October 30, 1849, occurred a most horrible case of outrage and murder in the northwest part of this county. Two children of Mr. Michael Bright, a farmer living in Union township, four miles from Philadelphia, were the victims. They were named Susannah Margaret and Thomas Henry, and were aged respectively twelve and ten years. On the day named the children mounted a horse and rode to the woods to gather nuts, as they had often done before. As they did not return in the evening, their parents became uneasy and made search for them. In this search the neighbors joined and the hunt was kept up all night.
The next morning at about seven o’clock the horse was found still hitched, and near by the body of little Susie Bright, with the throat cut from ear to ear and with evidences that a more terrible crime than murder had been perpetrated on her innocent person. The body of little Tommy Bright was next discovered near Brower’s branch, with the skull crushed in two places, evidently by a stone. Near where the mangled body of the little girl lay was found a bloody “Barlow” pocket knife, and this led to the detection and identification of the demon who had done the horrible deed. The locality where the crime was committed was on section 32-59-8. The body of the little girl lay near the branch, about 200 yards south of the ford where the old road from Philadelphia to Newark crossed the Brower’s branch; her brother lay seventy-five yards away.
Suspicion at once fell on “Ben”, a young negro man, the slave of Thomas Glascock, as the perpetrator of the double crime. He had been at work in the vicinity hauling rock the day of the tragedy, the knife was identified as his, and blood-stains were found on his clothes. He was at once taken into custody. The citizens of the community were greatly incensed, and perhaps but for the intervention and intercession of Stephen Gupton and Esquire Walker the negro would have been burned to death by a mob. He was taken to Palmyra, however, and confined in the county jail, but for several nights thereafter the jail had to be well guarded to prevent the wretch from being taken out and lynched.
At the November term of the circuit court following, “Ben” was indicted and arraigned for trial. All the while he protested his innocence, and how he pleaded “not guilty”. Judge Carty Wells was on the bench, and he assigned as the negro’s counsel Samuel T. Glover and Col. R. F. Richmond. The prosecution was conducted by A. W. Lamb and Thomas L. Anderson. On the 4th day of December, after a very fair trial, and upon circumstantial evidence alone, “Ben” was convicted of the crime of murder in the first degree and sentenced to be hung January 11, 1850.
On the day of his execution Ben weakened and made a full confession. He said: “The devil tempted me. I saw the children and the girl looked so pretty. I got the boy to go away from her by telling him to come with me and I would show him some nice fish I had caught in the branch. He came along, and when I got him a hundred yards away I got a good chance and hit him in the head with a rock. He fell and never made any noise, only moved a little. I then hit him again with a rock and then he was still. I went back to the girl, and when she asked me where her brother was I told her he was down at the branch fishing. Then I caught her and threw her down. She struggled and tried to scream, but I choked her. Then, for fear that she would tell, I took out my knife and cut her throat. Somehow I dropped my knife, and I was so excited I could not find it and I ran away without it.”
The hanging of “Glascock’s Ben” was the first legal execution in this county — and to this day the only one that has ever taken place. A crowd of 5,000 people witnessed it. It is remembered that the day was warm and pleasant for the season. The gallows was erected north of town, near Sallee’s mill, on North river, and the hanging came off between one and two o’clock in the afternoon. It was on his way to the place of execution when “Ben” made his confession, and under the gallows he directed a clergyman to inform the crowd that he was guilty, that he deserved the punishment, that he had no accomplices, that he warned his fellow-servants against any sort of conduct similar to his, and that he hoped to meet everybody in heaven.
Source: “History of Marion County” 1884, Pages 298-299.