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Murder of Martha Sylvia of Charleston and Conviction of George Traverse
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1883 Murder of Martha Sylvia

And Trial and Execution of George Traverse*

(The first man hanged in Tioga County).

*All variations of the spelling of the surname (Traverse/Travis/Traviss) are copied exactly as they were printed in the articles.

Wellsboro Agitator April 10, 1883


George Traverse arrested and committed on the charge of murdering Mrs. Martha Sylvia and burning her body—the testimony given in the case.

--Last Tuesday evening, between 8 and 9 o’clock, the people living in the neighborhood of Mr. C. N. Austin’s place, in the edge of Charleston Township, just east of this borough, discovered that a hay barn belonging to Mr. Austin was on fire. A few of the neighbors gathered about the burning building; but the flames had already made such headway when they reached the spot that it was impossible to do anything toward putting out the fire, and the building was soon consumed with nearly all it contained.

The first persons who arrived on the scene found one of the large doors of the barn swinging open, and after the building had fallen then men who stood about saw something peculiar in the burning ruins a few feet from the big doors. Some of them threw several stones into the burning mass with a view of determining, if possible what this object was, and finally snow was thrown on it to quench the fire. It was then discovered that a human body had been burned in the barn, and that but little more than a trunk and part of the head remained unconsumed. The remains were placed on a board and carried to Mr. Austin’s granary and locked up for the night. On further searching the place a bunch of keys, some buttons, hair pins and a cheap metal locket were found where the body lay.

District Attorney Foote and Justice Brewster were notified of the facts, and they went out to the place Wednesday morning and began an investigation of the matter. It was found that one of the keys unlocked the shanty house of Mrs. Martha Sylvia, a grass-widow living alone, and that the smaller keys unlocked a trunk, wardrobe and satchel in her house. No person was found in the house, the stove was cold, the clock running, the bed made up and the whole place in perfect order as if the owner had gone out and locked the house and not yet returned.

The remains of the body found in the burning barn were examined by Dr. Clarence W. Webb, of this borough, and he found that the person was a female of slight build. The remains were so much consumed that it was impossible to tell whether the body had been subjected to any violence before it was burned. By this time it was evident the remains were those of Mrs. Martha Sylvia, and as several circumstances pointed towards Mr. George Traverse [Traviss or Travis] as the person concerned in her death, Justice Brewster issued a warrant for his arrest, on information made by Mr. Andrew J. Kiphart and Mr. George F. Butler was deputed to serve the writ. Later in the forenoon Mr. Butler found Traverse in this borough and lodged him in jail to await an examination.

In the meantime Justice Brewster summoned a Coroner’s jury, consisting of Messrs. Charles Austin, Chauncey Dartt, William Wilkinson, James Austin, Oscar F. Ellis and David Hughes. Several witnesses were sworn before the jury; but we omit their testimony here, as it was given in fuller detail at the examination the next day. The jury found that the remains were those of Mrs. Martha Sylvia, that she came to her death by burning and that she came to her death at the hands of some person or persons to the jury unknown.

The examination of Traverse was held Thursday afternoon and evening before Justice Brewster. The case excited much public interest, and as there was a large crowd of people in attendance, the Courts were adjourned over the afternoon so that the examination might be held in the Court room. District Attorney Foote and M. F. Elliott appeared for the Commonwealth, and the interests of the defendant were looked after by Horace B. Packer. Soon after 2 o’clock Traverse was brought into Court, and Mr. Foote proceeded to open the case by stating the facts the prosecution expected to prove.

Mr. Charles N. Austin was sworn as the first witness. He testified that he lived in Charleston Township and owned the barn destroyed by fire last Tuesday night. The barn was about one-quarter of a mile this side of his house and about one and one-quarter miles from the depot in this borough. Mrs. Sylvia lived alone a mile from the barn, and in going home from Wellsboro she would go past the barn. I discovered the fire about 20 minutes past 8 o’clock, and when I reached the barn it was all in flames and some roof boards had fallen. One of the large doors was swinging open, and I could see the wheels of a lumber wagon burning. After the building fell the men there discovered something they thought didn’t burn like wood. We threw snow on it and put out the fire about it, and it proved to be a mass of flesh. It was 6 or 8 feet from the large doors. We put it in my granary and locked it up, and the next morning Dr. Clarence Webb examined it. There was a small part of the head left, the neck bone, the body, and a portion of the thigh bones. I thought it the remains of a human being, judging from the teeth. Keys, buttons, and some hair pins were found. A bunch of keys lay on the ground about where we found the remains. I was present when the keys were tried at Mrs. Sylvia’s house. The house was locked, and the large key unlocked the front door. No person was in the house, and no fire was burning; the clock was running and the bed made up. The barn burned was used for hay. None of my family were around it Tuesday evening.

On cross-examination the witness testified that the barn was not locked. Mr. J. H. Neal was the first person who reached the barn after the fire started and I was the second. Mr. Neal had a lumber wagon and horse-rake stored there. Mrs. Sylvia passed there quite often. The remains found lay on the ground, the floor having burned up.

Edward Spencer testified: I was at the fire when the barn burned; got there about 8:45; discovered the remains there on the ground. I helped to get them out and carry them to Mr. Austin’s. I found a ring of keys there, a hair pin and buttons. [The articles named were identified]

[Spencer] Cross-examined: I picked up the keys—5 of them. I was present when the front door key was found. The remains were carried to Austin’s on a board.

William VanSice testified: I was at the fire and stayed until the barn burned down. I helped take the remains out. I picked up this locket shown me from under a flat stone where the body lay. Thomas Hughes threw the stone in to the body to see what it was. I saw the door key the next day, and was present when Mr. Foote opened Mrs. Sylvia’s door with it, and saw the trunk, wardrobe and satchel opened by the other keys in the bunch. The bed in the house was made up and the clock running. That was Wednesday forenoon.

[VanSice] Cross-examined: My boy Joseph was present when I found the locket Wednesday morning between 8 and 9 o’clock. We found 2 or 3 buttons there, and that’s all. I opened the locket; there was some paper in it crumpled up that flew out. I gave the locket to Mr. Foote Wednesday forenoon.

Charles C. Ward testified: I reside at Elkland. I went to the jail yesterday in company with Commissioner Peters to see the defendant. Defendant answered some questions. He said he saw Martha Sylvia the day before for the first time after he came to the borough; that he came out of Spalding’s store and saw her up the street; said he saw her after that in Mathers’ store, but not to speak to her; that he paid her some money in the sitting-room at the Willcox House; that the last he saw of her was at 4 o’clock that day. He said he went from her house on Tuesday over by Stokesdale and came up the railroad track at Wellsboro; did not tell what he was doing at her house. I don’t know whether he said how much money he paid her. He said he went into a field to get the money; that he kept his money in the field, but he didn’t say what field. I don’t think he said how he went from Wellsboro. He said he was never on the road where the barn was burned, unless it was when he was a small boy.

[Ward] Cross-examined: Defendant did not say he saw Martha at her home that day. I don’t recollect that he said what time it was that he said he saw her on the street near Spalding’s store. He said someone paid him part of the money; but I don’t think he said he got it from any person that day.

Andrew J. Kiphart testified: I was at the ruins of the barn the next morning after the fire; saw some buttons taken out—2 or 3 white shirt buttons and 2 or 3 that had been covered with cloth; I was at Mrs. Sylvia’s house when the keys were tried, and saw them used in the door, trunk, wardrobe and satchel. I marked the keys. Mrs. Sylvia was not there, and I don’t know where she is. The house was locked, the bed made, the clock running and the stove stone-cold. {Note from Joyce – In an era when clocks had to be hand wound daily, this is a clue about when she was last in the house as are other points mentioned in these statements] The barn stood on the direct road from Wellsboro to Mrs. Sylvia’s house. On Tuesday I saw Mrs. Sylvia about 30 rods this side of the barn that was burned. There was a man 5 or 6 rods ahead of her. That man is here—the defendant. I met Gillett Webster 4 or 5 rods the other side of where I met Mrs. Sylvia. Webster had a horse and buggy. This was between 11 and 12 o’clock in the forenoon.

[Kiphart] Cross-examined: I am the prosecutor in this case. I had never seen the defendant before that I know of. I met him just this side of where Neal comes up into the main road—it might have been 5 or 6 rods this side of the bars; met Martha just at the sluice in the road this side of Neal’s bars. I talked with Martha a little, but didn’t stop my team which was walking slowly. She stopped. I thought the defendant a funny walking and a funny looking man, and took a particular notice of him. I noticed his boots; they were high, with a strap about the top. He had on a darkish coat that had faded some, a pair of overalls near cinnamon color and a dark cap. He had whiskers—not very long—and a mustache. He had a peculiar walk. I did not see him talking with Mrs. Sylvia. I thought it strange that a man should be walking along in her vicinity. I thought he was kind of waiting for her after we passed. I looked around, and he was looking back to see her. I have no doubt the defendant is the man I saw there.

[Kiphart] On being further cross-examined for the Commonwealth the witness said: I have seen this bunch of keys in my house, where Martha Sylvia dropped them. Think I have seen the locket before; saw my wife and Mrs. Sylvia have it.

[Kiphart] Cross-examined: It was Mr. Henry Bailey’s 3 or 4 years ago. Mrs. Sylvia was talking about a photograph she had; saw it, but didn’t have it in my hand. I saw the keys a second time between Mr. Peasley’s and Mr. Dartt’s. Martha pulled something from her pocket and dropped the bunch of keys. I notice them and offered to trade rings with her as her was smaller than mine, but she declined. I think the locket was gold or imitation of it.

Gillett Webster testified: I overtook Mrs. Sylvia last Tuesday on the road from Austin’s to this borough, 3- or 40 rods this side of the barn that was burned. The defendant was with her. I was in a buggy. I saw defendant of Friday or Saturday in John Bailey’s office. He told me his name was Traverse and that he was a brother of Alexander Reese’s wife. I said he was the man that lost his wife out West and came here with his little girl, and he said he was. The day I overtook them I took Mrs. Sylvia into my buggy and brought her to Mrs. Moore’s near Job Locke’s. I think defendant was ahead of us 10 or 15 rods then. Before that he and she were walking the road like man and wife, he on one side and she on the other. As I got near them they got further apart. She said she was glad I came along, for she wanted a ride to town. After she got into the wagon she turned around several times to look back at defendant. I did not look back. Think defendant had on the same clothes he wears today.

[Webster] Cross-examined: I am positive the defendant is the same man I met on the road there.

Dr. Clarence W. Webb testified: I made an examination yesterday of the remains of the person burned. I found about 20 pounds of remains, consisting of the trunk, small part of the head, jaw and 4 teeth. There were about 8 ounces of the brain or a little less. The upper extremities were off close to the body, and about half the right thigh bone remained and about one third of the left thigh bone. The person was a female. The pelvis was nearly entire, and the organs of the generation quite well preserved and somewhat diseased. The person was of slight build, the bones being slim.

[Webb] Cross-examined: I didn’t weigh the remains, but approximated them. The heart had no wound in it. There was no skull, but part of the base of it. The remains of the lungs were there. The 4 teeth were on the right side of the jaw. It would be impossible to say what the height of the person was.

Frederick Reese testified: I am 15 years old and live in Charleston about half a mile from Martha Sylvia’s. My father is Alexander Reese. My uncle, George Traverse, has been living with us this winter. Last Tuesday he said he was going down Marsh creek after some money. He said he has been at work for Mr. Bailey, and that he was going down to Bailey’s, but don’t know whether he said he was going after money. I can’t tell what time he went away or what time he came back; it was after supper. When he came in he warmed himself by the fire and then he washed and ate supper. The he and my father and I went up to Martha Sylvia’s after cattle he had bought of her—a cow, a yearling and a two year old. We all went to her house, and Uncle George knocked twice. He said he guessed Martha wasn’t at home. We then got the cattle and drove them home, making some noise driving them along. Yesterday morning Uncle George said he was going to town to get some tobacco. Tuesday night he said he has been down Marsh creek to get some money; don’t remember where he said he got it. I think he said he paid her some on the street and some at the Willcox House. Pa asked him if he got a receipt. He said he didn’t, but he could prove it.

James Boyce testified: I live near Mr. Reese, and was there about 8 o’clock yesterday morning and saw the defendant there. Mr. Reese was shaving defendant, and had his whiskers pearly shaved off. I saw the defendant on Saturday, and he then has short whiskers on his cheeks and chin.

[Boyce] Cross-examined: Defendant was in the kitchen when Reese was shaving him. Reese did no more shaving after I went in.

Mrs. Roselia Austin testified: I am the wife of C. N. Austin. We live on the corner of the road that turns down to where Mrs. Sylvia lived. I saw her last Tuesday near noon with the defendant; they were going toward Wellsboro. He had on brown ducking overalls, long boots, a darkish coat and overshirt the same color as his overalls. His walk was peculiar. When I first saw them they were walking side by side, and walked so until they got to the further end of our shed. After they got past the house he walked slower and let her catch up with him. I saw his side face. He wore whiskers.

[Austin] Cross-examined: Defendant had a cap on. His trousers were in his boot tops. I saw them out of the kitchen window until they passed the house; then I went out on the front porch to look at them.

Chauncey Howard was sworn and testified: I live in Delmar on the road from Wellsboro to where the barn was burned about one-half of a mile this side of the barn. Last Tuesday evening about half past 7 o’clock a man called at my house and asked me for some matches. He came to the door and knocked. I opened the door and stood in it with the door open. The light shone out on him so I could see him. He was a thick set man, not very tall, and would weigh about 150 pounds. He wore brown overalls, the same color as defendant now has on. I think he had an overshirt of the same color. He had on a coat like the one defendant wears. Defendant is the man who was there that night. He has shaved off his whiskers since then. I gave him some matches, and he turned and went to the road toward the barn that was burned that night.

[Howard] Cross-examined: I live about half a mile from town—in the incorporation. My house stands perhaps 20 rods from the road. The clock struck 7 a little before the defendant knocked. I took the matches from my vest and handed them to him. It was dark. I didn’t see anybody with him. I looked out after he went through the gate. I never saw him before; saw him the next morning in jail. He had not very long chin whiskers and a mustache. I did not go up to the fire; saw the light of it about 9 o’clock.

Henry VanValkenburg testified: I am a clerk in Osgood’s store in this borough. I have seen defendant often; saw him Tuesday afternoon about 5 o’clock in the store; he was alone. I saw him yesterday morning about 9 o’clock at the store when his brother-in-law, A. C. Reese, was with him. Mr. Reese called for a pound of tobacco for George, and while the other clerk was putting up the tobacco I spoke to Reese about the fire. He told me whose barn it was. I told him I heard a body was found there and asked him if he knew whose it was. Reese said it was thought to be the body of Mrs. Sylvia; but Traverse said he didn’t think that possible, because he paid her $53 in front of Cole’s hotel just before the busses went to the depot Tuesday afternoon, and he thought she had gone to her husband in Indiana. He said she had lately received a letter from her husband and he wanted her to come to him and that the reason of her selling her cattle so cheap was that she wanted the money to go with. I asked him if she was prepared to go. He said not that was her way—to go right off without any preparation. One of them said they were going to the depot before they went home to see if she bought a ticket. Mr. Osgood asked Traverse if he had a witness to the trade for the cattle and the payment of the money. He said he hadn’t except Mr. Reese’s little boy. I understood he meant that as to the bargain and not as to the payment. They seemed satisfied that she had gone West. Traverse said he hadn’t seen her since 4 o’clock on Tuesday, when he paid her the money. He seemed to be unusually nervous and restless, and changed his position very often.

[VanValkenburg] Cross-examined: I hadn’t then heard that defendant was suspected of this offense. He traded at our store some, and I had seen him and talked with him many times. The Willcox House was not mentioned during the talk. He said he paid her the money in front of the Coles House, and that she followed the busses right down the street toward the depot. He was in the store 5 or 6 times Tuesday afternoon.

Minnie Borden and Janie McInroy testified that they met Mrs. Sylvia and a man who looked like the defendant walking together toward the depot on the main street in this borough on Tuesday evening about 7 o’clock.

Mr. V. Culver testified that he saw Mrs. Sylvia and defendant together about 4 o’clock Tuesday afternoon at the corner of C. C. Mathers’ store, and the he afterward saw them about 7 p.m. near Job Locke’s, in the eastern part of the borough. He was not positive the man with her the last time was the defendant, but thought it was. They went up the hill north from Locke’s.

Hattie Barber and Zellie Moore, two little girls, testified that they saw Mrs. Sylvia and the man with her east of the depot, going toward Job Locke’s about 7 o’clock Tuesday evening. They described the man dressed like the defendant.

George F. Butler testified that he had a conversation with defendant in relation to his transactions with Mrs. Sylvia. Defendant said he paid her $53--$5 in silver, 3 ten dollar bills and the rest in small money—in the Willcox House sitting room, about 10 minutes before 4 o’clock Tuesday afternoon, and that he did not see her after that. Defendant said he came from Mrs. Sylvia’s house to Stokesdale and up the railroad track to Wellsboro, and went home up the Henry hill and across by the cross road. Witness arrested defendant in front of the Willcox block; told him he had a warrant for him. Defendant said it was all right, and never asked what he was arrested for; but on the way to the jail he said he didn’t know whether witness had a warrant or not.

The Commonwealth here rested. The defendant declined to offer any evidence at this time, and Justice Brewster committed him to wait the action of the grand jury.

The crowd of spectators slowly left the room, many persons lingering to get a good look at the prisoner. The popular verdict concerning his personal appearance was decidedly unfavorable. After waiting some time for the crowd to disperse, the prisoner was handcuffed to an officer and taken away to jail. His case will be laid before the grand jury to convene on the 7th of next month.

Wellsboro Agitator

July 24, 1883

George Traviss Convicted


--Last Tuesday evening at about six o’clock the ringing of the Court house bell notified the citizens of this borough that the jurors in the case of George Traviss were about to come into court for some purpose, and those who were in the vicinity of the building hurried to the courtroom. The defendant was soon brought in by Sheriff Baxter, the officer and his prisoner being handcuffed together. The Judges soon arrived, and then the jurors slowly filled into their seats. As they came into the room the face of each juror was closely scanned by the spectators for indications of the nature of the verdict they were about to render.

After the jurors were seated the room became very still while Judge Williams slowly dictated to General Cox, the Clerk of Courts, the entry to be made in the minute book. This entry being partly completed, the Clerk, by direction of the Judge, called the roll of jurors and asked if they had agreed upon a verdict. The response was, "We have". The Clerk then inquired if the verdict had been reduced to writing, and the reply was that it had; and the paper containing the verdict was handed up to the Judge. The latter then proceeded with his dictation of the minutes to the Clerk, and directed him to enter the verdict on the minutes, at the same time handing him the paper presented by the jury. As the Clerk slowly recorded the fateful words, as yet undisclosed, there was perfect silence in the room, broken only by the scratching of the pen in the Clerk’s hand. All present seemed deeply impressed with the solemnity of the scene and the dreadful nature of the suspense to which the defendant was being subjected. During this breathless silence Traviss’ white face flushed once and paled again, but beyond this he showed no sign of unusual emotion.

The verdict having been recorded, the Clerk turned to the jury and said, "Gentlemen of the jury, listen to your verdict as it stands recorded by the Court. You say you find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree. So say you all?" "We do," was the solemn response.

Ex-Judge Wilson at once requested that the jury be polled, and the Clerk proceeded to call the roll of jurors and to ask each one of them if that was his verdict. The response in each case was "Yes, sir".

After some discussion as to the usual procedure the Court adjourned until ten o’clock Saturday morning to enable the defendant’s counsel to prepare reasons in support of a motion in arrest of judgment or for a new trial. Traviss, now a convicted murderer, was again locked to the Sheriff’s wrist and led back to the jail, while the spectators slowly dispersed to spread the news of the verdict. The result reached by the jury was in accordance with the general popular opinion, and seemed to meet with popular approval wherever it was discussed. It was reported on the street that the jurors on retiring were unanimous in the belief that the defendant was guilty, but were divided as to whether in the first or second degree.

Last Saturday morning the defendant was again brought into court, and his counsel, ex-Judge Wilson, said that they day before they had supposed they would at this time file reasons in arrest of judgment only and had abandoned all idea of attempting to obtain a new trial; but after dark on Friday evening he was informed of newly-discovered evidence in the case. Mr. William T. Mathers thought he saw the defendant and Martha Sylvia go by his store on the 3rd of April, between 9 and 7 o’clock; and if he had been called he would have sworn to that fact; but on Monday or Tuesday of this week a man came into his store with a pail of berries whom he recognized as the man he saw go by that day. Mathers knows the man, but doesn’t know his name. It was not George Traviss. He, the counsel, had also learned another thing after sundown on Friday evening, and that was that Mr. Copp, one of the jurors, was a second cousin to Martha Sylvia, and was the worst man on the jury for conviction. Both these facts he thought were enough to procure a new trial. As nothing was to be gained by proceeding now, because the case will be taken to a higher court, and as he could not perfect his reasons for a new trial now, he asked for further time to get affidavits as to the relationship of Copp and Martha Sylvia.

The Court remarked that the reasons ought to go upon the record; that further time would be given to file affidavits hereafter, but for reasons asking for a new trial should be filed now.

Mr. Wilson said he wanted time to examine the charge of the Court, to review it and take exceptions to go to the Supreme Court, and he had not yet seen it in any shape in which he could understand it. As published it was so vague that he was not able to make up his mind in regard to it. He was prepared to file reasons in arrest of judgment, but not for a new trial.

The Court said they would give time to perfect reasons, but the substance of the motion should go upon the record now. The defendant could afterward file specifications as to the charge and allegations of the discovery of new evidence. This course would afford both sides an equal opportunity to prepare on the questions suggested. There was now absolutely nothing pending.

This paper was filed and on it was indorsed the following order by the Court:

As now, July 21, 1883, rule to show cause why judgment shall not be arrested, returnable on the 28th July instant, at 10 o’clock a.m.

The counsel also read the following reasons for a motion for new trial:

1st. Edward R. Copp, one of the jurors who rendered the verdict in this case, is second cousin to Martha Sylvia, who is alleged in the indictment to have been murdered; and that this fact was not known by the defendant or his counsel until after the rendition of the verdict, viz, on the 20th day of July, 1883.

2nd. Newly discovered evidence as disclosed by the affidavit of William T. Mathers, which is herewith filed as part of this specification.

3rd. The Court erred in their charge to the jury. Particular specifications cannot be given, as the charge of the Court to the jury has not been filed as requested.

On this was indorsed the following order by the Court:

And now, July 21, 1883, rule to show cause why new trial shall be granted, returnable July 28th instant at 10 o’clock a.m. Leave granted to file specifications of errors alleged in charge, and additional affidavits in support of the reasons based upon any fact alleged, within five days.

Mr. Wilson also read and filed the following affidavits of William T. Mathers and of the defendant:

Tioga County, ss: William T. Mathers being duly sworn says that he occupies a store on Main Street below C. C. Mathers & Co.; that on the evening of the 3rd of April, 1883, between the hours of six and seven, he saw a man and woman pass his grocery together which he thought was Martha Sylvia and George Traviss and continued to think so until Monday or Tuesday of this week the man that he thought was George Traviss came into his deponent’s grocery business and he at once recognized him as the man that he had thought was George Traviss, and further saith not. W. T. Mathers. Sworn and subscribed before me this 21st day of July, 1883. Walter Sherwood, Notary Public.

Tioga County, ss: George Traviss, being duly sworn deposes and says that Edward R. Copp, one of the jurors that rendered a verdict again him, for murder in the first degree, is second-cousin to Martha Sylvia, who is alleged in the indictment to have been murdered. This deponent further saith that he had no knowledge of the relationship of the said juror and Martha Sylvia until after his trial and conviction nor until July 21, 1883. This deponent further states that he verily believes that Edward R. Copp and Martha Sylvia are related as above stated, and that he can prove the same to the entire satisfaction of the Court, and deponent further states that he knew nothing of W. T. Mathers’ knowledge stated until after the verdict. Signed George Traviss with his mark "X". Sworn and subscribed before me this 21st day of July, 1883. A. S. Brewster.

Wellsboro Agitator

August 7, 1883

The Sentence of Death

--Court convened yesterday morning at 10 o’clock with President Judge Williams and Associate Judges Baxter and Lamkin on the bench. The defendant Traviss was brought from the jail and occupied his accustomed seat behind his counsel. There was not a very large attendance of spectators, owing, probably to a general misunderstanding as to the time to which the Court had adjourned.

On taking his seat Judge Williams proceeded to read the following opinion deciding the motions in arrest of judgment and for a new trial:

Two motions are pending in this case—one in arrest of judgment and one for a new trial. All of the reasons assigned in support of the motion in arrest of judgment except the first and second, were presented and heard upon a motion to quash the indictment.

The trial of criminal as well as of civil causes ought to proceed in a regular and consecutive manner. After a defendant has been arrested and before bail is given is the proper time to make objections to the writ, or the manner of its execution. After an indictment has been found and before taking defense thereto all proper dilatory motions and pleas are heard and determined. If the indictment remains undisposed of, the defendant may then be called upon to plead and enter unto his defense. After trial and conviction he is called upon for reasons why sentence should not be pronounced in accordance with the verdict.

In conformance with this well considered and well settled order of procedure, objections to the form of an indictment, or to the manner, in which it reached the records of the Court, should be taken by demurrer or upon motion to quash. If not so take, it is too late after trial and verdict to consider them. In this case they were raised, considered and determined at the proper time, and ought now to be considered not only as belonging to and earlier stage of the case, but actually settled. As to the first and second reasons, which relate to the form and effect of the indictment and have not been heretofore considered, we conclude after a careful examination of the indictment and of the authorities cited that these reasons are not sufficient to justify us in disturbing verdict. Whatever we may have felt disposed to say upon this subject, if it had been brought to our attention on a motion to quash, certainly at this time, after trial and verdict, we cannot bring ourselves seriously to doubt the sufficiency of the indictment to support a judgment on the verdict. The motion in arrest of judgment is therefore refused.

The reasons on which the motion for a new trial rests present three distinct questions, viz: Should a new trial be granted because of newly discovered evidence? Should it be granted because of the relationship of a juror to the person charged to have been killed? Should it be granted because of the commission of errors in the charge, either in the statement of the testimony or the instructions upon the legal questions involved in the case? The first of these was not pressed in the argument, and no testimony has been taken to support it. It may therefore be dismissed without further consideration.

The second question has been discussed at length and with great learning. We are satisfied that E. R. Copp, one of the jurors, was related, not to the prosecutor or the defendant, but to Martha Sylvia, the murdered woman. Their mothers were cousins. We are also satisfied that Copp had never seen Martha Sylvia, never heard of her except in connection with this transaction, and was absolutely ignorant of the existence of the relationship until some days after the verdict had been rendered. If the relationship had been known and brought to our attention before the juror had been sworn, we should have sustained a challenge to the favor, although we do not think it has ever been held that such relationship ought to be regarded in the same way as relationship to a party of the litigation. It was not known, either by counsel for the defendant or those for the Commonwealth, or by the juror himself. He was not on the regular panel, but was summoned upon an additional or special venire and brought into court. He made an earnest appeal to the Court to be excused for business reasons, but we declined to excuse him. He was then examined by counsel on both sides, accepted and sworn. The time to challenge a juror is before he is sworn. A failure to challenge is a waiver of the right to challenge. This waiver should be relieved against where a party has been misled or thrown off his guard by any concealment or unfair practice on the part of the juror or the opposite party. If we should go still further in this case and hold that the question of Copp’s relationship might be raised at this time because it was unknown at the proper time for raising it, we should also hold that the question stands on wholly different ground now from that on which it would have rested then. The question then raised would have been Should this juror be sworn? Since then a trial has been has and a verdict rendered and the question now is, Ought this verdict, rendered after a protracted trial, to be set aside? That ought to depend on the fairness and impartiality of the verdict. Before trial, in order to secure an impartial verdict, we should have presumed that a known relationship would, even though insensibly, affect the judgment of the juror. After trial we may look at the facts and determine whether the trial has been before an impartial jury. We have examined the facts in this case, and we find that the juror was wholly ignorant of his relationship to Martha Sylvia. His judgment could not have been affected, even insensibly, by a circumstance of which he had not the slightest knowledge. If this be so, then the newly discovered relationship is no reason for setting aside the verdict. This view of the case seems to us clearly conclusive upon this question. We were satisfied with the verdict, and if we should disturb it for such a reason as this, we should feel that we were rather obstructing than administering justice.

At the conclusion of the opinion ex-Judge Wilson asked the Court to note an exception to the decision.

District Attorney Foote then moved that the sentence of the law shall be passed, and George Traviss was called upon to stand up. He arose and advanced to the front of the bench.

Judge Williams inquired of him: "Have you anything further to say why sentence should not now be passed?"

"No, sir," replied the prisoner in a low tone. The Judge then pronounced the following sentence:

George Traviss, Martha Sylvia was murdered on the 3rd of April last. You, who was last seen with her, was charged with the commission of the crime. You have had a patient and impartial trial. Your defense has been conducted by counsel of recognized learning and ability. The testimony, however, persuaded the jury beyond a reasonable doubt of your guilt and they have found you guilty of the murder in the first degree. We have reviewed the trial upon a motion to set aside the verdict, and we are satisfied that no injustice has been done you. The evidence not only justifies but it requires the verdict rendered. Your crime is without excuse or palliation. It is cold blooded and atrocious. Your victim was a slender and defenseless woman. You had won her confidence. She trusted and loved you. You had promised to make her your wife although you had a wife living, from whom you had been separated but a few months. With heart light with hope and warm with affection, she started with you on that night on the road towards her home. You murdered this woman who loved you; you placed her lifeless body in a barn by the roadside and applied the torch to the barn to destroy the evidence of the murder; you then possessed yourself of the little personal estate of which she had been the owner. There is no circumstance of wickedness wanting in the outline of this sad story. We shall not dwell upon it, but proceed at once to close the record, so far as this Court is concerned, by pronouncing the penalty which the law affixes to the crime of which you have been found guilty. It is that on such day as shall be designated by the Governor of this Commonwealth you, George Traviss, be hanged by the neck until you are dead; and may the Lord have mercy on your soul!

During the sentence Traviss showed very little emotion. His face was slightly flushed and two or three times he stepped forward a little, nervously, to spit in a spittoon. At the conclusion of the sentence he nodded slightly toward the Judge and resumed his seat with what was evidently intended to be a careless smile. He was at once remanded to his cell in the jail.

Mr. Wilson said the defendant’s counsel expected to take a writ of error, and he requested that the evidence should be filed.

Judge Williams directed an order to be entered, directing the stenographer to write out and file the testimony in the case; and so closed the case of George Traviss, so far as the local Courts are concerned.

May 7, 1884

Wellsboro Agitator

--There have been rumors afloat for the last two or three days to the effect that decisions had been made by the Supreme Court in the Traviss and Borough Cases. There was no truth in the reports. Neither of those cases had been decided up to yesterday morning, so far as any of the attorneys knew.

October 7, 1884

Wellsboro Agitator

The Case of George Traviss.



A dispatch was received in this borough from Pittsburg yesterday afternoon, announcing that the Supreme Court of the State had affirmed the judgment of the Court of Oyer and Terminer of this county in the case of the Commonwealth against George Traviss. This is in effect a decision by the court of last resort that Traviss was legally convicted of murder in the first degree and that he must pay the dread penalty.

Traviss was arrested in this borough of the 4th of April, 1883, on the charge of having murdered Martha Sylvia the evening before. The partly consumed body of Mrs. Sylvia was discovered on the evening of April 3rd in the burning embers of a barn of Mr. Charles Austin, in the neighboring township of Charleston, which had evidently been set on fire and which was totally consumed. The human remains were identified by some keys, buttons and a locket found with them. Circumstances pointed very strongly toward Traviss as the guilty person, and on his trial, which began on the 10th and closed on the 17th of July, 1883, evidence enough was adduced to convince the jury that he was guilty of the offense with which he stood charged.

The case was taken to the Supreme Court, and it was argued at the term of the Court held in Philadelphia last May, but the decision was reserved until the meeting of the current term, at Pittsburgh, yesterday. This decision of the Supreme Court renders it morally certain that Traviss will be executed, his only possible hope of escape from death now resting on an application to the Board of Pardons. The date of his execution is to be fixed by Governor Pattison after he receives official notice of the decision of the Court. There has never yet been an execution for a capital offense in this county, and the trial, conviction and sentence of the defendant in this case have excited a deep popular interest.

November 4, 1884

Wellsboro Agitator

The Case of George Traviss.





Last Saturday Messrs. Wilson and Packer, the counsel of George Traviss, performed the unpleasant duty of informing their client that the Supreme Court had rendered an adverse decision in his case. The prisoner received this announcement with great stoicism. He said he would prefer to be hung rather than remain in jail until spring; but if the did hang him, they would hang an announce man.

Traviss asserts that he had heard of the decision of the Court before he was informed of it by his counsel. Several days ago he told Deputy Sheriff Swan that he knew what the decision was; and it is not improbable that he had heard of it from some prisoner recently incarcerated.

We understand that no time since his trial has Traviss has been known to exhibit any emotion either for the crime of which he was convicted or for the crime of which he was convicted or for the awful doom that hangs over his own head. A certified copy of the record of the case was sent to Governor Pattison last Saturday, and it is probable that the date for the execution of the prisoner will be announced within a weeks.

Below we print the full text of the opinion of the Supreme Court, affirming the decision of the Court below, which is written by Judge Sterrett:

George Traviss vs. the Commonwealth. Error to the Court of Oyer and Terminer, Tioga County.

Sterrett J.—It was of course incumbent of the Commonwealth to establish the corpus delicit; to prove to the satisfaction of the jury that the bones and other human remains found in the ruins of the burned building were those of Martha Sylvia; that her death was not the result of accident or any natural cause, but that she was murdered by some one at or about the time the barn was burned, and that in the commission of the crime the prisoner was the guilty agent. One behalf of the Commonwealth competent evidence tending to prove each of these essential facts was adduced and with proper instructions submitted to the jury. Upon them rested the responsibility of carefully considering all the testimony and ascertaining therefrom what the facts were. Before reaching the conclusion announced by their verdict they must have been satisfied, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mrs. Sylvia came to her death neither by her own hand nor by any natural or accidental cause, but that her death was the result of unlawful violence of some kind willfully and maliciously inflicted on her person by the prisoner. Some of the testimony tending to establish the corpus delicti also tended to connect the prisoner with the crime charged in the indictment. The testimony is quite voluminous, and we deem it unnecessary to refer specifically to the several items thereof bearing more or less directly on the questions involved in the issue. It is sufficient to say that it was all proper for the consideration of the jury and, as we think, sufficient to justify them in reaching the conclusion they did. There was no error therefore in charging the jury as complained of in the last specification.

The judgment of the Court of Oyer and Terminer of Tioga County is affirmed, and is ordered that the record be remitted to said Court for the purpose of execution.

November 19, 1884

Yates County Chronicle, Penn Yan, N.Y

He Must Hang.

--HARRISBURG, PA.—Gov. Pattison, this morning, signed the death warrant of George Travis, of Tioga County. The execution will take place January 15th.

January 6, 1885

Wellsboro Agitator

--Sheriff Baxter has had more than 150 applicants from persons in various parts of the county anxious to witness the execution of George Traviss, next week Thursday. Of course many of the applicants will be disappointed, as the corridor of the jail will accommodate only a limited number. Mr. Traviss as well as many other people would prefer to be somewhere else about that time. Traviss still maintains his apparent indifference, and counts off the days before his execution with great nonchalance.

January 13, 1885

Wellsboro Agitator

The End Drawing Near





Sheriff Baxter intends to begin today the work of erecting the scaffold upon which George Traviss is to be executed next Thursday. It will be placed in the east corner of the corridor of the jail. The structure is a very simple one, being a square upright framework with two pulleys at the top, over which passes the rope, which is attached to a three-hundred pound weight suspended by a smaller rope at one side. When this small rope is cut the weight drops, drawing up the other end of the rope. The apparatus cannot fail to work as intended.

Traviss has lately been interviewed by many reporters, and various highly-colored accounts of the conversations have been published. In fact, it is a mighty poor stick of a reporter who can’t interview a man, do all the talking himself and make a column or more of it, even if the opposite party never opens his mouth. The truth is Traviss is very taciturn. He does not talk to those who, he thinks, are trying to quiz him. He has stoutly and steadily maintained his innocence, and only yesterday he told his regular adviser that the last time he saw Martha Sylvia was at half past four o’clock on the day which she was burned in the barn. At the trial several witnesses testified that they saw the two together near dusk that evening. He has given little evidence of any religious feeling, although he says he is a member of the Christian denomination and that his parents were Methodist.

For a few days past Sheriff Baxter has admitted visitors to the corridor of the jail, and upwards of 200 persons have satisfied their curiosity by going in to see the doomed man. It doesn’t seem to worry Traviss to be stared at; and some think that he imagines himself to be quite a hero.

Mr. T. H. Caton, a Constable of Lawrenceville, is engaged as a watchman over Traviss, and occupies his cell with him.

The number who will be present at the execution next Thursday will probably not exceed fifty, as the corridors are not large and will not accommodate a great many persons.

Wellsboro Agitator

January 20, 1885


--Last Thursday in accordance with the warrant of the Governor of the Commonwealth, George Traviss was hanged in the jail in this borough for the murder of Martha Sylvia on the 3rd of April, 1883.


Martha Sylvia was a simple minded, honest hearted woman of middle age living in a little hut containing one room and a loft, standing on a lot of a few acres of land in Charleston Township, on the road leading from this borough to Catlin Hollow, and about three and one half miles from the borough. Her husband had deserted her, and she lived alone on her little property, doing her own work, indoors and out. She found life very hard, for she was a small weak woman. Besides her real estate she owned a cow and two heifers, and these animals and a dog constituted the only living creatures on the place except its owner.

On the 3rd day of April, 1883, Martha was seen by several persons in this borough to whom she was well known. About dusk of that day she was seen going from the borough toward her home in Charleston, and she was never seen alive after that time. It was known the next day that she would never again be seen on earth.

On the night that Martha Sylvia disappeared, between 8 and 9 o’clock in the evening a frame barn belonging to Mr. Charles N. Austin, and standing on the road leading from this borough to Martha’s house, and about two and one half miles from the borough, was discovered to be on fire. Mr. Austin and several of his neighbors went to the burning barn and found it half consumed. While the building was still burning the men gathered about it discovered something peculiar on the ground under where the burned floor of the barn had been. They gathered snow and extinguished the fire about this queer object, and with long boards they finally succeeded in dragging it out of the embers. They found that the object drawn from the fire was part of something that had had animal life. They took these remains to Mr. Austin’s granary and locked them up. The next morning they were inspected by Dr. C. W. Webb, and he decided that they were the remains of an adult female human being.

The fire at the barn having burned itself out, search was made the next morning in the ashes where the remains were found, and a ring of keys, some buttons, hair pins and a locket were picked up. As Mrs. Sylvia had not been seen since the fire, it was suspected that the remains might be hers. District Attorney Foote and others went to her house and found that one of the keys unlocked her door, and another fitted a trunk and another a satchel in her house. They found her house in perfect order, as if she had just gone out and locked it up and had not returned. These facts confirmed the belief that the remains found in the burned barn were those of Martha Sylvia and that she had come to her death by some foul means. And the people of that vicinity were not long in reaching a conclusion as to the guilty agent of Martha Sylvia’s taking off. George Traviss had been seen with her the day before, coming toward this borough early in the day and going from in at nightfall. Suspicion against him was so strong that on the day after the fire Andrew J. Kiphart, of Charleston, made information charging Traviss with the murder of Martha Sylvia, a warrant was issued by Justice Brewster and Traviss was arrested on the street in this borough and locked up in jail.

George Traviss was born in Shippen Township on the 12th day of April, 1853. When he was nine years of age his father, Andrew B. Traviss, moved to Michigan with his family. From his sixteenth year George worked out in Michigan as a common laborer, part of the time in the lumber woods. When he was 27 years old he married in that State, but his married life was not a happy one, and in November, 1882, he came to this county, leaving his wife in Michigan. When he came here he brought his little daughter with him, and he and the child found a home with his brother-in-law, Alexander Reese, who lived in Charleston four and one half miles from this borough about three-quarters of a mile from Mrs. Sylvia’s place. Since coming to the county Traviss had worked some for various persons, but he had not earned or received much money.


The preliminary examination of Traviss was held before Justice Brewster on the 5th day of April, 1883. Several witnesses were sworn for the Commonwealth, and their testimony pointed strongly toward the defendant as the guilty person. He offered no evidence, and was committed to await the action of the grand jury. At the succeeding in May term he was indicted for murder in the first degree, and his trial began at a special term of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, on Tuesday, July 10, 1883, before President Judge Williams and Associate Judges Baxter and Lamkin, District Attorney Foote and Hon. M. F. Elliott appeared for the Commonwealth, and H. B. Packer, Esq., and ex-Judge Wilson represented the defendant. The whole of the first day of the trial was occupied in securing a jury, which was finally made of as follows:

-Charles Margraff, farmer, Nelson

-John W. Warren, farmer, Westfield

-Evan Price, miner, Hamilton

-William Hyde, miner, Blossburg

-George Ransom, farmer, Chatham

-Lloyd Squires, farmer, Rutland

-Roswell Ripley, farmer, Sullivan

-Thomas M. Mitchell, farmer, Tioga

-William J. Bowen, farmer, Charleston

-David Louden, farmer, Delmar,

-Edward R. Copp, music teacher, Nelson

-Otis H. Davis, insurance agent, Wellsboro

On Wednesday morning the taking of testimony began after an interesting opening of the case by Mr. Foote. Witnesses were first called to detail the circumstances attending the finding of the remains in the burning barn and the subsequent identification of them as the remains of Martha Sylvia. Testimony was then given showing that Mrs. Sylvia and Traviss came together on the morning before the fire from the direction of Martha’s house to a point near this borough, that the defendant left the borough in the company of Mrs. Sylvia about dusk of that day, that he called at the house of Chauncey Howard on the road to the scene of the fire and about three-fourths of a mile this side of it about 7:30 in the evening of that day and obtained a few matches, that later in the evening he reached the residence of his brother-in-law, Alexander Reese and after eating supper there he went to Mrs. Sylvia’s place in the company with Reese and Reese’s son, and drove Mrs. Sylvia’s cattle to Reese’s, that on the morning after the fire he expressed some surprise that they were certain the remains were those of a woman, and said they couldn’t be Martha’s because he has paid her $53 the day before in this borough for her cattle and she went to the depot and took the afternoon train for Indiana to go to her husband, that after his arrest he asserted that he did not come toward the borough with Martha and that he was never in his life on the road on which he was seen with her. Testimony was also given lending to show that certain stains found on the defendants coat were caused by human blood. On this point Dr. Thad S. UpDeGraff, of Elmira, was called as an expert microscopist, and his testimony constituted a marked feature of the trial and was severely attacked and criticized by the counsel for the defense.

The attorneys for the Commonwealth rested their case early Friday forenoon and Mr. Packer then opened for the other side, indicating no very definite line of defense. Witnesses were called to show that Mrs. Sylvia was seen in this borough probably as late as 7 o’clock of the night of the fire; that the defendant reached his brother-in-law’s house about 8 o’clock of that night; that he bargained with Mrs. Sylvia for the purchase of her cattle the day before the fire; that Mrs. Sylvia’s health was not good and that she had "bad spells"; that the different persons had paid defendant considerable money since his return to the county; that Mrs. Sylvia had said on the 3rd of April that she had sold her cattle to Traviss and received the money for them; and that the defendant had bled at the nose at different times. Physicians were also called to testify to the improbability or impossibility of telling with certain whether blood stains were caused by human or other blood. Some rebutting testimony was given by the Commonwealth, tending to show that the defendant must have reached Reese’s house on the evening of the 3rd at a later hour than he claimed. The defense also gave testimony and read depositions to establish Traviss’ good character in Michigan as a peaceable citizen.

During the trial there were two quite dramatic and probably decisive pieces of testimony given—one while the case was in the hands of the Commonwealth and the other during the defense. Young Frederick Reese, a son of Alexander Reese an nephew of the defendant, was called by the Commonwealth and testified that he went with his father and uncle after the cattle at Mrs. Sylvia’s the night the barn was burned. He said they had a lantern and went to Martha’s house, the defendant stepped to the door and rapped once, and in a moment he said he guessed Martha wasn’t there, or hadn’t got home. He did not try to open the door, but said they would go and get the cattle. This impressive night scene at Martha’s door was depicted by the lad with great candor and evident truthfulness, and it created a decided sensation in the hearts of many who heard it.

But the testimony of Mrs. Alice Swope, a witness called by the defense, was still more remarkable for its important bearing on the case. She was called on Friday afternoon to testify to a conversation she had with Mrs. Sylvia on the day of her death, concerning the sale of the cattle. The counsel for the Commonwealth strongly objected to the admission of this testimony to Martha’s declarations as she was not a party in the case, and after considerable argument on both sides the Court deferred the decision of the question until the next morning. On Saturday morning there was more debate as to the admissibility of the evidence. The counsel on both sides admitted that they could find no authority in the books directly bearing on the question, and Judge Williams finally said the Court had concluded to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt and admit the evidence.

Mrs. Swope was then called and said she had a conversation at her (witness’s) house in this borough with Martha during the afternoon of the 3rd of April; that Martha told witness that she had sold her cattle to Mr. Traviss and had that day received her pay for them—50-odd dollars. This concluded the direct examination, and the witness was turned over to the attorneys for the Commonwealth. In answer to their questions the witness testified that Mrs. Sylvia also said in the same conversation that she was going away to Michigan and was going to be married to Mr. Traviss, she didn’t know whether they would be married here or after they reached Michigan, but there were going next week if they could get ready. This evidence was listened to with breathless attention by every person in the court room, and it was regarded as throwing a flood of light on the whole case. Mrs. Swope was afterward recalled for further cross examination, when gave fuller details of Mrs. Sylvia’s talk. She testified that Martha said the gentleman she was going to marry had a fine place in Michigan in full view of the lake, that he was a kind man, and was going to marry her and take her to that beautiful home, where she would never have to work any more. She said she must go, for he was then waiting for her at the hotel and she said: "We are going home, and I may never see you again, as we are going to Michigan as soon as we can". This testimony was corroborated by Mrs. Jane Campbell, of this borough, who testified that she saw Martha on the 3rd of April when she came to see Mrs. Swope, and that Martha was in fine spirits and evidently very happy.

The case was finally rested at 3 o’clock Saturday afternoon, and the Court adjourned until Monday, when it was summed up at length by the counsel engaged in the trial. Late in the afternoon Judge Williams delivered a very able and lucid charge to the jury and at 8 o’clock the jurors retired to deliberate on their verdict. About 6 o’clock the next evening they came into Court and announced that they had agreed. While General Cox, the Clerk of the Court, was recording the verdict, and before it had been read, the defendant’s white face flushed once and quickly paled again. This was the only sign of emotion shown by him during the week of his trial.

The verdict of guilty having been announced and confirmed by each juror, the attorneys for the defendant announced that they would prepare reasons in support of a motion in arrest of judgment and for a new trial, and the Court adjourned until the next Saturday morning to enable them to do so. On that day the reasons in arrest of judgment were filed. They were principally based on objections to the sufficiency of the indictment and to the constitution of the grand jury that found it a true bill. Reasons for a new trial were also filed. They were that Mr. Copp, one of the jurors who rendered the verdict, was a second cousin to Mrs. Sylvia, the person alleged to have been murdered and that new evidence favorable to the defendant had been discovered since the trial. Saturday, July 28th was fixed as the date for hearing the motions based on these reasons. On that day arguments were heard, affidavits read and testimony taken bearing upon the motions, and the further consideration of the case was adjourned to Monday, August 6th.

At that time Judge Williams read his opinion denying the motions and on motion of the District Attorney he proceeded to pronounce the death sentence. Both the Judge’s opinion and the sentence were published at length in the Agitator the next day. At the conclusion of the proceedings ex-Judge Wilson announced that defendant’s counsel expected to take a writ of error. This was subsequently done, and the case was argued before the Supreme Court, at Philadelphia, in May, 1884. Messrs. Foote and Elliott making the arguments for the Commonwealth and Mr. Packer for the defendant. At the next term of the Court at Pittsburgh, last October, the decision of the Court was announced, confirming the decision of the Oyer and Terminer. Judge Sterrett wrote the opinion in the case, which was published in the Agitator a few weeks ago. On the 14th of November Governor Pattison, issued his warrant directing the Sheriff to cause the sentence of the Court of Oyer and Terminer to be executed. The Governor’s warrant reads as follow:

In the name and by the authority of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Robert E. Pattison, Governor of the said Commonwealth, to Harry Baxter, Esquire, High Sheriff of the county of Tioga, or to your successor in office, sends greeting:

Whereas At a Court of Oyer and Terminer, held at the borough of Wellsboro, in and for the county of Tioga, at an adjourned May sessions A D 1883, a certain George Traviss was tried upon a certain indictment, charging him with the crime of murder and was on the seventeenth day of July A D 1883, found guilty of murder in the first degree and was thereupon to wit on the 6th day of August A D 1883, sentenced by said Court, that upon such day as the Governor of this Commonwealth shall designate, you, George Traviss, be hanged by the neck until you are dead.

Now therefore this is to authorize and require you the said Harry Baxter, High Sheriff of the county of Tioga aforesaid, or your successor in office, to cause the sentence of the Court of Oyer and Terminer to be executed upon the said George Traviss, between the hours of ten a.m. and three p.m. on Thursday, the fifteenth day of January Anno Domini, one thousand eight hundred and eighty five, in the manner directed by the seventy sixth section of the Act of the General Assembly of this Commonwealth, approved the thirty first day of March A D 1860 entitled. An Act to consolidate revise and amend the laws of this Commonwealth relating to penal proceedings and pleadings, and for so doing this shall be your sufficient warrant.

Given under my hand and the great seal of the State at Harrisburg this fourteenth day of November in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty four and of the Commonwealth the one hundred and ninth. By the Governor.


Last Tuesday active preparations for the execution were begun by the Sheriff. The gallows was set up in the corridor at the east corner of the jail. The apparatus was borrowed of ex-Sheriff Beers, at Elmira, N.Y. It had already been used on three occasions. It consisted simply of two ash posts sixteen feet long and standing about 8 feet apart with a long stiff oak beam across the top projecting beyond the posts considerably more at one end than the other. This horizontal beam supported a pulley midway between the posts and another in its projecting arm so that when a rope was put over the two pulleys one end of it would fall between the two posts and the other considerably beyond them. The fatal noose was formed on the end of the rope between the two posts and to the other end was attached an iron weight if three hundred pounds. This weight was raised by a set of pulley blocks attached to a hook in the projecting end of the beam and when raised it was sustained in position by a small rope passing through a hole in the post and down in which a slot was cut for the introduction of the chisel that was to cut this sustaining rope and let the weight drop. The main rope passing over the top of the gallows was made of shoe thread and was about five inches in diameter. The flagging in the corner was taken up and the two posts of the gallows were sunk in the ground about twenty inches, and above then were thoroughly braced from the stone and brick walls on either side so that the whole frame work was very solid. A thick bed of sawdust was prepared for the heavy weight to fall upon and the corridors for the accommodation of persons admitted to witness the execution. After the gallows was put in order it was tested with a dummy of about the prisoner’s weight. All these mechanical preparations inside the jail were made by Mr. L. R. Decker under the supervision of the Sheriff.

During his last night on earth, Traviss slept more than he did the night before but he was still quite uneasy, lying down and getting up several times. He protested his innocence to his guard, Mr. Caton and talked considerably about his trial and about the preparations for his execution. At his request the operation of gallows was minutely described to him. During the night, Mr. Caton read passages from the Bible to him at his request. He finally went to sleep about four o’clock and slept until six. After breakfast he was shaved and he then put on a new suit of black clothes furnished by the County Commissioners.

Between ten and eleven o’clock his four sisters, who had visited him before, took their last farewell of the doomed man. The parting was heartbreaking. Rev. Mr. Ware accompanied the afflicted women on their visit and remained with Traviss some time after they left. At the prisoner’s request, his brother, Mr. Levi Traviss, of Middlebury, went to the jail before noon and remained until after the execution, showing great emotion during the final scene.

It was nearly twelve o’clock when Sheriff Baxter entered the jail, and then all those who held passes countersigned by him were admitted, to the number of about 110. The Sheriff, accompanied by his chosen deputies and by Coroner Francis, of Knoxville, went at once to the prisoner’s cell, which was in the lower tier opposite the jail door. Rev. Mr. Ware was already with Traviss. On entering the cell the Sheriff told George his time had come and Dr. Francis proceeded to read the death warrant issued by the Governor. During the reading of the warrant Travis listened intently, and he showed some emotion. After the warrant had been read, Rev. Mr. Ware read part of the service for the visitation of prisoners, and asked Traviss more than once to say whatever he wished. He declined, however, to make any statement, and told Mr. Ware that he would none at the gallows.

The services in the cell concluded the Sheriff led the way down the corridor to the gallows, followed by Traviss, who walked between the deputies H. T. Caton, of Lawrenceville, and E. P. Higgins, of Bath, N.Y.

Traviss showed no weakness or especial emotion in walking to his death. He was placed under the gallows and turned, facing down the corridor towards his cell. The Sheriff asked him if he had anything to say. He said he had not but asked to see Associate Judge Baxter. The Judge was not in the jail, and the fact being reported to Traviss, he said "All right."

The prisoner’s arms were then strapped behind him and his legs were pinioned at the knees and ankles. The black cap was drawn over his face, the noose adjusted around his neck and at a silent signal from one of the deputies, the Sheriff cut the rope at 12:25 p.m., the ponderous weight dropped without noise, and Traviss was jerked upward and fell back suspended two feet from the ground. The twist of the rope turned him halfway around so that he faced the wall. He hung perfectly still for about two minutes and then struggled somewhat, evidently dying from strangulation. Drs. A. M. Loop, of Nelson, W. R. Francis, of Knoxville and H. R. Ainsworth, of Addison, were in attendance and kept note of the dying man’s pulse. At the end of about twenty minutes he was pronounced dead and after he had hung thirty two minutes the tackle was hitched to the great weight and it was drawn up, and all that was mortal of George Traviss was slowly lowered into his coffin. On making an examination the physicians decided that his neck had not been broken. His remains were delivered to his relatives, and it is understood that they have been buried in a cemetery in Middlebury. May they rest in peace!


The execution was witnessed by the following jurors, who were summoned and duly sworn by the Sheriff for the purpose: George O. Derby, Wellsboro; A. M. Haight, Mainesburg; G. W. Morgan, Blossburg; A. M. Bennett, Covington; S. D. Evans, Charleston; Charles S. Mather, Lawrenceville; M. V. Purple, Academy Corners; Jerome Bottom, Nelson; George Green, Delmar; D. H. Buckbee, Knoxville; A. J. Doan, Farmington; William B. Dunsmore, Arnot. During the afternoon these jurors certified to the following return under their hands and seals

In the matter of the execution of George Traviss convicted of murder in the first degree. We the undersigned jurors summoned by Harry Baxter, Sheriff of the county of Tioga, to witness the execution of George Traviss, first having been duly qualified do hereby certify that we were present and saw the said George Traviss executed by hanging by the neck, within the walls of the county jail in Wellsboro, PA, at twelve o’clock and twenty five minutes p.m. on Thursday the 15th day of January, 1885, in pursuance of the provisions of the Act of Assembly in such case made and provided.

The Sheriff also made an affidavit before General Cox, the Clerk of the Courts, to the effect that, in obedience of the warrant of the Governor he had caused the sentence of death to be executed in the presence of the District Attorney, one physician and twelve reputable citizens. This affidavit and the juror’s oath and return were attached to the Governor’s warrant for filing in the office of the Clerk of the Courts.


Traviss is the first person ever executed in this county.

Traviss could not even write his own name, but he could read print very well.

There was quite a large crowd in front of the jail at the time of the execution, but it was a very orderly one.

There were numerous reporters in attendance at the execution, representing journals near by and at a distance.

The Sheriff is entitled to great credit for the efficiency of his arrangements for the sad event. Everything passed off with admirable smoothness and order.

The young daughter, whom Traviss brought here with him in the fall of 1882, is now living with her maternal grandfather and grandmother in Michigan.

It is understood that Traviss’ wife, whom he left in Michigan when he returned to this county in 1882, is still in that State and is living with another man.

The Sheriff requests us to express his thanks to Constable Fischler and the special policemen under his direction and to his own deputies for their efficient services on the day of the execution. He is also gratified to note that the best of order was maintained by all the persons in and about the jail.

There are a number of stories about concerning what Traviss has said implicating others in the crime for which he suffered. These statements are hardly worth repeating and persons well acquainted with the circumstances of the case give them very little credence. It is certain that he did not own his guilt up to the end and of course it was natural that he should assert that some other person was guilty.

Ex-Sheriff Joseph Gillies, of Allegany County, N.Y, ex-Sheriff E. P. Hughes, of Steuben County, ex-Sheriff Mosher, of Cattaraugus County, N.Y., Sheriff Stanley, of Chemung County, N.Y., and Sheriff Sprague, of Lycoming County, PA, were present at the execution. Sheriff Brown and ex-Sheriff Black, of Binghamton and Chief of Police Little of Elmira, were in town before the execution, but they left on the 10:05 a.m. train on hearing of William Menken’s escape.

January 27, 1885

Wellsboro Agitator

The trial, conviction, and execution of George Traviss, including board and attorney’s fees, cost this county about $1,400. The execution costs about $150.

Several days after the execution of George Traviss various bits of sensational gossip were floating about this neighborhood to the effect that after his body was delivered to his friends they succeeded in resuscitating him that he was now at work on the Pine Creek railway as brakeman, etc. It was not worth while to contradict these wild reports so long as they simply passed mouth to mouth; but as some of our exchanges in neighboring counties are printing them, it may be well to state that there is no foundation for them. It is true that Traviss’ neck was not broken, but he was dead beyond a doubt. If his friends worked over his body in the vain hope that life was not extinct, it was, perhaps, not an unnatural thing to do. But certain it is that the man paid the penalty of his crime by his death, and his body was promptly buried. Now let him rest in peace.

Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA

Published On Tri-Counties Site On 21 MAR 2006 
By Joyce M. Tice
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