AMERICA'S FIRST "PUBLIC ENEMY"
The Life & Crimes of Samuel Green



(Right) An old print of murdered Samuel Green, who was hanged in 1822

An early day crime historian once wrote that Samuel Green was not a man that "a traveler would want to meet in a lonely spot". Green became known as the Terror of New England and was described as standing nearly six feet tall, was heavily muscular and had a savage-looking face and burning dark eyes. He was, most would agree, a very disturbed man but he was also one that was a product of his upbringing. There remains little doubt that violent and abusive parents and caretakers created this inhuman killer. In modern days, such a statement would seem to be an excuse for one to behave however one likes but in this case of Samuel Green, such a statement happens to be the truth.

Green was born in the small village of Meredith, New Hampshire and when young, Green's parents came to believe that the boy was possessed by demons when he skipped school a few times and then lied about. As was the case among many poor, simple folk of early America, it was believed that the devils could be beaten out of the boy with the whip. As an apprentice to a blacksmith when a young man, Green was caught stealing and was horsewhipped for it. He sought revenge by destroying his employer's garden. He was whipped again for this but refused to admit to the deed. Instead, he drowned the family's dog by throwing it into the well. The dog caused the water to turn bad and the well had to be cleaned, a great expense that was charged to the Green family. For this transgression, Samuel was again beaten to within an inch of his life. To spite his parents for this punishment, Green retaliated again, this time by cutting the throat of the family's price hog. Finally, they gave up on him and sent him off to Newhampton to live with a man named Dunne.

In this new place, Green settled down for awhile and began to attend school. This lasted for a short time and then after growing bored, he decided not to show up for his classes. He was beaten when his behavior was reported. He later stole from a store and was beaten for that as well. Green fled back to his parents who, after hearing of the theft, beat the boy into unconsciousness and sent him back to Dunne. Dunne, in turn, whipped the boy until a layer of flesh was peeled from his back.

By this time, Green had had enough --- after this beating, he became determined to murder Dunne. He cleverly arranged for a trap to spring that would cause a large ax to fall on the man's head as he entered the door of his workshop. In case this failed, Green also devised it so that a pitchfork would slide down at him from the top of the barn door. Dunne turned out to be lucky. When he entered the workshop, the ax narrowly missed him and only sliced a piece of the sleeve of his coat. As he ran into the barn to search for Green, the pitchfork shot downward but only gave him a minor injury to his foot. For attempted murder, Green was tied to the barn door and whipped until his back was nothing but a bloody pulp.

Green retaliated once again, destroying a barrel of cider and stealing several bushels of Dunne's corn. He was whipped again when he was caught. Green then tried to burn down his master's barn but the blaze was put out. Green was then beaten senseless with whips and fists.

The battle between the two of them continued for months until Dunne finally gave up the fight. By then, the boy was old enough and strong enough that no man could hold him -- and too dangerous for anyone to care to. Green then embarked on a new career of passing counterfeit bank notes with another bitter youth named Ash. They operated locally for a time and then when it was thought that they had too much money for their ages and stations in life, they moved on to other towns. One day while traveling, they passed a schoolhouse where children were playing and out of spite, he threw a large timber under a speeding sleigh that was loaded with children, almost killing them. The schoolmaster collared both Green and Ash and beat them badly. That night, the two young men waited for the man, knocked him unconscious with rocks and then stripped him naked to freeze to death in the cold. Luckily, he was found a couple of hours later and barely recovered.

Green and Ash then moved through the town of Guilford and on to Burlington, Vermont. Here, Green enlisted in the army after he learned that a bounty would be paid for his services. He found that military life was not to his liking and almost immediately deserted. He was caught and thrown into the guardhouse, where he was flogged as punishment. He escaped and returned to his family in New Hampshire. Green was rich by then, having passing hundreds of dollars in counterfeit bills, and strangely, purchased a cow for his mother, the only sign of love that he ever manifested in his life. He spent the remainder of his loot on fine clothes, jewelry, a horse and sumptuous meals -- all for himself, of course.

When the money finally ran out, he and Ash went back to passing counterfeit bills. Green's employer in the business, a man whose name was never known, also taught the young man how to become an expert card cheat and how to pick locks and duplicate keys. This came in handy for Green when he went to Boston and hired out as a servant to wealthy men. Once inside the house, he played the role of a dutiful servant, but late at night he would rob the house of its valuables and flee.

Green then teamed up with Ash again as highway robbers. One night, outside of Bath, New Hampshire, they encountered a jewelry salesman in a tavern. He foolishly allowed the young men to inspect his wares -- which he paid for later that night. As the man unknowingly rode by, Green and Ash sprang the bushes, knocked him from his mule and rummaged his pockets for money. Ash thought they should kill the man, and eliminate the witness, and Green readily agreed. He brought his cudgel down on the unconscious man's skull over and over again until the head was nothing more than a bloody mass.

After that, Green's murderous exploits ranged throughout New England and he robbed and killed at will. He was jailed several times on suspicion but there was never enough evidence to indict him. He escaped from jail several times, often with Ash's assistance, and once when looting a jewelry store, he fought his way through an entire contingent of lawmen, shooting several of them. He was apprehended for this and placed in jail. After a short trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to hang, Ash again broke him out of jail and the two of them vanished into the mountains of New Hampshire. Soon after, Green went on another crime spree, burglarizing stores in Albany and New York city. He then traveled to Middlebury, Vermont, where he robbed and killed a traveler. He left a trail of rape, horse theft, burglary, counterfeiting and murder all over New England and became America's first "public enemy number one". He aroused the fervor of people all over the region and huge bounties were offered for his capture.

The fugitive's end came when he was arrested in Danvers, Massachusetts for shoplifting in a store. He was blind drunk at the time of the crime and his arrest. He was convicted and sentenced to serve four years in jail for it. He attempted to escape but was captured and afterwards was  fitted with special shackles with weighted clogs that would slow his movements. Green learned that a prisoner named Billy Williams had informed on him moments before his escape attempt and when he was released from solitary confinement, Green vowed revenge. He put poison in Williams' food but the convict refused to eat it. Then, on the morning of November 8, 1821, Green cornered Williams alone and wielding an iron bar, he pounced on him. He managed to fracture his skull and then beat him severely, breaking all of his ribs, his hands and his feet. Williams died a week later from his injuries.

It would be for this murder, which occurred because he had been sent to jail for shoplifting, that finally brought an end to the career of one of early America's greatest criminals. He was tried for Williams murder and sentenced to hang on April 25, 1822. The rope was placed around his neck and just before the trap was sprung, he told the priest who stood at his side that he had no words for the crowd who had gathered to see him die. "They shall know my fate," he cryptically told the man," for I have written my confession out in full."

The priest then asked him if he was penitent for the sins he had committed. "If you wish it," Green replied with a smirk and then he plunged to his death. The rope snapped his neck and he was dead in moments. Oddly, his promised 'confession" never materialized and perhaps because of this, Samuel Green has been relegated to the "almost forgotten" section in the annals of American crime.


Return to Dead Men Do Tell Tales

Copyright 2004 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.