January 25th, 2015 Meaghan
(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
On this date in 1788, John Price Posey was publicly hanged in Richmond, Virginia for arson.
He was 35 years old, with two children.
Posey, born in 1752, didn’t have the kind of background you would expect for an executed felon. His uncle was the Revolutionary War general Thomas Posey. Posey himself was a childhood playmate of John Parke “Jacky” Custis, stepson of Founding Father George Washington.
John Price Posey grew up near the Washingtons’ Mount Vernon plantation and was a frequent guest there. After he completed his education, Washington helped him find a job. When Jacky Custis reached legal age, he appointed Posey as steward of his plantation in New Kent County.
All went well for awhile. Posey even became justice of the peace and served in the house of delegates between 1780 and 1781.
The situation soured, however, after Jacky died in November 1781. George Washington learned that his deceased stepson’s erstwhile friend had been embezzling money from Jacky’s estate. He had sold off some of Jacky’s slaves and pocketed the profits, and later on he was caught stealing a cow from the plantation. For this “abuse and misapplication” of his duties, Posey was fined a total of £225 and removed from his position as justice of the peace. In his correspondence, General Washington referred to him as a “Superlative Villain.”
In June 1787, Posey was arrested for assaulting a sheriff and sentenced to a month in jail. On July 12, he escaped. Three days later, he and an accomplice, Thomas Green, returned to the jail with two slaves called Sawney and Hercules. The four men set fire to the jail, went two miles up the road and then set the county clerk’s office on fire. It burned to the ground and all the county records stored within were destroyed.*
Posey was back in custody within a day of the arson attacks, and after his arrest, Thomas Green confessed to his role in the affair. Posey was brought to Richmond in chains to stand trial for arson, which was a capital crime at the time. Convicted on October 1, he filed an appeal. On January 18, 1788 the Virginia Court of Appeals voted nine to one to reject his petition for clemency, and told him he must die.
Posey then sent a written request to the governor, Edmund Randolph:
The unfortunate and most unhappy John Price Posey begs that a further indulgence of a few days could be allowed him — Hopeful that it would be attended with giving further relief to the peace of mind that your unfortunate petitioner is now in search of.
This bought him a week’s stay. On January 25, he was hanged on Richmond’s gallows alongside James M’Connell Fox, a murderer. His body was buried in an unmarked grave, possibly in the Mount Airy area.
Virginia law allowed the state to confiscate a person’s property in cases of capital convictions, but in this case, unusually, the Virginia legislature returned everything to Posey’s widow, Anne Kidley Posey. She ultimately remarried.
As for his partners-in-crime: Thomas Green was never tried for his role in the arson attacks, and the slaves Sawney and Hercules were ultimately pardoned and given back to their owner, Posey’s brother-in-law.
* New Kent County’s archives also held colonial-era records for several other counties. Posey’s spiteful torch wiped out a trove of invaluable colonial-era records and is still lamented by historians and genealogists whose work touches that period as “the greatest loss”.
On this day..
- 2017: Seven in Kuwait, including a sheikh - 2017
- c. 1560: Dominique Phinot, queer composer - 2016
- 1928: Ben “Two Gun” Fowler, cinema shooter - 2014
- 2010: Chemical Ali - 2013
- 1971: Ousmane Balde, Barry III, Magassouba Moriba, Loffo Camara, Keita Kara Soufiana, and many others in Conakry - 2012
- 1911: Sugako Kanno, radical feminist - 2011
- 1996: Billy Bailey, the last American hanged - 2010
- Daily Double: Throwback Executions - 2010
- 1795: Unspecified Robespierrists - 2009
- 1663: Nathaniel Greensmith, Rebecca Greensmith and possibly Mary Barnes, Connecticut "witches" - 2008