Archive for December, 2011

1942: Three Bialystok Jews

1 comment December 31st, 2011 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1942, three anonymous Jewish residents of the Bialystok Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland were hung in the public square across the street from the Judenrat (Jewish Council) building. The three worked at the ghetto’s oil factory, and had been caught smuggling sunflower seeds.

The residents of the ghetto paid little attention to the execution, accepting it with resignation. It was hardly remarked on.

But this event was yet another small indication of dire events looming in the near future. Compared to those in other Nazi ghettos, such as those at Warsaw and Lodz, the Bialystok Jews had it pretty good. The ghetto, noted Sara Bender in her 2008 book The Jews of Bialystok During World War II and the Holocaust, was “organized, industrious, and even prosperous. Unlike other ghettos, it never experienced starvation or abject poverty.”

And it was seen as relatively safe. This day’s sort of vicious, arbitrary executions for minor rule infractions, which were so common elsewhere, were not at all frequent in Bialystok. Neither were the mass deportations that had by late 1942 decimated almost all the other ghettos.

Well, Bialystok’s turn was coming.

Unbeknownst to the Bialystokers, just as the sunflower seed smugglers were meeting their end, the powers that be in Berlin were debating the future of the ghetto. The Nazis in immediate charge of the ghetto wanted to keep it, and had logical reasons for doing so: namely, that it was a center of great industry, producing all kinds of goods for the German Army at almost no cost.

Killing off tens of thousands of hardworking slaves during wartime makes about as much sense as hanging three people over sunflower seeds, but this is what Berlin decided to do.

In early- to mid-February 1943, there was a surprise Aktion in the ghetto: 2,000 were killed and a further 10,000 deported to the Treblinka Extermination Camp. About 30,000 remained.

Once it was over, most of the surviving Bialystokers breathed a sigh of relief and hoped against hope that the worst was over — while a small underground group quietly organized an uprising for when the time came.

The rebellion, however, never really had time to get off the ground. When the final deportation occurred in August 1943, almost everyone went quietly in shock to their deaths. A cell of less than 100 fighters put up a few days’ struggle, enough to earn a footnote in history, before the last of the ghetto blew away with the ashes.

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2006: Lu Dongming and Lu Kuan, Internet bombers

Add comment December 30th, 2011 Headsman

Who says China oppresses Internet users?

On this date in 2006, the People’s Republic avenged the bombings of two Hefei Internet bars with the execution of Lu Dongming and his nephew Lu Kuan.

Two young men were killed, and four others wounded, in the May 2006 attacks, which occurred just minutes apart.*


(cc) image from Am + Mo.

Extortion — which was formally on Lu Dongming’s charge sheet — of other cafe owners was the apparent motive: though the stakes in the Hefei cybercafe business might be a little lower than for the lords of industry, Chinese capitalism has a distinct gangster component.

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1543: Andrei Shuisky, gone to the dogs

1 comment December 29th, 2011 Headsman

On December 29, 1543, Ivan the Terrible arrived — with the summary execution of hated boyar Andrei Shuisky (Shuysky).

Call it Ivan’s rite of passage.

The 13-year-old Ivan IV had technically “ruled” Russia since toddlerhood, when his father died suddenly in the prime of life.

But in reality, the “ruler” was not the master of his domain.

The powerful boyar nobles ran roughshod during his minority, scrapping for power, poisoning off his mother,* and behind the Kremlin’s closed doors overtly treating the kiddo’s regal person like a redheaded stepchild.

“What evil did I suffer at [the boyars'] hands!” Ivan later remembered of these years in his hostile correspondence with the exiled noble Kurbsky.

we and our brother … remained as orphans, [having lost] our parents and receiving no human care from any quarter; and hoping only for the mercy of God … our subjects had achieved their desire, namely, to have a kingdom without a ruler, then did they not deem us, their sovereigns, worthy of any loving care, but themselves ran after wealth and glory … they began to feed us as though we were foreigners or the most wretched menials. What sufferings did I endure through [lack of] clothing and through hunger! For in all things my will was not my own; everything was contrary to my will and unbefitting my tender years. (Source)

Ivan’s indomitable personality and mercilessness, later the stuff of legend, make their first appearance in these formative years. Biding his time, nurturing his hatred, he survived his humiliations and designed a show-stopping vengenace. “Then,” remembers Ivan, “did we take it upon ourselves to put our kingdom in order.”

In the span of a single feast on this date in 1543 the young prince elevated himself from abused orphan to feared sovereign when he unexpectedly accused the attending boyars of mismanagement and had the greatest man among them — Andrei, of the mighty Shuisky family, the de facto head of state** — arrested and brutally put to death.

(The most colorful versions of this have it that Shuisky was thrown to the dogs to be devoured; I’m inclined to suspect this is embroidery upon the chronicler’s report that it was mean little Ivan’s kennel-keepers who were the men tasked with arresting and beating to death the nobleman.)

Sergei Eisenstein dramatized the terrible tsar’s backstory of violently overturning his childhood abuse in part two of Ivan the Terrible. (Masterful review.)

With his terrible blow, Ivan — still only an (unusually warped) adolescent after all this time — freed his hands and truly began the strange and cruel reign that would earn him the awestruck sobriquet Grozny, “terrible”. He got the ball rolling by purging a couple dozen other Shuisky loyalists.

While Ivan Grozny had his way in his reign’s political conflicts with Russia’s nobility, the violent monarch also shockingly killed his own son during a fit of rage — effectively destroying his own lineage. In the Time of Troubles invited by the resulting power vacuum, Andrei Shuisky’s grandson briefly claimed the throne as Tsar Vasily IV.

Though this power grab didn’t work out any better than had his grandfather’s, Vasily was the last [legitimate] product of the Rurik dynasty† dignified as Tsar of Russia, before the Romanovs were elevated to that station.

* Allegedly. Ivan certainly thought so.

** Andrei’s brother Ivan, equally loathesome to the tsar, had passed on the Big Man in Russia mantle to Andrei when he died a couple of years before.

† The Shuiskies were merely a junior branch, but they were a branch.

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2010: Two Iranian political prisoners

Add comment December 28th, 2011 Headsman

Two politically sensitive cases, otherwise unrelated to one another, were joined in hanging at Iran’s Evin Prison on this day last year, possibly in a tit for tat following the November assassination of a nuclear physicist.

Ali Saremi

Ali Saremi cut the highest profile of the two, a 63-year-old member of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI, aka MEK or MKO).

The PMOI/MEK/MKO, originally a Marxist revolutionary group opposing the dictatorship of the Shah, split with the theocratic Iranian Revolution.

It’s led an interesting life since then.

After creating the still-extant National Council of Resistance of Iran, the PMOI set up camp in Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq, which readily deployed it in the Iran-Iraq War.

Camp Ashraf was still there when the U.S. invasion rolled into Baghdad in 2003. (As of this writing, it’s only just now being closed.) While MEK has long been considered a terrorist organization, including by the U.S. State Department,* Iraq’s new occupiers also found this nest of exiles a convenient ally for its own campaign against Iran’s mullahs.

The organization has been much in the news of late both as a bargaining chip in regional diplomacy, and for lavishly bankrolling a lobbying campaign to get off everybody’s official terrorism lists — positioning itself as simply an Iranian opposition group. (It claims to have renounced violence.)

From Tehran, of course, there’s much less gray shading: the MEK is an enemy.

Saremi, a longtime member, was arrested four times for his association with the group.

The first time was in 1976; the last, and ultimately fatal, in 2007. He had just returned from Camp Ashraf to visit his son and commemorate the anniversary of Iran’s late-1980s mass execution of prisoners, an atrocity that claimed a large share of MEK sympathizers in apparent retaliation for the organization’s aforementioned wartime aid to Baghdad.

Saremi got the all-purpose mohareb death sentence — roughly, “waging war against God,” which can potentially compass any resistance to the Islamic Republic — basically for having a going association with PMOI. According to NCRI, Saremi’s prosecutor alleged that

[h]e visited Ashraf and during that he received necessary trainings and returned to the country … and eventually he was arrested in August 2007 for his repeated activities and participation in counter revolutionary ceremonies and gatherings in support of PMOI and dispatching reports to this grouplet (PMOI). During a search in his house some CDs, films, pictures from PMOI and hand written organizational documents linked to the grouplet were found and confiscated.

Iran carried out the execution without notice.**

Ali Saremi’s portrait and memory are now powerful props for the MEK terrorism de-listing campaign.

Ali Akbar Siadati

Also hanged this day was a man named Ali Akbar Siadati, about whom only sketchy information appears to be available.

Siadati was condemned for spying for Israel from 2004 until his arrest in 2008, allegedly supplying Iran’s foe a wide range of sensitive military information — a crime to which Siadati confessed, according to the state news agency IRNA.

Who Siadati was, how he had access to military intelligence, and why (apart from money) he might have betrayed it seems to be publicly obscure.

* In fact, the charge of sheltering MEK — guilty of “terrorist violence against Iran” — even appears on the Bush administration’s justification for war with Iraq.

** Iranian law requires 48 hours’ notice of an imminent execution be given to a defendant’s lawyer. This rule is routinely ignored.

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1666: Nine Covenanters in Ayr and Edinburgh

1 comment December 27th, 2011 Headsman

That prospectively apocalyptic year of 1666 saw the onset of the Scottish Covenanters‘ mass martyr-making under the English gallows.

Three dozen or so were put to death in the aftermath of the Battle of Rullion Green. Among them, nine men — seven in Ayr, two in Edinburgh — paid with their necks on this date.

The Covenanter tragedy stretches back to the first English Civil War, when English parliamentarians enlisted the aid of Scottish Presbyterians by agreeing to a covenant guaranteeing presbyterian church governance in Scotland and England. Essentially, that meant representative ecclesiastical authority, rather than top-down power from the king, via bishops.

The Presbyterians took this covenant very seriously indeed.

This expedient political arrangement flew apart post-hostilities, especially when the Presbyterians’ parliamentary faction got on the wrong side of Cromwell‘s New Model Army.* “Pride’s Purge”, the de facto army coup d’etat which made possible the execution of Charles I, essentially consisted of kicking out of Parliament the Presbyterian types who were ready to strike a deal with the king at the army’s expense and then governing with the remainder.

This made Presbyterians, for whom reformed church governance was the issue, amenable to inroads from the royalist camp. As soon as Charles I lost his head, the un-purged Presbyterian Scottish Parliament recognized Charles II … on condition that he get on board.

Charles was not exactly an enthusiastic partner.


A political cartoon shows Scottish Presbyterians literally holding King Charles II’s nose to the grindstone.

Nevertheless, Charles II did sign on the dotted line as the price for a Scottish throne and a play at restoration … but the army stomped that, too. An exasperated Cromwell asked of these quarrelsome Scots with their presbyter hangup,

“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken!”

Mistaken or not, the beaten Presbyterians were optimistic — it’s a ridiculous optimism, in retrospect — that the post-Cromwell Restoration of the exiled monarch would finally Presbyterianize the island. But in 1660, it was Charles wielding the grindstone.

Much to his former allies’ chagrin, Charles rolled back the previous years’ church reforms, booted dissenting clerics, and cemented episcopacy.

The Presbyterian frustration here is understandable; they twice came out on the winning side in the civil war carrying signed pledges from the victors, and were twice balked of their prize. And the balked prize was only God’s work on earth.

In November 1666, a thousand aggrieved Covenanters marched towards Edinburgh in the pitiful and improvised Pentland Rising, which was violently stopped at Rullion Green.

Mass executions of prisoners followed throughout December and into January. (Others not executed were transported to the colonies.)

On this particular date, John Ross and John Shields died in Edinburgh.

The remaining seven executed this date in Ayr are notable in part because they ought to have been eight.


Memorial stone for the Covenanters executed in Ayr on December 27, 1666. Image (c) Stephen Wagstaff and used with permission.

Ayr’s public executioner fled rather than put godly Scotsmen to death. A Highlander named William Sutherland, who served the same office, was retrieved from nearby Irvine, but he too refused even when threatened with torture.**

The beneficiary of these principled refusals, in body if not in soul, was Cornelius Anderson, one of the eight doomed to die in Ayr who was finally prevailed upon to take the job of hanging his fellows in exchange for his life. Faltering spirit fortified with too much brandy, Anderson clumsily dispatched this group; later, since the obdurate Irvine hangman had been sacked, he had to do the same to two more Covenanters there.

Guilt-ridden and reviled, Anderson actually might have been the most miserable man on the scaffold. He came to a miserable end.

His conscience troubling him, he went to Ireland, where he was no better; nobody would either give him work or lodging. He built a little house in some common place near Dublin, where he and it and all were burnt to ashes. (Source)

* Specifically, they wanted to disband said army, and do so without coughing up its back pay.

** Sutherland’s torture included the summoning of a firing squad ostensibly to execute him if he failed to perform the executions. He called that bluff and was not executed, thereby depriving this site of a rare and precious “Executioner executed for failing to execute” entry.

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1872: Du Wenxiu, Panthay rebellion leader

Add comment December 26th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1872, China’s Panthay Rebellion came to an end with the surrender, suicide, and execution — in that order — of Du Wenxiu.

The Panthay Rebellion (also known as the Du Wenxiu Rebellion) was one of several cataclysmic revolts to shake foundering imperial China in the 19th century.

This one was centered in the city of Dali (also known as Talifoo) in the southeastern Yunnan Province, near the Burmese border.* The rebels in question were the Hui people, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group who had been pushed around for years by Qing officials and by the ethnic Han.

The backstory of Han-on-Hui ethnic cleansing in the 1840s makes for harrowing reading, lowlighted by the 1845 massacre of 8,000 Hui in Baoshan.

An even more ambitious operation in May 1856 went down in Kunming, where a massacre — Qing officials publicly posted a directive to “kill [the Hui] one and all”** — claimed several thousand more and razed the city’s mosques. This outburst spawned an attempt at wholesale ethnic cleansing throughout the province … but that attempt blew back on its perpetrators by triggering a rebellion that would require a generation to tame.

The unexpected tenacity of Hui resistance was multiplied by the disadvantages for the Chinese state of operating in a distant and mountainous territory, and its preoccupation with the much larger simultaneous Taiping Rebellion. Though these considerations were not sufficient to dissuade local officials from picking the fight in the first place, they would help them come to regret it.

Hui resistance quickly coalesced into an organized rebellion, and that rebellion overran Dali by the end of the year, establishing itself as the seat of an independent kingdom called Pingnan Guo. Meanwhile, the onset of the Second Opium War left China incapable of contemplating a reconquest.

Du Wenxiu, the half-Han Islamic convert rebel leader acclaimed Sultan Sulaiman of Dali, was therefore left with some operating room to establish a Hui state. He led a pluralistic nation (for the Hui themselves were and are a pluralistic identity) in the western half of Yunnan, stretching from the Tibetan frontier almost to Kunming. (They came close but never quite managed to take this city).

Alas, in due time and with sufficient stability elsewhere in China the Pingnan state came under withering attack from the late 1860s. It sought help from the British as a potential foil against Chinese power, but the aid was not forthcoming and probably would have been too little and much too late. The Pingnan / Panthay / Hui state

ended much as it had begun — in a bloody massacre of the Hui populace. On 26 December 1872, imperial troops surrounded Dali, the Pingnan capital. Du Wenxiu, in a move that he hoped would spare the lives of the city’s residents, made the decision to hand himself over to the Qing general. Swallowing a fatal dose of opium as his palanquin carried him to the Qing encampment, Du was already dead by the time that he was delivered to the Qing commander. Not to be robbed of the gratification of killing him themselves, Qing officials hastily dragged Du before the Qing troops to be decapitated.† According to Emile Rocher, a French adviser to the provincial officials in Yunnan at the time, Du’s head was encased in honey and sent to the emperor.

Du’s sacrifice, however, was in vain. Three days later, imperial troops began a massacre that, according to the government’s own conservative estimates, took ten thousand lives by the time it was concluded — four thousand of the victims were women, children, and the elderly. Hundreds drowned trying to escape from Dali by swimming across Erhai Lake. Others attempted to flee through the narrow passes at either end of the valley. All were chased down and slain by the Qing troops. The imperial soldiers were ordered to cut an ear from each of the dead. These grisly trophies filled twenty-four massive baskets and, together with Du’s severed head, were sent to Beijing, where they served as a silent and unequivocal corroboration of the Pingnan regime’s bloody demise.**

Du Wenxiu was within living memory when the Qing themselves fell; shortly after that happened, an honorary tomb was constructed for the martyred rebel outside Dali.

* “Panthay” is a Burmese word for Chinese Muslims.

** David Atwill, “Blinkered Visions: Islamic Identity, Hui Ethnicity, and the Panthay Rebellion in Southwest China, 1856-1873,” The Journal of Asian Studies, Nov. 2003. This article and/or Atwill’s book (review) on the same subject appear to be the ultimate source of nearly every accessible English resource on the Panthay Rebellion.

† According to the London Times (Aug. 27, 1873) the aides and litter-bearers who accompanied the dying Du to the Qin camp were also beheaded for their troubles. It ballparks the ensuing butchery at 40,000 to 50,000 souls.

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Feast Day of St. Anastasia

Add comment December 25th, 2011 Headsman

Christmas Day is all about that Jesus fellow, but for a break from the usual gold, frankincense, and myrrh, spare a thought for St. Anastasia of Sirmium — whose feast date and purported execution date December 25 also is. She’s the only Christian martyr with a Christmas celebration,* and an apt choice for the depth of winter since her name means “dawn” or “rebirth”.

Byzantine icon of St. Anastasia from the Hermitage, holding a vial that alludes to her antitoxin powers.

Centuries of namesakes have shared that moniker, like the youngest daughter of the executed Romanov family, on the basis of the Great Martyr’s having died during the persecution of Diocletian; though this circumstance scarcely makes her unique, no less a source than the Catholic Encyclopedia avers that the ancient martyrology linking her to St. Chrysogonus “is purely legendary, and rests on no historical foundations.” (It’s possible that multiple historical Anastasias were conflated into a single legendary person.)

Despite later generations’ ignorance of what this early keeper of the faith was really about, she became associated — again, possibly thanks to nothing more sharing the same name as the facility’s local Roman matron — with an early church in Rome, the “titulus sanctae Anastasiae.” Today ruined, this was an important church in the capital of the faith during late antiquity, and helped vault St. Anastasia into the first rank of holy intercessors. She’s even mentioned by name in the Canon of the Mass.

Her celestial department protecting against potions and poisons has, today, a distinctly retro vibe about it; “the last remnant of the former prominence enjoyed by this saint and her church” is the Christmas Dawn Mass, likely the day’s most lightly-attended service at your local Catholic or Anglican parish, wherein Anastasia is invoked by name.


Cathedral of St. Anastasia in Zadar, Croatia, where the saint’s relics repose. (cc) image from Paradasos.

* In western Christendom only.

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1941: Eight Russian POWs at Flossenburg

1 comment December 24th, 2011 Headsman

Seventy years ago today, eight unknown Russians — prisoners of the Wehrmacht’s ultimately self-defeating thrust into the Soviet Union — hanged at Flossenburg concentration camp.

By way of a moving 1995 New York Times article, these anonymous Red Army men give us a glimpse at the world of the pink triangle.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 homosexuals may have been incarcerated in the camps, Dr. [Klaus] Mulller said, out of approximately 100,000 men who were arrested under Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code, which called for the imprisonment of any “male who commits lewd and lascivious acts with another male.” (The law was silent on lesbianism, although individual instances of persecutions of lesbians have been recorded.)

Perhaps 60 percent of those in the camps died, Dr. Muller said, meaning that even in 1945, there may have been only 4,000 survivors. Today, Dr. Mliller knows of fewer than 15.

Their travails did not end at liberation. They were still officially regarded as criminals, rather than as political prisoners, since Paragraph 175 remained in force in West Germany until 1969. They were denied reparations and the years they spent in the camps were deducted from their pensions. Some survivors were even jailed again.

Old enough to be grandfathers and great-grandfathers, the survivors scarcely courted attention as homosexuals, having learned all too well the perils of notoriety. “It is not easy to tell a story you were forced to hide for 50 years,” Dr. Mullers said.

One of the first men to break his silence was the anonymous “Prisoner X. Y.,” who furnished a vividly detailed account of life as a homosexual inmate in the 1972 book, The Men With the Pink Triangle, by Heinz Heger, which was reissued last year by Alyson Publications.

By a coincidence that still astonishes him, Dr. Muller said, Prisoner X. Y. — “the best documented homosexual inmate of a camp” — turned out to be Mr. [Josef] Kohout.


The Men With the Pink Triangle inspired the play Bent, later made into a motion picture.

After his arrest in 1939, Mr. Kohout was taken to the Sachsenhausen camp and served at the Klinker brickworks, which he called “the ‘Auschwitz’ for homosexuals.” Prisoners who were not beaten to death could easily be killed by heavy carts barreling down the steep incline of the clay pits.

In 1940, he was transferred to Flossenburg. On Christmas Eve 1941 inmates were made to sing carols in front at a 30-foot-high Christmas tree on the parade ground. Flanking it were gallows from which eight Russian prisoners had been hanging since morning. “Whenever I hear a carol sung –no matter how beautifully — I remember the Christmas tree at Flossenburg with its grisly ‘decorations,’ ” he wrote.

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1799: Isaac Yeshurun Sasportas, anti-slavery insurrectionist

Add comment December 23rd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1799, Portuguese Jew Isaac Yeshurun Sasportas was publicly hanged in in Kingston for attempting to incite a slave revolt in the British colony of Jamaica.

Here in a revolutionary age, probably no insurrection could terrify Europe’s ancien regimes like the Haitian Revolution.

History’s most successful slave revolt, the rising that seized Saint-Domingue from the French conceivably threatened — if it should spread — the entire material foundation of Europe’s colonial exploitation, and the racist intellectual superstructure that justified it.

This nightmare of crowned heads was also the dream of the epoch’s visionaries, and the subject of a struggle whose victims included Isaac Yeshurun Sasportas among many, many others.

Domingue if I do

An insurrection of Caribbean slaves against European exploiters had obvious appeal to their brethren groaning at the bottom of the Atlantic economy. In “Saint Domingue in Virginia: Ideology, Local Meanings, and Resistance to Slavery, 1790-1800″ (Journal of Southern History, Aug. 1997) James Sidbury explores the (to whites) nerve-wracking arrival in that U.S. state of both news and refugees from revolutionary Saint-Domingue.

In 1793 Willis Wilson complained to Governor Lee of the “defenceless situation” of the town of Portsmouth, whose militia lacked arms and whose streets contained “many hundreds [of] French Negroes” including, Wilson had been “inform’d,” many who “belong[ed] tothe insurrection of Hispaniola.” … a commander at the state arsenal of Point of Fork — located on the James River west of Richmond and southesat of Charlottesville — reported dangerous “conversations amount the “people of colour” … “particularly since the Arrival of the French from C[ap] F[rancois],” Saint Domingue.

While these currents carried along Gabriel Prosser and a young Denmark Vesey, they also swept up men who were not slaves at all.

Isaac Sasportas, the nephew of a prominent Charleston trader (said trader’s 200-year-old home still stands there), was himself a wealthy Caribbean shipper who in the 1790s seems to have taken a nearly professional interest in revolution. After trying and failing to re-ignite a rebellion in Dutch Curacao, he started zeroing in on Haiti’s next-door neighbor, the brutal British sugar colony of Jamaica. Distinguished as it was by a running history of slave revolts, it was a natural target for the fin de siecle‘s savvy revolution-exporter.

Sasportas landed there in 1799 under cover of his gadabout-merchant act to reconnoiter British defenses and make contact with the island’s maroons.

Diplomatic L’Ouverture

The Haitian Revolution’s progress through the 1790s and into the first years of the 19th century was itself a complicated political process entailing the realest of realpolitik. Here was a colony surrounded by rival empires’ outposts, whose home country was itself engulfed in revolution. This could, and did, cut a lot of different ways.

Legendary national liberator Toussaint L’Ouverture agreed to work with the French revolutionary government in April 1793 to repel the inroads of Brits, who smelled an opportunity to swipe the lucrative colony. Alliance with the French (L’Ouverture’s black regiments served under French colors) came in exchange for the French recognizing emancipation. Win-win.

But the script had flipped by the last years of the decade.

Toussaint L’Ouverture reveals to British officer Thomas Maitland papers from the French representative d’Hedouville.

In 1798, the British were evacuating their Saint-Domingue enclaves … and L’Ouverture, now the Bonaparte figure of a somewhat autonomous polity, had to maneuver it regionally vis-a-vis its neighbors.

Fomenting slave rebellions willy-nilly was not on his agenda. Indeed, “one could even describe Louverture, in the diplomatic field, as an active impediment to the spread of emancipation.”*

So far was the former slave L’Ouverture from anti-slavery firebrand that in 1798-99 he made arrangements with the slave powers Britain and the United States, helping them oppose the French. And when the French envoy went to work on the grab-Jamaica scheme with Sasportas as an agent — Paris now being the one to smell an opportunity to steal a rival’s colony — L’Ouverture found it expedient to play along whilst quietly tipping the British to the whole plot. In effect, L’Ouverture shopped Sasportas.

Louverture could have used his newfound power to advocate independence and emancipation across the Caribbean; he decided otherwise.

Napoleon Bonaparte and other French leaders hoped that Louverture would turn Saint-Domingue into the centerpiece of a revolutionary French empire in the Americas. With an army of twenty thousand veteran black soldiers, Louverture could have threatened France’s enemies in North America, most notably British Jamaica and the United States. But Louverture declined the offer, choosing instead to sign secret treaies of nonaggression and commerce with these two countries in 1799 …

That same year, the French agent Roume drafted an ambitious plan to use part of Louverture’s army to invade British Jamaica. After the landing, Roume redicted, Jamaica’s slaves would revolt and join local maroons and Dominguian liberators on a victorious march to Kingston. Dominguian troops would become heralds of freedom, France would acquire a lucrative colony at little cost, and the expedition would deal a mortal blow to British commerce. Louverture acquiesced in public, but in private he notified British and U.S. authorities of Roume’s bellicose plans. England subsequently captured France’s secret agent in Jamaica, a French Jew named Isaac Sasportas, and the entire venture foundered. Having apparently concluded that an expedition would divert key troops and resources that were needed to secure his power base in Saint-Domingue, Louverture chose to sacrifice the Jamaiacans’ freedom on the altar of his own ambitions. Jamaican slaves would remain in bondage until 1834.

– From Haiti: The Tumultuous History — From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation

Haiti the Game

Whether one rates it as dextrous statecraft or unconscionble betrayal, L’Ouverture’s maneuvering to maintain a scope of action for himself and his fledgling nation would continue until 1802. It featured brutal continuation of Haiti’s cash crop plantation economy — now worked by cultivateurs supporting black elites, instead of slaves supporting French elites — rough suppression of labor protests, high-minded assertion of racial equality, and unsentimental diplomatic skullduggery shifting arrangents among France, Britain, and the U.S. He even bought slaves to regenerate the half-island’s labor force, decimated by years of warfare.

In the end, this Bonaparte of Haiti was undone by the Bonaparte of France** in 1802, with the full support of the British. During a lull in those nations’ hostilities, they found frank agreement that “Toussaint’s black empire” was to neither’s liking — and “We both want to destroy Jacobinism, especially that of the blacks”.† L’Ouverture played the diplomatic game very adroitly, but he had no card to match a mutual agreement of white privilege among his opposite numbers.

Toussaint L’Ouverture died of pneumonia in a French dungeon … but his countrymen rallied against the French incursion and completed the Haitian Revolution. Its independence day is January 1, 1804.‡

* Philippe R. Girard, “Black Talleyrand: Toussaint Louverture’s Diplomacy, 1798-1802,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Jan. 2009

** Napoleon’s wife Josephine was herself of Caribbean aristocratic stock: she grew up on her family’s sugar plantation in Martinique.

† Prime Minister Henry Addington, as quoted in The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian War of Independence, 1801-1804. Thomas Jefferson, fretting “another Algiers in the seas of America,” also kinda-sorta went along with the idea, although Jefferson was at least equally concerned about a potential French resurgence keyed by its unruly Caribbean base; for America, this politicking set up the Louisiana Purchase, and that transaction was considerably facilitated by the French failure to re-establish control in Haiti after arresting L’Ouverture.

‡ In one last warped expression of colonialism — and a dreadful preview of the ruinous debt peonage more familiar to our present day — Haiti had to pay “reparations” to France for the loss to the French empire of itself, Haiti. It made these payments until 1947. France has no plans to repair the reparations.

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1793: 213 or so Lyonnaise

Add comment December 22nd, 2011 Headsman

Upon learning of the recent Republican capture of Toulon from the British and anti-revolutionary allies — a military achievement authored by a 24-year-old artillerist by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte — Joseph Fouche dispatched the following missive from the city where he his iron-fisted occupation was earning the epithet “Executioner of Lyon(s)”

Despite showing himself a ferocious Jacobin during the Terror, the Machiavellian Fouche helped author Robespierre‘s downfall and later became ennobled as the Duke of Otranto under Bonaparte. Needled by the Corsican about having voted for Louis XVI’s execution, Otranto aptly riposted, “Yes, sire; and that is the first service I had the honour of rendering your majesty!”

Joseph Fouche to Collot d’Herbois
22nd December 1793

And we likewise, my friend, have contributed to the surrender of Toulon, by spreading terror amongst the traitors who had entered the town, and by exposing to their view the dead bodies of thousands of their accomplices.

The war will be at an end if we know how to profit by this memorable victory; let us show ourselves terrible, that we may not fear becoming weak or cruel; let us annihilate in our anger, and at one single blow, every conspirator, every traitor, that we may not feel the pain, the long torture of punishing them as Kings would do.

Let us follow the example of nature in the exercise of justice. Let us be avenged as a nation, let us strike as quick as lightning, and let even the ashes of our enemies disappear from the land of liberty.

Let the perfidious and ferocious English be assailed from every quarter; let the whole republic turn into a volcano, and pour forth the devouring lava upon them: may the infamous island that produced those monsters, who no longer belong to the human species, be hurled for ever in the waves.

Farewell, my friend: tears of joy gush from my eyes, and overflow my heart. The courier is setting off. I shall write to you by the post.

FOUCHE

P.S. We have but one means of celebrating our victory. We shall this evening send 213 rebels to the place of execution: our loaded cannons are ready to salute them.

(Translation primarily as rendered in the London Times, July 18, 1815)

Whether this horrifying last bit of revolutionary braggadocio was in fact effected does not seem to be quite clear. This book claims that Fouche had 192 executed that day for the amusement of a party of Jacobins and prostitutes, which has the suspicious whiff of propaganda about it.

Hubert Cole, in Fouche: The Unprincipled Patriot reckons it “only” 67, with Fouche routinely inflating his atrocity figures a la military body counts for the benefit of ardent revolutionaries in Paris.

The use of cannon loaded with anti-personnel grapeshot — condemned tied together in pairs and then indiscriminately blasted; troops on hand to finish off survivors with bayonets — was an innovation in death-dealing technology that the National Convention did not appreciate, and Fouche was obliged to return to the more decorous methods of regular firing squads and that newfangled beheading machine.

* Not to be confused with Nazi torturer Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon. We hope the good people of Lyon will not require too many more synonymous sobriquets.

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