Sunday, June 14, 2020


            Poughkeepsie, Dec. 19.—On Saturday Officer Thomas P. Bryant, of Hudson, came to this city and informed the Police here that, at 3 o’clock in the morning, he had arrested a well-dressed man in Hudson, who was suspiciously loitering about a store on Warren Street. On him were found letters which seem to indicate that a serious crime had been committed at Greenville, Pitt County, N. C. When arrested he gave his name as “John Y. Johnson, of Washington, D. C.,” but afterward said the last place he came from was Poughkeepsie, where he had been a student in a college. One letter found on him was addressed to “H. E. Nelson, Poughkeepsie,” and dated “Greenville, Saturday, Oct. 30,” and signed “Your devoted wife, Lizzie Nelson.” Besides other matters of a private nature are these sentences:
            “I do not know what to write you. In your first letter you expect me to believe you are coming home. You know that I know you can never, no, never, come home again. If you had given me more warning when you left, if you had intimated anything was wrong, if you had let me know it was an everlasting farewell, it would not have been so hard. *** You know I expected to go to the convention, and of course went to work to get ready. If you had only warned me. *** Let me hear from you. Do not run any risk to do so. I am afraid to send this. This may be the last you will ever get from me.”
            Another letter found on him was dated Poughkeepsie, Nov. 23, but not signed. It was addressed to no one, and seems not to have been enveloped. Among other things in it are the following:
            “I have only been a drawback to you ever since I was married to you. It is hard, so hard, to part with you. While I may have treated you wrong in a great man instances, your happiness was my only thought. But it is all over now. I have nothing more to look forward to. Our little boy is too young to know anything. My only hope is to see you and the baby once more and kiss you both and lay down and die beside my little girl. When you have received this I shall have solve the great mystery. I shall, the good God willing, be with my little girl and my mother in that better world. I shall have learned whether the good God is lenient or kind with such a wre3tched man as I am. I shall be before God to receive the reward; I am not afraid to go; not afraid to meet my darling little girl. And Oh, my darling, we will plead so much for your happiness. You must look as everything happening for the best. I would have only been a burden to you. You have no further risk to run in writing to me. This is the last letter a human being will receive from my hands, and this requires no answer, for in a few hours, if the Bible is true, I shall know what the future is. My last words and blessing, and a prayer to good God to watch over you that you may know no want or suffering. Kiss our little boy good-bye for me, and for God’s sake, for the love you have for me, don’t let him forget me. If I could take you in my arms and kiss you both, but to die so far away from home is hard. May God forever bless and keep you, and may we meet in that other world where all is brightness and joy and peace, is the last prayer and last words of your miserable husband.”
            The above, it will be seen, was penned a month ago. There was also found on the man a diary, in which was written the following:
            “Left Poughkeepsie on my tramp Dec. 14; roads full of ice and snow, and I walked 13 miles with nothing to eat. I passed through Pleasant Valley and Washington Hollow, and slept in a barn with a farm Laborer.
            “Dec. 15—Started at 8 A.M. and passed through Clinton Corners, where I bought 10 cents’ worth of crackers and cheese, and staid all night with a Mr. Case, at Case’s Corners, where I was well treated.
“Dec. 16—Started again at 8 A.M., and Dr. Herrick gave me a ride for a mile. Then I walked and passed through Rock City, Upper Red Hook, Clermont, and Blue Stones. Staid all night at this latter place, at a farm-house.”
            The diary contains no record of what he did on the 17th. When he was arrested he said he was looking for work. He said that the letters found on him were given to him in Savannah, Ga., by a man named Nelson to send to Greenville, but he had neglected it. While a student in Poughkeepsie he boarded in Crandell Street, and went away owing considerable board, and also took a student’s overcoat, which the Hudson Police have recovered. When he first came here he seemed to have plenty of money, and paid his tuition fee in advance and paid some board in advance. He also spent money freely among companions. Ion his diary also wee names of females known to the Police as disreputable. It also contained numbers of disreputable houses and sporting houses in New York City. One letter found on him was, apparently, from his sister, and in it she thanks him for a large sum of money sent her to complete her education at some college. The entire case is yet shrouded in mystery, though the Hudson police are of the opinion that the prisoner has committed a serious crime. Letters describing the case have been seen to Greenville, Pitt County, N. C.

[The New York Times, Published December 20, 1880]

Henry E. Nelson, the Defaulting Postmaster at Greenville, in Limbo Here—His Crime and its Consequences

            As was mentioned in this paper yesterday, Col. T. B. Long, superintendent of the United States mail service for this district, on Sunday brought H. E. Nelson, the defaulting postmaster at Greenville, N.C., to this city from New York, and placed him in the care and keeping of Sheriff Nowell. We had an interview with Nelson in his cell, and he was quite outspoken. Entering the jail, we gained access to the upper floor through a tiny doorway, and thence to a cell at the northwest angle of the building. In this lies the prisoner, in company with two other culprits.
            There was a clank and a clash of bolts and bars and the double doors swung open. Entering the cell, the first thing observable in the uncertain light was the figure of a man standing with pipe in mouth at a window slit. This proved to be the prisoner Nelson, about whom so much has been said. He is a man 36 years of age, and looks all of it. Rather squat in figure, he has a tolerably heavy beard, and is poorly clad. His manner impresses one by its uncertainty, for while at times he looks at one squarely, at others there is a sinister shifting of the glance, coupled with a dogged look.
            The man speaks in a mater-of-fact way of his crime and its consequences, acknowledging his faults, reproaching himself bitterly for his cowardice and expressing a willingness to accept the consequences, how hard so ever they may be. His statement of the facts of his life and the crime is as follows:
            … He was appointed postmaster at Greenville, Pitt county, in February of the present year. He held the office until August, when he was horrified, he says, to find that he was behind in his accounts. He was too great a coward to go and face the sureties on his $10,000 bond and tell them of his deficiency. His only idea was to get away, and, as he declares, get into some employment in which he could make enough money to set his accounts square by reimbursing his sureties. He went to New York, therefore, in the latter part of August, and in a day or two went thence to Poughkeepsie, on the Hudson, where, under the name of J. Y. Johnson, he entered as a pupil of the great business college there. He had in earlier life studied bookkeeping, and his desire was to perfect himself. He only remained at the school about nine weeks, and then concluded to come home. He had gotten as far as New York City, when his pocket was picked of all his money, which was but little, he declares. He managed to get back to Poughkeepsie in a few days. He knocked about there for a space, finding no employment, until finally he met a man who informed him that work was probably to be had at Hudson, a town forty miles away.
            To this town of Hudson Nelson then tramped, arriving there about two weeks ago. He reached the place late at night and started out to walk the streets until morning. About 3 o’clock in the morning a policeman arrested him and took him to the station house. There the officer charged him with being with a couple of men who were engaged in an attempt to enter and rob a jewelry store. These two men had been watched by the policeman and had finally run off. Nelson declares that he neither knew nor saw the two men, but was merely walking along the street. The authorities searched him, and on his person were found [the letters presented above.]        … Col. Thos. B. Long at once went to Hudson after him. He … was brought to this city. Nelson … refused an offer of bail which was made.
            The prisoner throughout the interview reproached himself bitterly for “not being man enough to face his sureties.”  He declared that in all the months he was absent life was a terror and a curse to him. He was glad to be back in North Carolina, though he lay in jail, for he had had more peace of mind since Col. Long got hold of him. “Life had been a perfect hell,” said he, and remorse and shame struggled for the mastery. He declared that he would not give bail unless he became seriously sick.
            In regard to the shortage of his accounts as postmaster, he was rather reticent, saying that in his hurried examination in August last, when he first discovered it, he estimated it at about $600. Col. Long estimated it at $1,800, and that amount his sureties were called on to pay. Both the post office and money order accounts were involved.
            Nelson says he wrote his wife only once while away, signing his own name to the letter. This he did while at Poughkeepsie as J. Y. Johnson. She had written him once using his own name. He did not tell her of the deficiency in his accounts before he left home, but the investigation by Col. Long in August showed her the facts in the case.

[News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) 31 Dec 1880]

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