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Murder and Justice in 1815 Middletown

As many as 12,000 people turned out to witness Peter Lung's execution

On Sunday, July 30, 1815, Middletown resident, Peter Lung, got drunk. He became combative and kicked his wife Lucy in her side. While she was down, he kicked her a few more times.

The next day, with a badly swollen eye and bruises about her body, she complained that she was sore and had a pain in her side. By Monday night, she was dead.

When the police questioned him about her death, it was clear to him that his kicks were the cause of her death, but he insisted that he had not intended to kill her.

Peter Lung was born in 1768 in the Middlefield parish of Middletown. From the ages of 7 to 14 years, he lived with Captain James T. Ward, probably in an apprentice/laborer capacity. He was known at that time to be argumentative and have a bad temper.

After leaving Capt. Ward's house, he appears to have been on his own, finding work where he could. He settled down in the city after his marriage to Lucy Kelley, probably about 1790, and worked as a common laborer.

How do I know all this?  On the day of his execution for murder, David Dudley Field, a well-known minister in his day, preached a sermon, "at the request of the sheriff of the County of Middlesex, and in accordance with the wishes of the criminal." Field's sermon, titled "Warning against Drunkenness," was published in 1816 with a short biography of Peter Lung. 

Lung's drinking was well known, although he was not known for becoming incapacitated. He was unreliable and quarrelsome because of it. His wife Lucy, on the other hand, was "mild and inoffensive." Yet she, too, started to drink ardent spirits. They did not set a good example for their nine children.

A trial was held on Tuesday, Aug. 29, and "after a lengthy trial," on Sept. 1, he was found guilty and sentenced to hang. He appealed and another jury in December found him guilty again and he was sentenced to hang on June 20, 1816.

His mother died a few days before the execution and his children came to visit two days before. Numerous religious people came to see him in the days leading up to the execution. The day before he was to be brought to Middletown from Hartford, he repented and found God. "His painful sensations subsided, and composure and pure joy arose in his mind."

The morning of his execution, between 11,000 and 12,000 people gathered to witness his death. He sat through a few hours of religious services before he was dressed in his funeral garb and the rope was put around his neck. He expired without a struggle.

Sarah Atwell July 09, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Great article! Thanks for interesting information. Any idea where public executions were held in Middletown?
Elizabeth Warner July 11, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Hi Sarah - Great question. And one I do not know the answer to. I assume, at various times in history, the location changed. There might be more information in David Dudley Field's Warning Against Drunkeness: A Sermon Preached in the City of Middletown, June 20, 1816, The Day of the Execution of Peter Lung, for the Murder of His Wife. . . . Middletown, Connecticut: Seth Richards, 1816. 28 p.

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