John Gooch …derelict in his duties

As too often happens, the court records don’t tell the entire story. It seems that Stephen Billings, described as a lumberman of Princeton, had possession of a colt that Daniel Fenlason of Alexander claimed. Fenlason went to court to back up his claim.

Steven Billings, born ca 1801, was listed as an Alexander resident in both the 1840 census and 1850 census. His home was on the Billings Road in Alexander, which is accessed only from South Princeton; another case of the classic, “You can’t get there from here.”

Daniel Fenlason was not in Alexander or Crawford in either census. Members of this family moved between this area and East Machias. Members of his family settled on Breakneck, but were gone before the Civil War. Daniel may have been born in 1811 son of Jesse Fenlason and Olive Seavey or born in 1819 son of Mark Fenlason and Sally Ellsmore. Mark and Jesse were brothers.

The colt was described as a dark red mare, three years old, with a white stripe on her face, with black mane and tail and of a value of one hundred dollars. In December 1838 Fenlason swore out a complaint of Replevin against Billings and the court ordered Sheriff Bradbury Collins to get from Fenlason securities equal to the value of the colt (in case it really did belong to Billings) and to seize the mare from Billings. The sheriff assigned the job to Alexander constable John Gooch. Replevin is a legal proceedings in which the plaintiff (Fenlason) demands return of his property which, he claims, is being wrongly held by the defendant (Billings).

John Gooch was part of another East Machias family that settled on Breakneck and on Gooch Hill.

John was born in 1804 at East Machias and lived in Alexander from before 1840 until after 1870. Like some others he had money problems and at times was the defendant in cases of debt. But in this case, he wore the badge of authority. Sadly, John Gooch was derelict in his duties.

Robert M. Sellan, of lawful age, did depose that he heard John Gooch say that he took a colt by Replevin from Stephen Billings and took it to his own barn. And that he told Fenlason that he would not give up the colt with out better surety. That night, or the next they stole the colt from out of Gooch’s barn. Gooch looked for Fenlason and the colt in Crawford. The better surety apparently was a result of Fenlason using land he did not own as surety, and Gooch got wind of that.

But it was too late to lock the barn door, The horse was gone and the surety was worthless. What more could go wrong? Stephen Billings wanted his colt back!

On September 1842 the court ordered that Stephen Billings recover judgement against John Gooch for one hundred dollars plus $30.98 costs. Of course John Gooch did not have that kind of money so Sheriff Collins was ordered to “attach goods, Chattel or lands of said debtor (Gooch) acceptable to said creditor (Billings)” or “take the body of the said debtor and commit unto your Goal in Machias….”

Three disinterested and discreet persons were … chosen and sworn” to find and appraise property of John Gooch to satisfy the court order. Those three were Israel Davis, Theodore Jellison and Claudius Huff. The land selected was twelve and ¾ acres on the east side of the County Road (Cooper Road) across from John Gooch’s home. They judged this to have a value of $148.89 and deeded it to Stephen Billings.

Note that $100 was for the colt plus court costs of $30.98, plus costs for the three “discreet persons” of $17.43 equals $148.41.