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John McCaffary and the Abolition of Capital Punishment in Wisconsin:

A Collection of Historical Accounts

"During times of stress and change we often turn to the past for reassurance, longing for the "good old days." We see the past as a simpler time, a period of clearer choices because our selective memory  filters our view of an earlier era. For those events beyond our recollection  we tend to depend on the memories our parents have  shared with us or we vaguely recall from a  history course or a historical account we read years before.


This somewhat two-dimensional view of the past has been an important theme in understanding the image of the past in the mind of America. Intellectual and social historians  have analyzed this  particularly American  trait and have given different reasons for its persistence in American culture. ....But nostalgia isn't what it used to be, or more accurately, but less cleverly, nostalgia isn't history."

[Nicholas C Burkel in the  forward of "Kenosha Kaleidoscope: Images of the Past" by Don Jensen, Published by Kenosha Community History Committee, Kenosha, Wisconsin, 1985]


In recent years, Kenosha has witnessed the reawakening of  interest in the events surrounding John McCaffray and the abolition of the death penalty in Wisconsin a century and a half distant in the past. However, some members of the community seem stubbornly determined to retain their nostalgic, if factually bankrupt, view of this dark period of Kenosha's history. But as Mr Burkel states: "nostalgia isn't history."


In the interest of making fact based material available on the internet, you can access the following accounts of the events by simply clicking on the title below:



Click here for a map of the McCaffrey home location, burial ground location and three slightly different execution site locations

The Contemporaneous Historical Record arranged Chronologically

1846 Wisconsin Territorial Census Entry, Spring 1846

John McCaffry's Application for US Citizenship dated August 29, 1846

Durkee-McCaffrey Deed, August 17, 1847

John & Bridget McCaffry's Marriage Record dated May 2, 1848

The John & Bridget McCaffrey Residence, Photo date and photographer unknown

"For Sale", Published Kenosha Democrat May 25, 1850

"For Sale", Published Kenosha Democrat May 30, 1850

"For Sale", Published Kenosha Democrat June 6, 1850

"For Sale", Published Kenosha Democrat June 13, 1850

"Sudden Death and Suspected Murder" Published: Kenosha Democrat, June 20, 1850, Kenosha,  Wisconsin

"For Sale", Published Kenosha Democrat June 20, 1850

"Violence and Death" Published: Kenosha Telegraph, June 21, 1850

"For Sale", Published Kenosha Democrat June 27, 1850

"For Sale", Published Kenosha Democrat July 4, 1850

"For Sale", Published Kenosha Democrat July 11, 1850

"For Sale", Published Kenosha Democrat July 18, 1850

McCaffery-Evans Deed, July 23, 1850

"Horrible Murder", Published: Kenosha Democrat, July 25, 1850, Kenosha, Wisconsin

"For Sale", Published Kenosha Democrat July 25, 1850

"Important", Published: Kenosha Democrat, August 1, 1850, Kenosha, Wisconsin

"The Cases of McCaffrey and Niland", Published: Kenosha Democrat, December 27, 1850, Kenosha, Wisconsin

"The Sentence of John McCaffry", Published: Kenosha Telegraph, May 30, 1851, Kenosha, Wisconsin

"McCaffrey's Death Warrant", Published: Kenosha Democrat, July 11, 1851, Kenosha, Wisconsin

"McCaffrey's Execution Site", Published: Kenosha Democrat, August 16, 1851, Kenosha, Wisconsin

"Execution of John McCaffry", Published: The Telegraph, August 22, 1851, Kenosha, Wisconsin

"Another Murder", Published: The Democrat, August 23, 1851, Kenosha, Wisconsin

"The Reply to the Telegraph article "Execution of John McCaffry"". author Michael McFaul, Pastor of St Mark's Church, Published: August 23, 1851, Kenosha Democrat, Kenosha, Wisconsin

"Execution of John McAffry", Published:  Kenosha Telegraph, August 29, 1851, Kenosha, Wisconsin

The Development of the "Myth of John McCaffrey" through modern day embellishments

"First Murder in Kenosha County", The Telegraph Courier, published October 24, 1889, Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA

"Crime and Punishment", From: "Kenosha Kaleidoscope:Images of the Past", by Don Jensen, published by  the Kenosha Community History Committee, Kenosha, Wisconsin, 1985, article noted to be previously published in the Kenosha News.

"In 1850's, Juries Dodged Death Penalty Law", by Arlyn Day, published Kenosha News,

October 26,2001

Scholarly Articles related to John McCaffrey and the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Wisconsin:

"The Case of John McCaffery", by Carrie Cropley, published Wisconsin Magazine of History, Summer 1952

"A Farmer Halts the Hangman: The Story of Marvin Bovee" by Elwood R. McIntyre,

published Wisconsin Magazine of History, Autumn 1958 (under construction)

"Kenosha's Irish Experience, 1839-1890" by Maureen Funk, published in "Kenosha:Historical Sketches", Edited by Nicholas C Burkel, Kenosha Community History Committee, 1986.

"The Sentencing and Execution of John McCaffary", published Wisconsin Lawyer Magazine, undated

"A Brief History of Wisconsin's Death Penalty", published Wisconsin Lawyer Magazine, undated

"Capital Punishment in Wisconsin and the Nation" pdf file published by the State of Wisconsin, Legislative Reference Bureau, April 1995 (Requires Adobe Acrobat)

"History of the Death Penalty"

Biographical Information on the Individuals involved in the Murder, Trial, Execution, and Related Events extracted from Historical Accounts, Biographies, and Records (under construction)


Related Links:

"The Origin and Early History of the McCaffrey Clan"

"McCaffery Message Board"

"McCaffrey Message Board"

"McCafferty Message Board"

"County Donegal, Ireland"

"The Irish Penal Laws for the Repression of Catholics"

"McKeen/McKean Family History"

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Wednesday, September 26, 2001

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