Posts filed under 'Execution'

1905: Kinjikitile Ngwale, Maji Maji Rebellion prophet

Add comment August 4th, 2020 Headsman

Tanzanian medium Kinjikitile Ngwale was hanged as a traitor to Germany on this date in 1905.

He emerged as a prophet of the Maji Maji Rebellion, a rising in German East Africa (modern-day Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi) — provoked by the strains imposed by the mother country’s exploitation of their possession, most particularly the tilt into growing cotton for export.

The rebellion takes its name from the magical maji — that’s just the Swahili word for “water” — supplied by Kinjikitile, a castor oil potion that he said would melt German bullets into water. Both the ointment and the cult* behind it provided an organizing principle for disparate peoples and grievances of what is now southeast Tanzania. The German bullets, however, did not melt.

Kinjikitile was arrested almost immediately with the onset of the revolt in July 1905 and hanged soon thereafter. The rising that he kindled raged on until 1907, and the German reply of imposing famine** laid tens of thousands of souls in the earth in the course of suppressing it. In the 1950s, a journalist would remark that “even today the Southern Province of Tanganyika, the ‘Cinderella Province,’ has not fully recovered from the German terror half a century ago. The economy of the region has never been successfully rebuilt.” But the rebellion’s spirit of fellow-feeling against the colonizer has been invoked many times since as one of the foundational stirrings of Tanzanian nationalism.

* We use the term entirely without pejorative intent.

** Not unlike what had been done immediately prior to the Herero in German South West Africa (present-day Namibia).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1928: Jim Moss, former Negro League ballplayer

Add comment August 3rd, 2020 Headsman


Chicago Defender, Aug. 11, 1928.

Former Negro Leagues baseball player James Hugh Moss was electrocuted in Georgia on this date in 1928, along with a white man named Clifford Thompson.

The threesome of Moss, Thompson, and Thompson’s wife Eula, were Prohibition bootleggers from Etowah, in eastern Tennessee. A year before almost to the day (August 5, 1927), they had rolled up with a car full of moonshine whiskey to a general store in Chatsworth, Georgia, 45 miles away. Although it was after hours they were able to rouse the shopkeep Coleman Osborne. Some kind of argument ensued, and Osborne was shot dead.

All three of the smugglers were capitally convicted.

Eula Thompson’s electrocution was postponed and as we shall see, never ultimately conducted — but on the eve of the men’s death, she attempted to save them with a sketchy confession to an affair with a local farmer that necessitated Osborne’s murder when the latter found out about it. This sent Georgia Gov. Lamartine Griffin Hardman on an 11th-hour investigation into the exculpatory claim but as a physician he knew just what to do and according to a news report, “Governor Hardman announced recently that the phrenology of Clifford Thompson, the woman’s husband, and Jim Hugh Moss, Negro electrocuted for the murder of Osborne, played a part in his decision not to interfere in their cases.”

That gem comes from a writeup of the case at Baseball Prospectus, which notes that after Eula Thompson’s gambit to exonerate the boys failed, she resorted to a gambit to exonerate herself by blaming the whole thing on (the by then already-executed) Jim Moss. This got her a reprieve while Governor Hardman put his skull forceps to work and eventually the Peach State decided not to run any volts at all through the charming young lady. She married an admirer from the public, got paroled in the 1930s, and ended up back in prison for murdering her brother.

As to Moss’s former athletic feats, the thing that draws our attention in the first place, they’re only glancingly alluded to by the period’s press report. He would have played in the complex of black professional leagues during the period that Major League Baseball enforced a whites-only color line.

A Negro Leagues blog made a go at tracking him down and found that a guy named “Moss” (no first name given) made a single documented appearance in 1918 for the Chicago American Giants. The name subsequently appears on a lower-tier barnstorming team, the Havana Stars. (Chicago-based, despite what the name would suggest.)

Moss isn’t the only known ball player to sit in the mercy seat: check out this forum thread on executed players. And on our humble death blog, we’ve noticed other, more oblique contacts between the headsman and the seamhead.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Entertainers,Execution,Georgia,History,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1838: Remexido, Liberal Wars holdout

Add comment August 2nd, 2020 Headsman

José Joaquim de Sousa Reis, known simply as “Remexido” or “Remechido”, was executed by firing squad at the Campo da Trindade in Faro, Portugal on this date in 1838.

This fellow (English Wikipedia entry | Portuguese) was a partisan of absolutist King Miguel during a furious civil war, the Liberal War(s), that resulted in his deposition.

Remexido maintained a guerrilla resistance in the mountains of the Algarve for years after Miguel’s 1834 defeat. He’s noted for his ferocity, bequeathing the village of Albufeira the nickname of villa negra for the 74 executions he perpetrated upon its inhabitants after an 1833 assault.

Liberals answered stripe for stripe on the collective punishment front, torching his house, publicly flogging his wife, and murdering his 14-year-old son.

Needless to say, there would be no quarter when they finally caught him; allegedly, the Council of War even overrode the young post-Miguel queen’s attempted clemency to force his execution.

Nowadays he’s a colorful figure from a bygone time, and you can catch re-enactors doing Remexido cosplay and even proper city streets named for him, as this one in Estombar.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Portugal,Power,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1872: John Kewish, the last to hang on the Isle of Man

Add comment August 1st, 2020 Headsman

This 2004 episode from Manx Radio gives us the story of John Kewish, hanged on this date in 1872 for killing his father with a pitchfork. Kewish is the last person ever executed on the Isle of Man — indeed even at his own time such a punishment was so passe that the local gallows-makers were vexed by the contract.

Interestingly, because this Irish Sea island is a crown dependency rather than a part of the United Kingdom proper, capital punishment did not end on the Isle of Man when Westminster abolished in the 1960s. Death sentences continued to be handed down there until 1992, and thus it is that a Manx judge holds the distinction of being the last person in the British Isles to pronounce a death sentence from the bench, and a Manx criminal that of being the last to hear it. (Such latter-day sentences were always commuted by Queen Elizabeth II’s royal prerogative.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Isle of Man,Milestones,Murder

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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 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.

On this day..

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.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous Last Words,France,Germany,History,Intellectuals,Jews,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Wartime Executions

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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.

On this day..

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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