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The Trial of William "Duff" Armstrong

Jan 27, 2001

This excerpt was found on the Scottish Armstrong clan website. I highly recommend it. It has a lot of free info on Armstrongs. Including birth/death dates for many of the children of John Armstrong along with their social security numbers. I can’t confirm all of them without knowing where they lived(tracked by zip code)

Also there is a great deal of data on 2 John Armstrongs from Greene County. Looking at marriage dates it might appear that one was the father of the other. Futhermore there was a Jesse Armstrong in the 1840 census in greene county. This is not the jesse son of John but might have been an uncle or great grand father.


Well I have to get back to my finals!

Enjoy the reading. This probably is not a direct descendant but a very distant one.

The Trial of William "Duff" Armstrong
William 'Duff' Armstrong during his last years was a respected resident of the village of Ashland, Cass County, Illinois; and a member of the local Christian Church. Three years before his death in 1899 he gave to J. McCan Davis, of Springfield, his own story of the murder with which he was charged and of his successful defense by Lincoln. It is the only statement known to have been made by Armstrong for publication.
"It was on a Saturday night, and camp meeting was over for the day. In the edge of the grove were three bars where liquor was sold. Here gathered all the men and boys who went to camp meeting to drink whiskey and have a good time--and a great many went for no other purpose. I had been at the meeting two or three days, and had been drinking much, but I was then becoming sober. It was probably 10 o'clock when I found a big goods box not far from the bars, and I stretched myself out for a night's sleep. Up to this time 'Pres' Metzker and I had been good friends; but 'Pres' had been drinking and was in an ugly mood. He came along, making a great deal of noise, and said to me: "D--n you, get up!" Then he grabbed my legs and pulled me off. In a few minutes he jerked me down again. I said, "Let me alone, Pres; I am sleepy." He went away, but soon came back and pulled me off a third time, took my hat, threw it upon the ground and stamped it. He said I had no business there; that I ought to be home "picking up chips for my ma." I told him that was none of his business, and then walked over to one of the long counters and called for a drink of whiskey. He followed, and just as I lifted the glass to my lips he caught me by the throat, spilling the whiskey. I set down my glass, and turned around and said to him: "Pres, if you do that again I will knock you down, if you are bigger than I am; you have run this thing far enough." He had a loaded whip in his hand and was determined to have a fight with me. I hit him a terrible blow, knocking the skin from one of my knuckles. We clinched, and 'Pres' rather got the best of me. I was strong for one of my size, and was able to catch him and throw him back over me. He got up first and came at me again. Then we fought like tigers. At last he got me under him. More than a hundred people stood by watching the fight, and when the boys saw 'Pres' was getting the best of me they pulled him off. We walked up to the bar, and each taking a drink of whiskey we bumped glasses and were friends again. But 'Pres' had not got through with me. As we stood there, without any warning, he hit me a blow on the upper lip. He was going to hit me with a glass, when another man said, "Set that down; if you strike him with that glass I will kill you." Then we parted. Metzker stole a quilt from a buggy near by, and, wrapping it around him, walked off to bed. I saw nothing more of him until the next morning, when he walked to the bar with the stolen quilt still around him. His right eye was swollen shut. He bathed it with a glass of whiskey, drank another glass, and then mounted his horse and rode away. Several days after that he died. Then the officers came and arrested me and put me in jail.
"I had a preliminary trial at Havana and was held without bail. All the bad luck in the world seemed to come to me now. On this very day my father, "Jack" Armstrong, died. On his deathbed, he said to my mother; "Hannah, sell everything to clear 'Duff.'" These were almost his last words. I was a kind of favorite with my ma and pa both. I always stayed at home with them.
"After the change of venue to Beardstown Lincoln told my mother he would defend me. At the trial I had about twenty-five witnesses. The strongest witness against me was Charles Allen. He was the witness that swore about the moon; he swore it was a full moon and almost overhead. 'Uncle Abe' asked him over and over about it, but he stuck to it. Then he said he saw me strike Metzker with a slungshot. 'Uncle Abe' asked him to tell how it was done. He got up and went through the motion, struck an overhand blow, just as he declared he saw me do by the light of the full moon. 'Uncle Abe' had him do it over again.
After Allen's testimony everybody thought I would be convicted. After 'Uncle Abe' had talked to the jury a little while, he said: "Now, I will show you that this man Allen's testimony is a pack of lies; that he never saw Armstrong strike Metzker with a slungshot; that he did not witness this fight by the light of the full moon, for the moon was not in the heavens that night." And then 'Uncle Abe' pulled out the almanac and showed the jury the truth about the moon. I do not remember exactly what it was--whether the moon had not risen, or whether it had set; but whatever it was it upset Allen's story completely. He passed the almanac to the jurors and they all inspected it. Then 'Uncle Abe' talked about the fight, and showed that I had acted in self- defense and had used no weapon of any kind. But it seemed to me 'Uncle Abe' did his best talking when he told the jury what true friends my father and mother had been to him in the early days when he was a poor young man at New Salem. He told how he used to go out to Jack Armstrong's and stay for days; how kind mother was to him, and how, many a time, he had rocked me to sleep in the old cradle. He said he was not there pleading for me because he was paid for it; but he was there to help a good woman who had helped him when he needed help. Lawyer Walker made a good speech for me, to, but 'Uncle Abe's' beat anything I ever heard.
"As 'Uncle Abe' finished his speech, he said: 'I hope this man will be a free man before sundown.' The jury retired and nearly everybody went to supper. They left me there with the sheriff, my brother Jim, and a parcel of boys. The jury was in a room near by, and it was not over five minutes after they went out when I heard them taking and laughing, and my heart beat a little faster. As soon as the judge and the lawyers got back from supper the jury was brought in. They had to pass me, and I eyed them closely for some hopeful sign. One of them looked at me and winked. Then I knew it was right, and when the foreman handed up the verdict of 'not guilty' I was the happiest man in the world, I reckon.
"Now, my mother was not in the court room when the jury came in, and it is all stuff about her fainting and falling into my arms. She was away somewhere; I don't know just where. That night she went home with Jim Dick, the sheriff; I went home with Dick Overton, and as we went down the court House steps he slipped a five-dollar bill into my hand. 'Uncle Abe' would not charge my mother a cent; he said her happiness over my freedom was his sufficient reward.
"The almanac used by Lincoln was one which my cousin, Jake Jones, furnished him. On the morning of the trial I was taken outside the court room to talk to Lincoln. Jake Jones was with us. Lincoln said he wanted and almanac for 1857. Jake went right off and got one, and brought it to 'Uncle Abe.' It was an almanac for the proper year, and there was no fraud about it. The truth is, there was no moon that night; if there was, it was hidden by clouds. But it was light enough for everybody to see the fight. The fight took place in front of one of the bars, and each bar had two or three candles on it. I had no slungshot; I never carried a weapon of any kind--never in my life. Metzker had a loaded whip, but he did not attempt to use it on me. It was only a fist fight, and if I killed 'Pres' Metzker I killed him with my naked fist.
"James H. Norris was indicted with me for the killing of Metzker. He was tried at Havana before my trial was had. Now, he had no more to do with the fight than any of the other bystanders; but he had killed a man some time before, and had gotten clear, and everybody seemed to think this would be a good chance to give him his just desserts. So they sent him to the penitentiary for eight years.
"When the war broke out the four brothers of us enlisted in the army. Jim was wounded at Belmont; Pleasant died. I served on until near the end of the war, when my mother took a notion she wanted me. People laughed at her when she said she would write to the President, but she said, "Please goodness, I am a-going to try it." She got Squire Garber of Petersberg to write to 'Uncle Abe', and in a few days mother got a telegram signed 'A. Lincoln' telling her that I had been honorably discharged. At that time I was at Elmira, N.Y., helping pick up deserters, and a discharge was the last thing I was dreaming of."
From: Lincoln Among His Friends: A Sheaf of Intimate Memories by Rufus Rockwell Wilson; Caxton. William "Duff" Armstrong served during the Civil War in Co. C 85th Ill. Infantry.



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