The Hanging: The Saga of Betsey Reed


Lawrenceville, Illinois, has been my place of employment for 25 years.  I’m not a native, but there were distant relatives in the area.  My interest in genealogy and history compelled me to learn more about Lawrenceville and Lawrence County.  One of the first historical details I learned, was a diabolical one:  Lawrenceville was the site for the execution of the first woman in Illinois by hanging.  According to the Illinois “Genealogytrails” website, Elizabeth “Betsey” Reed was the first woman executed in Illinois, and the ONLY woman hanged in the state.

Betsey Reed was accused of poisoning her husband, Leonard, with arsenic, mixed in with sassafras tea.  The prosecutors argue that on 15 August, 1844, Betsey fed Leonard the arsenic, and he got sick and died four days later on August, 19.  Based on the testimony of doctors and a maid, Eveline Deal, Betsey was found guilty.  She was executed on the banks of the Embarras (Ambraw) River on May 23, 1845.  Estimates of 20,000 people traveled from far and wide to watch the hanging of a woman!

Last fall, I was commissioned by the Lawrence County Historical Society and the Lawrence County Arts Council to write a play based on the hanging of Betsey Reed.


The culmination of that project will be presented the next two weekends in Lawrenceville.  John Clark, a friend and colleague, is directing the play.

The drama opens with a scene in the Reed cabin, where Betsey is making squirrel stew.  It is reported in a memoir of the McCarter family, that this actually happened.  The names of characters are taken from historical records.  Words from the court documents are repeated verbatim by the characters.  The story is as historically accurate as I could write it.  The motivations of the people involved cannot be known, so each actor adds attitude to the character.  To see other people take the words I have written and make them come to life is amazing.

The research for the play was conducted by the Lawrence County Historical Society.  John King, a local historian and genealogist, along with Donna Burton, the president of the society, and others searched in Lawrence and Crawford County for original documents.  Newspapers were searched through online sites.  The historical society will be selling a book with all the information collected by the researchers.

One of the documents provided to me was the estate file for Leonard Reed, Betsey’s husband.  These papers contained receipts from three doctors who had been attending Leonard Reed for over three years with the same symptoms.  From the record, we even know which doctors prescribed him certain medicines.


So, all the information about Leonard Reed’s illness before his death is based on actual records.  If you cannot make it to the play (and even if you can) look up the medicine Antimony.  This medicine is mentioned in the estate papers, it is mentioned several times in the play, and probably provides the biggest question of whether or not Betsey Reed had a fair trial.

The play continues with a jury at the coroner’s inquest in Crawford County. Then the set changes to Lawrence County, where two lawyers–Usher Linder for the defense, and Aaron Shaw, the prosecutor–square off.  The jury at the inquest is played by the same actors who are the jurors in the trial, they just change their costumes a bit.  Although there were obviously different men in each jury in real life, this casting of the same men for both IS intentional.  It is to represent that Betsey Reed, a woman, faced a jury of all MEN, who the men were is not as important as the fact that the system was run by only men.  Now, would the outcome be different if women were allowed on juries back then?  Impossible to say.

In the final act of the play, we visit Betsey in her jail cell where she is befriended by a woman.  In the play, it is Emily Seed, the wife of Rev. John Seed, who later baptizes Betsey.  I was not able to ascertain the name of the woman who actually befriended Betsey (although later, rumors of one local family did arise).  For the play, I needed a female who could interact with the preacher in a very close way.  His wife made sense.  So, here is a place where my understanding of the culture of Lawrence County in the mid-1840s had to fill in some of the gaps left out by history.

The court documents are devoid of all the social comment on Betsey Reed.  For that information, we looked into period newspapers.  Wow!  In 1844-45, Betsey Reed was big news in the country–but remember, our country was much smaller in the mid-1840s.  There were articles about her from Charleston, Illinois, and all the way east to Poughkeepsie, New York.  The East Coast debated the civility of capital punishment and execution of women, and Betsey was the center of their controversy.  I insert an Eastern protestor into the cast.  I doubt there were any real protestors at the time, but the information he shares with a local newspaperman will present both sides of a debate that continues even today.  There was “fake news” about Betsey printed in newspapers.  I call it “fake news” because it could not be corroborated with any historical fact, and it just sounded too wicked to be true.  All of this is presented in the last scene, where townspeople watching the hanging, reveal the opinions of people from the 1840s.  Every word is taken from newspaper articles about Betsey Reed from the time period.  In this scene, two doctors step up and discuss the autopsy of Betsey’s body–required by the laws of the time–and once again, Antimony is brought up–with details the common man of 1845 might not have known.

Controversy, debate, fake news…accusations and false accusations…one could make parallels with this 1840s case to situations in our world today.  We should make these comparisons.  It makes me wonder–have we come very far in the last 173 years?  Today, we see people swayed by fake news, but not the facts.  We see the facts take second place to people’s opinions.  By the end of the play, the audience should be questioning whether or not Betsey Reed had a fair trial.  Alas, we cannot change the outcome for Betsey Reed!  But, even today, with the flaws in our legal system and unproven medical testimony, I am not sure the outcome would be any different.


The Hanging: The Saga of Betsey Reed will be performed at the Lawrenceville High School auditorium, October 26 and 27, at 7:00 PM, and Sunday, October 28 at 2:00 (with a  short question-answer time with the researchers and writer). The play will be presented again November 2 and 3, at 7:00 Central, and Sunday, November 4, at 2:00 PM.  (All times are Central Time Zone.)


Dann Norton, in a cameo soliloquy, as Alfred Kitchell, States Attorney of Crawford County, IL.

Lydia Case, nee Moore: Why Moore? Why not, Hendrickson?

This article is about Lydia, the wife of Seperate Case.  First, there is a lot of wrong information about Seperate Case—for instance, he did not die in1810 in Anderson County, Kentucky.  Rather, he died in 1805 in Bullitt County, Kentucky.  You can prove this by the probate records in Bullitt County.  For more on Seperate Case, please read the article, Twelve—No Thirteen—Men Named Seperate.

Seperate Case’s wife is Lydia.  That is proven by the probate records, tax records, and a baptismal record.  At least 45 online public family trees at show Lydia as a Moore, but not one of these trees provides any proof to support that.  Not one scrap of evidence! Furthermore, the lineage given to Lydia is unverified, and in some parts completely wrong.  She is most often placed in the Austin Moore family. For problems and corrections on that family, see Austin Moore…and More Austin Moores.  Usually, people guess that Lydia is a sister to Austin Moore (1760-1840) and Nancy Moore Hendrickson (wife of William).

The answer is not going to be available at the end of this article, but true researchers will need to consider the actual records naming Lydia and Seperate.  If this article does not prove her maiden name is Hendrickson, at least it sends up a giant caution flag for anyone ascribing Moore as her surname.

The Evidence—The Baptism Records

In the early 1840s, Simeon Hendrickson, a Latter-Day Saint living in Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, baptized by proxy several relatives.  The baptism took place in the Mississippi River.  Among those relatives was his aunt, Lydia Case, wife of Seperate Case.  Several Case children were also baptized.[i]

Baptisms 206 Case

Nauvoo Baptisms Vol. A, p 206


From additional baptisms and a patriarchal blessing[ii], we know that William and Nancy Hendrickson were Simeon’s parents, Eve Hendrickson was his grandmother, and Mary Moore was his other grandmother.

Baptisms Eve Hendrickson

Nauvoo Baptisms Vol. A, p 44

Baptisms 202 Mary More

Nauvoo Baptisms Vol. A, p 202

If Lydia is his aunt, then obviously, she is the sister of one of his parents—but which, father, William Hendrickson, or mother, Nancy Moore? (Caution: We assume Nancy was a Moore because Simeon’s grandmother was Mary Moore.)

Here will be presented various documents–primary sources–that lead to the conclusion that Lydia was actually a Hendrickson.

The Evidence—John Hendrickson’s Probate

No. 1: The administration of John Hendrickson, 1787, Nelson County, Kentucky.

1787 Admin Hendrickson John

The earliest record to show Seperate Case is from Nelson County, 1787[iii]:

“It appearing to the court that the widow of John Hendricks Dec’d is incapable of acting and  having given her consent, Ordered that administration on the said estate be granted to Saparate Case, Who with Randolph Slack his Security having enterd into bond in the sum of two hundred pounds as the law directs~

“Ordered that John Caldwell, David Caldwell, John Wellers, and John Grundy be appointed to    appraise the estate of John Hendricks and make report thereof on oath as the law directs.”

So we find Seperate Case first mentioned in connection with the Hendrickson family.  (Note: Most researchers erroneously called John Hendrickson, husband of Eve, “Seperate.”  His name was not Seperate, and somehow, many years ago, his name was confused and conflated with Seperate Case.)  Why would Seperate Case take administration of the estate?  One possibility, is that he is John Hendrickson’s son-in-law.  If so, then Lydia would be a Hendrickson.

No. 2:  Bourbon County Records

Seperate Case was on the Bourbon Tax lists from 1788 until 1793.[iv]  At this time, Bourbon was part of Virginia, but in 1792, when the state of Kentucky was created, it became Kentucky.

Mary, Austin, and Thomas Moore were also in Bourbon.  A Joseph Case was also in Bourbon, and the names Seperate and Joseph were found together on a 1790 Kentucky petition.[v]  Joseph Case was a bondsman for the marriage of Jeremiah Hays to Jane Moore, daughter of Mary Moore.  Austin Moore was the witness to the consent.[vi]  So, we see that the Case family was connected to the Moores, but not directly to Seperate Case.

Who else is in Bourbon County, Kentucky?  Isaac Hendrickson is.  Isaac’s descendants are y-DNA and at-DNA matches with descendants of William Hendrickson, so it is likely they are brothers, and sons of John and Eve Hendrickson.    When Isaac Hendrickson, Jr. married Elizabeth Stiles,3 September, 1791, John Hendrickson was a witness to the parental consent for Stiles.[vii]  This is not the John who died in 1787, obviously, but most likely that John’s son.   He will be marked as John (II) Hendrickson.

No. 3: Mercer and Washington County Records

In 1792, Mercer County, a John Hendrickson bought land from John Hunt of Bourbon County.  This land was next to the land of Austin Moore (previously of Bourbon) who also purchased from John Hunt; amd it was next to land William Hendrickson would purchase in 1797. The names and places suggest this is John (II) Hendrickson.  The Hendrickson family records are found in both Washington and Mercer Counties.

John is witness to the consent for Anna Monrow to marry John Case, in Washington County, 3 September, 1799.[viii]  We see John (II) Hendrickson in very intimate contact with John, the son of Seperate and Lydia Case.  Bondsmen and witnesses were often relatives, sometimes uncles.  No relationship is given on the records, so we can only presume at this point, but if John Hendrickson were John Case’s uncle, then Lydia would be a Hendrickson.

No. 4: Lydia’s Records

Seperate Case appears in Washington County, Kentucky, tax lists in 1794-96.[ix]  He eventually moved to Tennessee, but returned to Kentucky, appearing on the 1805 tax list of Bullitt County.[x]  Seperate died that year, and his inventory and sale bill are in the Bullitt County will books.  Lydia was the administrator.[xi]

Lydia appears on the 1808 tax list of Washington County, showing 100 acres of land on Chapline’s River.  Next to her are Benjamin and John Case, her sons.[xii]  She also appears in 1809.

Lydia, John, and Benjamin, all three appear on the 1810 census of Washington County. indexes them under the name Care.[xiii] 

1810 Census Washington KY

Year: 1810; Census Place: Washington, Kentucky; Roll: 8; Page: 335; Image: 00332; Family History Library Film: 0181353

This census report gives us the only clues to Lydia’s age and birth.  She was over 45, and so born before 1765.  Son, John, married in 1799.  If he were 21 at the time, his birth was about 1778.  Women often married young and started families about between age 14 and 21.  This would place Lydia’s birth possibly between 1757 and 1764.  All we know from records is that she was born before 1765.

Lydia appears consistently on the Washington County tax lists, with her sons showing up too, until 1819.  She is not listed on the 1820 list.

Lydia signed the consent for son William Case to marry Sally Bowman on 12 May, 1820.[xiv]  She signed with a nickname, Lyd.  This was Lydia’s last legal act.  ( indexed Lyd Case as Loyd.)

1820 Marriage Case Wm

She is listed on the 1821 Tax list for Washington County.[xv]  This is the last time Lydia appears in a record.  She must have died sometime after.

1821 Tax Washington KY

Tax list, Washington County, Kentucky. 1821, page 12.

Additional observations

  1. There are no Lydia Moores in this family. Jemima and Esther are names used in several generations of the Moore family, but never Lydia.  There are two Lydia Hendricksons in the area—Lydia (possibly daughter of Leonard Hendrickson) who married William Wood on 16 July, 1801 in Washington County, Kentucky;[xvi] Lydia (daughter of William and Nancy Moore Hendrickson) who married Elijah Moore on 23 May, 1815, Mercer County, Kentucky.[xvii]  If Lydia Case was a Hendrickson, then these other Lydias were her nieces.
  2. There are no Seperate Moores. One would think there might be some Moore named in honor of Seperate. There are three Hendrickson males named Seperate. One is son of Leonard Hendrickson, another is probably the son of John (II) Hendrickson, and the third is son of William and Nancy Hendrickson.  If Lydia were Nancy’s sister, I can see why she would name a son Seperate—after her brother-in-law.  Why would Leonard and John name their sons after a sister-in-law’s brother?  That seems a convoluted connection.  But if Lydia is a Hendrickson, then Leonard, John, and William were her brothers, and thus, Seperate Case was the uncle to all three Seperate Hendricksons.
  3. No records present a connection between Lydia Case and the Moore family?   I am a thorough researcher.  I have found nothing to confirm or even hint at a direct connection to the Moore family.  How then did someone out there get Moore for Lydia’s maiden name? No idea.  I bet it was a guess. Old family trees are often built on mere fabrications, and not on recorded evidence.  The evidence seems to point to a different conclusion on Lydia’s maiden name.

One Last Try—DNA

I have a friend who is a Seperate Case descendant.  She allowed me to view her DNA matches.  She has matches who are descendants of John and Eve Hendrickson, but not through William and Nancy Moore Hendrickson.  The in-common matches are from her Case line.  It is not proof, but it certainly adds to the preponderance of the evidence.  My friend has a DNA match who has shared three kits he administers, and they also have links to the Hendrickson family that are not connected to the Moore family.  It’s not proof, and DNA can be tricky, but it is something to consider.

Renaming Lydia

Lydia, maiden name unknown, was born before 1765.  She married Seperate Case prior to 1778.  She died after 1821, in Washington County, Kentucky.

Children of Seperate (I) Case and Lydia:

  1. John, b. abt 1776-78; m. 1799, Washington Co, KY, Anna Monrow; died bef. 1841.
  2. Keziah b. abt 1780; m. 1798, Washington Co, KY, Joseph Scammahorn.
  3. James, named in Baptisms of Simeon Hendrickson, d. bef. 1805 (not named in law suit).
  4. Benjamin b. 1784; m. 1806, Washington Co, KY, Nancy Barnett; d. 28 Feb 1857 Anderson Co. (Will Book A, p. 149.)
  5. Phoebe b. after 1784; d. bef. 1841
  6. Seperate (II), b. 1 May 1790; m. 20 Mar. 1813, Washington C0, KY, Betsey Phillips; d. 1844.
  7. Joseph, b abt. 1793; m.1815 Sarah Phillips.
  8. William, b. abt 1797. Sally Bowman
  9. Obediah, b. 25 Jan, 1801, TN; m. Louisanna Royalty.

Descendants of Seperate and Lydia Case should search for Hendricksons in their match lists, and see if there are any common ancestors among those.  Descendants might even switch Lydia MOORE to HENDRICKSON on their DNA connected trees and see if any shaky leaves or hints pop up.  You could always change it back later.

I’m ready to change Lydia’s maiden name to Hendrickson!



[i]Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Nauvoo Temple. Baptisms for the dead 1840-1845.Baptism Registers Vol. A, 1840-1841.Salt Lake City, Utah : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1958, 1967, 1972.  LDS Microfilm No. 5270300.

[ii] Black, Susan Easton, compiler.  Membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1848.  50 vols.. Provo, Utah, BYU Religious Studies Center, 1989.

[iii] Nelson County, Kentucky, Order Book, May 1785-May 1788, p, 451. FHL Film No. 07835949, image226.

[iv]  “Bourbon county, Kentucky Taxpayers, 1787-1799.”  Miami Beach: TLC Genealogy, 1990, 1992. (Viewed at the McGrady-Brockman Library, Vincennes, IN.)

[v] Petition 84, Oct 27, 1790. Petitions of the early inhabitants of Kentucky to the General Assembly of Virginia : 1769-1792 [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: Robertson, James Rood,. Petitions of the early inhabitants of Kentucky to the General Assembly of Virginia : 1769-1792. Louisville, Ky.: J.P. Morton & Co., printers to the Filson Club, 1914

[vi] Marriage bond, Hayes-More. Mercer County, KY. 23 November, 1789. Bourbon County, KY, Microfilm 408, “Marriage Records Bonds, (and odd scraps, notes, deeds) 1780s-1790s, at the Kentucky Historical Society.


[viii] Consent for Anna Monrow to John Case, given by Frederick Cotton, 3 September, 1799.  John Hendrickson signs as witness.  Washington County, Kentucky, Marriage Bonds and Parental Permissions, 1792-1826. FHL Film No.007730864; image 787.

[ix] Washington County (Kentucky). Tax Assessor. Tax Books, 1792-1875. Frankfort Kentucky: Kentucky State Historical Society, 1952-1953.  FHL Film No. 7834519 and 7834520.

[x] Bullitt County, Kentucky, Tax List.  Year 1805,List 1. FHL Film No. 7834406.

[xi] Bullitt County, Kentucky, Will Book A, p 37-38. FHL Film No. 4819544.

[xii] Washington County (Kentucky). Tax Assessor. Tax Books, 1792-1875. Frankfort Kentucky: Kentucky State Historical Society, 1952-1953.  FHL Film No. 7834519 and 7834520.

[xiii] Year: 1810; Census Place: Washington, Kentucky; Roll: 8; Page: 335; Image: 00332; Family History Library Film: 0181353. Source Information: 1810 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Original data: Third Census of the United States, 1810. (NARA microfilm publication M252, 71 rolls). Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

[xiv] “Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 17 May 2018), 004705531 > image 43 of 867; Madison County Courthouse, Richmond.

[xv] Tax list, Washington County, Kentucky. 1820, page 12. Washington County (Kentucky). Tax Assessor. Tax Books, 1792-1875. Frankfort Kentucky: Kentucky State Historical Society, 1952-1953.  FHL Film No. 7834519 and 7834520.

[xvi] “Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 17 May 2018), 005773083 > image 57 of 298; Madison County Courthouse, Richmond.

[xvii] “Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 17 May 2018), 004705549 > image 107 of 530; Madison County Courthouse, Richmond