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Murder In Pennsylvania

As pointed out on the Pennsylvania page on this web site, one of the most significant Carruthers in Colonial America was John Carruthers (spelling changed to Carothers during his lifetime), born in Antrim County, Ireland in 1739 .  He came to America while still a child, with his father, Robert Carruthers, born 1690.  John was listed among the early settlers.

This John served in the Revolutionary War as a Lieutenant of Cumberland County, from 1777-1779 and Captain of the Seventh Company, Third Battalion from 1780 to 1781.  See pages 3, 5, 6, 227, 233, 590, 591, 592, 593, 594, and 595 of Volume VI, Pennsylvania Archives, Fifth Series, for record of his service.  By the time he sent a letter to "His Excellency Joseph Reed, President of Pennsylvania", asking to be de-commissioned, he wore the rank of Colonel.  (It was interesting to note that his resignation letter is found on the Pennsylvania archives next to George Washington's letter to Reed, asking what date was being set for the trial as traitor of General Benedict Arnold.)   

He was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1782, 1783, and 1784.  On September 27, 1786, he was commissioned Justice of the Peace and Judge of the Common Pleas Court by the Supreme Executive Council.  Pennsylvania and the United States lost an important early shaper of our nation when John tragically died on February 26, 1798. 

The circumstances of his death are as follows:

John's family consisted of his wife Mary (Armstrong born 1740) and children James, William, John Jr., Thomas, Jane, Ann, and Andrew. His children were the ancestors of the Carothers families moving to Missouri, Oregon and Washington.

About the year 1790, a young girl named Sarah (called Sallie) Clark lived in the family of John Douglas.  While living there, she developed a strong attachment for the son of Mr. Douglas, who was at that time paying attention to Miss Ann Carothers who lived with her father John Carothers near Silver Spring.   Sallie Clark determined to destroy the life of Ann Carothers, and thereby gain the object of her affections.  With this aim in view, she hired on as a servant in the house of Mr. Carothers, and bided her time.  Having no ill will against the family, she desired to poison Ann only and purchased arsenic for that purpose.  After no suitable opportunity for the poisoning presented itself, she grew desperate and put the arsenic into a pot of leaven.  All of the family ate the bread and became sick.  John and his wife Mary, both died from the poisoning.  Ann, the intended victim, survived.  Her brother Andrew also survived, but was crippled for life.

Sarah Clark was tried at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at the October, 1798 term of the Oyer and Terminer Court.  The case was tried before James Riddle, President Judge, and Samuel Laird and John Montgomery, Associate Judges.  The jury consisted of John North, David Beard, James McNamara, George Black, Ludwick Miller, Abraham Line, James Scoggs, Robert Elliott, Philip Miller, John Ewing, Peter Fishburn, and James Elliott.  John Carothers, Jr., son of the murdered John Carothers, was High Sheriff of the county at that time.  They found the defendant "guilty in manner and form as she stands indicted of murder in the first degree". 

The final sentencing judgement came in August, 1799, and was "It is considered and ordered by the Court, that you, Sarah Clark, be taken to the Goal (jail) of the County of Cumberland, the place from whence you came, and from there to the place of Execution and there be hanged by the neck until you are dead.  And may God have mercy on your soul."


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