Man who drowned in Canal in 1888 was previously on the run for murder in Medina

Posted 1 September 2021 at 4:32 pm

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 1, No. 20

There are many stories “buried” along with their protagonists in our local cemeteries. The key to one forgotten tale of passion, murder, daring escapes and an eventual karmic tragedy may be found in the following entry in the Knowlesville Cemetery listing:

Asa, aged 47, Amos, aged 3 and Sarah, aged 24, all with the same death date. What could have happened? The Medina Tribune of 28 June, 1888, provides the answer:

A Sad Drowning Accident

Asa Broughton and His Wife and Baby Drown Together

The article records that Mr. Broughton had just completed building a “handsome but rather cranky little row boat.” On that Monday evening, he took his wife and little boy, and his wife’s sister, Rosa Train, aged nine years, out on the canal for a pleasure ride.

After rowing about for some time, a canal steamboat towing another boat came along, and Broughton rowed between the two, with the evident intention of grasping the tow line and being towed a short distance up the canal. The captain of the steamer warned Broughton that he should not attempt to catch the line so near the steamer’s wheel, but he paid no attention.

As Broughton stood up in his boat to seize the line, it suddenly capsized, throwing the entire party into the water. Rosa Train, who was able to swim a little, managed to reach the overturned rowboat, clung to the side and was rescued by James Stork. Broughton desperately tried to save his wife and son, but, sadly, all three perished.

The last paragraph of the article references a more intriguing tale:

“The sad affair caused great excitement. Broughton will be remembered as the man who, on May 14, 1879, shot and killed Levant Bancroft and fled to Canada, crossing the cables of the old suspension bridge at Lewiston, in the night, hand over hand. His capture in Canada by Captain Beecher, and subsequent daring escape from the Albion jail, his trial and imprisonment, are too well known by our readers to need rehearsal here. Since his release from prison, Broughton has been a quiet, industrious man, and was a prominent worker of the Salvation Army during its stay in this place.”

And indeed, the headline of the article in the Medina Tribune May 15, 1879, reads:

MURDER! Asa Broughton shoots and kills Levant Bancroft

Apparently, jealousy was what prompted the deed. Following a quarrel over the attentions Levant Bancroft was paying to his wife, Mrs. Broughton left the house. Since she did not return in the evening, Asa Broughton sent their son to learn her whereabouts. The son returned with the information that she was at Bancroft’s, whereupon Broughton went to Bancroft’s house, and requested him to step outside. Angry words ensued, and then shots were fired. Bancroft exclaimed:

“I’m shot! Asa Broughton did it!”

He expired fifteen minutes later, “of two frightful wounds.”

A reward of $300 was offered for the apprehension of Broughton. However, he proved rather elusive. He made his way west to the home of a cousin in Hartland, where he worked for a day. But his cousin read of the crime he had committed from the Lockport paper and refused to shelter him.

Broughton then proceeded to the Niagara River, and amazingly:

“He performed the perilous feat of crossing on wires suspended upwards of a hundred feet above the river at Lewiston. (The wires referred to are those left of the old Suspension Bridge at that place, and it is said no one ever dared to cross them before).” – Medina Tribune

The Buffalo Weekly Courier of June 4, 1879, provides additional details:

“Hand over hand, suspended in the air 100 ft. above the river, he made his way to the opposite shore. The wire swayed to and fro with his weight. Several times he had to pull himself up and clasp his legs and arms round the wire to rest his hands, which were badly blistered and cut.”

Broughton then walked sixty-five miles to his sister’s home in Hagersville, Ont. where he was apprehended on May 22nd by Deputy Sheriffs Beecher and Rice who received the $300 reward. He was placed in the Albion jail but escaped from there on August 4th by cutting a hole through the wooden door above the water closet and then through the wall. A $200 reward was offered.

This time, Broughton made his way to Genesee County, and while in a drug store in Corfu, a constable came in with a copy of the printed reward which included his photo. Fearful of being recognized, Broughton set out for Oakfield, where he worked two days in a harvest field. He left there for Medina and spent three hours at the residence of his wife. He set off for Middleport and thence to Lewiston, where he again crossed to Canada on the wires of the old bridge. He wandered about, visiting relatives, but was captured by Deputy Fuller on August 17.

The murder trial commenced on October 13, 1879. The defense pleaded self-defense with partial insanity at the time of the murder. After a trial of nearly a week, the jury rendered a verdict of manslaughter in the third degree. Giving the highest penalty he could, the judge sentenced Broughton to four years hard labor in Auburn prison. Many people felt that a stronger verdict and sentence were deserved.

It is intriguing to note that the tragic drowning accident nine years later which claimed Broughton, his young wife and son, occurred two days before George Wilson was hung in Albion for the murder of his wife.