Devil's Right Hand: The Tragic Story Of The Colt Family Curse
M. William Phelps
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The Devil's Right Hand chroniclesthe legacy of death and destruction in the gunmaking Colt family during the nineteenth century, a legacy largely remembered for a lurid murder case that inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Oblong Box”—but one that encompassed much more. . .
New York Times and nationally bestselling author M. William Phelps reveals an unfathomable pattern surrounding repeating arms inventor Samuel Colt—from the death of all his children, including Sam’s sea captain son’s mysterious demise aboard his yacht, to the eccentric life of his widow. But the tip of this iceberg was the 1841-42 murder case of brother John C. Colt, one of New York’s most sensational scandals. Printer Samuel Adams went to collect a debt from bookkeeper and author John Colt and was never seen alive again. Shocking revelations followed: Did John shoot Adams with one of his brother’s Colt firearms before hacking him up and packing him in an oblong box? Did Sam Colt invent the revolving pistol, or steal the idea?
Part historical true-crime, part family biography and cultural history, The Devil’s Right Hand is a stirring narrative about a darkly cursed American dynasty.
have never tried to change history; my aim has always been to delve into the fray and figure out exactly what happened—or, quite frankly, what the record has left behind. In actual fact, we are never going to uncover any more than, my guess would be, about 65 to 70 percent of any story. There is always an impenetrable layer of truth we will never know—and maybe that is the way it should be. So much had been written about Sam Colt that it had always seemed to me, as a lifelong resident of
hammer to explode the gunpowder, and a spindle for the contraption to turn on—an invention that would revolutionize war and the battlefield.* One writer later called John Caldwell Colt the “favorite son” inside the strange dynamics of the Colt family. It’s hard to back up this claim. History tells us that all of the Colt children were treated equally, if not fairly, with the same jarring cynicism and coldness Christopher and Olivia saved for just about everyone else in their lives. They expected
profuse, light brown, and richly curling; his nose aquiline; his lips in silence always compressed; his eyes of dark brown hazel, lighting up conversation, or in listening, with great expression. Regarding JC’s eyes, or maybe more his attitude and demeanor, magazine writer Alfred Lewis, who spoke with many who had seen JC during this period of his incarceration, framed the suspected killer’s look a bit differently. Perhaps Lewis carried on far too long in his description of JC’s eyes, but
scientists viewed the battery as an auxiliary to coastal defenses, not worth the investment that would be necessary for harbors to be thoroughly mined.” It was a tremendous commitment, essentially, and a major undertaking, had the government decided to fund the project without debating the pros and cons. Despite having one of American history’s most influential congressmen fighting him, a man who had been the sixth president of the United States, Sam saw John Quincy’s negativity toward his mine
had made some interesting points, it was clear that reasonable doubt should be applied to this case, regardless of how long the lawyer had taken to make his point. The evidence did not back up the prosecution’s case of murder. A closing such as the one Emmett and Selden gave could not conclude—or should not conclude, rather—without mention of Caroline Henshaw, and Selden got right to his point for bringing the woman’s name back into the record, launching into an explanation that leaned again