One of Michigan’s Most Dastardly Criminals: Silas Doty, 1800-1876
One of the most reprobate characters to ever reside in Michigan was the (dis)honorable Silas Doty.
Doty was born in St. Albans, Vermont on May 30, 1800 and is believed to have been brought up by strict Christian parents. He became a troublesome kid and soon dabbled in thievery, burglary, larceny, and counterfeiting.
In 1825 he married, but not long afterward hooked up with some of his old criminal cronies and resumed his life of crime. Arrested several times and released thanks to false testimonies, he moved his family to Michigan, settling in Lenawee County in 1834. Soon, he began stealing horses among other types of valuable property. He always managed to escape arrest while living in Michigan…but not content, he moved to Steuben County, Indiana in 1839.
After buying some property, Silas looked as if he was going to settle down…then he got himself a hired hand by the name of Lorenzo Noyes. Noyes was in his early 20s, no known relatives in the area, was a good worker…..and frequently got into arguments with Silas. Lorenzo stood there and dared him to “bring it!” but Silas backed down, knowing he’d probably get the worst of it.
After one altercation, Silas threatened to whip Lorenzo. Quitting the job, Lorenzo packed up and headed out. Silas chased after him, trying to apologize but it only ticked off Lorenzo even more. He turned and faced Silas, calling him some of the worst names imaginable and threatened to tell the authorities all about his dirty deeds. Silas whacked Lorenzo in the head with a heavy cane, and seconds later Noyes was dead.
Silas dragged the body to a nearby swamp and dumped it in, constantly pushing it down until it was completely covered up. On May 12, 1842 the body was found by local men searching for lost cattle.
As locals began pointing fingers at Silas, he was busy at the Michigan border stealing another horse. He was arrested and given two years in prison. While in prison, an indictment for murder was set against Silas. His two years was changed to a life sentence.
A new trial was set, it went before the Supreme Court, the decision was reversed, and Silas was sent to do time in Angola. While in the Angola jail, he sawed a hole in the floor and escaped. Re-captured, he was put in 20-pound shackles, but escaped again by sawing the bars in his window, stole a horse, went home, and chiseled off his shackles. He then attempted to flee the country to Mexico.
After the Mexican War he went back to Michigan to his family who had re-located to Hillsdale. In Hillsdale, he was arrested again for thievery and given a 17-year sentence. After 15 years, he was out. He again resumed his ways, was arrested again and was given a sentence of two more years…and another for four years.
After this last release, Silas moved in with his son in the Michigan town of Reading. It was here Silas passed away, on March 13, 1876 at age 77. Upon his death, and according to the Steuben Republican edition of March 15, 1876, it referred to Doty (in part) as: “The widely known, inveterate and persistent old thief that ever infested this part of the world, so peculiarly constituted that he would steal for the fun of it..…In the counties of Hillsdale and Branch (he) has been so well known that the announcement that it has now come to an end will revive in memory the old time of his many peccadillos…..He regarded the penitentiary as his home and was ill at east outside its walls.”
Silas is buried in Branch County at Mundy Cemetery, Kinderhook, Michigan.
Silas Doty, One of Michigan's Most Notorious Criminals
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