When the body of Amasa Sprague was found shot and beaten on the road between his factory and his mansion on New Year’s Day, 1844, suspicion fell on three members of Sragueville’s Irish community. Nicholas Gordon was known to hold a grudge against Amasa Sprague; John and William Gordon would do whatever their older brother wanted. It was a conspiracy theory, but one based more on bigotry and class warfare than hard evidence. The arrest of three immigrants would strain the already tense relations between Rhode Island’s English and Irish communities.
Date: December 31, 1843
Location: Spragueville, Rhode Island
Victim: Amasa Sprague
Cause of Death: Beating
Accused: John, William and Nicholas Gordon
At the same time Rhode Island was experiencing a rapid influx of Irish immigrants seeking work in the state’s textile mills. While the new workers were essential to the mills and to Rhode Island’s economy, they were not considered equals by the ruling elite. It is no surprise that Irish immigrants overwhelmingly supported the Dorr Rebellion.
Sprague was actively opposed to the Dorrites and was instrumental in Dorr’s arrest.When Sprague' body was found shot and beaten, the murder was first thaught to be a political assassination by Dorr’s followers. But since the arrest of their leader, the Dorrites had been in disarray. A number of individuals had personal grudges against Amasa Sprague; the killer was likely one of them. One name kept coming up in the early investigation—Nicholas Gordon.
Nicholas Gordon came from Ireland in the mid 1830s with enough capital to open a general store. The store, located about a mile from the Print Works proved profitable and in 1843 he built an addition on his house and sent for the rest of his family, his mother Ellen; his three brothers John, William and Robert; his sister Margaret; and William’s seven year old daughter.
Sprague had been shot in the wrist then hit twice on the head fracturing his skull—either blow to the head could have killed him. The following day a town meeting was held (excluding those without property) and vigilance committees were formed in several school districts to investigate. Additionally, the Sprague family offered a $1000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the murderer.
Nicholas and John Gordon were arrested and the house and store were searched. No gun was found though it was known that Nicholas owned a gun. Other members of the Gordon family were arrested, including the other two brothers and their mother, as well as a friend of Nicholas named Michael O’Brian. Also arrested was Nicholas Gordon’s dog because dog tracks had been found near the body, and the dog wore a collar of jagged metal that could have caused some of the wounds on Sprague’s throat.
Tracks in the snow near the murder scene led to a swamp where a coat and a broken gun were found. The gun was identified as belonging to Nicholas Gordon. The coat had a hole in the elbow and a shirt found in the Gordon home had a bloody stain on the elbow corresponding to the hole in the coat. According to the Providence Journal:
“two men were seen going to toward the fatal spot shortly before the murder. Two men were seen to emerge from the swamp on the other side after the deed had been committed; one of them without his coat.”
Nicholas, John and William were held for the murder of Amasa Sprague, everyone else was released.
Someone asked in the comments of this post, what became of the Gordon's dog? I found this article in the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, January 17, 1844 which appears to answer this questions: