Archive for February, 2012

1856: Auguste Chapdelaine, saintly casus belli

1 comment February 29th, 2012 Headsman

On February 29, 1856, local Chinese officials in Guangxi beheaded French missionary priest Auguste Chapdelaine — and handed his countrymen a pretext for war.

Chapdelaine (English Wikipedia page | French) had gone illegally to the Chinese interior to proselytize Christianity.

The local mandarin Zhang Mingfeng was no doubt disposed to take such an harsh line against this provocation by virtue of the ongoing, Christian-inspired Taiping Rebellion, which had originated right there in Guangxi and was in the process of engulfing all of southern China in one of history’s bloodiest conflicts.

So Chapdelaine and his associates were snapped up, put to a few days’ dreadful torture, and on this date a Chinese convert and Chapdelaine were both summarily beheaded. (A female convert, Agnes Tsaou-Kong, expired under torture around the same time.)

Pietistic accounts of believers’ last extremes are here and here.


(Images from this French page.)

It took months for word of this martyrdom to reach French consular officials, and many months more for the gears of international diplomacy to turn — but when they did so, France pressed a demand for reparations.

Since pere Chapdelaine had been acting illegally in the first place, the Qing’s obdurate Viceroy Ye(h) adamantly refused to offer Paris satisfaction.

By 1858, this intransigence sufficed to license French entry (alongside Britain) into the Second Opium War, from which the Europeans won by force of arms a noxious treaty guaranteeing their right to push Christianity in China, extracting a couple million silver taels in damages, and (of course) assuring their right to traffic opium into China.

It would be rather ungenerous to hold all the ugly imperial consequences personally against our day’s martyr. August Chapdelaine was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2000 as one of 120 Martyrs of China.

China was not impressed by this celebration of a onetime colonial catspaw, and met the Vatican’s “anti-China” celestial promotion announcement with one of its own — charging that Chapdelaine “collaborated with corrupt local officials, raped women and was notorious in those areas [where he preached].”

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1476: The Garrison of Grandson, by Charles the Bold

2 comments February 28th, 2012 Headsman

On this day in 1476, the 412-strong garrison of Grandson, Switzerland surrendered to Charles the Bold during the Burgundian Wars … and was executed en masse by hanging and drowning.

Detail view (click for the full image) of a mounted Charles the Bold under a forest of hanged men.

Charles — less generously known as “Charles the Rash” or “Charles the Terrible” — was the Duke of Burgundy, an ancient territory whose warlike inhabitants were celebrated back to The Nibelungenlied

Upon his single person the sword-strokes fell thick and fast. The wife of many a hero must later mourn for this. Higher he raised his shield, the thong he lowered; the rings of many an armor he made to drip with blood … Then men saw the warrior walk forth in full lordly wise. As the strife-weary man sprang from the house, how many added swords rang on his helmet! Those that had not seen what wonders his hand had wrought sprang towards the hero of the Burgundian land. (XXXII)

In the 15th century, the swords ringing on Burgundian helmets were those of the French and the Habsburgs, who squeezed the mighty duchy on either side.

Charles the Bold fought the expansionist Burgundian Wars as a project to strengthen his duchy’s independence. But it would have the exact opposite effect.

The Swiss had been pulled into the anti-Burgundian league, and taken the city of Grandson, inducing an irritated Charles to put it to a fearful bombardment that threatened to overrun the place in short order.

Sources vary by partisan affiliation as to whether the besieged garrison surrendered at its antagonist’s discretion (Burgundian version) or on a pledge of mercy (Swiss version). But in the actual event, no mercy at all was given. To a man, the prisoners were strung up on trees and drowned in the adjacent Lake of Neuchatel — a warning to the Swiss not to mess with Burgundy.

It was bluster that Charles’s men could not back up when their opponents fought back … and after this, who was going to surrender?

A couple days later, the Swiss relief force arrived too late to bail out the garrison. Instead, it trounced the Burgundians in battle, sending them fleeing “without looking back, helter-skelter” as Charles, “exasperated beyond measure by the stupid cowardice of his troops, rode amongst them with drawn sword, striking them furiously, in the vain effort to bring them to a standstill.”

The victorious Swiss made off with a fantastic booty from the abandoned Burgundian camp, but also recovered a more dolorous prize.

There were found sadly the honorable men still freshly hanging on the trees in front of the castle whom the tyrant had hanged. It was a wretched, pitiable sight. There were hung ten or twenty men on one bough. The trees were bent down and were completely full. There hanged a father and a son next to each other, there two brothers or other friends. And there came the honorable men who knew them; who were their friends, cousins and brothers, who found them miserably hanging. There was first anger and distress in crying and bewailing.

Charles was plenty distressed himself at his embarrassing reversal, and boldly (or rashly) regrouped, marched on the Swiss again — and had Burgundian power decisively shattered at the Battle of Murten that June. The following January, a dispirited Charles died in another losing battle, leading the once-imperious realm of Burgundy to settle into French hands, where it remains today.

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1845: Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Dominican Republic heroine

Add comment February 27th, 2012 Headsman

We’ve previously noted in these pages Francisco del Rosario Sanchez, one of the Dominican Republic’s founding heroes, who in 1861 was shot for propounding independence.

Martyrdom was the family business.

On February 27, 1845, his sister Maria Trinidad Sanchez (Spanish link) had been, well, shot for propounding independence. (More Spanish)

That date, February 27, also happens to be the Dominican Republic’s Independence Day celebration — because a year to the date before her death, Maria Sanchez, her brother, and others of the anti-colonial La Trinitaria proclaimed independence from a bloody 22-year Haitian occupation.

Maria Sanchez, together with another woman named Concepcion Bona, made the first Dominican Republic flag.


Sanchez and Bona’s original flag for the Dominican Republic.

This was all well and good, until the resulting head of state steered the Dominican Republic towards recolonization by Spain, as a hedge against reconquest by Haiti. La Trinitaria types took an understandably dim view of this gambit, so busting them up was part of the deal.

Many of the country’s founding heroes, including brother Francisco, were chased into exile; Maria was rounded up by the new government and tortured for information about the Trinitarian “plots” against the new regime. She refused to name any names, and was shot on the country’s first independence anniversary.

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1870: Wyatt Outlaw lynched by the Ku Klux Klan

2 comments February 26th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1870, the lynching of a mulatto freedman in Alamance County, North Carolina sounded the tocsin for ex-Confederates’ rollback of Reconstruction.

Perhaps America’s most tragic period, the aftermath of the Civil War saw a too-brief attempt to enforce ex-slaves’ civil rights, before it succumbed to violent counterattack. The prevailing historiography in the century-long era of Southern apartheid that followed remembered it as a time of impertinent Negroes ravishing Dixie’s virtue by being seated in the legislature and giving orders to their natural betters.

Winners write history, after all.

Those of the pro-Republican coalition at the time, before Northerners folded their hand, had a mind to write a different history.

Alamance County was one epicenter of this aborted alternative. The enclave was cool to secession from the beginning, and in the early years of Reconstruction had a live black-white coalition. Wyatt Outlaw, a mixed-race Alamance native who had fought for the Union, was a local leader in it. A member of the antislavery Union League, which registered freedmen as voters throughout the South, he was appointed a town commissioner for Graham, N.C. under the state’s new constitution.

This made him a prime target of Ku Kluxers. On the night of February 26, 1870, an armed party of white supremacists about 100 strong raided his home and strung him up on an elm tree facing the county courthouse. Pinned to his corpse for the edification of the morning’s churchgoers was a note:

“Beware you guilty — both white and black.”

North Carolina Governor William Holden complained to the U.S. Senate of federal unwillingness to act against such outrages.

What is being done to protect good citizens in Alamance County? We have Federal troops, but we want power to act. Is it possible the government will abandon its loyal people to be whipped and hanged? The habeas corpus should be at once suspended.

After another pro-Reconstruction politician was murdered later that year, Holden boldly took the initiative himself and called out the troops to arrest suspected Klansmen. But the right-wing Democratic party won midterm elections in 1870, and promptly impeached Holden for this atrocious tyranny; he was the first U.S. governor ever removed from office by impeachment.*


A “carpetbagger” ally of Wyatt Outlaw named Albion Tourgee — a judge who stood as one of North Carolina’s most prominent and hated advocates for African American equality — later wrote a novel about his experiences, A Fool’s Errand, by One of the Fools. Now in the public domain and available free online, this book’s portrayal of the Reconstruction South is receiving renewed scholarly appreciation** — including Tourgee’s catalogue of terrorism against emancipated blacks and the Republican government. The novel was a sensation (pdf) in its time.

One of the characters in Fool’s Errand is a nearly exact representation of Wyatt Outlaw: “Uncle Jerry Hunt”, who resists the Klan. It is “chiefly through Uncle Jerry’s persuasions, and because of his prominence and acknowledged leadership, this spirit had gone out among the colored men of the county.” He meets a graphic end that almost journalistically reports Outlaw’s real fate.

It was a chill, dreary night. A dry, harsh wind blew from the north. The moon was at the full, and shone clear and cold in the blue vault.

There was one shrill whistle, some noise of quietly moving horses; and those who looked from their windows saw a black-gowned and grimly-masked horseman sitting upon a draped horse at every corner of the streets, and before each house, –grim, silent, threatening. Those who saw dared not move, or give any alarm. Instinctively they knew that the enemy they had feared had come, had them in his clutches, and would work his will of them, whether they resisted or not. So, with the instinct of self-preservation, all were silent–all simulated sleep.

Five, ten, fifteen minutes the silent watch continued. A half-hour passed, and there had been no sound. Each masked sentry sat his horse as if horse and rider were only some magic statuary with which the bleak night cheated the affrighted eye. Then a whistle sounded on the road toward Verdenton. The masked horsemen turned their horses’ heads in that direction, and slowly and silently moved away. Gathering in twos, they fell into ranks with the regularity and ease of a practiced soldiery, and, as they filed on towards Verdenton, showed a cavalcade of several hundred strong; and upon one of the foremost horses rode one with a strange figure lashed securely to him.

When the few who were awake in the little village found courage to inquire as to what the silent enemy had done, they rushed from house to house with chattering teeth and trembling limbs, only to find that all were safe within, until they came to the house where old Uncle Jerry Hunt had been dwelling alone since the death of his wife six months before. The door was open.

The house was empty. The straw mattress had been thrown from the bed, and the hempen cord on which it rested had been removed.

The sabbath morrow was well advanced when the Fool [i.e., Tourgee himself] was first apprised of the raid. He at once rode into the town, arriving there just as the morning services closed, and met the people coming along the streets to their homes. Upon the limb of a low-branching oak not more than forty steps from the Temple of Justice, hung the lifeless body of old Jerry. The wind turned it slowly to and fro. The snowy hair and beard contrasted strangely with the dusky pallor of the peaceful face, which seemed even in death to proffer a benison to the people of God who passed to and fro from the house of prayer, unmindful both of the peace which lighted the dead face, and of the rifled temple of the Holy Ghost which appealed to them for sepulture. Over all pulsed the sacred echo of the sabbath bells. The sun shone brightly. The wind rustled the autumn leaves. A few idlers sat upon the steps of the court-house, and gazed carelessly at the ghastly burden on the oak. The brightly-dressed church-goers enlivened the streets. Not a colored man was to be seen. All except the brown cadaver on the tree spoke of peace and prayer–a holy day among a godly people, with whom rested the benison of peace.

The Fool asked of some trusty friends the story of the night before. With trembling lips one told it to him,

“I heard the noise of horses–quiet and orderly, but many. Looking from the window in the clear moonlight, I saw horsemen passing down the street, taking their stations here and there, like guards who have been told off for duty, at specific points. Two stopped before my house, two opposite Mr. Haskin’s, and two or three upon the corner below. They seemed to have been sent on before as a sort of picket-guard for the main body, which soon came in. I should say there were from a hundred to a hundred and fifty still in line. They were all masked, and wore black robes. The horses were disguised, too, by drapings. There were only a few mules in the whole company. They were good horses, though: one could tell that by their movements. Oh, it was a respectable crowd! No doubt about that, sir. Beggars don’t ride in this country. I don’t know when I have seen so many good horses together since the Yankee cavalry left here after the surrender. They were well drilled too. Plenty of old soldiers in that crowd. Why, every thing went just like clock-work. Not a word was said–just a few whistles given. They came like a dream, and went away like a mist. I thought we should have to fight for our lives; but they did not disturb any one here. They gathered down by the court-house. I could not see precisely what they were at, but, from my back upper window, saw them down about the tree. After a while a signal was given, and just at that time a match was struck, and I saw a dark body swing down under the limb. I knew then they had hung somebody, but had no idea who it was. To tell the truth, I had a notion it was you, Colonel. I saw several citizens go out and speak to these men on the horses. There were lights in some of the offices about the court-house, and in several of the houses about town. Every thing was as still as the grave,–no shouting or loud talking, and no excitement or stir about town. It was evident that a great many of the citizens expected the movement, and were prepared to co-operate with it by manifesting no curiosity, or otherwise endangering its success. I am inclined to think a good many from this town were in it. I never felt so powerless in my life. Here the town was in the hands of two or three hundred armed and disciplined men, hidden from the eye of the law, and having friends and co-workers in almost every house. I knew that resistance was useless.”

“But why,” asked the Fool, “has not the body been removed?”

“We have been thinking about it,” was the reply; “but the truth is, it don’t seem like a very safe business. And, after what we saw last night, no one feels like being the first to do what may be held an affront by those men. I tell you, Colonel, I went through the war, and saw as much danger as most men in it; but I would rather charge up the Heights of Gettysburg again than be the object of a raid by that crowd.”

After some parley, however, some colored men were found, and a little party made up, who went out and saw the body of Uncle Jerry cut down, and laid upon a box to await the coming of the coroner, who had already been notified. The inquest developed only these facts, and the sworn jurors solemnly and honestly found the cause of death unknown. One of the colored men who had watched the proceedings gave utterance to the prevailing opinion, when he said,–

“It don’t do fer niggers to know too much! Dat’s what ail Uncle Jerry!”

And indeed it did seem as if his case was one in which ignorance might have been bliss.

The multitalented, ahead-of-his-time Tourgee might well have uttered the same sentiment in 1896, when he was the lead attorney on the losing side of Plessy v. Ferguson — the Supreme Court’s landmark sanction of the color line that Uncle Jerry’s hangmen had drawn.

There are a couple of interesting journal articles touching on Alamance County during Reconstruction which are freely available as pdfs from the Journal of Backcountry Studies: “Other Souths”: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Alamance County, North Carolina and Scalawags Among Us: Alamance County Among the “Other Souths”.

* Narrowly beating Nebraska’s David Butler, who got the boot a few months later. Holden remains the only governor to suffer this indignity in North Carolina history; there has been a recent push in the Raleigh legislature to posthumously pardon him. Holden’s own memoirs are also available free online.

** Along with the book’s contention that northern Republicans were to blame for vacillating on Reconstruction. “This cowardly shirking of responsibility, this pandering to sentimental whimsicalities, this snuffling whine about peace and conciliation, is sheer weakness … [the North is] a country debauched by weak humanitarianisms, more anxious to avoid the appearance of offending its enemies than desirous of securing its own power or its own ends.”

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1897: Henri-Osime Basset

2 comments February 25th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1897, all Versailles turned out to witness the beheading of recidivist pedophile Henri-Osime Basset, a 23-year-old who had kidnapped and strangled to death (French link) 13-year-old Louise Millier the previous summer.

Executioner Anatole Deibler and crew arrived at 3:30 a.m. to erect the portable guillotine at the pont Colbert* for the occasion, under the eyes of a curious pre-dawn crowd restrained by dragoons; by 4:45 la sinistre machine was fully installed.

About an hour after that, the prisoner Basset was awoken from his fitful sleep — he’d been plagued by restless guillotine-themed dreams lately, for some reason — and advised that his application for presidential clemency had been denied.

Le Petit Parisien nevertheless found the prisoner in steady enough spirits for his expiatory moment. He took the bad news with equanimity, received communion, and stuck close by the comforting priest to whom he had already given his last confession. (And who helpfully steeled the doomed man’s nerves with a steady supply of rum, cigars, and Bourdeaux wine.)

In any event, the practiced French executioners did not give Basset long to stew on his fate. After the toilette to prepare him for the blade, he was out the door shortly after 6 a.m. — broad daylight by now, and the crowd swollen in anticipation of the show. The blade fell at 6:33, and the remains of the late Henri-Osime Basset were immediately deposited at the Cimetirie des Gonards.

* This is pont Colbert in Versailles, not the cool then-new steel bridge in Dieppe, which is now the last hydraulic turn bridge still in use in Europe.

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1942: Five Jews in Sokal

1 comment February 24th, 2012 Headsman

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

The synagogue at Sokal.

On this day in 1942, the Nazis shot five Jewish men from Sokal, which was then part of Poland and now belongs to the Ukraine.

During the first years of the war, the Germans had designated Sokal as a Judenstadt (literally “Jew-town”), a central destination point for all Jews expelled from nearby towns and villages. Or, as diarist Moshe Maltz put it, “A solitary island in a sea of blood.”

It was Maltz, an Orthodox Jew and native of Sokal, who recorded the executions described in this entry. He kept regular notes throughout the war about the plight of Sokal’s Jews — not a diary exactly, but a chronicle, meant for the benefit of history.

On February 24, five Jews from Sokal were taken to a place somewhere on the outskirts of town and shot. One of them was Yeshaye, son of Yankel the coachman. In 1940, during the period of Soviet occupation, Yeshaye had been a coachman working for the NKVD. Now the Gestapo called him and ordered him to turn over to them the reins of his horses. They said to him, “We’ll give you three days to deliver those reins to us. If we don’t get them by that time, we’ll have you shot.” Yeshaye thought that the Gestapo must be joking. How could he go on working as a coachman without his reins? Unfortunately for Yeshaye, the Gestapo men were in dead earnest.

Also among the five shot was Dr. Knopf, a lawyer who had converted to Christianity. The Germans had ordered him to dismiss his Gentile maid so that she could be sent to work in Germany. Knopf petitioned the Gestapo to let him have his maid back. That’s why the Germans shot him. Despite his baptism, he was simply not an Aryan. The third victim was blind Yankel, who was found guilty of buying and slaughtering a calf. Under German occupation regulations, cattle can be slaughtered only by officially approved butchers.

In October 1942, the Jews of Sokal were confined to a ghetto. The following month Maltz wrote, with the same dispassionate tone, of the murder of his fourteen-month-old daughter at the hands of the Nazis.

Later in November he escaped from the ghetto with his wife and surviving son. They had made an arrangement with a Polish woman who lived nearby, and moved into her hayloft, above the pigsty.

Eventually fourteen people from three families in all would come to live in the hayloft. All of them survived except Maltz’s sister, who died of fever while in hiding. The others staggered out into daylight, barely able to walk, when the Russians liberated the area in July 1944.

Maltz and his entire family eventually emigrated to the USA.

After his death in 1993, his diary was translated and published under the title Years of Horror, Glimpse of Hope: The Diary of a Family in Hiding. In 2009, a Pennsylvania State University professor made a prize-winning documentary based on the book, called No. 4 Street of Our Lady. You can watch it on Netflix or read an article about it here.

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1906: Johann Otto Hoch, bluebeard

1 comment February 23rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1906, still implausibly claiming his innocence, “Johann Otto Hoch” was hanged for the murder of his wife.

Though Hoch died “merely” for that one homicide, he was suspected of numerous others in a prolific career of avaricious bigamy.

Born as Jacob Schmidt in Germany a half-century or so before he hanged, Hoch immigrated to the U.S. in the 1880s and started wife-hopping for fun and profit, recycling names almost as frequently. (Hoch just happens to be the alias he was using when arrested: actually, it was the name of one of his victims, “a warped keepsake stored in an evil mind.”)

It’s a classic scam, really: woo, wed, and walk out — taking the spurned spouse’s assets with. Rinse and repeat. In 1905, Charlotte Smith of the Women’s Rescue League estimated that “no less than 50,000 women who have been married, robbed and deserted by professional bigamists.” (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 5, 1905)

“Marriage was purely a business proposition to me,” Hoch eventually admitted.

Sometimes Hoch was content to vanish with the cash (with nice twists, like a hat left by a riverbank to suggest drowning). Other times, he went above and beyond the standard in the professional-bigamy industry and availed the expedient of loosing the matrimonial bonds (and the purses of life insurers) by graduating himself to widowhood.

Precisely how many women he poisoned off with arsenic isn’t known exactly, but it’s thought to range into the double digits. And when he was on his game, he was known to churn through the ladies at breakneck speed. His last murder victim, and the one he hanged for, was Marie Walcker of Chicago … but as Marie lay dying of her husband’s expert ministrations, Johann, bold as brass, proposed to Marie’s sister Amelia. Those two “lovebirds” married a week later and within hours, the groom had disappeared, pocking $1,250.

Call Amelia doltish if you will, but she went straight to the police. It turned out it was Hoch who recklessly set himself up for capture with this whirlwind double-dip courtship, and the very freshly buried evidence of his recent malignity was easily retrieved from his late ex’s stomach. When arrested in New York, Hoch had a hollow pen full of arsenic.

Naturally, the marriage proposals poured in as Hoch awaited trial early in 1905.

Hoch was actually within moments of hanging in July 1905 when his defense team finally managed to raise the last $500 necessary to lodge an appeal. That’s right: justice with a co-pay. The legislature had considered, but had not passed, a law giving every death-sentenced person the right to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, and in lieu of such a measure, an appellant had to pony up for the privilege.

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1684: Three Covenanters

Add comment February 22nd, 2012 Headsman

Just three indistinguishable Covenanters among very many in the Killing Time.

From the journal of John Erskine of Cardross:

22 February 1684. — After dinner I went to the Laigh Council house, where the three condemned men were brought before Baillie Chancellour, who inquired if they had any more to say for themselves, and if they would bid God save the King? They said, they were not now come to answer, neither would they answer questions, and the refused not to obey all the King’s lawful commands. They refused to hear one of the town curates pray; but he beginning, not desired, George Martin offered to interrupt him the time of his prayer, by saying, ‘Let us be gone, what have we to do here?’ but he ended his prayer without stopping. They were hanged in the Grassmarket, but I went not to the place of execution.

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1934: Augusto Cesar Sandino, national hero

1 comment February 21st, 2012 Headsman

“The sovereignty of a people cannot be argued about, it is defended with a gun in the hand.”

-Sandino

On this date in 1934, the first name in Nicaraguan anti-colonial resistance was abducted and summarily executed by the Nicaraguan National Guard.

From 1927 until his death, Sandino led an armed peasant insurgency from the Nicaraguan mountains against the Yankee imperialists and the domestic dictatorship they backed.

Washington had had its nose (and its marines) in Managua’s business for decades, continuously occupying the Central American country since 1912. The Marine Corps saw this country’s people as

Densely ignorant … little interested in principles … naturally brave and inured to hardships, of phlegmatic temperament, tough, capable of being aroused to acts of extreme violence, they have fought for one party or the other without considering causes since time immemorial … a state of war is to them a normal condition.*

All this was the time of Sandino’s own coming-of-age. The son of a wealthy landowner and his domestic servant, Sandino grew up with the unprivileged and the working classes, eventually asorbing an eclectic mix of that period’s revolutionary ideologies.

From 1927 he took to the Segovia and began writing the playbook for the 20th century guerrilla: mobile infantry irregulars, striking from familiar-to-them forest cover, melting away among sympathetic campesinos.

The “Colossus of the North” — Sandino made no bones about his foe; his personal seal showed an American marine being killed — invariably described him as a “bandit” because he also raided towns to commandeer food, clothing, and medicine.

“Washington is called the father of his country; the same may be said of Bolivar and Hidalgo; but I am only a bandit, according to the yardstick by which the strong and the weak are measured.”

-Sandino

The strong, in this case, found little public appetite for the steady attrition of servicemen, and the U.S. employed a familiar strategy of its own: “Nicaraguanizing” the conflict by building up a National Guard to do the dirty work domestically.

That Guard’s head was headed by Anastasio Somoza — the very son of a bitch of whom FDR said, “but he’s our son of a bitch.”

While it’s hardly the only country to have been favored with an American son of a bitch, you could say that Nicaragua has been the American empire’s very own heart of darkness. Washington’s initial interest in the place after the Spanish-American War concerned preventing a canal project to compete with Panama. It invented dive-bombing to hunt Sandino. And it ranged around the world and outside the law to battle Sandino’s successors under the aegis of a modern imperial presidency.

Small wonder that an official anthem of the movement denounces “The Yankee / The enemy of all humankind.”

In the immediate aftermath of the American departure in January 1933, Sandino began coming to terms with the the country’s new president: the Sandinistas disarmed in exchange for amnesty and land. But Somoza, who at this point was “only” the head of the National Guard, was building up his own power … and he meant to have done with this inconvenient insurgent.

After Sandino left a presidential meeting on this date, at which the erstwhile rebel negotiated for his continuing demand to disband Somoza’s Guardia, Sandino was stopped at the gates by Guardsmen. They took Sandino, his brother, and two of his generals and marched them off to be shot. Then the Guard forcibly broke up the Sandinista remnants. Somoza soon seized official power for himself; his family ruled, and plundered, Nicaragua until 1979. Washington never called them bandits.

While Sandino vanished (the whereabouts of his remains are unknown), his revolutionary vision and praxis also persist down to the present day.

Sandinismo (aging much better than Somocismo) would influence Fidel Castro and Che Guevara during the Cuban Revolution.

And in 1979, the Sandinista National Liberation Front finally succeeded in overthrowing the last loathsome scion of the Somoza dictatorship.

The United States, of course, went right back to war against its long-dead “bandit” foe.

* From Julian C Smith’s officially commissioned History of the Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua (1933), as quoted in Michael J. Schroeder’s “Bandits and Blanket Thieves, Communists and Terrorists: The Politics of Naming Sandinistasin Nicaragua, 1927-36 and 1979-90,” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 1 (2005).

Schroeder runs the definitive English-language website on Sandino and the original Sandinistas, with a truly vast collection of documents and resources.

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1677: Five witches at the Gallowgreen of Paisley

Add comment February 20th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1677, Janet Mathie, Bessie Weir, Margaret Jackson, John Stewart, and Marjory Craig were hanged for having bewitched a Sir George Maxwell of Pollok.

These unfortunates were “sacrificed on the altar of popular superstition”, in the words of a later broadside — one element of that superstition being the belief in the superordinary insight of the deaf-dumb.

God hath taken away the tongue and ear of the dumb, and hath given them a rich gift of knowledge in the room of it; and by this would teach all of us his goodness to his creatures, and that we should study humility and sobriety of mind.

This is a culture working with some embarrassingly primitive forensics to begin with.

So, when the Pollok lord started ailing, the indications by “a young deaf and dumb girl, of unknown origin,” to the effect that a local family was doing him mischief by stabbing a wax effigy, well, that was enough to open a case. When they found a wax effigy right where the girl pointed, “The prosecution wanted no stronger proof.”

So they got the 14-year-old daughter (she was spared execution this date) to confess, and tortured her brother into agreeing that the devil appeared as a cloven-hooved Negro, and our unnamed detective-girl miraculously found not one, not two, but three different effigies all attributed to the diabolical voodoo parties to cinch the condemnation.

It’s rather embarrassing what tripe did then and can still now pass for persuasive indicia of guilt among parties already committed to convicting someone. Like show trial victims, even the condemned were swept into the act of auto-denunciation — one final tenuous strand to link an outcast to her community, even from the stake. At least, some of them were.

John and Annabel exhorted their mother to confess, reminding her of all the meetings which she had had with the devil in her own house, and that “a summer’s day would not be sufficient to relate what passages had been between the devil and her.” But Jennet Mathie was a stern, brave, high-hearted Scotch woman, and would not seal her sorrow with a lie. “Nothing could prevail with her obdured and hardened heart,” so she and all, save young Annabel, were burnt; and when she was bound to the stake, the spectators saw after a while a black, pitchy ball foam out of her mouth, which, after the fire was kindled, grew to the size of a walnut, and flew out into sparks like squibs. This was the devil leaving her. As for Bessie Weir … the devil left her when she was executed, in the form of a raven; for so he owned and dishonoured his chosen ones.

“The dumbe girl, Jennet Douglas, now speaks well, and knows Latine, which she never learned, and discovers things past!” says Sinclair. But she still followed her old trade. She had mesmeric visions, and was evidently a “sensitive;” and some of the people believed in her, as inspired and divine, and some came, perhaps mockingly, to test her. (From E.L. Linton)

Sometimes, at least, these malevolent professional accusers get their comeuppance.

The dumb girl herself was afterwards carried before the great council at Edinburgh, imprisoned, scourged through the town, and then banished to “some forraigne Plantation,” whence she reappears no more to vex her generation. God forgive her! She has passed long years ago to her account, and may her guilty soul be saved, and all its burning blood-stains cleansed and assoilzed!

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