Archive for July, 2020

1909: Sheikh Fazlollah Noori, anti-constitutionalist martyr

Add comment July 31st, 2020 Headsman

Shia cleric Sheikh Fazlollah Noori was hanged by Iran’s Constitutionalist government on this date in 1909.

We’ve observed previously the convulsions of the 1905-1911 Persian Constitutional Revolution, which proposed to bind the Qajar dynasty with a parliament. The movement achieved a constitution in 1906, which was then violently abolished by the Qajar sovereign. We meet the Constitutionalists in this post at the apex of their counterattack, in the heady aftermath of the July 13, 1909 Triumph of Tehran that forced that same Qajar sovereign to abdicate in favor of his young son


Painting of the 1909 Triumph of Tehran, at Sa’dadab Palace.

Needless to say, this was a tight moment for anti-constitutionalists.

Noori was that — not just that, but an apostate who had once espoused a parliament to restrain the despotism of the shahs, but denounced the project as un-Islamic when Western-influenced secular liberals emerged at the helm. Noori had had in mind a collaboration between state and religious authorities that would ensure a godly ship of state.

The tracts he’d issued in those key years anathematizing the reformists — and the support that he’d given the Qajar anti-constitutional coup a couple years earlier — weighed against him once those same reformists seized power.

He’s a martyr in the eyes of present-day conservatives in the Islamic Republic, who view him as a key figure in recognizing the colonial and anti-Islamic bent of western-style parliamentarianism, and an essential theorist for Islamic governance.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Iran,Martyrs,Power,Religious Figures

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1680: David Hackston, Cameronian

Add comment July 30th, 2020 Headsman

Covenanter David Hackston was drawn and quartered at the Tolbooth on this date in 1680, for participating in the assassination of the hated (by Covenanters) Episcopalian Archbishop James Sharp a year before.

This primate of a landowning family of centuries vintage was a Cameronian — that is, a follower of Richard Cameron. Cameronians were the most prominent radical faction of Covenanters — Scottish Presbyterians who insisted upon the terms of the Covenant made by Presbyterians to support the restoration of the Stuart monarchy after the beheading of King Charles I.

At the time of that covenant, 1650, the executed king’s son Charles II was badly in need of allies, and in no small danger of fading into irrelevance in continental exile.

If one can test the character of a man by how he treats those who cannot help him, Charles fils failed the exam: as soon as he was restored to the throne in 1660, he renounced the deal and put the screws to religious dissidents, especially the sizable contingent of Scottish Presbyterians, Calvinists who chafed under top-down control of the (to their eyes) Catholic-esque Anglican hierarchy. Religious dissidence and political dissidence were heads of the same coin as Covenanters defied bid defiance to increasingly stringent measures meant to suppress their field preachers and the unauthorized religious gatherings they led.

The culmination of this hostility was the Killing Time, that period of the 1680s when Episcopalian forces were explicitly licensed to conduct summary executions of apparent Covenanters.

And that turn to the bloodiest phase of the struggle had a great deal to do with the Cameronians.

The aforementioned 1679 assassination of Archbishop Sharp was one such outrage. Our man David Hackston, a prominent dissident, was involved in the plot but stood by during the assassination, allegedly because a pending lawsuit between he and Sharp might have thrown an undue personal taint on a political murder. In images of the event, look for Hackston depicted on the fringes


Hackson holds his horses while his buddies do for Sharp. (cc) image by Kim Traynor of a memorial to Sharp, at St Andrews.

A year later, Hackston was part of the entourage of Richard Cameron himself when the latter marched into the village of Sanquhar and issued what’s known as the Sanquhar Declaration — an embrace of open rebellion, a gauntlet thrown at the feet of the House of Stuart.

[W]e, for ourselves, and all that will adhere to us as the representative of the true Presbyterian Kirk and covenanted nation of Scotland, considering the great hazard of lying under such a sin any longer, do by these presents, disown Charles Stuart, that has been reigning, or rather tyrannising, as we may say, on the throne of Britain these years bygone, as having any right, title to, or interest in, the said Crown of Scotland for government, as forfeited, several years since, by his perjury and breach of covenant both to God and His Kirk, and usurpation of His Crown and royal prerogatives therein, and many other breaches in matters ecclesiastic, and by tyranny and breach of the very leges regnandi in matters civil. For which reason we declare, that several years since he should have been denuded of being king, ruler, or magistrate, or of having any power to act or to be obeyed as such. As also we, being under the standard of our Lord Jesus Christ, Captain of Salvation, do declare a war with such a tyrant and usurper, and all the men of his practices, as enemies to our Lord Jesus Christ, and His cause and covenants; and against all such as have strengthened him, sided with, or anywise acknowledged him in his tyranny, civil or ecclesiastic; yea, against all such as shall strengthen, side with, or anywise acknowledge any other in like usurpation and tyranny — far more against such as would betray or deliver up our free reformed mother Kirk unto the bondage of Antichrist the Pope of Rome …

also we disown and by this resent the reception of the Duke of York [the heir presumptive, and the future King James II -ed.], that professed Papist, as repugnant to our principles and vows to the Most High God, and as that which is the great, though not alone, just reproach of our Kirk and nation. We also, by this, protest against his succeeding to the Crown, and whatever has been done, or any are essaying to do in this land, given to the Lord, in prejudice to our work of reformation. And to conclude, we hope, after this, none will blame us for, or offend at, our rewarding those that are against us as they have done to us, as the Lord gives opportunity.

It’s stuff like this that helped to catalyze the killing time — but also the destabilized legitimacy of a reigning house that would be seen off before the decade was out.

David Hackston was not around to witness that glorious legacy because he was captured shortly after the Sanquhar Declaration, at the same battle where Richard Cameron was killed. The Scottish Privy Council ordained him a gruesome fate.

That his body be drawn backward on a hurdle to the Mercat Cross; that there be a high scaffold erected a little above the Cross, where, in the first place, his right hand is to be struck off and, after some time, his left hand; then he is to be hanged up, and cut down alive, his bowels to be taken out, and his heart shown to the people by the hangman; then his heart and his bowels to be burned in a fire prepared for that purpose on the scaffold; that, afterwards, his head be cut off, and his body divided into four quarters; his head to be fixed on the Netherbow; one of his quarters with both his hands to be affixed at St. Andrews, another quarter at Glasgow, a third at Leith, a fourth at Burntisland; that none presume to be in mourning for him, or any coffin brought; that no person be suffered to be on the scaffold with him, save the two bailies, the executioner and his servants; that he be allowed to pray to God Almighty, but not to speak to the people; that Hackston’s and Cameron’s heads be fixed on higher poles than the rest.

Those piked heads also rose higher than their persecutors, however. An infantry regiment raised to support the new Protestant rulers William and Mary in 1689 was nicknamed “Cameronians” in tribute to this once-proscribed movement — and had the honor of “rewarding those that are against us as they have done to us” by playing a pivotal role in suppressing the forces still loyal to the deposed King James.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Murder,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Scotland,Soldiers,Treason

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1869: Katkeena and John Anayitzaschist, Glyphs and Gallows

Add comment July 29th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1869, two men of the aboriginal Hesquiat nation of Vancouver Island off British Columbia’s Pacific coast were hanged outside their village by the white colonial authorities, on the charge of gratuitously murdering the (again, white) survivors of a shipwreck.

The English-built barque John Bright foundered in a gale just offshore from the location of the eventual gallows in February of that same year, with all aboard lost — including apparently the wife of the captain, their children, and the pretty young English nursemaid who looked after them.* Although within sight of a Hesquiat village also called Hesquiat, the violent surf put the vessel beyond aid.

The tale of a ship lost to the sea soon became in the eyes of Vancouver Island’s European capital city, Victoria, a very different tale of villainous “West Coast savages.” An unprincipled trader named James Christenson was the first to report the shipwreck in Victoria and put about his suspicions that at least some of the John Bright‘s denizens had reached shore alive. His evidence for this claim was seeing several headless bodies. A more generous interlocutor might proceed from this observation to indict the implacable violence of the rough open-ocean surf that would have carried the drowned to shore, crashing through the John Bright‘s timbers and tossing boulders hither and yon.

Instead the most diabolical inferences were immediately bandied as fact, with the city’s preeminent journalist D.W. Higgins categorically broadcasting that the ship’s personnel “were without doubt murdered by the Indians” and whipping political pressure that forced the colonial government into action. The HMS Sparrowhawk was dispatched to investigate with its conclusions so firmly determined that the refusal of the ship’s doctor to endorse a finding of homicide relative to the bodies he examined did not save native canoes from a cannonade meant to force the village to surrender some suspects. In the end the gunboat returned to Victoria with seven new passengers, two of whom wound up on the gallows: a man named John Anayitzaschist, whom some witnesses accused in contradictory accounts of shooting survivors on the beach, and a wretch named Katkeena (or Kahtkayna) who wasn’t even present in Hesquiat Village at the time of the shipwreck. The former man was a factional rival of the Hesquiat chief. The latter “was a simpleton of inferior rank and considered so worthless that not one woman of his tribe would take him as a husband,” according to the Catholic missionary Augustin Brabant, who lived for many years afterward among the Hesquiat people. He seems to have been given over to the executioner because he was disposable.

The case has receive a bit of renewed scrutiny in the 21st century: the British Columbia government issued a statement of regret in 2012, and an empathetic musician composed a string quartet (“Cradle Song for the Useless Man”) in honor of the forlorn Katkeena.

Executed Today comes by the affair via a wonderful 1997 book, Glyphs and Gallows: The Art of Clo-oose and the Wreck of John Bright. Author Peter Johnson weaves the wreck of the John Bright and the legal shambles that ensued with his exploration of native art — including the titular petroglyphs etched into coastal stone by native artists where still they sit to this day.

Drawn to the story by (accurate) reports of glyphs depicting European ships, Johnson hiked to the petroglyph site at Clo-oose where he sketched and photographed these amazing productions. The glyphs tantalize with the never-consummated possibility that they might directly allude to the John Bright affair, but more than this: in Johnson’s telling, they’re a priceless point of contact offered us by the hand of the artist to a cosmology in the moment before it is irrevocably lost to the tectonic action of European settlement.

Soon after the John Bright affair, things changed on the coast. The Colony of British Columbia joined Confederation, and the Royal Navy no longer sent its gunboats to intimidate worrisome Aboriginals. Settlement occurred, law and order prevailed, the potlatch and the totem poles were taken away. Disease forced a good many Natives to sanitoria, and Native children were sent to the residential schools run by Roman Catholic and Anglican missionaries. Families were disconsolate. The soul of a race was broken, and the moss-wet forest slowly reclaimed the longhouses and the welcome figures of a once proud people. A whole culture was literally on the brink of being wiped out completely. And then, from the very edge of oblivion, the elders began to retell their stories. It was these bits of remembered tales, called up from a desperate soul’s interior like images forced onto stone, that would enable everything to begin again.

The motive for metaphor is the motive to create a story: it is the artistic drive. The impulse to use symbols is connected to our desire to create something to which we can become emotionally attached. Symbols, like relationships, involve us with deeply human attributes. Raven and Bear can speak to us directly. I can smile at the glyph of a seal, with its curious smiling head poking just above the water, and I am filled with wonder at the image of a bird carrying a small child or a bodiless head. A symbols is at once concrete, palpable, and sensual — like a rose. At the same time, it reaches beyond itself to convey an idea of beauty, of fragility, and of transience. The great thing about art is that it continually forces us to see new sets of resemblances. Those long-gone artists who created the petroglyphs at Clo-oose used two sets of symbols — their own and those of nineteenth-century Western Europeans — in order to depict a vignette that was firmly grounded in their point of view. Like the carvers of the Rosetta Stone, they wisely used sets of metaphors and imaginative icons against materialist images of nineteenth-century commercial technology. Unlike the Rosetta Stone, however, the petroglyphs of Clo-oose do not use one set of images to explicate the other; the petroglyphs of Clo-oose are stunning because they incorporate one set of images into the other. Like a series of lap dissolves in modern film, we are drawn to ponder one story while at the same time being faced with the jarring reality of another … They are rich metaphors of the interior world of Native spirituality and history, and they have been juxtaposed with metaphors of European conquest. As such, they are eloquent indeed.

It is impossible to completely crack the codes of the sailing-ship glyphs of Clo-oose because the meaning of the Native spiritual images cast upon the rocks on that lonely shore has died with those to whom it was relevant. Our interpretations are approximations born of respect for the images themselves and of a renewed feeling for the time. We are left to ponder one significant story born of cultural collision. The petroglyphs of Clo-oose have served us well. They have, like any great code, prompted us to express, and urged us to remember, what might otherwise have been ignored. They have brought some light to an obscure world.

“Petroglyphs, monuments, art, music, dance, poetry, etc. are at the core of any culture,” Peter Johnson told us in an interview. “Where a mix of cultures occurs, then look to its art as a means of understanding the complex motives of such clashes.”

Executed Today: It’s the “Gallows” that draws our site‘s eye but can you introduce the native-carved petroglyphs of Clo-oose, including glyphs of 19th century ships akin to the ones involved in your narrative? Twenty-plus years after your book, have these treasures become any better appreciated as art and cultural heritage, or any better preserved and curated at their site?

Peter Johnson: An excerpt of the Clo-oose affair from D. W. Higgins’s The Passing of a Race (Toronto: William Briggs Publisher, 1905) is included in the back of Glyphs and Gallows. Being directly facing the Pacific, the Clo-oose site is one of many that Higgins suggests captures Native / Indigenous interactions in the 19th century. The four ships at the Clo-oose Site, Higgins suggests, are: the Sparrowhawk (long thin one that the Royal Navy used as a gunship to apprehend the so-called guilty tribesmen who “murdered the crew of the John Bright as it foundered just offshore”); the John Bright (the other long one, a barkentine freighting lumber from the coast to Valpariso, Chile); and, the smaller two ships may have been ships that sailed to the site and “discovered” the bodies. The official name of the site (anthropologically speaking) is DdSf 1 or commonly called Blowhole Site, because of a spout of water that comes shooting out of a cleft in the rocky shore at high tide. Other sites nearby are Hill Site, nearby on a sandstone ledge showing a huge beaked bird, and a copulating couple. Southeast of Clo-oose about 6 miles away, is Carmanah Lighthouse; there is a site there that contains several petroglyphs of human figures (one seemingly impregnated with a child) and other sites nearby show huge, fat, birds, and various fishes. These don’t say anything we can understand about first contact with “whites” and are likely religious figures which had a role in Native cosmology or family organization.


Peter Johnson’s sketch of the Blowhole Site, circa mid-1990s: there’s no way to conclusively identify any of the ship images with any one specific vessel, but if we are to suppose that association then in Johnson’s estimation the ship at the top would be the Sparrowhawk and the one at just left of center at the bottom the John Bright. The image is (c) Peter Johnson and used with permission.

The maps, mention and location of the sites are no longer found in recent books about the West Coast Trail, and the sites themselves have been left to erode away along the shore. Since Glyphs and Gallows, there has been no attempt, that I am aware of, to cover, reveal or understand more of their cultural and artistic messages. It’s as if the Natives don’t wish any further trace of information to be transmitted to other cultures and perhaps, they don’t know any more about the sites than we do. For example, totem poles of other indigenous peoples are left, as part of their meaning, to rot in the bush. We have a different predilection, and that is to save objects from the past. Which is more important? Who knows? Perhaps, the one that serves the intent of the original artist is most important?

As sandstone erodes fairly quickly, these important cultural sites will be gone in 100 years. I personally believe they are very important artistically and historically. Were they found in Britain, like the monoliths on the Orkneys, (at Scara Brae) or Stonehenge and other henges, they would be covered and revered. Here, the new Natives at Clo-oose don’t seem to know much more detail about such petroglyphs at Clo-oose, or do not wish to preserve them as culturally important artifacts. Perhaps, too, they are too difficult to decipher, much like Champolion’s translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics, that previously to him took many hundreds of years. Native myths do not seem to be currently studied as much as they are simply appreciated … appreciation is good, but it’s only a start of understanding. Digging for meaning, beyond a purely aesthetic appreciation, is equally, if not more important.

One of the questions you set out to explore was whether these glyphs directly depict the events around the John Bright wreck and the subsequent hangings. Your answer is indeterminate on that … but how should we understand what they say more generally about the cultural upheavals concerning contact with Europeans, and about the civilization that preceded that contact?

The context of what happened during the first 50 years of European contact with West Coast natives, needs to be read about and understood by more “Whites” and Natives alike. D. W. Higgins believes whiskey traders destroyed many Native lives through the products they brought. (I don’t entirely believe this.) Higgins suggests in July 1858, the Native population in Victoria was 8,500, and goes on to say that at least 100,00 Natives perished from booze-related afflictions. I believe smallpox wiped out great numbers as Natives were moved away from Victoria up-country and spread the disease (like Covid), as they met other indigenous groups. Many were vaccinated, but Gov. Douglas at the time (1862), needed to save some vaccine for his own Europeans who settled in Victoria. They did not cruelly withhold the vaccine from the Natives, several European governors helped them as much as possible … that so-called dismissal today is a more popular misreading of the history of the time which serves a current, darker political purpose.

Once the idea that the John Bright survivors had reached shore only to be murdered by the Hesquiat got around, it’s comprehensible how a racist “tunnel vision” fit all facts into this understanding. However, I struggled with why this idea was initially formulated at all — it’s not the null hypothesis when a ship founders in a gale and nobody survives. Was it the shock value of “headless bodies” even though the Europeans on Vancouver Island should have been familiar with the devastating force of the surf? Was it a wholly cynical formulation by James Christenson to, as you put it, “elicit regular naval protection from Natives that he and other unscrupulous traders had cheated”?

Yes, it was a cynical formulation by Christenson and others to elicit naval protection from bald-faced raiding of their Native resources (lumber, fish, etc.). Shock value of the headless bodies certainly inculcated White racist reaction against Native action.

Victoria’s precarity at this moment, as a city that aspired to political leadership but was still a muddy frontier settlement, riven by class conflict, so bereft of women that they arranged bride ships — another of your books — and with a politically uncertain future between England, Canada, and the U.S. … felt eerily resonant with our treacherous current historical moment. Can we interpret the rush to judgment and the hangings here as to some extent expressions of a civic psychological insecurity? If so, did anyone involved in the prosecution later express any misgivings about it as Victoria grew and Canadian confederation became settled?

Yes I think so, not so much insecurity as fear. Myths had been perpetrated about Native violence (Natives attacked and killed white settlers on Lummi Island and in Cowichan Bay about this same time). So certainly, the Indigenous peoples gained much “bad press” about their time. That probably led to the gunboat frontier mentality of the time and the not-so-much later movement to remove the diminishing numbers of children in Native settlements to the White residential schools. This movement is usually interpreted as Native genocide on the part of ingigenous peoples and many Europeans themselves believe this. A few felt it was the only way to save what they believed was a dying culture by giving them proficiency in English so they could survive and integrate among a juggernaut of white settlers that became Canada. I guess the anxiety here is about the meaning on the word “integration.’

The debate over that issue remains. Too bad the petroglyphs are ignored today, they (and pictographs, etc.) could shed more light on the complex cosmology of the region’s Native cultures. Protest, and not an understanding of the historical context, seems to get more coverage. Real knowledge, not bitterness on both sides, is the answer. Proper historical co-operation would help immensely here.

One of the threads in your narrative is teasing out this undercurrent of skepticism about the verdict that stretches back to the European coroner who would not support a finding of homicide and includes the missionary priest Augustin Brabant, who extensively rebutted the D.W. Higgins narrative of native guilt … but only in private. Do we have any direct native sources from the time, or any later traditions, that tell us how the John Bright affair has been remembered in that community? And why did Brabant never publish his extensive personal knowledge from decades of living with the Hesquiat?

Father Brabant had a Catholic ulterior motive. His answer was to turn the Natives away from their own cosmology to a belief in Catholicism. That kind of religious zeal and “cultural blindness” led to the divisions we are trying to solve today. I bet very few remember the John Bright Affair or even care to, as an example and a means to dismiss and/or destroy early Native humanity. It took him years to write about his own view, likely because the Catholic Church would have condemned or excommunicated him.

[Brabant told Higgins in private correspondence that Christenson was at Hesquiat Village when the John Bright wrecked, but fled without attempting to render aid for fear that he would “expose myself to be killed by the Indians.” (That’s Brabant quoting Christenson at third hand.) Brabant thought Christenson only returned, weeks later, to cover up his own cowardice by bearing “to town a tale of cruelty, and barbarism, of which there is not a particle of truth.” Since Higgins extensively published the tale of cruelty and barbarism, it’s no surprise that he didn’t buy what Brabant was selling. Brabant also witnessed another shipwreck in 1882 — he wasn’t there for the John Bright itself — and described victims washing up on the beach in pieces, arms and legs horrifically torn from their torsos by the incredible force of the surf. -ed.]

* We lack a precise complement of the ship and especially of the women-and-children contingent, who were renumbered and rearranged by conflicting reports. Rumors that one or more of the children lived on as wards of this or that tribe circulated for years afterwars.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Interviews,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Wrongful Executions

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1999: Anthony Briggs, last(?) in Trinidad and Tobago

Add comment July 28th, 2020 Headsman

The most recent execution in Trinidad and Tobago occurred on this date in 1999.

A month after the much higher-profile hangings of crime boss Dole Chadee and eight of his associates, the far more mundane criminal Anthony Briggs was executed for murdering a taxi driver.

We’d hesitate to call this the last execution in Trinidad and Tobago. That Caribbean country has continued handing down death sentences and resuming executions has intermittently been a hot-button political issue; it’s perhaps largely because its prisoners submit appeals to the Judiciary Committee of the Privy Council in Westminster that executions never actually go forward. Should the dam ever break, however, Trinidad and Tobago boasts the second-largest death row in the Americas, after the United States.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Trinidad and Tobago

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1942: Valentin Feldman, “Imbeciles, it is for you that I die!”

Add comment July 27th, 2020 Headsman

Marxist philosopher and French Resistance figure Valentin Feldman was shot on this date in 1942, but he went out with an epic own of his firing squad: “Imbéciles, c’est pour vous que je meurs!” (“Imbeciles, it is for you that I die!”).

A Jewish emigre from the Soviet Union, Feldman (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed French) matriculated at Paris’s prestigious Lycee Henri-IV alongside such luminaries as Simone Weil and Maurice Schumann. He mobilized during the “Phoney War” run-up ahead of Germany’s blitz on France, publishing a short Journal de guerre about his experiences.

He was excluded from his teaching work by anti-Semitic laws, leaving him plenty of time for anti-occupation subversion until he was caught sabotaging a factory.

Feldman’s last words were so unsurpassably revolutionary and modern and French that Jean-Luc Godard built a 1988 short film, Le Dernier Mot, around them.

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1644: Andrew of Phu Yen, Christian protomartyr of Vietnam

Add comment July 26th, 2020 Headsman

Andrew of Phu Yen, the Catholic protomartyr of Vietnam, was executed on this date in 1644 at Ke Cham.

Baptized with his mother in 1641 by French missionary Alexandre de Rhodes, our man Andrew was only 19 years old at the time of his protomartyrdom.

Vietnam in this period was amid a long-running civil war that divided the country north and south; according to de Rhodes’s memoirs — Francophones can read it from chapter XXXII of his Voyages et missions du père Alexandre de Rhodes de la Compagnie de Jésus en la Chine et autres royaumes de l’Orient — a mandarin named Ong Nghe Bo showed up intent on suppressing Christian proselytization after (so he says) de Rhodes owned the local Buddhist monks in scholarly debate. This guy basically grabbed Andrew as the first available Christian convert to make an example of — right or wrong place at right or wrong time, depending on your perspective on eternal salvation. The French Jesuit would soon be expelled from the country but he was able to minister to his young charge in prison and accompany him to the execution grounds.

The soldiers surrounded him; they had put me out of their circle, but the captain allowed me to enter and stand beside him. He was thus on his knees on the ground, his eyes raised to the sky, his mouth still open, and pronouncing the name of Jesus. A soldier coming from behind pierced him with his spear which came out his front by the distance of at least two palms’ breadth; when the good André looked at me peacefully, as if saying goodbye; I told him to look at the sky, where he was going to enter. Our Lord Jesus Christ was waiting for him. He lifted up his eyes and did not turn them aside; the same soldier, having withdrawn his spear, transfixed him a second time, seeking the heart. This scarcely shook the poor innocent, which seemed to me quite admirable. Finally, another soldier seeing these blows had not knocked him down to the ground, attempted a death-stroke against his neck, but still not having killed him, he assailed him again at his throat. I heard very clearly that at the same time as the head was separated from the neck, the sacred name of Jesus which could no longer come out of his mouth, came out through his wound, and at the same time that the soul flew to the sky the body fell to the ground.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Religious Figures,Spearing,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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1645: Fourteen Essex witches

Add comment July 25th, 2020 Headsman

A True Relation of the Arraignment of Thirty Witches at Chensford in Essex, before Judge Coniers, fourteene whereof were hanged on Friday last, July 25 * 1645 * there being at this time a hundred more in severall prisons in Suffolke and Essex. Setting forth the Confessions of the principall of them. Also shewing how the Divell had carnall copulation with Rebecca West, a young maid, daughter to Anne West. And how they bewitched Men, Women, Children, and Cattell to death: with many other strange things, the like was never heard of before. The names of those that were executed. * Mrs. Wayt a Ministers wife * Anne West * Mother Benefield * Mother Goodwin * Jane Browne * Mother Forman * Rachel Flower * Mary Greene * Mary Foster * Jane Brigs * Mother Miller * Mother Clarke * Frances Jones * Mary Rhodes
The Confession of REBECCA WEST, daughter to Anne West of Colchester in ESSEX.

The said Rebecca confessed at the Barre, that about Shrovetide last her mother bad her make haste of her worke, for she must gee along with her before Sunne downe: and as they were going over the fields, her mother gave her a great charge never to speake of what shee should heare or see, and she faithfully promised to keep counsel. When she came to the house of meeting there were five Witches more; the two chiefs were Mother Benefield and Mother Goodwin: this Mother Goodwin pulled out a Booke, and after their manner they prayed out of it, and presently their severall Impes appeared in severall shapes: fix whereof appeared in the shapes of Kitnens [sic] about a weeke old in Mother Benefield’s lap, and after she had kissed them, she said unto Rebecca that those were all her children which she had by as handsome a man as any was in England. Then they commanded their Spirits come to kill such a mans Horse, some a cow, some a Childe, &c. then Mother Benefield called to mother West, and asked if she were sure that her daughter Rebecca would keepe counsel, or else she might seeke all their blood. She answered, Rebecca had promised. They all then replyed, if shee ever did speake of it that shee should suffer more tortures and paines on earth, then the paines of hell. Presently mother Benefield said, for more certainty let her take cur Covenant and Oath as we have already done. Then they taught her what to say, the summe whereof was to deny God and her Saviour Jesus Christ, to renounce all promises of his blessings, and the merits of his bitter death and passion, to beleeve as they did, and to serve and obey as they did. And the said Rebecca confessed that so soone as she had done thus, the Divel in the shape of a little blacke dog leaped into hes lap, & kissed her three times, but she felt them very cold. Shortly after, when she was going to bed, the Divel appeared unto her againe in the shape of a hand some young man, saying that he came to marry her. The manner was thus: he took her by the hand, and leading her about the roome, said, I take thee Rebecca to be my wife, and doe promise to be thy loving husband till death, defending, thee from all harmes; then he told her what shee must say, whereupon she took him by the hand and said, I Rebecca take thee to be my husband, and doe promise to be an obedient wife till death, faithfully to performe and observe all thy commands; the first whereof was that she should deny and renounce as aforesaid. And being asked by the Judge whether she ever had carnall copulation with the Divel, she confessed that she had. And being asked divers questions by a Gentleman that did speake severall times with her before and afterward (giving her godly and comfortable instructions) she affirmed that so soone as one of the said Witches was in prison, she was very desirous to confesse all she knew, which accordingly the did, whereupon the rest were apprehended and sent unto the Gaole. She further affirmed, that when she was going to the Grand Inquest with one mother Miller (indicted for a Witch) she told mother Miller that shee would confesse nothing, if they pulled her to pieces with pincers: and being asked the reason by the Gentleman, she said she sound her selfe in such extremity of torture and amazement, that she would not endure it againe for the world: and when she looked upon the ground shee saw her selfe encompassed in flames of fire: and presently the Grand Inquest called for her, where they admit but one at a time, and so soone as she was thus separated from this mother Miller, the tortures and the flames beganne to cease: whereupon she then confessed all shee ever knew, and said that so soone as her confession was fully ended, she found her conscience so satisfied and disburdened of all her tortures, that she thought her selfe the happiest creature in the world: withall affirming that the Divel can take any shape, and speake plaine English.

Another Witch sent her maid to a neighbours house for a handfull of herbes, who meeting with her sweetheart staid an houre by the way, saying she should bee halfe hanged for staying so long: whereupon he told her that in such a place in their owne garden there grew the same herbes, so it was but going over the pale and her journey was ended; which she did, and pleased her mistris well for her long stay, by bringing those herbes. At night her mistris bade her go up to bed first, which made her mistrust something; where upon she peeked between the boards, and observed her mistris to cut the herbes in small peeces, shrewing them about the roome: the next morning her husband rising betimes found twelve or fourteene great Hogs, being all his owne, dead in the yard, and so for his Sheepe and all his other Cattell, and telling his wife how they were undone, she replyed, Hath the queane served me thus? she shall suffer for it. Then he examined the maid, and both gave evidence. This was at Ipswich in Suffolke.

The evidence of Mr. Long a Minister neere Colchester in Essex.

First, that as he was riding on the way, the shape of a red Dog passed by him, at which his blood did rise: and being passed a small distance, turned his face, his eyes appearing not like the eyes of any creature, his horse presently started, and never left kicking and flinging untill he threw him downe, but had no hurt. An old woman in the Towne called goodwife Clarke being mistrusted and examined before Sir Thomas Boes, confessed that she sent forth this spirit, with command to make the horse throw Mr. Loig and breake his necke: and being demanded by Sir Thomas Boes what was the reason the Spirit did not performe her commands, she answered because the power of God was above the power of the Divel. But the horse did pine to death for his punishment.

The evidence of the said Mr. Long.

He said that one morning as he was walking abroad, a poore woman being of his own Parish spake kindly to him, but his answer was that he had a long time a good opinion of her, although he ever accounted her sister, an ill liver, and little better then those that are accounted Witches, but now he strongly beleeved that her sister had made her as bad as herselfe; this much troubled the old woman, and she would not leave following and perswading of the said Mr. Long to bee of his former good opinion, professing her own innocence in any ill of such nature, or any compact with such evil Spirit whatsoever: but finding him not satisfied with any thing she had said, she assured him she would give him an evidence undenyable, whereupon she lifted up both her hands towards heaven, calling God to witnes, and desired that he would shew a present Iudgement upon her if she were not innocent and cleare: now Mr. Long affirmed upon his oath that these words were no sooner out of her mouth, but she was strucke to the ground upon her back before his face, where she did lye in a most lamentable condition, trembling and crying; be took her up and carried her into an Alehouse hard by, where she did lie in this extremitie two dayes, and that so soone as she came to herselfe he gave her the best comfort he could, shewing how mercifull God had beene to her in sparing her life, giving her time of repentance, the first step whereof must be her confession and contrition, whereupon she confessed that she had done much mischief, and that she had compacted with the Devill, that hee usually sucked her and appeared unto her in the shape of a Squirell. These aforesaid Witches have confessed that they did raise the great windes in March last, and caused a Hoy to be cast away, wherein were many passengers.

When these Witches came first into the Gaole at Colchester, the Gaoler lost his meat often, and mistrusting that the Witches had got it, upon a time bought a good shoulder of Mutton, and said hee would looke to the dressing of it himselfe, but when it was ready the Witches had got it, and all the while the Witches were at supper with it, the Gaoler in stead of Mutton was eating Hogs-wash.

After this the Gaoler desirous to see more of their feats, intreated some of them to shew him a little of their cunning, thinking to make himselfe meny for the losse of his meat, whereupon one of the Witches bid him goe fetch her foure pewter dishes wherein never water came; straightway went the Gaoler to a Pewterer and got 4. new dishes, and afore he brought them to the Witch he wet one of them, contrary to the Witches direction, neverthelesse as soone as the Witch had them, she put her bands and feet into the foure dishes, and upon an instant was lifted into the ayre with three dishes that were dry, the fourth falling off, and by good chance was found in a meadow about halfe a mile off, and brought backe to Prison.
                                            

F I N I S.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Witchcraft,Women

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2003: Allen Wayne Janecka, hit man

Add comment July 24th, 2020 Headsman

Contract killer Allen Wayne Janecka was executed in Texas on this date in 2003.

This bearer of the classic middle name was the instrument and the last casualty of a Houston insurance agent’s campaign for blood money. Markham Duff-Smith, the insurance agent in question — a man whose lifestyle rather outstripped his premiums — had hired Janecka way back in 1975 to murder his, Duff-Smith’s, adoptive mother so that he could take early collection on some inheritance.

Janecka did that, and everyone got away with the crime, Gertrude Duff-Smith Zabolio being taken for a suicide. But of course Duff-Smith’s issue was voracity and by 1979 he’d burned through the windfall … and he ran the same play a second time, retaining Janecka to murder his adoptive sister Diana Wanstrath, her husband, John; and their 14-month-old son, Kevin. When this trio was found shot to death, the coroner initially ruled it a murder-suicide.

A Javert-like detective who was convinced of foul play cussedly kept the investigation going, even publicly airing his dissent from the official finding which caused Duff-Smith to contemplate whacking him. When the only tool you have is a hit man, every problem looks like a hit.

(Janecka in this instance was the voice of reason, refusing the contract on the obviously correct grounds that such an act would bring way too much heat. You can read all about dogged investigator Johnny Bonds in The Cop Who Wouldn’t Quit.)

Not until late 1980 did the needed break emerge, in the form of some incriminating letters between Duff-Smith’s go-between and Janecka. The latter’s unveiling in the suspect brother’s orbit soon exposed the murder scheme, including the 1975 hit.

Duff-Smith was executed in 1993 for instigating the whole catastrophe.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Pelf,Texas,USA

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1880: George Bennett, assassin of George Brown

Add comment July 23rd, 2020 Headsman

He has gone to his death through an oversight on my part. It was a foolish thing for me to have drawn the revolver, but I was in liquor or I would have never done it. I could not control the event. I went there purely on a matter of business and my business was very simple and very plain. The result was as it was. I am prepared to die.

-George Bennett

George Bennett hanged at Toronto on this date in 1880 for murdering George Brown.

By far the more consequential figure in the transaction was the victim. One of the Fathers of Confederation, the visionary Scottish emigre bequeathed to the country he helped to shape such institutions as the Liberal Party and the Toronto Globe (now the Globe and Mail, after a 20th century merger with a rival newspaper). His personal and political rivalry with Conservative lion John A. Macdonald, and the “Great Coalition” formed by these two to steer a faltering polity deadlocked by the mutual vetoes Anglophones and Francophones towards the Canadian Confederation, is the subject of a fine 2011 CBC film, John A.: Birth of a Country.

Brown’s killer, and our date’s principal, was Brown’s employee for five-ish years, as an engineer in the boiler room. He had a dissolute, chaotic life, marked by frequent domestic disturbances and heavy drinking. It was his propensity for turning up to work drunk that set in motion the tragedy, for his mishandling of the boiler one night early in 1880 led to his dismissal by the foreman.

A great scribbler of words, Bennett in this time produced copy by turns vengeful and despairing, and of course he kept hitting the bottle. On March 25, he turned up at his former workplace where he rantingly accosted several former coworkers. By late afternoon he’d found his way to George Brown’s office, and inviting himself in he proceeded to importune the publisher with his disordered grievances. At last he pressed Brown to sign a paper affirming his length of employment. Brown had little idea who this impertinent drunk was, and still less that the impertinent drunk was armed; the boss’s attempts to redirect Bennett to his supervisor or the business administrators to address his paperwork request enraged his ex-employee, who suddenly produced a pistol and through a scuffle put a ball into George Brown.

One wouldn’t think the injury pictured above would be fatal; indeed, the next day’s Globe exulted that “Yesterday afternoon one of the most seditious and dastardly attempts at murder ever made in this city took place in the private office of the Hon. George Brown in the Globe Building. Fortunately, owning mainly to Mr. Brown’s presence of mind and superior physical strength, the attempt was unsuccessful, the only results being a severe flesh wound to the thigh and the nervous prostration which is the inevitable result of such an encounter. Had the miscreant who made the murderous assault been a little more prompt in taking his aim, or had the pistol been of a different construction, the attempt could hardly have resulted so favourably, for he persisted in his efforts to effect his bloody purpose until he was overpowered and the weapon was wrenched from his grasp.” But the relief proved premature when the leg wound torn by Bennett’s bullet turned gangrenous and eventually — seven weeks later — killed Brown.

Monuments to the murdered statesman abound in Canada, including the Second Empire home he built and died in, preserved as the historic George Brown House, and George Brown College. His whiskered statue strides on Parliament Hill.

Brown’s widow returned to Scotland with her children, and the Canadian hero’s son George Mackenzie Brown followed his father’s career in both printing and politicking: per Wikipedia, “As a publisher, he produced Arthur Conan Doyle’s books; as a politician, he beat him to win election to the House of Commons.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims

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1881: Albert and Charles Talbott, bad sons

Add comment July 22nd, 2020 Headsman

Dr. Perry H. Talbott was among the most prominent citizens of Nodaway County, Missouri. In addition to being a skilled physician, Talbott was state legislator, a writer and a newspaper editor. He was a civic minded citizen with strong beliefs, highly admired by friends and neighbors. But towards his family, Dr. Talbott was cold and distant. Miserly and neglectful, he had little interaction with his children beyond the occasional scolding. When Dr. Talbott was shot by an unknown assassin on September 18, 1880, in his dying breath he blamed his political enemies. The Nodaway county authorities, however, believed the killer was someone closer to home.

-Profile of the July 22, 1881 Marysville, Missouri hanging of Albert and Charles Talbott at friend of he site Murder By Gaslight. Enjoy in full here.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Missouri,Murder,Public Executions,USA

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