Retracing Our Family Legacy

Matilda Kessler
(1816 - 1838)

The following has been compiled by Anne Rohr,
a descendant of Samuel Hinds Hardy and Carrie Elizabeth Stamps

Anne Rohr


was born Bet. 1775 - 1780 in Virginia, and died Abt. 1840 in Green County, Kentucky. He married EVE/PHEOBE KOONTZ Bet. 1793 - 1794. She was born Bet. 1775 - 1780 in Virginia, and died 1846 in Green County, Kentucky.



The following story is about the murder of Mitilda Kessler

MATILDA KESSLER b. 1816; d. July 07, 1838, Green County, Kentucky; m. JOHN QUINCY WHITE, March 01, 1835, Green County, Kentucky; d. July 1838, Green County, Kentucky

"A History of Kentucky", by William B. Allen,
Published 1872 in Louisville by the Bradley & Gilbert Printers.
It was reprinted in 1967 by the Green County Historical Society


Carrington SIMPSON of Green Co was a participant in one of the most "diabolical" deeds of murder perhaps in Green and other counties. Taken from notes kept by General Samuel A. SPENCER, one of the attorneys for the defense.

Month of July 1838, Lucinda WHITE, a widow lady about 45 years old, and her two sons, Lewis Charner and John Quincy WHITE, and her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Matilda WHITE who was abt 20 yrs old, and her baby, William Franklin WHITE, abt 2 yrs old, were murdered, their bodies deposited in an old potatoe-hole (sic) in a dilapidated cabin in an unenclosed waste old field on the farm of Carrington SIMPSON. This was on the south side of Green River, abt 7 miles from Greensburg and abt. 1 mile from the place the murdered people lived. The bodies were slightly covered, principally with rotten tobacco stalks, the house having been used some years previously as a tobacco barn.

When the bodies were exhumed, they were found in the hole, or grave, in the following order, viz? The son, Lewis Charner, on top; next to him, Lucinda, the mother; next, the son, John Quincy, and the infant, William Franklin; and at the bottom, Matilda, the daughter-in-law. Although all in a high state of putrefacation, the bodies were all identified and recognized by those who had known them well; one by the comb in her head and the ring upon her finger; another by the her teeth and the color of her hair; another by the peculiarity of his teeth, &c. It seems that all of them were stript of their clothing before interment, except Matilda, the daughter-in-law - her clothing appeared to have been pulled up and tied over her head; she had also a rope about her body and arms, as though she had been tied. The skull of each one was broken, apparently, and, in the opinion of the physician present at the exhumation, with the same instrument, except that the head of the child was mashed and severed from the body. The coroner having held his inquest and made out his report, old Daniel KESLER, the father of young Mrs. WHITE, collected the remains of his daughter (Matilda) and her child and placed them in one coffin, and those of Lucinda and her two sons, which he placed in another coffin, and deposited both coffins in the same grave on his farm, not far distant from the scene of the direful atrocity.

Carrington SIMPSON was an intemperate man in the use of liquor, petulant and fearless, especially when under the influence, had a great many quarrels and fights, and, in short, a general wrong-doer, and a terror to the neighborhood in which he lived. Some eighteen months had elapsed from the time of the murder to the discovery of the bodies spoken of, and during that whole period there was not even a suspicion that a murder had been committed; but the universal belief in the neighborhood was, that this family had moved clandestinely to the State of Alabama. The facts which influenced this general belief were, that Lucinda WHITE had a brother and other relations living in that State, who were anxious for the removal of her family thither; she was anxious to go, and often spoke of going; her eldest son, the husband of Matilda, had gone there some months previously, with the view of securing a home for the family by the time they might arrive; the husband of Matilda, who had gone, was by no means in good odor with his father-in-law, old Daniel KESLER, but on the other hand was regarded by him as a very sorry chance, and who consequently opposed vehemently the going of his daughter to Alabama; but she was determined to accompany her mother-in-law, Lucinda, whenever she went, at all hazards, and it was agreed among the family that Matilda should go to her father's (old Daniel Kessler's) to spend the day, and while there collect some articles of clothing belonging to her, and bring them away; in the meantime give her father's family to understand that she had abandoned all idea of going to Alabama. The arrangement was further made, however, with Carrington SIMPSON, who was present at the time, that he was to remove them five days' journey with his ox team, and that they were to start at a late hour that night. Lewis Charner (WHITE), the eldest of the murdered sons, had been started off a day or two previous to the contemplated movement of the rest of the family, on an old worn-out gray horse, which they feared would not be able to hold out, and that he possibly might have to return before he had traveled very far, which the sequel will show was the case.

The night appointed for the removal was the first Saturday in July, 1838. Jason BELL, who lived about six miles from Greensburg, and three or four miles from SIMPSON's, on the same side of the river, had a still-house of very low character, where rowdies frequently met to carouse. Carrington SIMPSON was one of the most frequent attendants. On the Thursday before the murder, SIMPSON went to his still-house. Pleasant SADLER was there also, who was the step-son of BELL. Simpson's account of that meeting, as related in the testimony on the trial of BELL and SADLER, was that after talking awhile on other matters he remarked to them that Lucinda WHITE wanted some one to remove her to Alabama. SADLER remarked that she had a purse of money as long as his arm."BELL then said, that would be a pretty good haul. SADLER then proposed to him and BELL, that they should kill old Lucinda (WHITE) and all the family, throw them into the river, and get her long purse of money. BELL agreed to the killing, but objected to throwing them into the river, as it might lead to their discovery, and inquired of SIMPSON if he did not know of some deep hole in which they could throw the bodies. SIMPSON mentioned as a very suitable place, near by, an old potatoe-hole, in a falling-in waste-house, in an old field of his. It was then agreed that SIMPSON should go to Lucinda's on Friday, and tell her that BELL and SADLER would move her five days' journey for ten dollars; and she must be ready to start by Saturday night; that they would all be there with a cart and ox team by dark, prepared to start on the trip.

"They were at the place by the time appointed, with the cart and ox team, but had previously murdered Matilda (WHITE) and the child in the old field in which the waste-house was situated. They had met her on her return from her father's. Lucinda and her son John Quincy were murdered at her house after their arrival there with the cart, and their bodies taken to the old waste-house and thrown into the same hole with Matilda and her child. The cart was then loaded up with Lucinda's plunder, which was carried off to SIMPSON'S house, where the division of the spoils took place.

"The next day, Lewis Charner (WHITE), who had started off beforehand on the old gray horse, returned, alleging that the horse was about to give out, that he was satisfied it could never perform the trip, and that he had concluded to leave the old horse and travel with the rest of the family. Arriving at Lucinda's house, he found it vacated, and supposing they had started on their trip an that he had missed them on the way, he hunted up SADLER, who prevailed upon him to conceal himself (under some pretext, not now remembered) in an old barn until night, when he was inveigled into the old field, murdered, and deposited in the same hole with the rest, there to remain until time and circumstances should reveal to the public observation the whole affair.

I should have mentioned that the poor old gray horse was also taken to the old field and killed near the waste-house, so that any disagreeable effluvia which might arise from the decomposing human bodies would be attributed to the dead horse.

"After the night of Saturday, the 7th of July, 1838, the whole of this family were known to be missing; yet nearly eighteen months had elapsed before even the faintest suspicion had been aroused in the neighborhood that they had been foully dealt with, because it was generally understood in the neighborhood that they intended to move to Alabama. Many months afterward, however, the anxiety of old Mr. KESLER in regard to his daughter, Matilda, induced him to write to Alabama to ascertain where they had settled, how they were doing, &c.

After waiting a long time and receiving no reply, he wrote again, and again, with no better success. About this time various articles of clothing, such as ladies' dresses, children's clothes, bed clothing, &c., were seen worn and used by SIMPSON's family, which were recognized by the neighbors as having been worn and used by Lucinda and Matilda (WHITE); but still their suspicions were slight, from the fact that SIMPSON had repeatedly stated openly that he had received his pay for moving them in such articles, they having no money to spare for that purpose. About this time the suspicions of the neighbors began to gather strength, daily, from new discoveries of articles worn by the SIMPSONS, articles which it was unreasonable to suppose those persons would have parted with, such as under-dresses, flannels, shirts, shoes, children's clothing, and new calico dresses which these people were seen making a few days before they started. These suspicions and circumstances led to the arrest of SIMPSON, in March, 1840, under a warrant obtained by Daniel KESLER, the father of Matilda, and he was brought before Justices J D MOTTLEY and Isaac GIBBONS, who, after hearing the evidence and duly deliberating thereon, committed him to jail, to be held for trial at the ensuing circuit court for the murder of five persons before mentioned.

"Some few days after his commitment, a number of persons of the neighborhood in which the murder was supposed to have been committee assembled, divided themselves into different parties or companies, intending to search the neighborhood thoroughly, in every direction, for the bodies supposed to be murdered. One of the companies having with them a grubbing-hoe, proceeded immediately to the old field and waste-house, of which I have spoken, which they all entered; and, after casting their eyes about a little, the man with the grubbing-hoe, without the expectation of making any discoveries, made two licks with his hoe, in quick succession, into the loose looking tobacco stalks which covered the hole. The second lick brought up the rib of a human body. The rubbish being cleared away, several human forms were discoverable, but they were not disturbed until the arrival of the coroner. An inquest being held, the remains were disposed of an heretofore stated.

Before his arrest, SIMPSON's statements in regard to what had become of the family were very contradictory. In regard to their manner of leaving he was generally consistent. At one time he said he did not know where they had gone, at another, that he did know, but would not tell; and at another, that he could go to them in three hours, and that but one person but himself knew anything about them. He said that some of left on Saturday night, and the rest on Sunday night; that the reason they left separately and in the night was that old man KESLER, the father of Matilda [WHITE], intended to stop her from going, and this plan had been adopted to escape him. These evasive answers went far to strengthen the suspicions already afloat.

On the evening of the day on which the dead bodies were found, SIMPSON was visited at the jail by several persons, who communicated to him the fact of their discovery, and all the circumstances which conduced to prove him, beyond all reasonable doubt, a guilty participant at least. He, however, denied, as he had uniformly done before, any participation in the affair. One of the visitors, upon leaving the jail, addressing himself to SIMPSON said, "As regards you, SIMPSON, your guilt is conclusive, and your doom is fixed, but I have no doubt there were others connected with you in the affair, for no one man could have accomplished so tragic an act unaided and alone, and you had as well come out fully and tell us about it." To these remarks SIMPSON made no reply. Early next morning, however, he gave information that Jason BELL and Pleasant SADLER were his accomplices in the affair, and that SADLER, a stout young man, had done the killing in each instance."

"Some months previous to this time BELL and SADLER had removed from the neighborhood in which they had lived to the head waters of Brush Creek, in Green County, some twelve or fifteen miles distant; but a warrant was forthwith obtained, and an officer immediately dispatched for their arrest. They were soon brought to town, delivered over to the justices, an investigation had, mainly upon the testimony of SIMPSON, who made a full confession of his own guilt and of their participation, which resulted in their commitment also for further trial, without bail. At a subsequent circuit court, they were all tried, condemned, and sentenced to be capitally executed.

"Soon after the sentence BELL became sick, and in a few days afterward was found dead in the cell. His illness was not thought to be dangerous, and he and SADLER being confined in a room together, separate from SIMPSON, it was generally believed that SADLER, his step-son, had smothered him to death. A short time after this, SADLER made a rope out of his bed-clothing and hung himself, fastening one end of the rope around his neck and the other to the grating of a small window in the dungeon some seven or eight feet high from the floor.

SIMPSON abided his time, and was hung in the suburbs of Greensburg on the 21st of September, 1841. BELL and SADLER were to have been hung on the 27th of the same month. The throng of people who attended the hanging of SIMPSON was tremendous. I would say there were present on that occasion ten thousand persons at least. "After the trial, conviction, and sentence of SIMPSON, and when he had no hope of executive clemency, he detailed to General S. A. SPENCER, the following history of his life, viz:

"I was born in the county of Chesterfield, State of Virginia, on the 10th day of August, 1782, about twelve miles from Manchester, near the coal pits, where I lived until about the year 1818, when I removed to the county of Rockingham, in the state of North Carolina. I remained in this place about ten years, when I removed to Green County, Kentucky, in the year 1828, and settled some seven or eight miles southwest of Greensburg, where I have resided ever since. My mother's name was Jenny SIMPSON. She was never married. I had three brothers, Langhorn, Robert and Jack, and four sisters, Betsy, Rhody, Polly, and Lear, all raised in Chesterfield County, Virginia. My father was said to be Judge C. of Virginia, from whom I took my given name. I was married about the year 1809 to Dicy POWELL, daughter of James POWELL, of Chesterfield."

He continues about being drafted as a soldier in company commanded by Captain BERFOOT, in 1814 - stationed at Camp Holley near Richmond. Was discharged, went home. Was in the grocery business. Mentioned getting into trouble in CA with a man named KIDD and a free negro named David LANDRUM. Was arrested quite a few times in VA and NC over land difficulties, etc. Mentioned an old preacher named Joseph O GENTRY in NC re stealing hogs.

MATILDA KESSLER was buried in Soloman Kessler Cemetery,
Green County, Kentucky

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