Scholla: Early Berks Justice
In 1797 Schuykill County had not yet been created out of mother Berks. Consequently crimes committed in the sparsely settled areas north of the Blue Mountains were tried in Berks County courts. The trial and sentencing of Benjamin Bailey for the murder of a German peddler named Folhafer forms an interesting chapter in the early Berks legal history.
Jost Folhafer was a peddler who plied his trade between Reading and the Mahanoy Valley, usually following a road which led through Virginville to the top of the mountains in Albany township, passing near the old site of Fort Franklin and then continuing in a northerly direction to Mahanoy and Rigntown mountain. In August, 1797, the German peddler stopped for a night’s rest at the tavern owned by John Reich, in Mahanoy. Benjamin Bailey, a hunter, was a guest in the same hostelry that evening and both men set out on their journeys the next morning.
During the afternoon of that day Folhafer’s riderless horse returned to the hotel and foul play was suspected. Searchers found the body of the peddler and a hunt was instituted to locate Bailey. The peddler had been shot and his purse was stolen. Many years later most of the money was found hidden in the hollow of an old tree where the murderer had cached it after subtracting a small sum for his immediate needs. The murder occurred near present day Brandonville, Schuykill County.
The murderer was found and arrested. He was tried and convicted in the Court of Oyer and Terminer of Berks County at the November term in 1797. He was sentenced to be hung and the sentence was carried out in an open field at the foot of Mt. Penn.
In pronouncing sentences Judge Rush addressed the murderer as follows: “Weep I say over the blood of Folhafer, for if you go out of the world with his blood on your conscience it will torment you and wring your soul unceasing agonies and horror.”
On Folhafer’s tombstone on Ringtown Mountain appears the following inscription: “Let all posterity protect this spot and reverence this ancient landmark.”
Graeff, Arthur D. Scholla: Early Berks Justice. Reading Times. February 10, 1941
Archival notes: 6,000 to 7,000 people attended the execution of Benjamin Bailey on January 6th, 1798. For perspective, it was about one quarter of the total population of the county at the time. For more details on this case two excellent sources are available online through google books. The source with the most in depth details comes from the Transactions of the Historical Society of Berks County.
Transactions of the Historical Society of Berks County, Volume 2. Historical Society of Berks County. 1910. Pages 402-411
Publication of the Historical Society of Schuykill County, Volume. Historical Society of Schuykill County. 1907. Pages 187-192