The Jackson-Carter Memorial, located on Tower Hill Road in South Kingstown.

Cain, meet Abel.

Tower Hill Road, South Kingstown

It's an old English custom to mark the spot where a murder has taken place with a "murder memorial" that tells the story of the killing. Supposedly there are only two such memorials in the United States. One is in Vermont and the other is here in Rhode Island.

The Jackson-Carter Memorial is a four-foot-tall pillar of granite commemorating a murder that occurred two-and-a-half centuries ago. It was erected in 1889 by Joseph Peace Hazard, a member of one of South County's more prominent families. The text, chiseled into the four sides of the stone, tells the story of Carter and Jackson in tortured syntax [see complete text below].

We have another version of the story from Joseph's brother, Thomas Robinson Hazard. In his 1888 Jonny-Cake Letters, Thomas supplies some extra details but also disagrees with his brother on some important points.

Captain Thomas Carter of Newport, finding himself shipwrecked and penniless on the North Carolina coast, set out on foot to return to his home port. Passing through Virginia, he made the acquaintance of William Jackson, a fellow on his way to Boston with a horse load of deerskins. Naturally they fell in together, and, according to Joseph Hazard, Jackson was a hospitable friend to Carter, giving him some money and sharing the use of his horse.

In Rhode Island, just south of Wakefield, the men arrived at an inn kept by a Mrs. Nash, where for some reason they stayed the afternoon and evening, but not the night. Before they left, (according to Thomas) "Mrs. Nash combed Jackson's hair, and remarked that if he was ever murdered, she could identify him by a small round lock of dark hair in his head different in color from the other."

Midnight, January 1, 1751 (Thomas insists on 1742), found them once again on the road, passing by the spot where the memorial now stands. At that point Carter attacked Jackson with a dagger (according to Joseph) or a rock (according to Thomas) and killed him. After relieving Jackson of his money, Carter dragged the body down to the Narrow River (according to Joseph) or Pettaquamscutt Cove near Gooseberry Island (according to Thomas) and shoved it under the ice. Thomas says that the body was subsequently found by a man (a "negro" says Joseph) who was spear fishing for eels.

Mrs. Nash happened to be visiting the village of Tower Hill on the day the body was found. According to Joseph, she recognized Jackson "by means of a button she had sewn upon his vest only a few hours before he left her house." No mention of an unusual lock of hair.

Mrs. Nash supplied the information that Jackson had last been seen by her in the company of Captain Carter. Authorities soon captured Carter in Newport and brought him back to Rochester (as Kingston was then known) to stand trial. On April 4, 1751, Carter was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hung in chains.

The Reverend Dr. James MacSparran attended the trial and took the opportunity to offer a lengthy sermon upon the subject of Thou shalt not kill. "After outlining the circumstances under which it is lawful to kill," wrote Carl R. Woodward in Plantation in Yankeeland (1971), "the earnest divine discoursed upon the heinous crime of murder, condemning the flagrant evils of covetousness, anger, malice, revenge, reveling and drunkenness, which so often lead to the taking of human life. To the condemned man, despite the foul character of his crime, he held out hope for the salvation of the transgressor's soul, but only if he would repent and make a full confession and restitution. Then followed a long and eloquent prayer for pardon at the Divine Seat of Judgment. Apparently the prisoner was moved by the pastor's appeal, for Carter's written confession, with Dr. MacSparran's interlinings, is a matter of record."

It's hard to imagine anything like this taking place in an American courtroom today. Not only is this sort of thing forbidden by the First Amendment, but the Reverend's remarks, very likely prepared in advance of the trial, presume Carter's guilt.

The sentence was carried out on May 10, on a gibbet erected near where Jackson's body had been found, "at the eastern foot of the public highway" (Torrey Road).

According to both Joseph and Thomas, the spectacle of Carter's mouldering corpse was a terrifying sight that remained long in the memories of area residents and passersby. Joseph says, "the shrieking—as it were—of its chains, &c., during boisterous winds at night, were the terror of many persons who lived thereto, or passed thereby." Thomas adds, "I have heard say the soil and verdure were for years after made rank and dark with blood."

Thomas, in a 1915 reprint of the Jonny-Cake Letters, noted that his "brother Joe has had a permanent stone monument placed on the spot where Jackson was killed, which until then was marked by a stone in the foundation of the wall, on which the figures 1742 were chiseled." Although the Jonny-Cake Letters were originally published prior to the erection of the memorial, it's interesting to note that Thomas didn't take the opportunity in the 1915 reprint to correct some of his facts, although he must by that time have been familiar with his brother's text.

Complete Marker Text

East side
This pillar is erected to the memory of William Jackson of Virginia, who was murdered upon this spot by ship captain Thomas Carter of Newport, Rhode Island, who, having been ship-wrecked, and rendered penniless thereby, and being overtaken by Mr. Jackson, who, also being on his way north, furnished him with money and use of a horse on the way; having arrived at the point that is indicated by this pillar, Carter there robbed and

North side
murdered his kind and confiding benefactor with a dagger, about the hour of midnight of Jan. first, 1751, was tried and convicted of his crime at the village of Tower Hill on April 4th, 1751, and was hung in chains upon a gibbet May 10th, 1751, at the eastern foot of the public highway where the shrieking—as it were—of its chains, &c., during boisterous winds at night, were the terror of many persons who lived

West side
thereto, or passed thereby, one of these being the late Governor George Brown of Boston Neck, who told this writer that such had been his case when a youth, while on his way to the residence of College Tom Hazard that he visited every week. It appears that Carter threw Jackson in the "Narrow River" at the time he committed this murder, and that a negro found him therein, and near the abovementioned gibbet. A wayside inn-keeper,

South side
Mrs. Nash, who lived about ten miles westward from Tower Hill, happening to be at this village at the time this body was found, she recognized it as being that of Jackson, by means of a button she had sewn upon his vest only a few hours before he left her house, and that Captain Carter was with him. Carter was therefore arrested, tried, and condemned, and executed accordingly. Joseph Peace Hazard. 1889.


Cost: free

Time required: allow ten minutes

Hours: dawn to dusk

Finding it: from Route 95 take exit 9 to Route 4 south, which becomes Route 1; follow Route 1 south toward Wakefield; when you reach the traffic lights at the Stedman Government Center in Wakefield, pull into the driveway of the closed Animal Hospital on your right just past the lights; the memorial is hidden within the bushes next to the road and at the end of the driveway.

What’s nearby

Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to streams or rave-hat-wearing beasts. Your travel distance will be longer.

This article last edited February 9, 2015

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