When the readers of the Gloversville Daily Leader turned to page eight on the morning of January 7th, 1901, they were confronted with the news that 70-year-old Hiram Van Buren had shot and killed Edward Eddy in the hamlet of Trevett in Providence, Saratoga County.
For weeks afterward details continued to emerge that told a story of jealousy, revenge, and obsession.
For years before the murder took place, Mrs. “Tug” Wilson (she was never fully named in news articles) had been living in the home of Edward Eddy, where she was said to have been employed as a housekeeper. Towards the end of 1900, Mrs. Wilson was hired by 70-year-old Hiram Van Buren to do his washing. Eddy, not pleased with this new arrangement, told Wilson that if she continued to work for Van Buren, to take everything she owned with her and not come back to his home. When she complied and moved out, he then threatened to “burn her out” if she didn’t return.
By Saturday, January 5th, 1901, Mrs. Wilson had moved into the house where Hiram Van Buren lived with the widow Mary A. Shanley, his 79-year-old housekeeper, and her 39-year-old son, Charlie. That evening a winter festival was held at the schoolhouse in Trevett, an event that brought together many from the neighborhood, including Hiram, Widow Shanley, and Mrs. Wilson. One other person who attended that night was Ed Eddy, who, fueled by alcohol and enraged at his loss, was heard to boldly threaten that he would soon cut Mrs. Wilson’s throat.
Van Buren and his housemates returned from the festivities by midnight, and soon turned in for the night, unconcerned by the drunken threats from Ed Eddy. With the noise of those returning home from the night’s entertainment Hiram slept fitfully, waking as the lanterns of those passing by flashed past his window. One particularly bright light brought him to his feet, suddenly realizing that the house was on fire. Using a nearby bucket of water he was able to quickly subdue the flames that had started climbing up an outside wall. By this time, the rest of the household had woken up, and accompanied by Charley Shanley, Hiram checked the property to make sure the arsonist was not still nearby.
Unsure if the attack would continue, Hiram and Shanley decided to keep watch, with each man posted at open doors at the back and front of the house. By three o’clock, Charley gave up and went to bed, leaving Hiram to keep watch alone. Two hours later, Hiram was shocked to see a face pressed against his bedroom window. Grabbing his shotgun, he rushed out the front door and saw two men standing under a nearby apple tree.
When the men realized they had been seen, one ran and the other crotched behind a handpump hoping to conceal himself. In what he later described as an attempt to shoot the man behind the pump “in the leg in order to identify him,” Van Buren raised the shotgun to his hip and fired. Unfortunately, his aim was off, and the shotgun pellets struck the man in both the neck and the heart, knocking him to the ground. The man was Edward Eddy, and though attempting to flee after he had been shot, he only went a short distance before falling down dead.
After the shooting, Van Buren quickly proceeded to the local justice where he told what had happened and gave himself over for arrest. After Justice Allen heard Hiram’s account of the incident, he allowed him to return home until the coroner could determine the cause of death. On the same day as the killing an inquest was held, and after evidence of the attempted arson and testimony of Eddy’s threats were considered, Hiram Van Buren was discharged on the grounds that his actions were justifiable. The second man in the attempt to burn down the house was never positively identified, the only possible suspect being able to provide an alibi for that night.
Unfortunately, Hiram’s difficulties concerning the killing of Edward Eddy were far from over. The day after the shooting District Attorney George R. Salisbury came to Trevett to look over the scene and the next day had Van Buren charged with murder and arrested. Taken to the county jail in Ballston Spa, he was arraigned with an examination scheduled for the next morning, Wednesday, January 9th.
For his defense, Van Buren hired town of Ballston attorney Frank H. Brown, who was granted a week’s postponement to build his defense. On January 17th Hiram Van Buren was arraigned before Ballston Spa Justice Esmond, charged with murder in the first degree. At that time, his attorney waived examination for his client and the case was scheduled to be heard before the Grand Jury. It was fortunate that the next session of the Saratoga County Grand Jury was set to convene at the end of January, as Hiram was to be held in the county jail while he awaited his trial.
On Wednesday, January 30, 1901, Hiram Van Buren came before the Saratoga County Supreme Court Grand Jury, presided over by Judge L. W. Russell. At the trial, the grand jury agreed with the coroner’s initial decision from the day of the killing and deemed the shooting justifiable homicide. The local community praised the action of the grand jury, and, according to newspaper reports, Van Buren was heartily congratulated all around.
Van Buren was released from prison, and the next day he headed home. Even with this victory, Hiram’s struggles were not over. Destitute as a result of the trial, and with no one to help, he left Ballston on foot to walk the twenty miles home through the severe winter weather. Fortunately, before he has traveled far friends showed up and gave him a ride home.
Interested din this story? Check out Murder Trials Of Note In 19th Century Saratoga County
Illustration: Gloversville Daily Leader, January 7, 1901.
This essay is presented by the Saratoga County History Roundtable and the Saratoga County History Center. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.
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