Friday, January 4, 2013

Captain Charles Wright Part Two: The Keg and the Law

Before the whole family moved to the Black River Country of upstate New York in 1802, Captain Charles Wright’s sons, Charles Wright Jr. aged twenty-six, and Tryrannus Augustus Wright, aged twenty-two, went first the previous year, possibly to scout out a location for the family to live. In History of Lewis County, New York: with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers by Benjamin F. Hough 1883, page 209, it is stated:

Of these children, Charles Wright Jr., and Tyrannus A. came to the town of Denmark, Lewis County, in May, 1801, from Colebrook, Conn. They came down the Black river from the High falls on a raft, landing at the mouth of Deer river, then followed a line of marked trees through the wilderness to their future home, situated a mile west of what is now the village of Copenhagen. In the autumn of that year, they went back to Connecticut, and in the following spring, with their parents and all of their brothers and sisters, returned again to Denmark. They started from Colebrook about the first of March, making the entire journey in four weeks with a sled drawn by two ox teams. The entire family lived and died in the town of Denmark, with the exception of Chester, who moved to Ohio.

Also accompanying them was Captain Charles’s brother Freedom and many of his family members.

Captain Charles became part of the local militia in his new home. He, and probably some or all of his sons, became embroiled in some trouble with the military authorities. Hough, (pages 178 and 179), describes the situation as follows:

In 1806, most of a militia company at Copenhagen, failed to appear at a training, on account of some grievance at the change of their captain, and were accordingly summoned to a court martial, to be held at the inn of Andrew Mills, half a mile south of the village, in January following. Their numbers inspired confidence in the belief that the proceedings of the Court might be embarrassed or interrupted, and they agreed upon a course of proceeding, perhaps natural, under the circumstances of time and prevailing customs. Procuring a keg of spirits at a distillery, they marched to the court, and then went up for trial, assigned whimsical reasons for delinquency, alleging the want of decent clothing, short funds, the existence of various infirmities, and other frivolous causes, tending to throw ridicule upon the court, and rendering it necessary to order the arrest of the greater number of the party. The prisoners were confined in the room over that in which the court martial was held, and finally by their boisterous conduct, compelled an adjournment without trial.

 Hough continues:

The offending parties were indicted for riot, and their trial came off at Doty’s tavern, in Martinsburgh, but resulted in acquittal. The rioters had in the mean time prepared a song, The Keg and the Law, which recited minutely the transaction, and when the county court had adjourned, after the trial, this song was sung in the court room with great force and effect. The presiding judge is said to have jocosely remarked, that if this had been sung during the trial, witnesses would have been needless, as it embodied every fact in the case. One year after, the anniversary of their acquittal was celebrated, by an address, and the well remembered song was repeated. It was written by Charles Wright, and a friend has furnished us with a written copy, as taken down a half a century after, from the memory of one of the party. It consists of twenty-four stanzas, and is entirely destitute of rhyme, poetical measure or literary merit, although it might appear quite different in its appropriate tune, now forgotten, or so changed as not to be applicable to the subject.

Would that I had a copy of The Keg and the Law! I would like to be the judge of its “literary merit”. If you, gentle reader, have any idea if it is extant somewhere, I would be grateful for this information.

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