Antoine Le Blanc: A shocking story of murder and a community’s revenge

S.P. Hull's report of the Trial and Conviction of Antoine Le Blanc, 1833

By Carolyn Dorsey, North Jersey History & Genealogy Center

S.P. Hull's The Trial and Conviction of Antoine Le Blanc, 1833
S.P. Hull’s The Trial and Conviction of Antoine Le Blanc, 1833. From the collections of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center

On the night of May 11, 1833, Antoine Le Blanc callously murdered his employers, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Sayre, at their farm on South Street in Morristown.

Le Blanc was swiftly captured, tried and sentenced to death. His crime was heinous, but an even more gruesome and strange tale is the journey taken by Le Blanc’s body following his execution on the Morristown Green.

Le Blanc, a French-speaking immigrant, came to America to seek his fortune after his family disowned him. He ended up as a hired hand at the Sayres’ farm, in return for a dark room in their cellar with no pay.

On the night of the murder, he went to a local hotel and ordered a brandy, passing “away the time until the people had gone to bed.”¹

Returning to the farm that evening, he bludgeoned the Sayres to death with a shovel, and then buried their bodies in a pile of manure. He then murdered their sleeping servant, Phoebe.

After stealing all the cash, jewelry and clothing he could carry, he made his getaway on the Sayres’ horse. Le Blanc was quickly captured at a tavern in the Hackensack Meadows with the stolen plunder among his belongings. He was returned to Morristown, tried, found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death by a jury. In addition to execution by hanging, Le Blanc was condemned by Judge Gabriel Ford to a post-execution medical dissection.

The following excerpt is the sentence ordered by Judge Ford:

“….that you be hung by the neck till you are dead. And it is further considered by the court, that after execution is done, your body will be delivered to Dr. Canfield, a surgeon, for dissection. And may God have mercy upon your soul.”²

From The Trial, Sentence, and Confession of Antoine Le Blanc, Morristown, 1833  From the collections of the North Jersey History & Genealogy Center
From The Trial, Sentence, and Confession of Antoine Le Blanc, Morristown, 1833
From the collections of the North Jersey History & Genealogy Center

Detailed news of the murder, trial and public hanging attracted widespread attention and fascination. Le Blanc’s execution on the Morristown Green on Sept. 6, 1833 was a spectacle, with no less than 12,000 people witnessing the event.

Many traveled from “just about every point in New Jersey.”³ Onlookers stood on rooftops and in trees around the Green. A special gallows was created by Judge Vail at his iron works for the event, designed with pulleys to hoist the convicted murderer eight feet off the ground so the onlookers could get a better view.

From an undated clipping from The Jerseyman:

“No such crowd as witnesses it was, probably, ever in the town before or since. People came by the thousands, not only from within the bounds of Morris but from Essex, Union, Somerset, Warren, Sussex and all other contiguous territory. Horses and wagons at times blocked the roads, and were tied from the Park on the roads leading from it for a mile or more out in every direction. Many people brought their lunches, but all supplies gave out early and scores went hungry.”4

Death mask of Antoine Le Blanc,  from the collections of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center
Death mask of Antoine Le Blanc     From the collections of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center

Judge Stephen Vail wrote in his 1833 diary:

“The sheriff cut the rope and the weight dropped and he went up eight feet and struggled 2 minutes by my stopwatch he hung 35 minutes and was let down into his coffin and taken to the Court house for the surgeons to try out the galvanized battery and dissect him.” 5

After his execution, Le Blanc’s body was delivered to the Morris Courthouse to Dr. Joseph Henry, a Princeton professor, and Dr. Canfield.

At some point a death mask was made, and then electrical experiments were performed on Le Blanc’s body. They made incisions in his arms and legs exposing the nerves.6  Electricity was applied to see if the muscles would contract.

A gruesome memento - wallet said to be made from the skin of Antoine Le Blanc, from the collections of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center
A gruesome memento – wallet said to be made from the skin of Antoine Le Blanc.     From the collections of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center

Le Blanc’s body was then dissected and it is said that his flesh was tanned at the Atno Tannery in Morristown, and according to The Jerseyman, was made into “charming little keepsakes.”

The Jerseyman stated: “Hon. A.W. Cutler of Morristown was said to have had a piece of the skin, and Hon. Thos. Carter of Newton, has a pocketbook made from it, bearing the endorsement by Sheriff Ludlow that it is the Simon-pure goods.”7

Le Blanc’s execution was the last public hanging in Morristown. Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Sayre and Phoebe are buried in the Presbyterian Church cemetery in Morristown.

The death mask and wallet pictured above were held by a private collector and eventually given to the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center a few years ago.

Carolyn Dorsey is a staff member of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center, at the Morristown & Morris Township Library in Morristown.

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References

  1.  S.P. Hull’s report of the trial and conviction of Antoine Le Blanc, for the murder of the Sayre family : with his confession, as given to Mr. A. Boisaubin, the interpreter Lewis Nichols, Printer, New York, 1833
  2. Sentence of Judge Gabriel Ford, The trial, sentence and confession of Antoine Le Blanc who was executed at Morristown N.J. on Friday the 6th Sept. 1833,  Morristown, 1833.
  3. Undated newspaper clipping from The Jerseyman ( J.D.C) North Jersey History and Genealogy Center Vertical files
  4. Ibid
  5. Excerpt from Stephen Vail’s Diary,  1833, Morris County Parks Commission
  6. Testimony of Pitney, to J.D.C., North Jersey History and Genealogy Center Vertical files
  7. Undated newspaper clipping from The Jerseyman ( J.D.C) North Jersey History and Genealogy Center Vertical files
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