Thomas Dunning

Thomas Dunning, a private in Captain Faulkner’s Rifle Company that had been raised in Washington County and had fought and lost in various Indian skirmishes, was garrisoned at the newly-commissioned Fort Fayette (in the present location of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District) under General Anthony Wayne. It was a particularly intense time at Fort Fayette, as General Wayne rigorously pushed and punished his troops in preparation for battle with Native Americans who had been victorious in recent battles.
Though little information about this case survives, we know that Dunning killed his wife, Catherine Worthington, on July 30, 1792. The killing occurred by stabbing and involved multiple stabbing wounds. Dunning then attempted suicide by stabbing himself. He claimed that the stabbing occurred during “a frenzy of drunkenness.” Subsequent accounts reported that Dunning and Worthington had a good relationship with no history of discord.
Dunning was convicted on September 5, 1792. His death warrant was issued on December 12, 1792. With his pardon request rejected, he was executed on January 26, 1793. Prior to his execution, he was described as showing “the strongest symptoms of sorrow and distress and every appearance of contrition and repentance.” He had no prior record.
Dunning’s was the first murder trial and first civil execution in Allegheny County. His hanging, at Boyd’s Hill, near the present-day courthouse, was public. As with Mamachtaga’s case, which could well have been treated as an act of war and tried by military authorities, that Dunning’s case (and the Moode case two years hence) were tried in civilian court suggests an effort to separate military and civilian justice and establish the primacy and legitimacy of civil authority, even at this early age in the life of American law.

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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