Two hundred years ago today, Bath County, Kentucky housewife Eleanor (sometimes spelled Ellenor) Gillespie hanged “at the forks of the road on Mt. Sterling pike” for strangling her abusive husband.
The best account we’ve found of this affair is the Gillespie family lore as related in a letter to the Bath County News-Outlook on Nov. 4, 2009.
The family version of events was that [second husband, and sheriff, John] Hawkins was a drunkard who was both physically and sexually abusive to Eleanor and her children. She couldn’t turn to “the law” for help as he was the law. She took matters into her own hands on the night in question. He was drunk and up to the usual. Luckily for little 7 yr. old Rebecca Gillespie, he passed out before he was able to abuse her. Eleanor had had enough. With the help of her son [Jacob Gillespie, aged about 14 years and therefore lightly handled by the law] they tied a rope around the man’s neck and as the family version goes, “One went one way and the other went the other way.” …
The acting sheriff after the murder was none other than the son of John Hawkins … Hawkins, Jr. is the one who quite possibly started the rumor that Hawkins was murdered over money, not wanting to real reason to get out.
It seems that Eleanor still enjoyed some public sympathy notwithstanding; local magnate George Lansdown(e) was involved in a caper to spring her from jail, perhaps owing a debt of inspiration to the cross-dressing flight of Jacobite Lord Nithsdale: Lansdown called on the jail as a visitor and there stripped himself so that Eleanor could put on his civilian men’s clothing and just stroll on out of lockup.
She just about accomplished this but a do-gooder or do-badder guard named David Fathey recognized her on the way out and arrested her; evidently our disrobed rescuer was counting on some look-the-other-wayism via what must have been a sentiment widely abroad in the community, for “Lansdown was incensed at Fathey for not permitting her to escape; a fight ensued and Fathey whipped Lansdown.”