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Walt Whitman to Henry Stanbery, 26 October 1866

To | Hon. Henry Stanbery | Attorney General. | Sir:1

I hereby respectfully apply for the pardon of Erastus O. Parker, aged 55 years, formerly Postmaster at the village of Monument, Mass. on the Cape Cod Railroad—now in prison at Plymouth Jail, Plymouth, Mass.

The following is a statement of his case, condensed from the accompanying documents:2

At a term of U. S. Circuit Court, at Boston, Mass. in October, 1862, Parker was tried on an indictment of [please notice]3 Seven Counts; the 1st charged him with, on Oct. 22, 1860, unlawfully detaining a package sent by mail from the Falmouth Bank, containing a sum of money; the 2d charged him with opening the packet; the 3d charged him with embezzlement of $500, part of the contents of said packet; the 4th charged him with stealing & taking out said $500; the 5th charged him with advising & assisting one Joseph S. Hewins to steal & take out said valuable packet; the 6th charged him with advising & assisting one Henry C. Hewins to steal said valuable packet; & the 7th charged him with receiving & concealing a bank-note of $500, which had been stolen from the mail, & which he, Parker, knew had been stolen.

The evidence proved that on Oct. 22, 1860, the Falmouth Bank sent through the mail a package containing some $5000, (of which about $1700 was in cash, & the rest in drafts,) to Suffolk Bank, Boston—that the mail from Falmouth in due course passes through Monument, at which place the bag is usually opened to put in the Boston matter—& that the package with the $5000 never reached Suffolk Bank.

Furthermore, that on the 12th of Jan. 1861, Joseph S. Hewins, of Monument, a mail contractor & driver of the mail (implicated with Parker, as just seen in the 6th count of the indictment,) receives from Monument post office a letter postmarked Boston, which, on opening, he, to his amazement, finds to contain a $500 note, & nothing else;—that on the 15th of Jan. said Joseph Hewins sends a younger brother Henry C. Hewins, with this $500 note to Falmouth Bank, to get it changed into small bills. The cashier, (the same man who had made up & sent the $5000 package to Suffolk Bank,) gives Henry Hewins the small bills as requested. Some time afterward a question is raised of this $500 note being identical with one in the stolen or missing package. Joseph Hewins is sent for, answers all questions frankly, cannot account for the $500, openly acknowledges that he has no idea who sent it to him, & produces the envelope it was sent in. This is the basis of suspicion against Parker.

The prosecution charges the handwriting of the direction on the envelope to Parker. Witnesses are called to prove the handwriting on him. Several witnesses testify to its being Parker's writing to the best of their belief; but the preponderance of the testimony is against it. The best experts swear positively that it is not Parker's hand.

Parker proves a remarkably good character all his previous life, by a long train of witnesses, of the best standing in the county & town. No attempt is made to prove a bad character. As to the identity of the $500 note, with one in the stolen package, the testimony makes that identity probable, but not certain.

The foregoing contains every point made against Parker.

Incredible as it would seem, the Jury, who, with the Court, had been thoroughly wearied out with several preceding long & tedious trials—though they brought in a verdict of Not Guilty on the 1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, 5th, & 6th counts, [see, back,]4 found him Guilty on the 7th count.

On this finding Parker was sentenced to Five Years imprisonment, & sent to Jail Oct. 22, 1862—& has been incarcerated there since.

Joseph S. Hewins was also tried & convicted; but was soon after pardoned. He immediately resumed his station as a respectable member of the community at Monument, & has been for some time, & is now, occupying his old position as mail carrier & contracter under the Post Office Department. When Parker was arrested he was station master on the Cape Cod Railroad, as well as postmaster of the village. Both are small positions in a pecuniary point of view. I may mention that ever since, & at this time, the officers of the Road have been & are, keeping his place for him; & his daughter is performing the duties of the post, to support the family.

The belief is universal in Monument & the neighborhood that old Mr. Parker is innocent.5 It seems to be one of those curious & helpless cases that sometimes occur in judicial trials, where the accused becomes a victim in defiance of law & common sense. I am informed by the Sheriff, & the Jailer at Plymouth,6 that the old man is one of the most truthful & benevolent persons they ever knew; they use him as an assistant & messenger, and have for years allowed him to go about the jail premises & grounds on his own parole. Both warmly join in the application for his pardon, & one of them adds his belief in Parker's innocence.7

I have but respectfully to add, that as the whole theory on which he was convicted was but an inference from an inference—that, as on the substantial counts of his indictment he was pronounced not guilty—that as the sentence, on that comparatively mild 7th count, was a cruel & heavy one—& that, waiving my claim of his innocence, (which, after a thorough examination of the Case, I devoutly believe in)8—I submit, that he has already served four years in prison, & is now a most proper subject for Warrant of Pardon.

Walt Whitman


  • 1. The Abby Price family became interested in the case of Erastus Otis Parker, as Helen Price wrote years later, "through his niece an intimate friend who believed most absolutely in her Uncle's innocence" (Pierpont Morgan Library). They asked Whitman to investigate the circumstances of Parker's conviction and to appeal for a pardon. Whitman sent this concise summary of the evidence to Stanbery. Though the wrapper in the National Archives reads, "Filed Oct 27th 1866 | Pardoned same day," Whitman had worked for months on the case. The Court Record was certified on May 31, 1866. [back]
  • 2. The wrapper of this certified record of the case is in Whitman's hand: "Record of In- | dictment, with counts, &c. | (Conviction on 7th | count.)" [back]
  • 3. Whitman's brackets. [back]
  • 4. Whitman's brackets. [back]
  • 5. Whitman included what he labeled a "Memorial of | persons holding | Municipal & | other positions | in Monument, | (fellow citizens) | for Mr. Parker's | pardon." The petition, with twenty-one signatures, advanced five reasons for pardoning Parker, the most important of which was the first: "We think that evidence did not sufficiently show that Mr. Parker was guilty of any offence against the laws." The petition from the citizens of Monument was marked, in Whitman's hand, "July 1866." [back]
  • 6. Whitman included letters from Sheriff James Bates and jailer James B. Hollingswood. The letter from the sheriff was dated May 30, and the one from the jailer at Plymouth, July 14. [back]
  • 7. Although Bates was careful to disclaim personal knowledge of Parker's innocence, Hollingswood considered him "entirely innocent of the crime for which he is committed." [back]
  • 8. Note, however, the opinion quoted in note 2 to Whitman's letter of October 27, 1866. [back]
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