Little primary documentation about these hangings appears to be conveniently available absent a visit to Williamsburg’s archives, but the bare outline of murder in the colonial servants’ quarters lifts the eyebrow. Was our Bess’s crime connected to the horse thief’s, leaving the shades of two star-crossed lovers in death like Bess and her highwayman of verse?
And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
Virginia Gazette, Nov. 5, 1736.
Virginia Gazette, Nov. 26, 1736.