Dem bones, 'dem bones, gonna walk around." These lyrics describe the plight of the bones of David Redding. This 18th century personage led an adventurous life, but his skeletal remains possess a story all their own. On June 11, 1778, the Republic of Vermont executed David Redding. He died by hanging. In 1976, his skeletal remains were buried. One hundred and ninety-eight years passed between the two events. David Redding's tale begins and ends with the American Revolution. With the conflict under way, Redding chose to maintain his allegiance to King George III and England. In the eyes of the patriots, this pledge made him a 'Tory' or 'Loyalist,' and therefore an enemy to the American cause. Redding actually joined the British, enlisting in the Queens Loyal Rangers, a loyalist unit. He participated in Gen. Burgoyne's 1777 campaign that ended in surrender, but Redding evaded capture. He continued to assist the British. However, unlike when he attired in a uniform, these were covert operations, potentially dangerous to his well being. The loyalist commenced carrying messages between the British and other loyalists and passing along intelligence of American forces and their movements. People of Vermont and New York knew of Redding's actions, but he avoided capture. One night, Redding made a critical error in judgment. He attempted to steal a number of muskets stored in a barn turned arsenal, belonging to Col. David Robinson. Citizens caught him "red-handed." Redding's future looked grim; a loyalist in civilian clothes captured while stealing military goods in the patriotic Republic of Vermont. While a prisoner, the resilient Redding broke out of his temporary cell in the Catamount Tavern's barn in Bennington. He reached Hoosick Falls, N.Y., before his pursuers caught him. Vermont gave Redding a speedy trial, convicted him of "enemical conduct" and sentenced him to hang on June 4, 1778. The courts moved fast in the 18th century and workmen immediately raised a gallows opposite the Catamount Tavern. On the day scheduled for Redding's execution, a large crowd gathered in town. However, an unexpected problem arose. John Burnham, Redding's attorney, petitioned the governor and council for a reprieve on the basis that his client had not received a proper trial. Apparently, only six jurors heard Redding's case while according to English law, there should have been 12. Though Vermont had declared its independence, the republic still adhered to English law. The council agreed with Burnham and forwarded the petition to the in-session General Assembly. They also concurred on the matter. Redding won a one-week reprieve for his foregone execution with a new trial scheduled for June 9. While Redding bought a week of life, an anxious crowd remained around the gallows eager to see a hanging. When the news of the reprieve reached the throng, they were "clamorous at their disappointment, and violence was seriously" considered. Before a riot erupted, a savior arrived at the gathering in the person of Ethan Allen. The one time leader of the Green Mountain Boys had just been released from British captivity. Seeing the crowd's anger, Allen mounted a stump, waved his hat and yelled "attention the whole." Silence fell over the scene. Allen explained the technicality behind the delay and urged everyone to return on June 11. He then pledged, "You shall see somebody hung at all events, for if Redding is not then hung, I will be hung myself." Satisfied with Allen's proclamation, the crowd dispersed. On June 9, Redding received his proper trial with a jury of 12. Allen served as the prosecutor. The verdict remained unchanged. Two days later, before a substantial crowd, the loyalist swung from the gallows. His lax guard, a man named Sackett, who had permitted the earlier escape, drove the convicted man to his execution. The people got their hanging, their day's entertainment, and Vermont recorded the first execution in its history Now what about those bones? Bennington's Dr. Jonas Fay claimed the body and decided to preserve the skeleton. He kept those bones for a number of years, but an intriguing legend started to circulate around the remains. People heard that Fay, a physician, could never make the skeleton "come together right." As the gossip spread, people came to the superstitious conclusion that "there must be something wrong; there must have been injustice done in the trial." So years after his death, Redding received some pity. Eventually, the skeleton passed into the hands of Gen. William Towner, a physician in Williamstown, Mass. Highly acclaimed for his medical skills, the doctor had no difficulty in properly assembling the skeleton and made use of it for instructional purposes. It raises questions: Was Fay not completely knowledgeable of human anatomy or did some Bennington villagers just start to circulate rumors? No one knows. When Towner died in 1813, the skeleton first passed along to his son-in-law and then to his son. He placed the bones in a chest and stored them in the attic of the family's house. There they sat until John Spargo, president of the Bennington Historical Museum, heard of their existence. Spargo contacted Gen. Towner's great-great-grandson, Judge C. M. Smith, about donating Redding's remains to the museum. Smith agreed and turned the bone-filled box over to the museum, just a short distance away from the site of the 1778 execution. The Bennington Banner published news of the accession. "Of all the relics thus far received at the Bennington Historical Museum, the strangest and most extraordinary is one which arrived at the museum recently. ... David Redding, the traitor, is back in Bennington. At least there is more of him than any of those who participated in his trial and execution." The paper added, "At present, he is not handsome." People naturally wanted to know what would happen to the new acquisition. Spargo related his opinion. "I have an impression that very few people would care to see the skeleton displayed in a glass case, but just what disposition we shall make of it I am not yet prepared to say." He continued, "My present inclination is to inter the bones, with due reverence, and place a headstone or marker of some sort over the grave with an inscription telling the main outline of the romantic story. Anyhow, David Redding is back here after more than 150 years. Suggestions as to his future are in order." After Redding's bones joined the collections of the Bennington Historical Museum, staff placed them in a drawer. There they stayed, for nearly 46 years. Then in 1975, they became an object of public display in a subtle manner. That year, the Bennington Banner published "The Shires of Bennington: A Sampler of Green Mountain Heritage," a pictorial history. One image showed Redding's skeletal remains randomly stored in a collection case. People thought perhaps the opportunity had finally arrived to provide David Redding a proper burial. During the celebration of the American Bicentennial, the overdue event occurred. David Redding, member of the Queens Loyal Rangers, received a proper interment in the cemetery of Bennington's Old First Church, close to where he was executed nearly 200 years earlier. The stone reads David Redding — Loyalist — Executed 1778.

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