1709: Thomas Smith, Aaron Jones, Joseph Wells, and John Long 1953: Carl Hall and Bonnie Brown Heady

1668: Walter P(e)ake

December 17th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1668, Walter Peake or Pake was hanged in front of his own inn, for the drunken murder of his friend (and his occasional lawyer).

Our narrative below comes from an 1855 volume determined to establish the ancient presence (if not perhaps the consistently laudable behavior) of Catholics in Maryland. The distractingly jagged interposition of microquotes is original to the piece; these all allude to the record of the trial preserved in the Archives of Maryland, Volume 57. The indictment appears on p. 352 and after a couple of additional interceding indictments touching unrelated cases, the record of Peake/Pake’s trial unfolds from p. 354-356.

A genealogist’s take on this dangling ancestor is also available here.


It still remains for us, to notice the life of another Assembly-man of 1649; but one upon whose memory, is cast the shade of sin and shame; whose fate it was, under the stern laws of that period, to look forward, as the consequence of his own deed, to the forfeiture of all his lands, and to the beggary of his children; and, about the sixtieth year of his age, to suffer a felon’s death. The time of his arrival is not exactly known; but it is probable, he came in 1646; and that, in 1648 and 1649 (when he sat in the Assembly, apparently one of the most respectable members), he resided in Newtown hundred; as he certainly did soon afterwards, and for a period of many years later. From his association with Governor Calvert, we cannot doubt the sincerity of his attachment to the proprietary’s government. There is also further evidence of his faith in the Roman church, derived from the fact, that he did not sign the Protestant Declaration; from the composition of the jury, which tried his painful case; from his intimacy with many of the noted members of the Roman church, from more than one of whom did his children, at different times, receive those gifts, which it was so much the practice of the early colonial god-fathers to present; from the well-known Roman Catholic family of Peake, living in St. Mary’s, as late as the American Revolution, whose ascent indeed cannot be clearly traced (such has been the destruction of our records), but who, we have but little ground to doubt, were either his lineal or his collateral descendants; from the names given to his children; and from the marks borne by the tracts, he had taken up. His eldest daughter was named after the Virgin Mother; his son, in remembrance of him who is regarded as the chief of the Apostles, and the founder of the universal primacy of the Roman see. The names of his wife, of a second daughter, of a third member of his family, and of a friend, were, each of them, given to corresponding tracts, all of which had the prefix of St. More estates were surveyed for him, with the Roman Catholic mark, than for Governor Calvert, for Capt. Cornwallis, for Mr. Lewger, for Doctor Gerrard, or for any other Roman Catholic colonist in the whole province of Maryland. The evidence is conclusive.

At St. Mary’s city, in the month of December, during the year 1668, sat the high Provincial Court of the Right Honorable Cecilius, the lord proprietary. Charles Calvert, the governor, subsequently the third baron of Baltimore, was the chief justice. Before the bar of this tribunal, appeared this Assembly-man, indicted for the murder of William Price, by piercing him, with a “sword,” “on the left,” “through, to his right side, under the shoulder;” and then cutting his “throat,” to “the depth of three inches.” His plea (the usual one in such cases) was Not Guilty. Thomas Sprigg was the chief member of the grand jury; and Christopher Rowsby (destined, himself, many years afterwards, to die by the hand of violence*), the foreman of the panel summoned to try the case. No technical objection is made to the indictment; no attorney appears on the prisoner’s behalf; no testimony is offered in his defence; no witness for the proprietary, in any way, crossexamined.” The jury retire; but soon return with their verdict. Asking the court to say, whether the deed was manslaughter, or murder; they find he “is guilty of the death,” but “was drunk” at the time, and knew not “what he did.” He addresses no appeal to the sympathy of the judges; he submits no objection to the form of the verdict; but still remains in silence. “The whole bench, then,” decide, he is guilty of “murder.” But neither against the decision of the court, nor the impending sentence of death, does he utter a word. Once, and once only, did he open his mouth. It was the moment after the sentence. Then, he “desired,” as a favor (and the request was not denied), that “he” might “suffer death before his own house, where he” had “committed the fact.” Thus perished and passed away, upon the gallows, in the spirit of a Catholic penitent, after a life of toilsome, heroic sacrifice in the wilderness, one of the men so honorably connected with the most sublime and magnificent conception of the seventeenth century! Pope Alney was the name of his executioner — the only fact, which gives him a claim to any place upon the page of our country’s history.

* Rowsby (alternatively, Rousby) was fatally stabbed by George Talbot, a nephew of Lord Baltimore. (There’s a Talbot County, Maryland, which isn’t named for him personally but whose existence testifies to his family’s pull.) Talbot hid out in a cave that still bears his name on Garrett Island (aka Watson’s Island) — diligently fed by falcons, per local legend — before surrendering himself to judgment and the pardon of his kinsman, the governor. -ed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Maryland,Murder,Public Executions,USA

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