1 minute read

John Francis Knapp And Joseph Jenkins Knapp Trials: 1830

Trail Leads To Knapps, Verdict Hangs On Legal Definition, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendants: John Francis Knapp and Joseph Jenkins Knapp
Crimes Charged: Accessories to murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: F.Dexter and W.H. Gardiner
Chief Prosecutor: Daniel Webster
Judges: Marcus Morton, Samuel Putnam, and Samuel S. Wilde
Place: Salem, Massachusetts
Dates of Trials: July Term, 1830 for John Francis Knapp; November Term, 1830 for Joseph Jenkins Knapp
Verdicts: Guilty, both trials
Sentences: Death by hanging, both trials

SIGNIFICANCE: In this prosecution of the Knapps by the famous lawyer Daniel Webster, the actual murderer was a hired assassin named Richard Crowninshield, who committed suicide before the Knapps went to trial. Due to Webster's eloquence, this became one of the first cases in which accessories to murder were tried, convicted and executed even though the actual murderer was never convicted.

Brothers John Francis Knapp (who went by his middle name) and Joseph Jenkins Knapp had a wealthy uncle, Captain Joseph White, who lived in Salem, Massachusetts. Captain White was 82 years old, an extraordinary age for that time, but the Knapps were impatient to receive their anticipated inheritance and decided that they couldn't wait for the old man to die naturally. The Knapps hired a hit man, 28-year-old Richard Crowninshield, to murder Captain White.

On the night of April 6, 1830, Crowninshield quietly broke into Captain White's house and went into the bedroom where the old man was asleep. While Francis and Joseph Knapp waited in the street outside, approximately 300 feet away, Crowninshield clubbed and stabbed Captain White to death. With the Knapp brothers' help, Crowninshield fled the house without being seen.

For a while it seemed as if the Knapps' scheme had succeeded. The citizens of Salem were outraged by the brutal murder of the prominent Captain White and formed a Committee of Vigilance to search for the killer. After two months of searching, however, the Committee had gotten nowhere. Then, the police in New Bedford arrested a pickpocket, who testified before a grand jury that he was a friend of Crowninshield and that Crowninshield had told him that he killed Captain White.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832