28th January 1683, Mr John Brass and his wife Margaret left their home to visit a neighbour for the evening.
Left behind at home was their seventeen-year-old son John, nineteen-year-old daughter Jane and their ten-year-old daughter Elizabeth. Also in the home was a servant, Andrew Mills.
Having enjoyed a convivial evening with friends, Mr & Mrs Brass returned home to be confronted by the horrific sight of their children having been slaughtered.
Mills had gone berserk and had frightened the children so badly, they fled into an inner room of the house to try to escape him. Once inside the room the children, under the leadership and direction of Jane, the elder daughter. With no bolt available on for the door, Jane used her own arm as a brace through the iron loops on the door. As Mills eventually burst through the door, he broke Jane’s arm. Having been incapacitated Jane was almost instantly killed having as Mills wielded an axe. The same fate for John quickly followed.
It is believed that Mills then paused when it came to young Elizabeth. Even amongst the horrific situation, she found herself in, she found the courage within herself to offer Mills, bread, butter, sugar and some toys if he would spare her life. Initially, this seemed to placate Mills and he stepped out into the passageway, but by his own admission, once in the passageway, he said the devil spoke to him and said “Kill all! Kill all!” He returned to the room, dragged the ten-year-old from under the bed where she had hidden and murdered Elizabeth.
Contradictory reports say that Mills did not flee the scene or, ran to Ferryhill where he was apprehended by troopers who were marching from Darlington to Durham.
Mills, who was described as a person of weak mind, quiet and inoffensive unless provoked when a wild anger would overcome him. He confessed to the murders and with that, his fate was sealed.
Following his arrest, he was sentenced to death.
Mills was gibbeted about a mile and a half north of Ferryhill, where his cries of hunger as he slowly died were said to be clearly heard.
A table grave is said to exist in the churchyard at Kirk Merrington for the three children, but on visiting I could not find it. I did however find it mentioned in a document from 1887 that said it was inscribed:
Here lie the bodies of
John, Jane and Elizabeth, children
of John and Margaret Brass,
who were murdered the 28th Jan., 1683
by Andrew Mills, their father’s servant,
for which he was executed and hung in chains.
Reader, remember, sleeping
We were Slain;
And here we sleep till we must
“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his
blood be shed.”
“Thou shalt do no murder.”
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