The Post Boy murder revisited

The Post Boy Murder:
A famous Tuscarawas County tragedy and its punishment

From THE OHIO DEMOCRAT, January 26, 1888

Narrow escape of an innocent man from the gallows;
Novel manner in which the murder was apprehended

Post Boy is one of the historic places of Tuscarawas County, and its name carries with it a history – noted as the place where a post boy, while in discharge of his official duty, came to his death at the hands of one of the most daring and reckless desperadoes that Tuscarawas County has ever known. The very mention of the name “Post Boy” carries with it the recollection of the foulest and most detestable murder ever committed in this part of the state. It was the only murder ever committed in this county in which the murderer met with capital punishment. It is now more than 62 years since the event transpired and many changes have taken place since that time, but the tragic event is still as fresh in the minds of the people as though it transpired but a few years ago.

This tragedy occurred in the year of 1825, on the 9th day of September, about 150 yards west of the present site where Post Boy, a station on the C. & M. Railroad, now stands. William Cartmell, a youth about 20 years old, was in the employ of the government as carrier of the mail from Freeport to Coshocton, and it was while in the discharge of his duty that an assassin lay in ambush ready to send forth the ball on its mission, which was to shed the life blood of an honorable young man.

John Funson was a young, unmarried man, a resident of Oxford Township, who was more fond of fun and sport than he was of work, and who conceived a bold scheme of how he might obtain money without labor. In those days the Cadiz and Coshocton road was one of the thoroughfares by which the stock buyers and merchants of the West found commerce with the people of the East. It was before railroads were in operation and men were compelled to travel across the country to carry on its business interests. It was along this road that John Funson conceived his bold scheme of murder and robbery. A drover, named Smeltzer, who had gone East would soon past West on his homeward tour and have in his possession a large sum of money, and John Funson had in some way ascertained the facts, and lay in ambush ready and waiting to send the man’s soul into eternity and relieve the pocket-book of its contents. But the drover was three hours late and another man was murdered by mistake.

On the 9th day of September, William Cartmell left Freeport and started on his trip to Coshocton and somewhere along the road he came across a man named Johnson and the two traveled along together until they came to a spring of water by the roadside, about one mile West of the tavern, then known as Booth Tavern, and kept by Mrs. Sarah Booth, where Johnson stopped to get a drink of water while the Post Boy trudged along.

He had not gone more than a hundred and fifty yards when Johnson heard the sharp report of a gun and hastening to the spot found young Cartmell weltering in his life blood, so near death that he was unable to utter a word. There while Johnson was leaning over the lifeless body of young Cartmell, a man emerged from the woods and confronted Johnson, with a remark “Do you say I killed that man?” “No,” Johnson replied, “I have not said so.” Again the stranger asked the same question, and Johnson, looking him full in the face, said, “No, sir, but somebody has killed him and we must alarm the neighbors.” “Well, you go to Booth’s and I will go to Morgan’s and tell them about it,” answered the stranger. To this Johnson objected, saying that they ought to go together. The stranger answered him with an oath, informing him he must do as he was bid or he would shoot him. This ended the parley and while Johnson hurried away and brought help back with him, the stranger returned and rifled the pockets of the murdered boy, and without making any alarm departed unseen by any one, except Johnson, so effectually, that the word of Johnson was doubted, notwithstanding his apparent sincerity. Johnson was arrested as the committer of the dastardly crime, and so strong was the belief that he was the right man that his conviction seemed only a matter of time. It is also said that when Johnson’s track was measured and found too small for the track made by the murderer that it was claimed a mistake had been made and that they would correspond. Johnson was taken to New Philadelphia and lodged in jail as the perpetrator of the horrible crime, but firmly maintained his entire innocence with such an irresistible force of character as no guilty man could command. At length people began to think that Johnson’s word might be true and that the real perpetrator was at large, but might yet be detected and brought to justice. Johnson asserted time and again that if he could see the man whom he had seen at the time the murder was committed, and whom he believed was the guilty party, that he could pick him out from among a thousand men. But fortune had yet another method of detecting the murderer. It was through the careful business methods of the Postmaster at Freeport, John I. Wilson, who kept an accurate and systematic account of all his transactions.

On the morning of the murder, Postmaster Wilson had given the mail boy a $10 bill before he started on his journey to Coshocton, kept the number and an accurate description of the same. A few days after the murder had been committed a description of the bill was printed in the Tuscarawas Chronicle, then published at New Philadelphia, and went forth to do its work.

It was not long after this notice appeared in print until a man named John Funson, who lived in the neighborhood of Newcomerstown, went to Shanesville to get his gun repaired, and tendered the gunsmith in payment for the work done, a ten dollar bill. This gunsmith in turn went to one of the dry goods stores of that place and gave it to the merchant in payment for goods bought. This merchant, who kept himself tolerably well informed in regard to current events, at once recognized the bill as the one advertised by the Postmaster at Freeport to be the bill belonging to the murdered post boy, William Cartmell. This merchant went to the gunsmith and made inquiry in regard to whom he had received the bill from, and learned the facts, that he had received it from John Funson, of near Newcomerstown, in exchange for work done.

Now people began to suspicion that Funson might be the guilty man and Johnson’s assertion that he could pick out the man whom he met at the scene of the murder from among a thousand men, induced the citizens from all parts of the county to assemble at New Philadelphia on a certain day. But the great object in view was that Funson might be one of the number.

On the day before they were to go to New Philadelphia there was a gathering in the neighborhood of the Funson homestead, and John Funson was among the number present. While some of the parties there were conversing about the proposed trip on the morrow Funson emphatically said he did not intend to go. Some of the men present spoke up and said to him that if he did not go the people might think he was the guilty man. This saying induced Funson to go without further parley. When the people assembled at New Philadelphia they were formed in a procession along one of the principal streets, with Funson at the farthest end. Johnson was brought forth from his cell and allowed to view the mass of humanity there assembled, to see if he could find the man whom he had seen at the time the tragedy occurred by the lonely roadside in Oxford Township. When Johnson raised his haggard face to view the men, silence fell upon the crowd, and all eyes were at once fixed upon the prisoner. It was a trying time for Johnson because upon his recognition of the real murderer hung the slender thread – a possibility of liberty or death. At length his eyes fell upon Funson and turning to the officers present exclaimed, “That is the very man.” “You are a liar,” replied Funson. “You are the very man, I know your voice,” reiterated Johnson, and turning to the officers who were with him, told them of a scar they would find upon the wrist of the man. If the scar the scar was not there as described by him he would acknowledge himself mistaken. Upon examination the scar was found just as Johnson had said it would be. Funson was arrested and lodged in jail. The proof was now so strong that Funson was the right man, that Johnson was released and went to his home in the vicinity of Steubenville; but the shock was so great to his system that he never fully recovered from its effects and died shortly afterward a broken hearted man.

Funson was found guilty of murder in the first degree by the grand jury which shortly afterward convened. He was tried at the November term of court upon the indictment, Judge Alexander Harper, of Steubenville, presiding. The prosecuting attorney who prosecuted the case was B. M. Atherton, assisted by John M. Goodman. The prisoner was defended by Walter B. Beebe and S.W. Culbertson. But the evidence was against the prisoner and he was found guilty as charged in the indictment, and in atonement for the crime was sentenced to be hung on the 30th day of December, 1825. The sheriff who was to carry this sentence into execution was Walter M. Blake, who filled several positions of honor and trust, and died in 1865.

The trial commenced on the 16th day of November and lasted but two days, when it was given to the jury who brought in a verdict as above stated. On the morning of the 19th the prisoner was brought into the court to receive his sentence. When asked by the Judge if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed on him, stammered out a reply that he was not guilty. Judge Harper then proceeded to deliver an address to the prisoner, reviewed the testimony in the case, and concluded with the sentence, which was as follows:

“That you, John Funson, be taken to the jail of this county, and from thence, on the 30th day of December next, to the place of execution, and then and there, between the hours of twelve and two o’clock p.m. of the said day, you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may the Almighty, in his infinite mercy, have compassion on your soul.”

As time wore on after the finding of the court and the sentence of the Judge it was supposed that Funson would make a confession, which he did on the morning of the fourth of December to Judge Patrick, who was at that time editor of the Tuscarawas Chronicle. This confession was full of remorse, the prisoner even going so far as to say after he had killed the mail boy, that he would willingly have given his own life if he could have only restored the life he had taken. Upon on occasion when John Funson was away from home without money and without friends, he was taken sick but came across William Cartmell, who took him to his home and cared for him until he was able to go to his own home. Thus Funson paid the debt of gratitude and benevolence with murder. The scaffold on which John Funson was hung was erected on a slight elevation just west of New Philadelphia and which is at the present time a suburb of the county seat.

On the morning of the execution the citizens from all parts of the county and some from distant parts of the state began to assemble at New Philadelphia, and by morn the streets were a solid mass of humanity, all eager to witness the law imposed duty of seeing John Funson launched into eternity. Shortly after noon the sheriff did his duty and the lifeless body of John Funson hung to the breezes. After life was extinct the body was turned over to his two brothers who took it to their home east of Newcomerstown and buried it near their father’s residence, and fell two large trees across the grave. This spot which marks the last resting place of John Funson is about one hundred and fifty yards northwest of the Ohio Canal, and looks as though it might have been the place where a tree had once blown out by the roots – a slight elevation and then a depression. The decayed bodies of the two trees may yet be seen lying across the grave just as they were more than 60 years ago. Just how long John Funson conceived his scheme of murder and robbery before he carried it into execution is only a matter of conjecture and that secret he carried with him to the grave. But at any rate, from the circumstances surrounding what is already known it must have been for some time. The gun with which he killed William Cartmell he secured from John Hursey, who lived on Dunlap Creek, in Washington Township, about ten days or two weeks before the murder was committed. After Funson was arrested and had paid the penalty of death, the father of John Funson took the gun back to John Hursey and got the one his son had left in exchange.

Anyone passing along the Cadiz and Coshocton road past the spot where the post boy was murdered will see the letters “J. F.” cut in a small tree by the roadside and directly under the letters, the figures “1825.” These letters stand for John Funson and the figures for the year in which the murder was committed. This tree stands directly opposite the spot and but a few feet distant from the place where William Cartmell met his death.

The Funson song of 1825

John Funson, a youth about twenty years old,
With daunt on his courage, most brilliant and bold,
He was neat, tall and handsome, light hair and blue eyes,
He sought his own ruin by seeking a prize.

He murdered young Cartmell, a boy of renown,
On the road leading from Freeport to Coshocton town,
He murdered and robbed him of money and goods,
He made his way home through a thicket of woods.

Young Johnson was nigh when the gun at him was shot,
Hearing the reports advanced on the spot.
Soon after young Funson was making quite free
Of money he had taken from the murdered boy.

Soon after young Johnson in prison was bound,
He denied all accusations against him was found,
He says I was nigh when the gun it was shot,
I heard young Cartmell halloo and advanced to the spot.

‘Squire Morgan took Funson and brought him straightway
Unto New Philadelphia his actions to try.
The jury found him guilty, and the judge to him did say,
You shall hang by the neck, sir, until you are dead.

On the fourth of December, quite early in the morn,
He called on the judge to confess what he had done.
He says I have murdered whom I did not intend,
I would give my own life to restore him again.

He was led to the gallows on a cold, stormy day,
He was dressed in a shroud that was awful to see.
His two brothers that day in a cart did appear,
To haul the dead body of their brother away.

And when they got there they wept and did cry,
To think their poor brother on the gallows must die,
Two doctors stood by his pulse to feel,
Thinking when buried his body to steal.

It’s forbidden by law, it’s counted not right,
To steal a dead body on a cold, stormy night,
We hope this will be decked, and counted no spite,
It’s an end to my song, and I will bid you good night.

A.C.H.

Posted on August 3, 2017 .