The Skull In The Wall

: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

A skull is built into the wall above the door of the court-house at

Goshen, New York. It was taken from a coffin unearthed in 1842, when the

foundation of the building was laid. People said there was no doubt about

it, only Claudius Smith could have worn that skull, and he deserved to be

publicly pilloried in that manner. Before the Revolutionary war Smith was

a farmer in Monroe, New York, and being prosperous enough to feel the
king's taxes no burden, to say nothing of his jealousy of the advantage

that an independent government would be to the hopes of his poorer

neighbors, he declared for the king. After the declaration of

independence had been published, his sympathies were illustrated in an

unpleasantly practical manner by gathering a troop of other Tories about

him, and, emboldened by the absence of most of the men of his vicinage in

the colonial army, he began to harass the country as grievously in foray

as the red-coats were doing in open field.

He pillaged houses and barns, then burned them; he insulted women, he

drove away cattle and horses, he killed several persons who had

undertaken to defend their property. His campaigns were managed with

such secrecy that nobody knew when or whence to look for him. His murder

of Major Nathaniel Strong, of Blooming Grove, roused indignation to such

a point that a united effort was made to catch him, a money reward for

success acting as a stimulus to the vigilance of the hunters, and at last

he was captured on Long Island. He was sent back to Goshen, tried,

convicted, and on January 22, 1779, was hanged, with five of his band.

The bodies of the culprits were buried in the jail-yard, on the spot

where the court-house stands, and old residents identified Smith's

skeleton, when it was accidentally exhumed, by its uncommon size. A

farmer from an adjacent town made off with a thigh bone, and a mason

clapped mortar into the empty skull and cemented it into the wall, where

it long remained.