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Wife Swapping Salvationists, Tar, Feathers, a Three Cornered Rail… and Fratricide.

In late 1889, on the shores of Sacandaga Lake in Fulton County, a peculiar tale unfolded just outside the little village of Northville,

(I know, I know…Fulton County doesn’t exactly fit the “Central New York” motif of this blog, but it does reference Baldwinsville and “a little town near Syracuse” – close enough).

On what was known as “Johnnycake Hollow Road” lived the Barclay family, consisting of Henry, the father, Pauline the wife, their sons John, Oscar, Reuben and Frederick and one daughter -Minnie- the youngest. As to their character, one newspaper said: “The boys did not bear a good record as to sobriety or morals“. Another paper put it: “The Barclays are a turbulent crowd and in the past have been conspicuous neither for virtue nor morality“. The Barclays were all Salvationists, John being familiarly called ‘Salvation John’. They frequently attended the meetings of the Salvation Army in Northville”. (For all the good it apparently did). Or: “The Barclays are looked upon as disreputable and not fit to live near a civilized community.”

Okay, so they weren’t the Waltons…maybe more like the Osbornes.

Oscar and John each lived on their own, while the rest of the family lived together. Oscar, at least, didn’t lack for company:

Some years ago, Henry Barclay cast off his wife and took another woman to his house. This woman left him for his son, Oscar. For fourteen years Oscar lived with this woman who had previously lived in intimate relations with his own father”. It’s a pretty safe bet many eyebrows were raised.

In early 1889, Sam Carrington, his wife Kate and two small children moved from Baldwinsville to the house next door to the Barclays.

“Last winter John Barclay and Kate Carrington were constantly in each other’s company . Mrs. Carrington’ s husband did not appear the least disconcerted by John’s attentions to his wife and after a time the neighbors ceased to talk about the scandalous conduct of the couple, as they expressed it“.

Fortunately for the gossipy neighbors who had grown bored with the Barclay/Carrington soap opera, the plot was about to take yet another twist.

Last summer it was noticed that John Barclay and Kate Carrington were not in each other’s company as much as formerly and it began to be whispered about that John had been ‘put out’ by his brother Oscar, for whom the shameless woman appeared to have a strong attachment . It was about this time that Oscar prevailed upon Sam Carrington to let him have apartments in the same house. The relations of Oscar Barclay and and Mrs. Kate Carrington are said to have been as man and wife. while Sam Carrington and Mrs. Barclay lived in a similar relation to each other” .

Holy hell, first he steals his father’s mistress, then his brother’s paramour! Plus, he managed to persuade her husband to go along with the deal – under his roof, no less- by trading in his wife/ex-stepmother, who also seemingly acquiesced to the arrangement! This guy could have sold the Pope a double bed! (It probably would have been helpful if they all wore numbers and the local paper printed a roster, so the townsfolk would know who was playing what position that week).

Let’s get a look at this North Country Lothario:

The Northville Casanova

This scandalous, immoral affair had reached such a fever pitch that some of the local folks decided it was high time they did something about it besides titter and harrumph. That “something” was to get up a “White Cap” organization and administer some frontier justice.

On the night of October 25, about ten men gathered at the Barclay house. “They disguised themselves with masks and turned their trousers and coats wrong side out and placing the white caps on their heads, started out“. (The “white caps” were pillowcases, maybe?) At 9:30 PM, they stole over to the Carrington house, undetected. They grabbed Sam Carrington, stripped him, tarred and feathered him and rode him up and down the highway on a sharp, three cornered rail, for several rods. (Most papers went with the “tar and feathers” story, one even going so far as to refer to a cauldron of tar, but the Buffalo Sunday Morning News version says they “secured a quantity of lampblack instead of tar and feathers“, which is more believable. This mob is not exactly a brain trust and besides, how the hell would they have carried a “cauldron of hot tar” around? ) Eventually they dropped Sam and returned for Mrs. Carrington, who promptly fainted. They contented themselves with daubing her face with tar/lampblack and turned their attention to Oscar who, upon hearing all the commotion, had fled to the nearby house of Sidney Sweet.

To their demands that he bring Oscar out, Sweet responded that Oscar wasn’t there. Not to be denied, they pushed him aside and surged inside. By this time Oscar had retreated to the garret. He stood at the head of the stairs and picked up a nearby shotgun. As they started up the stairs he warned them to come no further or he would shoot. They disregarded the warning and Oscar fired.

Buckshot can do fearsome damage at close range. The “White Cap” in the lead took the brunt of the damage. The blast removed part of his head and he tumbled back down the stairs, dead. The rest of the would-be vigilantes fled.

With the mob gone, Oscar headed back down the stairs and found that the now-dead vigilante was none other than his brother Frederick.

He turned himself in to the sheriff, who arrested him along with his father, two of his brothers and three other men, all of whom comprised the the mob of White Caps.

The Coroner’s jury acquitted Oscar Barclay on the supposition that the killing of his brother was done in self-defense. The case of the other men was to be brought up before the grand jury, but two of the principal witnesses – Oscar and Kate – “eloped”. Sam Carrington skipped town as well, leaving no one to testify. He was “found in the western part of the state, he having taken refuge in a small town near Syracuse“. His last known whereabouts were in a cell in Johnstown, where his testimony against the White Caps had been secured. I have no word on whether the grand jury acted on his deposition or not, so the fate of the vigilantes remains unknown, as does the rest of the story concerning “The North Country Romeo and the Shameless Woman“. Perhaps we will find out in an upcoming episode next season, on the Lifetime Network.

One thought on “Wife Swapping Salvationists, Tar, Feathers, a Three Cornered Rail… and Fratricide.

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