Posts filed under 'Death Penalty'

1819: Nathan Foster, wife-killer and patriot-killer

Add comment August 6th, 2019 Headsman

Two hundred years ago today, Nathan Foster hanged in Masonville, New York.

The crime on his charge sheet was poisoning his wife, Eleanor, to get with the pretty young maid she hired.

But little less damning in the eyes of his neighbors was the belief that he had taken the life of a patriot while fighting the pro-British side during the American Revolution.

Foster was a tory during the Revolution, and is reported to have been the identical person who inhumanly murdered Col. Alden, at the massacre of Cherry Valley, in 1777. Priest, in his narrative of the capture of David Ogden, who died a short time since in Franklin, Delaware County, thus refers: “This act of barbarity was perpetrated by a man named Foster, a tory at that time, and the same, who a few years since (1819) was hanged for the murder of his wife, by poison, in Delaware County, N.Y. at Delhi. That the same Foster did murder Colonel Alden, was ascertained by a certain James Campbell, another tory, who stated to David Ogden, that he had heard this Foster boast of the act, while they were both with the British at Niagara. He was at length overtaken by justice, and ended his miserable life on the gallows, although at the advanced age of __ years. He died without a confession of his guilt.

Foster’s prosecution had the aid at the very bar of New York’s Attorney General — the future United States President Martin Van Buren. There’s a #longreads piece on the man and the case available from New York History Review.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Notable Participants,Public Executions,USA

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1678: Thomas Hellier, “Groans and Sighs”

1 comment August 5th, 2019 Headsman

Thomas Hellier, a miserable New World indentured servant who murdered his master and mistress along with another servant to escape his Virginia plantation, was hanged on this date in 1678.

Desperate in London after frittering away the £12 he stole from his parents without successfully getting his barbering/surgeon business off the ground, Hellier was talked into signing into an indenture. To his recruiter, the skeptical Hellier remembered (in his gallows confession),

I replied, I had heard so bad a character of that Country, that I dreaded going thither, in regard I abhorred the Ax and the Haw. He told me, he would promise I should be onely employ’d in Merchants Accompts, and such Employments to which I had been bred, if they were here used.

Just get them to sign on the line which is dotted. Promises to the contrary, Hellier upon arrival got sold straightaway to a farm that calloused his surgeon’s hands with all the abhorrent tools. The place was literally named the Hard Labour Plantation.

Friend of the site Anthony Vaver (author of Bound with an Iron Chain and Early American Criminals) has a nice profile of this small bit of chum for the emerging Atlantic economy on his site Early American Crime.

It seems that after trying and failing to escape his farm once, Hellier loosed himself by busting into the master’s bedchamber with an axe and bashing to death Mr. Cutbeard Williamson — right hand to God, that’s the name — and his wife, plus the maid who also resided in the house. Although he fled the grounds, neighbors suspicious of his close-cropped hair — a scarlet letter imposed after his previous escape to mark him as a runaway — detained him and the law soon caught up.

Hellier took the opportunity of his execution to sting the Virginia planter class for its abuse of employees, although to some readers eyes it might equally appear a manifesto for laziness.

How much more consonant and agreeable were it to common Policy, Self-interest, as well as true Christian Charity, for all Masters in Virginia, Planters as well as others, to consider first their own Ability, and the Capacity of the Servants whom they designe to purchase, before they deal for them; sincerely at the same time imparting to them, What their Work must be, and what their Usage? And if, by enquiry into their former Condition, they discover them improper persons for their purpose; How much a wiser course were it, that such should seasonably pitch their choice on some others, more useful for them? Or if they will chuse no others, Conscience and Christianity sure ought to oblige them to use such Servants as their Christian Brethren, with Gentleness and Courtesie, content with their honest endeavours, not Tyrannizing over Christians, as Turks do over Galley-slaves, compelling them unmercifully beyond their strength.

For though Masters justly do expect and require Fidelity and painful Industry from their Christian Servants, and such Servants ought to put themselves forth to their utmost power for their Masters Benefit: Yet, the merciful Man exerciseth Mercy towards his Beast, much more toward a Christian Servant. And let cruel, tyrannical, Egyptian Task-masters know, that their Master is also in Heaven, whose Omniscience beholds and knows all persons dealings, and will judge according to Equity, without respect of persons, in his own due time, and listen to the Groans and Sighs of poor oppressed Wretches, vindicating the cause of injur’d Innocents, retributing crosses, vexations and troubles to all Wrong-doers.

And whereas this poor Penitent Wretch declar’d, That the bitterness of his ill-tongued Mistress was the main immediate provocation prompting and exciting him to give way to Satan’s suggestions, while he tempted him to perpetrate this horrid, execrable Outrage: I suppose, all will grant, that Bitterness in any case (especially to morigerous Servants of a gentle Temper, obediently willing to do their endeavours) is no way Christian-like nor commendable, but rather Patience and kinde usage … Also you that are Masters of Servants in this Country, have respect to them, to let them have that which is necessary for them, with good words, and not (Dam you dog, do such a thing, or such a thing.) They are not Dogs, who are professed Christians, and bear God’s Image; happily they are as good Christians as your selves, and as well bred and educated, though through Poverty they are forced to seek Christianity under thy roof; where they usually find nothing but Tyranny. Be good to your Servants, as you would have God be good to you. Servants, in all things obey your Masters according to the flesh, not with eye-service as man-pleasers, but with singleness of heart, fearing God. Masters, give to your Servants what is right and equal; know that you also have a Master in Heaven.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,USA,Virginia

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1789: Ford, unfortunate wretch

Add comment August 4th, 2019 Headsman

This story hails from Dublin by way of the New York Daily Gazette, Oct. 31 1789:

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Ireland,Public Executions

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1151: Konrad von Freistritz, ruined

Add comment August 3rd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1151, Konrad von Freistritz, the nobleman who built Henneburg castle, was beheaded for treason along with his brother Adalram.

The few Germanic sources for this event do not appear to preserve the particulars of his misbehavior, although his situation as a descendant of the recently diminished Aribonen dynasty suggests a probability.

Ruins of his former fortress persist in Styria (present-day Austria), not to be confused with the far more picturesque Bavarian Henneburg castle, adjacent to Stadtprozelten — nor with the Henneberg ruin in Thüringen.

As with its builder’s biography, not a whole hell of a lot of the castle remains, but some photos of mossy rubble can be perused here.

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Entry Filed under: 12th Century,Austria,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Treason

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1941: Louis Berrier, messenger pigeoner

Add comment August 2nd, 2019 Headsman

Notice: Louis Berrier, a resident of Ernes is charged with having released a pigeon with a message for England. He was, therefore, sentenced to death for espionage by the court martial and shot on the 2nd of August.
From the Channel Island Military Museum on the Channel island of Jersey; image courtesy of Trip Advisor.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Channel Islands,Death Penalty,England,Espionage,Execution,History,Jersey,Shot,Wartime Executions

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1630: Guglielmo Piazza and Giangiacomo Mora, colonna d’infamia

Add comment August 1st, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1630, a ludicrous disease panic sent two innocent men to the scaffold in Milan.

Terrified as their family and neighbors dropped dead around them of a raging bubonic plague outbreak, the surviving Milanese sprouted buboes on their brains.


1630 illustration of the plague-wracked Milanese doing the bring-out-your-dead thing.

Just days before the executions marked in this post, a city official named Guglielmo Piazza was noticed by some busybodies “strolling down the street writing from an ink-horn at his belt and wiping his ink-stained fingers on the walls of a house.” They promptly reported him not for misdemeanor property damage but for spreading plague poison, whatever that would be.

Investigators to their shame gave this accusation enough credence to interrogate Piazza under torture, a decision which obviously was tantamount to the execution itself. He broke he sealed his own fate when he broke and confessed, and sealed same for a misfortunate barber named Giangiacomo Mora whom Piazza was made to accuse.

Milan was proud enough of this obvious injustice to stand up an colonna d’infamia (“column of infamy”) denouncing both “poisoners” until a storm finally knocked the lying marble down in 1788. It read,

Here, where this plot of ground extends, formerly stood the shop of the barber Giangiacomo Mora, who had conspired with Guglielmo Piazza, Commissary of the Public Health, and with others, while a frightful plague exercised its ravages, by means of deadly ointments spread on all sides, to hurl many citizens to a cruel death. For this, the Senate, having declared them both to be enemies of their country, decreed that, placed on an elevated car, their flesh should be torn with red-hot pincers, their right hands be cut off, and their bones be broken; that they should be extended on the wheel, and at the end of six hours be put to death, and burnt. Then, and that there might remain no trace of these guilty men, their possessions should be sold at public sale, their ashes thrown into the river, and to perpetuate the memory of their deed the Senate wills that the house in which the crime was projected shall be razed to the ground, shall never be rebuilt, and that in its place a column shall be erected which shall be called Infamous. Keep afar off, then, afar off, good citizens, lest this accursed ground should pollute you with its infamy.

August, 1630.

Prior to the column’s overturning, the Milanese Enlightenment intellectual Pietro Verri wrote a meditation upon it titled Sulla tortura e singolarmente sugli effetti che produsse all’occasione delle unzioni malefiche, alle quale si attribui la pestilenza che devasto Milano l’anno 1630. Italian speakers can enjoy it here.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Innocent Bystanders,Italy,Milan,Murder,Public Executions,Terrorists,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1849: Maximilian Dortu, republican martyr

Add comment July 31st, 2019 Headsman

Maximilian Dortu was shot on this date in 1849 for his part in that era’s failed revolutions, but posterity will always remember his dunk on the future German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm.

A plaque commemorating Herr Dortu in Potsdam. (cc) image from Doris Antony.

A kid fresh out of university when the intoxicating fires of revolution broke out in Europe in 1848, Dortu (the cursory English Wikipedia entry | the detailed German upon hearing that Wilhelm — Prince of Prussia at the time — had deployed artillery in the suppressions roasted him publicly as Kartätschenprinz — the Prince of Grapeshot. It’s a name the Prussian autocrat has never fully lived down.

That got him detained for several months but nothing daunted he emerged after release late in 1848 as a rabble-rousing orator in Potsdam, then took part in the May-July 1849 Palatine uprising — a secondary revolt that occurred after Prince Grapeshot annulled the constitution that the preceding months had nominally secured.

“An idealistic soul, fierce in battle, stormy and ardent on the rostrum, bursting with patriotic fervor at every moment,” a compatriot judged him.

All Dortu’s passion was no match for the grapeshot; the militia that he led dissolved as 19,000 crack Prussian soldiers under General Moritz von Hirschfeld poured in to smash the rebellion.

Dortu was captured in Freiburg and condemned as a rebel, pridefully refusing to petition for mercy. “Who has the courage to confess a conviction and fight for it, must also have the courage to die for it,” he wrote to his parents.

This romantic hero, “the first martyr of the Prussian court martial,” (there were two more shot in August) became for many years a democratic icon, of sufficient weight that Wilhelm, as King of Prussia in the 1860s, forbade Potsdam from accepting a memorial donative from Dortu’s widow. But the disdain of the Hohenzollern never sufficed to snuff out his memory; since 2004, he’s been honored annually by a commemorative ceremony at his tomb on the anniversary of his death.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot

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1819: Robert Watkins, Hang Day Fayre

Add comment July 30th, 2019 Headsman

Today is the bicentennial of the day in the national limelight for the Wiltshire village of Purton Stoke: the July 30, 1819 execution of Robert Watkins for an infamous robbery-murder.

Watkins, an impecunious bare-knuckle pugilist, murdered coal merchant Stephen Rodway to steal his boodle only to find that the diligent bourgeois had marked his banknotes as a failsafe making it possible to trace their subsequent circulation back to Watkins’s red hands.

So notorious was the crime in its day that ten to fifteen thousand people crowded into the small settlement to see the man pay his penalty, and on minimal notice: it occurred only two sleeps after Watkins’s conviction.

At an early hour of the morning, and at the time of the execution, the number of persons in the road and neighbouring fields was immense. That which was not seen in the prisoner, was evident in most of them — a fearful and breathless anxiety, a solemn stillness, and a deep expression of melancholy thought. There was in him a composure and resignation worthy of a better cause; and were not the proofs of his guilt striking, almost beyond example, his firmness of soul must have extorted compassion in all, and a conviction of his innocence. He was earnestly and feelingly entreated by the chaplain, and by some who were deemed likely to make an impression on him, to disburden his soul of part of its guilt by confession; but he was decisive in his denials of any participation in the deed, and only allowed that he was close to the spot where the murder was committed; in every other respect than that of confession, his behaviour was proper and becoming. Near to the fatal spot, the cart passed his wretched mother; he looked steadfastly at her for some moments, and with a gentle inclination of head and great expression of feature, seemed to take an external farewell of her; but soon after, on the cart stopping from some obstruction, she came up again, and he shook hands with her without losing any of his composure. On the scaffold he joined in earnest prayer with the same unsubdued firmness, and at his own desire, read aloud the 108th Psalm, “O God, my heart is ready;” and afterwards said to the crowd. — “God bless you all.” On the hangman’s adjusting the rope, he observed, that it could only “kill the body;” the action of his lips and hands showed that he was absorbed in prayer till the moment of his death. He was launched into eternity exactly at a quarter past 2 o’clock, and he died without a struggle. Almost at that instant of time, and before the last convulsions were over, a loud clap of thunder burst over the spot where the innumerable multitude had collected, and for half an hour afterwards, redoubled peals reverberated awfully through the heavens. The crowd, who behaved throughout with great propriety, then quietly dispersed.

London Times, Aug. 1, 1819

From the lordly vantage of some idiot execution blogger, this all seems like a pretty mundane crime two centuries later. But it’s still a lively enough memory in Purton Stoke, where the former site of the gallows is still known as Watkins Corner, that the town held a commemorative Hang Day Fayre in 2007, complete with a Watkins execution re-enactment.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Entertainers,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft

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1948: Ruth Closius-Neudeck

Add comment July 29th, 2019 Headsman

A notoriously brutal guard at the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp named Ruth Closius-Neudeck was hanged on this date in 1948.

With impeccable timing she exited a life of proletarian obscurity by applying for a gig as a camp warden in July 1944, right when the Third Reich’s prospects for surviving the war went terminal.

That left her scant few months to stack up fodder for the eventual war crimes tribunals but Neudeck had a knack for making hay in the twilight.

Almost immediately earning promotion to barracks overseer, she earned a reputation as one of the cruelest guards at the camp that once cultivated Irma Grese. (They didn’t overlap.) One prisoner would later describe seeing her “cut the throat of an inmate with the sharp edge of her shovel.”

She was subsequently detailed to the nearby Uckermark satellite camp, smaller and more lethal — as it was converted for the Third Reich’s final weeks into a killing center for inmates whose bodies had been broken at slave labor in Ravensbrück or elsewhere. She acknowledged sending 3,000 women to the gas chambers as Uckermark Aufseherin.

She was one of five camp guards charged in the Uckermark trial (also known as the Third Ravensbrück trial) in 1948, and the only one of those five executed.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,War Crimes,Women

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1819: Antonia Santos, Bolivarian revolutionary

Add comment July 28th, 2019 Headsman

Today is the bicentennial of the July 28, 1819 execution by firing squad of Bolivarian independence heroine Maria Antonia Santos Plata.

Monument to Antonia Santos in Socorro, Colombia.

This New Grenada peasant (English Wikipedia entry | the more extensive Spanish) led Bolivar-aligned guerrillas resisting the Spanish reconquest in her home Province of Socorro.

She was captured during the last months of Spanish hegemony, but even as she awaited execution of her sentence her comrades in arms continuing in the field played a part in the crucial Bolivarian victory at the Battle of Pantano de Vargas.

She was shot at 10:30 in the morning on the main square of Socorro, along with Pascual Becerra and Isidro Bravo.

A battalion of the Colombian army’s Seventh Brigade is named for Antonia Santos.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions,Women

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