August 12, 1806
For the murder
of, Russell Freeman Esq,
& Captain Joseph Starkweather
New Hampshire Gazette reported on December 31, 1805
Horrid Deed !!!
On the morning of the 18th inst. Russell Freeman Esquire and Captain
Joseph Starkweather, being confined
in the same room in the prison at Haverhill with Josiah Burnham,
a prisoner confined for forgery. Owing to
some misunderstanding that had existed between the prisoners,
Burnham in cold blood drew his knife which was
a long one
which he carried in a sheath, and taking
advantage of Starkweather's absence in another part of the
room he inhumanly stabbed Freeman in the bowels, which
immediately began to gush out.
At the noise occasioned by this, Starkweather endeavored to come
to the assistance of his friend Freeman,
when horrid to relate, Burnham made a pass at him and
stabbed him in his side, and then endeavored to cut his
throat and the knife entered in by his collar bone. Burnham after this
made a fresh attack on Starkweather and
stabbed him four times more. By this time he had grown so weak
that the monster left him and flew at Freeman
who all this time was sitting holding his bowels in his hand, and
stabbed him three times more.
This abandoned wretch then
attempted to take his own life, but did not succeed. By this time the
persons in the house were alarmed and came to the goal door, and after
considerable exertion entered and secured the murderer.
Freeman lived about three hours and Starkweather
about two from the time the assistants entered the prison.
our informant mentions that Burnham appeared in good spirits and said
he had done God's service.
William Whitcher wrote, in Some things about Coventry-Benton:
Burnham was tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to be
hung July 15, 1806, but the date was
subsequently changed to August 12, in order that he might "have further
time to prepare for death."
His execution which occurred at Haverhill, and which was the second
hanging in Grafton County, was
one of the great events of the time. It occured on Powder House Hill at
Haverhill Corner in the presence
of 10,000 people who had gathered from near and far to witness
the gruesome spectacle.
Entertainment was rare in those early days, and the most was made of
Previous to the execution a lengthy sermon, preceded by music and
prayer was delivered to the assembled
multitude by the Rev. David Sutherland of Bath, the victim about to be
launched into eternity furnishing
the preacher with his most vivid illustrations.
Whitcher depicted Burnham as well known but generally notorious.
might wonder why they allowed him to have a knife in prison.
Burnham was indicted at Plymouth. At his trial Associate Justice
Livermore, the father of Arthur Livermore,
and later chief justice of the NH supreme court, was one of the
presiding judges. Daniel Webster, then a young
unknown attorney, assisted in Burnham's defence. He later said of
the trial : "I made my first and only solitary
argument of my whole life against capital punishment, and the proper
time for a lawyer to urge this defence is
when he is young and has no matters of fact or law upon which he can
find a better defence.
This is from the book "Josiah Burnham" his trial and execution for
by William Witcher
Found at the Historical Society of New Hampshire
For a period of more than thirty years Josiah Burnham was a well known
character in the towns Bath, Coventry
( Benton), Warren, and Haverhill. He was land surveyor,
schoolmaster, blacksmith, speculator, almost constantly
engaged in litigation, and bearing anything but a good reputation
for honesty and morality. During the later
part of his career he was hopelessly in debt, and there is good reason
to believe that he had been confined in jail
for debt and possibly for certain dishonest transactions for some six
years previous to his crime of murder.
He came of good New England stock, and was a native of Kensington
(Farmington), Connecticut, born August 12, 1743,
the son of Josiah and Ruth (Norton) Burnham. His grandfather was
the Rev. Willliam Burnham, a graduate of Harvard College, class of
1702, and was pastor of the church at Kensington(Farmington) for a
period of thirty-eight years. He was
one of the leading clergymen of the Connecticut colony, and
according to Hinman was "a gentleman of great wealth".
His wife the grandmother of Josiah was a member of the famous Wolcott
family. The Rev. William Burnham was the
son of William and Elizabeth (Loomis) Burnham of Weathersfield, Conn.,
and the grandson of Thomas Burnham,
born in England in 1617,educated as a lawyer and who, emigrating
to America sometime prior to 1649, became
one of the early and most influential settlers of Hartford, Conn. and
one of the largest land-owners in the colony.
Josiah Burnham married Elizabeth Porter and must have come to the Coos
Country prior to 1774 since in an indented
article of agreement made on the 15th day of June in that year
between himself and David Whiting of Greenwich and
Joseph Smith, both of the County of Fairfield and the colony of
Connecticut, he is named as of Bath, County of
Grafton and province of New Hampshire.