The Fitzpatrick Murder
Old Time Tales of Warren County


The Fitzpatrick Murder

Late in the winter of 1817 Mr. and Mrs. George Fitzpatrick were living comfortably in their log home on Patrick's Run, a mile and a half east of Spartansburg. The Fitzpatricks had a typical pioneer farm in the forest, log house and barn standing in a clearing that kept growing each year. Farming was a secondary consideration. Fitzpatrick's income came from the timber he cut and marketed. Patrick's Hollow, which had taken its name from the few years residence of the Fitzpatricks there, was a sequestered spot, sheltered from the winds by the friendly hills on which grew dense forests of hemlock, birch and beech. Patrick's Run, a crystal clear little stream that sparkled down from springs on the hillsides rambled back and forth in the valley as if determined to linger as long as possible in this peaceful nook.

The stream circled close to the log house; there was a foot-log reaching from bank to bank, a path that way being a short cut to Spartansburg. In late afternoons George Fitzpatrick, chopping and hewing trees on the hillside looked frequently down on his little home where there was a wife and baby. A more peaceful, secure household would have been hard to find, so far was it hidden from the world and all its dangers. In the early evening when the husband working in the woods, saw fresh blue smoke coming from the chimney down at the house, he knew it was time to think of supper, shouldered his axe and made his way home.

One evening early in March a stranger appeared at the log house in Patrick Hollow. He wanted a lodging for the night. Hospitality ruled in all the pioneer homes, rarely indeed was a man turned away from a log cabin door. The Fitzpatrick's took the stranger in. He was a rough looking fellow, yet rough looking men were common enough in the Pennsylvania woods. After supper the stranger, who hadn't a great deal to say, was given a bed downstairs; the family slept upstairs.

The Fitzpatricks were rumored to be possessed of some money; it was the common report they had it hidden in their house. Rumors are often wrong, but this one was correct. In the straw tick on which George Fitzpatrick slept was a small sack containing gold and silver coin; he could feel the bulge of it just enough to know it was there, safe and secure. He was an able-bodied man, a loaded musket stood beside the bed, certainly there was nothing to be afraid of.

In the morning the stranger ate with the little family. He answered questions briefly, seemed ill at ease and glad to get up from the table. He said he'd have to be on his way before long; but when Fitzpatrick went out to the barn to milk his cow the man went with him, to have a look at the team.

There was a barrel with meal in the bottom, feed for the horses and cow. As Fitzgerald stooped to dip meal from the barrel the stranger suddenly seized a sled stake, brought it down with vicious force on the stooping man's head. In a few seconds murder had been done, George Fitzpatrick lay dead on the dirt floor of his log barn.

The murderer rushed to the house, a madman now, wild with the excitement of his own terrible deed. He blurted out to Mrs. Fitzpatrick what he had done. Her conduct during the next few minutes mirrors the marvelous courage, resourcefulness, cool headedness of Pennsylvania's pioneer women. Her brave deed has become a classic of the countryside, told to children and to grandchildren unto this day.

Apprized suddenly, by a wild-eyed maniac, that he had just killed her husband, and now wanted to know where the money was hidden, Mrs. Fitzpatrick gripped the table to steady herself under the shock. The whole horrible situation flashed on her mind. While the murderer stormed to know where the cash was concealed she pretended for a moment to be too confused to think. In those few seconds she realized the man who had just killed her husband would undoubtedly kill her, and perhaps her baby, as soon as he secured the money.

And so, in the face of tragedy and terrific danger she managed to smile, she fell back upon the greatest resource she had, her womanhood. Even in this moment she remembered that she was a woman, the murderer was a man. She managed to smile. By her manner she intimated that the loss of her husband might not be a thing which could not be borne. She actually smiled, a woman's smile, at the killer.

She told him she didn't know where the money was hidden, but would help him hunt for it. So she managed to be the first to search upstairs, while the murderer remained downstairs hurriedly tearing up stones from the hearth, looking for movable pieces in the puncheon floor, common hiding places for money. It was a tense few minutes in the log house, the murderer madly searching, cursing, the widow of his victim pretending to aid.

Carrying her baby with her as she moved about, Mrs. Fitzpatrick snatched the money bag from the bed, held it under the baby. There was a large crock, half filled with fresh maple syrup, standing at the foot of the stairs. As she passed the crock Mrs. Fitzpatrick dropped the bag of coins into the syrup, where of course it immediately sank in the dark, brown liquid, effectively hidden where none would guess to look.

By turns threatening and cursing the woman because the money could not be found, the murderer tore everything upside down. But it never occurred to him to look in the crock of maple syrup. And Mrs. Fitzpatrick, her plan succeeding so far, managed to make the killer believe she had actually tried to find the money, would go away with him, as he had suggested.

In desperation the stranger finally gave up the search. He must be getting away, no telling who might be coming. So he ordered the woman to make ready to leave, while he ran to the barn to hitch up the horses.

As soon as he was out of sight in the barn, Mrs. Fitzpatrick lost not an instant. With her baby daughter in her arms, and a litcle black dog following, she ran from the house along a path and out onto the footlog which spanned the run. The bank of the stream hung over at this point, the curling sod covered with snow. Under this overhanging bank was a hollow hiding place. With her baby under one arm, the little black dog under the other, Mrs. Fitzpatrick leaped from the log into the bed of the stream, managed to creep under the overhanging bank without leaving tracks to betray her presence.

When Van Holland came back from the barn with the two horses hitched to a light buggy, he flew into a rage on discovering that the woman had gone. Seizing an axe he rushed out to find her, determined now to kill the woman and make his get-away. Back and forth he raged, upstairs and down, across the footlog within a step or two of the hidden woman, child and dog. And the miracle was that neither child nor dog betrayed the hiding place by the slightest sound. Mrs. Fitzpatrick, lying directly under the murderer as he stood, axe in hand, on the log, nursed her baby and kept patting the dog to keep him quiet. In time the suspense ended, she heard the man driving rapidly away with the horses.

Without a moment's loss of time brave Mrs. Fitzpatrick set off afoot to spread the alarm. Her baby, of course, was carried with her, the little dog, unable to travel through the drifts for any distance, was soon left behind. The forest was full of snow. The courageous woman floundered along, crossing streams and swamps, soaking wet to the armpits. She lost her way in the woods, traveled several miles instead of the mile and a half that should have brought her to help.

Finally she reached the home of a neighbor. On hearing the news the man seized his rifle, powder horn and bullet pouch and set off in pursuit of the murderer. As he traveled he gathered up with him every man along the way, and each brought his gun.

Near Little Cooley the posse sighted the fleeing man and team. He was soon headed off, covered with half a dozen threatening rifles. The captors took him immediately to Meadville where he was tried and eventually hanged, being the second man to pay the death penalty in Crawford County.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 159-163: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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