THE HANGING OF PETER BRAY
The following poem was written by Captain Edward (Ned) Fleming, likely in the 1930s. Previously unpublished, it has been reproduced here with the kind permission of Maggie Fleming.
It is loosely based on a true story, an article dealing with the poem and the true facts behind the poem has been written by Ed Bebee, you'll find that here: The Legend of Peter Bray by Ed Bebee
|THE HANGING OF PETER BRAY
CAPTAIN EDWARD FLEMING
Peter Bray a soldier – with England's gallant band
Retires with unblemished record, he is given a grant of land
The land, three hundred acres – given by the crown,
Is in Canada, not far from Kingston Town.
Peter crosses the ocean, "I will clear the land" said he
And make a home in Canada " the land of the brave and free. "
He builds a shack, to clear the land, from morn to setting sun
He swings his trusty axe, he is friend to everyone.
Near Peter lived a man, his name was Wm. Potter
He too came from England, with his wife and daughter.
Fur buyer, trader, anything he would buy or sell,
Did writing, kept books for neighbours, for which they paid him well
Soon he had money to lend, and on each dollar lent,
He made sure that he had, interest at ten per cent.
In his various deals, so well did he work and plan,
That in a few years, he became a wealthy man.
But he was not satisfied, and he was heard to say,
That, by fair means or foul, he would own Peter's land some day.
Peter, living in a shack, decides the time has come.
That he should build a house – and have a decent home.
To Wm. Potter – Peter goes, he asks him for a loan
Said: " I will give a mortgage on all the land I own. "
Potter knows that in time Peter will repay,
And, there is small chance of getting the land that way.
So, he seems reluctant – the money to advance
Tells Peter that he does not care to take a chance.
He argues with Peter in suave and oily tone
That, in the event of Peter's death his money would be gone
But, here is a plan he said I think will fill the bill,
Right here and now – if you would make a will
In my favor – thus protected I will be
And in case of your death the land will come to me.
Tis well said Peter to you – as well as any other,
For I have neither chick or child, nor father, sister, brother.
So the deal is closed – to Potter the land is willed
and with the borrowed money – Peter proceeds to build.
The house is built – all things seemed good to Peter Bray
With his Axe on his shoulder – he goes to the woods each day
As Peter worked in the woods one day – came Potter's pretty maid.
She seated herself upon a log – come take a rest, she said.
Peter sat down beside her, nor of danger ever dreams
He said, you wander far from home – suddenly she screams
Help – help – What is the matter Peter said
She tears her hair – she tears her clothes and calls again for aid
Tell me what is wrong said Peter I will help you if I may
But Help – Help – oh Help – is all that she will say.
Two men burst through the bushes – guns levelled at Peter's head
Peter protests – I've done no wrong, tell it to the judge they said
In Kingston they accuse him, and 'spite of his denial
Before a Judge and jury, they give him a hurried trial.
Ruth Potter is called – now the voice of thee is heard ;
You must swear to tell the truth, a man's life hangs on your word
With tearful eye and breaking voice – she slowly tells her tale.
Tells that in quest of flowers – she wanders o'er hill and dale.
Tells of meeting Peter – of what then occured.
In silence the Jury sits listening to every word.
Stunned, amazed, in silence sits Peter Bray,
And well he knows that this girl has sworn his life away.
Wm Potter is next witness – he was hunting with Jones, he said –
When they heard his daughter scream – they hurried to her aid.
And gentlemen of the Jury I can only say
That we found my daughter struggling – in the arms of Peter Bray.
Bill Jones is called – he stands with drooping head.
His evidence confirms, all that Potter said.
The Judge now charges the Jury – The evidence you have heard
Gainst the evidence of three witnesses, you have only the prisoner's word.
We have only his denial, he has no defense.
I need not tell you gentlemen, his is a grave offence.
You have heard the evidence, so I will not waste my breath.
If guilty be your verdict, the penalty is death.
The Jury retires, twelve honest upright men.
In less than half an hour, they file slowly in again.
Have you arrived at a verdict — as they file slowly by.
We have – guilty as charged, the foreman made reply.
The Judge said – Peter Bray stand up, you are convicted here today
Of a most serious crime, have you anything to say?
Your Honor, as I've said before, I am not guilty of this offence,
And some time, one of my accusers will prove my innocence.
Why this girl swore to a falsehood – sometime the reason will be known.
Long I have known and looked on her – as I would on a daughter of my own.
If it be God's will, that I die a felon's death,
I will still protest my innocence – with my latest breath.
Twelve of my peers have judged me guilty here today.
I have done your honor. I have nothing more to say.
You will go back to the jail, said the Judge – and one month from today,
On Kingston market square – the penalty you'll pay.
I now sentence you – his voice he can scarce control,
To hang by the neck until you are dead – Lord have mercy on your soul.
Peter Bray stands on the scaffold on Kingston market Square
He asks that he be allowed to speak, to the people assembled there.
My friends – ( for among you people ) many friends I see,
Who believe me innocent – who still have faith in me.
For that, I thank you – some of you now standing on this Market square,
Will live to hear one of accusers – my innocence declare.
I now say goodbye to the friends – that still have faith in me.
My last words are not tor you – but for the guilty three.
Who with false tongues have sworn my life away
Well they know that an innocent man on this scaffold stands today
Mark well what I say you three, for God has given me the power
To foretell your doom – in this my latest hour.
He said, – Wm. Potter your fate I can well foresee
For years you will suffer for what you have done to me.
For years disease will afflict you until with every painful breath
You will curse the day that you were born and pray in vain for death.
After long years of suffering on bed of sickness laid
Your end will come by fire with none to give you aid
And to you Bill Jones conscience no rest will give
Drunken, despised – by all, you will die where a child would live
And this poor misguided girl – will suffer the torments of Hell
She will die a terrible death, and dying the truth will tell
I forgive you all as I hope to be forgiven
And I die as I have lived firm in my hope of Heaven.
I am done he said – I am ready for a better land I hope.
The trap is sprung – yet Peter lives, for broken is the rope
On the scaffold once again – the trap they drop him through
Yet Peter lives tho unconscious now, this rope is broken too
He is innocent he is innocent all the people cry
The rope broke twice, it is a sign – tis not meant that he should die
They carry Peter up again – place him on the trap once more
This time the rope is new and strong, the hangman's work is o'er
And the people marvel that Peter Bray with his latest breath
Forgives his accusers and foretells the manner of their death.
And they say, the Lord gave Peter Bray the Power
To look into the future, in this, his latest hour.
Though Bill Jones never worked – he always had money to spend.
When asked where he got the money – he said; I have a friend
For whom I did a good turn – now wherever I may be,
I will never work again – for he will care for me.
From the day of peter's death – Jones scarce drew a sober breath.
And in less than a year – he too lay cold in death
Carousing at the village Inn – one black and stormy night,
The landlord put him out – said he'll get home all right.
The rain was falling in torrents – Death on Jones has placed his Seal.
For, he fell and died – his face in a rut, made by a wagon wheel.
Too drunk to turn his head – unable to make a sound,
By the water running in the wagon track, William Jones was drowned.
Able to walk when he left the Inn – tho drunk the innkeeper said.
A quart of whiskey he drank on the way, beside him the bottle laid.
Some men pick him up in the morning – many a shake of the head they give.
As they recall the words of Peter Bray – You will die where a child would live.
As Bill Jones was buried – people said Peter Bray was right.
For a little child would live – where he was drowned that night.
Meanwhile – the will of Peter Bray – signed by Peter's hand,
Had been probated – Bill Potter owns the land.
For a time Potter prospered – and lived a life of ease,
But at length he was afflicted with a mysterious disease.
People said – twas Leprosy – that was their firm belief,
For the best doctors in the land – could not give relief.
Potter's wife is dead – long she bad nursed him – slave to his every whim.
Now only the daughter Ruth – is left to care for him.
Paralyzed, diseased, loathsome – unable to leave his bed,
Shunned by his one-time friends – by his daughter he is fed.
For years he lived and suffered, until with every breath –
He cursed the day that he was born – and prayed aloud for death.
Through all those years, Ruth Potter in public seldom had been seen.
Now gray and worn – she was little like the girl she once had been.
She goes about the household tasks – silent – sad – depressed.
We know now – that remorse – was gnawing in her breast.
She poured Coal Oil in the stove – the lagging fire to raise.
Came a loud explosion – and her clothes were all ablaze.
A neighbour, passing by – hurries in – his aid to give.
He was too late to save her – she has less than an hour to live.
Gentle hands care for her – they do all that can be done.
She said – I know that my end is near – listen everyone –
The story I told about Peter Bray – was as false as false could be.
The man was innocent – He ne'er laid hand on me.
He was my friend – gentle and good – kind to me each day.
And in return – Oh God! I swore his life away.
I have suffered – and never drawn a peaceful breath –
Since the day I told the lie that sent Peter to his death.
My father forced me to do, what I did that day –
So he might own – the lands of Peter Bray
That I may be forgiven – I have prayed each morn and night.
The day is getting very dark – Oh I see a gleaming light.
In it I see the faces – of friends of other years.
Yes! Yes! among them – the face, of Peter Bray, appears,
Gentle and forgiving – yes now I clearly see –
My mother stands with Peter Bray – they are calling now for me.
I am coming! Mother -- and I pray to God, she cried --
That I may be forgiven -- with a sigh Ruth Potter died.
The blackened wall – a pile of ashes – some charred bits of wood,
Are all that's left to mark the spot where Potter's house once stood
Helpless – unable to move – no one hears his cries.
After a long life of suffering by fire Bill Potter dies.
And the people marvel – as well indeed they may –
For Ruth – Jones and Potter died exactly, as foretold by Peter Bray.
If you doubt the truth of this story – to Kingston you may go –
Look up the old-time records – and they will surely show,
That this is a true tale – and men alive today –
Can point out the spot – where stood, the house of Peter Bray
This poem is loosely based on a true story. An article dealing with the poem and the true facts behind the poem has been written by Ed Bebee, you'll find that here: The Legend of Peter Bray by Ed Bebee