A Sketch of the Circumstances of the Birth, Education, and Manner of Caleb's Life;
with practical Reflections, delivered at the place of Execution.
By Moses C. Welch, A.M. Pastor of a Church in Mansfield.
Caleb Adams, the criminal, was born at Leyden, in the county of Hampshire, Massachusetts, May 16th, 1785. His mother, who was an amiable woman, from a respectable family, and had the reputation of one who feared God, and honored the religion of Christ, died when he was about five months old. It is confidently stated, and supported by credible testimony, that a woman of ill fame was taken into the family, at the critical period of about six months before the birth of this youth, by the father, to the great grief and distress of his lawful wife -- that she brought with her an idiot child of two years old -- that the wife was neglected, languished, and died with grief. How far this might make impressions on the unborn infant, and give him an untoward cast of mind, it is not my business precisely to determine. But the experience of mankind for ages, may lead us to conclude he may have unhappily suffered, from the evils that existed in the family before his birth.
This idea, however, is not suggested to palliate his guilt, or take away the enormity of the crime for which he is to die. He is a moral agent. Possessing sufficient powers of mind to learn his duty to God and man, and having acted according to the freedom of his own will, he must fall by the righteous law of the state, and answer to God for the bloody deed.-- My object in relating the unhappy circumstance is, that it may operate as a warning to every man who has a family, to fear God -- to be faithful to his household -- to be tender of the wife of his bosom, and thus have compassion on his unborn children. It is designed to impress this idea, that God does visit the iniquities of the fathers upon the children.
The father of this unhappy youth, within about two months after the death of his mother, married the woman he had taken into his family, and made her his partner in the care of his children. She also died at the end of two years.
Caleb relates that from his earliest recollection the family were poor and distressed for the necessaries of life. He confesses that he was when a young child much addicted to evil courses, which he indulged to that degree, that none of the neighbors were willing he should live with them. His conduct was so bad that when a younger brother was kept and supported for what little service he could do in the family, no one would keep him without pay.
At nine years old, he was brought from Leyden to Brooklyn, in this county, to live with his uncle Ephraim Adams, in whose family he resided five years. At this place he persisted and increased in his evil and vile practices. The first crime of peculiar enormity that he recollects, after he came to Brooklyn, is an instance of theft. He stole a purse of money from his uncle's desk, and secreted it in the stone wall. His uncle suspected him, and charged the crime upon him. But as one crime always leads to another, he denied the fact, and said he would be hanged if he took it. He persisted in the denial, repeating the declaration that he would be hanged if he stole the purse. At length his uncle offered him a shilling if he would find it, and, imprudently, promised he would not punish him; on which he searched for the purse where he hid it, but was never able to find it.
At another time he stole a chain, and hid it in the stone wall, putting the end of a stick in the ground against the place, so that he might know where to find it. One inducement to this crime was, if the chain could not be found, he concluded he should not be obliged to work, to which he had a great aversion. Another was an expectation that his uncle would offer him money if he could find it.
To these crimes he added the sin of profane language, lying, and the violation of God's holy Sabbath. He was peculiarly unwilling to attend the public worship of God, and used, often, to run away, and spend the sabbath at play in the lots and fields. The reasons he gave for this conduct are, that his uncle did not provide for him clothes decent to wear to meeting; and when he did attend, he was of course a subject of ridicule among the boys. His uncle, also, attended a meeting in another town, at the distance of six or seven miles, and left him without any one to watch over him, and prevent his wandering about the fields, and violating the sabbath.-- Among other evils which he indulged while he lived with his uncle Ephraim Adams, he was peculiarly cruel to the animal world. This he manifested in catching frogs and cutting them to pieces -- taking young birds from the nest, torturing and destroying them. This, he thinks, had a tendency to harden him, and might probably make it more easy for him to shed human blood. During these five years of his life, he says he was not properly governed -- that he was often punished when he did not deserve it, and as often escaped punishment when he was guilty.-- This, he thinks, was a great injury to him, and was one occasion of his ruin.
From the place last mentioned, he went to live with his uncle Elisha Chapman, a regular, well-disposed man, who is now no more, when in his 15th year. With him he resided two winters and one summer. Here he confesses he continued in his evil courses. From Mr. Joseph Baker he stole his money scales, and, unhappily, escaped that punishment he deserved, because his uncle was confined to his bed with sickness. In this family, he acknowledges, he was kindly treated -- was properly governed -- had good and serious advice, and was compelled to attend the public worship of God on the Sabbath. After spending two winters and one summer in this family, he resided a few days with his uncle Samuel Chapman, and then went to live with Mr. Reuben Sharp, of Abington, in Pomfret. Here he stole a quarter of a dollar from a young girl in the family, and spent it at training. He broke and much injured a gun, and stole a looking-glass, carried it abroad, and broke it to pieces, for no other purpose but to indulge an evil disposition and do mischief. His conduct, he confesses, was bad in school, so that complaints of his crimes were continually made against him; and he was often told he would go to jail, and to the gallows.
The crime which has brought him to the present awful crisis, and to which his vile courses from his childhood, together with improper government, have prepared the way, is the cruel and unprovoked murder of Oliver Woodworth, an amiable child of six years old, a nephew and adopted heir of Mr. Sharp, who had lived with him about one year. For a trifling affront he flattered and enticed him to a retired place in the woods; carrying an ax and a knife, the fatal instruments of the murder; where, after knocking him down, and breaking his head with the ax, he, with the knife cut his throat, and fled, leaving him weltering in his blood!
These facts are taken from his own mouth, and this is his dying confession. He owns the justice of the sentence passed upon him by the court, and acknowledges that he ought to die.
This sketch of his life, with what we now have before our eyes, may afford some serious reflections.
A solemn admonition is presented to parents and guardians. They are put in mind of their duty, and called, in a language louder than thunder, to watch over their children -- to instruct and govern them with constant care, and prayerful fidelity. Saith inspiration, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. A virtuous education, and proper government of children and youth, have great influence upon them through life. Here we see one lost to the world, in part, perhaps, for want of suitable attention in early childhood. Is it possible that you who are parents, and witness this awful scene, can neglect your children and not teach them the fear of God? Can you set them evil examples, or allow them in vicious courses? If you do, how can you endure the thought of seeing them at the bar of Jehovah? Extend your views to the period when you must meet your families at the final judgment. And think-- Oh! think how cutting to hear them reproach and curse you, as the cause of their everlasting ruin!
To young people, also, the present awful solemnity, in connexion with the narrative I have given you, affords a lesson of inconceivable importance. You are taught the great danger of allowing yourselves in sin, and sliding, insensibly, into habits of vice.-- This poor youth is held up as a warning to you this day. He indulged himself in disobedience -- in cruelty -- in lying -- in stealing -- in profane language -- in a violation of God's holy Sabbath. And behold, now, his untimely end! We here see verified in a striking manner, that solemn declaration of Jehovah, Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days. This poor youth is become ripe for the gallows, though but in his nineteenth year. He is to be cut off in the morning of life, and, by the hand of public justice, hurried before his eternal Judge. Remember, my young friends-- Oh! remember, that the paths of sin become smooth by use, and to venture in them, is the way of ruin.
The poet well observes:
"He that once sins, like him that slides on ice
Goes swiftly down the slipp'ry paths of vice
Though conscience checks him, yet those rubs gone o'er
He slides on smoothly, and looks back no more."
If you allow yourselves in sin, you have reason to fear you will go on from bad to worse -- from one step of iniquity to another, till the Lord will give you up to final and irretrievable ruin. Be admonished, therefore, to guard against all vice. Shun the appearance of evil. Venture, at no time, in the path of the destroyer. Fear God and keep His commandments. Remember now your Creator, in the days of your youth, while the evil days come now, nor the years draw nigh wherein you shall say we have no pleasure.
May the present awful scene, suitably affect every soul of this great assembly! While we look with tender compassion upon the dying criminal, may all that have an interest at the throne of grace, strive together in their prayers, and cry to God, that he will have mercy on him. Cry, earnestly, to that divine almighty Saviour, who has the hearts of all men in his hand, and who said to the penitent thief on the cross, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise, that he will say to poor Caleb, Thy sins which be many are forgiven thee.
While we pity and pray for the dying criminal, we shall do well to remember, that God is just, whose judgments will, certainly, overtake the wicked.-- We are sinners -- we are, also, mortal. Though we may escape the gibbet, we shall all, shortly, die.-- This numerous congregation will, in a few years, go the way, whence we shall not return. The grave will be our house, and eternity our home. At the appointed time we must all meet the assembled world at the bar of judgment. And oh! may the present awful transaction, and the gathering of this great assembly lead our views to that solemn period! Let us consider the time is approaching, and will come, when All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. The time is fast approaching, and will come, when The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. At the sound of the trump of God, not only those who are then alive, will be summoned to the bar of Christ, but all the dead will be raised, and come to judgment. We, as well as others, must then receive our final doom. Come, ye blessed; or, Depart, ye cursed, will be our portion. Let us, therefore, now, while it is called today, hear and obey that Gospel, which began at Jerusalem -- which was first preached in the name of an arisen Christ, on the day of Pentecost; and was, gloriously, efficacious to the salvation of many hardened, blood-stained sinners. And let us now, remember, that although the crucifiers of Christ -- though a thief that died on the cross -- though great sinners, who are washed in the blood of Jesus, will be seated in heaven; yet, if we do not obey the Gospel, we shall be cast out, and perish forever. For it is a declaration of eternal truth, that, There is no other name given, under heaven, among men, whereby we must be saved. And the veracity of the Lord is pledged that, He who believeth not, shall be damned.