The Axeman Pt 2 – The Tale of the Field of Blood – 22 May 1832

Because of the age of this murder, there are no newspaper accounts and no local authors of early times ever made mention of the incident. Franklin Gorin, in his TIMES of LONG AGO, only mentions George Church as “one of the early settlers of Glasgow.”
Only oral history and the records of the Barren Circuit Court supplied the information contained herein. It is a tale of treachery among members of several families that intermarried in the early days of the county. All of them were settlers in the area of Beaver Creek on the north side of Glasgow. George Church settled in an area near the Lexington Pike known as Longhunter’s Trail, nearer to the place known in modern times as the infamous “Slash Bridge.”
The following tale of murder actually took place in a field adjacent to this crossing that in those early times was simply known as the “Field of Blood.”
From the tales of the witnesses in the trial of Albert Berry, it was determined that on Thursday evening, after a day’s work in the field, that George Steeples (Staples) and Albert Berry took turns throwing their hoes at George Church’s bucket, in his absence, until they broke it. When confronted by Church’s 17 year old nephew, Thomas Church, the 18 year old Berry denied having done so. Roland Steeples was also a witness to this incident.
The next morning, before breakfast, the men arrived at the field they were working in, which George Church was renting from Roland Steeples, which was about a quarter mile from his home. Thomas Church, the nephew, had arrived for work shortly before his uncle, but Roland Steeples arrived about the same time as George Church.
Both men stated that George Church went about 100 yards or more out of his way to confront Berry about his throwing his hoe at his bucket the evening before. Neither heard exactly what was said, but both Roland Steeples and Thomas Church stated that when George Church turned his back to Berry, presumably to walk away from him, Berry took up his hoe and struck Church in the head, and continued to strike him as he fell. Roland Steeples immediately tried to aid George Church, who pushed him away and tried to say something.
Young Thomas Church ran a quarter-mile to his uncle’s house, where he procured a horse and went to Dr. Joseph Merrill, who returned with young Church to the field where George Church lay.
In the meanwhile, Roland Steeples stayed with George Church, unsure how to ease his suffering. George Steeples bolted from the scene, as did Albert Berry. Berry grabbed a horse, and with his bloody hoe still in hand, rode to the creek and in the stream for a bit before riding northward up the hill and away into the Slash country.

Dr. Joseph Merrill stated that George Church died when he arrived at the scene.  He did not wash the man’s head before examining him, and there appeared to be three impressions made by outward violence.  He was not for sure whether they were made by a hoe, or by a hard fall.  One place was on the top of his head, another behind and somewhat to the left, and the other on the right of the head near the temple.  The first were contusions not breaking the skull and contained matter or fluids.  The blood on the right side of the head was more violent, the skull being entirely mashed and broken.  Merrill’s opinion was that Church was struck after he was down, because the strike on the right side of the skull was broken and knocked in.  The blow’s on Church’s head, Merrill stated, could not have been caused by apoplexy, and that a rap to the head could terminate blood to the brain.  He also stated that drunkenness had a tendency to give a man apoplexy, but that he had known Church about 9 months and had never known him to be drunk.  Merrill was convinced of outward violence, as the injuries were distinct and unconnected.

Young Thomas Church was deeply disturbed by this incident, and of the evening before, when having overheard George Steeples say he would see George Church’s entrails, to which Albert Berry remarked that he would kill Church himself.  Young Albert Berry was a brother-in-law to George Church, Church having married Berry’s sister Mildred about 10 years before this.  They had another sister Sarah who was married to Rowland Steeples (Staples).

Pleasant Matthews spoke, under oath, of a business deal with George Church about a year before the incident, to which Albert Berry came with Church.  Berry had said something disparaging about Church out of his earshot and Matthews had reprimanded the young man.  Before Church departed, Matthews warned Church that Berry had it in for him.  Matthews stated that Church laughed and shrugged it off, saying Berry would never harm him.

After the murder was reported it took several days to track down Albert Berry.  The Sheriff of Hardin Co., KY apprehended him and sent him back from Elizabethtown to Glasgow.  A warrant and order was issued from Hardin Co., Ky on May 29th, 1832, whereupon the Justice of the Peace sent Berry and his guards on to the jail in Glasgow.

Once Albert Berry was apprehended and appeared before the Jury in Barren Co., he begged off until the next term so George Steeples could be found and brought forth as a material witness.  Berry insisted that with Steeples’ testimony, he could prove the deceased allegedly made the first assault upon his person, and that whatever force Berry used was in self-defence.  Berry admitted at that time he was under 21 years of age (according to family, he was 18 at the time of the murder), and that since his arrest he had been residing in the jail.  He also admitted that sometime after the incident, George Steeples, without Berry’s direction or knowledge, had left the State, and Berry had since been informed that Steeples was in the State of Missouri.

Berry had asked that a Subpoena be issued by the Sheriff of Barren Co. to be executed to this term of Court, in the hopes that said Steeples might return to this County after he heard of Berry’s plight.  It is unclear whether George Steeples was later located, but charges were brought against him for aiding and abetting Berry to murder George Church.

The Verdict on Albert Berry was signed by John Jameson, foreman of the Grand Jury in session and was very plain.  They found him guilty of the charge of Manslaughter,

“Not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, on the 22nd of May in the year of our Lord 1832, in the County of Barren, did feloniously, willfully, and of malice aforethought, did make an assault in and upon one George Church with a weeding hoe which he the same Albert Berry did then and there have and held in his hands and did then and there feloniously, willfully, and with malice aforethought strike and knock the said George Church in and upon the head, whereby said George Church instantly fell to the ground.  Thereby in manner and form aforesaid, Albert Berry did strike the said George Church 3 mortal strokes and bruises in and upon the head.  The said George Church the 22nd of May in the year aforesaid in the County aforesaid, died of aforesaid several mortal strokes, wounds, and bruises.  So the Jurors find the aforesaid Albert Berry did feloniously, willfully, and of malice aforethought Kill and murder the aforesaid George Church contrary to the form of the Statute in such case made and provided against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

“And the said George Steeples, late of the County of Barren, labourer before and at the time of the felony and murder aforesaid had been done and committed by said Albert Berry in the manner and form aforesaid… that is to say, on the 22nd day of May in the year aforesaid in the Co of Barren aforesaid, did maliciously feloniously voluntarily and of malice aforethought incite, move, abet, coerce, procure, assist the aforesaid Albert Berry to do and commit the felony and murder in manner and form aforesaid to be done and committed Contrary to the form and of the Statute in such case made and provided against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth of KY.”

Albert Berry was sentenced to two years in the jail and Penitentiary for Manslaughter.  It is not known with any certainty what became of him, but he left the area.  At this point in history, such tragedies usually forced the families involved to relocate to avoid the scandal.  It has been determined the Church family remained in this are, and for the most part the rest of the Berrys and Staples families.   Another such murder case in the 1850s would indirectly involve the Church family through their connection to the Adwells.

George Church lies buried in the Church Cemetery on Longhunters’ Trail about 1 and 1/2 miles off Hwy 90, northwest of Glasgow.  His stone is military, showing his date of death.  He was a Private in Cumming’s Co, Bunch’s Tenn. MTD Infantry Militia in the War of 1812.  Some of his descendants continue to live in this area.

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About Gclee

I am a long time genealogy and local history hunter from Barren Co., KY. I have many stories to share that may be of interest to other local genealogists and history buffs. I enjoy this as a hobby and hope I can be of encouragement to others. I also hope everyone enjoys my stories as much as I have enjoyed learning about them.
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