Early pioneers of Sangamon County often used the hanging of Nathaniel Van Noy on Nov. 26, 1826 as a time reference.
Van Noy, who lived west of Athens in what now is Menard County, had killed his wife in what John Carroll Power described as “a fit of drunken frenzy” on Aug. 27, 1826. He went on trial the next day (one of his attorneys was pioneer lawyer James Adams) and was convicted and sentenced to death on Aug. 29 — only two days after the killing.
Van Noy made one last attempt to thwart the execution, hiring Dr. Addison Philleo of Springfield to attempt to revive him after the hanging.
Philleo theorized that a shock from a “galvanic battery” could revive a hanged man if his neck was not broken and he had not been hanging too long. Van Noy was hanged on Nov. 26.
As Philleo counseled, Van Noy leaned forward when dropped, and his neck remained intact. However, Sheriff John Taylor left Van Noy on the gibbet for nearly an hour, and Philleo’s battery therapy failed to revive him.
The sentence was carried out at the time appointed, in the presence of almost the entire community. Many are yet living who witnessed the execution,” Power wrote in 1876. “Having already sold his body, it was delivered to the surgeons, who immediately commenced dissecting it in an old open house. The spectacle was so revolting that they were compelled to desist and remove it to a more private place.
“In a country so new, the settlers so widely separated, and so little that was interesting or exciting to furnish topics for conversation, the excitement caused by that event cannot be imagined by the people at the present time. The writer has, time and again, had the dates of events, such as the advent of families in the community, marriages, births, deaths and incidents too numerous to mention, all settled beyond a doubt by its having occurred ‘the fall Van Noy was hung.'”
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