On a winters afternoon in 1843, mill owner Amasa Sprague was bludgeoned to death in a wooded area near his textile printing factory in Cranston. In 1845, John Gordon was hanged for the murder.
Two wrongs dont make a right, not then and not now.
Historians agree that John Gordon did not kill Amasa Sprague. The trial that
led to Mr. Gordons execution by hanging was unfair, the judge and jury biased,
and the evidence weak a classic miscarriage of justice that even at the time
caused such feelings of guilt that
That trial cannot be undone, but a pardon for John Gordon, as proposed in legislation sponsored by state Rep. Peter Martin, would at least offer some justice as balm to heal old wounds. Governor Chafee, whose family fortune is tied to the A. & W. Sprague Co.s eventual collapse, has a special interest in balancing the books of history.
A pardon would also offer a classic teaching moment if it opens minds to
the complexity of
The murder, trial and hanging occurred not long after the Dorr Rebellion of
1842. For weeks the nation watched this mini-civil war in
The Journals own opposition to the Dorrites and its coverage of the Gordon trial, fueled by class sentiment and suspicion of immigrants in the 19th Century, were not the newspapers finest hour.
Whatever role ethnic and class feelings played in the Sprague murders
alleged cause the mill owner got the city to withdraw the Gordon family
shops liquor license to halt mill workers inebriation ethnic and class
tensions preceded the rebellion and simmered (at least) long after. Naturalized
male immigrants were not granted a full right to vote in
If a pardon for John Gordon helps Rhode Islanders understand these issues,
very good indeed. A play about the trial by Ken Dooley is showing through Feb.
But if Mr. Gordon did not kill Mr. Sprague, who did? And why? Cold case! More grist for the mill.