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The Wickham Murders of 1854

The 1854 murders in Cutchogue were one of the most horrifying events to take place on the East End.

The Wickham family of Cutchogue has an extraordinary farming history here on Long Island, but in 1854 they had a great tragedy befall them. The Wickham murders were one of the most horrifying events to take place on the East End. Like any event of its kind, tales of spirits haunting the place where the murders took place soon followed. 

The Wickham family history can be traced to the southern coast of England. By the middle of the 1600’s the family had fled their homeland for religious reasons and sailed to New England. One of its members, Joseph Wickham, settled on Long Island and operated a tannery in Bridgehampton. In 1698, he moved to Cutchogue and bought the old English house and 160 acres of fertile farmland which ran from the main road south to Peconic Bay. Joseph Wickham farmed the land until his death in 1732, at which time the land was willed to his eldest son, Joseph Jr. Now, 281 years later, the land is still being farmed by descendants of Joseph Wickham, and the old farmhouse where the murders took place still remains.

James Wickham, who was married to Frances Post of Quogue, had left his grocery firm of Wickman and Corwin in New York City to retire to the family farm in Cutchogue. He farmed the land with a black servant and an Irish farmhand named Nicholas Bain.

According to written descriptions, “Bain was a huge, black-haired fellow who walked with a long, rolling gait.” He had worked for Wickham for two to three years. Supposedly Bain had a drinking problem, and would often make advances towards the servant girls. One girl in particular, Ellen Holland, he had asked to marry. Upon her rejection, Bain became very angry. James Wickham argued with him, and had had enough of the turmoil Bain was causing on the farm. On Wednesday, May 31, 1854, Wickham terminated Bain’s employment. Bain continued to hang around and torment Ellen. By Friday morning, June 2nd, Bain was forcibly evicted from the farm by James Wickham.

Nicholas Bain left for the railroad station in Greenport, all the while screaming for revenge on Wickham. He did not board a train; instead he checked his bags in town and began the ten-mile walk back to Cutchogue. By 11:00 that night, he was back at the farm and all was quiet. Searching through the yard, he came across a pole axe, picked it up and headed to the farmhouse.

Minutes later, two servant girls living in the house heard the screams of Mrs. Wickham, and the sounds of someone being beaten. Then Mrs. Wickham cried out, “Nicholas, don’t kill him, don’t kill him!” 

The girls, fearing for their own lives, escaped through the windows just as Nicholas was entering their room. They ran to the neighbors, and Joseph Corwin, William Betts and Dr. Carpenter came immediately to the Wickham farm. 

The murderer was most definitely Bain, because he had left his hat behind in the rush to escape. Also, his very large bloody footprints tracked away from the house. Because of Bain’s size, only one person could have made those footprints.

A manhunt began. The Wickham killings were the first murders the Town of Southold had seen in thirty years. That, coupled with the fact that everyone knew and liked the Wickhams, caused the town’s inhabitants to erupt in fury. Hundreds of men set out with pistols and rifles, looking for the murderer. At this point, Bain was successfully hiding in the woods. Days went by, and the enraged men kept searching the woods, the hills and the valleys. On the morning of the Wickhams’ funeral, the discharge of a pistol created a general alarm, and the teams of men knew that Bain had been caught. He had been captured in a south side swamp, east of Cutchogue.

Upon their arrival, the men found Bain, greatly fatigued, with a two-inch wound visible on his throat. The New York Herald wrote, “In his pockets was found a single barrel pistol, loaded with small shot, a pocket knife, and a razor case, from which it is supposed he took the razor to kill himself, and after inflicting the wound threw it away. In his pockets was also found bread and cake enough for him to subsist upon for two days. The bottoms of his pantaloons were saturated with blood, apparently from that of his victims.” 

The townspeople wanted to hang him right away, and yelled all sorts of slurs at him. The sheriff stepped in and immediately led him to Riverhead, followed by a band of thousands of men and boys. Within four months Bain was convicted of first degree murder. On December 15, 1854 he was hanged in a courtyard behind the jail in Riverhead. The militia from Sag Harbor was called in to keep order within the angry mob of people who showed up for his execution. It turned out to be the largest crowd of spectators ever to attend a public execution in the county.

Once dead, Nicholas Bain’s body was taken down, placed in a wooden coffin and brought to the south side of the Peconic River to a place named Egypt. He was buried in an unmarked grave. 

According to the local authorities, it was determined that Frances Wickham had died a few minutes before her husband. The Wickhams had no children, and as their wills were written the farm would have gone to her family, the Posts of Westhampton, had she outlived her husband. It is because she died first that the farm remained in the Wickham family.

You can read this story in its entirety along with an interview from members of the Wickham family in Ghosts of Long Island; Stories of the Paranormal. 

For those interested in learning more about East End ghost stories, join me next Sunday, January 27, 2:00 PM for a lecture and book signing for the Cutchogue Historical Society at the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Library. Please check my website for more information. 

Kerriann Flanagan Brosky is the author of Ghosts of Long Island; Stories of the Paranormal and Ghosts of Long Island II; More Stories of the Paranormal, both available on Amazon in hardcover and e-format. www.ghostsoflongisland.com. Her debut novel, The Medal, is available in trade paperback and in e-format. Visit www.padrepiomedal.com.

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T.J. Clemente January 09, 2013 at 05:14 AM
another amazing blog post from a very seasoned schooled and talented voice
EG January 09, 2013 at 01:08 PM
The good days of armed citizen manhunts, local militias and public hangings, when everyone knew their neighbors and had their backs. If this happened today Bain would probably spend only a few years in jail on a lesser manslaughter conviction, due to emotional duress from his illegal eviction. He would be living in a taxpayer subsidized trailer in Riverhead while he sued the Wickman Estate.
Preliator January 09, 2013 at 01:47 PM
Which led to the famous 1855 "Assault Pole Axe" ban.
Frank T January 09, 2013 at 01:55 PM
You left out lynchings and cross burnings in the "good old days".
Preliator January 09, 2013 at 02:08 PM
Oh we still have lynchings; it is called the liberal media.
Kerriann Flanagan Brosky January 09, 2013 at 02:52 PM
Thank you so much, T.J. I appreciate that!
Kerriann Flanagan Brosky January 09, 2013 at 02:53 PM
This made me laugh, EG. You're probably right!
Kerriann Flanagan Brosky January 09, 2013 at 02:53 PM
I'm laughing....
Stevo January 09, 2013 at 04:52 PM
Very interesting blog Kerriann!!
John K Massaro January 09, 2013 at 05:45 PM
Awesome stuff here! Your book sounds really interesting too. Next time I'm at the Library, I'm going to have to search for it. "Lost Suburbia" looks good too. From IMDB : LOST SUBURBIA. Five Long Island, New York independent filmmakers have come together to produce this labor of love feature anthology based on local haunted legends that have plagued their childhood nightmares. The four short films are based on the hangings at Sweet Hollow Road, the "lady in white" ghost of Mary's grave, the abandoned Kings Park psychiatric facility, and the Native American tale of Lake Ronkonkoma. The fictional films are preceded by documentary segments that explore the legend's origins and feature interviews with experts on the subject such as a paranormal investigator, and the authors of 'Weird NY' and 'Ghosts of Long Island: Stories of the Paranormal' along with historical photos, location footage, and testimonials by locals who have been effected by the legends; supernaturally or otherwise. LOST SUBURBIA is a not just for Long Island natives, but a must see for anyone interested in history and the supernatural. I'm gonna have to find that one on DVD...
Kerriann Flanagan Brosky January 09, 2013 at 10:42 PM
Thanks, Steve. Glad you liked it!
Kerriann Flanagan Brosky January 09, 2013 at 10:47 PM
Hi John, So glad you liked the story of the Wickham Murders! It's so funny that you brough up Lost Suburbia. Joe Giaquinto and I were in the documentary portion of it. In between each of the four films, Joe and I spoke about the real stories behind the films. All four stories appear in my Ghosts of Long Island books too. If your library doesn't have a copy, they are available on Amazon in hardcover, and now in eformat as well. Enjoy!
Annie Gurl January 10, 2013 at 07:51 PM
Very interesting snapshot of days gone by here on Long Island. Thanks so much for an amazing post.
Kerriann Flanagan Brosky January 11, 2013 at 05:23 PM
So glad you enjoyed it, Annie. Thanks for reading!
Jonathan Vecchi January 13, 2013 at 05:23 PM
I always look forward to the stories by Kerriann regarding the little known histories of Long Island!
Papa Tom January 13, 2013 at 10:38 PM
Stories like this are everywhere in Long Island newspapers from the 1800's. You can find them on the Suffolk County Historical Newspaper website. I'm currently compiling a book of similar stories from the Syosset-Woodbury area. Amazing how closely we resembled the Wild West in those days.
Moe January 14, 2013 at 01:59 PM
Strange how the heard Mrs Wickham yell 'don't kill him Nicholas' (indicating she was still alive while Mr Wickham was being murdered), yet they determined she died first and so the property stayed in the Wickham family. Sounds like someone just decided that was what was fair. With today's technology it's difficult if not impossible to pinpoint the exact moment of death
Kerriann Flanagan Brosky January 14, 2013 at 10:53 PM
Good luck on your project, Papa Tom! Sounds interesting. And yes, those were certainly crazy times! Thanks for sharing!
Kerriann Flanagan Brosky January 14, 2013 at 10:54 PM
Wow! Interesting, Moe. You're right. I never noticed that before. Who knows? We will never know for sure.

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