Boyhood Memories of Burlington in 1822

About the year 1820, Thomas Campbell, formerly a Presbyterian Minister, of the Seceder Church in the North of Ireland, moved with his family from Western Pensylvania to Burlington, Kentucky, where he engaged in teaching school in the log house described in my last article. He was a man of advanced ideas, possessing a mind highly cultivated and remarkable for his devotion and piety. Burlington was fortunate at that early day, when men of learning were not so numerous in Kentucky as now, in securing the services of one so wise, so good, and whose character was so pure, to instruct her youth and prepare them for the duties devolving upon them in after life. Thomas Campbell was the father of the distinguished Alexander Campbell, a man widely known in the religious world, who by the propagation of his views has produced the most profound impression on the public mind, not only in America, but in Europe. Since the days of Wesley no religious movement has spread so rapidly or commanded so much attention. It is but a little over half a century since its organization was established, and now numbers nearly one million people, having under their charge some of the best institutions of learning in the country, the University at Lexington (including in its corporation the farm so long the home of Henry Clay), being one of the best. Kentucky became early identified with the organization, and many of her purest minds and noblest citizens gave it their cordial support.

The school at Burlington was liberally patronized by the people of Boone County. Among its pupils I remember Julia and Lucinda, the accomplished daughters of Colonel Johnson, of North Bend. The former married ----- Bush, and lived in Rising Sun, where they were very much esteemed.

The latter married Omer Tousey, of Lawrenceburg. John and Owen Kirtley, also from North Bend, whose father was about this time elected Sheriff of the county. Charles and Alfred Chambers, Joel, Elijah, and William Kirtley, with their sister, a charming little girl, who afterward married Dr. John Percival.

I remember a stranger who once visited Burlington and remained for a time. He was a man of fine appearance, good address, and attracted much attention. This was Fuller, who was soon after hung at Lawrenceburg for killing Warren. The manner in which he perpetrated the deed, and his conduct while in prison under sentence of death, proved him to be a man of strong nerve and controlled by a sense of what the world falsely calls honor. Offended with Warren for interfering with a woman acquantance, Fuller deliberately invited his victim into a room, locked the door, and, drawing from his pocket a pair of pistols and placing them on a table, said: “Take your choice and defend yourself.” This invitation was declined, when the doomed man’s soul was instantly sent into eternity. Fuller was arrested, indicted, tried and sentenced to be hung.

Led by a boyish curiosity, in company with William Morrison, I walked to Lawrenceburg and witnessed the execution. On our arrival we found the village excited over a rumor that Kentuckians were going to attempt a rescue of the prisoner. Sheriff Tom Long had ordered out the militia, who were armed with clubs. The hour of execution had come. With apparent composure and firm step Fuller ascended the scaffold, the trap was sprung, the rope broke, and the scene that followed was indescribable. Women screamed, strong men trembled, and the Sheriff shouted, “Charge!” The militia, with upraised clubs, stood amazed. They saw no enemy coming to the rescue to charge upon, but they did see a prostrate and half-strangled human being, and heard him plead for mercy. They saw one who but a moment before in the prime of life and vigor of manhood they admired, not for the crime he had committed, but for the fine manly appearance he presented. The authorities were paralyzed for the moment, but in the midst of the confusion there was one who, by his admirable presence of mind, rendered important service in the cause of humanity. This was Dr. John Percival, who, with the agility of a squirrel, and the courage of a true and brave man, ascended one of the uprights which supported the beam to which the rope was fastened, and sliding out, balancing himself on his breast, made fast again the rope, which was handed to him by those below. Thus the sentence of the law was fully executed. For this humane and heroic act Dr. Percival was severely censured, but very unjustly. He was an acquaintance at least, if not a friend of Fuller. I had often seen them together, and doubtless a kind and sympathetic feeling for the doomed one prompted him to the act. Fuller had many friends who interested themselves in his behalf, and he vainly hoped up to the last moment for a pardon. It was rumored that while in jail, and even after his conviction, he left his prison and took regular baths in the Ohio River at his pleasure. I am able to partly confirm this.

Within the last few years, and but a few years before his death, I had the pleasure of a visit from Dr. E.D.C., of Hamilton County., O., a gentleman with whom some of your readers were acquainted, and whose statement would not be questioned by them. In talking over our boyhood days, reference was made to the execution of Fuller when he related the following: “My father, who resided in Harrison, had occasion to send me to Lawrenceburg on business, and being young and inexperienced, gave me a letter to his friend, Dr. -----, who received me kindly, inviting me to remain that night with him in a room adjoining his office. During the night we were awakened, and going to the door found Fuller in company with two others. A short conversation followed, which referred to my presence. Secrecy was required, when we went to the river, and after Fuller had taken a bath, returned to the jail, from whence we returned to our room.

James Tait
May 28, 1877