Children Go Where I Send Thee: How Shall I Sent Thee?

- by Bruce E. McKinney

Albany

A view of the Hudson River at the Hudson River Basin circa 1868. L. F Tantillo, 1985.


By Bruce McKinney

Peter, Paul and Mary used to sing the song “Children go where I send thee: how shall I send thee.” This song came to mind when I recently read The Confession of Jesse Strang that might as well add an “e” to the last name. Mr Strang, if his confession can be believed, was induced to murder one John Whipple by Mr Whipple’s wife, Elsie in Albany, New York in the summer of 1827. This 36 page pamphlet, printed by his attorneys soon after his execution, is presented as his true account to set the record straight. As he was destitute it seems more likely his printed confession was an effort by legal counsel to obtain some compensation, by the sale of this pamphlet, for their brief and unsuccessful efforts to save his life if not his soul. As to “where shall I send thee” I think it’s clear where he was going. In my collection of Hudson Valley material I have nothing else like this.

Here briefly is his story. According to Mr. Strang’s account it was by mis-chance that he was in Albany at all. He was simply traveling through when his bag became separated and traveled on to New York City without him. By luck the bag was returned but not before Mr. Strang had taken a fatal bite of the biblical apple. Lacking funds and with no better plan he obtained employment with the Van Rensselaer family as a laborer. He obtained fifty cents a day and a room at their residence where he quickly caught the eye of Elsie Whipple, young and unsatisfied wife, of this story’s victim, John Whipple.

To hear Mr. Strang tell it Mrs. Whipple relentlessly pursued him ultimately offering conjugal favors to induce him to kill the luckless Mr. Whipple who in this account is nothing more than a name and whose principal mistake seem to be to be away often enough for the hard to satisfy Mrs. Whipple to seek alternative forms of marital entertainment. In Mr. Strang she meets the ying to her yang and earns a small but enduring place in the field of Americana. Were this crime committed today Oprah would certainly want to interview them both and I can hear her asking, “Say that again?”

Because this account is dictated to counsel, and because only counsel stood to gain from the sale of this pamphlet, we can not say with any certainty that the lawyers did not embellish. A few days after this death row account was rendered Mr. Strang made a very brief visit to heaven’s gates where, I assume, God read this pamphlet, had a few laughs, and directed Mr. Strang to an alternative location set aside for the wicked. Lest we think for a moment that unfairness is a new issue let it be stated that Elsie was tried and acquitted. I have to believe she was generous to a fault with the jury all of whom, at that time, were men. What other crimes she later committed may not be uncovered until more newspaper and pamphlet accounts are found. One hundred and fourteen years later W. C. Fields gave us the immortal classic whose title seems to accurately describe her approach: never give a sucker an even break.