In 1825, a man by the name of John McAfee was convicted of murdering his wife and sentenced to death by hanging. Although he never made a formal confession, he was said to have written one out in rhyme:
my sad and mournful history.
And may you ne’er forgetful be
of all this day I fell to thee.
Before I reached my fifth year,
my father and my mother dear
were both laid in their silent grave
by Him who their being gave.
No more a mother’s love I shared,
no more a mother’s voice I heard,
no more was I a father’s joy –
I was a helpless orphan boy.
But Providence, the orphan’s friend,
a kind relief did quickly send,
and snatched from want and perjury
poor little orphan McAfee.
Beneath my uncle’s friendly roof,
from want and danger far aloof,
nine years was I most kindly reared
and oftimes his advice I heard.
But I was thoughtless, young and gay,
oftimes I broke the Sabbath day.
In wickedness I took delight,
and oftimes did what was not right.
When my uncle would chide me,
I’d turn from him dissatisfied
and join again in wickedness,
and Satan serve with eagerness.
At length arrived the fatal day
when from my home I ran away.
And to my sorrowing in life,
I took to me myself a wife.
And she was kind and good to me
as any woman need to be.
And would have been alive no doubt,
had I not met Miss Hetty Shoup.
Full well I mind that very day
when Hetty stole my heart away.
It was love for her controlled my will
and caused me my wife to kill.
It was one pleasant summer night
when all was still; the stars shone bright.
My wife was lying in the bed
When I approached her and said:
“Dear wife, here’s a medicine I’ve brought
which for you this day I brought.
My dear, I know it will cure you
of the wild fits – pray take it, do.”
She gave me a tender look,
and in her mouth the poison took,
and down by her babe upon the bed,
to her last long sleep she laid.
But fearing that she was not dead,
my hands upon her throat I laid,
and then such deep impression made
her soul from her body fled.
Then was my head filled full of sorrow,
I cried as whither shall I go.
How shall I leave this mournful place?
The world again how shall I face?
I freely gave up my store,
if I’d a thousand pounds or more,
if I could bring again to life
my dear, my darling, murdered wife.
Her body now beneath the sod,
her soul, I hope, is with her God,
and soon into eternity
my guilty soul shall also be.
Young man, be warned by me –
pray shun all evil company!
Walk in the ways of righteousness
and God your soul will surely bless.
The minute now is drawing nigh
when from this world my soul will fly
to meet Jehovah at His bar
and there my final sentence hear.
Dear friends, I bid you all adieu,
If on earth I no more see you.
On heaven’s bright and flowery plane
I hope we all shall meet again.
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Any additional documentation or folk legends about the story of the hanging of John McAfee in 1825, or the origin of the ballad about his life? There is a recent recording of the ballad by Alice Wylde on “Awaken Old Appalachia”. I’m interested in sharing this cautionary tale with 21st century McAfees! Thanks