This clergyman was appointed to London’s stinking prison to tend to the souls of its inmates, particularly those condemned to die.
Under the tenure of Samuel Smith, the Ordinary of Newgate began in about 1684* to put out a regular broadsheet published the day after London’s eight or so annual hanging-days. Laboriously titled The Ordinary of Newgate, His Account of the Behaviour, Confession, and Dying Words of the Malefactors who were Executed at Tyburn, it was sold by street-peddlers for (at first) a penny.
A typical Ordinary’s account by Smith had a three-act arc:
An account of the honored clergyman’s own sermonizing, even the literal day-by-day exhortations and their progress (or not) in bringing the condemned round to a satisfactory spiritual state. The Account for December 21, 1692, for instance, begins:
THE Ordinary preacht several Sermons to the Condemed Criminals being Twenty One. The first was on the Lord’s-Day immediately before their Condemnation on the Monday following, from this Text, viz. The 19th. Psalm, the 12th. Verse. Who can understand the Errors of his Life? Cleanse thon me from my secret Faults. The Observation from the Words was this, That the smallest Sins even Errors in Opinion and Infirmities in our Obedience to God’s Laws, ought to be repented of, as needing pardoning Mercy.
Biographical thumbnails of the condemned, of no regular format but often remarking the person’s age, profession, birthplace, and life circumstances … and always attentive to whether s/he had come by repentance. This is Samuel Smith’s take on one of the 11 hanged today:
Robert Marshal: Condemned for Murthering William Curtys, in White-Chappel. He pretended now, as formerly, that he is blind, and Begged under that Disguise. But being denied Relief by Curtys, Marshal, with his Begging-staff, in both his Hands, struck him on the Head, and made a Fracture in his Skull, of which he died; and he immediately attempted to run away. He confessed on Tuesday, that though his Sight was not strong enough for Labour, yet he could see his Way, in Walking, so as to go safely. He was born in Jamaica, bred up a Sea-man . He was unwilling to give any Account of his Life, being very obstinate.
The scene at Tyburn itself, with the Ordinary’s prayers and the public behavior and confessions of the doomed.
They were fervently exhorted to Confess their Faults, the Effects of which had brought them to such disgrace: After which the Ordinary took great pains with them in Prayer, and other suitable Applications, to bring them to a sense of the near approaches of Death; to which they adher’d, and joined in the Prayers; and singing of a penitential Psalm in as fervent a manner as could be reasonably expected from Persons of so mean Education, as were the most of them. They lamented their dismal Fall, desiring all Spectators of such a Tragedy to be warn’d by them, &c.
As to the Particulars of their Confessions. they did not much enlarge themselves; only the Blind Man was penitent, and desired all Persons to take warning by him; owning that he could see; hoping God would forgive him all his Offences, &c.
In the 18th century these hang-day reports would expand even further.
For historians these records, formulaic as they are, remain “a unique and inestimable source of knowledge of the poor people who were hanged.” (Linebaugh).
For the Ordinary’s contemporaries, they were something else besides: the voice of authority on “the Malefactors,” their usual submission, the facts of their lives and the expected public lessons of the crimes and punishments.** Certainly the Ordinary was at pains to assert his “official” status; in the Account at issue for this date’s hanging, he appends the notice,
Whereas there formerly have been, and still are, several False Accounts in Print, in relation to the Condemned Prisoners; and particularly, this very Session, that Robert Marshal, the Blind Beggar, was Executed two Days since; which is utterly false: The Ordinary thinks it necessary to acquaint the World, (to prevent the like for the future,) that no true Account can be given of the Condemned Prisoners Behaviour, Confessions, and Last Dying Speeches, which is not Attested under his own Hand.
Accept no substitutes!
The Ordinary had good reason to defend his position, for the Ordinary’s own livelihood depended upon his marketing his black-bordered pamphlets. This was naked entrepreneurship, direct to Smith’s pocket, and his product stood in competition with every other scandal-sheet hawker crowding the gallows.
Nor was the printed word the only way to monetize the office of Ordinary. In an environment when many people were condemned to death and many were pardoned, Smith was accused of shaking down prisoners to intervene for more lenient treatment.
For instance, in this wonderfully vicious send-off to the cleric after he died in 1698, satirist Thomas Brown accuses Smith (in the bolded passage) of taking payola to help illiterate prisoners claim benefit of clergy — an anachronistic legal mechanism wherein a condemned first-time offender could escape the noose by showing that he could read. (The loophole was reformed in 1706 to eliminate the reading test entirely, although this also came with making many offenses no longer “clergyable” at all.)
An Elegy on that most Orthodox and Pains-taking Divine, Mr. Samuel Smith, Ordinary of Newgate, who died of a Quinsey, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, the 24th of August, 1698.
Tyburn, lament, in pensive sable mourn,
For from the world thy ancient priest is torn.
Death, cruel death, thy learn’d divine has ended,
And by a quinsey from his place suspended.
Thus he expir’d in his old occupation,
And as he liv’d, he dy’d by suffocation.
Thou rev’rend pillar of the triple-tree,
I would say post, for it was prop’d by thee;
Thou penny-chronicler of hasty fate,
Death’s annalist, reformer of the state;
Cut-throat of texts, and chaplain of the halter,
In whose sage presence vice itself did faulter:
How many criminals, by thee assisted,
Old Smith, have been most orthodoxly twisted?
And when they labour’d with a dying qualm,
Were decently suspended to a psalm?
How oft hast thou set harden’d rogues a squeaking,
By urging the great sin of Sabbath-breaking;
And sav’d delinquents from Old Nick’s embraces,
By flashing fire and brimstone in their faces?
Thou wast a Gospel Smith, and after sentence
Brought’st sinners to the anvil of repentance;
And tho’ they prov’d obdurate at the sessions,
Couldst hammer out of them most strange confessions,
When plate was stray’d, and silver spoons were missing,
And chamber-maid betray’d by Judas kissing. Thy christian bowels chearfully extended
Towards such, as by their Mammon were befriended.
Tho’ Culprit in enormous acts was taken,
Thou would’st devise a way to save his bacon;
And if his purse could bleed a half pistole,
Legit, my lord, he reads, upon my soul.
Spite of thy charity to dying wretches,
Some fools would live to bilk thy gallows speeches.
But who’d refuse, that has a taste of writing,
To hang, for one learn’d speech of thy inditing?
Thou always hadst a conscientious itching,
To rescue penitents from Pluto’s kitchen;
And hast committed upon many a soul
A pious theft, but so St. Austin stole:
And shoals of robbers, purg’d of sinful leaven,
By thee were set in the high road to heaven.
With sev’ral mayors hast thou eat beef and mustard,
And frail mince-pies, and transitory custard.
But now that learned head in dust is laid,
Which has so sweetly sung, and sweetly pray’d:
Yet, tho’ thy outward man is gone and rotten,
Thy better part shall never be forgotten.
While Newgate is a mansion for good fellows,
And Sternhold‘s rhimes are murder’d at the gallows;
While Holborn cits at execution gape,
And cut-purse follow’d is by man of crape;
While Grub-street Muse, in garrets so sublime,
Trafficks in doggrel, and aspires to rhime;
Thy deathless name and memory shall reign,
From fam’d St. Giles’s, to Smithfield, and Duck-lane.
But since thy death does general sorrow give,
We hope thou in thy successor will live.
Newgate and Tyburn jointly give their votes,
Thou may’st succeeded be by Dr. Oates.
* There are irregular Smith accounts from the late 1670s (he took over the position in 1675) as he felt out the genre, but he only institutionalized the periodical in the mid-1680s.
** Smith and all the Ordinaries harp endlessly on what amount to “gateway crimes”: idleness, drunkenness, bad company, and especially (as our satirist observes) breaking the Sabbath. They’re constantly inveigling prisoners to warn the execution crowd against these vices.
On his date in 1704, John Smith was hanged for a career in highway robbery that lasted all of one week and markedly wanted for subtlety.
Smith was talked into stealing a mare with a buddy. (In this enterprise, Smith leaned up against the actual Tyburn gallows while lying in wait. He was almost spooked straight by its tactile morbidity, until his friend prodded him, “What matters, it, Jack? It is but hanging, if thou shouldst come to that.”)
Once Jack crossed the line, he couldn’t get enough.
The very next day he took the hot mare out for a spin and boosted three stagecoaches, and then hit three more stages the day after that. In all, in his short career, he raided nine stage-coaches, a hackney-cab, and the carriage of one Thomas Woodcock.
This last gentleman took his servant and stalked Smith to a forest hideout, where the inexperienced robber surrendered meekly, many of the proceeds of his spree being found still upon him.
Jack Smith’s impetuous turn to the road was still the more questionable given that he wasn’t a fringe-of-society type. The executioner who turned him off this date thinned the ranks of the artisans who crafted London society’s wigs … and just at the moment this industry was really taking off.
A fashion trend that jumped that channel from France — as did the sobriquet “peruke” for the most cumbersomely outlandish of the genre — wigs went wild under William and Mary and Queen Anne.
They multiplied for every rank, profession, and occasion, differentiated by a bewildering proliferation of colorful names. There’s the Allonge and the Grecian fly wig, the Rhinoceros and She-Dragon, the riding wig and the nightcap wig, the Jansenist, the Gregorian, the Adonis, the Corded Wolf’s-Paw, and even one called the Tyburn Scratch; wigs with long braided tails and others with practical bobbed cuts; modest affairs for scrappy apprentices on the come and ludicrous gigantic heaps of bedizened white curls for the louche nobility’s opera-box peacocking and the long plaited-tail “Ramillies” named after the battle the Duke of Marlborough won with this model on his dome. Even a proper thief needed a wig, and certainly the artifacts’ value was sufficient to endear them as a frequent object of hanging crimes.
FASHION in ev’ry thing bears sov’reign sway,
And Words and Perriwigs have both their day.
Each have their purlieus too, are modish each
In stated districts, Wigs as well as Speech.
The Tyburn Scratch, thick Club, and Temple Tye,
The Parson’s Feather-top, frizz’d broad and high!
The Coachman’s Cauliflow’r, built tiers on tiers!
Differ not more from Bags and Brigadiers,
Than great St. George’s, or St. James’s stiles,
From the broad dialect of Broad St. Giles.
The most recognizable legacy of the wig-craze is, of course, the ceremonial coiffure donned by judges and barristers in British courtrooms for centuries thereafter.
It was, indeed, right around the time of Smith’s hanging (circa 1705) that the preference of the rich and powerful for wig-wearing ensconced the accessory in the realm’s courtrooms, where they soon became utterly iconic. If John Smith could have just laid off the stickups, he might have met his judges as clients instead.
“Has not your Red hanging-individual a horsehair wig, squirrel-skins, and a plush-gown; whereby all mortals know that he is a JUDGE?” Carlyle remarked in the 1830s — by which time wigs were already passe outside the courtroom.
But as tradition sanctified their place at the bar, the judicial wig long outlived its parent trend and is only now, and only gradually and grudgingly, giving way.
We pass over for this entry her four companions in death: a couple of forgettable gentleman highwaymen; a murderer fled to the continent; a coiner named D’Coiner.
Each a fellow with an interesting tale of his own, no doubt, but for Jane Voss one notices her perpetual proximity to the gallows. It’s a reminder that for a certain class of person, the omnipresent prospect of a sudden trip to the hanging-tree — intended as a mortal terror — was little but the everyday circumstance of a life nasty, brutish and too often short.
A chapbook of the day’s crop* records that the notorious Jane’s “frequent felonies and often Convictions have made her known to most in and about London, she having been above 12 times in Newgate, and several times Condemned to dye.”
Not being a principal culprit in that escapade, Voss got off with penal transportation, only returning (at least insofar as the English authorities knew) legally after her transportation term had ended.
Our correspondent alleges that “no less than 7 Persons, whom had passed for her Husbands, have at several times been Executed for Robberies, &c.” Indeed, one notorious highwayman named John Smith (alias Ashburnham) hanged earlier in April 1684 had made a point of asking the Newgate Ordinary to send word to Jane Voss to cool it lest she follow him.
Alas, it was right about this time that Jane snatched her last silver tankard. She’d had too many reprieves to escape this time … save for the mandatory stalling mechanism of pleading her belly.**
* “True account of the behaviour, confessions, and last dying words, of Capt. James Watts, Capt. Peter Barnwell, Daniel D’Coiner alias Walker, Richard Jones, and Jane Voss alias Roberts,” 1684. (via Early English Books Online)
** Here’s Jane Voss’s Old Time Restoration England Pregnancy-Simulating Potion: drink “a Gallon of New Ale and Honey” before examination. Use as needed.
“Having Intangled themselves in the snares of Death, by their Dissolute Practices, against all the warnings of Publick Justice on other Criminals,” as the Ordinary’s Account puts it, 11 men and women “provokt the Lord to set them out, as monuments of his present severe, yet Righteous Judgement” and therefore hanged together on this date at London’s Tyburn gallows.*
Murderers (and -esses)
William Harsey was taken literally red-handed, found by the St. Katherine’s watch passed out drunk, still gripping a bloody knife. He’d wetted the blade in three different bodies that night, one of them his good friend (also drunk). Two died; one survived to testify against Harsey.
Mary Mott‘s infant son was found lying dead in a gutter on her rooftop, by a laborer working on the chimney. She claimed it was stillborn, but was unable to prove it: the presumption in such instances went against the mother, on the grounds that every infanticide would simply claim stillbirth otherwise.
William Smith “said that he was guilty of all sins except Murther, he named Sabbath breaking, Drunkenness, and Uncleanness.” John Barret, a burglar, copped to the same trio of gateway sins.
Less repentant were two other robbers who had no use for the Ordinary’s god-bothering, to the detriment of their bloggable biography: Richard Johnson, who “was not concerned for his bad Life, and withdrew himself from Chappel,” and Anne Miller, who “refused to come to the Chappel, saying she was a Papist.”
Posterity has much more on Mary Jones, a scarf-maker whose lover squandered all her revenues and drove “Moll” to make an illicit living by the dexterity of her fingers. Having been branded on the hand for picking the royal chocolatier’s pocket, Jones turned to the boom trade in shoplifting London’s growing traffic of valuable little textiles like stockings and lace.
She must have had no small gift for the five-fingered discount as she practiced it for 3-4 years. “She was apprehended for privately stealing a piece of satin out of a mercer’s shop on Ludgate Hill, whither she went in a very splendid equipage and personated the late Duchess of Norfolk, to avoid suspicion of her dishonesty; but her graceless Grace being sent to Newgate, and condemned for her life at the Old Bailey.”
Hanging day would hardly be complete in the late 17th century without a highwayman like William Good, who with a buddy (uncaptured) carriage-jacked a gentleman on the London-Hackney road and made off with the 12-Days-of-Christmas-like trove of “a Dyaper Napkin Value 12 d. Twelve Larks, Two Ducks, and an Embroidered Wastcoat.”
Where Good hangs, there will you also find Malice — Humphrey Malice, to be exact, “Condemned for Robbing a Gentleman in Chelsy Field” in which crime he nevertheless enjoyed “no share in the spoil.” His better remunerated (and less interestingly named) confederate Edward Booth hanged with him. The gentleman in question was Malice and Booth’s second victim of the night, the first having been a more working-class sort who was stripped stark naked and could still only produce eight coppers. Malice and Booth gave him a vengeful thrashing for their trouble and told him “that the next time he went abroad, he should put more Money in his Pocket.”
Thomas Taylor, a parson’s son “addicted to idleness,” was in fact quite industrious when it came to robbery. There’s a story from his career of engineering a buffoonish caught-in-the-town-pillory routine to distract a crowd of yokels while his pickpocket buddies plucked them clean. His fatal crime was an even more audacious twist on the same, in which Tom, acting alone this time, fired a barn, then joined the resulting rescue scramble and made off with a trunk full of plate and £140 cash. He would later admit this was not the first time he had used this gambit.
The arson was the source of his condemnation, but we could not pass over the Newgate Calendar’s remembrance of a different and dreadfully amusing larcenous exploit … which also goes to show the very private, and very punitive, nature of crime prevention in those days.
Taylor being pretty expert at picking of pockets, he set up for himself; and one day going to the playhouse in Drury Lane, very well dressed, he seated himself by a gentleman in the pit, whose pocket he picked of about forty guineas, and went clean off. This good success tempted Tom to go thither the next day in a different suit of clothes, when, perceiving the same gentleman in the pit whose pocket he had picked but the day before, he takes his seat by him again. The gentleman was so sharp as to know his face again, for all his change of apparel, though he seemed to take no notice of him; whereupon putting a great quantity of guineas into the pocket next Tom, it was not long before he fell to diving for them. The gentleman had sewed fishing- hooks all round the mouth of that pocket, and our gudgeon venturing too deep, by unconscionably plunging down to the very bottom, his hand was caught and held so fast that he could in no manner of way disentangle it.
Tom angled up and down in the pocket for nearly a quarter of an hour; the gentleman, all the while feeling his struggling to get his hand out, took no notice, till at last Tom, very courteously pulling off his hat, quoth: “Sir, by a mistake, I have somehow put my hand into your pocket instead of my own.” The gentleman, without making any noise, arose and went to the Rose Tavern at the corner of Bridget Street, and Tom along with him, with his hand in his pocket, where it remained till he had sent for some of his cronies, who paid down eighty guineas to get the gudgeon out of this dry pond. However, the gentleman, being not altogether contented with this double satisfaction for his loss, most unmercifully caned him, and then turning him over to the mob, they as unmercifully pumped him and ducked him in a horse-pond, and after that so cruelly used him that they broke one of his legs and an arm.
Taylor, the Ordinary reported, “behaved himself very undecently and unhandsomely, all the way from Newgate to Tyburn.”
* A good round number: it was Tyburn’s second 11-spot of the year.
On this date in 1708, Deborah Churchill, alias Miller, was hanged at Tyburn.
Her crime was in the company she kept: although born into modest circumstances in Norwich, Deborah washed up in the underclass of that swelling metropolis on the Thames — leaving behind an abusive drunk of a first husband and a couple of children she’d had with him.
In London our principal kept what the Ordinary of Newgate would call “lascivious and adulterous” company with a young ruffian named Hunt who murdered another bloke while in Ms. Churchill’s company.
“Though this woman’s sins were great,” remarks the Newgate Calendar on her condemnation for the equivalent of felony murder for having been on the scene and failed to stop Hunt, “yet we must admit some hardship in her suffering the utmost rigour of the law for the crime of which she was found guilty.”
Those “great sins” consisted in a career in pickpocketing and sex work, at least one disposable “Fleet Marriage” on the side, not to mention an insufficient grasp of theology common to folk of all epochs and classes: “Whilst she was [in prison] she seemed to be really a pious woman; but her religion was of five or six colours, for this day she would pray that God would turn the heart of her adversary, and to morrow curse the time that ever she saw him.
“She at last got out of this mansion of sorrow also, but soon forgetting her afflictions she pursued her wickedness continually, till she had been sent no less than twenty times to Clerkenwell Bridewell, where, receiving the correction of the house every time, by being whipped, and kept to beating hemp from morning till night for the small allowance of so much bread and water, which just kept life and soul together, she commonly came out like a skeleton, and walked as if her limbs had been tied together with packthread.”
One might think that doing brutal labor under the lash on starvation rations was part of Deborah Churchill’s problem, not part of the solution, but the writer proceeds with sincere bewilderment, “Yet let what punishment would light on this common strumpet, she was no changeling, for as soon as she was out of jail she ran into still greater evils, by deluding, if possible, all mankind.”
Though the continued beatings curiously failed to improve morale, once Churchill was under sentence of death (whose execution she put off for the best part of a year by pleading her belly) she pleasingly played the penitent part assigned to the Tyburn gallows patient and enjoys a lengthy remembrance in the Newgate Ordinary’s documents as a result. She’s remarkably sanguine, one might think, about that whole “being hanged just for being in the vicinity of someone else’s murder” thing: of course, in Bloody Code London, many hanged for less than that. Churchill’s eyes seem to have been fixed by this moment upon salvation.
when she again reflected on her past Sinful Life and approaching shameful Death, she freely acknowledg’d, that tho’ she did not look upon herself to be guilty of Blood-shedding, yet she could not plead Innocence, but was a great Criminal before God, whose Pity and Compassion she implored.
Here she wept most bitterly, and shew’d great Signs of Repentance; saying, that she hoped God would be merciful to her, because she had ever since her Condemnation, endeavour’d to wean herself from the World in the abhorrence of her Sins, and preparing for a better Life. She wish’d all dissolute Persons would take Warning by her, and give up themselves no more to the foul Sin of Uncleanness.
When this Day of her Death was come, she was deliver’d out of Newgate, and carry’d in the Coach with me to the Place of Execution, where I attended her for the last time, and (according to my usual manner) pray’d and sung some Penitential Psalms with her, and made her rehearse the Apostles Creed. And after I had been a pretty while with her, exhorting her more and more to stir up her heart and mind to God, I took my leave of her; earnestly recommending her to the Divine Mercy, and wishing her a happy Passage out of this miserable World, and an endless Felicity in the next. Then she spoke to the Spectators to this effect: I desire all Persons, especially Young Women, to take Warning by me, and take care how they live; for my wicked Life has brought me to this shameful Death. I had a good Education, and was well brought up by my Parents; but I would not follow their good Advice and Instructions. I kept company with a Young-man, who committed the Murther for which I am here to suffer. I did not prompt him to it, nor was near him when he did it. But it was my misfortune to be concern’d with him: And God is just in bringing me to this Condemnation; for I have been a great Sinner, and very wicked. I desire those of my Acquaintance, that lead such a Life as I have formerly led, (and I see some of them here) I desire them, I beg of them, that they would take Warning by my Downfall, and amend their wicked Lives, lest they bring themselves to such an untimely End, and be undone for ever. These were her very Words, as far as I can remember; and she gave me a Paper containing the same; the substance of which I have (according to her desire) here deliver’d, whereby the Publick may avoid their being impos’d upon by any Sham-Papers relating to her Last Speech.
She desired the Standers-by to pray for her, That God would be pleas’d to be merciful to her Soul. And turning to one she call’d Nurse, she earnestly begged of her to take care of her poor Children, for whom she seemed to be very much concern’d.
Then she return’d to pray to God in these following Words, which she often repeated.
O God the Father, who hast created me, preserve and keep me. O God the Son, who hast redeemed me, assist and strengthen me. O God the Holy Ghost, who infusest Grace into me, aid and defend me. O Holy, Blessed, and Glorious Trinity, Three Persons, and One God, assist me in this my last Trial, and bring me into the way of Everlasting Life.
O Blessed Jesus, wash away my Sins in thy Blood, and receive my Soul, Thou art my Helper and Redeemer, make no long tarrying, O my God. Say now unto my Soul, I am thy Salvation. Into thy Hands, O Lord, I commend my Spirit; for thou hast redeem’d me, O Lord, thou God of Truth. Lord Jesus receive my Spirit. Amen. Amen.
When she had done speaking, she was allow’d some further time for her private Devotions. Then the Cart (into which she was put as soon as she came to that Place) drew away; and so she was turn’d off; she all the while calling upon God for Mercy, in these and the like Ejaculations: Lord, have mercy upon me! Lord, receive me! Make haste unto me, O Lord! Lord, save me! &c.
On this day in 1678, one Stephen or Steven Arrowsmith was executed at Tyburn for the rape of a little girl the previous summer.
He was one of six people sentenced to hang that day, but four of them got reprieved. Arrowsmith and Nathaniel Russel, a convicted murderer, were the ones who had to swing.
The victim in Arrowsmith’s case, eight-year-old Elizabeth Hopkins, testified against her rapist in court, as did the child who walked in and saw Arrowsmith abusing the victim on July 7 of that year. Neither witness was properly sworn in. From the Old Bailey records:
The Girl that was ravished, being between 8 and 9, testified that he had had to do with her for half a year together every sunday, that she was hindred from crying the first time, by his stopping her mouth, and that he gave her money afterwards; and she never discovered it, till some of her friends observing her to go as if she were very sore, examined her, and by telling her she would be in danger of hanging in Hell, got her to confess, that the Prisoner was her fathers Prentice.
One Mrs. Cowel did testifie that upon observing her going, and other Circumstances, she did resolve to examine her, and made her confess, which she did, and being searched, was found shamefully abused, and sent to the Doctors to cure.
The like was attested by one Mrs. Sherwin, and by a Midwife, who said, she had got a very foul disease by it.
Arrowsmith’s defense was two-pronged:
he hadn’t done it
but if he had done it, Elizabeth had consented
The maid of the doctor who examined Elizabeth testified for the defense, saying she’d asked the victim why she hadn’t told anyone about the abuse, and Elizabeth answered that she took pleasure in it.
The jury was very reluctant to convict and, in fact, initially brought back a verdict of not guilty. And here the judge, a fellow with the Dickensian name Lord Chief Justice Scroggs, decided to become the prosecutor.
One of the jurors, an apothecary, ventured that he personally believed Elizabeth had consented to intercourse. Scroggs reminded this person that she was under age and so the issue of her consent was irrelevant.
Other jury members said they were bothered by the fact that almost all the evidence was hearsay and the only direct witnesses, Elizabeth and her friend, had not been sworn. Testily, the judge replied that a rapist was not going to commit his crime in crowd of eyewitnesses, and the only reason the two girls had not been sworn was because of their youth, but if the jury wanted them sworn in he was prepared to do that. Then he sent them back to re-think their verdict.
To further complicate matters, during the second round of deliberations a thoughtless officer of the court, charged with looking after the two child witnesses, brought both girls to the jury to talk to them in private. When Scroggs found out he quickly put a stop to this and had the bailiff thrown in jail, and the jury (who swore that this hadn’t been their idea) was allowed to continue its deliberations. Jurors later said the unauthorized meeting had convinced them of the girls’ honesty, and they returned with a verdict of guilty.
“The Criminal Trial Before the Lawyers,” (pdf) a paper published in the University of Chicago Law Review in 1978, referenced the Arrowsmith case and Scroggs’s behavior. The paper’s author, John H. Langbein, tried to explain and defend the “judicial dominance” which might lead a modern reader to look askance at the fairness of the proceeding:
Hale’s treatise confirms this practice. “If the jurors by mistake or partiality give their verdict in court, yet they may rectify their verdict before it is recorded, or by advice of the court go together again and consider better of it, and alter what they have been delivered.” The tradition that the jury would lightly disclose the reasoning for a verdict became especially important in this situation, because it enabled the court to probe the basis of the profferred verdict, hence to identify the jury’s “mistake” and correct it. Thus, in the Arrowsmith case, the court discovered that the chemist’s opinion that an eight-year-old “could not be Ravished” had been influential, and the court refuted it…
Indeed, to this day in many countries, including the UK and the USA, a judge still has the right to overturn a jury’s decision if he or she feels the evidence did not support the verdict. This privilege is but rarely exercised.
At the gallows, just before his death, Arrowsmith wept and finally owned up to what he had done, saying he’d been a good person all his life until “Satan seduced him to this abominable wickedness.”
On this date in 1761, King Canek Chan Montezuma was torn apart in the main square of Merida.
This august regnal name was asserted by a shaman previously known as Jacinto Uc de los Santos (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish). “Canek” echoed the history of the Mayan Itza kings, but it was Jacinto in using it for a single month’s insurrection that fixed its immortality.
“Memory is not just a tool of the spirit for calling up the past. Rather it is a skill which allows us in a moment to see what is in its essence outside of time. Memory allows us to rise to a state, not available to the mind alone, where everything is present.”
Canek, a commoner (perhaps an orphan) with some education, mounted in November 1761 a surprise revolt at the village of Cisteil (or Quisteil). There he deposed the parish priest and preached from the Catholic pulpit in the Mayan tongue:
My beloved children, I know you yearn to throw off the heavy yoke you have labored under since the Spanish subjugation … Spanish rule [brings] nothing but suffering servility.
About this same time, a Spanish merchant on his routine business rolled into town, blithely unaware of the gathering rebellion. Canek found the interloper insolent, and had him killed.
Crowned the new Mayan king and asserting semi-divine powers, Canek rapidly gained the support of neighboring towns. Within a week, he fielded 1,500 Mayan soldiers to defend Cisteil against a Spanish force sent to suppress them. Hundreds died in a bitter hand-to-hand battle on November 26, 1761, and Cisteil burned … but the Spanish won, and Canek, following a short flight, was captured with his remaining followers.
The Spanish governor of Yucatan, Jose Crespo (Spanish link), ordered Canek to a tortuous execution: tortured, broken, burned, and his ashes scattered. Many of his other followers were also put to death in various ways around the same time.
Mural of Jacinto Canek’s torture by Fernando Castro Pacheco at the Palacio de Gobierno in Yucatan, Mexico. (cc) image from Yodigo.
The Spanish hadn’t heard the end of this.
In the next century, Canek’s name was on the lips of Mayan descendants and mixed-blood Mestizos when they revolted again in the long-running (1847-1901, or even later: Quintana Roo maintained itself semi-autonomous until the 1910s) Caste War against domination by the European-identifying peoples of what was now the independent state of Mexico.
For decades, large areas of the Mayan Yucatan remained deadly to enter for any white-skinned outsider.
Today, it’s safe to check out the monumental tribute to Jacinto Canek on the Merida boulevard that bears his name.
In 1983, fresh off parole for a 1971 homicide, Tuggle raped and shot 52-year-old Jessie Geneva Havens.
“From past experience, I would like to talk to an attorney,” he told the officer who arrested him. “I’ll probably tell you the full story later.”
In this selfsame spring of 1983, 25-year-old Timothy Michael Kaine was receiving his J.D. from Harvard Law. He moved to Richmond, Va., with his classmate Anne Holton, daughter of the state’s former governor.
Kaine and Holton married in 1984.
This was also an eventful year for the now-twice-convicted killer Lem Tuggle: together with five other condemned inmates, Tuggle sensationally busted out of Mecklenburg Correctional Center — capturing several prison guards, making up a phony bomb threat, and simply strolling out the gates in their stolen uniforms during the confusion.
The “Mecklenburg Six”* cast a terrifying pall in the headlines of June 1984; it took weeks to recapture them all. Tuggle, sensibly, made a bid for Canada’s death-penalty-free soil, only sparing Ottawa a major diplomatic headache when he stopped to rob a Vermont diner for gas money and got arrested.
Kaine’s path was destined to cross with this notorious convict, but not for some years yet. In the meantime, the idealistic young J.D. in his first year at the bar was getting acquainted with death row when he accepted a pro bono legal appointment to represent condemned killer Richard Lee Whitley.
A lifelong Catholic who had spent a youthful finding-himself year working at a mission in Honduras, Kaine was (and remains) a death penalty opponent. This would later prove a sticky wicket, but mid-1980s Kaine didn’t have a career in politics on his radar, as evidenced by his distinctly impolitic remark that “murder is wrong in the gulag, in Afghanistan, in Soweto, in the mountains of Guatemala, in Fairfax County … and even the Spring Street Penitentiary.”
Later, when he was in politics, Kaine would tell a reporter profiling him during the 2005 gubernatorial campaign that he didn’t want the assignment but would have felt like a “hypocrite” to refuse it. The Commonwealth was less easily overcome than Kaine’s scruples, and Whitley died in Virginia’s electric chair on June 6, 1987.
“I just remember sitting on my back step late and just having a couple of beers and just staring out at my backyard,” Kaine recalled of the night he lost his client.
Having had this first taste of failing with a man’s life on the line while being publicly vilified for his work, Kaine signed on to represent Tuggle in 1989.
By the time Tuggle’s legal rope ran out in 1996, Tim Kaine was a 38-year-old Richmond city council member — the trailhead for his new and now-familiar career in politics.
As Kaine elevated himself into a statewide figure in the early 2000s, his death penalty position came in for some controversy which Kaine finessed by taking the position that while he himself opposed capital punishment, he would enforce the state’s death penalty law in his capacity as governor.**
* The other five were Linwood Briley, James Briley, Earl Clanton, Willie Leroy Jones, and Derick Peterson. All of these men were also executed.
** That was indeed the case. Gov. Kaine commuted only one death sentence, that of Percy Walton, while allowing 11 others to go forward. D.C. sniper John Muhammad was the most notorious man with Kaine’s signature on his death warrant.
Christopher Alexander (“Alex”) Haun was perhaps the finest potter in antebellum Tennessee. He never had the chance to become the finest in post-bellum Tennessee because he was hanged in Knoxville this date in 1861 as an incendiarist.
While Tennessee seceded with the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War, East Tennessee was a Union stronghold. This was the native soil of pro-Union “War Democrat” (and future U.S. President) Andrew Johnson.
Besides being good fun, the conspiracy promised an effectual blow against the Confederacy inasmuch as the East Tennessee & Virginia and East Tennessee & Georgia lines constituted the South’s most reliable rail and telegraph link between its capital at Richmond, Va., and the Deep South. This plan’s author, Rev. William Carter, went to Washington and had his scheme personally approved by President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward, and Gen. George McClellan.
The rest of the plan called for the Union army to invade East Tennessee on the heels of the bridge-burnings and occupy the area. Just a few months before, McClellan’s troops had similarly occupied the pro-Union western mountains of secessionist Virginia, which is why there’s a state of West Virginia today.
But there’s no state of East Tennessee, is there?
The bridge-burning conspiracy would go down as one of the great, failed guerrilla operations of the war.
Burning Your Bridges
With authorization straight from the top, the conspirators got going. A Captain David Fry** was tasked with targeting the Lick Creek bridge, located in northeastern Tennessee† near the settlement of Pottertown, so named for the ceramics craftsmen attracted to the area’s excellent clay.
After dark fell on Nov. 8, 1861, the local Union sympathizers recruited to the plot — Christopher Haun among them — gathered at the house of a local landowner, Jacob Harmon, Jr. There they took a dramatic lantern-lit oath on the Union flag, each to “do what was ordered of him that night and to never disclose what he had done.”
Then a party of some 40 to 60 mounted raiders stole out for the Lick Creek bridge two miles distant.
Around 2 a.m., they overpowered the small Confederate sentry detail assigned to Lick Creek, and forced the sentries to watch as they fired the bridge. That same night, several other parties elsewhere along the line all the way down to Alabama also burned, or tried to burn railroad bridges and cut telegraph lines.
These “deep-laid schemes … by an organization of Lincolnite traitors” (as the Knoxville Register accounted matters) brought a predictably furious Confederate response — and the audacious saboteurs would discover only after the fact that the planned East Tennessee invasion had been aborted by William T. Sherman without alerting his pyrotechnic fifth-column allies.
A Bridge Too Far
Within three days of the “treason,” East Tennessee had been clapped under martial law. A number of bridge-burners were also arrested (although many others escaped), and here the Lick Creek men would pay dearly for their recklessly humane decision to release their captured sentries. (pdf) As a result, several of them were captured in the days following their attack.
I now proceed to give you the desired instruction in relation to the prisoners of war taken by you among the traitors of East Tennessee.
First. All such as can be identified in having been engaged in bridge-burning are to be tried summarily by drum-head court-martial, and, if found guilty, executed on the spot by hanging. It would be well to leave their bodies hanging in the vicinity of the burned bridges. [emphasis added]
Second. All such as have not been so engaged are to be treated as prisoners of war, and sent with an armed guard to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, there to be kept imprisoned at the depot selected by the Government for prisoners of war.
Two men, William Hinshaw (often called “Hensie” in the period’s reports) and Henry Fry, were condemned by such a tribunal on Nov. 30 and immediately hanged — their bodies left exposed at the Greeneville Station for a day or more, until the stench became overpowering.
The court-martial has sentenced A.C. Haun [sic], bridgeburner, to be hung. Sentence approved. Ordered To be executed at 12 o’clock tomorrow. Requires the approval of the President. Please telegraph.
Benjamin replied within hours, telling Carroll to make with the noosing.
Execute the sentence of your court-martial on the bridge-burners. The law does not require any approval by the President, but he entirely approves my order to hang every bridge-burner you can catch and convict.
Haun takes leave of his pregnant wife and four children before execution. Illustration from this 1862 propaganda volume by the Unionist publisher of the Knoxville Whig.
Six days after Haun hanged at Knoxville, the landowner who hosted the conspirators, Jacob Harmon, also went to the gallows, along with his son Henry. It seems someone in the incendiary party had carelessly dropped the name “Harmon” in conversation while the bridge sentries were in custody within earshot.
All the hanged incendiarists were posthumously enrolled in Company F of the 2nd Tennessee by Congress in 1862, a gesture of appreciation which also conferred on their heirs the right to survivors’ benefits.
In addition to the resources linked here, see Donahue Bible’s “Shattered like earthen vessels,” Civil War Times, Dec. 1997.
**The intrepid Captain Fry would escape immediate capture, gather a few hundred Unionists as a guerrilla band, and eventually get caught, sent to Georgia, and condemned to death as a spy. Fry escaped by breaking out on the eve of his Oct. 15 hanging, in the company of some of the men arrested for the Great Locomotive Chase. He rejoined Union forces, was captured again, and survived the war, finally dying in 1872 … when he was hit by a train.
† The other bridges successfully torched by the conspiracy included two over the Chickamauga in southeastern Tennessee, and the theme of Civil War bridge-burning in that sector can’t help but suggest Ambrose Bierce’s “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. (The other details are nothing alike, so Bierce’s story clearly isn’t about this incident.)
On this date in 1900, John Filip Nordlund was beheaded with Albert Dahlman‘s axe at Sweden’s Västerås County Jail.
The second-last person executed in Sweden (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish) was the author of an infamously fiendish murder spree aboard a ferry steamer crossing Lake Mälaren for Stockholm on the evening of May 16, 1900: shortly after the Prins Carl‘s departure from Arboga, Nordlund, armed with two revolvers and two blades, went on a rampage through the boat (Swedish link), shooting or stabbing everyone he saw.
The spree left five dead, including the ship’s captain, and several others wounded. Then Nordlund lowered a lifeboat into the water and rowed away with about 800 stolen kronor … and the opprobrium of the nation.
Police were able to track him from the descriptions of witnesses to a train station and arrest him the very next day. Their maniac would turn out to be a 25-year-old career thief, only released the month before from his latest prison stint.
Although captured trying to flee, Nordlund from the first projected resignation — even relief, writing his parents that he would be well rid of a society he had never felt part of. Certainly the sentence was in little doubt given the infamy of the crime (Nordlund was almost lynched after arrest), and the man made no attempt to defend himself or mitigate his actions in court, nor to seek mercy after conviction.
Nordlund was the third person executed in Sweden in 1900 alone, but there would be no more patients for Dahlman for a decade … until 1910, when Sweden conducted its first and only guillotining. The country has not carried out a death sentence since.
Besides being the penultimate executee in Swedish history, John Filip Nordlund is also the last man in Europe beheaded manually (rather than with Dr. Guillotin’s device) other than in Germany.