Over the past year I have recounted the 1916 grisly murders of Richard Wyckoff and his housekeeper and most recently the murder of Ted Cruse, stomped and garroted in 1874. All of these murders occurred in the East Amwell section of the Sourland Mountains. Here is another story of a vicious Sourland tragedy.

Benjamin Peterson, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Lucinda (all colored) lived on the Sourland Mountain in the vicinity of Lindbergh Road along with their neighbor, Peter Nixon. In the fall of 1877 the Petersons all moved to New Hope but soon got a letter from  Nixon (also colored) who asked if their daughter Lucinda could return and stay at his house as his paid housekeeper, which Lucinda eagerly agreed to. Soon Elizabeth began to come over ostensibly to visit her daughter but before too long, decided not to return to her husband Benjamin. All winter long Peterson sat alone in his home in New Hope thinking of the amorous relationship his wife was in with Nixon. Finally on May 29th, 1878, after being bolstered by whiskey, Thompson had had enough. He loaded his musket with nails and proceeded to walk four hours at night from New Hope to Nixon’s house on Lindbergh Road. In his pocket he had written a note that he planned to kill Nixon, his wife Elizabeth and then take his own life as well.

At about 2am Peterson arrived at Nixon’s home and knocked on the door. Nixon opened the door and Peterson put the muzzle of the gun to Nixon’s left cheek and pulled the trigger, blowing Nixon’s head almost clean off. He reloaded his gun. Meanwhile, Lucinda jumped out a window and ran for her life. Peterson found his wife hiding under the bed and as she tried to run he again pulled the trigger hitting his wife in the head. She fell and which point, thinking he had killed her he declared “wife, let us die together” and slashed his own throat in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Elizabeth survived the shooting and Benjamin survived his throat slashing.

Newspapers in both New York, Philadelphia and even as far west as Cincinnati carried the murder story. Peterson was arrested and charged with premeditated murder –after all he walked from New Hope with a loaded gun and had a note in his pocket explaining his intentions. Thinking she might run away, Lucinda was also arrested as she was a strong material witness. The trial began on December 9th, 1878. After hearing from many witnesses the jury retired and concluded that this “could” be a crime of passion rather than premeditated murder. Therefore Peterson received just 10 years of hard labor in the State Prison in Trenton and not the death penalty, which is those days was death by hanging.

Jim Davidson

East Amwell Historian