Captain, 1st mate, and the cabin boy (who some believe to be John’s son Peter).


Such a gruesome murder did not go unpublished, so I have here a few newspaper items regarding the matter. The first article regards the reporting of the gruesome murder, the second item relates the confessions of Witness and Parker, and the last item is about their punishment.


  1. Transcription of Article from the British Observer regarding confessions of the murders:
Confessions of two of the men who murdered Captain John Braddick and others at sea
[Published in the June 29, 1734 issue of the British Observer, LXX, page 22-24]
      As we have just received the dying sketches of John Wittness and Thomas Parker, who were executed at Barbadoes the 25th of February last, for the murder of their master Captain John Braddock, which we have before taken notice of, we did believe it might be acceptable to our readers to hear that those murderers were punished with death.
The last dying speech and Confession of Ziggey John Witness, so. called after the Indian manner.
I was born in Long Island in the government of New-York, in North-America, 23 years of age come next May, and what little education I had, I took of myself, my mother being poor and not able to bestow any learning upon me. I was unwilling therefore to stay at home, but chose rather to go to sea. I bore a very honest character and was beloved in Long-Island by all that ever knew me, both by sea and land. The last and fatal voyage that I undertook was in the brigantine Recovery, Captain Braddock, with whom I was unwilling to make this trip, but he over-persuaded, and would not part from me, which has proved in the end my utter ruin and destruction, through my own wicked graceless courses, rash, unthinking, and remorseless proceedings; for which I heartily beg of God to be merciful to my poor soul, who alone knows the sincerity of my repentance; and may this prove a dreadful warning to all persons for the future, and more especially to all the spectators here present, whose prayers for mercy for me at the Throne of Grace I fervently implore.
We sailed from Boston in New England in the Recovery, in the month of __ 1733, to the __ from thence to the Island of Madera, where we took in wines, which the vessel’s company, making very free with while we stayed there, regularly got drunk, which occasioned the master to discharge three of them, saying that he would never carry any Irishmen more with him. Afterward, meeting there with John Smith on shore, he shipt him, with a promise of paying his debts; upon which he went on board, but the master not performing his promise to John Smith, he and the chief mate could never agree. But one day having some words more than common, Smith swore that he would have an inch of the chief mate’s liver out before the voyage was at an end. From the Madera we were bound to the island of Salt, and after being out at sea, we all seem’d to agree pretty well together; but as we were obliged to do a great deal of work, and were kept up all day, and were very scanty of provisions and bad withal, it occasioned a general grumbling among us all, and Smith first spoke of it to the master, at which he began to enquire who it was complained of the victuals? Answer was made, it was not one, but all. At which John Main and I being then on the main top, a letting up the top mast shrouds,. I came down, whereupon says the master to me, “In course, you must be one.” “Sir, (says I,) if I must tell you the truth, the chief mate was the first;” which indeed he did not deny. The master therefore reprimanded him very smartly and said, “If he was the first that complained, well might the rest;” and that it might be the means of the men’s knocking his brains out and running away with the vessel; at which says the chief mate, “Sir, do you mind what them damn’d sons of bitches say?” “Yes, (says the master) I do believe it, because it was spoke before your face.” The same day, the master having given John Smith some blows, seemed afterwards to be much concerned for what he had done to him, but towards night Smith declared he would be revenged of the master one way or the other; upon which, says I, “I’ll stand by you as long as I live.” Then replies Smith, “And I’d stand by you.” Upon that says Smith to Thomas Parker, (the lad who suffers with me for the same crime) Are you willing to stand by us?” He replied he would. John Main, then at helm, was asked the same question by us, who resolutely answered, “Damn the sailers,” and the murder must be done this night or not at all. In a short time after we made the island of Salt, upon which the chart was up, and we looked into it to see where the land made, as it was laid down therein, the cabbin boy then going into the cabbin, brought out a can of brandy and some sugar, and went forward with it unknown to the master. John Main seeing it, went forward, and taking a drink, wish’d for the night to come on, not being able to steer through eagerness to be committing the fact. John Smith was then sent to the helm by the master, and about six o’clock in the evening we laid the brigantine to. After supper the master and both mates went to sleep; we four, v/z John Smith, Thomas Parker, John Main, and myself, being forwards, where we drank the rest of the brandy made into punch: About ten o’clock John Main began to grumble at our backwardness and said he believed we had no mind to do it, and that what we had to do, we should do with all expedition, or else we should fall asleep, and neglect it. I myself handed the tools up and took a small hatchet for my weapon. John Smith took an iron maul, and giving Thomas Parker a wood ax, and John Main a caulking mallet, we all went together with an intention to kill the master and chief mate and save the second mate. I entering into the great cabbin went to the master, who was lying in the state room, and took him by the hand, who grasped me with it immediately (otherwise I should not have struck him) and then I let drive at him one or two blows with my hatchet, after which he tumbled out upon me; the noise of this awoke the chief mate, who coming out of his cabbin, John Smith struck him several times with his iron maul and brought him down, which being done, Thomas Parker laid at him with his ax. Supposing now they had effectually made an end of him, they went directly into the state room, in order to assist me, and finding the master not quite dead, Parker and Smith both struck him on the head, and concluding they had dispatched him likewise, they went next to the second mate, whom they found lying in his cabbin, John Main held him down, threatening him at the same time, if he made any manner of resistance, as he would serve him as the other two had been served. John Smith and I coming into the cabbin, hauled him out, and asked him, “Whether or no he would side with us,” or be served as the others were? He answered he would if we would spare his life; then going with us into the cabbin, he told us it would be the best way to read the Burial of the Dead over the captain, and throw him over-board, which being done, we made sail, our design being then for the Spanish Main.
The next morning as soon as I rose from sleep, I altered my resolution, being willing to bring the vessel into Barbadoes, for the good of the poor widow and family, which was agreed to by the rest; some time afterwards, the little boy lying along with the second mate, would be every now and then talking and laughing with him, which John Main observing, seemed much dejected; upon which John Smith asked hem what was the matter with him? Matter, says he, matter enough, why as long as this boy is alive, I never shall be easy for fear he should betray us at the first port we come into; to this it was answered that the first port we came to, he should be put on board of some vessel and sent to his friends. John Main said that it should never be. The next morning early as the little boy was lying in bed with the second mate, I went and took hold of him by the leg, and beat him, and by chance struck him on the eye with a rope, upon which he struggled and got loose, and run down into the hold and hid himself. Then I ordered Thomas Parker and John Smith to bring him up on deck, which being done, John Main left the helm, and coming upon deck, got a boom iron, and having tied it on the boy’s neck, John Smith and he flung him over the side; the boy notwithstanding, finding himself over the side, caught hold of the boom tackle fall and held there till such time as I myself cut him down with a cutlass. These things being all done and over, we then sat down to drinking, and concluded in the journal, that the master had the misfortune to be knocked overboard in gybing; the mate died a natural death; and that the boy fell over-board in handing the fore-top gallant sail.
These are the horrid, barbarous and bloody facts truly set down with every circumstance, for which I am now condemned to die, and whereby it appears that I am not alone guilty, but the others equally involved in the same wicked and inhuman practices; and though Main has saved his Life by becoming an evidence for the king, yet that can surely by no means excuse him before the face of Almighty God, who knows the secrets of all hearts, Once he was as much a principal in the murder as we who are to die for it. His guilt will undoubtedly continually stare him in the face and his conscience be a perpetual fiend, haunting and afrightening him every thinking moment of his life till, like Cain, who slew his brother in the field, he will be forced to cry out, My punishment is greater than I can bear, or (as some translators renders it) Mine iniquity is greater than it can be forgiven; And there shall be no one to pity him.
As for Henry Peck, the second mate of the brigantine, we do declare, in justice to him, that he was no ways aiding, assisting, or abetting in any part of this dismal tragedy.
We think this affair can be no unnecessary lesson to all masters of vessels, not to be so over eager of getting estates as to pinch it out of the poor men’s bellies, but to let them have sufficient allowance of wholesome provisions that they may have no room to complain. The want or neglect of this has been the occasion of this unhappy accident; and I beg that all sea faring men may take warning by us, least by some such hasty and rash mutinous proceedings they may be led to commit such scenes of blood and vengeance as will never go unpunished, either in this world or the next; for one sally of passion in most unthinking sailors brings on another, till at last they never know where to stop, till the measure of their sins is compleat.
I die in charity with all men, and resign my soul into the hands of a merciful Creator and Redeemer.
The last dying Speech and Confession of Thomas Parker.
I was born at a small town called Cannock, in the county of Stafford, in the year 1707, of honest parents; my father is a farmer there in good circumstances, my Uncle William Parker is an attorney at law, living within half a mile of Stafford Town. I had an uncle one John Parker, my father’s elder brother, a Cheesemonger in London, who sent a letter to my father, desiring him to let me come up and live with him, which he consented to, I had not been with him past nine months before he died, my aunt removed from London, and went to my friends, desiring very much that I would accompany her there, which I declined, telling her that my inclinations led me to the sea, she observing me so determined for the sea, gave me five Guineas, with which I went directly to Chatham, and there entered on board the Windsor man of war, where I served upwards of two years, from thence I served on board the Namure, and another man of war for the space of one year. From her I was discharged and going to London, entered on board the brigantine Anne and Elizabeth, John Hurst, master, bound for Lisbon. leaving her I entered on board the ship Albany, William Maxwell, master, bound for Madeira. Being arrived there, his orders were to sell the vessel, upon which he discharged me, and being on shore with him when he fell in company with Captain Braddock, he asked him if he wanted any hands. He answered yes, for he had discharged three; then recommending me to him, occasioned him to ship me, little thinking then that it would be the means of my coming to so untimely an end. And I hope as I sincerely repent of this great and crying sin, that God Almighty will have mercy upon me, through the merits and mediation of our Blessed Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ, into whose hands I recommend my Soul.
N. B. As to the particulars of the facts, I can say no more, than that all that John Witness had confessed in his account of the several murders committed on board, and for which we deservedly suffer, is every tittle the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

3.Untitled 2.jpg

Needham’s Point where Ziggey John Witness was left after he was hanged for murder, (along with the boy Thomas Parker) on the 23th of February 1734.
This is the newspaper notice of the sale of the Briganteen Recovery, Braddick’s ship on which he was murdered. This ad was placed in May of 1734.


So, apparently being a cheapskate and miser got Captain Braddick killed. I guess that is a lesson to all you penny pinchers out there. Ouch!

Another Goble murder…

Stephen P. Goble
Stephen Porter Goble, Stephen, senior’s son with his first wife, Elizabeth Brown. (1832-1866).

Stephen Goble and his first wife Elizabeth had, according to online trees, seven children. Sadly only one, a son, lived to adulthood and had a family of his own, Stephen Porter Goble, who was born in 1832. When Stephen senior died in 1889 his will left all his property to his 5 daughters (whom he had with his second wife Alice), clearly indicating that none of his son Stephen’s heirs were to receive a farthing:

Item 2nd — It is now considered by me that my deceased son Stephen P. Goble, having in his lifetime received his full share and proportion of my estate and assets, It is my wish and will that his heirs viz; the heirs of the said Stephen Goble, deceased, shall not inherit or have any part or portion whatever of my said estate, or of any estate or assets of which I may die seized.1

As one can see in the reading of the will, there was actually nothing nefarious going on, Stephen had already given Stephen Porter his share of the estate, probably when he had married. The fact that Stephen Porter’s heirs are mentioned instead of Stephen Porter himself also clearly indicates that his son had died previous to 1889, so of course I was curious as to why he had died before his father. The possibility of it having happened during the civil war was pretty high as he was of an age to have enlisted.

I found one online tree that had this to say regarding his passing: ‘met his death in 1866, by a shot fired from the gun of a trespasser.’…and that was it. All I could think was – ‘Seriously, that’s all you wrote? Weren’t you curious about the details?’ But this did give me a clue that he probably wasn’t killed in the war. The Goble family website has the following entry for Stephen Porter:

“Stephen Porter Goble died May 30, 1866. He and a farm hand were going through his farm on the lane when they saw a stranger walking through the wheat field. This would cause the wheat to be mashed down so that it could not be harvested. They called to the stranger who turned and shot Stephen P. Goble. The farm hand took Stephen on the farm sled to the house and a doctor was sent for. Stephen P. Goble died, leaving a wife, Frances S. (Ashburn) Goble, and three young children and a farm.”

The above story being shared by a descendant of Stephen Porter had been passed down for several generations through the family. However, thanks to the good old internet, and those great folks who are digitizing newspapers as fast as they can, here is the story as found in a Minnesota newspaper just days after the event3:


At this time, I can find no record of the perpetrator of the crime having ever been caught.

This event is an interesting and excellent example of how family stories change over the years, where the basics of the story turn out to be mostly true, but the details get all muddied up at each telling.

The murder of his son and the loss of 6 children with his first wife, were not the only devastating things to happen to the family. I caught this horrible bit of news in an 1885 paper:

The house of Stephen Goble, near New Richmond, O., was destroyed by fire.4

Who knows what precious heirlooms were lost to the family. Thankfully no lives were. So, we can be relieved that this wasn’t a Goble doing the murdering, but a Goble getting murdered. Although I am sure Stephen Porter would have preferred to have not been the subject of this gruesome post.

  1. Will probated April 10, 1889, Wills of Clermont County, Ohio, 1800-1915, Book P, p. 512-517 [image on FHL digital images of these wills is 303-305 of 669].
  2. Told to Jean E. (Coddington) Bogart by her mother Marguerite (Frey) Coddington and her Aunt Dorothy E. (Frey) Lanter.  Goble family website
  3. A Horrible murder…, Taylors Falls Reporter, June 2, 1866, page 23, col. 4; Stillwater, Minnesota weekly.
  4. Newark Daily Advocate, Saturday, September 5, 1885, Newark, Ohio, page 1, column 7.