Irish man hanged 160 years ago to be pardoned

Motion passed to pardon falsely accused


Published Friday, May 13, 2011, 8:18 AMUpdated Friday, May 13, 2011, 8:18 AM

Over 160 years after having his name tarnished and his life taken, Irishman John Gordon will be pardoned after a motion was passed by the Rhode Island House of Representatives. Accused of murdering miller Amasa Sprague, Gordon was hanged in the sate capital of Providence after an appalling trial by jury.

According to the Irish Times, Gordon immigrated to Rhode Island from Ireland to join his brothers who managed a store and a tavern. Sprague was known for getting into altercations with the brothers as many of his mill workers would show up to work inebriated after stopping off in the Gordons' tavern. Sprague's brother was a senator in Congress and with his adept political connections, Sprague inevitably had the Gordons' liquor license withdrawn. Soon after, Sprague's lifeless corpse was found in the Pocasset River and John Gordon was subsequently arrested for his murder.

The trial that followed Gordon's arrest rivaled some of America's most infamously corrupt court circuses. Millions of Irish had been arriving on American soil during the 1840s due to the famine, and anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment was prominent on the eastern seaboard. Gordon's trial was no exception to such prejudice. Catholics were barred from Gordon's jury as to not rile up any sympathy for the accused.

To smear the names and reputations of the Gordons, a prostitute was called to the stand as a witness. To make matters worse, a coat belonging to Gordon had been dyed in order to resemble blood. These were the days before DNA testing became procedure. After his guilty conviction Gordon appealed for a retrial, which was sat by the very same judges who had originally found him guilty. Gordon was hanged shortly thereafter, at only twenty-nine years old.

After the trial and execution of Gordon was made known to the masses, the state abolished capital punishment and eventually saw Irish-Americans as being elected to political offices that Sprague's brother had originally inhabited. Gordon is expected to be officially pardoned by the governor of Rhode Island in the coming weeks.

Irish-American and Rhode Island Representative Peter Martin saw the story as explicative of the struggles that many minorities in the United States face today: "This isn't only to do with Irish-Americans. It’s about justice for the underprivileged...this man didn’t get proper treatment.” A century and a half later, it appears that John Gordon will be getting the justice that he deserves.