Posts filed under 'Mass Executions'

1728: Five at Tyburn

Add comment March 27th, 2018 Headsman

The Ordinary of Newgate (in this case, James Guthrie) furnishes us the following “ACCOUNT, Of the Behaviour, Confession, and dying Words of the Malefactors who were Executed at Tyburn, on Wednesday the 27th of this Instant March, 1728.”:


***N. B. Whereas in the last Dying Speech of the Malefactors, who were executed on Monday the 12th of February last, several literal Mistakes and other gross Errors, which perverted the Sense, escap’d Correction, through the Hast of the Press: The Readers are hereby desir’d to excuse the same, and may be assur’d that effectual Care shall be taken to prevent the like for the future, by printing the Dying Speeches correctly.

AT the King’s Commission of Oyer and Terminer, and Jail Delivery of Newgate, held (before the Right Honourable Sir EDWARD BECHER, Lord Mayor of the City of London; the Honourable Mr. Baron Comyns; the Hon. Mr. Justice Probyn; the Hon. Mr. Baron Thompson, Recorder of the City of London; and John Raby, Esq, Serjeant at Law; and others his Majesty’s Justices of Jail Delivery, and Oyer and Terminer aforesaid: Together with several of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the said City of London and County of Middlesex) at Justice-Hall, in the Old-Baily, on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, being the 28th and 29th of February, and the 1st, 2d, 4th, and 5th of March, 1728. in the first Year of his Majesty’s Reign.

Six Men, viz Benjamin Branch, Martin Bellamy, William Shann, John Potter, James Stagles, alias Howard, and Richard Kelme; and two Women, viz. Margaret Wallis, alias Staineus, and Margaret Murphy, were found guilty of capital Offences by the Jury, and received Sentence of Death.

While under Sentence, they having been for the most part young People of lewd and dissolute Lives, and consequently ignorant of Religion, both in Speculation and Practice, were instructed in those Principles, which are necessary to be known by us, both as Men and Christians. I shew’d them, that Nature itself teacheth us, that unto God the Sovereign Lord of the Universe, Worship, Reverence, and Homage is due from all his Creatures, and that Man who (as the Heathens, who were only led by the light of Nature, acknowledged) was form’d after the divine Image, and substituted Lord of this inferior Orb, was in a more especial Manner bound, in Token of his dependance, to give all due Obedience, by dedicating himself to the Service of God, his Creator and special Benefactor. But if they fell short in complying with the first Principles of natural Religion, which is insufficient for Salvation; how much greater must their Guilt be, who being descended of Christian Parents, and living in the midst of so great Light, had despised those glorious Revelations, which were intended to elevate and perfect our depraved Nature? That Theft and Robbery were destructive of all human Society, and reduc’d Man, who is made after the Image of God, who is the God of Order, into the State of savage Animals and Birds of Prey. Besides, that the Commission of the Sin of Theft and Robbery was attended with innumerable other, the worst of Sins; such as a tendency to Murder, and commonly a continued Practice of Lying, Drinking, Whoring, and many such like Vices; and it is evident, that those who give themselves up to this wicked Course of Life, are the vilest Wretches, and abandon’d to every thing which is good. I instructed them in the Nature of the Christian Sacraments, both of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, how they are Seals of the Gospel-Covenant, and Pledges of all those Blessings procur’d to us by the Sufferings and Death of our Lord Jesus; and that the Lord’s Supper was a proper Provision to strengthen our Faith, in order to prepare us for a new State of Life, and that never-ending Eternity, upon which they were to enter.

While these and the like Exhortations were us’d, John Potter, James Stagles, Richard Kelme, Margaret Murphy, and Margaret Wallis, alias Staineus, were apparently devout and serious; Benjamin Branch, and Martin Bellamy comply’d with the Worship, by making regular Responses, but were seldom attentive to the Exhortations, and were otherways guilty of carrying themselves most undecently at Prayers and other Times, especially for Men in their miserable and dangerous Circumstances; for which I reprov’d them sharply and frequently; but they were the most obstinate and obdurate Criminals I ever saw. William Shann never came to Chapel but once, having been afflicted with sickness, and afterwards with swelling in his Legs and Feet, so that he could not walk; but as I frequently visited him in the Cell, he still declar’d himself very Penitent, and readily comply’d with Prayers and Exhortations.

Upon Thursday, the 21st, of March, the Report of these eight Malefactors under Sentence of Death, was made to His Majesty in Council. When William Shan, for Felony and Burglary, in breaking the House of Richard Wright of Coleman-street, and taking thence 30 Guineas, 10 l. in Silver, 8 Moiders, 2 broad Pieces, and one half broad Piece, on the 8th of December last, the Property of Richard Wright aforesaid. And Richard Kelme of St. John Hackney, for stealing a Brown Gelding, value 7 l. the Property of Mr. Yellowly; a Mare, val, 7 l. the Goods of Mr. Sanders; a Bridle, Saddle, and Saddle-cloth, the Property of John Laurence, out of the Stable of the said John Laurence, receiv’d His Majesty’s most Gracious Reprieve. The remaining Six, viz. Benjamin Branch, Martin Bellamy, John Potter, James Stagles, alias Howard, Margaret Murphew, and Margaret Wallis, alias Stainens, were ordered for Execution.

Benjamin Branch, of St. Andrew’s Holbourn, was Indicted for Assaulting Jane Marshal on the Highway, putting her in Fear, and taking from her two Guineas, two half Guineas, and 3 s. and 6 d, in Silver, 2 Pocket-pieces, value 5 s. a bunch of Keys, and 2 silk Handkerchiefs, on the 27th of Jan. last.

Benjamin Branch, 27 years of Age, descended of honest Parents, who gave him good Education at School, in Reading and Writing, and instructed him in the Christian Religion: When of Age, they put him to an Employment, at which he might have liv’d well; but being of a loose Temper, and not willing to confine himself to constant Business, he Associated himself with the worst of Company, and commenc’d Thief and Street-Robber in an extraordinary Manner, surpassing most of his Accomplices in those unlawful and wicked Practices. He confess’d, that he had committed many Street-Robberies, and particularly that for which he was Convicted, that he met with a deserved Punishment, having Sin’d against much Light and Knowledge, and the Convictions of his own Conscience: For his Father (as he said) bred him to his own Business of a Goldsmith and a Lapidary , and put him in a way of living Creditably in the World, but shaking off all fear of God and Regard to Man, and joining himself to a Band of Thieves and Robbers, he became one of the most Noted about Town in that way. He always attended publick Prayers in Chapel, and made Responses regularly, but with too much Indifferency, and for the most part was attentive to the Exortations, only sometimes he spoke to his Friends, and some who were next him. And upon the second Sunday before his Death, he and Bellamy, as I began to speak upon Death, which I judg’d a proper Subject and Discourse for their Case; went out of their Place to talk with Strangers; this giving offence to the Auditory, I desir’d them to return and compose themselves, and hear the Word of the Lord with Reverence and Attention; they were so rude as to cry out, expressing themselves in a very undiscreet Manner, before a good number of People, a Behaviour unbecoming any Person, but especially Men in their deplorable Circumstances. I reproved them sharply, and told ‘em, that however they might slight the Ordinances dispens’d by Man, yet that God the righteous Judge, who was ready to take Vengeance upon his Adversaries, would shortly bring them to a terrible Account for so notorious Contempt of his Word, if they did not repent. I have not observ’d two so very audacious Sinners, when so near their latter End. When the Report was made, Branch became more serious and civil, acknowledging himself to have been one of the greatest of Sinners, most unthankful to God and Man, for the great Blessings he had receiv’d, and for misimproving the Talents where with God had endow’d him; adding, that his sometimes laughing and speaking proceeded not from any Contempt of God’s Word and Ordinances, but from his Youth and want of Consideration. He declar’d himself penitent for all his Sins, particularly, his great Vices of Covetousness, Robbery, Whoredom, and their Attendants, which had brought him to a shameful and untimely Death; that he died in Peace with all the World, and in the Faith of being sav’d only through the Merits of Jesus Christ.

Martin Bellamy, of St. Katherine Cree Church, was indicted for Felony and Burglary, in breaking the House of Giles Holliday, on the 5th of February last in the Night time, and taking thence 12 Pounds of sewing silk, Value 10 l. and 20 pair of worsted stockings, Value 5 l. the Property of Giles Holloday aforesaid.

Martin Bellamy, born of honest Parents, who gave him good Education, instructing him in Christian Principles, and the Knowledge of other things proper to fit him for Business in the World. He was about 28 Years of Age, by Trade a Taylor, in which Art he was very skillful, and might have liv’d in Credit and an honest manner, but giving loose Reins to his irregular Passions, he addicted himself to all manner of Wickedness. About 4 Years ago, he married and liv’d only 5 Weeks with his Wife, for being taken up for some Fraud or Theft, he was put into Clerkenwell Bridewell, whether (as he said) his Wife’s Brother-in-Law coming to him, desir’d to know, where his Prosecutor liv’d, upon Pretence of making Matters easie, but the said Brother went to the Gentleman and advis’d him to prosecute Bellamy; upon which he resenting this suppos’d Injury, took up an irreconcileable Prejudice against his Wife and all her Relations, never cohabiting with her any more. About this time, he betook himself to his old Companion a young Woman, whom he call’d Amey Fowler, who pass’d for his Wife above the space of six Years, bare him several Children and liv’d in good Friendship with him. Her he commended, though (it seems) he could by no means agree with his true Wife, because she disapprov’d of his naughty Courses. He said also, that Amey Fowler was altogether ignorant of and had no Concern in his Robberies, he having deserted her Company also, when he follow’d that extravagant manner of Life. This he desir’d to be publish’d, because the World blam’d her for his Misfortunes, as advising him to undertake his villainous Attempts. He gave Account of a great many Robberies and Burglaries he had committed; such as, his obliging the Watchman in Thames-street to throw his Lanthorn and Staff into the River, and holding a Pistol to his Breast, till three other Thieves robb’d a Tea-shop to the Value of 20 l. in Goods. In East-Cheap he robb’d a Shoemaker’s Shop, and knock’d the Watchman down with a bag of Shoes, which he was forc’d to leave out of hast to make his Escape. In Coleman-street he robb’d a Stocking Shop of Goods to the Value of 70 l. He robb’d a Gentleman near St. Botolph’s Aldersgate of a silver Watch with a Case, but left him 6 s. in Money, and cut the Band of his Breeches, to prevent his pursuing him. For a little Premium to support himself in Prison, he put some upon a way of recovering part of their Goods. Some Years ago, upon a false Pretence, he got 10 Guineas from one in Smithfield, in the Name of the late Jonathan Wild, but made his Peace with Jonathan, by giving him 5 l. and gave his Bond for Payment of the Money at the Baptist-head Tavern, but this is still unpaid. Many such Accounts he told of himself, but with such an air of Indifference and Boldness, as shew’d him to be no way penitent for his Crimes, but to take Delight in recounting his Villainies, and thus glorying in his Shame. Altho’ he outwardly comply’d with Prayers, yet at other Times he behav’d himself with such Audacity, sometimes falling out into violent fits of Passion and Swearing; so that he seem’d to have been Craz’d and out of his Senses, not allowing himself time seriously to think upon his latter End, and improving his few remaining Moments, in working out his Souls Salvation with Fear and Trembling: Till some time after the Dead-Warrant came out, he began to Cry and Lament his unhappy Fate; his Conscience then beginning to Awake, because of the most irregular Life he had Led, and the terrible Account he had to make. I frequently and sharply Reprov’d him for his Miscarriages, and for his former vicious Life, having giving himself wholly up to work Wickedness. I represented to him the dangerous Condition he was in, what a terrible Thing it was to fall into the Hands of the living God, of a Just and Sin-revenging God; For who can abide with ever lasting Burnings? And that without holiness no Man can see the Lord. He acknowledg’d himself one of the greatest of Sinners; beg’d God and Man Pardon for the many Offences of his Life, declar’d himself Penitent for all his Sins; that he believ’d in Christ, through whose Merits he hop’d to be Saved; and that he Died in Peace with all the World. Branch and Bellamy own’d themselves much oblig’d to two worthy Divines, who visited them three or four Days before they Died.

James Stagles, alias Howard, of St. Dunstan’s Stepney, was Indicted for Assaulting John House on the Highway, putting him in Fear, and taking from him two Pocket Pieces, val. 6 d. 6 s. in Silver, and some Half-pence, on the 6th, of February last.

James Stagles alias Howard, 43 years of Age, (as he said) descended of honest Parents, who gave him good Education, and instructed him in Principles of Christianity. When of Age, he was not put out to any Employment, but served Gentlemen, and married a Woman in Yarmouth, with whom he got a good Portion, which he prodigally squander’d and lavish’d away. He Travel’d over great part of the World, Italy, France, the Holy-land, and several other Countries, attending his Masters, and could speak some Foreign Languages; and when he came home (as he said) he was worth some thousand of Pounds, which he spent in his foolish Rambles; he purchas’d a Place for himself, which he lost because of his Miscarriages. Being out of Business, and not knowing what to do, and wanting Grace and good Manners, he took himself to the Highway, for two or three Years past; during which time, he was not Inferior to any of his Profession in doing Mischief. He had formerly made himself an Evidence against one George Noble, who was Executed at St. Edmund’s-Bury, who deny’d the Fact of which he was Convicted, at his last Hour.

Upon a Letter from an unknown Hand at the desire of Noble’s Widow, I ask’d, if Noble was guilty according to his Evidence? He answer’d, that it was known he was Guilty, and that his Wife need not enquire into that Affair, knowing the Truth thereof. As to the Robbery of which he was convicted, he denied that he took the Money from the Gentleman, but that it was handed to him by another Person, who is a creditable Man, but whom he did not incline to discover, thinking he should not have been Convicted, and after Conviction it being to no Purpose, he did not judge it proper to ruin a poor Family. He confess’d himself to have been a most wicked and profligate Fellow, and that he had met with a deserved Punishment for his Crimes. Although (as he said) when he was abroad, he was sollicited to alter his Profession, as to Religion, which indeed I believe was, what he least minded, yet he was still of the Communion of this Church, in which he was Baptized. He declar’d himself sincerely penitent, having always behav’d himself very devoutly at Prayers, but that sometimes he spoke to Branch, that he believ’d in Jesus Christ his only Saviour, and died in Peace with all the World.

Margaret Murphey, of St. Martins in the Fields, was indicted for privately and feloniously stealing out of the House of John Cordes, a Silver Salver, val. 5 l. a Silver Tea-pot, val. 5 l. on the 15th of January last, the Property of Peter Casteels.

Margaret Murphey, 30 Years of Age, born in Ireland, of honest Parents. Her Father dying when she was very young, she got little Education, and if she was put to School, what Instructions were given her were quite obliterated, by Reason of her perverse and wicked Nature. She married a Husband in her own Country, and came over to London 9 Years ago, where she kept House for some time, and as one who liv’d near her, told me, maintaining a good Character among the Neighbours. But (as she told me) her Husband was a very naughty Fellow, and made all away in a most profuse and extravagant Manner, which made her rack her Wit what Course to take, and falling in with ill-dispos’d People, they brought her into Acquaintance of some of Jonathan Wild’s Gangs, which prov’d her Ruin. She voluntarily appear’d as Evidence against Jonathan Wild, who was convicted upon her Evidence chiefly; and upon the desire of one, being ask’d, if the Evidence she gave against Jonathan was True as she deliver’d it? She answer’d, that it was, and several Persons knew it to be so, and that there was no Force put upon her in that Affair, she appearing of her own accord. She own’d herself to have been a very great Sinner, to have liv’d a most irregular and debauch’d Life, to have been concern’d in a great Number of Robberies and Felonies, having for some Years past liv’d upon what unlawful Purchase she could make that way, and to have met with a most deserved Punishment for the Villainies she had committed. As to the Crime of which she was convicted, she said, that she never saw the Silver Tea pot which was sworn against her, and she only got the Salver from another Woman to sell, who never told her what way she came by it; to make this appear probable, she said, that she did not know Mr. Casteels in Long-Acre, having never heard of him, nor his House. But that it was her great Misfortune to be under so bad a Character, because of her Acquaintance with the late Jonathan Wild, and her appearing as Evidence against him, which made her Name still more infamously Famous. I desir’d her to submit to the Will of God, since Providence had justly brought her under severe Afflictions, and the Lash of an ignominious Death for her reprobate and unaccountable Life. She acknowledg’d the Justice of her Sentence according to the Laws of the Land, declaring that she believ’d in Jesus Christ her only Saviour; that she repented of all her Sins; dying in the Romish Communion, and in Peace with all Mankind.

Margaret Wallis, alias Staining, was Indicted for breaking the House of Henry Clark of Islington, on the 3d, of February last, in the Night-time, and taken thence 12 Pewter-plates, a Napkin, 5 Handkerchiefs, 4 Aprons, a black and white Silk-hood, a Mob, 3 holland Shirts, 2 pair of Stockings, a Top-knot, a Wrapper, 2 Gowns, six holland Shifts, a Petticoat, a Fann, a pair of Lace-Ruffles, and a Remnant of brocaded Silk.

Margaret Wallis, alias Staining, 21 years of Age, of mean Parents in the Country, who gave her no Education. She always serv’d Honestly (as she said) except in the particular instance of this Robery for which she died. She was a very ignorant Creature. I instructed her in the first Principles of Christianity, and with difficulty brought her to a little Knowledge. Altho’ she was Sick most of the time she was under Sentence, excepting two or three times, she always attended in Chapel, and to appearance, with abundance of Devotion and Seriousness. She own’d herself guilty of the Robbery of which she was Convicted, and that her Sentence was just according to Law. She declar’d, that she was truly Penitent for her many Sirs, that she believ’d to be Saved thro’ the Merits of Jesus Christ, and Died in Peace with all Mankind.

At the Place of Execution.

THEY all behav’d with very great Seriousness and Devotion, to appearance. James Stagles, alias Howard, desir’d me to write down to the Country, and give a near Relation of his an Account of his deplorable Fate, to communicate the same to the rest of his Friends. Mrs. Murphey declar’d, that she knew nothing of Mr. Casteels nor his House, who swore himself Proprietor of the stollen Plate for which she died; that she knew of no more then a Salver, which was given her by another Woman to dispose off, and this she knew to be stollen, but from whence she could not tell. As for the Tea-pot, she never heard of it. She said also, that she knew nothing of his Grace the Duke of Montague’s rich Hangings, and that the Woman, nam’d Sullivane, swore falsely against her, for which she freely forgave her, and prayed God to forgive her. They all adher’d to their former Confessions, and went of the Stage, crying out, Lord Jesus receive my Spirit.

Just as the Prisoners were bringing out of Newgate, to go to the Place of Execution, a Reprieve came for John Potter, before-mention’d.

At the Place of Execution, Martin Bellamy read a Paper to the Auditors, wherein he lamented the Follies of a mispent Life, &c. the Copy whereof is as follows,

Gentlemen,

I Am brought here to suffer an ignominious Death, for my having willfully transgressed against the known Laws of God and my Country. I fear there are too many here present, who come to be Witnesses of my untimely End, rather out of Curiosity than from a sincere Intention to take Warning by my unhappy Fate. You see me here in the very Prime of my Youth, cut off like an untimely Flower in a rigorous Season, thro’ my having been too much addicted to a voluptious and irregular Course of Life, which has been the Occasion of my committing those Crimes for which I am now to suffer. As the Laws of God, as well as Men, call upon me to lay down my Life as justly forfeited, by my manifold Transgressions. I acknowledge the Justice of my Sentence, and I patiently submit to the same, without any Rancour, Ill will, or Malice, against any Person what soever, hoping, thro’ the Merits of Christ Jesus (who laid down his Life for Sinners, and who on the Cross pronounc’d a Pardon for the repenting Thief under the Agonies of Death) to be with him admitted to partake of that Glorious Resurrection and Immortality, he has been so graciously pleased to promise to the sincere Penitent. I earnestly exhort and beg of all here present, to think seriously of Eternity, a long and endless Eternity, in which we are to be rewarded, or punish’d, according to our good or evil Actions in this World, that you will all take Warning by me, and refrain from all wilfull Transgressions and Offences; let a religious Disposition prevail upon you, and use your utmost Endeavours to forsake and flee from Sin, the Mercies of God are great, and he can save, even at the last Moment of Life; yet do not therefore presume to much, least you provoke him to cast you off in his Anger, and become fearfull Examples of his Wrath and Indignation. Let me prevail upon you to forget and forgive me all the Offences and Injuries I have either committed, or promoted, in Action, Advice, or Example, and intreat your Prayers for me, that the Lord would in Mercy look down upon me in the last Moments of my Life.

“Look down in Mercy, O God I beseech thee, upon me a miserable, lost, and undone Sinner; number not my Transgressions nor let my Iniquities rise up in Judgment against me; wash me and I shall be clean, purge me and shall be free from Offence. Tho’ my Sins be as Scarlet they shall be whiter than Snow, if thou pleasest but to receive me amongst those who are Redeem’d by the Merits of thy dear Son Christ Jesus And Oh! Blessed Jesus disown me not in my last Extremity, but number me amongst those whom thou hast redeem’d, that I may sing Praises to the most High, and extol thy Holy Name in the Courts of Heaven, for ever and ever more. Amen.”

This is all the Account given by me,

JAMES GUTHRIE, Minister at Newgate.

ADVERTISEMENT.

This Day is Publish’d,

The LIFE of Martin Bellamy, with an Account of all the several Robberies, Burglaries, Forgeries, and other Crimes by him Committed. Also the Method practised by Himself, and his Companion, in the Perpetration thereof. Necessary to be Perus’d by all Persons, in order to prevent their being Robb’d for the future. Dictated by himself in NEWGATE, and Publish’d at his Request, for the Benefit of the Publick. And his Speech to the Spectators at the Place of Execution. Printed and Sold by J. Applebee, in Black-Fryers, A. Dodd, at the Peacock without Temple-Bat, and E. utt, at the Royal Exchange. Price Six-Pence.

London: Printed by JOHN APPLEBEE, in Black-Fryers.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Theft,Women

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1841: The Jewboy’s Gang

Add comment March 16th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1841, Australian bushranger Edward “Teddy the Jewboy” Davis was hanged in Sydney along with five others of his gang. The reader may guess the chief’s distinguishing demographic characteristic, and some lists mark him the only Jewish bushranger.

He’d been transported from England in 1833 at the age of about 16, for a trifling theft. “Obsessed by the idea that he had been wronged when he was transported and governed by an indomitable desire for freedom,” Davis began repeatedly escaping from his penal assignments only to be repeatedly captured.

Indefatigable as Monty Python’s Swamp Castle King, he just kept trying until he got it right.

By 1839 the young Hebrew had formed a seven-strong outlaw gang plundering New South Wales’s future wine country, the Hunter Valley. Their captain seems to have brought along from the old country the romantic conception of a cavalier-thief, as this charming account of one of their raids suggests, wherein the victim “says he was treated in the most gentlemanly manner by them, and that he never spent a happier night in his life.” The stylish marauders, we find, dressed themselves “rather gaudy, as they wore broad-rimmed Manilla hats, turned up in front with abundance of broad pink ribbons, satin neck-cloths, splendid brooches, [and] all of them had rings and watches.”

They kept by a sage policy of Davis’s to eschew deadly violence for fear of bringing down the authorities’ wrath, but they didn’t quite keep to it well enough. One of their number, John Shea, slew a man in December 1840, and a posse hunted them down the very next day, and interviewed in jail, “Davies said that he would always oppose the shedding of blood, for he knew if they once committed a murder they would not reign a week; whilst saying so he looked at the other four men,* and said, you now see we have not reigned a day.”

Edward Davis, 26, Robert Chitty, 37, James Everett, 25, John Marshall, 27, Richard Glanville, 31, and the 27-year-old Shea were hanged behind Sydney Gaol on the 16th of the following March.

The notoriety which the crimes of these men has attained drew together a large concourse of spectators to witness their execution. The entrance to the Gaol, in George-street, was besieged for admission long before the arrival, at nine o’clock, of a strong military guard from the barracks, and so great was the pressure of the crowd, that it required the unremitting exertions of Captain Innes to preserve order. At ten minutes past nine, the culprits were strongly pinioned, and conducted from the cells to the area in front of the drop, where they knelt down. Chitty, Everett, Marshall, and Glanville, were attended by the Rev. William Cowper and the Rev. John Elder. The Rev. Mr. Murphy, Catholic Priest, accompanied Shea; and Davis (being of the Jewish persuasion), was attended by Mr. Isaacs, Minister of the Jewish congregation in New South Wales. All the culprits (if we except Everett), deeply lamented their having committed the crimes for which they were about to die, and acknowledged the justice of their sentences. Everett ascended the scaffold hurriedly, and in an evident state of excitement. He was followed by Chitty, Marshall, and Glanville, all three of whom, on reaching the scaffold sung the first verse of the Morning Hymn, to be found in many editions of the book of Common Prayer, commencing “Awake my soul, and with the sun.”

This act of devotion, we have since heard was entirely spontaneous, not having been suggested, or even expected by either of the reverend gentlemen, who attended to administer the consolations of religion according to the rites of the Protestant Church. The ropes were speedily adjusted, and the white caps drawn over the faces of the wretched criminals; in the short interval which elapsed before the withdrawal of the fatal bolt, Marshall and Glanville were engaged in loud and apparently fervent prayer, and we observed the culprit Davis (who was attired in a suit of mourning), thank the Jewish Minister for the attention paid him in his last moments. The struggles of all the men were of short duration; the immense crowd dispersed peaceably. It will be remembered that these men were apprehended, chiefly through the active exertions of Mr. Day, Police Magistrate, Maitland.

* A fifth accomplice was captured a short time afterwards and joined his mates on the gallows.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Jews,Mass Executions,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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1584: Five Catholic priests

Add comment February 12th, 2018 Headsman

John Hungerford Pollen collected and translated this document in Unpublished Documents Relating to the English Martyrs. It comprises the testimony of a friendly Catholic witness to the martyrdom of five priests at Tyburn on this date in 1584, as conveyed to another priest, the future martyr Robert Southwell. The historical moment for these martyrdoms was the weeks following the exposure of the Catholic Throckmorton Plot; most of the priests had been in prison many months, but appear to have their martyrdoms catalyzed by a seemingly perilous security situation.

The Martyrdome of Mr Haddock, Emerford, Fenn, Mutter, priests.

The 6 day of February Mr Heywood and five other priests were brought to the Kings-bench barre, indited of high treason for conspiring at Rhemes and Rome, as it was surmised against F. Campian. They all pleaded not guilty and so were conveyed to the Tower. F. Haywood was in Jesuit’s weed, so grave a man as ever I sett my eyes upon, he wore a coate of black very low and upon the same a cloke of black, downe almost to the grownde. He had in his hand a black staff and upon his head a velvet coyfe and there upon a broade seemly black felt.

The 9 [sic] of February the five priests were brought againe to the barre, and arrained upon the former endightment: they pleaded and protested innocency. Their old friend [Charles] Sledd [an informer noted, like George Eliot, for turning in Catholic priests -ed.] gave in evidence against them: The Jury found them out of hand Guilty, and the Judge gave sentence of death. Whereupon the priests soung Te Deum and such like godly verses.

Upon Wednesday being the last day of the Terme, these five priests were drawen from the Tower to Tyborne upon hurdles; the first that was brought into the cart under the gibbet was Mr Haddock, a man in complexion fayre, of countenance milde, and in professing of his faith passing stoute. One of the Sherifs called Spencer much incensed against them, together with certaine ministers bad Mr Haddock confesse the fact and ask the Queen forgivenesse. Whereupon Mr Haddock calling God to witnesse, protested upon his soule that he was not guilty of the treason, and therfore would not aske the Queen forgivenesse: and further sayd, ‘I take her for my lawfull Queen, I have seyd this morning these many paternosters for her, and I pray God she may raigne long Queene. If I had her in the wildernesse I would not for all the world putt a pinn towards her with intent to hurt her.’

Then seyd the Sherif Spenser, ‘There is since thy arrainment worse matter found against thee [by Munday the spye]': Whereunto answered Mr Haddock, ‘You have found nothing since; and soe belyke I was wrongfully arrained.’

Then Antony Munday was brought in, who uttered these speeches, ‘Upon a time you and I, with another whose name I have forgotten, walking together at Rome, the other wished the harts [Munday actually said ‘heads’ -ed.] of 3 of the nobility being of her counsell. Whereupon you sayd, M. Haddock, To make up a masse, I would we had the hart [head] of the Queen.’

Then sayd Spenser and other of his officers, ‘Away with the villaine traytor.’

But Mr Haddock, moved with these foresaid talke and speeches sayd as followeth. ‘I am presently to give an account [of all that I have done during life before the tribunal of God]; and as before God I shal answer, I never spake nor intended any such thing. And Munday, if thou didst heare me speak any such thing, how chanced it thou camest not to the barre to give this in against me upon thy othe.’ ‘Why,’ sayd Munday, ‘I never heard of your arraingement.’

Then said Spencer, ‘Didst not thou call the Queen heretick?’ ‘I confesse,’ sayd Haddock, ‘I did.’ Whereupon Spencer together with the ministers and other of his officers used the aforesaid speeches of treason, traytor, and villaine.

Mr Haddock sayd secretly a hymne in latin and that within my hearing, for I stood under the gibbet. A minister being on the cart with him, requested him to pray in English that the people might pray with him. Where upon Mr Haddock put the minister away with his hand, saying, ‘Away, away, I wil have nothing to doe with thee.’ But he requested all Catholics to pray with him and for his country. Where upon sayd one of the standers-by, ‘Here be noe Catholicks': ‘Yes,’ sayd another, ‘we be all Catholics.’ Then sayd Mr Haddock, ‘I meane Catholicks of the Catholick Roman Church, and I pray God that my bloud may encrease the Catholick faith in England': whereunto sayd Spenser: ‘The Catholic faith, the devel’s faith. Away with the traytor Drive away the cartel’ And so Mr Haddock ended his life, as constantly as could be required.

When the cart was dryven away, this Spenser presently commanded the rope to be cut, but notwithstanding the officer strock at the rope sundry times before he fell downe; and the reporte of them that stood by the block was that at what time the tormenter was in pulling out of his bowells, Mr Haddock was in life. By his own confession he was 28 yeares of age.

After Mr Haddock was taken to the block Mr Hemerford was brought unto the cart; he was very milde, and sometime a scholler of St John’s College in Oxford. Spenser bad him confesse and aske forgivenesse as before: but he protested innocency as Mr Haddock had done; yet sayd, ‘Where in I have offended her, I ask her forgivenesse, but in this fact of treason alleaged against me, I never offended.’

Then sayd a minister, master of art of St John’s College of Oxford, ‘You and I ware of old acquaintance in Oxford, by which I request you to pray openly and in English, that the people may pray with you.’ Then said M Hemerford, ‘I understand latin well enough, and am not to be taught of you. I request only Catholicks to pray with me.’ Where upon answered the minister, ‘I acknowledge that in Oxford you were alwaies by farre my better. Yet many times it pleaseth God, that the learned should be taught by the simple.’ One Risse termed a Doctor of Divinity, asked Mr Hemerford whither he would hold with the Pope or the Queen, in case the Pope should send an army into England. Whereunto Mr Hemerford answered, That in case they were sent in respect of the Pope’s own person, then he would holde with the Queen; but if it were sent to suppresse heresy or to restore the land to the catholick faith, then he would holde with the Pope. His speech was short being not permitted to speak much, and in substance the rest of his speech, not here sett down verbatim, was to the same effect that Mr [Haddock’s] was. He was cutt downe half dead: when the tormentor did cutt off his membres, he did cry ‘Oh! A!’ I heard my self standing under the gibbet.

Mr Fenn was the third that suffred, being bidd to doe as before, answered as his fellows did & sayd. ‘I am condemned for that I with Ms Haddock at Rome did conspire, & at which time Mr Haddock was a student at Rome and I a prisoner in the Marshalsea, or at the lest I am sure that I was in England, but to my remembrance, I was a prisoner in the Marshalsea. Therefore good people judge you whether I am guilty of this fact or noe.’

A minister called Hene avouched a place of St Paul whereunto Mr Fenn said: ‘I am not to be taught my duty by you.’

The rest of his speeches were to the same effect his fellows were. Before the cart was driven away, he was stripped of all his apparell saving his shirt only and presently after the cart was driven away his shirt was pulled of his back, so that he hung stark naked, where at the people muttered greatly, and the other sherif, called Massam, sayd to the officers, ‘You play the knaves. They be men. Let them be used like men,’ and alwaies commanded that they should hang until they were dead. Notwithstanding the other sherif commanded that they should be cut downe presently, and soe was Mo Fenn, but his companions following him were permitted to hang longer.

Mr Nutter was the 4th man, sometime schollar of St John’s College in Cambridge, and Mr Munden was the fifth & last: they denyed the fact, acknowledged the Queen Majesty to be their Queene and prayed for her, as the former had done, and soe in most milde and constant manner ended their life. Many a one in my hearing sayd, ‘God be with their sweet soules.’

What I have putt downe I hard myself, and therefore I may boldly speake it. If you please, you may shew it to your friends, provyded alwaies you tell not my name.


Plaque honoring George Haddock/Haydock at St. Andrew’s & Blessed George Haydock’s Catholic Church, Cottam, Lancashire. (cc) image by Skodoway.

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1751: William Parsons, Grub Street fodder

Add comment February 11th, 2018 Headsman

We return for this post to a hanging we have previously attended, an uncommonly interesting February 11, 1751 dectuple execution at Tyburn.

Hulking pugilist turned Hogarth allegory James Field was one featured attraction in this batch; the other was the Eton-educated, dissolute son of a baronet, one William Parsons.


This is considerably higher society than a baronet, but we don’t need much excuse hereabouts for a Barry Lyndon tribute.

In the broadest strokes he was the sort of parasitic failson whom the more common stock have long loved to detest, his dissipation having seen him first disinherited, then sent abroad with the Royal Navy (he washed out), then rescuing his situation with a favorable marriage and an army appointment before “the extravagant manner in which he lived, and the loss of large sums of money in gambling, compelled him to throw up his commission, and to return … to his country, a beggar and a vagabond.”

Sentenced by a lenient court to the hard New World frontier of Maryland, Parsons leveraged his family’s good name to escape almost immediately from the drudgery of indentured servitude and risked a return to the mother country where he took to the roads to espouse the classic profession of the embarrassed gentleman, and made men stand and deliver.

It sufficed in the end to recognize him returned from transportation to secure his condemnation, at which Parsons excites the loathing of contemporaries and posterity alike by making bold to beg mercy of his judge “in regard to the family to which I belong, who never had a blot in their escutcheon.” Escutcheon this.

In the scheme of things, his career of self-destruction makes the man nothing but a minor malefactor. However, at least for a season his precipitation — because nine Britons in ten would have looked with envy on his situation even as a disinherited ensign or for that matter as a man with the pull to self-parole from penal transportation — made for the sort of morality play ideally suited to the mass print culture burgeoning in the gallows’ shade.

As we have previously noted in an Irish context, the scrabbling biographers of the latest doomed criminal themselves forever arrived at loggerheads, their rival pamphlets chasing preeminence in authority and rapidity before yesterday’s outrage could be displaced in the public memory by tomorrow’s.

The institutional voice of this racket was of course the Ordinary of Newgate, who by this point had for decades been gobbling up publishing residuals thanks to his didactic and ever more embroidered Ordinary’s Accounts. His entry for February 11, 1751 is a fine exemplar of the genre, running to 19 pages of which the last two are taken up with revenue-pumping advertisements.* With apologies to James Field, the Parsons narrative entirely overawes that of his nine fellow-sufferers, with six full pages devoted to lovingly reminiscing this one man’s tragedy.

Among those lines, we find our divine has relaxed his focus on the salvation of his patients long enough to throw an elbow in the direction of the independent hustlers who will be contesting the marketplace against the Ordinary’s own forthcoming Parsons biography.

N. B. If a certain independent Teacher, or any one else intends to print a Life of Parsons write by himself, take Care left he has imposed upon your Credulity, as he has done to all that had any Thing to do with him.

The “teacher” referenced here is probably Grub Street hack Christopher Smart, who had abandoned a praelectorship at Pembroke College for the charms of movable type … but it’s likely the Ordinary merely selected this allusion because his happened to be the flashiest brand at that moment among the scabrous-broadsheet set, like a present-day critic might metonymize media with the name of Rupert Murdoch.** Richard Ward has argued in his Print Culture, Crime and Justice in 18th-Century London that this moment occurs amid an “explosion in printed crime reporting in London in the years 1748-55 … created in large part by [publishers’] efforts to generate and sustain public interest in crime.”

The Rev. John Taylor would indeed like any self-respecting scribe collect a second purse on his prose by recycling his Ordinary’s Account version (prepended with the trial transcript) into a distinct standalone publication — “The Trial and Remarkable Life of William Parsons” &c., which Taylor authenticates on the title plate with the notation, “Publish’d by the Minister who attended him while under Sentence of Death, and at the Place of Execution”.

We have nothing like an exhaustive catalogue of the print ephemera swarming Old Blighty in those days, but at least one rival publisher attempted to “impose upon the Credulity” of Parsons gawkers. Francis Stamper’s† “Memoirs of the Life and Adventures of William Parsons, Esq.” claims to have been “Written by Himself [i.e., Parsons], and Corrected (with Additions) at his own Request by a Gentleman.” It runs upwards of 60 picaresque pages.

In a like vein is “A Genuine, Impartial, and Authentick Account of the Life of William Parsons, Esq.” &c. promulgated by Thomas Parker, a regular haunt of the Old Bailey crime blotter; however, close readers might notice that Parker is also one of the publishers of the Ordinary’s Accounts‡ and for that reason his edition is presumably more commercially congenial to that clergyman. Parker promises besides the expected biography a trove of correspondence to and from Parsons in the dungeons — we might well suspect whose hand has procured it — a good deal of which is taken up in Parsons imposing pleas for intercession upon a friendly earl, on his prosecutor, and upon his family to pull whatever strings they might.

* One of those ads hyped publication of “A COMPLEAT HISTORY OF JAMES MACLEAN, The GENTLEMAN HIGHWAYMAN”; that man had just hanged four months previous. This volume went abroad under the imprimatur of Charles Corbett, who shared with Thomas Parker the contract to publish the Ordinary’s Accounts.

** A satirical poem called “Old Woman’s Dunciad”, itself a travesty of Pope’s “Dunciad”, was in those weeks burning up the London bestseller lists. Smart is targeted for satire in the poem but was also suspected to be the author. In fact, it was the work of another knight of the low literature called William Kenrick — but both Kenrick and Smart intentionally muddied the authorship lurking behind the pen name “Mary Midnight”, which both men employed. (For context on the dizzying 1750-1751 publishing scene, see Christopher Smart: Clown of God.)

† Stamper was a collaborator of William Kenrick’s (see preceding footnote).

‡ Look for it on the first page of the Ordinary’s Account: “Printed for, and sold by T. PARKER, in Jewin-street, and C. CORBETT, over-against St. Dunstan’s Church, in Fleet-street, the only authorised Printers of the Dying Speeches.” This notice is to be found repeatedly in Ordinary’s Accounts of the period; moreover, Corbett and Parker sometimes advertise their potboilers in those same accounts, in language that makes explicit their alliance with the Ordinary. For example, we have this from the March 23, 1752 Account:

In a Few Days will be Published, The Only Genuine and Authentic NARRATIVE OF THE PROCEEDINGS Of the Late Capt. LOWREY, Both before and after he became Commander of the Ship MOLLY: As the same was delivered by himself, in Manuscript, into the Hands of the Rev. Mr. TAYLOR, Ordinary of NEWGATE, some short Time before his Execution.

Printed only for T. PARKER, in JEWIN-STREET, AND C. CORBETT, in FLEET-STREET.

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1811: The slaves of the German Coast Uprising

Add comment January 15th, 2018 Headsman

Villainous blacks, and MORE VILLAINOUS WHITES who have reduced to the level of the beasts of the field these unhappy Africans — and are now obliged to sacrifice them like wild beasts in self preservation! The day of vengeance is coming!

-Marietta, Ohio Western Spectator, March 5, 1811

On this date in 1811, Louisiana planters commenced their executions of rebel slaves involved in the German Coast Uprising.

Also known as the Deslondes rebellion after the surname of its mulatto commander, this was a larger insurrection than the better-known Nat Turner rebellion: in fact, it was the largest slave rebellion in U.S. history. Louisiana at this point was still new to the Union courtesy of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase; Congress in 1811 would take up the question of statehood for the former French colony and its liability to slave rebellions stoked by Gallic sugar magnates offered no small store of vehemence for the Republic’s orators. (Louisiana was admitted as a state in 1812.)

On January 8 of that same year of 1811, some 60 to 125 black men and women — slaves of Louisiana’s brutal sugarcane economy, as well as runaways and maroons lurking in nearby river swamps — rebelled at Col. Manuel Andry’s plantation 36 miles from New Orleans. Andry was wounded but miraculously escaped, leaving behind a son whom his slaves were energetically stabbing and axing past death.


(Via)

Under the improbable leadership of Charles Deslondes, who had enjoyed so much trust as to be a Andry’s slave overseer, the slaves stripped the plantation of gunpowder, weapons, horses, liquor, and the like, and began following the Mississippi along River Road — drumming, chanting, exulting with cries of “On to Orleans!”

American Uprising Book CoverWhether they knew it or not, they had selected an auspicious moment for their uprising: New Orleans lay practically defenseless, its regular garrison off augmenting the realm via the conquest of adjacent West Florida.* The rebels multiplied several times over as they marched, swelling to perhaps 500 strong over two days as they rolled through plantations — each one a sea of servile labor vastly outnumbering its white household. Yet only one more white man besides Col. Andry’s son died during the German Coast Uprising as, forewarned, planters’ families were able to flee ahead of the Jacquerie.

The Louisiana territory skirted the volcano’s mouth in this moment and everyone realized it: New Orleans, the slaves’ avowed target, was itself two-thirds black. Had the rebels reached it, something cataclysmic might have begun.† “Had not the most prompt and energetic measures been taken, the whole coast would have exhibited one general scene of devastation,” Navy Commodore John Shaw wrote to Washington, having dispatched a company of marines to shore up New Orleans’s defenses. “Every description of property would have been consumed, and the country laid waste by the Revolters.”

Instead, and as was always eventually the case, the volcano swallowed the slaves instead. Sixteen miles from the Big Easy, a scrambled militia of New Orleans volunteers and some federal dragoons and infantry pulled from Baton Rouge managed

to meet the brigands, who were in the neighbourhood of the plantation of Mr. Bernoudi [present-day Norco -ed.], colors displayed and full of arrogance. As soon as we perceived them we rushed upon their troops, of whom we made considerable slaughter.

Not a single white person lost his life in the fray but scores of slaves were either killed in fighting, were summarily executed upon capture, or, fleeing from the carnage, were hunted to their deaths in the following days. The exact butcher’s bill is unknown; Louisiana officials counted 66 dead slaves in the immediate aftermath of action, including those executed, but this certainly understates the figure.

Where principal rebels were known, the revenge was exemplary. Pierre Griffe and Hans Wenprender, who were said to have personally imbrued their hands with the blood of the two dead white planters at the outset of the rebellion, were killed on the spot, mutilated, and their heads cut off as trophies for Colonel Andry.

Decapitation and worse was also the fate awaiting captives, at least 21 of whom were ordered for immediate death on January 15 by a tribunal of planters hastily assembled for the task. “By the end of January, around 100 dismembered bodies decorated the levee from the Place d’Armes [Jackson Square -ed.] in the center of New Orleans forty miles along the River Road into the heart of the plantation district,” in the words of a recent book about the affair. Such decor cost the territory $300 per piked head in compensation to the dead slaves’ former owners.

We excerpt the sentence from the tribunal’s own hand, as published in Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Autumn 1977.

The Tribunal assembled on the 14th and called before it the Negroes: Jean and Thomas, belonging to Mr. Arnauld; Hypolite, belonging to Mr. Etienne Trepagnier; Koock, belonging to Mr. James Brown; Eugene and Charles, belonging to the Labranche brothers; Quamana and Robaine, belonging to Mr. James Brown; Etienne, belonging to Mr. Strax; Louis and Joseph, belonging to Mr. Etienne Trepagnier; the mulatto Guiau, belonging to Messrs. Kenner and Henderson; Acara, belonging to Mr. Delhomme; Nede, belonging to Mr. Strax; and Amar, belonging to Widow Charbonnet; all of whom confessed and declared that they took a major part in the insurrection which burst upon the scene on the 9th of this month.

These rebels testified against one another, charging one another with capital crimes such as rebellion, assassination, arson, pillaging, etc., etc., etc. Upon which the Tribunal, acting in accordance with the authority conferred upon it by the law, and acting upon a desire to satisfy the wishes of the citizenry, does CONDEMN TO DEATH, without qualifications, the 18 individuals named above. This judgment is sustained today, the 15th of January, and shall be executed as soon as possible by a detachment of militia which shall take the condemned to the plantation of their owners and there the condemned shall be shot to death. The tribunal decrees that the sentence of death shall be carried out without any preceding torture.

It further decrees that the heads of the executed shall be cut off and placed atop a pole on the spot where all can see the punishment meted out for such crimes, also as a terrible example to all who would disturb the public tranquility in the future.

Done at the County of the Germans, St. Charles Parish, Mr. Destrehan’s plantation, January 15, 1811, at 10 o’clock in the morning.

Signed,
Cabaret
Destrehan
Edmond Fortier
Aud. Fortier
A. Labranche
P.B. St. Martin

We know for sure that the militia effected these grisly sentences with dispatch because this same body condemned three more slaves to the same fate later that same day, ordering that “their heads shall be placed on the ends of poles, as those of their infamous accomplices, who have already been executed.” Yet even this was better due process than a number of other prisoners enjoyed at the hands of angry white men; the Maryland-born naval officer Samuel Hambleton recorded the “characteristic barbarity” of the French oligarchy with disgust:

Several [slaves] were wrested from the Guards & butchered on the spot. Charles [Deslondes] had his Hands chopped off then shot in one thigh & then the other until they were both broken — then shot in the Body and before he had expired was put in a bundle of straw and roasted!”‡

The shock prompted an immediate tightening of security, and not only in Louisiana — where militia conscription became enforced more rigorously, both slaves and free blacks were encumbered with new restrictions on their movements, and a larger federal military presence was deployed at Louisiana’s own request. The legislatures of Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Mississippi territory — Mississippi wasn’t admitted to statehood until 1817 — all likewise buffed up their militias in the wake of German Coast.§

* Latterly Spanish, West Florida is no part of the present-day U.S. state of Florida; rather, Florida’s former littoral extrusion towards the Mississippi was annexed by Louisiana itself.

** When the U.S. went to war with Great Britain in 1812, Louisiana’s huge servile population made it an obvious vulnerability if the British were to land and arm the slaves. Summoning him from his Alabama stomping-grounds to his date with American folklore, Edward Livingston wrote to Andrew Jackson on behalf of the New Orleans Committee of Safety on September 18, 1814, imploring him to aid the outnumbered sugar planters:

This Country is strong by Nature, but extremely weak from the nature of its population, from the La Fourche downwards on both sides the River, that population consists (with inconsiderable exceptions) of Sugar Planters on whose large Estates there are on an average 25 slave to one White Inhabitant the maintenance of domestic tranquility in this part of the state obviously forbids a call on any of the White Inhabitants to the defense of the frontier, and even requires a strong additional force, attempts have already it is said been detected, to excite insurrection, and the character of our Enemy leaves us no doubt that this flagitious mode of warfare will be resorted to, at any rate the evil is so great that no precautions against it can be deem’d superfluous.

† The rising’s Spartacus, Charles Deslondes, was himself an import from the insurrectionary Caribbean Santo Domingo colony, which suggests a probable link by inspiration to the Haitian Revolution. Santo Domingo slaves were thought so seditious that their importation was periodically banned. However, and perhaps this is no accident, no documentation survives to elucidate the rebel slaves’ ideology, or what triggered them to rise at this particular moment.

‡ Letter to David Porter, January 25, 1811 as quoted by Robert L. Paquette in “‘A Horde of Brigands?’ The Great Louisiana Slave Revolt of 1811 Reconsidered,” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques, Spring 2009. Deslondes was captured on January 11th but as far as I can ascertain, we don’t have a precise date on record for his savage extrajudicial execution/murder. It obviously falls within this same short mid-January span.

§ See Thomas Marshall Thompson, “National Newspaper and Legislative Reactions to Louisiana’s Deslondes Slave Revolt of 1811,” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Winter, 1992. Thompson notices that “the Tennessee law specified, as had the one in the Orleans Territory, that blacks, mulattoes, and Indians could not be members of the militia.”

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1901: Massacre of Barrio la Nog

Add comment December 27th, 2017 Headsman

Corporal Richard O’Brien gave the following account of the summary execution (or simple mass murder) of Filipino villagers during the furious American backlash after Filipino insurgents’ Balangiga Massacre of American infantrymen.

It was on the 27th day of December, the anniversary of my birth, and I shall never forget the scenes I witnessed on that day. As we approached the town the word passed along the line that there would be no prisoners taken. It meant that we were to shoot every living thing in sight — man, woman, and child. The first shot was fired by the then first sergeant of our company. His target was a mere boy, who was coming down the mountain path into the town astride of a caribou. The boy was not struck by the bullet, but that was not the sergeant’s fault. The little Filipino boy slid from the back of his caribou and fled in terror up the mountain side. Half a dozen shots were fired after him. The shooting now had attracted the villagers, who came out of their homes in alarm, wondering what it all meant. They offered no offense, did not display a weapon, made no hostile movement whatsoever, but they were ruthlessly shot down in cold blood — men, women, and children. The poor natives huddled together or fled in terror. Many were pursued and killed on the spot.

Two old men, bearing between them a white flag and clasping hands like two brothers, approached the lines. Their hair was white. They fairly tottered, they were so feeble under the weight of years. To my horror and that of the other men in the command, the order was given to fire, and the two old men were shot down in their tracks. We entered the village. A man who had been on a sick-bed appeared at the doorway of his home. He received a bullet in the abdomen and fell dead in the doorway. Dum-dum bullets were used in that massacre, but we were not told the name of the bullets. We didn’t have to be told. We knew that they were.

In another part of the village a mother with a babe at her breast and two young children at her side pleaded for mercy. She feared to leave her home, which had just been fired — accidentally, I believe. She faced the flames with her children, and not a hand was raised to save her or the little ones. They perished miserably. It was sure death if she left the house — it was sure death if she remained. She feared the American soldiers, however, worse than the devouring flames.

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2017: Fifteen Sinai Islamic militants

Add comment December 26th, 2017 Headsman

Egypt today hanged 15 Islamic militants convicted of a 2013 attack on an army checkpoint that killed nine.

Hanged in simultaneous mass executions at Borj al-Arab and Wadi al-Natroun prisons, the accused ISIS/ISIL fighters might have been selected to ornament Cairo’s public present-day crackdown on the Islamist movement and the restive Sinai, on the heels of a Bir al-Abed mosque attack last month that claimed more than 300 lives.

An attorney representing the hanged men claims that the execution was irregularly expedited a mere six days after the death warrants were approved, instead of the mandatory 15; if true, according to a statement today by the British human rights organization Reprieve, that would not far differ from the process that landed them in the executioner’s path to begin with.

These death sentences and executions are a flagrant breach of international law. Trials in Egypt routinely fail to meet basic fair trial standards, and this is especially so in mass trials and military tribunals — as in this case. Egypt has executed at least 55 people and sentenced thousands to death since Sisi took power — a massive increase on pre-2014 figures.

The international community, particularly Egypt’s allies, must condemn these killings. The European Commission and member states must urgently review their assistance to Egypt’s judiciary, which is responsible for these atrocities.

These executions also appear to break a yearlong lull in executions in Egypt; a Cornell University project had Egypt credited with only a single previous execution in 2017 after hanging 44 in 2016.

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1969: Equatorial Guinea’s Christmas Eve executions

2 comments December 24th, 2017 Headsman

A story from the 1970s Equatorial Guinea dictatorship of eventual Executed Today client Francisco Macias Nguema, via Suzanne Cronjé’s out-of-print 1976 volume Equatorial Guinea, the forgotten dictatorship: forced labour and political murder in central Africa.

a first batch of murderers were unskilfully hanged at Bata on the mainland early in December while another group met their end in Fernando Po [the island also known as Bioko, home to Equatorial Guinea’s capital city Malabo -ed.] on Christmas Eve. After a kind of public trial before most of the Cabinet in which assembled population was asked to endorse the verdict, they were shot or hanged to the strains of Mary Hopkin singing ‘Those were the days’ over the loudspeaker system.

The Headsman must admit to being flummoxed at the slipperiness of dependable primary sourcing for this extraordinarily picturesque event: as Cronje’s source notes, “the government probably only gets away with them because so little ever gets out about its doings.”

Many sites around this Internet situate the event on Christmas Eve of 1975. This appears to me unambiguously mistaken; Cronje’s narrative quotes its information from a February 1970 Financial Times report, and the Mary Hopkin detail also better fits the earlier date. (Her song was a hit in 1968.) However, it’s possible that distinct seasonal events were conflated between the years, for the 1970s were years of terrifying purges in Equatorial Guinea that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Christmas Eve 1969 is also the date reported by Randall Fegley in Equatorial Guinea: An African Tragedy (1989) although in Fegley’s telling the nostalgic soundtrack accompanied that ugly early December execution, not the one on Christmas eve. Wikipedia’s entry for Macias Nguema asserts as of this writing that the shootings were carried out by executioners dressed as Santa Claus; the only hint of textual authority I have located for this outlandish detail points to a 1981 Human Rights Quarterly article by Fegley which I cannot access. (Update: In fact, Fegley’s article makes no claim about Saint Nick getup. Thanks to cz for the comment.)

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1717: Five at Tyburn

Add comment December 20th, 2017 Headsman

The Ordinary of Newgate His Account of The Behaviour, Confessions, and Last Speeches of the Malefactors that were Executed at Tyburn on Friday the 20th of December, 1717.

The melancholy Papers relating to the Criminals executed in this County, having, the Session before this, receiv’d a happy Interruption, through an extraordinary Accident, which then happen’d, and is well known to the Publick; They now come out again, to give an Account of such of the Malefactors, lately condemn’d, as are the sad Subject of them.

At the general Sessions held at Justice-hall in the Old-bailey, on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th days of December, 1717; Eleven Persons, viz. Nine Men, and Two Women, that were Try’d for, and Convicted of, several Capital Crimes, receiv’d Sentence of Death: But the Two Women’s Judgment being respited for their Pregnancy, and Four of the Men repriev’d by His Majesty‘s most gracious Mercy (which I hope they will take due Care to improve) Five of them only are now order’d for Execution.

While they lay under this deplorable State of Condemnation, I constantly visited them, and had them, twice every day, brought up to the Chapel in Newgate; where I pray’d with them, read, and expounded the Word of God to them, and instructed them in those Points of Religion, which were most proper for them both to know and to practise; endeavouring to make them sensible, and to repent, of their past Sins and Follies, and to pray for that Grace, by the Divine Power whereof they might be happily rescued from under the Slavery of Sin and Satan, and admitted into the Glorious Liberty of the Children of GOD. This was the Drift and Purpose of my daily Admonitions to them, both in publick and private. And,

On the Lord’s Day, the 8th instant, I preach’d to those Condemn’d Persons, and many others there present, both in the Forenoon and Afternoon, upon Luke 21. 27. being part of the Gospel appointed for that Day, and the Words these: And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a Cloud, with Power and great Glory.

From this Text and Context, first explain’d in general, and illustrated by parallel Places, I shew’d in particular,

  1. The Certainty of Christ’s Coming to Judge the World. And,
  2. The Uncertainty of the Time when He shall come.

    To which I added,

  3. ult. The weighty Consideration of the nearer or more visibly approaching Judgment, which is privately pass’d on the Soul of every Man at his Death, and will be publickly confirm’d (and extended to his Body also) at the Last Day, when Christ shall come, attended with Myriads of Angels, to raise the Dead.

Again, on the last Lord’s Day, the 15th instant, I preach’d likewise to the Condemn’d, &c. and my Text was Numb. 35. 31. Moreover ye shall not take Satisfaction for the Life of a Murderer, which is guilty of Death: But he shall be surely put to Death.

After a general Explanation of these Words, I shew’d from them in particular,

  1. The heinous Nature of the Crime of Murder; the irreparable Evil of it, and what has a near Relation to it, and may well be comprehended under it.
  2. The Severe Punishment due to it.
  3. & lastly, The great Necessity of that Man’s sincere and hearty Repentance, who is Guilty of this, or of any other Sin whatsoever, according to the Degree thereof.

Having enlarg’d upon all those Points, I concluded every Sermon I then preach’d to the Condemn’d with proper Admonitions to them: And here shew’d them particularly, That any wicked Act wilfully committed, whereof the Consequence might be the shedding of Blood, was Murder in the Sight of God; and that (according to the Apostle’s Conclusion) Whosoever hateth his Brother is a Murderer; adding these peremptory Words, Ye know, that no Murderer has Eternal Life abiding in him, 1 Joh. 3. 15.

From which Consideration, I endeavour’d to make them sensible of the absolute Necessity there was for them (and accordingly exhorted them) to search their own Heart to the bottom, that they might find out their Sins (the Cause of their Troubles and Fears) and so truly repent of all they had done amiss, and of whatever Mischief their Crimes might have further been attended with, in this World; as to prevent their dismal and dreadful Effects in the World to come.

To these Exhortations they seem’d very attentive; and in my private Examinations of them, they gave me the respective Accounts following.

1. Thomas Bingley, convicted upon 3 Indictments, for assaulting, wounding and robbing, on the King’s Highway near Acton, these 3 Persons, viz. 1st, Silvester Proud; 2dly, Jonathan Chapman; and, 3dly, John Blackwell, on the 11th of November last: On which Day, at the very same Time and Place all these Facts were committed by him, with the Assistance of two others hereafter nam’d. He said, he was 25 Years of age, born at Doncaster in Yorkshire: That while he liv’d with his Father (a Malster and Distiller ) he serv’d him in his Business: But upon a Difference happening between his said Father and him, about a Twelvemonth ago, he then came up to London, where he had not been long, before he was listed in the first Regiment of Guards, under the Command of Colonel Townshend. He freely confest the Facts he now stood condemn’d for; but said he had done no such things before, and that those (which were his first) would be also his last, were he to live never so long. When I told him of his Barbarity to the Person of Mr. Proud, whom he violently assaulted, being not contented only to rob him, but using him most cruelly, even to his endeavouring the taking away of his Life: He answer’d, That in his Heat and Haste (being under Fear) he knew not well what he did, but now considering what he had done, he was very sorry, and begg’d his Pardon for it, thanking God, that the Wounds he had given him, proved not Mortal. Here he said, That though he never was a Robber before, yet he had been otherwise a very bad Young-man, he having liv’d a loose Life, and been very extravagant, a great Spendthrift, and withal a most undutiful Son, who had given his Father a great deal of trouble: All which he now was very much griev’d at, being sensible of the Evil and Misery his Follies had justly brought upon him in this World, and of the greater Punishment he deserv’d to undergo in the next: And therefore earnestly pray’d to God for Mercy, and his Father, and all others he had offended, for Pardon; and wish’d all Young-men might take Warning by him, and be more dutiful to God and their Parents, than himself had been; and so avoid such a sad and untimely End, as this he was now come to. When Yesterday the Death-Warrant was come down, and he found by it, that there was no hope at all for him to live much longer in this World, he then (upon my exhorting him to make a full Confession of his Sins, and clear his Conscience) own’d (though he had deny’d it before) that within these 4 or 5 Months he had committed several (but no great) Robberies on the Highway, sometimes about Paddington, and at other times in and about Whitechappel, as also in other Places further from London; and, That once he had begg’d a Furlow of his Officer, under pretence of seeing his Friends in the Country for a few Days; but it was upon no such occasion; his only Design being then to have more Time and Opportunity to do Mischief (as he did) to honest Men: Which wicked Course of Life is now a great trouble to his Soul, who heartily wish’d he had not been so wicked. He implor’d again and again God’s Mercy and their Pardon whom he had any ways injur’d: And that was all the Satisfaction he could make.

2. Joseph Sherrier, condemn’d with the ‘foresaid Tho. Bingley, for being concern’d with him in the 3 Facts above specified, He said, he was 22 Years of age, born at Alresford in the County of Suffolk, and a Lock-Smith by Trade: That since his coming up to London, which was in May last, he work’d with a Smith near Drury-lane, when he had time to work, he being in the same Service, and in the same Regiment and Company with Bingley, who (he said) was the Man that put him upon these Facts, which he would never have thought to commit, had he not been enticed thereto; adding, That when he saw the said Bingley had so barbarously (as he had) cut the poor Man’s Head in diverse places, he cry’d to him, Why have you done that? And he further told me, he was very sorry to
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see it, and if he could, would have prevented it; but standing then at some distance, he could not. At first he said, this was the only time he ever engag’d in such wicked Facts as these were, which the said Bingley induced him to, and that were he to live never so long in this World, he would not be guilty of the like, or any other Crimes; but afterwards he confess’d, That about June or July last, Bingley perswaded him to go upon the Highway; and, That within that time he had committed several small Robberies with him, for which (to his great Grief) he could now make no Satisfaction, but thank’d God he had never shed Blood. He seem’d to be very Sensible and Penitent.

3. Edward Motte, alias Popham (the former being his right Name) condemn’d with the two former, viz. Thomas Bingley and Joseph Sherrier, for being an Assistant to them in the Facts before mention’d. He said, he was 21 Years of age, born at Boxted in Suffolk: That he was a Blacksmith by Trade, and wrought at it ever since he came up to London, when his Service in His Majesty’s Foot-Guards (in which, and in the same Company, he was with Bingley and Sherrier) permitted it. He own’d his Guilt of the Facts he stood condemn’d for, and said, That Bingley had brought him into the commission of them; and, that he had no hand in the Personal Hurt that Mr. Proud receiv’d, and wish’d he could have hinder’d Bingley from doing a thing of that nature; for himself abhorr’d such Cruelties: Neither would he, of his own accord, have gone in this manner upon the Highway; but the said Bingloy forced him to it. He acknowledg’d his Crime was great, in complying with that wicked Man’s Solicitations; and said, this was the first time he had offended the Law; but when the Death-Warrant was come, he acknowledg’d, That within these five months past he had been engag’d with the said Bingley and Sherrier in some Robberies on the Highway, he could not tell how many; yet hoped, that tho’ he was to suffer by it in this World, yet he should find Mercy in the next, for he heartily repented.

4. James Dickenson, alias Robinson (the former his right Name) condemn’d for breaking open the House of Mr. Thomas Bevis, and stealing thence Linnen to the value of 30 s. on the 31st of October last. He said, he was about 26 Years of age, born in Goodmans-Fields, in the Parish of St. Mary White-Chapel, and by his Occupation a Packthread-Spinner, by which he could maintain himself and Family well enough; but not being contented with that honest way of living, he fell into that which prov’d at last his Shame and Ruin. At first (indeed) he stifly deny’d the Fact he stood condemn’d for; alledging this common and worn-out Excuse, That the stoln Goods found on him, were given him by an unknown Hand, to carry to a certain Place: But at last he confess’d himself Guilty. And he also acknowledg’d (upon my putting him in mind of it) That he had formerly committed other ill Facts, and was once burnt in the Hand, and sent to the Bridewell in Clerkenwell, there to be kept at hard Labour for a Twelve-month; and yet (as it prov’d) this Correction did not cure him of his Thievish Distemper; who own’d, That he had committed several ill Facts, which were never found out, and which he cannot now to any purpose discover, nor make any Satisfaction for. He was a poor ignorant Person, who knew nothing of Religion, could not read at all, nor so much as say the Lord’s Prayer.

5. John Monstieurs, condemn’d for the Murder of John Henrick Rule, on the 17th of October last. He said, he was 27 Years of age, of good Parentage, and born at Enwegen in Gelder-land: That he had been brought up in the Business of Merchandizing ; and the chief Commodities he commonly dealt in, were Wines and Brandy, which he bought in the Low-Countries, and imported into England. The Religion he profess’d was that he call’d the Roman Catholick . As to the Fact he was Try’d and Condemn’d for, he at first stifly deny’d it, and would fain have perswaded me, that he was perfectly ignorant and innocent of it; and that he was a Person of a good Life and good Reputation in his own Country. Upon which, I told him, That tho’ I could not charge him with other Crimes (as having no knowledge of him before) yet this, for which he now stood condemn’d, was so evident, and so fully prov’d upon him, that I wonder’d he durst deny it; considering (too) that such a Denial could not clear him before God, nor before Men, neither would be of any the least avail to him as to his present State in this World, but should greatly aggravate his Sins and Condemnation in the Sight of God, and make him infinitely the worse as to his future State in the other World. Being inform’d that some time ago he intended to have marry’d a Dutch-woman, a Protestant; and that one of the Conditions of the Contract to be made between them, was; That he should leave the Church of Rome, and embrace the Protestant Religion; I ask’d him, Whether it was so: To which he reply’d, It was. Then asking him further, Whether he was still in the same mind; that is, Whether he would now (as to this Change) do for the good of his Soul what he promis’d to perform for his Love’s sake, and would be a Protestant whether he liv’d or died? He answer’d at first, That he would; but sometime after this, said, That as he suppos’d both Religions were good, and he was to die so soon that now he had neither time, nor indeed any proper or free Disposition of mind (under his present distraction and disquietude) to attend to any Instruction relating to those Points or Principles, wherein they differ’d the one from the other, and considering also that he was born in the Roman Communion: So he thought it not fit to renounce it, and embrace another; which (for ought he knew) he might have done, were he to have liv’d longer in this World; for he was inclinable enough, from the Instructions he had receiv’d of me, since his Confinement in Newgate (both before and after his Condemnation) to believe, That of the two, the Protestant Religion was the better. He so far agreed with me, that he profess’d, He rely’d on the alone Merits of Jesus Christ for the Pardon of his Sins; and, that he look’d upon Him as the only Mediator between God and Man, and hoped to be sav’d by Him. Here (after some further Instructions to set him forward in the right way) I press’d him to a free Confession, as of all his Sins in general, so particularly of this enormous Crime of Murder, which had brought him to this shameful and untimely Death. Whereupon he (tho’ he had positively deny’d it before) now own’d, that He was Guilty of it; but said, That the Deceased having first began a Quarrel with him, they both (by consent) went out together, to decide the Difference by dnt of Sword: This he alledging for his Pretence as a legal (or at least allowable) Way, to ask and receive Satisfaction for Affronts and Injuries given; was presently shewn his great Mistake herein, and his indispensable Duty and Interest to repent. Besides, I old him, That if that was a Duel, I greatly suspected him to be the Aggressor; but indeed could not think other, but that this Murder was by him committed without Provocation, and with all the Aggravation of Baseness and Barbarity imaginable. To which he said little or nothing but this, I am now to satisfie the Law for it, and pray God to have Mercy on my Soul. Then I went on, exhorting him to Repentance; and such a Repentance too, as might be proportionable to his high Crime, crying with David, Ps. 51. 12. Deliver me from Blood-guiltiness, O God! &c. Before I parted at that time, when I had a long private Conference with him (which was the next day after I had preach’d (chiefly) against Murder) and I found he was something mov’d, and seem’d to relent, I desir’d him for God’s sake, and for his Soul’s sake, to tell me what Crimes of that nature, or what other heinous Sins, he had committed before, either in his own Country or any where else. To which he reply’d, that he had formerly fought several Duels with Officers and other Gentlemen, wounding some of ‘em, but never kill’d any; and that, as to other Matters, he had liv’d like other young Gentlemen, not so well (he must needs confess) as he should have done; for which he implor’d God’s Mercy and Pardon. Being not fully satisfied with his Confession, I further desir’d him to declare freely and ingenuously, what was the true Cause of his committing that Murder. To which he giving no Answer, his Silence put me upon asking him this plain Question, which I press’d him to answer positively one way or other, viz. Whether he did not kill the Deceased with an intent of having his Money and other his Goods? Whereto he made this only Reply, Sure enough; and would say no more, nor express that Sorrow he should have had for the great Evil he had done, and the Guilt he thus had contracted by his Commission of such an inhumane and bloody Fact. I endeavour’d all I could to make him throughly sensible of his Sin and Misery. How affected he was with what I said, and what were his inward Thoughts, I know not: But his outward Appearance discover’d his not being much concern’d. And this hard Temper I was afraid would continue with him to the time of his Death; but thro’ God’s great Mercy it did not; for at the nearer approach of that King of Terrors I found that what had been laid before him to bring him to Repentance, began to make some impression on, and mollify, his obdurate Heart. Then he exprest his Grief for all his Sins, and particularly the heinous Crime that had brought this severe (but condign) Punishment upon him; and he fully confest, That he was Guilty of wilful Murther: That the Person he kill’d had not in the least provok’d nor challeng’d him to it; and, That out of a covetous, malicious, and cruel Heart he did it; thinking to find with the Deceased a great deal of Gold, Money, &c. but he was disappointed therein, for he found but little of that about him. The manner of his committing that barbarous Murther (which he said none but himself knew any thing of, or was concern’d in) was by a Hammer he carry’d in his Pocket for that wicked Purpose, and with which he struck him in divers places on the Head, and other Parts. When he had made an end of this his Confession, I represented to him the horrible nature of that Fact, and the greatness of his Guilt; earnestly exhorting him duly to consider it, and take it to Heart, to the end he might so repent of it, as to obtain God’s Pardon for it; without which he must be eternally miserable.

With such Exhortations as I thought most proper to move him, I endeavour’d to reclaim him out of his dangerous State. And this I did till he was carry’d to the Tree; where I attended him, and the rest of the Dying Criminals, for the last time; and after the usual Performance of my Ministerial Office to their Souls, I left them. When I was withdrawn from them, and they had desir’d the Standers-by to take Warning by them, and pray for their departing Souls, they apply’d themselves to their private Devotion, for which they had some Time allotted them: Then the Cart drew away; and they were turn’d off; while each of them was earnestly calling upon God for the Pardon of his Sins, and the Salvation of his Soul, in these and the like Ejaculations: Lord! have Mercy upon me! Lord, save me! Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit!

This is all the Account here to be given of these Malefactors, by me,

PAUL LORRAIN, Ordinary.
London, Friday, Dec. 20. 1717.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Mass Executions,Murder,Public Executions,Theft

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638: The garrison of Gaza, by their Muslim conquerors

1 comment December 17th, 2017 Headsman

By the early 600s, Roman and Persian armies had been trading blows for so many centuries that an eternal continuation of their Near East derby must have seemed a certainty. Here a raid into Mesopotamia, there a clash in the Taurus Mountains, border provinces shifting back and forth … countless dynasties had come and gone, world religions risen and fallen, and always there were the Romans and the Persians. It was the way of the cosmos ever since Carrhae.

Tribes boiling out of the Arabian desert were about to reorder the firmament.

After an exhausting and pointless struggle* stretching back generations, Byzantium under the emperor Heraclius had rallied in the late 620s to re-establish its formerly longstanding control of the Levant — incidentally pushing Persia’s Sassanid Empire to the brink of collapse.

Neither polity would enjoy much leave to lick its wounds.

The Byzantines’ first passing skirmish with Muslim warriors had occurred in 629, when the Prophet Muhammad was still alive. By the time of Muhammad’s death and the succession of the Caliphate in 632, Islam had all of Arabia firmly in hand and would begin the dazzling expansion destined within a single lifetime to carry the Quran from the Pillars of Hercules to the Indus valley — greatly facilitated by the scanty resistance offered by is battle-wearied neighbors in Constantinople and Ctesiphon.

You will come upon a people who live like hermits in monasteries, believing that they have given up all for God. Let them be and destroy not their monasteries. And you will meet other people who are partisans of Satan and worshippers of the Cross, who shave the centre of their heads so that you can see the scalp. Assail them with your swords until they submit to Islam or pay the Jizya.

-Words of Caliph Abu Bakr to his armies setting out for Syria in 634

After striking Mesopotamia (and crushing an internal rebellion), Caliphate armies pressed into Byzantine Syria and Palestine in 634 and soon controlled it — eventually delivering a decisive, nay world-altering, defeat to the Byzantine Christians at the Battle of Yarmouk in August 636.

The martyrology of Christians said to have been put to death on this date in 637 or 638 may be rated among the artifacts left to the shocked Romans; the victims would have numbered among the garrison in Gaza which would not fall to the Muslims until September 637.

The below is excerpted from Robert Hoyland‘s Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam. Although the author is skeptical of the account’s historicity — preserved as it was only by a centuries-later third-hand fragment — the traumatic cultural memory it speaks to can hardly be doubted.


A Vatican manuscript of the tenth or eleventh century preserves for us an account of the martyrdom of the Byzantine garrison of Gaza at the time of the Arab conquests. It is written in crude Latin, but many of its expressions reveal it to be a translation from Greek. It informs us that the incident occurred “in the Christ-beloved city of Gaza … in the twenty-seventh year of the God-crowned emperor Heraclius” (636-37), then continues:

It happened at that time regarding the godless Saracens that they besieged the Christ-beloved city of Gaza and, driven by necessity, the citizens sought a treaty. This was done. The Saracens indeed gave to them a pledge, except to the soldiers who were captured in that city. Rather, marching into the city and seizing the most Christian soldiers, they put them in prison. On the next day ‘Amr (Ambrus) ordered the Christ-holy soldiers to be presented. Once brought before him, he constrained them to desist from the confession of Christ and from the precious and life-giving cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Since they would not consent, ‘Amr ordered their wives, children and weapons to be separated from them, and again to put them in prison.

Thirty days later they were transferred to a prison in Eleutheropolis for two months, then to a prison in “Theropolis” for three months before being taken to Jerusalem. There they are urged by the patriarch Sophronius to stand firm and accept martyrdom. After a further ten months incarceration ‘Amr wrote to “Ammiras who was commander in the holy city,” recommending that he execute a number of them if they still refused to deny Christ. Finding them obdurate, Ammiras has their chief Callinicus and nine others beheaded on 11 Novebember 638 “outside the city in front of the gates,” where they are buried by Sophronius. The rest are sent back a month or so later to ‘Amr in Eleutheropolis and given a final chance to comply. Unanimously, however, they witness that they are “servants of Christ, son of the living God” and “prepared to die for him who died and rose for us,” thus sealing their fate. Their bodies were bought for 3000 solidi and the church of the Holy Trinity was erected over their burial place at Eleutheropolis. The date given for their martyrdom is Thursday 17 December (which tallies for 638), indiction 13 (639-640), year 28 of Heraclius (September 637-September 638).

Since the choice of conversion or death seems mostly to have been reserved for Arab Christians and apostates from Islam, one is immediately suspicious of this account. It may be that these soldiers were made an example of for some particular cause, but there are other reasons for being wary of this text. In the first place, its provenance is unknown, since the Vatican manuscript containing it is our only witness. Secondly, it is very likely that we have merely a summary of a much longer piece. The changes of venue occur at a bewildering pace and with no explanation or elaboration, ‘Amr’s identity is not indicated, and the manner of death of the 50 remaining soldiers is not mentioned at all, even though this is usually a subject of much interest in martyrologies. Furthermore, one would expect the impassioned exhortation to martyrdom by the revered Sophronius and the emotive scene of him burying the martyrs to be accorded more than the paltry eight lines found in our version.

Perhaps most likely of all is that the garrison was put to death simply for resisting the Muslims, a fate meted out to Byzantine soldiers elsewhere, and that this was taken up by a later writer and recasted as a tale of martyrdom. So a kernel of truth may well lie behind the text, but later reworking and crude translation into Latin has obscured it beyond recognition. The only feature still clear in our epitome is the apologetic intent. For example, ‘Amr is labelled as “impious,” “devil,” “hateful to God” and “most cruel,” and the Arabs themselves described as “impious” and “godless.”

* Robin Pierson covers these years of backstory in depth in his History of Byzantium podcast; he’s interviewed for an overview of the Byzantine-Sassanid War(s) in a premium episode of the War Nerd podcast here.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Byzantine Empire,Caliphate,Execution,God,History,Israel,Known But To God,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Palestine,Soldiers,Uncertain Dates,Wartime Executions

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