History of Fleming County, Kentucky

The First One Hundred years 1780-1880

Robert S. Cotterill

unpublished manuscript

Flemingsburg Public Library KG 976.956

...undoubtedly the trial which most stirred the county was that of Daniel McLaughlin for the killing of his father-in-law, John Somerville. McLaughlin was a shoemaker living in Elizaville. His wife, Catherine, because of marital differences, had left him and had returned to her father's home near Fleming Creek. In March, 1829,McLaughlin was put under a bond of fifty dollars by the county court to keep the peace toward her for five years. There was evidently bitter feeling between McLaughlin and his wife's family that led to fighting for in June 1829, McLaughlin charged John Somerville and his son Alexander with assault and battery and won 

a judgment for twenty-five dollars. In September 1829, the court put the two Somervilles under bond of $100 each to keep the peace toward 

McLaughlin. Sometime in September McLaughlin received word from his 

wife that if he would come for her at her father's home she would return with him to Elizaville. McLaughlin went taking with him William and John, slaves of John Cochran, and Big Sam, the slave of James Lewis. When he reached the Somerville home he was set upon by the Somervil1es, knocked down, and in the resulting affray Big Sam threw a stone at John Somerville which hit him on the head-a blow from which he died September 28. The grand jury indicted McLaughlin and the three slaves for murder and the case came to trial in October, 1829 at another special term of the circuit court. McLaughlin pleaded not guilty and R. D, Stockton and W. H. Taylor 

were assigned as his consels. On October 20 he was found guilty, and Judge Roper, overruling a motion for a new trial, sentenced him to be hanged December 11, 1829. On that day at ten minutes before one p.m. on a gallows near the town branch about 1/2 mile from Flemingsburg he was hanged by Deputy Sheriff J. H. Botts-the first legal execution in the history of the county. The slaves were tried and John (whose release Cochran whad obtained on $400 bail) was found not guilty. Samuel was found guilty of murder, William of involuntary manslaughter with a recommendation that they be pardoned by the governer. Judge Roper sentenced them to be hanged December 19, but before the date arrived the governor pardoned them. (8)

Footnote 8 pg 205

Details of this celebrated trial are given in the depositions of H. C. Berry, and Samuel Henry Jones, Dickey Collection. The official record is in the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court at Flemingsburg. See also The Fleming Gazette, May 11, 1926. Catherine Somerville married Robert Scott September 20, 1820. After Scott's death she married McLaughlin September 24, 1827. The Somervilles lived on the old buffalo road on what is now the Powell farm near Hilltop. Part of the stone house is still standing as a part of a barn. The slave William was valued at $450 and Big Sam at $500. Before his execution McLaughlin wrote a confession which is in the Clerk's office at Flemingsburg. William was pardoned December 7 and Samuel a week later. John Cochran and Eliza Lamarr were suspected of complicity but were released after an examining trial before W. D. Lee.

Submitted by Cindy Hanson