One of the earliest published references to Cumberland
County's first hanging grounds could be a Nov. 6, 1799, report in The
Carlisle Gazette on the execution of Sarah Clark.
Convicted of poisoning the family of John Carothers of
East Pennsboro Township, the newspaper said her hanging was held "on
the commons east of this town."
The circumstance which resulted in John Carothers'
death and a tragedy in his family was this: A young girl, named Sarah
Clark, living in the family of John Douglas, contracted a strong
attachment for Mr. Douglas' son, who was at that time paying attention
to Miss Ann Carothers, daughter of John Carothers, who lived near
Silver Spring and was a neighbor of Mr. Douglas.
Sarah Clark, overcome by her infatuation for young
Douglas, determined to destroy the life of Ann Carothers and gain the
object of her affections. With this aim in view, she hired as a
servant in the house of Mr. Carothers and bided her time.
Having no ill will against the family, she desired to
poison only Ann, and with this in view, she purchased some arsenic.
But no suitable opportunity offering, she grew desperate and put the
arsenic in a pot of leaven. The family all ate of the bread and
Captain John Carothers died on the 26th of February,
1798, and his wife, Mary, died soon afterward. Ann Carothers, the
intended victim, survived. Andrew Carothers, her brother, also
survived, but was a cripple for life. Sally was tried, convicted, and
hanged at Carlisle.
Arsenic in the Leaven
Mary Anne Morefleld
the Scottish Carothers clan in East Pennsborough, now Silver Spring
Township, was neither calm nor peaceful in that tiny fragment ot time
between 1798 and 1801. Four murders occurred within two of the
families, the John Carothers and the Andrew Carothers. A fifth
Carother's death within the county was the beating death of James
Carothers Sr. at the hands of his own sons, John and James in 1803.
Whether this family was also located in. East Pennsborough is not
article in Cumberland County History, "Chloe's Story," written by
Nancy Loughridge tells the sad tale of the murder of the two small
daughters of Andrew and Mary Carothers in 1801 by their slave Chloe.
This branch of the family traces from Robert Carothers, who died in
1771 through his only son, John Carothers who died in 1783, to his son
shocking tale is the story of the poisoning deaths within the John
Carothers branch of the family in 1798, Again, two deaths occurred;
again, a serving girl was involved.
Carothers, born in 1739, and his wife, Mary born in 1740, appeared in
East Pennsborough in 1767 when they acquired 266 acres of land by
warrant dated March 31, 1767. Upon this land seven miles from Carlisle
on the banks of the Conodoguinet Creek, they built a farm which
eventually consisted of "2 dwelling houses, two barns, one of them a
large stone bank barn, a stone spring house with never-failing
limestone spring, a good bearing orchard, 30 acres of good meadow and
about 130 acres of plow land clear."l This farm can be
identified on the 1858 map as the property of Michael Kreider, located
today on the present Rich Valley Road.
Mary Carothers were the parents of seven children: James, William,
John, Thomas, Andrew, Jean and Ann, John Sr. was a justice of the
peace of the county.
the children were young adults, and five of them were married. John
Carothers married Sarah Hogue, daughter of Jonathan, 1725-1800.
Records variously call his wife Sallie or Sally. They were living in
Carlisle in a stone home ovvned by Jacob Hindle. John was the Sheriff
of Cumberland County.
Carothers married Elizabeth. Thomas also had a wife Elizabeth, while
William was married to Margaret. Jean Carothers, also called Jane, was
married to James Bell.
James and William shared a property bordering John Orr. Thomas, lived
In a large stone house belonging to John Walker, Esq. Assuming that
Jean lived away from her family, only Ann and the nineteen-year old
Andrew were living at the John Carother’s farm when a terrib1e plot
was conceived in the head of young Sarah Clark.
Clark was a local woman, "born about 1766 within two miles of
Carlisle."2 The tragedy which was to come was the result of
a love triangle, Sarah or Sallie lived in the house of the John
Douglas family. Sallie was fond of the Douglas son. The son, however,
appeared to be interested in Ann Carothers. Apparently this
relationship went on for some years giving Sarah time to devise her
plot. She left the employ of Mr. Douglas and became a serving girl in
the house of John Carothers. Her idea was to kill Ann by poisoning
her. To this end, she purchased "one ounce of white arsenic" from Dr.
Gustine in the fall of 1797.3 She apparently could not
find the right time to give Ann the arsenic, so she put it into a
crock of leaven from which bread was made. From this, those family
members living at home became sick. This included John, Mary, Ann and
Carothers died on February 26. He was buried the next day at the
Silver Spring Meeting House. The paper notes that "the funeral was
uncommonly large; his friends and acquaintances from a considerable
distance attending in great numbers to testify their regret at the
loss of a man respectable for his social and domestic qualities."4
lingered until the third of June when she died, and a second burial
took place at the Silver Spring Meeting House. Kline's Gazette says of
Mary Carothers that "she possessed all the virtues calculated to
promote domestic happiness being a dutiful, an affectionate mother, a
12, Sarah Clark was in the county jail on suspicion of murdering the
family. By the following week, she had confessed to James McCormick
Esq., a justice of the peace as to what she had done. It was then that
the tale of the purchase of the arsenic was told. She also revealed
that when Ann did not die, she made a second purchase of an ounce of
yellow arsenic from Dr. Stinneckle in ' order to give Ann a "dose to
herself." This portion she put in a crock in Thomas Carother's spring
house. It was discovered as well as arsenic which she still had in her
newspaper reported that neighbors who came to help the family became
ill from eating butter which had been poisoned, but they were not in
danger. Ann it was felt would recover, but Andrew was not expect to
Clark was tried at the October term of Oyer and Terminer with James
Riddle sitting as President Judge, Samuel Laird and John Montgomery,
Bellman in his History of the Bar of Cumberland County reports that
she was convicted of murder in the first degree. She was tried only
for the death of John Carothers.
sentencing took place on August 5, 1799. She received "the awful
sentence of DEATH."6 James Riddle Esq., president of the
court of Oyer and Terminer, spoke the following to Sarah:
considered and ordered by the court that you, Sarah Clark be taken to
the goal of Cumberland County, the place from whence you came and from
there to the place of execution and there be hanged by neck until you
have mercy on your soul.
execution took place on October 30, 1799 on the commons east of
Carlisle sometime between 12 and 2. The last mention of the case in
the Kline's Gazette reports that Sarah Clark "was attended to the
place of execution by the Rev. Mr. Hauts and the Rev. Mr. Herbt, the
two German clergymen of this place. She appeared very penitent and
received her fate with resignation and seeming resolution - and the
moment previous to her entering into eternity declared herself dying
an innocent murderer."7
Ann nor Andrew died as a result of the poisoning, for they are both
listed as heirs of John Carothers when the Carother's plantation was
sold to John Noble of Carlisle for 2,169 pounds six shillings on
October 28, 1800. The property contained 295 acres and 145 perches and
a fourth. It was bounded by the land of Andrew Irvine, William Walker,
Matthew Loudon, and Joseph McClure.
poisoning radically changed the life of Andrew Carothers. As a young
man, he was trained in cabinet making. The poisoning left him
crippled, however, and he could not pursue this career. Leaving
cabinetry behind he became a lawyer, "by a course of reading and study
with such aids as he could obtain at home."8 He married
Catherine Loudon of East Pennsborough on June 11, 1812. After her
death in 1820, he married Isabella Alexander in 1824. A trustee of
Dickinson College, he died on July 27, 1836. Bennet Bellman states
that "Mr. Carothers was remarkable for his amiability of temper, his
purity of character, his unlimited disposition to charity and his love
of justice."9 His obituary notes that "he early made his
way to competence and distinction. "10
a trustee of Dickinson he reminisced on the events of his youth with
another Dickinson trustee, Dr. Samuel Allan McCoskry. R. L. Sibbet
writes, "It is saicl cf Dr. McCoskry that he analyzed the butter into
which a large quantity of arsenic had been introduced by Sally Clark;
and that his testimony before the court of Carlisle secured the
conviction and execution of the girl. . ."11
incident lingers in the history of the township and in the poetry of
Miss Isabella Oliver, daughter of James Oliver and a friend of the
families involved, who published a book of poetry in 1805. Included
among her poems is "Melancholy Instance of Human Depravity." The poem
bank of a slow winding flood
The good Alphonso's modest mansion stood;
A man he was throughout the county known
Of sterling sense, to social converse prone.
He walked the plains with such majestic grace
When time had drawn its furrows on his face,
Twas easy to infer his youthful charm,
When first the fair Maria blessed his arms;
Maria-Oh! what mixed emotions rise,
Grief, pity, indignation and surprise,
At thought of thee!
Thy sweetness might have moved the harshest mind;
Thy kindness taught th'ungentlest to be kind;
And yet a fiend enshrined in female mould
Could thy heartrending agony behold;
When by her cruel wiles thy wedded heart
Was basely severed from its dearest part…
which were to occur to the Andrew Carothers family in 1801 bear no
direct relationship to the deaths of John and Mary Carothers in 1798.
John Carothers, son of John, Sheriff of Cumberland County and the one
to whom the death warrant for Chloe was issued, however, was the
cousin of Andrew, father of the dead children, four year old Lucetta
and six year old Polly.
gravestones of John, Mary, and Andrew Carothers are still readable in
the graveyard of Silver Spring Presbyterian Church. The turmoil at the
turn of the nineteenth century forgotten by all but a few.
1 Kline's Carlisle Weekly
Gazette, January 7, 1799
2 Wing, Rev. Conway, History
of Cumberland County, 1879, p. 116,
3 Kline's Carlisle Weekly
Gazette, June 20, 1798.
4 Ibid., March 7, 1798.
5 Ibid., June 6, 1798.
6 Ibid., August 6, 1799.
7 Ibid., Nov. 6, 1799.
8 Wing, Rev. Conway, History
of Cumberland County, 1879, p. 162.
10 Carlisle Herald, August 4,
11 Wing, p. 66.