Friday, January 2, 2015

Murder of Henry L. Cartwright 1850

When Polly Carner and Henry L. Cartwright married in 1828[1] in Caldwell County, Kentucky, there was no indication Cartwright would later die at the hands of Polly's brother, Thomas [here rendered as Carney]. It was said there was a dispute of long standing between Cartwright and Thomas Carney - a dispute that would have tragic results.

The case of the Commonwealth against Thomas Carney, Indictment for Murder, was filed in Crittenden Circuit Court[2] on Tuesday, the 28th of May 1850. Bond was posted with Samuel Nunn, John W. Jenkins and John R. Clements as his securities.

The charges were as follows: " ... Thomas Carney, late of said county, yeoman, on the 27th day of February 1850, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, with force and arms, in and upon Henry L. Cartwright ... and there being feloniously, willfully and of his malice aforethought; and Thomas Carney a certain rifle gun, of the value of fifteen dollars, then and there loaded and charged with gunpowder and one leaden bullet, (which rifle gun ... Thomas Carney in both his hands then and there held) against and upon the right breast of Henry L. Cartwright ... a little above the nipple of Cartwright, one mortal wound of the depth of six inches, of which said mortal wound Cartwright from 5 o'clock on the 27th of February until 6 o'clock of the same day did languish and die."

Wilson Brown made an affidavit in which he stated William Simpson could prove he heard Thomas Carney say that "as soon as he got his family moved to the state of Illinois, he intended to come back and kill" Cartwright. Simpson left Crittenden County shortly after the murder and did not intend to return until court was over as he knew enough about the prisoner to hang him. Wilson Brown also reported that James Gibbs was a material witness and knew of a difficulty between the prisoner and the deceased and the prisoner told Gibbs he intended to kill Cartwright.

Testifying for the defendant was George Carney, who stated that Thomas Carney had been absent with his family from their home for 16-17 days and had been in Illinois searching for a new home. Therefore, he could not have been seen by Gibbs shortly before the tragic event.

The defendant, Thomas Carney, entered a plea of Not Guilty and a Venire[3] was called to decide Carney's fate. The Venire was composed of Thomas N. Wallace, John Hankins, William Hogard, John Bracey, James Gregory, Andrew Love, Bryant Bennett, Daniel A. Flanery, John A. Flanery, Charles Lizenbee, William Walden and James A. Johnson. 

The evidence being heard in full, the Venire sayeth the prisoner is Not Guilty as charged and was ordered to be discharged and to go without delay.

[1] Brenda Joyce Jerome. Caldwell County, Kentucky Marriags 1809-1832, (Evansville, IN: Evansville Bindery) 1996:101. John Carner, father of Polly, gave consent for a marriage license to be issued.
[2] Commonwealth of Kentucky vs Thomas Carney, Crittenden County Court Bundle #33, Kentucky Dept for Libraries and Archives.
[3] Venire: an entire panel from which a jury is drawn. Merriam-Webster online, <>, accessed 29 December 2014.

Published 2 January 2015, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog,

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