Sangamon County 
 Historical Society





Sangamon County Historical Society

Dark Deeds--County History Vignettes

September 11, 2013 9:49 AM | Deleted user
This edition of our ongoing County History Vignettes series details a section the massive History of Sangamon County Illinois, published in 1881, appropriately titled "Dark Deeds" (page 524-530).  While the chapter commences with a form of justification for chronicling violent crime in the county, most of the chapter details cases that resulted in acquittal.  However, the excerpt we chose for you today details the first murder and prompt execution of the first murderer in Sangamon County, along with an unusual twist at the end. 

For more information about our ongoing series of County History Vignettes, see our previous post:


“Thou shalt not kill,” is a Divine precept. Its obligation is incumbent upon every one. Not-withstanding this, since the day that Cain slew his brother Abe, crime has been rife in the land. Laws are passed and heavy penalties are inflicted upon the guilty, yet crime does not cease to exist. Neither the terrors of this world or that which is to come deters the deterined and wicked man from taking the life of a fellow-being. Sangamon county has, with every other county in the State, been the theatre of bloodshed, and however distasteful the task may be, it is a part of the historian’s duty to record the dark deeds that have been committed; not to pander to taste of a depraved people for the sensational, but as a warning alike to the pure, and those who have murder in their heart. The first case in which life was taken was that of the


On the morning of August 27, 1826, Nathaniel VanNoy, in a fit of drunken frenzy, killed his wife. He was arrested and lodged in jail the same night. The sheriff at once notified Judge Sawyer, who at once called a special session of the Circuit Court. A grand jury was empanneled and sworn, who found a true bill of indictment against him. The following named composed this jury: Gersham Jayne, foreman; Stephen Stillman, John Morris, John Stephenson, jr., James White, Thomas Morgan, James Stewart, Jacob Boyer, Robert White, John N. Moore, William Carpenter, Jesse M. Harrison, Robert Cownover, James Turley, Aaron  Houton, John Young, John Lindsay, Charles Boyd, William O. Chilton, Job Burdan, Hugh Sportsman, Abram Lanterman. The bill of indictment was presented to the court, and a petit jury was then called, consisting fo the following named: Bowling Green, foreman; Samuel Lee, Jesse Armstrong, Levi W. Gordon, Thomas I. Parish, Erastus Wright, William Vincent, Philip I. Fowler, John L. Stephensen, Levi Parish, James Collins, George Davenport.

The jury was sworn, and the trial commenced on the 28th. James Turney, Attorney General of the State, acted for the people, and the accused was defended by James Adams and Jonathan H. Pugh, both of Springfield. A verdict of guilty was rendered on the 29th, and sentence pronounced the same day, that the condemned man be hung November 26, 1826. Thus in less than three days was the murder committed, the murderer tried and condemned to be hung. The sentence was carried out, at the time appointed, in the presence of almost the entire community. The execution took place about where the State House now stands. Many are yet living who witnessed the summary disposal of the first murderer in what was then Sangamon county.

Just before the execution VanNoy sent for Dr. Filleo and enquired of him if a man could be brought to life after he had been hung. The doctor replied that if the neck escaped dislocation, and that if the condemned person did not hang too long there was a possibility that by the galvanic battery, life could be restored. Van Noy then told him that if he could be brought to life that he would be willing to pay a reasonable sum but otherwise the doctor might have his body for dissection. He followed the doctor’s advice and his neck was not broken. The sheriff, however, fearing that he would come to life, kept him hanging nearly an hour, and when he was taken down his soul was too far in the land of the spirits to be called back. Dr. Filleo made the attempt notwithstanding, and when he applied the galvanic battery, the nerves of the dead man twitched spasmodically several times in quick succession. There was no life in them and they only moved in obedience to the powerful battery that was brought to bear upon them.

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