And 12,000 came to see Denison hung high …

Kevin Doonan

Here’s a story uncovered during my research into the Chenango County Historian’s files … one that didn’t quite make it into today’s special section on the 175th anniversary of the courthouse, but is interesting nonetheless.

In 1833, the first of two men hung in Chenango County perished after a long drop and a short stop. The tale of George Denison’s untimely demise is an odd one. It is believed that during the week, Denison boarded in New Berlin where he worked. He has been described in early newspapers as a jovial drunk who was everyone’s friend when tippling.

On 30 September, 1822, Denison was making the long trip home along the New Berlin-Columbus road. As he traveled Denison stopped various inns along his route, forking over his weeks earnings to procure copious quantities of alcoholic beverages. As Denison proceeded towards home, so to did the grasp of drunkeness progressively clench its steely claws upon his mind, befuddling his senses and impeding judgment.

Everything seemed to be going well for Denison, he no doubt was having the time of his life and wished only to elongate the one man festival. But the good time came to an abrupt halt when Denison stumbled into the inn of Hamlin Gregory. The coldhearted innkeeper cut short Denison’s revelry by refusing the hapless man even a single drop of amber spirit. Enraged beyond reason, the rapscallion departed from the inn, swearing retribution for these most grievous of affronts.

Mournful over being so unjustly slighted, Denison returned home. At this point he no doubt helped himself to some more drink, but what he unequivocally did was load a gun with shot and powder.

Utilizing the most sound channels of logic conceivable, Denison had determined someone ought to teach Hamlin Gregory a lesson on denying a parched man the means to quench his thirst. Intend upon “peppering” Hamlin’s leg, Denison came upon old Gregory lounging in the shadows of a woodshed doorway. Denison noted that Hamlin wore his iconic large slouched hat pulled low upon his brow, while he smoked his token corn pipe. Swaying ever so slightly, Denison squinted one bloodshot eye, took aim at one of the many images he saw of Hamlin’s leg, and fired. A satisfying thump resounded when the bullet met the flesh of the man seated before Denison. As the barrel of his gun cooled, the drunk scoured a nearby field for a nice quiet spot to have a lay down and proceeded to pass out. That morning the sun arose to find Hamlin inexplicably unbesmirched.

The day before, on September 30th, Hamlin’s son, Reuben Gregory, was suffering from an agonizing toothache. No remedy could alleviate Reuben’s discomfort and it was suggested to him that he try smoking tobacco. Unfortunately though, Reuben was not a habitual smoker and did not own a smoking device. And so in search of a remedy for his toothache, Reuben sought out his father’s corn pipe. He found it along with his father’s slouched hat, which he put on. He then settled into a chair in the shadows of a woodshed doorway adjacent to his father’s inn and proceeded to puff on his old man’s pipe.

Reuben most likely did not see his death coming, nor is it likely that he had time to register the shot that killed him. Although Denison protested until his dying breath that his intention had been merely to wound the man he thought to be Hamlin, the bullet he fired had traveled straight through young Reuben’s heart, piercing the wood behind him.

When Denison was awoken to face the consequences of his actions, he expressed both shock and anguish for the deed he had committed whilst deep in the thralls of fermented spirits. Denison went to the gallows a remorseful man, leaving behind a wife and two children.