Papers of Victory Birdseye (AR 1993.16)

AR 1993.16

Papers of Victory Birdseye


Finding Aid

IntroductionPartial Chronology of the Morgan TrialsIndex to Persons NamedGlossary of Legal TermsSelected Bibliography

In 1993 the Livingston Masonic Library added to its archives a series of thirty-two documents related to the infamous Morgan affair.  This collection includes correspondence  and legal papers of Victory Birdseye of Pompey, N.Y., relating to his work as Special Counsel for the Morgan investigation from 1830 to 1831. The papers discuss Birdseye’s preparation for trials in Genesee, Monroe and Niagara Counties including testimony and discussions of some relevant points of law. Not all of these cases came to trial, as the statute establishing the office of Special Counsel expired in 1831 and was not renewed. Some of the specific issues dealt with in these papers are:

The extradition of James Gillis from Pennsylvania.  This includes a discussion of the propriety of extradition for a misdemeanor (which kidnapping was then considered under New York state law).  {Documents 4, 5, 13, 14]

The testimony of James A. Shedd, a former New York Mason who had moved to Ohio and was brought back by Birdseye to testify at the trial of Elisha Adams. [Documents 18, 21, 22, 24]

The competency to testify of Edward Giddings.    His testimony was ruled inadmissible in several cases because of his religious views.  New York state law required that a witness believe in a Supreme Being and in divine punishment for breaking an oath taken on the Bible.  This law was altered during the course of the Morgan trials and Giddings testified at the trial of Elisha Adams.  {Documents 3, 19, 28, 29, 32]

Complications  in the indictment against Thompson, Powers, Seaver and Follett in Genesee County.  This case never came to trial and is overlooked in most of the literature.  [Documents 6, 8, 9, 11, 20, 26]

The disappearance  of William Morgan is well known to Masonic scholars and no discussion of it seems required here.  A partial chronology of legal actions relating to these papers and an index to individuals named is included for the convenience  of researchers. Researchers  desiring further background on the Morgan Affair are directed to the bibliography  at the end of this finding aid.

These documents descended in the Birdseye family before they came to the Livingston Masonic Library. They are now available to researchers interested in Masonic history for the first time.

4/15/1827                    Bill passed creating office of Special Commissioner  to investigate the Morgan case.  Daniel Mosely appointed.

5/22/1827                    Court of General Sessions of Ontario County at Canandaigua,  Judge Howell presiding.  Indictments  against Eli Bruce, David Hague, Orsamus Turner and Jared Darrow of Lockport.   Prosecuting:  District Attorney Bowen Whiting and Messrs. Wilson, Dickson, Talbot and Benjamin.   Defense may have been Messrs. Marvin, Sibley, Penfield, Adams, Hubbell and Barnard.  Witnesses recognized: Paul Mosher, Corydon Fox, Edward Giddings and Ebeneezer Perry.  [Documents  1,3, 28]

1/1/1828                      Court of Oyer and Terminer of Ontario County at Canandaigua,  Judges Throop, Howell, Younglove, Brooks and Atwater.   The People vs. Nicholas Chesebro.  Edward Sawyer, Laton Lawson, John Sheldon and James Gillis.  James Gillis flees to avoid prosecution.

8/20/1828                    Ontario County Court of General Sessions at Canandaigua,  before Chief Judge Nathaniel W. Howell and Judges Chester Loomis, John Price and Samuel Rawson.  The People vs. Eli Bruce, Orsamus Turner and Jared Darrow.  Prosecuting: Daniel Mosely, Special Commissioner; District Attorney Bowen Whiting; and Charles Butler.  Defense: Dudley Marvin, Mark H. Sibley, William H. Adams, Vincent Matthews  and Ebeneezer Griffin.  Witnesses: Israel Hall, Mrs. Hall, Justice Chipman, Elisha Adams, John Jackson, William Hotchkiss.  Edward Giddings rejected as witness.  [Documents 3, 7, 29]

10/14/1828                 [Niagara Special Circuit?] at Lockport.   Indictments found against Solomon C. Wright and Jeremiah Brown.  [Document 9]

[12/1828-5/1829]       Daniel Mosely resigns.  John C. Spencer appointed Special Commissioner.

5/8/1829                      Supreme Court affirms Bruce’s conviction.

5/20/1829                    [Court of] at Rochester, Judge Howell presiding.  The People vs.John Whitney.  Co-defendant Gillis missing.  Prosecuting: John C.Spencer.  Witnesses: Eli Bruce

6/10/1829                    [Court of] at Batavia.  Indictments found against Sheriff Thompson, Powers and Seaver.  [These  indictments,  as well as that of Follett  were removed  from Geneva   General  Sessions  to a higher  courl  and never came  to trail.  Documents  6, 8, 9, 11, 20, 26]

8/1829                           Court of Oyer and Terminer for Monroe County in Rochester returns an indictment against Rev. Francis H. Cumming.  [Document  9]

11/1829                          Orleans Circuit at Albion, Judge Addison Gardiner presiding.   The People vs. Elihu Mather.  Prosecuting: John C. Spencer, Special Commissioner;  Albert H. Tracy, J. B. Coles.   Defense: General Vincent H. Matthews, Colonel D. D. Barnard, William H. Adams.            [Document15]

5/1830                         John C. Spencer resigns.  Victory Birdseye appointed Special Counsel. [Document  2]

6/7-10?/1830             Niagara County Special Circuit at Lockport, Judge William L. Marcy presiding.  The People vs. Ezekial Jewett of Lockport. Prosecutors: Victory Birdseye, Special Commissioner; Bowen Whiting, District Attorney  of Ontario County; Mr. E. Ransom, District Attorney of Niagara County.  Defense: Gen. Matthews, Ebeneezer Griffin, James F. Mason, Daniel D. Barnard.  Witnesses: Milton W. Hopkins, Orsamus Turner, Eli Bruce, John Whitney, Theodore F. Talbot, Bates Cook  [Documents  2,30]

6/1830                        Niagara County Special Circuit at Lockport, Judge William L. Marcy presiding.  The People vs. Solomon C. Wright and Jeremiah Brown. Witnesses: David Maxwell, John Jackson, Hannah Farnsworth, William P. Daniels, James B. Lay, Johnson Goodwell.  [Document  2]

11/18/1830 Ontario General Sessions, Judge Howell presiding.    The People vs. James Gillis.  Witnesses: John Whitney.  [Documents  4, 5, 13, 14]


Niagara County Special Circuit, Judge Samuel Nelson presiding.   The People vs. Elisha Adams.  Prosecutors: Victory Birdseye; E. Ransom, Jr.; Bates Cook.  Defense: William H. Adams.  Witnesses:  Loton Lawson, John Whitney, Isaac Farewell, Eli Bruce, James A. Shedd, Orsamus Turner, Edward Giddings.  [Documents  3, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 31]

2/28/1831                   Niagara County Special Circuit, Judge Samuel Nelson presiding.   The People vs. Parkhurst Whitney. Timothy Shaw. Noah Beach. William Miller and Samuel Chubbuck.  Prosecutors: Victory Birdseye; E. Ransom, Jr.; Bates Cook.  Defense: Griffin, Matthews, William H. Adams, James F. Mason.  Witnesses: Loton Lawson, John Whitney, Isaac Farewell, Eli Bruce, James A  Shedd, Orsamus Turner, Edward Giddings.

4/1831                          Statute authorizing appointment of a Special Counsel expires and is not renewed.

Adams, Elisha...Defendant. [Documents 16, 18, 21, 31] Benjamin, Orson...Complainant. [Document 28] Birdseye, Ezekial...Attorney, brother of Victory Birdseye. [Documents 18, 21,22] Birdseye, Victory...Special Counsel, 1830-1831. [Cited throughout] Bronson, Greene G....Attorney. [Documents 7, 10] Brown, Jeremiah...Defendant. [Document 9] Bruce, Eli...Defendant. [Documents 1, 27, 28, 29] Buckman, P. D....Defendant, but this may not be a Morgan case.[Document 25] Buel,?...Sheriff of Ontario County. [Documents 4, 5] Chandler, D. H....Defense Attorney. [Documents 6, 8, 11] Cooke, Bates...Witness? [Document 16] Cumming, Rev. Francis H....Defendant. [Document 9] Darrow, Jared...Defendant. [Document 29] Denison, Leonard...Witness. [Document 16] Follett, Nathan...Defendant. [Documents 6, 11] Fox, Corydon...Witness. [Document 28] Giddings, Edward[also Giddens, Gedding]...Witness. [Documents 3, 16, 28, 29, 32] Giddings, Henry[also Giddens]...Edward Giddings' brother. [Documents 19, 32] Gillis, James...Defendant. [Documents 4, 5, 13, 14] Hague, David...Defendant. [Document 28] Hall, Bolling...Anti-Mason (Alabama). {Document 15] Jewett, Ezekial...Defendant. {Document 10?, 30] Jewitt, Simeon B....Defendant. {Documents 9, 10?] Johnson, Nathaniel...Witness. {Document 16] ]King, Col. William...Defendant. [Documents 21, 28] Marcy, William L....Judge. [Document 25] Matthews, Gen. Vincent H....District Attorney, Monroe County. [Document 9] Maxwell, David...Witness. [Document 28] Mosely, Daniel...Witness. [Document 28] Mosier, Paul...Witness. [Document 28] ]Nelson, Samuel...Judge. [Document 25] Perry, Ebenezer...Witness. {Document 28] Phillips, John...Witness. {Document 16] Powers, Blanchard...Defendant. {Documents 6, 11] Rumsey, Livi Jr....District Attorney, Genesee County. {Documents 8, 11] Savage, John...Attorney. {Document 1] Seaver, William...Defendant. [Documents 6, 11] Shedd, James A....Witness. {Documents 18, 21, 22, 24] Sibley, Mark H....Defense Attorney. [Document 14] Spencer, John C....Special Counsel, 1829-1830. [Documents 2, 6, 9, 12, 20, 26] Thompson, William R....Defendant. [Documents 6, 11, 20] Throop, Enos T....Acting Governor. [Documents 2, 5] Turner, Orsamus...Defendant. [Documents 7, 29] Weed, Thurlow...Anti-Mason, Politician. [Document 16] Wheeler, B. W....Assistant Sheriff, Ontario County. [Documents 4, 27] Whiting, Bowen...District Attorney, Ontario County. [Documents 1, 14] Whitney, John...Defendant, Witness. [Document 9] Whitney, R....Attorney. [Documents 2, 4, 13, 24] Williams, G. W....[keeps legal records in Utica] [Document 6] Wright, Silas Jr....Comptroller, State of N.Y. [Documents 17, 23]

certiorari:     A writ issuing  from a superior  court calling  up the record of a proceeding  in an inferior  court for review

nolle prosequi:  An entry made  upon the records  of a court when  the plaintiff  or prosecutor  will proceed  no further  in a suit or action.

The above  definitions  are from:   The Random  House  Dictionary  of the English  Language (New  York: Random  House,  c1966).

The Livingston Masonic Library has several books and pamphlets in its collection relating to the disappearance  of William Morgan and the subsequent investigations.              These publications are indexed in the Library's catalog under the subject heading "MORGAN AFFAIR."   The following two books were the most useful in attempting to establish a detailed chronology  of the legal actions cited in these papers:

Lewis, Clarence 0.  The Morgan  Affair.  Lockport, NY: The author? [19--].   Call number: M19.61 L58.

Wandell, Samuel H.   The Myth of William  Morgan.   New York: The author, c1943.  Call number: M19.61 W18.

Item level inventory available on-site.

Compiled by Kathleen M. Haley October, 1993.