Posts filed under 'Execution'

1945: Harold Pringle, the last Canadian military execution

2 comments July 5th, 2020 Headsman

The only Canadian soldier to be executed during (… actually well after!) World War II, Harold Pringle, caught a fusillade in Italy on this date in 1945.

A 16-year-old — he fibbed about his age — enlistee from small-town Ontario, Pringle joined the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.

Pringle and a mate in the Hasty P’s name of “Lucky” MacGillivray linked up with some British deserters to form a black market outfit in conquered Rome. The “Sailor Gang”* enjoyed several weeks of picaresque living in the lawless city. Unsurprisingly, as Allied military authorities got control of the place they were eager to make examples of these minor gangsters. (Major gangsters were a different matter.)

The shooting death of that mate MacGillivray gave military prosecutors the means to sink the Sailors. One of their number was induced by a sweetheart deal to finger Pringle as for murdering him. Pringle and his comrades all contended that “Lucky” had been shot by mischance during one of the outlaws’ frequent drunken bouts, and having died en route to the hospital, Pringle shot him up posthumously in hopes of making the body look like it had been prey to a gang hit.

Despite all the trouble taken to secure a very dubious conviction, the execution itself was carried out in great secrecy by a tiny rump contingent of Canadians — all their fellows had already been withdrawn from Italy — who were not to speak of it afterwards.

According to Andrew Clark, the author whose research revealed the event to the wider public in A Keen Soldier: The Execution of Second World War Private Harold Pringle, it all came down a political balancing act. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King faced a June 1945 election (followed by formation of a coalition government) that a controversial execution might complicate.

However, the British had executed two of their guys in the Sailor Gang case, and reciprocity was expected on a diplomatic level. So the solution was to do it as quietly as possible, and cover it with an official secret designation. Even Pringle himself didn’t find out his sentence was confirmed until the morning of the execution.

Book CoverBook Cover
Left: The classic antiwar novel inspired by the Pringle case, which was the only novel published by Colin McDougall. Right: The 2002 nonfiction treatment that brought the affair to the public eye. Below: A 1955 episode of Four Star Playhouse also seems to be based on the Pringle case, and Colin McDougall is credited with the story.**

There’s a riveting audio interview here with a member of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment who had guard duty on the condemned youth on the last night of his life. “Just as brave as could be,” Orville Marshall reports.

* There’s another infamous troupe of deserter-gangsters operating in Rome in this same period, the Lane Gang. The said “Lane” — whose real name was Werner Schmiedel — was hanged by American authorities in June 1945.

** McDougall served in Italy up to the end of Canada’s involvement there, and that is surely how he came to know about the secret execution in a general sense; any more specific vector of information appears to be unknown. However discovered, Pringle clearly haunted McDougall: he took several years to write his magnum opus, and also published a short story in McLean’s in the early 1950s called “The Firing Squad”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Organized Crime,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1855: Pietro Fortunato Calvi, the last Belfiore Martyr

Add comment July 4th, 2020 Headsman

Italian Risorgimento martyr Pietro Fortunato Calvi was hanged on this date in 1855 in Mantua.

The son of a Paduan police commissioner when that province rested in Austrian hands, Calvi — that’s an Italian link, as are almost all in this post — was an army lieutenant who was drawn by the swirl of patriotism into the Revolutions of 1848. He commanded a 4,600-strong militia in Venice where the abortive proclamation of a republic was suppressed by Austria.

He fled to exile in Turin, then part of the mainland remit of the independent Kingdom of Sardinia. But his sympathy for an attempted Milanese insurrection in those parts wore out his welcome with his new hosts, and he was obliged to find refuge in Switzerland.

From there, he and four companions launched a romantic, doomed expedition to sound out the alpine north for patriotism that might be stirred into revolution anew. Their mission was compromised by a spy, however, and the quintet was soon arrested.

Transported to Mantua for trial, Calvi successfully protected his companions by throwing all the responsibility upon himself and went to the gallows with a stirring declaration as he ought.

what I have done I have done of my own free will, that I would do it again, in order to expel Austria from the States it so infamously usurped … Pietro Fortunato Calvi, rather than betraying his homeland, offers his corpse.

The place of his execution, the valley of Belfiore, has conferred its name upon a host of Italian patriots who hanged there in the 1850s. Our guy Calvi was the last of these Belfiore martyrs.

Belfiore, Mantua, Padua, Venice, Turin, and all the rest were part of a united Italy within a generation.

Italian speakers might enjoy this biography of Pietro.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Austria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Italy,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,Treason

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1936: Saburo Aizawa, incidentally

Add comment July 3rd, 2020 Headsman

Lieutenant Colonel Saburo Aizawa was shot on this date in 1936.

The Aizawa Incident — an assassination — emerged from the conflict between the Kodoha (“Imperial Way”) and Toseiha (“Control”) factions of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Both these philosophies were authoritarian, militaristic, and aggressively imperialist.

However, Kodoha officers — disproportionately younger junior officers — were more radically right-wing. Their leading light, General Sadao Araki, who had been War Minister in the early 1930s, espoused a philosophy that “linked the Emperor, the people, land, and morality as one indivisible entity, and which emphasized State Shintoism.”

Toseiha is described as the more moderate faction which in practice meant that they were a bit less totalizing and a bit more institutionally accommodating: in a word, it was just the mainline outlook of the army brass. According to Leonard Humphreys, Toseiha “was not really a faction … it really consisted only of officers who opposed the Kodoha.”*

Our day’s principal accused Toseiha bigwig Tetsuzan Nagata of putting the army “in the paws of high finance” when he forced out a Kodoha ally and Araki protege in 1935, following a failed Kodoha coup d’etat. And in revenge for this perceived betrayal, Aizawa dramatically murdered Nagata with a sword in his office on August 12, 1935.

However boldly struck, this blow bespoke the dwindling prestige of the ultras.

In the months while Aizawa’s sure fate was arranged through the proper channels, the desperate Kodoha faction again attempted to seize power — and was sidelined for good when it again failed. Aizawa had the displeasure of going to his death amid the ruin of his cause.

* fn 24 on page 206 of The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920’s, citing several other scholars with the same view — and noting that the names for these tendencies were both conferred by Kodoha propagandists, so nobody self-identified using the pejorative “Toseiha”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Japan,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Shot,Soldiers

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1778: Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman hanged in the USA

Add comment July 2nd, 2020 Headsman

Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman executed* in the post-Declaration of Independence (i.e., post-July 4, 1776) United States.

The daughter of one of Massachusetts’s most prominent Tory loyalists — the latter fled to Nova Scotia during the events comprising this post, owing to the ongoing American Revolution — Spooner was married to a wealthy Brookfield gentleman whom she utterly despised.

From late 1777 into 1778, Bathsheba beguiled three young would-be Davids — Ezra Ross, a wounded former Continental Army soldier whom she nursed back to health; and James Buchanan and William Brooks, two redcoat deserters — into getting rid of Mr. Joshua Spooner.

Ross she sent on February 1778 business trip with her hubby and instructions to dose him with nitric acid. The youth chickened out and didn’t do it — but neither did he warn his proposed victim what was afoot.

A couple of weeks later, the Brits achieved by main force what their American opposite dared not attempt by stealth, and “on the evening of the first of March, about 9 o’clock, being returning home from his neighbors, near by his own door was feloniously assaulted by one or more ruffians, knocked down by a club, beat and bruised, and thrown into his well with water in it.” Ross, importantly, had been invited by his lover/sponsor to return and he helped to dispose of the body.

They had not a day’s liberty after this shocking crime, evidently having thought little beyond the deed; the very young Ross especially stands out for his naivete — certainly mingled with lust and cupidity as he contemplated the prospect of attaining a frolicsome, wealthy widow — when the wife went to work on him.

As She was going to Hardwick She asked me the Reason of my being so low Spirited?  I made answer It was my long absence from home.  She replyed that her Opinion was, I wanted some one to lodge with — I told her it would be agreeable.  She asked me if Such an One as her self would do?  I made answer If She was agreeable I was.  [Marginal notation: The Dialect was so.]  Upon which She said “After She came off her Journey she would See.”
 
N.B. After her Return She Gave me an Invitation to Defile her Marriage Bed; which I Expected. [accepted] And after that she proposed constantly every sheam [scheme] for her Husbands Death.  [Marginal notation: The spelling is so.]
 
Ezra Ross

The above is a written account given in jail to the preacher Ebenezer Parkman, who preached a thundering sermon three days after the executions titled “The Adultress Shall Hunt for the Precious Life””

a woman who … allows her loose imagination to range and wander after Others, nay not a few, & rove from [her husband] to pollute & defile the marriage bed [indulging] her own wanton salacious desires … How loathsome are all such, and how directly opposite the pure & holy Nature, Law, and Will of God.

So keep thee from the Evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Neither let her take thee with her eyelids. There are a thousand dangers, that poor young wretches are in by reason of the snres & traps which are everywhere laid … particularly the poor beardless youth not quite 18. (As quoted in Deborah Navas’s book about the affair, Murdered by his Wife)

Mrs. Spooner, whose Loyalist family ties did her no favors in this moment, sought a reprieve on grounds of pregnancy. Many condemned women in those days made such requests; more often than not they were temporizing devices that bought no more than the time needed for a panel of matrons to examine them and dismiss the claim. In her case, four examiners submitted a dissenting opinion to the effect “that we have reason to think that she is now quick with child.” Although overruled, they were correct: after the dramatic quadruple execution under a thunderstorm at Worcester’s Washington Square, an autopsy found that Spooner was about five months along with what would have been her fifth child.

According to an early 20th century Chicago Chronicle retrospective (retrieved here via a reprint in the Charleston News and Courier, Jan. 24, 1904) her grave can be located on a manor at Worcester that formerly belonged to the great New York City planner Andrew Haswell Green: Bathsheba Spooner’s sister was Green’s grandmother.

A full original record of the proceedings does not survive for us, but this public domain volume has a lengthy chapter about events, with an appendix preserving some of the original documents.

* We’re at the mercy of uncertain documentation in this context, of course, but there are at least none whose executions can be established that predate Spooner’s within the infant republic. Per the Espy file, a woman named Ann Wyley was hanged in Detroit in 1777, but at the time that city was under British administration as part of the province of Quebec.

For its part, Massachusetts hanged several more women in the 1780s, but has not executed any other women since the George Washington presidential administration. It’s presently a death penalty abolitionist jurisdiction.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Soldiers,USA,Wartime Executions,Women

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1523: Jan van Essen and Hendrik Vos, the first Lutheran martyrs

Add comment July 1st, 2020 Headsman


Christian reformer Martin Luther composed his hymn “Ein neues Lied wir heben an” (literally “A new song we raise” but commonly titled in English “Flung to the Heedless Winds”) in response to a major milestone for his movement: the first evangelicals executed for the faith, namely defrocked Augustinian monks Jan van Essen and Hendrik Vos (or Voes), who were burned on July 1, 1523 in Brussels. “How welcome must that fire have been which hurried them from this sinful life to eternal life yonder,” Luther wrote in a missive to the Low Countries. But it wasn’t that welcome: their entire Antwerp monastery had been suppressed as a heretical nest with all its denizens save these two fleeing the stake, many by way of recantation. Nevertheless, Jan and Hendrik would not be the last of the former Antwerp Augustinians to achieve the martyr’s crown and Luther’s tribute.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Belgium,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Habsburg Realm,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Netherlands,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries

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2004: David Harris, Errol Morris subject

Add comment June 30th, 2020 Headsman

Errol Morris’s classic 1988 docudrama The Thin Blue Line helped to exonerate former death row inmate Randall Dale Adams.* He’d been convicted of shooting a Dallas police officer to death during a traffic stop.

On this date in 2004, the man who really pulled the trigger, David Ray Harris, received lethal injection. It wasn’t the murder of Officer Robert Wood he was being punished for: after more or less confessing the crime to Morris’s recorders, Harris was never charged with it. By that time, he was already on death row for an unrelated 1985 murder.

Randall Adams published a book about his ordeal. He died of brain cancer in 2010.

* Adams avoided execution in 1980 and had his sentence commuted. He was still in prison, but no longer on death row, at the time of the film’s release. He was released outright in 1989. Filmmaker Morris describes how he came to make the film — and how Adams “never will be exonerated” officially — in this interview with Bill Moyers.

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

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1938: Shlomo Ben-Yosef, Mandatory Palestine Zionist protomartyr

Add comment June 29th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1938, Zionist terrorist Shlomo Ben-Yosef was hanged by the British.

Shalom Tabachnik — to use the name he had from his childhood in the Polish/Russian marches — emigrated illegally to British Mandate Palestine and joined the Irgun.

On April 21, 1938, he and two comrades ambushed an Arab bus and despite failing in their attempt to commit mass murder by forcing it off a mountain road into a chasm, they were tried under British security regulations; one man was acquitted and another death-sentenced but commuted owing to his youth, leaving Shlomo the honor — for so he insisted of his patriotic martyrdom — of being the first Jew hanged by the British authorities in Mandatory Palestine.

“Do not be discouraged by my death,” he wrote to friends. “It will bring a step nearer the dream of our life — an independent Jewish state.”

His death was met by heavy Jewish protest, and the British officer who hanged him was eventually (in 1942) assassinated in reprisal. Present-day Israel has a number of streets bearing his name.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Israel,Jews,Martyrs,Milestones,Occupation and Colonialism,Palestine,Separatists,Terrorists,Wartime Executions

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1748: Marretje Arents, for the Pachtersoproer

2 comments June 28th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1748, three instigators of a riot hanged in an Amsterdam public square, while worse fates befell those who came to see it.

It was only a few days earlier that the Pachtersoproer (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) had torn apart the homes of nineteen tax collectors and magnates in the capital. These violent protests against inequitable taxation and oligarchical power had actually begun in Friesland and Groningen, the northernmost provinces of the Low Countries, before spreading to Amsterdam.

Marretje Arents (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch), a fishmonger supporting four children while her husband was abroad as a soldier in the East Indies, was seen on that Monday, June 24th, clad in a distinctive red chintz exhorting rioters to wreak revenge on the grandees and helping to ransack at least one house. According to the chronicle (1740-1752) of Abraham Chaim Braatbard, she spat at one agent,

Today we are the boss and tomorrow we will come to you at the town hall. Then we will see what we will do with all of you, gentlemen land-thieves … [then, lifting her skirt] Now you can clean my ass, because that’s all I have left for you.

This bold and public flaunting of an insurrectionary intent was not accompanied by a political achievement more lasting than a couple of days’ looting. When Arents simply turned up on June 27th at her market stall to go about her usual business just as if she hadn’t been trying to overturn it all three days before, she was arrested for sedition. Of course, there must have been hundreds of others who either weren’t identified or weren’t deemed worth making an example of who did go right back to their normal lives, nursing their grievances in customary silence.

Marretje Arents’s voice is heard in the annals, at the cost of her life.

By the next day at noon, she and two other perceived leaders of the disturbance, Mat van der Nieuwendijk [see comments] and Pieter van Dordt, were publicly hanged at the Waag op de Dam.* Over the brattle of drummers charged with drowning her incitements to the crowd, she was still heard to keep out her cries for rebellion until the moment the rope closed her throat.

Revenge, my dear citizens, assist me. For you now let me die so shamefully, while I have not fought for myself. I did it for the whole country, against the tyranny of the tenants, who tormented us citizens and forcibly took our money and good for the lease.

She would not have had to outlive her hanging more than a few minutes to see it. As the next of the riotous “captains” was strung up, a disturbance broke out in the packed square. It’s not certainly recorded whether this was a wave of sympathy responding to Marretje Arents, or the chance surge of a large crowd jostling for position, or something else besides — but suddenly the host of onlookers stampeded, crushing their fellows underfoot and pushing others into the Amstel River. Braatbard guessed that some 200 souls might have lost their lives for the sake of this triple execution … but whether 3 lives or 203, the important thing to the Low Countries’ rulers was that the Pachtersoproer did not re-emerge.

* The Waag, or weigh-house, served the bustling commercial district that grew up around Dam Square at the heart of Amsterdam. It was demolished in 1808 under French occupation.


Painting of Dam Square from the late 1600s, by Dutch master Gerrit Berckheyde. The weigh-house in the middle of the square presents an obviously suitable landmark for an affair like a public execution; just as well, since by this time its original function had been ceded to a new and larger weigh-house which still survives as the city’s venerable Waag. It was in the latter building that the dissection was performed that Rembrandt immortalized in The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Netherlands,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Rioting,Women

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1558: Toqui Caupolicán

Add comment June 27th, 2020 Headsman

Es algo formidable que vio la vieja raza:
robusto tronco de árbol al hombro de un campeón
salvaje y aguerrido, cuya fornida maza
blandiera el brazo de Hércules, o el brazo de Sansón.
Por casco sus cabellos, su pecho por coraza,
pudiera tal guerrero, de Arauco en la región,
lancero de los bosques, Nemrod que todo caza,
desjarretar un toro, o estrangular un león.
Anduvo, anduvo, anduvo. Le vio la luz del día,
le vio la tarde pálida, le vio la noche fría,
y siempre el tronco de árbol a cuestas del titán.
«¡El Toqui, el Toqui!» clama la conmovida casta.
Anduvo, anduvo, anduvo. La aurora dijo: «Basta»,
e irguióse la alta frente del gran Caupolicán.

-“Caupolican” by Ruben Dario

On this date in 1558, the Spanish executed Mapuche revolutionary Caupolicán by impalement.

A toqui (war chief) for the Mapuche as they launched in 1553 their decades-long insurrection against Spanish domination, Caupolican (English Wikipedia entry | the well-illustrated Spanish). It is he who had the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia put to death after one early Mapuche victory.

The Spanish were able to recover and throw back the indigenous rebels. Caupolicán’s force was destroyed, and he shortly after taken prisoner, when whilst besieging a Spanish fort called Cañete a Spanish double agent lured the Mapuche into a devastating ambush.

His end verges into the mythic thanks to Alonso de Ercilla‘s lengthy epic poem from a decade after Caupolicán’s death, La Araucana. (Full text at archive.org.) Two key events stand out.

In the first, the bound Caupolicán is reviled by his wife, Fresia, for permitting himself to be captured alive. Her gesture of scornfully abandoning their infant child in at Caupolicán’s feet has been captured on canvas numerous times, although Fresia’s historicity outside of Ercilla’s pen is quite dubious.


The prisoner Caupolicán and Fresia, by Raymond Monvoisin.

However, the conquered toqui redeems his valor at the last by kicking away the executioner and hurling himself upon the spike meant to impale him.

Eslo dicho, y alzando el pié derecho
aunque de las cadenas impedido,
dió tal coz al verdugo, que gran trecho
Je echó rodando abajo mal herido;
reprehendido el impaciente hecho,
y del súbito enojo reducido,

Je sentaron después con poca ayuda,
sobre la punta de la estaca aguda.

It is said that, raising his right foot
although impeded by the chains,
he dealt the hangman such a mighty kick
that the man was thrown from the scaffold;
that impatient reprimand delivered,
his fury abated
and he sat himself unaided
upon the tip of the sharp stake.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Chile,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Gruesome Methods,History,Impaled,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1919: John Hartfield lynched

Add comment June 26th, 2020 Headsman

John Hartfield (sometimes given as “Hartsfield”) was lynched on this date in 1919 in Ellisville, Mississippi.

“[U.S. President Woodrow Wilson] said the American negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America. For example, a friend recently related the experience of a lady friend wanting to employ a negro laundress offering to pay the usual wage in that community. The negress demands that she be given more money than was offered for the reason that ‘money is as much mine as it is yours.’ Furthermore, he called attention to the fact that the French people have placed the negro soldier in France on an equality with the white men, and ‘it has gone to their heads.'”

-Diary of Wilson’s personal doctor Cary Grayson (Source)

This summer of 1919 was fraught and violent moment in America — later christened the “Red Summer” for the quantity and ferocity of racially motivated outrages.

With the end of the Great War, domestic guardians of order bristled alike at proud and armed black soldiers returning from France’s trenches and at the post-Bolshevik Revolution prospect of subversive agitation — fears that were intimately linked for elites, as the pull quote in this post indicates. Plus, as readers in 2020 surely recollect from the news, everyone was also laboring under the Spanish flu pandemic. Large riots or pogroms with multiple casualties occurred in several U.S. cities, including a five-day street battle in Washington D.C. in July that left 15 or more dead.

Likewise, lynchings surged in 1919 — from 38 and 64 in the preceding two years, to 83, a figure which hadn’t been recorded in more than a decade and has never been approached since.

James Hartfield was one* mark upon this near-hecatomb, a mark underscoring the strength of lynch law in this moment. The mob was disciplined and organized, confident that its actions had the blessing of the state. It acted deliberately, responsive to its own authorities. Nobody got his blood up to string up the man promptly upon capture; instead, Hartfield was delivered to private custody — not jail — and given him medical attention so that he’d be fit for his murder.


The Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth ran this headline on the day that Hartfield was killed — one of many newspapers to report the planned lynching ahead of time.

The schedule (Hartfield to be burnt at 5 p.m.) was publicized in advance in the press; even the state’s governor, literal Klansman Theodore Bilbo, issued a sort of official denial of clemency with a public announcement that he couldn’t intervene if he wanted to and he also didn’t want to.

I am utterly powerless. The state has no troops and if the civil authorities at Ellisville are helpless, the state is equally so. Furthermore excitement is at such a high pitch thruout [sic] south Mississippi and if armed troops interfered with the mob it would prove a riot among the citizens.

The negro says he is ready to die and nobody can keep the inevitable from happening. (Huntsville (Ala.) Times, June 26, 1919, under the headline “Governor Will Not Interfere With Lynching”)

And indeed, nobody did interfere.

The below from the next day’s Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser is one of several versions that saw wide distribution in the republic. Although these reports differ on some details — for example, whether Hartfield was or was not already mortally wounded by the gunshots he’d received from the posse — all unite in noticing the orderliness of this off-book execution.

ELLISVILLE, MISS. June 25 [sic] — Trailed for ten days through three South Mississippi counties by posses which included several hundred members of his own race, John Hartfield, negro, confessed assailant of an Ellisville young woman,** was captured desperately wounded near Collins, at daybreak this morning, rushed by automobile to the scene of his crime, hanged to a gum tree and then burned to ashes. His victim witnessed the lynching.

While negroes took no part in the actual lynching of Hartfield, posse leaders freely admitted they rendered valuable assistance during the chase knowing when they enlisted that it was intended to lynch the fugitive when he was captured. Many of them witnessed the execution.

The lynching was conducted in a manner which the authorities characterized as “orderly.” Guarded by a committee of citizens of Ellisvlle, Hartfield was taken first to the office of Dr. A.J. Carter, who after examination of gun shot wounds received when the fugitive made his fight against capture, declared the negro could not live more than twenty-four hours. In the meantime a group of silent men were piling cross ties and brush in a depression in ground near the railroad trestle. There was no shouting. Arrangements apparently had been made days ago.

The victim of Hartfield’s crime was escorted into the physicians’ office after the wounds had been examined. She positively identified him as her assailant. When she left the negro said to the committee: “You have the right man.”

Then there were quiet conferences. Members of the committee circulated in the crowd. Reports that there would be a “burning” at 5 o’clock gave way to statements that there would be a “hanging at the big gum tree.” Hartfield was told what the crowd itended [sic] doing with him, but only repeated “you have the man.” Later he said he knew he was going to die and declared he wished to “warn all men, white and colored, to think before doing wrong.”

Hartfield was not taken to jail, although earlier reports were that he had been lodged there. From the doctor’s office he was taken to the street and faced the crowd. “You have the right man,” he reiterated. Then a noose found its way around his neck and the trip to the big gum tree was started, the crowd still ominously silent.

Under the big gum tree Hartfield forcibly detained his victim all of the night of Sunday, June 15th. It was under a limb of the same tree that Hartfield was hanged as soon as the rope could be pulled up by hundreds of hands. Then occurred the first demonstration. While the body was in its death struggles pistols were produced by men in the crowd and fired point blank at the swinging form. Before the rope had been cut by bullets, burning fagots were thrown under the body and an hour later there was only a pile of ashes.

The victim with her aged mother witnessed the execution. When she reached her home two hundred yards away, she was informed that more than a thousand dollars had been subscribed for her use by persons in the crowd.

No arrests were made after the lynching and tonight the little town was quiet. Most of the visitors from the surrounding country left for their homes.

The future Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, who lived and worked in the U.S. intermittently in the 1910s where he was influenced by black radicals including Marcus Garvey, also made note of the Hartield outrage in his 1924 essay “Lynching” (see the numbered p. 53 of this large pdf):

When a lynching was to take place or had taken place, the press seized upon it as a good occasion to increase the number of copies printed. It related the affair with a wealth of detail. Not the slightest reproach to the criminals. Not a word of pity for the victims. Not a commentary.

The New Orleans States of June 26, 1919, published a headline running right across the front page in letters five inches high: “Today a Negro Will Be Burned by 3,000 Citizens.” And immediately underneath, in very small print: “Under a strong escort, the Kaiser has taken flight with the Crown Prince.”

The Jackson Daily News of the same date published across the first two columns of its front page in big letters: “Negro J.H. to Be Burned by the Crowd at Ellistown This Afternoon at 5 p.m.”

The newspaper only neglected to add: “The whole population is earnestly invited to attend.” But the spirit is there.

* Although lynched alone, he wasn’t quite the only victim. A white man who misunderstood or defied the commands of the vigilantes during the manhunt was also killed. And reportedly (although I haven’t verified this to my satisfaction) another black man elsewhere in Mississippi was lynched in the subsequent weeks merely for mentioning the Hartfield assassination.

** Family lore from a friend who survived by fleeing Ellisville characterizes Hartfield’s true offense as simply having a white girlfriend.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Common Criminals,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mature Content,Mississippi,No Formal Charge,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Sex,USA

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Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!