Cause of Death – “Crushed Under A Train”

The story of the death of my 4x great grandfather, Richard Swift, is quite sad, and even more so after I learned the circumstances surrounding his death.

In a way, this post is a continuation of three other posts I have written this year. First, I wrote about Reverend William Swift, Richard’s great grandfather and an immigrant ancestor on his father’s side. A couple of days ago, I wrote about Colonel Nicholas Spencer, Richard’s 4x great grandfather and an immigrant ancestor on his mother’s side. Yesterday, I examined a court case concerning the estate of Richard’s uncle, Spencer Ariss Moss, in which Richard was one of the complainants. And with that, this post is all about Richard Swift.

Background

As I have written quite a bit about Richard’s family, I won’t rehash too much of it here. Richard’s parents were Catherine Moss (1763-1816) and Richard Swift (1767-1831). Catherine was born in Loudoun County, Virginia, but by 1779, she had moved with her parents to Caswell County, North Carolina. There she married Richard Swift on 2 November 1787. Richard Swift was the son of William Swift Jr. and Frances Waddy, born 2 April 1767 and baptized on 7 May in Goochland County, Virginia.

Richard Swift Jr. was born in Tennessee on 8 July 1807 after his parents and older siblings had migrated from North Carolina. In 1830, he married Mary Fulcher, and after that date, he begins to appear in records in Robertson County, buying and selling land and slaves with his relatives and in-laws. He was a farmer and by trade a cooper, or barrel maker. He never owned particularly large parcels of land, only about 300 acres at a time.

Richard and his wife Mary had quite a large family: William, Martha, Catherine, Matilda, James M., Tennessee, Mary Frances (my 3x great grandmother), Elizabeth, Richard, Park Bailey, and Laurinda. All 11 children grew to adulthood, which for that time, was quite an impressive feat.

The Crime

As I mentioned, Richard was a cooper and by 1881 as a 73 year old man, he still operated his cooper business on his property. The following articles describe the events of Sunday, 20 February 1881 at Richard Swift’s home in Greenbrier, Robertson County, Tennessee.

Article in The Tennessean announcing the arrest of Joseph Pike and Lewis Sadler. 22 February 1881.
Account of the robbery and arson, published in the Leaf-Chronicle on 25 February 1881.

A third man, John Reese, was also arrested in connection with the theft and arson.

John Reese arrested in connection with the crime. Published in The Tennessean on 26 February 1881.

Not only did the thieves steal $1000 from Richard (quite a sum back then), but they also burned some of his outbuildings. Luckily, his home was not set on fire as well. Richard, though old, was determined to see the culprits were prosecuted.On 7 June 1881, Joseph Pike, Lewis Saddler, and Jeff Warren were indicted for “willfully and maliciously” burning the house of Richard Swift. It was also ordered that the sheriff of Davidson County bring Pike and Saddler back to Robertson County, as the men were apprehended in Nashville. On 10 June, Pike, Saddler, and Warren were all indicted for “burglary and house breaking.” Richard testified, as did his son James and sons-in-law B. F. Webster and G. B. Blackburn. The thieves stole “United States bank notes commonly called green backs,” “National Bank notes,” “current gold coin,” current silver coin,” “current silver silver dimes half dimes and of current nickle” for a total of $1,500.

On 14 June, the arraignment of Pike and Saddler took place in Robertson County. They plead not guilty, but “there not being time to finish the trial of the cause today,” it had to be continued to next day at 8:00 a.m. Lewis Saddler was found not guilty of the charge of arson, but like the day before, they again ran out of time to finish the trial. On 16 June, Joseph Pike was found guilty of arson. That same day, he also plead not guilty to burglary and larceny, but during the proceedings, he changed his mind and plead guilty. The article below gives more details about his trial on the 16th.

Joseph Pike confesses to the crime. Published in The Tennessean on 17 June 1881.

Although he plead guilty to burglary, on 17 Jun he moved for a new trial in the arson case. Neither the Attorney General nor the jury were inclined to be generous in this case, and his request for a new trial was overruled. On 18 June, he received the following sentences:

Burglary and Larceny: “Undergo confinement of hard labor in the penitentiary at Nashville for the term of Eight years commencing on the 16th day of June instant that he be rendered infamous and disqualified to give evidence or exercise the elective franchise or hold any office under this state and that he pay the costs of this prosecution.”

Forgery & False Pretenses: (unrelated to the Swift arson and burglary) Three years hard labor.

Arson: “Undergo confinement of hard labor in the penitentiary for the term of Eight Years commencing at the expiration of the term of eight years and three years for which he is sentences in the two cases of the state vs. Joe Pike et als…The defendant prays an appeal to the next term of the supreme court at Nashville which is granted and here tenders his bill of exceptions….”

Richard’s Death

Sadly for Richard and his family, the ordeal was not over. The Supreme Court of Tennessee did plan to hear Joe Pike’s appeal, so Richard made plans to travel to Nashville to testify, along with his son and sons-in-law. The family were going to catch the train at Greenbrier Station and take it to Nashville. However, when attempting to cross the train tracks, he was struck by a train and killed. The articles below are two different accounts of the accident recorded in local newspapers.

Article in the Tennessean about the death of Richard Swift. Published 5 July 1881.
Account of Richard Swift’s death, published in the Leaf-Chronicle on 12 July 1881.

It is just heartbreaking to think that Richard died in such a terrible way, in front of his family, who were apparently grief stricken. It is even more horrible that the only reason he was at the station that morning was to serve as a witness at the Supreme Court at the trial of the man who stole from him and burned his cooper shop.

That same day, his oldest son William purchased burial clothes for Richard from Dean & Durrett, dry goods dealers. For $32.90, he purchased 1 suit of black broad cloth, 1 pair of Morocco shoes, 1 shirt, 1 pair of drawers, 1 pair of hose, 1 linen collar, 1 pair of gloves, and 1 neck tie. The family intended to bury him quickly, so William paid the $0.75 express fee.

Richard was buried in the family cemetery in Robertson County, probably within the next few days.

His Estate

His oldest son, William, was the administer of his estate along with his son-in-law J. W. Sprouse, and they sold at public auction his personal property. It included:

1 axes, augers, rakes, hoes, shovels, 16 ft of rope, a scythe, 8 bridles, 6 bits, horses, 1 wagon, 1 gun, 1 bedstead, 1 cupboard, 1 table, 1 dressing table, bacon, 2 cradles, saddles, pigs, fodder, oats, corn, and rails.

His wife, Mary, was assigned a years allowance from the estate, which included 20 barrels of corn, 1000 pounds of pork, 675 pounds of flour, 1000 bushels of oats, $20 worth of coffee & sugar, $2.00 worth of spice, pepper, & soda, 1 barrel of salt, $12.50 worth of vinegar & molasses, and 5 gallons of coal oil.

After the personal property was sold and his debts paid, his wife and his 11 children received $7.48, a very small amount.