Did You Know? (Nutt/Dukes Part 2)
By the time Uniontown’s most famous murder trial opened in March of 1883, the
names of the principals, Capt. Adam Clark Nutt (the victim) and Nicolas Lyman
Dukes (the alleged perpetrator), were so familiar to the nation’s newspaper
readers – articles about the trial frequently appeared without their first
In fact, Uniontown would frequently appear without any mention of the state in
which it resides. That was then. Today, I’m submitting a bit of a refresher.
The day before Christmas in 1882, the Cashier of the State of Pennsylvania, A.C.
Nutt, went to the Jennings Hotel in downtown Uniontown, to confront state
legislator-elect – N.L. Dukes. Dukes had sent letters to Nutt claiming that
Nutt’s teenaged daughter, Lizzie, was not worthy of his hand in marriage because
of her promiscuity.
Dukes shot and killed Nutt that day. The community immediately took the side of
Nutt, his daughter – and their honor. According to the March 12th edition of the
Oshkosh (Wis.) Northwestern, the first prosecution witnesses claimed, despite
some sort of a scuffle that had taken place, Nutt wasn’t taking any aggressive
actions when he was shot. That he was exhausted and breathing heavily, but that
he was “was making no movement of any kind.”
The letters between Nutt and Dukes, however, created the most interest. They
also created a lengthy argument in the courtroom about them being admitted into
the record. The defense lost. As the prosecution had those letters read,
according to the Janesville (Wis.) Daily Gazette, “The silence was so profound
that a whisper could be heard across the room.” Dukes’ arrogance was on full
display for those hearing the contents of his letter to Nutt.
According to the Logansport (Ind.) Pharos, he claimed he’d made advances to the
young girl, but she offered no resistance. “She melted like wax in my arms,”
claimed the 33 year-old of the girl, not-yet a woman.
He also wrote that he believed Lizzie was of a “delicate condition,” and he
hinted that an abortion could save the family from “shame and disgrace.”
Nutt’s letter in response was also admitted. It revealed a father who was
understandably angry about Dukes’ dalliances with his daughter. He suggested the
two men meet, but not before he wrote, “If I had invaded the sanctity of a home
as you have confessed to doing, I would hold myself fit only to be shot.”
That statement seemed to support Dukes’ claim of self-defense. Yet, Dukes
offered another letter in response to Nutt’s that didn’t help his case in the
court of public opinion. He claimed he would sooner suffer death than marry Miss
Nutt “a wanton toy of the town.”
The following day, the Indiana (Pa.) Weekly Messenger concluded, “The evidence
thus far indicates that he (Dukes) is a vile wretch and that he should have been
shot on the spot by Nutt.” The Dunkirk/Chautauqua County (N.Y.) Evening Observer
reported all evidence in the case was closed after “a large number of witnesses
were examined to show Dukes’ good character.”
All that was left for Uniontown - and for the rest of the nation - was the
March 15th, 1883: “A TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE.” That’s the kind of headline the
nation’s newspaper readers found regarding the not guilty verdict handed to N.L.
Dukes that day. The Fitchburg (Mass.) Daily Sentinel reported that the judge in
the case expressed disappointment at the verdict, and that an angry crowd
carrying effigies of Dukes and the jurors were headed to the court house.
“TWELVE INFAMOUS MEN,” was the headline in the Titusville (Pa.) Morning Herald.
The story below it indicated that everybody in Uniontown was on the streets. It
also mentioned that a group of people carrying an effigy of Dukes were singing
“we will hang Dukes’ body on a sour apple tree.” They hung that effigy only few
doors away from the room in which he was staying, and under guard by the
On March 17th, the Newark (Ohio) Daily Journal reported that anger over the
verdict had turned into violence. A juror in the trial had been beaten so badly
in the streets of Belle Vernon, “that his life is despaired of.”
On March 22nd, the Richmond (Ohio) Gazette reported that Dukes’ seat in the
Pennsylvania legislature had been vacated.
On March 26th, the Oshkosh Northwestern reported that an “Indignation Meeting”
had been formed, and “they gave him (Dukes) 24 hours to transact business and
leave town. If he attempts to remain it is thought there will be trouble.”
Meanwhile, newspapers began reporting the mysterious nature of Dukes, the
sheriff and all of the jury members being Democrats, while the murdered man was
Such information fueled even more bitterness.
On April 4th, the Waterloo (Ia.) Courier reported that Dukes failed to heed the
warning to leave town. That Nutt’s eldest son (James) and his defamed daughter
(Lizzie) “were watching for an opportunity to kill Dukes.”
On April 6th, the Philadelphia Press editorialized that “the severest sentence
that can be imposed on Dukes is to close all doors upon him, and send him forth
a moral leper, disowned at home and despised aboard.
While the Fayette County Bar was in the process of having him disbarred, there
were rumors that Dukes would appear around town - dressed as a woman.
Dressed as a woman or otherwise, the Dunkirk/Chautauqua County Evening Observer
reported on April 18th, that Nutt’s 15 year-old daughter “threw a cobble stone
at Dukes,” when she saw him on the street. A cobble stone, as it turned out, was
the least of Dukes’ worries.
On June 14th, the New York Times reported that at 7:35 P.M. near Uniontown’s
“round corner,” A.C. Nutt’s eldest son, James, pulled a revolver and killed
When confronted by a nearby police officer, Nutt’s response was, “I could not
Yet, there is far more to the story. I’ll detail young James Nutt’s trial and
the bizarre aftermath next week.