The recent vote on the death penalty in Wisconsin brings to mind that Mortimer Melville Jackson, the territorial judge who sentenced convicted murderer William Caffee to death by hanging in November 1842, lies in Madison’s Forest Hill Cemetery.
Jackson, a New York attorney, moved to Milwaukee in 1838 and to Mineral Point in 1839. When the Whig party was formed he was chair of the committee that prepared the organization’s platform. He was an early opponent of the extension of slavery into the territories. In January 1842 Governor Henry Dodge appointed him attorney general of Wisconsin Territory, a post he held for nearly five years. Jackson was elected the first judge of the fifth judicial circuit after Wisconsin became a state. He was subsequently chosen chief justice of the Wisconsin supreme court, but declined to serve. In 1861 President Lincoln appointed him to a post at the consulate in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
He presided over the trial of William Caffee in 1842. Caffee shot and killed Samuel Southwick at a housewarming in White Oak Springs. As reported in the records of the District Court of Iowa County, Wiskonsin Territory, April term, 1842:
The grand inquest of the United States of America… on their oaths do present that William Caffee, late of the county aforesaid, yeoman, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, on the twenty-third of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-two, at Gratiot’s Grove, in the county of Iowa aforesaid, and within the said Territory, then and there being feloniously, willfully and of his malice aforethought, an assault did make, and that the said William Caffee, a certain pistol of the value of one dollar, then and there loaded and charged with gunpowder and one leaden bullet aforesaid, out of the pistol aforesaid, then and there by force of the gunpowder and shot sent forth as aforesaid, the said Samuel Southwick, in and upon the left breast of him, the said Samuel Southwick, then and there feloniously, willfully and of his malice aforethought, did strike, penetrate and wound, giving to the said Samuel Southwick, then and there with the leaden bullet aforesaid so as aforesaid shot, discharged and sent from the pistol aforesaid by the said William Caffee in and upon the said left breast of the said Samuel Southwick, near the region of the heart of him, the said Samuel Southwick, one mortal wound of the depth of six inches and of the breadth of one inch, of which said mortal wound, the said Samuel Southwick, on the said twenty-third day of February, in the year aforesaid… instantly died…
Judge Jackson sentenced Caffee to be hung by the neck until dead. The sentence was carried out near the railroad depot in Mineral Point before a large crowd. As reported in the History of Iowa County, 1881: “In November 1842, William Caffee suffered the extreme penalty of the law and paid blood for blood. Just before the wretch was taken to the gallows, he expressed a wish to have a raw slice from the heart of Judge Jackson, to eat.”