Posts filed under 'Hanged'

1521: Xicotencatl Axayacatl, Cortes fighter

Add comment May 21st, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1521, the Tlaxcallan warrior Xicotencatl Axayacatl (or Xicotencatl the Younger) was hanged by Hernan Cortes on the eve of his conquest of Tenochtitlan.

In an alternate history of Spain’s New World encounter it is Xicotencatl who has the glory of putting Cortes and his adventure to execution: the Tlaxcallans mounted a ferocious resistance when the conquistadors penetrated their territory, with Xicotencatl’s huge armies placing the Spanish in mortal peril despite the latter’s advantages of firearms and cavalry. Spanish soldier and diarist Bernal Diaz del Castillo would record of one engagement in September 1519

a battle of as fearful and dubious an issue as well could be. In an instant we were surrounded on all sides by such vast numbers of Indians, that the plain, here six miles in breadth, seemed as if it contained but one vast body of the enemy, in the midst of which stood our small army of 400 men, the greater part wounded and knocked up with fatigue. We were also aware that the enemy had marched out to battle with the determination to spare none of us, excepting those who were to be sacrificed to their idols.

When, therefore, the attack commenced, a real shower of arrows and stones was poured upon us; the whole ground was immediately covered with heaps of lances, whose points were provided with two edges, so very sharp that they pierced through every species of cuirass, and were particularly dangerous to the lower part of the body, which was in no way protected. They fell upon us like the very furies themselves, with the most horrible yells; we employed, however, our heavy guns, muskets, and crossbows, with so much effect, and received those who pressed eagerly upon us with such well-directed blows and thrusts, that considerable destruction was made among their ranks, nor did they allow us to approach so near to them as in the previous battle: our cavalry, in particular, showed great skill and bravery, so that they, next to the Almighty, were the principal means of saving us.

Indeed our line was already half broken; all the commands of Cortes and our other officers to restore order and form again were fruitless, the Indians continually rushing upon us in such vast crowds that we could only make place with sword in hand to save our line from being broken. …

Cortes (and the Almighty) made it out of that scrap but their small force was severely taxed by repeated engagements, including a destructive nighttime raid launched by Xicotencatl. The Spanish never conquered the Tlaxcallans — turning instead to diplomacy to attract them as allies against their rivals, the Aztecs.

So far was the victorious Xicotencatl from embracing this decision that he repeatedly ignored Tlaxcallan chiefs’ orders to stop fighting. His refusal to accommodate has inevitably been read retrospectively in view of indigenous anti-colonialism, but in the moment it was probably had a more prosaic cause: had he been suffered to complete Cortes’s destruction, he would have figured to gain a whip hand in domestic Tlaxcallan politics.

Still, the Indians were taking fearsome casualties from the Spanish and this combined with the prospect of turning Cortes’s invaders against their own enemies carried the decision. For many generations this timely alliance privileged the Tlaxcala nation, whose peoples ranked higher than other natives long into the Spanish sovereignty.

But it seems to have been intolerable for Xicotencatl Axayacatl.


The Last Days of Tenochtitlan — Conquest of Mexico by Cortez, by William de Leftwich Dodge (1899).

Cortes and his Tlaxcallan and other allies launched the final march that would conquer Tenochtitlan on May 22, 1521, but the day before setting out it was discovered that Xicotencatl had abandoned the camp. Diaz, again:

After considerable inquiries, it was found that he had secretly returned to Tlascalla on the previous night to take forcible possession of the caziquedom and territory of Chichimeclatecl. It appears, according to the accounts of the Tlascallans, that he wished to avail himself of this favorable opportunity of raising himself to supreme power in his own country, which the absence of Chichimeclatecl offered to him, who, in his opinion, was the only person that stood in his way since the death [by smallpox -ed.] of Maxixcatzin, as he did not fear any opposition from his old blind father. This Xicotencatl, the Tlascallans further added, had never felt any real inclination to join us in the war against Mexico, but had frequently assured them it would terminate in the destruction of us all.

When Chichimeclatecl received information of this, he instantly returned to Tezcuco in order to apprize Cortes of it. Our general, on hearing this, despatched five distinguished personages of Tezcuco, and two Tlascallans, who were his particular friends, after Xicotencatl, to request his immediate return to his troops, in Cortes’ name. They were to remind him that his father Lorenzo de Vargas would certainly have marched out against Mexico in person, if blindness and old age had not prevented him; that the whole population of Tlascalla continued loyal to his majesty, and that the revolt he wished to excite would throw dishonour on his own country. These representations Cortes desired should be accompanied by large promises, to induce him to return to obedience. Xicotencatl, however, haughtily replied, that he was determined to abide by his resolve, and our dominion in this country would not have continued thus long if his father and Maxixcatzin had followed his advice.

Upon this our general ordered an alguacil to repair in all haste with four of our horse and five distinguished men of Tezcuco to Xicotencatl’s abode, to take him prisoner, and hang him without any further ceremony. “All kindness,” added Cortes, “is thrown away upon this cazique. His whole time is spent in devising plots and creating mischief. I cannot suffer this to continue any longer; the matter has now come to a crisis.”

As soon as [conquistador Pedro de] Alvarado received information of these commands, he urgently begged of Cortes to pardon Xicotencatl. Our general replied that he would consider about it, though he secretly gave the alguacil peremptory orders to put him to death, which was accordingly done. Xicotencatl was hung in a town subject to Tezcuco, and thus an end was put to all his plottings. Many Tlascallans assured us that the elder Xicotencatl himself had cautioned Cortes against his son, and had advised him to put him to death.

This, at least, is the story. We lack Xicotencatl’s own voice here, and we must guess at the forces at work via the few and partisan narratives of the conquistadors. Anthropologist Ross Hassig speculates here that the “desertion” accusation — given that other similar “desertions” occur with unpunished regularity among both Spanish and natives — might have been merely pretextual on the part of Cortes, to eliminate a man he still considered a dangerous foe.

Either way, with the passage of years Xicotencatl has become a Mesoamerican symbol of indigenous valor and imperial resistance. His martial statue graces Plaza Xicohtencatl in the present-day city of Tlaxcala.

* Diaz’s narrative dates the Spanish departure from Tezcuco to May 13, instead of May 22 but he is extremely slipshod with chronology. Diaz is also a key primary source for the most lurid accounts of Aztec human sacrifice, and his reliability in that quarter has been challenged, too.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,Execution,Hanged,History,Mexico,Military Crimes,Occupation and Colonialism,Political Expedience,Power,Soldiers,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1723: Christopher Layer, for the Atterbury Plot

Add comment May 17th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1723, Christopher Layer was hanged and quartered at Tyburn for the Jacobite Atterbury Plot

In the wake of the hegemonic Whigs’ political legitimacy crisis following the 1720 financial implosion of the South Sea bubble, supporters of the exiled Stuart dynasty rekindled* hopes of resuming the English throne.

The “Atterbury Plot” — so named for its sponsor and most prominent adherent, the Tory Anglican bishop Francis Atterbury — proposed to orchestrate a coup that would seize the persons of the usurping Hanovers and key points in London and Westminster, coordinated with both an internal Catholic/Tory rising and a landing by forces loyal to James Stuart. (He’s known as “the Pretender” or as King James III, depending on where the speaker’s treasons lie.) So particularly were the Tory ambitions developed that lists of expected supporters for each of England’s counties had been drawn up, the framework of a hypothetical replacement state.

This plot was broken up by 1722 and has been ridiculed as fanciful by outcome-oriented observers, but the government at the time took a plan by disaffected elites to kidnap the royal family — a plot which had only been betrayed to them by one of the conspirators’ French contacts — very seriously indeed. Paul Kleber Monod characterizes the 1714-1723 period (which compasses more than just the Atterbury scheme) as “the most widespread and the most dangerous” of “three great waves of Jacobite activity.”

Responding vigorously, the newly ascendant Prime Minister** Robert Walpole used anti-Jacobite security measures to lay his firm hand on the helm of state. A Dutch envoy in 1723 wrote that one of its progenitors, Sir Henry Goring, “had formed a company out of the Waltham Blacks for the Pretender’s service” and that this perceived Jacobite association of skulking soot-faced poachers and potential guerrillas “led to the bringing of the Waltham Black Act into Parliament.”†

In a conspiracy of disaffected nobles, Layer might have been the least august participant — and perhaps this explains why he was the one to pay the highest price.

A successful Middle Temper barrister of strictly commoner stock, Layer’s successful practice earned him the confidence of Lord North and Grey, one of the other chief Jacobite conspirators.

Himself a ready adherent of same, Layer communicated directly with the Pretender, even traveling to Rome in 1721 to brief him personally on the plot. The volume of incriminating correspondence thereby produced, some of it in the hands of a mistress who would shop him, brought Layer his death sentence — albeit only after dramatically attempting an escape. His severed head would cast a rotted warning mounted atop Temple Bar.

Many died for the Stuart cause down the years but in the present affair only Layer would quaff the cup of martyrdom.

For others involved, who had been more circumspect about their paper trails and associates, treason would meet with less lethal revenge. Held in the Tower of London for two years, Atterbury himself proved elusive for a proper prosecution despite having corresponded directly with the Pretender with suggestive but discreet language (e.g., “the time is now come when, with a very little assistance from your friends abroad, your way to your friends at home is become safe and easy” in April 1721); instead, the Commons voted a bill of pains and penalties depriving him of his office and exiling him. Lord North and Grey followed him to the continent; like combinations of dispossession and disgrace befell all the other conspirators too.


Plaque to Christopher Layer in Aylsham, where he once practiced.

Poet Alexander Pope,‡ a Catholic, was close with Bishop Atterbury and wrote him an epitaph upon his passing.

For Dr. Francis Atterbury,
Bishop of Rochester,
Who died in Exile at Paris, in 1732.

[His only Daughter having expired in his arms, immediately after she arrived in France to see him.]

DIALOGUE.

SHE.

Yes, we have liv’d — one pang, and then we part!
May Heav’n, dear Father! now have all thy Heart.
Yet ah! how once we lov’d, remember still,
Till you are Dust like me.

HE.

               Dear Shade! I will:
Then mix this Dust with thine — O Spotless Ghost!
O more than Fortune, Friends, or Country lost!
Is there on earth one Care, one Wish beside?
Yes — Save my Country, Heavn’,
               — He said, and dy’d.

* Jacobites had only recently been defeated in a 1715 rising; they retained enough vim to try again in 1745.

** Walpole is often regarded retrospectively as the first Prime Minister, but this was not an official rank in his time: indeed, it was a defamation used against him and which Walpole rejected. (“I unequivocally deny that I am sole or Prime Minister and that to my influence and direction all the affairs of government must be attributed.”)

† Quote from Katherine West Scheil in Shapeskeare Survey 51.

‡ In other Atterbury-related celebrity litterateur brushes, Edward Gibbon’s Stuart-sympathizing grandfather was obliged by the Jacobite scandal to retire to his estate, “disqualified from all public trust.” The erudite historian would recall that “in the daily devotions of the family the name of the king for whom they prayed was prudently omitted.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Dismembered,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Lawyers,Public Executions,Treason

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1946: Bruno Tesch and Karl Weinbacher, Zyklon-B manufacturers

3 comments May 16th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1946, British hangman Albert Pierrepoint hanged seven German war criminals at Hameln Prison.

These seven comprised two distinct groups charged in two very different misdeeds:

Karl Eberhard Schöngarth and four others hanged for executing a downed Allied pilot in 1944.

Bruno Tesch and Karl Weinbacher were executed for a critical support role in the Holocust: they were principles of the chemical manufacturer Testa, which sold Zyklon-B to the Reich for use in the gas chambers.


Zyklon was just a brand hame (“Cyclone”)

Hydrogen cyanide had been employed as a legitimate pesticide and de-lousing agent for many years before World War II. Because of its danger, the odorless deadly gas was sold spiced with an odorant to alert humans accidentally exposed to it.

Tesch and Weinbacher had their necks stretched because they were shown to have knowingly sold this product sans odor, reflecting Testa’s complicity in its intended use upon humans. (A third Testa employee was acquitted, having inadequate knowledge of the firm’s operations.)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Soldiers,War Crimes

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1946: Ten at Hameln for killing Allied POWs

Add comment May 15th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1946, the British hanged 10 convicted war criminals at Hameln Prison, notably including seven for the “Dreierwalde Airfield murders” of four Allied prisoners of war.

Picture from this book about RAF POWs in wartime Germany, which also supplies the unknown names: A.W. Armstrong and R.F. Gunn of the RAF; B.F. Greenwood and J.E. Paradise of the RAAF.

In that case, two British and three Australian airmen had been captured after bailing out during a March 21 raid. Taken to the nearby aerodrome between Dreierwalde and Hopsten in Westphalia, they were marched out the next day ostensibly for transport to a POW compound. Instead, they all ended up shot by their guards — although Australian Flight-Lieutenant Berick was able to escape, wounded, and survive the war.

The nub of the case was whether the guards cold-bloodedly murdered their prisoners (prosecutors’ version), or whether there was an escape attempt by the airmen that caused the guards to start shooting (defense version).

Berick’s affidavit to the effect that no escape had been attempted weighed very heavily here — that nothing was afoot until he suddenly perceived the guards cocking their weapons. Karl Amberger would testify on behalf of himself and his men that the five had been suspiciously taking their bearings as they marched and suddenly broke off running in different directions.

The defense counsel’s attempt to reconcile these accounts in the haze of war was not fantastical — “saying that the cocking of the action of a weapon by one guard was not unnatural given the fact that five prisoners had to be guarded in a lane in the growing dusk … [while] Berick and the other prisoners probably regarded it as likely that they were to be shot, as others in their position had been, and began to run when it was not necessary.” But it did not carry the day.

Three other Germans joined this bunch on the scaffold, for similar but unrelated POW abuses.

  • Erich Hoffmanm, condemned by a joint British-Norwegian court in Oslo for the murder of Allied POWs in occupied Norway.
  • Friedrich Uhrig, for murdering a downed Royal Air Force pilot at Langlingen.
  • Franz Kircher, for killing three airmen at Essen-West.

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1775: William Pitman, for murdering his slave

Add comment May 12th, 2017 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1775,* plantation owner William Pitman was hanged for murder in King George County, Virginia.

Pitman had a reputation as a brutal man and was no stranger to the Virginia courts; he had been making appearances since the 1750s. So perhaps it was not surprising that he got strung up eventually.

Virginia Gazette, Apr. 21, 1775

What is surprising, indeed perhaps unprecedented, is that the murder victim was one of his own slaves.

The Virginia Gazette, which published the sole surviving account of the incident, says that Pitman, “in liquor” and “in the heat of passion” lost his temper, “tied his poor negro boy by his neck and heels,” and beat him with a large grapevine before stomping him to death.

Pitman can hardly have been the first, or the last, slaveowner to slaughter his own “property” but it was usually impossible to get a conviction because blacks were not allowed to testify against whites in court. In this case, however, two white people — Pitman’s own son and daughter — sealed the case by giving evidence against their father.

The Gazette, writing on April 21, said Pitman had “justly incurred the penalties of the law” and said hopefully that the story might be “a warning to others to treat their slaves with moderation, and not give way to unruly passions, that my bring them to an ignominious death, and involve their families in their unhappy fate.”

* Pitman’s hanging “yesterday” is reported in the Saturday, May 13 issue of the Virginia Gazette — a different Virginia Gazette from the one quoted in this post, as it happens: three competing papers used this same branding; the report in this post’s body on the circumstances of Pitman’s conviction comes from Dixon and Hunter’s Gazette, while the May 13 item establishing the hanging date is from Alexander Purdie’s Gazette.

Purdie’s May 13 edition further adds that when the sheriff came to fetch him on the fatal day, “Pitman made some resistance, but was soon overpowered; he behaved with decency at the place of execution, and attributed his unhappy fate to the effect of intemperate drinking.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,USA,Virginia

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1887: Charles Smith

Add comment May 9th, 2017 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1887, 63-year-old Charles Smith was judicially hanged at Oxford Castle Prison by James Berry. He’d brutally murdered his wife in front of their children that February.

The Smith family were Gypsies: Charles, his wife Lucy, their 17-year-old daughter Oceana (known as Oshey) and their 11-year-old son Prince Albert. As Nicola Sly notes in her book Oxfordshire Murders,

The lifestyle of Gypsy families in 1887 was not one to be envied. The traveling people were at the mercy of the weather all year round, whether the heat of summer or the bitter cold of winter. Forced to scratch a living any way they could, many supplemented their meager income with a little poaching or petty theft. Thus they were very rarely welcomed in any area and were always in fear of the local police who almost invariably moved them on wherever they tried to settle.

According to this account, Lucy had borne many children, but only four lived long. By the time of the murder, one of the children had died and one, a daughter named Elizabeth, had grown up and left home.

Charles’s siblings regularly got in trouble with the law, and at least one of his siblings was transported for sheep theft. He and Lucy, however, were somewhat more fortunate: Lucy possessed a valid peddler’s license. In the 1881 censuses, both had their occupations listed as “hawker.” Charles made baskets, skewers, roasting forks, meat stands and pegs which his wife sold.

Throughout their lives Charles and his family traveled around Oxfordshire, pitching a tent wherever they could find a place, and in February 1887, they were camped on public land near Headlington. They’d been there before and were friendly with some of the local residents, including a couple coincidentally also named Smith.

Charles was a violent man who regularly beat his wife and children; Oshey stated he beat his wife every day, and Prince Albert would later testify, “He has been knocking my mother about nearly all his life.”

At one point the domestic violence had gotten so bad that Lucy had gone so far as to take out a formal complaint against her husband for cruelty. She never followed up on it, though.

On the 18th of February, Kate and George Smith, who lived in a nearby cottage, visited the tent and noted Lucy was visibly bruised. They asked Charles why he’d beaten her and he wouldn’t give a reason, but said it was over something that happened thirty years before.

The visitors advised him to forgive and forget, but Charles acted surly and hostile for the rest of the day. Lucy was so frightened of him that for a long time she stayed outside the tent in the bitter cold, and only partially dressed, rather than go inside where her husband was. At bedtime she finally came in.

In the early hours of the next morning, Charles began shouting at his wife, waking the children. As Oshey and Prince Albert watched in horror, their father picked up a hammer and attacked Lucy, beating her on her head, back and legs until he was too tired to do it anymore. Then he laid down and went peacefully asleep.

Mortally wounded, Lucy crawled out of the tent to get some water from a nearby stream. She never returned, and eventually Oshey went out to check on her and found her dead.

When Charles realized what he’d done, he sank to his knees beside Lucy’s battered corpse and sobbed, crying, “My wench, my wench!”

Oshey and Prince Albert ran for help, going to the same neighbors who’d visited the night before. When Kate Smith answered the door, Oshey blurted, “My Mammy’s dead. He’s been and killed her with the hammer.”

Kate and George rushed to the scene of the crime. Charles had dragged Lucy’s body into the tent and lain it out on some straw. He told them Lucy had “fallen down” and died. George told everyone he was going to fetch a doctor, but instead he went to the police, returning with two constables. By then Charles had calmed down and said casually, “Good morning. I have got a dead ‘un this morning.”

One of the constables searched the tent and found the bloodstained hammer concealed under some straw. Charles, whose coat was also bloodstained, was placed under arrest for the willful murder of his wife. The autopsy showed she’d died of a fractured skull; Charles had hit her head with the hammer three or four times.

At the ensuing trial in April, Oshey was the star witness against her father, although Charles kept shouting that she was telling lies and was a “nasty, wicked wretch.” Prince Albert testified also, as did Kate and George Smith.

The defense argued that Charles had no intention of killing his wife and there was no motive, and so it was a case of manslaughter. However, the jury returned a verdict of murder.

After he was condemned to die, Charles turned to religion for solace, praying with the prison chaplain. Some of his relatives came to visit, although Oshey and Prince Albert stayed away. His eldest daughter Elizabeth made the strange observation that “when he was a drunkard there was not a kinder man living, that something or somebody turned him into a teetotaler, and from that time he had been a cruel wretch.”

While walking to the scaffold, Charles fainted on the trapdoor just before James Berry drew the bolt. The hanging went smoothly and it was judged he died quickly and painlessly.

As for the orphaned Oshey and Prince Albert, it was recorded that “through the noble hearted philanthropy, of Miss Skene, of this City, the girl Oceana has been placed in a Home in York, and boy the Prince Albert, through the same thoughtfulness, will also be brought up to acquire the means of earning an honest livelihood.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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1805: Not Bartlett Ambler, possible buggerer

Add comment May 8th, 2017 Headsman

From “Buggery and the British Navy”, in History of Homosexuality in Europe and America

Unlike modern military law, which tends to distinguish in some way between homosexual acts between consenting adults and what is often the equivalent of rape of a shipmate, the navy during this period made no such distinctions. A boy who had been seduced or forced to commit buggery, therefore, was under great pressure to turn in his partner or attacker, for if they were caught and it appeared he had consented, the “victim” might well be as severely punished as the aggressor. Needless to say, there were serious problems in determining whether or not the boys called to testify were telling the truth, or simply using the buggery charge as a means of destroying a shipmate or officer they particularly disliked.

The courts were often acutely conscious of that possibility and there was even some objection to allowing young boys to testify in buggery trials. In 1772, the defense protested the testimony of John Ellis, a twelve year old boy who had accused one John Palmer of buggery. Despite the protest, however, it was decided that he could legally testify and Palmer was convicted of attempted buggery.

The problem of boys testifying against men in buggery cases are clearly revealed in the Bartlett Ambler case. Ambler was accused by four boys of sodomitic practices. Each testified that Ambler threatened to have them flogged if they told what had occurred. One of the boys, John Davy, said, “…and I had scarce buttoned up my breeches when he said be sure don’t tell no person of it. I’ll be very good to you, but if you tell any person of it I’ll get you flogged.” Ambler based his defense on the alleged wickedness of his accusers. Joseph Dorman, the ship’s corporal, was called upon to discuss the character of three of the witnesses.

Q. Do you know if the boys who have been examined in support of the charge against me are notorious liars?

A. Two of them Hopkins and Willcott have been several times punished for lying.

Court. What is the character of the boy Davy?

A. He bears a very bad character by the whole ship’s company.

Ambler also called upon Midshipman Robert Baker who told the court:

Davy is a very wicked boy indeed as ever lived everyone in the ship will say that if it was in his power he would hang his own father — I hear Hooper’s mother say that her son had denied to her all that had been said against the prisoner.

The court had to weigh the testimony of the four boys who accused Ambler of buggery against the evidence of Ambler’s witnesses, who denigrated the character of the boys and testified to his good reputation. The judges sentenced Ambler to be hanged, but as a sign of their unease, sent the following letter to the Admiralty Secretary, along with the minutes of the trial:

By desire of the members of a Court Martial assembled by me this day to try Mr. Bartlett Ambler, I have to request you will call their lordship’s consideration to the hardship the Court have labored under in being obliged to condemn a man to death, upon the evidence of four boys, the eldest not more than thirteen years of age, and therefore recommend him to mercy.

The recommendation was endorsed by His Majesty on May 8, 1805, and Ambler was pardoned.

It is clear that boys could be intimidated into testifying against innocent men. In one disturbing case, a boy was caught under the blanket of Edward Martin. Evidently, the boy did not have a bed or blanket of his own, and Martin took him in as an act of kindness. The captain of the ship had the boy flogged and threatened him with another whipping if he refused to testify. Under the threat of further punishment, the boy confessed that Martin had buggered him. The trial record reads:

Prosecutor. Did you inform me that the Prisoner had committed that unnatural crime on you twice?

James. Yes, but I was afraid that the Captain would flog me.

In this case, the prisoner was acquitted, but the case does suggest the many possible abuses in buggery trials: that the testimony of boys was suspect, that fear of punishment or promise of reward might be used to intimidate them into giving false evidence against a shipmate, that the boy could be motivated by dislike or a desire for vengeance.

Trial transcripts of the testimony offered against Bartlett Ambler — and summoned by Ambler in his defense, who averred the “wicked” and “very bad” character of the childish witnesses — are available in Gay Warriors: A Documentary History from the Ancient World to the Present.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Hanged,History,Homosexuals,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Rape,Sex,Soldiers

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1900: James Nettles

Add comment May 7th, 2017 Headsman

From the St. Louis Republic, July 9, 1898

James Nettle has Partly Confessed.

Suspect in the Mann Murder Case Admits All but the Shooting.
Caused the Arrest of His Double in Order to Confuse the Several Witnesses.

James Nettle, the negro who is accused of the murder of Conductor Edward Mann of the Suburban Railway, on the night of July 4, after emphatically declaring his innocence and even going so far as to bring about the arrest of his “double,” Esbree Manley, a negro ventriloquist, as a suspect in the case, yesterday began to show signs of weakening, and at a late hour last night had confessed everything but the firing of the three shots which proved fatal to Mann.

The arrest of Manley on Nettle’s statement that he had overheard a conversation in the calaboose that a ventriloquist had a hand in the shooting, proved to be Nettle’s undoing. When confronted by Manley, Nettle was unable to carry out his well-laid plans. The striking similarity in the physique of the two negroes would have rendered it almost impossible to pick out the real culprit, but Manley met Nettle and the police with such a straight story of his whereabouts at the time of the tragedy that the former burst into tears and admitted after a little coaxing that he was in the street car fight in which Conductor Mann was slain.

He told his story between sobs, for he broke down completely under the strain. He declared that Mann had ordered him off the car and had returned his fare, in order to hasten his departure, when the fight started. He did not recall how they began fighting, but he said the conductor and motorman tackled him and forced him off the platform, threatening to do him violence.

Even after he had left the car, he said, the conductor followed him several steps. At this point the shooting was done, but all efforts to make the negro Nettle relate these further details have proven futile. In order to avoid the cross-fire of questions from Chief Desmond, the negro complained of being ill and had to be given medicine by the Dispensary physicians. Afterward he said he would not talk further on the murder until to-day.

The negro Manley was released last night after he had established an alibi.


From the St. Louis Republic, Dec. 16, 1898

Testimony Finished.

James Nettles’ Fate Will Be Decided To-Day.

To-day the fate of James Nettles, colored, charged with murder in the first degree, probably will be decided in Judge Tally’s court, after 10 hours’ argument by the attorneys for the State and the prosecution. At 11 a.m. yesterday the State rested and the defense was through at 6 p.m., having tried to establish an alibi.

Thomas L. Brown, the motorman of the car on which Conductor Samuel W. Mann was mortally wounded on the night of July 4 last, was the first witness for the State. He told how the negro boarded the St. Louis and Suburban car at Jefferson avenue, quarreled over car fare, and at Garrison avenue shot the conductor as he retreated from the car. He identified Nettles. Others testified that they were sure Nettles was the assassin.

For the defense, Michael White, a negro, with whom Nettles lived at No. 1321 Linden street, was the main witness. His testimony was that he and the defendant were together all day on July 4, and that Nettles was not at any time near the scene of the murder. He testified that they went to Kirkwood in the morning, returning to their home about 7 p.m., where there was an entertainment, at which both Nettles and White were present until 11:30 p.m. In corroboration of this testimony many witnesses were introduced.

In rebuttal, the State introduced Frederick Brunesman of No. 2641 East Prairie avenue, the motorman of the car which immediately preceded Conductor Mann’s car on the night of the killing. Brunesman identified Nettles as the negro who tried to board his car that night at Jefferson avenue, but was so drunk he fell off. Detective John Gallagher and Policeman Thomas Mahon told of an interview they had with Nettles on the day following his arrest. On that occasion, they testified, Nettles said he assaulted Conductor Mann because Mann rebuked him for misconduct.


From the St. Louis Republic, Dec. 17, 1898

Nettles Found Guilty

Jury Decides That the Negro Murderer Must Hang.

Had James Nettles, a negro, been informed that his dinner was ready, he could not have displayed less concern than when told the jury had found him guilty of murder in the first degree and that he must be hanged. Death seems to have no terrors for him and he smiled at his fate in the same indifferent manner with which he greeted the onslaught of the State’s witnesses. Never through the long trial has he ever manifested even a moderate interest in the proceedings. If he is guilty of the foul murder of Conductor Mann before his wife and children on July 4, he did not show it yesterday.

The cases on both sides were rested on Thursday evening and for four hours yesterday the attorneys for the State and the defense fought an oratorical battle before the jury. Finally, a few minutes before 2 o’clock, the case was given to the jury.

Then, for three hours the jurors debated the case, finally coming to a decision at 5 o’clock. Several of the jurors, it was learned, stood for a life sentence, but were converted to capital punishment on the ground that executive clemency might intervene to cut short the term.

The State had many witnesses who were on the car and identified Nettles as the assassin; while, on the other hand, the defense had nearly a score of negroes to establish an alibi. The State’s attorneys held that it was an alibi for the occasion and made efforts to break it down. One of the defense’s witnesses, who said he was with Nettles at a dance on the night of July 4, testified that there was a roaring fire in the parlor. Other similar statements served to weaken the alibi.

When the verdict had been rendered, Attorneys Van Patten and Morroll, for the defense, declared they would ask for a new trial, and in case it were refused, would appeal.


From the St. Louis Republic, April 5, 1900

Respite for Nettles

Governor Grants the Condemned Man Another Thirty Days

Governor Stephens last night granted a thirty day’s respite to James Nettles, the negro who has been condemned to be hanged for the murder of Conductor Samuel W. Mann on a St. Louis and Suburban car, near Leffingwell avenue, on the night of July 4, 1898. He was to have been hanged a month ago, but a reprieve of thirty days was granted in order to give the Governor time to examine into the merits of the appeals for clemency.

The death watch was placed on Nettles yesterday morning at 6 o’clock and has not yet been removed, as Sheriff Pohlmann has not received official notification of the respite. He expects a letter from the Governor to-day.

Nettles was not in the least perturbed yesterday. When the Reverend Mr. Hurzburger of the German Evangelical Church called at the jail last night with Sheriff Pohlmann and notified the condemned man that the Governor had granted a respite of thirty days, the negro, without any apparent emotion, thanked him for what he had done in the matter and reiterated his assertion of innocence.


From the St. Louis Republic, April 26, 1900

A QUESTION OF WHISKERS — Another attempt is being made to get Governor Stephens to commute the death sentence of James Nettles, the negro who was convicted of the murder of Conductor Sam W. Mann on the night of July 4, 1898. Governor Stephens has granted two stays of execution to allow himself time to investigate the application and petitions. At the trial some of the witnesses testified that Mann’s assailant wore side whiskers. Attorney Maurer had several barbers examine Nettles’s face, and he says that they will make affidavit that he could not raise side whiskers.


From the St. Louis Republic, May 6, 1900

To Be Hanged To-Morrow

Death Watch Placed on the Negro James nettles.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Pohlman yesterday for the third time placed the death watch on James Nettles, the negro who is under sentence of death for the murder of Conductor Samuel W. Mann. Nettles will be hanged at 6 o’clock to-morrow morning unless Governor Stephens stays the execution. Twice Nettles has been within the shadow of the gallows, with the death watch set, when each time the Governor granted reprieves that he might look further into the applications for clemency.

Nettles has all but lost hope. When Deputy Sheriffs Parcel and Hoefer escorted him from his cell on the second tier to cell No. 46 on the round floor, he said he guessed this was the last time. The cell to which he was transferred is the one occupied by all St Louis murderers during the last hours before their execution. Nettles was restless Friday night, alternately reading the Scriptures, praying and singing. When the deputies came in he seemed somewhat relieved. He walked between them up and down the exercise yard until 7 o’clock, when he went into his new cell, where he ate a hearty breakfast. At dinner and supper it was the same way; he seemed to take a last pleasure in ordering what he wanted to eat. He still protests his innocence.

He was convicted of the murder of Conductor Sam W. Mann on the night of July 4, 1898. Nettles got on Mann’s car at Jefferson and Franklin avenues. He refused to pay his fare and Mann ordered him from the car. A scuffle followed and Nettles fired a shot which struck Mann in the abdomen, causing his death a few hours afterwards. Mrs. Mann and two little daughters of the conductor were on the car at the time and witnessed the killing.


From the St. Louis Republic, May 8, 1900

James Nettles, the negro convicted of the murder of Conductor Samuel W. Mann of the Suburban Street railway, was hanged yesterday morning. The drop fell at 6:07 o’clock, and nineteen minutes afterwards the doctors pronounced him dead. Nettles met his death bravely and declared his innocence with almost his last breath.

The execution was conducted with precision and dispatch, but without unnecessary haste. About 250 spectators were present, but they were more orderly than those present at previous hangings.

Nettles was restless throughout the night preceding his execution, and did not sleep any. A number of friends called to bid him good-by early in the night. The Reverend Mr. Sachs, Nettles’s spiritual adviser, the Deputy Sheriffs on the “death watch,” and a few newspaper men remained with him throughout the night. At 3 o’clock in the morning the Century Quartet called at the jail and sang several favorite hymns.

Early in the morning Nettles retired to his cell with the Reverend Mr. Sachs, where they read the Scriptures and prayed until the arrival of Sheriff Pohlman.

At 6 o’clock Sheriff Pohlman read the death warrant to Nettles. The prisoner’s arms were then bound and he was led to the scaffold. Nettles did not falter, although he was a trifle nervous. After his legs and arms had been securely bound Sheriff Pohlman asked him if he had anything to say before he died. In a clear, resonant voice he said,

I am about to die for another man’s crime. The Lord knows I am innocent, and I go to meet him with a clear conscience. I love you and I hope to meet you above. I am innocent!

Then the black cap was pulled down over his head, the noose adjusted and Chief Deputy Sheriff Pohlman sprung the lever. Nettles’s body, after the drop, hung perfectly still. Nineteen minutes later the physicians pronounced him dead and his body was cut down and taken into the morgue. An examination revealed that his neck was broken.

Nettles shot and killed Conductor Mann on his car in Franklin avenue near Leffingwell avenue on the night of July 4, 1898. The negro got on the car and refused to pay his fare. While Mann was ejecting him he pulled a revolver and fired. Mrs. Mann and two little children were on the car and witnessed the murder.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Missouri,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1801: Franz Troglauer

Add comment May 6th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1801, robber prince Franz Troglauer was hanged at Amberg.

A lifelong picaro, Troglauer had several brushes with the law at his back when around 1790 he formed up the Fürth Diebesbande, or Great Franconian Robbers’ Band.

This lot delivered what their name promised throughout the 1790s. Troglauer’s* gang took enterprising advantage of the emerging technologies that were driving the classical outlaw figure into myth and memory, setting up their own printing press to churn out forged papers and compassing a vast shadow economy ranging from thieves to fences to look-the-other-way inkeepers. Troglauer’s most famous caper was engineering the heist of a Bamberg bishop’s vestments. (And more significantly, his silver plate.)

Some in the latter-day Upper Palatinate aspire to make his haunts into a tourist attraction a la Troglauer’s Rhenish contemporary Schinderhannes, but his life is surprisingly ill-documented and so his fame has little spread to the wider world. (That’s why all the links here are in German.)

The gang was betrayed and broken up in 1798. Troglauer managed to escape and briefly resume his career, but his overt threats to assassinate a prominent landlord who had been involved in his previous prosecutions helped to intensify the search that brought him once more to prison and at last to the gallows.

* This is a network rather than a hierarchy; Jakob Meusel was another important leader, and it’s sometimes also called the Meusel Band after him.

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1725: John Coamber

Add comment May 5th, 2017 Headsman

The Dublin hanging of John Coamber on this date in 1725 for the previous year’s notorious mugging/murder of a city counselor named Richard Hoar(e) arrives to us, as have several previous posts, via James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches From Eighteenth-Century Ireland.

In this instance, Kelly gives us two rival “last speeches.” It’s a genre that he says was exploding in the 1720s, with the burgeoning of print culture and the importation of similar purported gallows unburdenings.

And as we saw in a 1726 exemplar from the same book, the publishers who flooded this burgeoning market were at daggers drawn with one another over precedence for inside information and autobiographical authenticity. This is another case where one of the documents — Cornelius Carter’s — takes space to take a shot at the rival tract.

We also see here in Carter’s more detailed (and here, sarcastic) narrative that two different, innocent, men were hanged for the murder some time before one of the three real killers saved his own neck by shopping Coamber.


The Last Speech, Confession and Dying Words of
John Comber

who is to be Hang’d and Quarter’d this present Wednesday, being the 5th, of this Inst. May 1725. Near St. Stephen’s-Green; for Murdering Councellor Hoar, in January last.

Good Christians,

My Heart has been so hard hitherto, that I had no Manner of thought of either Soul or Body, but now I seeing Death plainly before my Face, causes me to consider of my latter End; and praise God for giving so much Grace so to do; therefore I am resolv’d to make a Publick Confession of my past Life and Conversation, which is as follows.

As to my Birth and Parentage, it is but a folly to relate, yet I can say I came from very honest Parents, who took what Care they could to bring me up in the Love and Fear of God, but I contrary to the Laws of God and Man, have gon [sic] astray, and follow’d Loose Idle Company, which brought me to this untimely Death; and how it came to pass was thus.

I being Entimitly Acquainted with one Patrick Freel, and David McClure, with whom I went to a House in New-street, where we then (after several meetings) made a Plot to get Money, by reason it was scarce with us, at length we Consulted the 19th, of January last, to Robb the first we wou’d meet with, and being over perswaided by the Devil, I went to the House of Mr. Carter and meeting a Child of his, bid him fetch his Dady’s Pistol, and I would fetch him some sweet things, upon the same promise, the Child brought me a Pistol, and then I, in Conjunction with the above Named Persons, went towards Stephen’s-Green, where we met with Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Leeson’s Clerk, whom we Robb’d of a Ten Peney Piece, from that we proceeded to Henry-street, where we met the Deceased Gentleman, to whom I went up, and Demanded his Money, with that he moving his Arm, and I having the Pistol Cock’d, caused the same to go off, tho’ as I shall Answer my God I did not think of being his Butcher; and when I found the Pistol went off, I never staid to know whether he had Money or no, but took to my Heels as fast as I could.

Then I went to the Sign of the Black Swan in Mary’s-Lane, where I and my Comrads met; from that my Prosocuter Patrick Freel and I, went to the Country where we staid for some small Time, then I came back, and as God, who never suffers Murder to be Conceal’d, I was soon Apprehended and put to Goal, upon Suspission, where I lay as good as a Month, but a Proclamation being Isued out, concerning the Murder, he came in and made Oath that I was the Person that Shot the Councellor, which to my sorrow is True.

Having no more to say but beging the Prayers of all good Christians, I die a Roman Catholick, and in the 22d. Year of my Age, and the Lord have Mercy on my poor Soul Amen.

Dublin: Printed by C.P. 1725.


The Last Speech, Confession and Dying Words of
John Coamber

who is to be Hang’d, Drawn and Quarter’d this Day, being the 5th of this Instant May 1725. For the Murder of Councellor HOAR in Henry Street the 19th of Jan. last.
Deliver’d to the Printer hereof C. CARTER the 5th of May, and to no other, By me John Coamber. And All others are Imposing on the Publick.

All you my Spectators,

This is to give you the following Account, I was born in the Town which is Call’d Thurles, in the County of Tipperary in Munster, of very honest Parents, that brought me up in the fear of God, and Wou’d give me good Learning, but I was too Head-strong, and wou’d not be Rul’d or Guided by my tender Parents, but left ‘em and went to serve a Tobacco-twister, which I work’t at for about 5 years, being weary of that I came for Dublin, being a stranger, I turn’d Porter about Cork-hill, where I stood and follow’d that business for near 3 years, all this time I behav’d my self very honestly, and was well belov’d by all that knew me, especially in the above Neighbourhood, being weary of that, I took a fancy to Cry News about this City, which in a little time, I began to get a great many pence by it, and in sometime after, I became Acquainted with Idle and loose Company, Viz. and in the process of time I came to be acquainted with particular Persons and some others who first brought me in Company among Whores to Drink and spend my Money &c. Which was the first Cause of my Destruction.

Afterwards I went of my own Accord, and follow’d the said Evil Custom and other ill Actions, then I became as obdurate and as Wicked as the worst of my Ring-leaders.

I have Reason to Curse them Idle fellows which made me first acquainted with the whores and Pick-pockets in this City, of which there is abundance too many.

But finding Money not Answering to keep the above Company, being acquainted with one David McClure who was my chief Comrade, and who made his Escape to France after the Murder was Committed, he and I stuck together, and followed a very Idle Course of Life, and we Committed several ill Facts in this City and Liberties thereof.

All our shifts not Answering, I, McClure, and Patrick Freel (who was the first Evidence against me) Resolv’d to turn Robber, but never did design to be Guilty of Murder, and did design when we got a Sum of money that was worth While, to leave the Country.

I confess, that Patrick Freel, David McClure and I went on the 19th of January last at Night, to Henry Street, with a Design to Rob, or Plunder the first Gentleman that came that way; which was the luck of that worthy honest Gentleman Councellor Hoar, though I declare before God I did not design to hurt him, or any Man else that time.

I do also Confess that I did own to the Blind Boy, Lawrence Dugan, (who was the t’other Evidence against me) that Patrick Freel, David McClure and I myself, were all Guilty of the Murder for which I now suffer, but I wonder he did not Discover, it when one Pitts and another one Hand, had like to suffer for this Murder. (emphasis added -ed.)

I further Declare, tho’ it was falsely and Scandalously Publish’d in Print, by one Mrs. Needham and her Son Dickson; that I had got Mr. Carter’s Pistols from his young Son about 8 years of Age, (we had but one Pistol among us) and as I am a Dying Man I got no such thing from the said Child, nor none of his Family, neither did I steal any such thing out of his House in my Life time.

I accused one Daniel Field and Michael Tankard falsly, which I am heartily sorry for, but it was by the Advice of Winfred Dunn and Patrick Dunn the 2 Informers, that swore against Pitts and Hand that was Try’d the last Term for this Fact.

I beg of my great God to forgive my Prosecutors, and all my Enemies, as I do forgive them from the bottom of my heart.

I hope this my untimely End will be a Warning to my Comrades, and also to all young Men, which I pray to God it may. For my own part I own I am Guilty of the Fact for which I Die, And I hope the Lord of his infinite Goodness, will have Mercy on my Soul and forgive me.

I am about 19 Years of Age I dye a Roman Catholick, and Desires the Prayers of all Good Christians, and the Lord have Mercy on my poor Soul. Amen.

JOHN COAMBER

DUBLIN: Printed by Corn. Carter. 1725.

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