Wednesday, 26 September 2012


Can you remember as far back as the year 1853? There are not may old-timers left. Here and there you will come across men and women who were very young boys and girls half a century ago, and while they may not have personal knowledge of incidents that happened, they may have heard of them from their fathers and mothers, and thus are able to keep in touch with the history of Hamilton as it was in the 50’s. Some of the real old-timers may remember the name of Hiram W. Cole, who poisoned his wife that he might marry a girl named Augusta Wheeler. Cole was a native of the state of New York, and was married in 1852 to the daughter of a widow, who lived at Lyons, in the same state. Shortly after their marriage, Cole and his wife came to Hamilton to make this city their home. They were a handsome young couple, and soon made friends. Cole had some money, and in partnership with a man named Darrows, opened a grocery store on King street east, near the Burlington hotel. They also carried on in a small way with the business of manufacturing brass and iron cloth wire, and the several branches connected with it. The business prospered for two or three years, and then Cole was compelled to retire from it, his expenses being too large for his income, which Mr. Darrow would not stand for. Within the first year after Cole’s a arrival in Hamilton a daughter was added to the family, and everything seemed happy and prosperous till Cole became infatuated with Augusta Wheeler, whose parents were respectable people. Augusta was a handsome, dashing girl, and her charms soon attracted the admiration of Cole. The Wheeler and Cole families were on terms of social intimacy, and Cole’s attentions to Augusta were not looked upon as anything but courteous. These attentions soon became so marked that Mrs. Cole became suspicious that her husband’s affections were being transferred to Augusta. Cole disposed of his interest in the grocery and wireworks and invested his money in a livery business. It was no uncommon thing for Cole and Augusta to be seen riding together in the streets, and taking drives out into the country. The fond wife was the last to hear of the unfaithfulness of her husband. Finally, the knowledge dawned upon her that something was wrong with her husband; his affection for her and their child was on the wane. Her suspicions were finally confirmed when Cole had a bedroom fitted up his livery barn, where he slept at night, telling his wife that it was necessary for him to do so to await the return of horses that were out late. Her woman’s wit soon discovered the real cause, and she and her daughter left Hamilton and went back to the old home in Lyons, New York.


        All restraint being removed, Cole led a wild and shameful life with Augusta, and it was only a few months till his business was ruined, his stable levied on for debt, and part of the stock sold. With the remains of his horses and carriages, Cole left Hamilton, accompanied by Augusta, and went to Garretsville, Ohio, where he opened a livery barn. He did succeed at Garretsville, and moved to Chagrin Falls, near Cleveland, where many of his relatives were living. The conduct of Cole and Augusta was so outrageous that his business was not prosperous, and Cole’s brothers finally induced Cole to send Augusta back to Hamilton. One of the brothers went to Lyons and persuaded Mrs. Cole to return with him to Chagrin Falls and give her husband one more chance for reformation, and in the loving sympathy of her wifely heart, she expressed herself as willing to condone the past and begin life anew. It was arranged that Cole should meet his wife at Cleveland, but he failed to connect on time. Mrs. Cole went on to Chagrin Falls and to the hotel where Cole boarded, and was shown to his room. In the bureau in the room, Mrs. Cole found a variety of articles belonging to women’s apparel, and a number of letters from Augusta Wheeler to Cole. The poor woman was overcome with the continuing perfidy of her husband, and clasping her little daughter to her bosom, she fell insensible to the floor. The chambermaid at the hotel told the story afterward. Next day Cole arrived, and being smooth of speech, he quieted his wife’s anger and promised to turn over a new leaf. A reconciliation was effected, and husband and wife began life together again.


Cole took his wife and daughter to Bainbridge, Ohio, on a visit to his uncle, and about the last of July, 1857, a letter appeared in the Cleveland Leader giving an account of the murder by poison of Mrs. Cole. Previous to retiring for the night, Cole gave her a teaspoonful of laudanum and arsenic, telling her it was a preparation of bloodroot and yellow dock, which had been prescribed to relieve her of her temporary ailment. The poison soon began its work, and a doctor was called, who administered an antidote. Mrs. Cole suffered terribly during the night, and early the next day she died. The news of her death was soon told in Chagrin Falls, where they had lived, and a number of prominent men went over to Bainbridge to attend the funeral. The ceremonies at the church were suspended, and it was decided hat a post-mortem examination be held. Cole slipped out of the church and made his escape, and this act fastened suspicion on him being the poisoner. A reward was offered for his capture. Search was made for letters that might indicate where he would seek refuge, and among them were a number from Augusta Wheeler, from the tone of which it was evident that Cole had been urged on to the commission of the crime. As Augusta wrote from Hamilton, the police in this city took part in the hunt for the criminal. Letters from Cole to Augusta Wheeler were intercepted by Postmaster Ritchie, in which Cole addressed Augusta as Mrs. Augusta Cole. This letter was written at Longsport, Michigan, and the Hamilton officers started in pursuit. They tracked Cole from Detroit to Kalamazoo, and there lost the trail. Cole was captured in Wisconsin, and made his escape from the officers while passing through Chicago. After five weeks’ hot pursuit, through half a dozen states, Cole was finally captured and taken back to Ohio and lodged in the jail of the county in which he committed the crime. It was nearly two years before he was tried for his crime, and as the evidence was purely circumstantial, he escaped with only a sentence of a few years in the Ohio penitentiary. Among the letters found in Cole’s bureau at the time the crime was committed, was one from a Hamilton girl, who married and moved to Kalamazoo, Mich., early in 1857. She was a friend of Cole and of Augusta, and her style of writing indicated that she was low in the scale of morality as was her friend Augusta. This woman was of respectable parentage and married a worthy man in this city. Evidently her trip to Kalamazoo did not improve her morals. This story was recalled to memory by a half-sheet poster that came to hand the other day.


        The chambermaids of eighty years ago must have had a poetic turn of mind. A traveler left an article belonging to his wardrobe at the old Burlington hotel in this town, and wrote to the chambermaid to forward it to him at the village of London by the stage coach. In answer, the chambermaid wrote :
        I hope, dear sir, you’ll not feel hurt –
           I’ll frankly tell you all about it;
        I’ve made a shift of your old shirt,
            And you must make a shift without it.


        Eighty years ago the coinage system of Canada was rather muddled. Seven coppers were counted as the sixteenth part of a dollar, and two or three coins together passed for 7 ½ d, or what was then called a York shilling. The canny shopkeepers took advantage of the system as they gained a halfpenny every time they got a hold of two three half penny bits. So with a pistereen, or, as it was called in Hamilton, a Halifax shilling, which the shopkeepers received only for eighteen pence, though it was worth nineteen and a fraction. The shopkeeper then laid his currency pieces by till he had collected perhaps one hundred shillings, which he paid out for at five for a dollar, gaining on his customers  by the exchange of three hundred farthings, or three shillings and some pence, making quite a profit. The system of Halifax currency and York shillings prevailed till the year 1853 when a change was made from pounds, shillings and pence to dollars and cents.


        To send money by mail through Canada post offices eighty years ago did not always ensure its safe arrival at its intended destination. In an old copy of the Gore Gazette, published at Ancaster in the year 1827, we find an item to the effect that a number of packages and money letters, addressed to, or mailed by, persons residing in the neighbourhood of Ancaster, had been abstracted from the mail between that place and he lower provinces. An English package addressed to the editor of the Gore Gazette, to the care of the Lord Bishop of Quebec, and delivered by his lordship to the deputy-postmaster, was mailed at Quebec, but never arrived at Ancaster. A Mr. Sheldon, of Hamilton, had mailed 78 pounds for Montreal; and Mr. Campbell, of Dundas, mailed 60 pounds to Montreal, but no trace of any of the letters could be had.


        In the early days, while Hamilton was yet in its swaddling clothes, there was the same outcry by the merchants about the people going from home to buy goods instead of supporting local merchants. Especially there was cause of complaint against salaried officers of the government, who bought all of their clothing, dress goods, household linens, etc. in the old country. An old copy of the Colonial Advocate, published in muddy little York, in the year 1827, contains the following editorial item : “One consequence of giving our judges, law officers, etc. so very extravagant salaries and emoluments is that they become wholesale dealers in almost every article they require, and which they purchase at Montreal, Quebec, New York or England, buying only of the retail or wholesale dealers in this colony a few trifles when they are out of sorts. Any one who will go to our wharves on the arrival of a steam packet will ascertain the fact.


        In the year 1801, in the town of York (now Toronto), a man named Sullivan was hanged for the crime of presenting a forged order on a store and getting goods thereon. Sullivan could neither read nor write, and although this fact was sufficient evidence that someone else forged the order, yet the proof that he got the goods procured his conviction and death. His body was buried in the jail yard. In the year 1837, when workmen were excavating to lay the foundation for a new jail, Sullivan’s coffin was found about sixteen inches from the surface. Dr. Widmer and a number of bystanders thought the remains were of a murdered man, as the skull had marks of violence on it; but Mr. McDonel, who was high sheriff at the time of Sullivan’s execution, remembered the occasion. The rope with which Sullivan had been hanged was found in the coffin.

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