Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Prosecutors

Other than the O.J. Simpson trial, I don't think it is common to have five prosecutors for a trial, especially one held in 1856. This, however, was the case for Thos. H. Probert. The Prosecution Team was headed by F. Kennedy, attorney for the Commonwealth. He was assisted by Richard Hawes, R. W. Wooley, R. H. Hanson, and Captain Simms.

Just "googling" these men made me aware of just what a "Dream Team" they were. I haven't been able to find anything on F. Kennedy, but the people who agreed to "assist" him were all men of stature.

Richard Hawes

Judge Richard Hawes 1797-1877
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Richard Hawes was a member of Congress from 1837-41. In 1843, he became a member of the Paris, Bourbon Co. bar. During the Civil War (which took place after this trial), Richard Dawes was unanimously elected Provisional Governor by the Confederate Council in 1862, a position he held until the end of the war.

In the post-war period, Hawes served as a County Judge and Master Commissioner of Bourbon County from 1866-1877. This image is from a tin-type that is in a collection of the Historical Society housed in the former Duncan Tavern in Paris, Bourbon Co., Kentucky.

Hon. William E. Simms 

William E. Simms was born in Cynthiana, Harrison Co., Kentucky on January 2, 1822. According to Wikipedia:
He attended the public schools, and was graduated from the law department of Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1846. He was admitted to the bar in 1846 and commenced practice in Paris, Kentucky.
Simms served as a captain in the United States Army throughout the Mexican War, and was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1849 to 1851. He was elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-sixth Congress (March 4, 1859 – March 3, 1861), but unsuccessfully ran for reelection in 1860.
On October 21, 1861, Simms was appointed to the temporary rank of colonel in the Confederate Army. He was appointed lieutenant colonel in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States on December 24, 1861, and was assigned to the First Battalion, Kentucky Cavalry. He resigned his commission on February 17, 1862, having been chosen as one of two senators from Kentucky to the Confederate States Congress. He was a member of the Senate of the First and Second Confederate Congresses and also served in President Davis' Cabinet.

Richard H. Hanson

Richard Hanson came from a prominent family of lawyers. He represented the city of Paris and Bourbon County in the legislature from 1846 - 1847 and again from 1863- 1865. He also served in the convention that formed the "present" constitution in 1849. The History of Kentucky by Lewis Collins and Richard H. Collins described his impressive family.

Roger W. Hanson

Roger Hanson was born in Winchester on August 27, 1827. A Mexican War veteran, he participated in the California gold rush before becoming a Kentucky legislator. During the Civil War, Roger became colonel of the 2nd Kentucky Confederate Infantry. Captured at Fort Donelson, he ultimately became a brigadier general and commanded the "Orphan Brigade," Kentucky's most famous Civil War infantry unit. In early January 1863, Hanson was killed in a desperate charge at Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Sanders, “Clark County's Hanson Brothers,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed July 13, 2014, http:/​/​explorekyhistory.​ky.​gov/​items/​show/​14​

R. W. Woolley 

The Leader (Lexington) published this obituary for R.W. Woolley on February 10,1905:
Col. R. W. Woolley died here [Louisville] at 4 o'clock this morning. He was born in Lexington seventy-seven years ago and came of one of the oldest families of the State. He was a nephew of Gen. William Preston and accompanied him to Madrid when the latter was United State Ambassador to Spain. He served on the staff of Gen. Buckner and wrote letter severely criticizing Gen. Bragg for which he was reprimanded by President Jefferson Davis. The news of Col. Woolley's death was not unexpected by relatives here as he has been in failing health for sometime. His wife was Miss Mary Johnston, of Louisville, and died sometime ago. He leaves two daughters, Mrs. Oscar Fenley, of Louisville, and Miss Sophia Johnston Woolley, both of whom were with him.

R. W. Woolley was an accomplished attorney in Louisville, Kentucky and served in a variety of roles that can easily be found by a search of the internet.

The trial of Thomas Probert took place seven years before the beginning of the Civil War. It appears, however, that the prosecutors in this case would side with the Confederacy or were at least southern sympathizers during the Civil War.

Given the popularity of the victim, Jacob K. Spears, I can't imagine how Thomas thought, in light of this team of prosecutors, that there was going to be any kind of positive outcome for him in this trial.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Indictment

Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune Illustration

Murder in Bourbon

"We understand that on Monday, a difficulty occurred in the bar room of the Bourbon House (Mrs. Thurston's) at Paris. Jacob Spear, Esq., a well-known citizen, threw a glass of whisky in the face of  Thos. Probert, the bar keeper, who instantly drew his revolver and shot Spear (sic) three times through the head. The wounds caused immediate death. Probert was arrested and lodged in jail to await an examination."

Louisville Daily Courier, 4-26-1986. p. 1, col. 4.

I find this short synopsis interesting, because it contradicts the larger narrative in several subtle ways:
  • It speaks of a "difficulty" without any background.
  • It claims Probert drew his revolver as if it was his, instead of one kept on the counter of the bar.
  • It claims Spears was shot "three times through the head"
  • It claims Spears died immediately
  • It totally ignores the fact that Probert asked to be taken to jail for his own protection
The Daily Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia)

The shooting was newsworthy enough to justify a blurb in the Daily Dispatch, (Richmond, Virginia), on April 28, 1856:

"Jacob Spear, Esq, a well-known citizen of Paris, Ky., was shot dead on Monday in a bar room by a man named Probert."  

Courts were not held daily as happens now. In fact, they typically met once every three months. This is evidenced by this article published in the Louisville Courier on July 19, 1856.

Kentucky News

The July term of the Bourbon Circuit Court for the trial of criminal and chancery cases opened on Monday. On Tuesday, the grand jury brought into court an indictment against Thos. Probert for the murder of Jacob K. Spears, and in the afternoon of the same day the trial was commenced. A jury was obtained by 12 o'clock on Wednesday of the term, which closes on Saturday.

The prosecution is conducted by F. Kennedy, attorney for the Commonwealth, assisted by Capt. Hawes, R. W, Woolley, of Lexington, R. H. Hanson and Capt. Simms. The prisoner is defended by Mr. Davis, Mr. Alexander and Col. Martin.


This had to be a BIG trial -- four prosecutors and three defense attorneys?  More on that in the next post.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

T. H. Probert vs. Jacob Spears, Esq.

Note: If you are arriving at this post with no background on the "killing", you may want to read these earlier posts on this topic:

Over the years, I've searched for every possible explanation for what caused T.H. Probert to shoot Jacob Spears in Paris, Kentucky in 1856. On April 29, 1856, the Louisville Daily Courier published this lengthy explanation. It is the best summary I have found:

The Killing of J. H. Spears at Paris

We saw a gentleman yesterday who was in Paris during the preliminary trial of Thos. H. Probert, for killing J. H. Spears, and, as we and others have published partial accounts of the affair, we will deem it but proper to give the important testimony. On Sunday, eight days before the occurrence, Probert rode up to a fishing frolic and Spears frightened his horse. Probert told him not to show his backside. Spears followed him up and asked why he spoke to him so. Probert said his horse was wild, and, as he was unwell, he didn't wish to be thrown, and he meant what he said. Spears said he was a better man than Probert and could whip him, and insisted on a fist fight. Probert declined, saying he didn't want to mar the enjoyment of the party and would rather postpone it. Spears afterwards told witnesses that he had sent a man to prepare arms; that he intended to call upon Probert, and if anything occurred, murder him. Probert was informed of this, and advised by witness to absent himself from his house, that Spears was intoxicated and might carry his threat into execution. That night Spears visited Probert and was told he was absent. On Friday, Probert went to Cincinnati and returned Monday evening. That evening (Monday) Spears, accompanied by a friend, went as far down the railroad as Cynthiana. Probert was informed by Spears' friends that he got into the baggage car at Cynthiana, and advised to go'in and make up their difficulty, but he didn't wish to see him, and arriving at the depot, at Paris, immediately repaired to his bar-room. (Probert had been the baker for the hotel and had acted as bar keeper for two or three months) soon after Spears friend went down to the saloon of the Bourbon House. His friend remarked to Probert, "I have brought you a customer," and Spears called for something to drink. Probert set out the liquor, and Spears asked him to drink with them several times. Probert declined. Spears asked him if it was because of their difficulty, or if he didn't wish to drink. He said it was the latter. Spears then threw his liquor in Probert's face. Probert asked him if he knew what he was doing. Spears said that he did, and at the same time Probert picked up the pistol, and Spears drew back the glass, and the pistol fired, and the glass was thrown at the same moment. 

Spears received one ball in the neck, one in the face, and one in the side of the head, and two struck the ceiling. The tumbler knocked down a cigar box, and broke a pane of glass in the window. The only person present was Spear's friend and the two young Messrs. Thurston and the landlords of the hotel. Spears lived in a state of insensibility for three hours. The pistol was an Allen's revolver, and it had lain in the same place from which Probert drew it when he fired, behind the water tank, during his absence to Cincinnati.

Spears was proven to have been very drunk in going from the cars, and walked between two friends, who braced him by the arms to prevent his staggering or falling. But Mr. Thurston said he walked alone when in the saloon. Spears was not armed, but his friend ran out of the room when the fight commenced, and said they were both shooting and one or the other must be killed. Probert was not on good terms with Spear's friend. Probert came out and desired to go to jail, and his friends escorted him until the Sheriff could arrive to prevent Spear's friends from mobbing him, who seemed to be afraid he might leave.

The Trial

There was a very large crowd in attendance upon the trial, which lasted from Wednesday until Friday evening, the case being continued each night until 11 or 12 o'clock. The lawyers for the presentation were Hon. Richard Hawes, R.W. Woolley, Richard H. and Roger W. Hanson, and Capt. W.E. Simms; for the defense, Hon. Garrett Davis, Col. T.T. Martin, and W.W. Alexander. The judge committed him for further trial on Thursday, but the question of bail was argued by Davis, Alexander, Woolley and Simms until the next evening. Judge Samuel refused to allow him bail.

The case was conducted with great power and force. The speeches were very eloquent and able, and that of Capt. Simms was particularly moving. His voice faltered and he shed tears in its delivery. He described the deceased as his most particular associate and best friend -- one who he deemed incapable of any but the noblest of actions -- cut down in the prime of life when health, happiness, etc. were before him. The favorite and eldest son of an old man, who leant upon him for support, and his widowed sister's idol. 

Mr. Spears was a single man about 30 years of age, of fine manly form and address, was at one time a resident of Louisville, and had spent much of his time in Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Eastern cities and agent of the large mercantile and manufacturing house of his father in Paris, and, by his genial manners, drew around him a host of young associates who will deeply sympathize with his large and influential relations in Bourbon, at his sad and untimely fate. The Citizen says he was buried by the Odd Fellows and followed to the grave in an immense concourse.

Monday, July 7, 2014

1854 - It Was A Very Bad Year

Thomas lost his father at the age of 13. His father, William, died on the way back home from the War for Texas Independence in 1837. By the age of 25, he was the head of a household in Lexington that included his mother, young pregnant wife, first-born daughter, 15-year old younger brother and two workers from his bakery.

Note how "Probert" was transcribed incorrectly.

Everything changed in 1854. In the previous post, we know his mother died in Louisville, Kentucky of cancer. She was living with her daughter. His wife died shortly after the birth and death of their first-born son, Thomas. By the end of 1854, Thomas was a 30-year old orphan and widower with two little girls aged two and four. I can't imagine what his options (or lack of options) were.

Sometime between his wife's death and 1856, Thomas relocated to Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky -- not far from Lexington. I do not know if he had family connections there, but not long after his arrival, Thomas became the baker for the primary hotel in town called the Bourbon House. According to a newspaper article published in 1856, "Probert had been the baker for the hotel and had acted as bar keeper for two or three months."

Bourbon House*
Citizen Advertiser, 24 April 1977

Note: The picture of the Bourbon House was reprinted in 1977.However, the cars have been dated to 1928-1935, approximately 75 years after the events discussed above.

It is possible that Thomas knew the family of his soon-to-be second wife, Catherine Richardson, as she was living in Paris at this time. But as readers of this blog know, life was to take a terrible turn (next post).

The Citizen Advertiser published a story  on April 24, 1977 describing the fire that destroyed what was then known as the Windsor Hotel. The story was based on files of the Kentuckian Citizen dated January 30, 1945.

Fire of undetermined origin yesterday gutted the three-story, 81-room Windsor Hotel, Main and Second Streets, which has stood as a landmark in Paris for 140 Years. The blaze was discovered about 4 p.m., coming from a linen closet on the second floor and spread rapidly to the entire front of the building and south wing. In about two hours the front part of the roof and the roof over the wing had caved in, as well as the floors. . . . The walls are said to be 18 inches thick, and at present are supported by ice which has formed by water from fire hoses.

History of the Hotel

"The hotel was built in 1804-5 by Maurice Langhorn and was called the 'Indian Queen House.' Outside hung a sign depicting a beautiful Indian girl. Later the hotel was sold to Major Aris Throckmorton, a wealthy Virginia landowner (1789-1866), who ran the hotel on a lavish scale and he, in 1840, built the present dining room and parlor. The original woodwork was still in these rooms. He later went to Louisville where he erected the Galt Hotel. 

Daniel and Henry Turney bought the hotel here and made extensive improvements, building the present front. In 1854 the first railroad came to Paris and built its depot behind the hotel. The hotel was the center of social functions at this time and its name had been changed to Bourbon House. During the old Bourbon County Fair, one of the oldest in the country, famous balls were held there."