Sylvester Colson

John Duncan White and Sylvester Colson (alias Winslow Curtis) were crew members aboard the Fairy as it sailed from Boston to Gothenburg (or Goteborg), Sweden in August 1826, carrying a cargo of coffee, rice, sugar, and tobacco.

Off the coast of Nova Scotia, White and Colson mutineed, killing Captain Edward Selfridge and his mate, Thomas Paine Jenkins, and throwing them overboard. Two other crew members were spared. They then sailed into Louisburg, Nova Scotia; White and Colson apparently trusting the other two crew members.

Once onshore, the two surviving men notified authorities. White and Colson were arrested and returned to Boston to stand trial.

In the Circuit Court of the United States in Boston on December 13, 1826, White, who was British, and Colson, who was a native of Maine, were tried separately for murder on the high seas. With White admitting to the crime, the two men were convicted and sentenced to death on December 23.

John Duncan White committed suicide on the eve of his execution.

United States Gazette, February 6, 1827

On the gallows, Sylvester Colson confessed to his role in the crime. He was hanged in the yard of the Leverett Street Prison in Boston on February 1, 1827

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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