The Trial and Execution of Lucy Ann Hoag
If you missed our Historic Murders in Dutchess County program, fear not, we will do it again in February. In the meantime, we thought we would share an interesting story that was uncovered in the midst of researching some of the characters who committed evil crimes. Did you know that the fourth woman to be executed in New York State’s history was put to death in Poughkeepsie? Did you also know that this method of justice being served took place inside the Dutchess County Courthouse just down the road from this very library?
Lucy Ann Hoag was not able to recall much of her childhood when men came to interview her in her prison cell in 1852. She did not know her real parents and was adopted by the Fulton family in Red Hook, where she remembered being treated as if she were a servant and field worker. Nelson Hoag, a man from Dover, on the eastern edge of Dutchess County, came calling when his sister was marrying into the Fulton family. The 32 year old fell in love with the 18 year old Lucy and proposed marriage. The Fulton family must have been eager to get rid of Lucy, as they offered Nelson $500 and some household furnishings as a wedding present (which they never gave).
The marriage was rocky from the beginning; Nelson’s sisters treated Lucy harshly. At one point, one of the sisters had convinced her that Nelson was having an affair. Lucy made a point of saying that Nelson was not very good at business and he never bought her anything. When she took on various jobs like sewing and rug making, he would take the money that she made. During their marriage they had 5 kids, one son and four daughters, but by the spring of 1851, Lucy had apparently had enough. This is when things started going downhill for Mr. Hoag, who began to have some serious health problems.
The Hoag family decided to bring in a boarder who could also help with the farm work, a man named William Somers. Lucy clearly became attached to him, though later on she claimed that she wasn’t in love at first. When Lucy and William ventured off to New Milford Connecticut, to buy food and supplies, Lucy managed to bring back some arsenic, which she had paid for in cash as opposed to putting it on store credit. Nelson’s sisters claimed that she had placed the arsenic in the oysters that she had prepared for Nelson to eat, and would not let anyone else partake of. The next morning Nelson began to complain of stomach problems. Lucy said that at this time he wasn’t speaking much but when he did, it was always about his losses and disappointments and how melancholy he was about his poor business dealings (setting the scene for a suicide perhaps?).
Once again she went to a nearby store to purchase supplies, and again purchased arsenic using cash only. The clerk in the store, who later testified at the trial, was sure to tell Lucy just how dangerous and poisonous this stuff was. She later claimed that Nelson wanted part of the arsenic to kill the rats on the farm and then drank some of it himself in front of her as he was feeling depressed. She claimed that she didn’t think the arsenic would kill him, but it did. In the early morning hours of July 3rd, 1851, Nelson died in a rocking chair in his home in Dover. He was quickly buried in the Webatuck burial ground the next day.
It didn’t take long for Lucy and William Somers to hook up and quickly clear out. She began by selling the crops, the livestock, whatever she needed to do to both clear her dead husband’s debts and create some capital for herself. The two of them moved to Bridgeport Connecticut. But something just didn’t sit right with Nelson’s sisters. Lucy had been saying some strange things before Nelson died; perhaps the oddest thing was that she kept saying over and over again, “I do believe that Nelson will die soon” or “my husband does not have long.” A decision was made to exhume the body and do a proper autopsy. Some of his organs were sent to Poughkeepsie to be examined by Dr. William P. Gibbons, who determined that there was enough arsenic in the liver and stomach to have killed him. Deputy Sheriff Sherman Howard and Coroner Edward Taylor found Lucy Hoag and William Somers in bed together in a house in Connecticut. They were both brought back to Dutchess County to face separate trials.
Lucy’s trial took place in the county courthouse in Poughkeepsie beginning on March 16, 1852. This case caught the interest of everyone because the main suspect was a woman, which was unheard of at the time. The fact came out that she purchased arsenic, not once, but twice. Once in Dover and once on that trip to New Milford to get oysters. The store clerk had also mentioned how she had come back to the store and asked him to say that she had never been in there to purchase arsenic. He not only refused but once again reminded her how dangerous the stuff was. Nelson’s sisters kept hearing Lucy say that her husband was going to die soon. Also, she kept insisting that she didn’t know what arsenic was and that she hoped to be struck down dead if she had ever had it or used it. If indeed the arsenic were for something as innocent as the removal of rodents, then why hide it?
Judge Barculo told the jury that “If this horrible crime has been committed by this prisoner it should be punished. You stand between her and the public and your duty is to both. If she is innocent you must preserve her from the sword of the law which is now suspended over her head. You are not to presume she is innocent because she is a woman nor because she has children, nor because of the punishment,” which of course would be death! After only two days of witnesses and testimony, the jury did not take long to find Lucy Ann Hoag guilty of murder. She was informed that she was to be hanged by the neck until dead on May 7. However, that date would change as news came out that Lucy was pregnant and they were forced to move her execution date until after she gave birth to a little girl in her cell on April 20, 1852.
The Governor of New York, Washington Hunt, wrote a letter to Dutchess County Sheriff Alonzo Mory. In the letter he wrote that it was best to hold off on the execution so that Lucy could nurse the child, but the execution should still take place at a reasonable time. The Dutchess County officials decided to hold off until July 30, when they could execute two murderers at once. Another trial that was occurring around the same time was that of Jonas Williams. Williams had been tried and found guilty of the murder of his 12 year old step daughter. The gallows were constructed inside the Dutchess County Courthouse, “a gallows constructed for the purpose had been erected in the main hall which could be seen through the windows and about these were all the morning gathered miscellaneous groups of eager gazers at the pieces of wood and iron weights, ropes, and straps combined in the machine that stood firm, staunch, immovable, silent, ready and waiting to do its quick and sure work.”
Both Lucy and Jonas walked quietly into the hall and both were dressed in white. Sheriff Mory asked them both if he and his staff had treated them kindly during their stay, they both said yes. A little prayer was said, and at 12 noon, Lucy Ann Hoag and Jonas Williams were hanged. Their final resting place remains unknown.
Poughkeepsie Journal – October 4 1851, November 22 1851, March 20 1852, May 8 1852, July 31 1852
“The Life and Confessions of Lucy Ann Hoag” Poughkeepsie 1852 – New York State Library Collections
Hoagcase-frontcover – Cover of the “Life and Confessions of Lucy Ann Hoag”
DCCourthousecell- Modern view of the Dutchess County Courthouse basement jail cell.
P2LD24C2 – A view of the Dutchess County courthouse where Lucy was executed.