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Pardoning a Murderous Mutineer (SOLD)
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Lincoln pardons Alfred Ryder, a prisoner in New York’s Sing Sing prison. Ryder promptly enlisted in the Union navy, only to desert a year after the war ended.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Document Signed, as President, countersigned by Secretary of State William H. Seward, Washington, D.C., May 10, 1864. 2 pp. 10¾ x 16¾”.

Inventory #13446       SOLD — please inquire about other items

Partial Transcript

Whereas ... one Alfred Ryder was convicted of Mutiny and sentenced to imprisonment for seven years; And whereas, the said Ryder has now suffered nearly four years of his sentence, and his conduct in confinement has been uniformly exemplary...Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, in consideration of the premises, divers other good and sufficient reasons ... have granted and do hereby grant unto him ... a full and unconditional pardon ....” 

Historical Background

On May 23, 1860 a revolt broke out on board the ship Wm. F. Storer off Governors Island, New York. Several men demanded that the captain open the forecastle, where they likely stashed liquor. “I’ll see you d—d arse, you old gray-headed son of a b—h,” Ryder cursed the captain. A melee ensued with Ryder and others shooting at the officers. The ship’s steward was killed. The ringleaders, including Ryder, were given seven-year prison terms. On sentencing, the judge called the incident “one of the most disgraceful and outrageous [affrays] that has happened in the harbor of New-York.” Ryder served less than four years of his sentence before being pardoned. 

Lincoln’s generosity with pardons was well known. He denied every application to execute sentries for sleeping at their posts. In one 1864 order alone, he revoked 60 death sentences. Attorney General Bates lamented that “in nine cases out of ten,” a woman’s tears were “sure to prevail in winning clemency.” History has tended to sympathize with Lincoln’s compassion, but his generals complained that it undermined discipline and encouraged desertion. 

Additional Historical Background

The Wm. F. Storer, was a packet-ship built in Waldoboro, Maine in 1856 by Storer and Comery. Between 1859 and 1863 she brought over a thousand immigrants to the U.S. The ship was owned in New York by Trask and Dearborn and had just embarked for Liverpool, England when the confrontation occurred. In his deposition Captain Benjamin J. H. Trask, said, “it is customary to lock the forecastle when leaving port when it is suspected that the crew have liquor concealed there.” After quarreling began, Capt. Trask appeared on the deck and stated that the men “did not want it open while weighing anchor.”  Prominent (even foremost) among these, was Alfred Ryder, who said: “we do want it open; will you open it?” but was ordered by the Captain: “No; go to your work.”  After threatening and cursing the captain, Ryder was ordered put in chains. The fighting continued with Capt. Trask narrowly escaping the pistol fire of Ryder, James Dillon, and Robert Craig, and the carpenter’s edge tools and rigging spikes in the hands of George Beecher, James Brown, George Cross, Joseph McDonald, and William Smith.  The captain remained besieged in his cabin until the Harbor Police arrived.  In the melee, the Steward, Andrew H. Mitchell, 47, was killed, leaving a wife and family.  It is not clear which man or men caused the fatal blow(s) to Mitchell – “a fractured skull…a considerable portion…having been crushed in” – but the ringleaders, Ryder, Dillon, and Craig or Smith, were given seven year sentences by Judge Smalley whose outrage at the “affray” was proclaimed at the sentencing of Dillon.

Ryder appears in the 1860 census at Sing Sing (Ossining, NY), from which we learn that he was born ca. 1837 in Scotland.  He is likely the “Alfred Rider” who enlisted May 21, 1864 (eleven days after this pardon) as a seaman in the Union Navy.  He deserted May 21, 1866. 

Lincoln issued twice as many pardons as his predecessor, James Buchanan, granting clemency to some 331 prisoners convicted in the civil courts, and denying only 81. So generous was President Lincoln with pardons for Union army soldiers that Sherman reportedly boasted that he made sure his prisoners got shot before Lincoln had a chance to pardon them.  


Intact large papered seal over wax with crisp impression of the Great Seal of the United States; one fold expertly repaired, soiling along folds, small puncture in blank portion. 

The New York Times of May 25, 1860, “The Mutiny on the Ship Wm. F. Storer.”
The New York Times of December 22, 1860, “United States Circuit Court.”
United States Census of 1860.
Vincent’s Semi-Annual United States Register.  Philadelphia, 1860.
Current, 168-169.