previous next

Examination for Attempted Incendiarism — the accused sent on.

--Yesterday afternoon the Mayor was engaged from two o'clock till five in the examination of the case against Major Overton W. Edwards, charged with attempting to set fire to his store, No. 5 Wall street, under the St. Charles Hotel, on Saturday night. The accused is a native of Norfolk, Va., but during the late war was an ordnance officer in this city, ranking first as captain and then as major. He is fifty-two years of age, and of respectable appearance. During the examination, Major Edwards sat by his counsel, Judge John S. Caskie, and would frequently show signs of deep emotion. He was surrounded by a large number of friends, who manifested much interest in the trial. We append the following testimony:

Henry E. Merrick sworn.--I am one of the proprietors of the St. Charles Hotel. The first I knew of the attempt to fire Mr. Edwards's store was through my clerk, who came up to my room and told me of it. I immediately went down, and saw liquor running from the store door. A gentleman was sent around to the back alley, in the hotel yard, which is a few feet below the rear windows to Edwards's store, and a ladder put up against the window. The shutter to one of the windows was opened, after which several gentlemen got into the store. When I entered the store I saw burning candles scattered about the floor; they were seven in number; also, loose paper strewed about the floor. The paper was saturated with whisky and twisted into ropes, and then had been trailed about the room in every direction. The bung had been taken out of each barrel of liquor, and in the bung-holes hung the ends of this saturated paper. The candles, which were about one inch and a half long, had been stuck upon pieces of wood, and around them were pieces of paper saturated with whisky, so that when the blaze burnt down to the paper the fire would have instantly spread in all parts of the room and communicated with the contents of the liquor barrels, thereby causing explosion and serious consequences. Soon after I got there, Mr. Edwards was sent for. The discovery of the attempt to fire the store was made about half-past 9 o'clock Saturday night. Soon after the servant who had been sent up for Mr. Edwards returned, that gentleman and his son came down. Myself and several other persons left them in the store, while we adjourned to the bar-room of the St. Charles. Shortly afterwards Mr. Edwards and his son came in and staid a short while, and then left for home. While they were in the bar-room, Mr. Edwards stated that he left his store that evening about 7 o'clock, in company with his son, who was going off in the Fredericksburg cars at 8 o'clock; he then retraced his steps and called by the Exchange Hotel, where he remained a few minutes; from here he called by the store and looked in to see if all was right; and finding everything as he had left them, he walked up the street to Mr. Lamb's store, and from there went home. I think it would have taken at least a half-hour for one person to have completed the arrangements which were made for the fire. When the parties mounted the ladder, the window shutter was unfastened and opened without difficulty. I certainly understood Mr. Edwards to say that he went to the cars to see his son off, and am also positive that he told me it was 9 o'clock when he returned and examined his store, to see if all was right.

Mr. Isaac Davenport sworn.--Was called at half-past 2 o'clock Sunday morning to make a presentment against Mr. Edwards for trying to set fire to his store. Is an officer in the company in which the stock was insured. Found candles laid, and everything as described by Mr. Merrick, for insuring an extensive conflagration. One man could not have made them in less than half an hour.--Amount of insurance on Mr. Edwards's stock, six thousand dollars; value of stock estimated at between five and six thousand dollars.

C. F. Wind sworn.--Corroborated the statements of the preceding witnesses as to the nature and extent of the preparations for the fire.

W. J. Babcock, of the St. Charles Hotel, sworn.--Reached the store soon after the attempt to fire was discovered. Saw the candles, but the light had been put out. The bungs had all been knocked out of the barrels, and paper, saturated with whisky, had been twisted and called over the room and put into the bung-holes of the barrels. Understood Mr. Edwards to say that he left the store that evening in company with a Mr. Myers, of Baltimore, who was going home.

Captain David Jackson sworn.--Is captain of police. Arrested Edwards at the instance of three gentlemen upon a warrant made out by Mr. Davenport. Corroborated statement of others as to the condition of things in the store. Edwards told him he had left his store between 6 and 7, in company with Mr. Myers, about to leave for Baltimore. After seeing him off, he returned to his store (stopping a while at the Exchange Hotel), and finding all right, went home. Captain Jackson discovered some candles in a chair, which were a part of those cut and placed in different parts of the room. Edwards stated he had bought them to use in his chamber.

T. P. Thomas, bar-keeper of the St. Charles, sworn.--Heard that Edwards's & Collins's liquor was escaping. Mr. Obendorff went to catch some of it with a pail. Described the condition of the room as others had done. Edwards opened the door with a key, and Mr. Obendorff testified that no one entered by the front door till it was thus opened.

Watchman John E. Brooke sworn.--Ascended the ladder from the area of the St. Charles to the back window of Edwards's store. Corroborated statements already given as to the condition of things in the store. Was the first to ascend the ladder. Examined door leading into adjoining store — positive that it had not been opened that night.

Isaac Davenport recalled.--Made a statement in substance that it was not unusual for the amount of insurance upon a store to be considerably in excess of the value of the stock. Had himself had an insurance of $200,000 when his stock did not exceed $30,000, owing to reduction by large sales of coffee. Supposed Edwards's stock not worth more than $1,500 or $2,000. His insurance, $6,000. It was no unusual thing in the fall of the year for the insurance to exceed the value of the stock; and not unreasonable to suppose that the stock now on hand might be lower than usual, in consequence of the hard times.

For the Defence.--Mr. Collins, partner of Edwards, sworn. --Testified as to being in the store with him (Edwards) and his son and others, Saturday evening. Myers had been there, and Edwards intended going with him to the cars. Stock worth between three and four thousand dollars.

William Edwards sworn.--Also testified as to his father intending to go with Myers to the depot on his departure.

Edward Williams stated that Myers left the store between half-past 4 and half-past 6 o'clock; and Mr. O'Donnell, proprietor of the "Nonpareil Saloon," testified that Edwards and Myers partook of oysters at his saloon about seven o'clock. They were ordered by Edwards. Myers left for the cars and Edwards remained in his saloon ten or fifteen minutes after the cars were gone.

Charles Loehr, of the restaurant near the corner of Eighth and Main streets, testified that Edwards came to his saloon at half-past 8 o'clock, and remained about an hour. And Charles Hunt — Came to his saloon, between Eighth and Ninth, on Main street, about half-past 9, and remained about twenty minutes. He said he was just from up-town.

A number of highly respectable gentlemen then appeared and testified to the excellent character which Major Edwards had always borne. Dr. Wing, postmaster at Norfolk, had known him there for twenty-five years, and during the whole of that time he was looked upon as a successful merchant and a popular gentleman — treated freely, gave suppers, &c. Had never heard his honor questioned, and supposed it was good.

Dr. E. C. Robinson, State Senator from Norfolk, had known Major Edwards twenty-odd years, and regarded his character while living there as unimpeachable and irreproachable.

Captain P. G. Coghlan had a great deal of business with Major Edwards during the time he was in the Confederate Ordnance Department, and always regarded him as very honest, upright and efficient. Knew that he had opportunities to make money by his office, but had heard him say that he had never made a cent beyond his salary.

At the conclusion of the examination, Mr. Caskie briefly addressed the Court in behalf of his client. He reviewed the testimony of the witnesses, and claimed that it was so much in proof of the innocence of the accused that he thought the Mayor should immediately dis miss the case.

Mayor Saunders thereupon replied, that while he was deeply sensible of the high character of the witnesses who had testified to the honorable character and good standing of the accused, yet the evidence of the witnesses for the Commonwealth impressed his mind very strongly with his guilt, and he should remand him for examination before the Hustings Court. The case was not a bailable one, the Mayor said, unless it could be proven that the state of the prisoner's health was such as to endanger his life if he should remain in prison.

Mali123456 Subsequently Dr. Peter Lyons, Major Edwards's physician, testified that while the accused was not suffering from any organic disease, yet his age and general constitution rendered it extremely doubtful whether he would live through any protracted confinement.

In consideration of this statement, as well as the uncomfortable condition in which the city jail is, his Honor decided to allow Major Edwards bail in the sum of two thousand dollars, which was given, and the accused released.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: