Mallory Murders brought to life
Published 8:30 pm, Wednesday, February 16, 2011
In the sleepy town of Washington during the Revolutionary War, a 19-year-old Continental Army soldier committed a murder so gruesome the historian who unearthed his treachery still mourns the long-dead victims.
"It's a helluva story," said Michael John Cavallaro, a New Milford history detective and author. "Nothing like this had ever happened in the Colonies."
At just about midnight on Feb. 3, 1780, Barnett Davenport -- horse thief, robber and deserter -- bludgeoned to death his new employer, Route 109 farm and grist mill owner Caleb Mallory, and his wife, Jane.
The Mallorys' three grandchildren -- a 9-year-old granddaughter and grandsons age 6 and 4 -- were asleep in the house.
After robbing the family, Mr. Davenport burned the home down with the children inside, according to a 14-page confession Mr. Cavallaro discovered last summer in archives at the University of Virginia.
The children's mother and an aunt, who also lived on the farm, managed to avoid the carnage because Mr. Davenport -- who carefully plotted what is purported to be the first mass murder in America -- encouraged them to take a trip out of town, the confession explains.
"He was just a very sick individual -- I call him Forrest Gump, the dark side," Mr. Cavallaro said of Davenport, who served at Valley Forge under Gen. George Washington and also under the infamous Benedict Arnold.
Mr. Cavallaro's research into the Mallory murders started about three years ago while working on a book he is still writing, "Slavery, Crime and Punishment on the Connecticut Frontier."
He has since written a movie script about the murders with the preliminary title "Gateway to Hell."
Two years ago, Mr. Cavallaro published "Tales of Old New Milford: The History, Legend and Lore of a Connecticut Frontier Town."
Mr. Davenport was born to mill owners who lived in the Merryall section of town, the third of four brothers.
In his confession, which Mr. Cavallaro believes was likely transcribed by a popular clergyman -- he suspects the Rev. Judah Champion of the First Congregational Church in Litchfield -- Mr. Davenport is portrayed as a sociopath from childhood.
At age 14, Mr. Davenport confessed, he was obsessed with committing murder but he suppressed the urge for a time, instead committing robbery and thievery that continued even after he enlisted in the Army at age 16.
After the murders, Mr. Davenport managed to hide out for six days before he was captured.
Yet there is another twist. Prior to his arrest, Barnett's younger brother, Nicholas, who lived in Torrington, was arrested.
By using Nicholas' identity when he was hired at the Mallory farm, Barnett Davenport had managed to frame his brother, Mr. Cavallaro said.
In the few historical accounts of the murder Mr. Cavallaro found early in his research, it was believed Nicholas was an accomplice or at least covered up the murders for his brother.
The only existing copy of Barnett's confession, which Mr. Cavallaro tracked down last summer, debunks that theory.
Sentenced by none other than New Milford's own founding father, Roger Sherman, Barnett Davenport was sentenced to 40 lashes and hanging at Gallow's Lane in Litchfield in May 1780.
Nicholas was sentenced to 40 lashes and life behind bars at Newgate Prison, Mr. Cavallaro said.
Indeed, Nicholas was forced to stand in the gallows and watch his brother be hanged. He then went to prison, but managed to escape, be returned, and then be released after two years. It is a tale very few know, and Mr. Cavallaro said he has not been able to find any descendants of the people involved.
"It was a very brutal, horrid murder, and to think it happened in little old Washington," Mr. Bartkus said.
Mr. Cavallaro said, "As I was chasing down the story, it was all very clinical. It took me a while to realize what a horrible, horrible thing this truly was. And I mourn the victims."
The local historian gave an encore of his Washington lecture Feb. 8 in New Milford Town Hall and expects to do so again in March and possible later dates.