Monday, May 16, 2011

Life, vanished

May 16th marks the 147th anniversary of the death of George W. Duryea.  He was a policeman in New York City.  At the corner of Second Avenue and 63rd Street, just blocks from his house on East 54th, he was shot in the head while attempting to bring in a prisoner after an uprising at Jones Woods.  He was 41 years old and left behind a wife, Rene Brewer, and six children, ages seven to fifteen.

Entry for death of George W. Duryea, 16 May 1864 in New York City.
"Shot while in discharge of his duty."
Individual death certificates were not issued in this time period.
Deaths were recorded in chronological order in a ledger book.

George was buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, Westchester County, New York in his wife’s family plot.  His gravestone lists his dates of birth and death, with no hint of the violence that brought him to his early grave.

George W. Duryea
Born Feb. 12, 1823
Died May 16, 1864

As was customary, a coroner’s inquest was conducted immediately and detailed in the newspapers.  We learn that George was shot at three times, with one bullet entering the right temple.  He died almost instantly.  John Cahill was arrested for the crime months later after being tracked down in Ohio.  At trial in February of 1866, Cahill was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to life at Sing Sing State Prison, where, ironically, several of Mrs. Duryea's family members worked as guards.

New York Herald-Tribune
24 February 1866

George's family may have received word of his death in an abrupt manner.  Trial testimony in the newspapers tells us that George’s body was taken from the scene of the shooting to the police station and then to his house, where a post-mortem exam was performed.  Can you imagine losing a loved one by violence and then having his body dissected in the front parlor?

New York Herald
20 February 1866

Coroner’s inquests are available on microfilm through a local family history center.  Any papers from George’s inquest have not been located, though.

Following the death of her husband, Rene received her own listing in the city directory.  She continued living at the residence she shared with George and his brother, Stephen.

Wilson's city directory for New York City

When we research our family history, sometimes we uncover tragedies, which lead us to a greater understanding of what our ancestors endured. 

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