Cornelius Wilhelms

Cornelius Wilhelms and Joseph Verbruggen served as crew aboard the Braganza as it sailed from Philadelphia to Genoa, Italy with a cargo of sugar, in the summer of 1838.

On August 5, they, along with fellow sailors John Adams and Hans Knudsen, killed Captain Armer F. Turley and threw him overboard in an attempt to take control of the ship. They then boarded the remaining crew on a long boat and set them adrift and sailed themselves into port in northern Europe. Word of the mutiny had already reached there and they were arrested.

John Adams hanged himself in prison before he could stand trial.

At trial in U.S. District Court in New York City on 1, May 1839, Wilhelms, who was Dutch, was convicted of murder on the high seas and sentenced to death. The Belgian Verbruggen was also convicted and sentenced to death. Knudsen was tried and acquitted the next day.

Kentucky Gazxette, May 16, 1839

Joseph Verbruggen hanged himself in jail on May 4. Cornelius Wilhelms was hanged on Bedloe’s Island – present-day Liberty Island – in New York Harbor on June 21, 1839.

Philadelphia Public Ledger, June 24, 1839

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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