But on this date in 1797, that terrible death was visited on American citizen David McLane in Quebec for attempting to topple British authority in that Canadian province.
David McLane, a Rhode Island merchant, was arrested in the suburbs of Quebec City in May of 1797 and accused of conniving with French diplomats to recover their former colony by dint of an invasion of raftborne pikemen across the St. Lawrence to support a planned French landing. This tome claims it to be Quebec’s first treason trial under British rule; the Attorney General prosecuting it thought it the first in the North American colonies since Nicholas Bayard‘s in 1701. (Cobbett’s State Trials has the entire trial transcript.)
The Quebecois spectators crowded the courts in dread of hearing the ancient English punishment pronounced. They were not disappointed.
Writing many decades later about an execution he had witnessed as a 10-year-old boy, Philippe Aubert de Gaspe recollected its grisly particulars — and the surprising (to the audience) fact that McLane was hanged to death before the emasculating-and-disembowelling portions of the sentence were visited on him.*
The government having little confidence in the loyalty which the French Canadians had proved during the war of 1775, wished to strike terror into the people, by the preparations for the execution. From the early morning was heard the noise of the pieces of aitillery that were being dragged to the place of execution outside St. John’s gate; and strong detachments of armed soldiers paraded the streets. It was a parody on the execution of the unfortunate Louis 16th and all to no purpose.
I saw McLane conducted to the place of execution, he was seated with his back to the horse on a wood-sleigh whose runners grated on the bare ground and stones. An axe and a block were on the front part of the conveyance. He looked at the spectators in a calm, confident manner, but without the least effrontery. He Was a tall and remarkably handsome man. I heard some women of the lower class exclaim, whilst deploring his sad fate:
Ah if it were only as in old times, that handsome man would not have to die! There would be plenty of girls who would be ready to marry him in order to save his life!
And even several days after the execution, I heard the same thing repeated.
This belief then universal among the lower class must, I suppose, have arisen from the fact that many French prisoners, condemned to the stake by the savages, had owed their lives to the Indian women who had then married them.
The sentence of McLane, however, was not executed in all its barbarity. I saw all with my own eyes, a big student named Boudrault, lifted me up from time to time in his arms, so that I might lose nothing of the horrible butchery. And Dr. Duvert was near us, he drew out his watch as soon as Ward, the hangman, threw down the ladder upon which McLane was stretched on his back, with the cord round his neck made fast to the beam of the gallows; thrown sideways by this abrupt movement the body struck the northern post of the gallows, and then remained stationary, with the exception of some slight oscillations.
“He is quite dead,” said. Dr. Duvert, when the hangman cut down the body at the end of about twenty-five minutes; “he is quite dead, and will not feel the indignities yet to be inflicted on him.” Every one was under the impression that the sentence would be executed in all its rigor, and that the disembowelled victim, still alive, would see his own entrails burnt but no; the poor unhappy man was really dead when Ward cut him open, took out his bowels and his heart which he burnt in a chafing dish, and cut off his head which he showed all bloody to the people.
The spectators who were nearest to the scaffold say that the hangman refused to proceed further with the execution after the hanging, alleging “that he was a hangman, but not a butcher,” and it was only after a good supply of guineas, that the sheriff succeeded in making him execute all the sentence, and that after each act of the fearful drama, his demands became more and more exorbitant. Certain it is that after that time Mr. Ward became quite a grand personage; never walking in the streets except with silk stockings, a three-cornered hat and a sword at his side. Two watches, one in his breeches pocket, and the other hanging from his neck by a silver chain, completed his toilet.
I cannot refrain, in parting from this doer of worthy deeds, from relating a fact which I have never been able to account for. When I arrived in Quebec in order to go to school, at about nine years of age, people seemed to regret a certain good hangman named Bob; he was a negro, whom every one praised. This Ethiopian ought to have inspired the same horror which is always felt towards men of his calling; but, on the contrary he visited at all the houses like the other citizens, enjoyed a name for unimpeachable honesty, ran errands, in fact was a universal favorite. As well as I can remember, there was something very touching in Bob’s history; he was a victim of circumstances, which compelled him to become a hangman in self-defence. He used to shed tears when he had to perform his terrible task. I do not know why my memory, generally so tenacious concerning all I saw and heard in my early childhood, fails me in the matter of explaining the reason of the universal sympathy extended to Bob.**
Now I return to McLane. Such a spectacle as I have described could not fail to make a great impression on a child of my age; hence it arises that I have thought a great deal about the fate of a man, whom many people looked upon as a victim to the politics of the day. I have tried to satisfy myself as to his greater or less guilt. I could say a great deal on this subject; but I will be silent. Suffice it to say, that if in these days a boasting Yankee were to proclaim to all comers, that with five hundred able men, armed with sticks hardened in the fire, it would be easy to take the town of Quebec, the young men would crowd round him to humor him and encourage him to talk, and then giving him lots of champagne to drink, would laugh heartily at him, without the government dreaming of having him hung, drawn and quartered.
It has been said that McLane was an emissary of the French government; I do not myself believe so; the French republic, at war with all the European powers, had too much work on its hands to concern itself about a little colony, containing some millions of acres of snow; to use an expression not very flattering to us.
The policy of our then rulers was crafty and hence cruel. Every where they thought they discovered emissaries of the French government. There were two Canadians banished from the country, their crime being that they had been to Martinique in, I believe, an American vessel, to transact some commercial business: they granted them the favour of allowing them to take with them their wives and children.
* Actual complete hung, drawn, quartered sentences were already passe in Great Britain.
** Colonial Quebec had several black executioners; the best-known was Martinican slave Mathieu Léveillé from 1733 to 1743. (There an interesting .pdf about Leveille and his world here.)
The identity of the affable “Bob” our narrator half-remembers is a bit of a mystery; he has been identified with George Burns, a black man who held the job in the early 1800s, but the timetable isn’t quite right relative to de Gaspe’s admittedly distant memories. (The diarist thinks Bob was the former executioner by the time concerned with our post.) Frank Mackey in Done with Slavery: The Black Fact in Montreal, 1760-1840 suggests we take the name at face value and identify this executioner as either or both of “Bob a Nigro man” jailed as a felon in 1781 (we don’t know that Bob a Nigro man became a hangman), or “Robert Lane the Hangman” who was charged with a crime in 1789 (we don’t know that Robert Lane the Hangman was African). Mackey suspects that these are one and the same man.
Implemented early in Western Australia’s convict era as the influx of criminals made existing settlers jumpy, this law made a wide variety of violent but non-fatal crimes potentially subject to the death penalty when committed by an escaped fugitive.
Robert Thomas Palin was a newcomer to Australia, having debarked from a convict ship only in January 1860. Despite his burglary conviction back in the mother country, he was an exemplary prisoner and earned his ticket of leave (a sort of limited furlough). He even kept a house in Fremantle and took lodgers.
In May 1861, he threw every away every bit of good will and more by burgling another Fremantle home. A Mrs. Susan Harding awoke in the moonlight to find this invader looming over her bed — and he greeted her in that classic of convict argot, “Your money or your life.”
Mrs. Harding didn’t have any — in the words of her testimony on July 3:**
He repeatedly told me to “hush.” He took hold of me by the arm and pulled my hair about, and then pulled the bed clothes down, and felt about the bed. I was afraid he was about to commit some assault — he touched my night dress, not to move it, and then I got so dreadfully alarmed, that I jumped out of bed on the opposite side of the bed. I went to my looking-glass drawer, and took out a watch and chain, which I handed him, and prayed him to leave me.
Palin did so.
Although terrifying for Susan Harding, the encounter did not result in any injury; as Palin’s boot-prints were easily followed back to his own house, even her watch and chain were recovered. To send this offender to the gallows seemed like a punishment out of the wrong century, as Perth’s Inquirer and Commercial Newseditorialized (June 10):
Burglary attended with violence, however brutal that violence might be, so long as it did not result fatally, is not punished with death in the United Kingdom.
… What was the violence on this occasion? Catching hold of the arm of the principal witness; and it does not appear from the evidence that even the grasp was violent, nor was it necessary to be so according to the acceptation of the meaning of the word laid down for us. It was propounded by the Chief Justice that, strictly speaking, merely laying a hand upon a person, under such circumstances, constituted violence. Is this truly the spirit of the law? …
Palin might have taken everything in that house, yet he would not have been hung. He might have threatened with the presumed pistol, have gesticulated, have stormed and terrified the occupant of the chamber almost to the verge of insanity, and yet he would not have been hung, but he touched her arm, and death is the penalty. There is something horrible in this. But there is something more fearful still when we further look into the matter and find that had he committed any enormity, even to the shedding of blood, he could not have had awarded to him a more extreme measure of punishment. …
[It is our] fervent hope that never again may the pages of our Colonial History be inscribed with so terrible a record; that never again will it be our province to allude to an event of so dreadful a character as that which has lately passed away.
The fervent hope was realized. In the only other case where Ordinance 17 Victoria Number 7 was used to secure a death penalty for an ordinarily non-capital crime, the sentence was commuted.
* As of this writing, Wikipedia avers July 6. References from 1861 newspapers make it clear that this is erroneous. (example, another).
** Yes, that’s six days before the execution occurred.
On this date in 1752,* Thomas Wilford hanged at Tyburn — the first person executed under the Murder Act of 1751.
Approved the previous year but just come into effect on the first of June of 1725, the Murder Act proposed “that some further terror and peculiar mark of infamy be added to the punishment of death” for homicides.**
Since even shoplifting could get you hanged at this period, actually killing someone required an extra twist on the punishment. Parliament killed two birds with one stone here by also addressing the country’s need for anatomical corpses, requiring that the bodies of hanged murderers be delivered “to the hall of the Surgeons Company” where it “shall be dissected and anatomized by the said Surgeons.”†
Wilford presented the surgeons a one-armed specimen with questionable impulse control. As a teenager, he met a prostitute named Sarah Williams in their shared workhouse, and married her, but the honeymoon did not last long. Four days later, his bride stayed out late and to his queries admitted having gone “to the Park” — whereupon Wilford grabbed a knife and slashed her neck so deep as to nearly decapitate her.
“He had no sooner committed the horrid deed than he threw down the knife, opened the chamber door, and was going downstairs when a woman, who lodged in an adjacent room, asked who was there; to which Wilford replied: ‘It is me. I have murdered my poor wife, whom I loved as dearly as my own life,'” quoth the Newgate calendar.
A simple and pathetic crime with an easy disposition for the judiciary. The Newgate Ordinary’s account has a few more details. As specified, his remains were indeed turned over for anatomization.
Another provision of the Murder Act: a death sentence for murder is to “be executed according to law, on the day next but one after sentence passed, unless the same shall happen to be the Lord’s day, commonly called Sunday.” Wilford was condemned on a Tuesday and hanged on Thursday morning; however, the going practice moving forward would be to issue such sentences on Fridays in order to give the doomed an extra day to prepare themselves.‡
* Thursday, July 2 was the Julian calendar date of Wilford’s hanging. Our going practice has been to prefer the local date (Gregorian or Julian, depending on the country) prior to England’s changeover in 1752 — and then generally to prefer the Gregorian date thereafter. (We’ve made a few exceptions.)
England spent the first eight months of 1752 on the Julian calendar, then transitioned to the Gregorian calendar in September of that year, so in this particular instance we’re hewing it close to the bone.
I infer that the calendar switch is probably also the reason why the Newgate Calendar incorrectly attributes Wilford’s hanging to June 22: the discrepancy between the Julian and Gregorian calendars at this point was 11 days, so a later interlocutor might have supposed that July 2 was a Gregorian date that wanted subtraction. It was a confusing, 355-day leap year for Old Blighty, complete with a new New Year’s Day, so if that’s the explanation I’m inclined to give the author a mulligan for making an unnecessary date adjustment and then miscounting the number of days to adjust.
** The Act’s preamble claims that the “horrid crime of murder has of late been more frequently perpetrated than formerly, and particularly in and near the metropolis of this kingdom, contrary to the known humanity and natural genius of the British nation.” We lack dependable crime statistics for this period to verify this sense of parliamentarians.
† The Murder Act also empowered judges, at their discretion, to order a criminal hung in chains, like theseblokes.
‡ The eleven other people — non-murderers — condemned at the same assize were not executed until July 13.
On this date in 1621, Christenze (or Christence) Kruckow was beheaded as a witch — the only known noblewoman to suffer that fate in Danish history.
Kruckow first came under the witchsmeller’s nose in the 1590s. As a young woman, she lived in the household of a man named Eiler Brockenhuus — common practice at the time in Danish high society. The supposition is that when the lady of the house died in 1582, Kruckow might have aspired to make a permanent move. Instead, the position of wife no. 2 went to another woman named Anne Brille.
From the sound of it, Anne Brille spent the ensuing decade-plus in a state of continual pregnancy, punctuated only by periods of mourning as all 15* of her prospective progeny miscarried or died in infancy. Pick your environmental toxin or genetic abnormality of choice, but it’s no surprise this started to give the poor would-be mother the heebie-jeebies. Eventually, two of the estate’s servants got caught up in a 1596 witchcraft interrogation and were burned at the stake — but not before implicating Christenze Kruckow as part of the coven.
On that occasion, the usual reticence to visit on elites the sanctions intended for their lessers prevailed, and Christenze simply had to relocate to a sister’s household in Alborg.
But a reputation for black magic wasn’t the best thing to have to one’s name in early 17th century Europe, when witch-hunting reached a horrifying acme. Like his brother-in-law James VI of Scotland (also James I of England), the long-reigning Danish king Christian IV developed a personal obsession with the diabolical, leading to an effusion of witchcraft trials in the 1610s and early 1620s.
Now, Kruckow’s elite status served to attract instead of deflect attention; it didn’t help that she was become a never-married hexagenarian. When a neighbor’s wife fell ill in witch-spooked Alborg, the accusations against her snowballed into their customary colorful forms, such as that she’d been seen delivering a pregnant woman (Danish link) of a troll or ogre at some fell sabbath. King Christian took a personal interest in seeing her case prosecuted, and in the end it was his own Privy Council that tried her, and then sentenced her to the privileged death by the sword instead of the stake: the last deferences to her social rank. She confessed at that time to having attempted to lay a curse on the wedding-bed of her long-ago rival, Anne Brille.
In between her witch episodes, Christenze Kruckow had taken an interest in education for poor children in Alborg. She carried her philanthropy (more Danish) even beyond the scaffold, bequeathing 1,000 rigsdalers to a university scholarship that the University of Copenhagen was still awarding into the 20th century — popularly known as the “beheaded virgin grant”.
But it was Bonnie Prince Charlie who won the charisma check in this encounter, and ere ’45 was out Archibald was fighting under the Pretender’s colors. (Donald, too.)
Sadly for Donald and Archibald, they were as prescient as they were unpersuasive, for by the next spring the Jacobites had been decisively put down in a battle that cost the Clan Cameron alone hundreds of casualties. Both sons followed their father’s path to exile.
Archibald Cameron did, however, venture a couple of furtive visits back to his native soil, and on one of these missions he was betrayed and captured by the British. There were indeed a variety of refugee Jacobite intriguers in this period who were bold enough to canvass the heather for yet another possible rising, a circumstance which Lord Amulreecredits for the severity of the Crown against our principal when it caught him.
Dispatched to London to be made an example of, Cameron was condemned to be drawn on a hurdle and cut down still alive for a traitor’s dismembering. He was, in fact, permitted to hang long enough to die, and his corpse was not quartered. After all, there’s making an example, and then there’s making a martyr.
“I the more cheerfully resign my life as it is taken away for doing my duty to God, my king, and my country,” Cameron wrote on the eve of his execution. “Nor is there anything in this world I could so much wish to have it prolonged for, as to have another opportunity to employ the remainder of it in the same glorious cause.”
England held its last-ever public execution on this date in 1868, and made it big game indeed: Fenian Michael Barrett, whose Clerkenwell Prison bombing long remained one of the most infamous atrocities of the Irish nationalist cause.
The bill certifying the end of that distinctive institution, the public hanging, would be finalized three days hence, so the occasion’s milestone was anticipated in advance. Elites increasingly disdained the boorish carnivals that unfolded under the gallows, like Dickens who complained that “no sorrow, no salutary terror, no abhorrence, no seriousness; nothing but ribaldry, debauchery, levity, drunkenness, and flaunting vice in fifty other shapes” redeemed the 1840 hanging of Courvoisier.
“The crowd was most unusually orderly,” ran the Times‘ report of Barrett’s death — a sort of dual eulogy — “but it was not a crowd in which one would like to trust.”
It is said that one sees on the road to the Derby such animals as are never seen elsewhere; so on an execution morning one see faces that are never seen save round the gallows or near a great fire. Some laughed, some fought, some preached, some gave tracts, and some sang hymns; but what may be called the general good-humoured disorder of the crowd remained the same, and there was laughter at the preacher or silence when an open robbery was going on. None could look on the scene, with all its exceptional quietness, without a thankful feeling that this was to be the last public execution in England. Towards 7 o’clock the mass of people was immense. A very wide open space was kept round the gallows by the police, but beyond this the concourse was dense, stretching up beyond St. Sepulchre’s Church, and far back almost, into Smithfield — a great surging mass of people which, in spite of the barriers, kept swaying to and from like waving corn. Now and then there was a great laughter as a girl fainted, and was passed out hand over hand above the heads of the mob, and then there came a scuffle and a fight, and then a hymn, and then a sermon, and then a comic song, and so on from hour to hour, the crowd thickening as the day brightened, and the sun shone out with such a glare as to extinguish the very feeble light which showed itself faintly through the glass roof above where the culprit lay. It was a wild, rough crowd, not so numerous nor nearly so violent as that which thronged to see Muller or the pirates die. In one way they showed their feeling by loudly hooting a magnificently-attired woman, who, accompanied by two gentlemen, swept down the avenue kept open by the police, and occupied a window afterwards right in front of the gallows. This temporary exhibition of feeling was, however, soon allayed by coppers being thrown from the window for the roughs to scramble for. It is not right, perhaps, that a murderer’s death should be surrounded by all the pious and tender accessories which accompany the departure of a good man to a better world, but most assuredly the sight of public executions to those who have to witness them is as disgusting as it must be demoralizing even to all the hordes of thieves and prostitutes it draws together. Yesterday the assembly was of its kind an orderly one, yet it was such as we feel grateful to think will under the new law never be drawn together again in England.
Michael Barrett’s ticket to this last assembly was punched by a different execution six months previous — the hanging of the Manchester Martyrs. This trio of Irish patriots were part of a mob who liberated some comrades from a police van, shooting a policeman in the process — though it was far from certain that any of these three actually fired shots.
Of importance for our purposes today was the crackdown on other Fenians occasioned by the Manchester affair. In November of 1867, a Fenian agent named Richard O’Sullivan Burke was arrested with his companion Joseph Casey in London purchasing weapons for the movement. They were clapped in Clerkenwell Prison pending trial.
The bombing that brought Michael Barrett to the gallows was a bid to liberate these men … and it did not pause for subtlety. The conspirators simply wheeled a barrel of gunpowder up to the wall of the facility when they expected the inmates to be at exercise in the adjacent yard. The explosion blasted a 60-foot gap in the wall; the inward-collapsing rubble might easily have been the death rather than the salvation of the prospective beneficiaries, except that they weren’t actually in the yard at all — nobody was there, and nobody escaped Clerkenwell.
But numerous working-class families lived in little tenements opposite the prison and were there, and in fact Clerkenwell had a reputation for political radicalism and Fenian sympathy. This monstrous new “infernal machine” tore through Clerkenwell homes, leaving 12 people dead and numerous buildings near to collapse, while windows and chimneys shivered to pieces all up and down the block.
Improvised struts shore up damaged buildings opposite the wall of Clerkenwell Prison reduced to rubble by the December 13, 1867 Fenian bombing.
Karl Marx, a strong supporter of the Irish cause, despaired this counterproductive turn towards terrorism: “The London masses, who have shown great sympathy towards Ireland, will be made wild and driven into the arms of a reactionary government. One cannot expect the London proletarians to allow themselves to be blown up in honour of Fenian emissaries.”
English reformer Charles Bradlaugh agreed. “The worst enemy of the Irish people could not have devised a scheme better calculated to destroy all sympathy,” he wrote.
Punch magazine depicts the Clerkenwell bomber(s) as the “Fenian Guy Fawkes“.
Considering the magnitude of the crime, someone would have to pay for it. That Barrett was that someone did not sit well for many.
Five men and a woman stood trial at the Old Bailey in April for the Clerkenwell outrage, but Barrett was the only one of them convicted, a terribly inadequate investigation/prosecution outcome given the infamy of the crime.
That conviction stood on the basis of disputed eyewitness identifications: Barrett produced witnesses who said he was in Glasgow when the bomb went off, while the crown found others who would swear he was actually in London. (The length of Barrett’s whiskers on specific dates in late November and early December forms a running subplot of the dueling testimonies.)
The reliability and even the good faith of all such winesses might well be impugned. A highly questionable stool pigeon named Patrick Mullany who ducked prosecution by turning crown’s evidence, charged that Barrett personally set off the ordnance.
To give me credit for such an undertaking is utterly absurd; being, as I am, a total stranger to acts of daring, and without any experience which would in any way fit me for engaging in such an enterprise. Is it not ridiculous to suppose that in the City of London, where … there are ten thousand armed Fenians, they would have sent to Glasgow for a party to do this work, and then select a person of no higher standing and no greater abilities than the humble individual who now stands convicted before you? To suppose such a thing is a stretch of imagination that the disordered minds of the frightened officials of this country could alone be capable of entertaining.
If it is murder to love Ireland more dearly than life, then indeed I am a murderer. If I could in any way remove the miseries or redress the grievances of that land by the sacrifice of my own life I would willingly, nay, gladly, do so. if it should please the God of Justice to turn to some account, for the benefit of my suffering country, the sacrifice of my poor, worthless life, I could, by the grace of God, ascend the scaffold with firmness, strengthened by the consoling reflection that the stain of murder did not rest upon me, and mingling my prayers for the salvation of my immortal soul with those for the regeneration of my native land.
Benjamin Disraeli’s government could not in the end realistically entertain the agitation from liberal and radical circles for sparing Barrett, because that would mean that nobody would hang for Clerkenwell. But as the next day’s edition of Reynold’s News noted, “Millions will continue to doubt that a guilty man has been hanged at all; and the future historian of the Fenian panic may declare that Michael Barrett was sacrificed to the exigencies of the police, and the vindication of the good Tory principle, that there is nothing like blood.”
Three months after Barrett made that expiation, England officially began its era of fully private hangings behind prison walls.
* James Joyce hung out with a (much-older) Joseph Casey in Paris in the early 20th century. Yes, that’s in Ulysses too: “He prowled with Colonel Richard Burk, tanist of his sept, under the walls of Clerkenwell and crouching saw a flame of vengeance hurl them upward in the fog. Shattered glass and toppling masonry. In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me.”
On or about this date in 1929, Russian railway magnate Nikolaus (Nikolai) Karlovich von Meck was shot as a saboteur.
Von Meck (Russian link) had the iron horse in his blood: his father Karl was among Russia’s first railroad-builders after the Crimean War clock-cleaning motivated the tsar to make with the modernizing.
While von Meck pere was busy laying crossties in the 1860s, the St. Petersburg Conservatory was germinating the young composer Tchaikovsky. In time, the two men would be linked by the union of their kin: our man Nikolaus Karlovich von Meck married Tchaikovsky’s niece, Anna.
It wasn’t just a glancing association with the musical colossus for the von Mecks. Karl’s widow — Nikolaus’s mother — Nadezhda was Tchaikovsky’s main financial patron for 13 years. They weren’t lovers: Tchaikovsky was gay, and the reclusive Nadezhda von Meck demanded as a condition of her patronage that they never meet. But they kept up a voluminous correspondence, and Tchaikovsksy dedicated several works to her — like this Sympohony No. 4 in F minor.
So Nikolaus von Meck was the genius’s patron’s son as well as the genius’s niece’s husband.
He was also a brilliant engineer and entrepreneur in his own right; over the 26 years preceding the Russian Revolution, he chaired the Moscow-Kazan Railway firm that his father had begun back in the 1860s. Under the son’s leadership its rail-mileage multiplied more than tenfold. He was also one of Russia’s first motorists.
Von Meck remained in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, continuing to work on developing the now-Soviet state’s rail infrastructure — his means reduced, he remained no less the conscientious and patriotic artificer. That held even after the man was arrested as a counter-revolutionary a few different times in the revolution’s early years; each time he was soon released.
Ostensibly designed to target the saboteurs that were supposedly retarding economic growth, it would prove its utility in the frightful years ahead as a first-rate instrument of the Terror. The prospect that any economic setback, inefficiency or controversy could be lethally attributed to a cabal of global capitalists intent on strangling communism in the crib made “wrecking” as flexible and as devastating a charge as witchcraft had once been. How do you even begin to rebut that? Wrecking would in time be attributed to innumerable purge victims, great and small, and an implied whip against every worker who might be slacking on his production quota.
This potent juridical apparatus went for its first spin in the North Caucuses city of Shakhty in 1928-29. The Shakhty Trial of 53 engineers and technicians as “wreckers” also has the distinction of being Stalin’s first show trial. Von Meck and four other men* were condemned to die, a comparatively modest harvest of blood next to what was to come; 44 others went to prison.
“What accomplished villains these old engineers were! What diabolical ways to sabotage they found!” Solzhenitsyn mused of those luckless soulsin The Gulag Archipelago.
Nikolai Karlovich von Meck of the People’s Commissariat of Railroads, pretended to be terribly devoted to the development of the new economy, and would hold forth for hours on end about the economic problems involved in the construction of socialism, and he loved to give advice. One such pernicious piece of advice was to increase the size of freight trains and not worry about heavier than average loads. The GPU [forerunner of the NKVD, which in turn became the KGB -ed.] exposed von Meck, and he was shot: his objective had been to wear out rails and roadbeds, freight cars and locomotives, so as to leave the Republic without railroads in case of foreign military intervention! When, not long afterward, the new People’s Commissar of Railroads, Comrade Kaganovich, ordered that average loads should be increased, and even doubled and tripled them (and for this discovery received the Order of Lenin along with others of our leaders) — the malicious engineers who protested became known as limiters. They raised the outcry that this was too much, and would result in the breakdown of the rolling stock, and they were rightly shot for their lack of faith in the possibilities of socialist transport.
[O]n his return from Rochester, [Richard] Johnson brought with him a little girl, apparently about three years old.
This child he declared to be his by Mrs. [Ursula] Newman, and repeatedly demanded of her to acknowledge it, which she as often refused to do.
On Thursday afternoon he came into the dining room, the windows of which are in the rear of the house, and having locked the door by which he entered, and put the key in his pocket, again made the above mentioned demand. Another female was in the room, and heard the conversation which took place between them.
Mrs. Newman, perceiving that Johnson was more than usually excited, said to him “Good God, Johnson what are you going to do.” He replied “I am going to shew you that I am a man, you have imposed upon me too long.”
Mrs. Newman then called to the other female to open the door, which she could not do as Johnson had the key in his pocket.
Becoming frightened at his violence, Mrs. Newman opened one of the windows and sprang into the yard — from that went into a small room in the rear of the stair-case.
He followed her, threatening that if she did not acknowledge the child he would shoot her, and shortly after he discharged the pistol at her. She had the child hanging upon her left arm, in such a manner that Johnson could not take a fatal aim without wounding the child. He put one hand to the child, moved it out of the way, and with the other, clapping the pistol to her breast, discharged it.
Finding that the wound was not fatal, he ran up stairs, loaded the pistol again with several slugs, and returned.
At the first discharge a number of persons had rushed into the house; but on his returning, and declaring his intention of taking her life, and that if one shot did not do the work another should, they all took to flight.
The family however remained.
Johnson then made several attempts to take aim at Mrs. Newman, but was prevented by the resolution of her daughter, a girl of about eighteen years of age, who repeatedly thrust aside the pistol and prevented him.
After several attempts he discharged the pistol, but the daughter in pushing the weapon aside prevented the shot from taking the fatal effect intended, and the slugs were lodged in her mother’s arm.
The pistol burst in the discharge, shattering Johnson’s right hand and wounding the hand of the girl considerably. Since this tragical affair the daughter has not left her mother’s bedside, but has continued ever since to watch over her and to pay her every possible attention, notwithstanding the painful wound she has received. [she died that Saturday, two days after being shot -ed.]
At noon today Mrs. Newman was still alive, and in perfect possession of her senses, tho’ in extreme pain. The physicians think there is little hope of her recovery. The fatal wound was inflicted by the first discharge of the pistol. The ball passed through her body and lodged in the back, near the spine.
New York Evening Post, Feb. 7, 1829
Murder. — Susannah Anthony, a colored woman, was killed last night at about seven o’clock by Catharine Cashiere. The deceased gave a card party at the corner of Centre and Anthony street, at which there were 30 or 40 persons, all colored, and mostly penitentiary birds.
During the evening an agreement was made between Maria Collet and Catharine Cashiere, that they would have a quarrel with the deceased. They went into the room where she was and began some loud and abusive language, the deceased endeavoured to prevail on them to go away, and put her hands gently upon Cashiere to enforce her request, the latter thereupon drew a jack-knife, cut off deceased neck-handkerchief, & made two stabs at her.
The first wounded her hand with which she attempted to defend herself, and the second entered the chest and penetrated the heart. The blood spouted from the wound against the opposite wall, and the wounded woman fell and instantly expired. The murdress was secured and lodged in Bridewell.
A Coroner’s Inquest was held this morning at the house where the horrible deed was committed, and the verdict of the jury was, that the deceased came to her death by the wound of a knife, inflicted by the hand of Catharine Cashiere.
Hampshire Gazette, March 25, 1829
About half past ten, Richard Johnson and Catherine Cashiere were borught over from the Bridewell and placed near the fire place in the N.W. part of the room.
Johnson was immediately surrounded by several officers, with whom he appeared to converse in the most unrestrained manner. He seemed broken, but not contrite in spirit; and while anguish of mind was apparent, it was not seemingly of that character which is the beginning of true repentance.
The woman, however, was just the reverse in her deportment and appearance, and as soon as she was brought into court, she appeared considerably distressed and wept with great apparent emotion. But her tears were dried before the court came in; and she listened to her sentence with perfect composure though with due solemnity. She is a good looking young woman, with but a shade of the olive complexion, dark lustrous eyes, and rather an agreeable expression of countenance.
The sentence of Johnson was pronounced first. — On the usual question being put, “If he had any thing to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced according to law?” he addressed the Court as follows:
If your Honors please — I am asked, “what I have to say, why judgment of death should not be pronounced upon me?”
To this, I reply, to the judgment of the law, nothing.
A jury of my country has pronounced me Guilty; and there remains no discretion with the court, but to pronounce upon me the sentence of the law. But to the judgment of the world, I have much to say. I have been convicted of a crime, the bare recital of which causes humanity to shudder; — and it is a duty I owe to myself, while living, and to my memory when dead, that the circumstances of my offence should be fully explained.
Before entering into this detail, I must take this public opportunity, in the name of that Omniscient and All Merciful Being, who will hereafter pronounce His judgment, alike upon my judges and myself, of disclaiming any knowledge of the transaction of that fatal 20th of November.
I do not mean to impugn the decision of the jury; — the movements of the mind were beyond their power to penetrate; and hard as is my fate, I humbly bow to their verdict.
I cannot here enter fully into the details of my intimacy with the unfortunate cause of my own present awful situation. Duped and betrayed as I have been, into sorrow, despair, and lastly involuntary crime, I am unwilling, while living, to indulge in unavailing reproaches.
In life the deceased was the object of my tenderest affection, — an affection that her own unkind conduct seemed but to inflame, and that, baffled in its honorable purposes — expelled reason from her throne — and in its absence, led to the commission of the offence for which I am now to satisfy the offended community, by my own life.
Was I conscious of any moral guilt, at this result I should not repine. Accustomed throughout my life to respect the law, I have not now to learn that the blood of the murdered is alike a propitiatory sacrifice to the laws of God and man.
Convicted of the legal crime, I know my fate. For the moral offence, I have to answer to my conscience and my God; and that innate monitor tells me, that I stand before this Court and this community a legal, but not a moral murderer.
To my counsel, who have so ably, though vainly managed my defence, I tender my warmest thanks.
Of the Court I have but one request to make — that the period allowed me, to prepare for my impending fate, may be, as long as the law will permit.
His manner was firm and collected; his articulation deliberate and distinct; and he delivered himself with a studied oratorical air.
His Honor Judge Irving then pronounced his sentence as follows:
Richard Johnson, you have been found guilty by a jury of your country, of one of the greatest crimes a human being can perpetrate.
Instigated by evil passions, you have suddenly and with premeditated violence taken the life of a fellow being. Ursula Newman, the victim of your unbridled passions, was but shortly before the commission of this offence, the object of your strong attachment.
Yet that attachment not being based upon virtuous affection, has enkindled those furious passions, which have plunged you into guilt and have terminated in your destruction.
You stand a melancholy proof how speedy can be the transition from one licentious passion to another, and that vice is so all-absorbing in its nature that he who gives himself to its indulgence will eventually be led on to deeds of the greatest depravity.
The object for several years of your improper pursuit has at last perished by your hand. She has been hurried by you out of existence, without time allowed to her for preparation. Her children, some of whom are of very tender years, and who were entirely dependent upon her, have been deprived by you of their earthly support, and are now cast upon the world orphans and destitute.
I mention not these painful circumstances to harass your feelings, deeply as I trust they must be afflicted by these consequences of your crime. I dwell upon them for a better purpose. I would awaken your mind to a scene of its situation, with the hope of leading you to contrition. It is one of the most consoling principles of our religion, that however great are our offences, forgiveness will await the contrite, and that our Maker is as merciful as he is just.
The character which was testified of you on your trial, was that of being industrious in your habits, upright in your dealings, and kind in your general deportment — that you had been brought up to a reputable business, and which you was [sic] diligently pursuing for a livelihood. Young in life, had you only kept a vigilant guard upon your conduct, you had every think [sic] to hope.
The indulgence in one vice has blasted these expectations — has hurried you into the commission of an enormous crime, and has left you miserable and desolate.
While we pity you, public justice requires that you be held up an example and a warning to others. We would enjoin you not to be misled by the hope of escaping the fate which must so soon await you. The yielding to such hope, will only beguile your mind from that serious reflection which your present situation most solemnly requires.
What is left to you of life, is too short to be passed otherwise than in humble preparation for your future state. Let your thoughts be anxiously devoted to your religious duties; and while every thing is failing you here, let your reliance in penitence and humility of soul, be placed upon Him, who, in the deepest extremity, is able to console and to sustain you.
The sentence of the Court is, that you, Richard Johnson, be taken hence to the prison from which you last came, and from thence on Thursday, the seventh day of May next, to the place of execution, and there there, between the hours of seven in the forenoon and twelve at noon, you be hung by the neck till you are dead. May God prepare you for that awful event, and have mercy on your sou.
Catharine Cashiere, the colored girl, was then requested to stand up, and the Clerk put the usual question. She replied faintly, that she had nothing to say. The sentence of the court was then pronounced by Judge Edwards, as follows:
Catharine Cashiere — As you have been already informed, you are now arraigned at this bar for the purpose of receiving sentence of death.
Upon this solemn occasion it is proper that something should be said in vindication of the justice of the country, and with a view to awaken you to a realizing sense of your situation.
After a patient investigation of your case — after being zealously and ably defended by your counsel, a jury of your country have found you guilty of the crime of murder. In the circumstances attending the transaction, I can discover nothing to palliate your offence.
It is true that you were in a state of intoxication, but this in the eye of the law is no excuse. A contrary doctrine would be tantamoun to a letter of license to drunkards to depredate upon society with impunity.
Susan Anthony now lies in her cold and silent grave, bereft of life and all its enjoyments by your hands; and you must soon follow her to the silent mansions of the dead. By the laws of our country, by the laws of all countries, civilized as well as barbarous, the crime of murder is punished with death. As life is precious above all things, it is the bounden duty of those to whom is committed the safety of society, to take the most effectual measures for its protection.
Your situation is indeed an awful one.
At the early age of twenty-one, your existence will be brought to a sudden and violent end, a victim to the violated justice of the country. With earth and all its enjoyments, your connexion will soon cease forever, and you must go away, with all your imperfections upon your head, into the presence of your Maker.
Let me beseech you to devote the small remnant of your existence in preparing for this change.
Remember, and never let it be absent from your thoughts, that as you are indebted to him for your existence and all you have enjoyed here, so you must look to him for all you can hope for hereafter.
Before I proceed to sentence the prisoner, I conceive it to be my duty to address some remarks to this numerous audience, which most forcibly pressed themselves upon my attention during and since her trial.
Upon a former occasion, I expressed, from this bench, my sentiments upon the subject of the deplorable consequences attendant upon the facilities afforded in this city, for the vending of ardent spirits.
We were then called upon to sentence seven young men to the state prison, for killing one of our fellow citizens in a wanton and unprovoked manner, in the public streets. It appeared that prior to sallying out they had each been helped to seven or eight glasses of spirituous liquors by one of our licensed retailers; and that the crime was committed under the influence of the delirium necessarily consequent thereon.
During the present court we have been called to pass upon two cases of homicide, in one of which, both the prisoner and the deceased were at the time the offence was alledged to have been committed, in a state of beastly intoxication. And in the other, the case of the miserable being who is now arraigned at this bar, it was also proved by one of our licensed retailers, that he sold her on the night of the murder three or four glasses, although at the time she came into the store, she was so intoxicated that she staggered.
Thus prepared, in a state of mind thus phrenzied, this crime was committed.
If, as we are taught to believe, it is a crime to tempt as well as to be tempted, how can those hope to escape moral retribution, who hold forth lures to intemperance and by assisting to overthrow the reason of the vicious prepare them for the work of iniquity?
It is undeniably true, that a very large proportion of the crimes which are committed, are traceable either directly or indirectly to the influence of spirituous liquors; and I will add, that the poverty and wretchedness which prevails in society are to be ascribed more to this than all other causes united.
These facts are matters of notoriety, and yet the evil continues, spreading and extending a baneful influence.
In probing the sources of this evil we are met with the appaling fact that there [are] at this moment three thousand persons in this city, who are licensed to retail spirituous liquors. Licensed to pursue a calling the direct tendency and necesary consequences of which, is to ruin the health and deprave the morals of thousands of our fellow beings.
While such facilities are afforded for depraving morals and dethroning reason, is it matter of surprise, that “blood stained murder” stalks abroad among us. If the power of applying a correction was not in the hands of the people, if the government under which we live was independent of any superior to the will of the people, “if an enemy had done this thing,” there might be some excuse for us.
But as all power is either mediately or immediately derived from them, and is in their hands, as it is but necessary for them to will that a correction should be applied, and it will be done, how can we stand acuqitted in neglecting to apply a remedy.
In our ardent and headlong career through this world, in the pursuit of property or honor, let us pause for a moment to consider the cause of suffering humanity; let us devise the most judicious measures for the correction of this evil, and by a firm, united and determined concert of action, carry those measures into effect.
It is the cause of public justice, of public morals, and of suffering humanity, which demands our aid. Vain are all the expectations which are formed, of its being in the power of the ministers of justice to restrain the workers of iniquity — to stay the hand of violence, until this evil is corrected. Fifty are corrupted by ardent spirits, to where one is corrected by the law.
I will now proceed to the discharge of the last and most painful duty of the court.
Catharine Cashiere — Listen to your sentence. It is, that you be taken hence to the prison whence you last came, and that you be taken from thence on Thursday the seventh day of May next to the place of execution, and that between the hours of seven in the morning and twelve at noon of that day you be there hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may God have mercy on your soul.
There was no visible increase of emotion on the part of either of the prisoners, either during the time the Judges were speaking, or at the close of the concluding and awful sentence.
Both prisoners appealed to Enos Throop, the then-interim governor weeks after Martin Van Buren had resigned the post to serve in the cabinet of the newly-inaugurated President Andrew Jackson. Gov. Throop rejected both in separate letters directed to the sheriff imploring the prisoners’ jailers not to burden Johnson or Cashiere with any fanciful hopes of reprieve.
Albany, April 25, 1829
Sir, — I have received a petition for pardon, in behalf of Richard Johnson, in your custody, under sentence of death for murder, and have bestowed upon the case that attention which the importance and painful interest of the subject demand.
The killing was in the presence of witnesses, and the manner in which it was perpetrated is not a matter of doubt or dispute. It was done deliberately. The pistol was put in order and prepared for the occasion; it was twice discharged; and its contents were, each time, lodged in the body of the deceased.
The tragic deed was the result of a previous misunderstanding between the parties, of several days continuance; and the proximate cause, a personal struggle, commenced with angry feelings, and carried on with a sufficient interval before its fatal termination to accomplish the death of the miserable victim of his violence.
During several preceding days he exhibited those appearances of gloom, abstraction of mind, and depression of spirits, which indicate a bosom deeply agitated with violent passion, and a mind occupied with absorbing subjects.
It is urged in his favor, that his mind was deranged when the deed was done, — and that he had before sustained a good character, and was of an amiable and benevolent disposition.
The question of insanity was a matter in issue on the trial; and the jury, after hearing all the testimony, decided against him. — I see nothing in the evidence to induce me to doubt the correctness of their verdict in that respect.
His supposed amiable character, while it is evidence, in a doubtful case, to be duly weighed by the jury in pronouncing upon the intent, and appeals to our sympathy, does not afford a sufficient reason for arresting the course of Justice. It is in proof, however, upon this point, that he had lived in a licentious intercourse with this woman for several years, and their intimacy has, in the ordinary process of vice, terminated in the highest misdeeds.
The laws have pronounced his doom, and declared him a fit object of exemplary punishment; and I do not feel justified in interposing the Executive arm to defeat their politic ends.
I must therefore request you, to communicate to the wretched convict my decision, without delay, that he may prepare himself to meet his fate, and make his peace with his offended God.
I am respectfully, your’s [sic], &c.
Albany, May 4th, 1829
Sir — My attention has been recently called to the case of Catharine Cashiere, a coloured woman in your custody, under the sentence of death for the murder of Susan Anthony, also a colored woman.
On receiving a report of the trial from the presiding Judge, accompanied by affidavits, I at a former day attentively examined the case: but the respectability of the petition, which has been forwarded to me, through the praise worthy exertions of humane persons, in behalf of a friendless individual, has induced me to re-examine the case, and look, with scrupulous care, at the conclusion to which my mind has arrived.
All punishments are prescribed by the wisdom of our lawgives, for purposes of public good, and should not be dispensed with for light causes. It is a maxim drawn from experience, and sanctioned by sound reason, that laws restrain crime, not by the severity of their enactments, but by the certainty of their being enforced.
It was not intended by the framers of the Constitution to erect in the Executive a tribunal which shall arbitrarily dispense with those judgments of our courts, which are pronounced in strict conformity to the design of wise and prudent laws; but one which shall discreetly exercise its powers to favor the designs of the Legislature in tempering undesigned severities with the administration of justice.
With these views I have examined the case of Catharine Cashiere.
The facts as reported shew: That the convict came to the house of the deceased by invitation, and soon began to use indecent and profane language. She was requested by the deceased to go out, and did so. She returned again in a few minutes, resumed her ill conduct, and was again mildly requested to go out. — She refused to go, and used language shewing her determination not to go.
The deceased then gently laid her hand upon her, when the convict made three attempts to stab her with a knife, which she drew from under her apron. The two first attempts were ineffectual, but the last was made with much force and preparation, and the knife reached the heart of her victim.
It further appears that while she was absent from the room after the commencement of the affray, she was seen in a grocery kept in another part of the same house, with a knife in her hand. Whether she procured the knife then, or had it before, is not in proof, but the testimony affords good reason to believe that she there opened it and hid it under her apron, and returned to the room for the purpose of renewing the quarrel, and contemplating the dreadful catastrophe which ensued. — Here was positive proof of malice propense.
Although the design of murder was conceived after the quarrel was begun, yet the wrong was altogether on the part of the convict, and the interval of absence from the room was sufficient and was employed in deliberately contriving the execution of the bloody deed.
Independent of the common law doctrines of murder, stabbing is so odious that special statutory provisions exist, declaring designed stabbing which produced death to be murder without proof of malice.
It is declared by statute, “that if any person or persons shall stab or thrust any person or persons that hath not then any weapon drawn, or that hath not then first stricken, the party who shall so stab or thrust so as the person so stabbed or thrust shall thereof die within the space of six months then next following, although it cannot be proved that the same was done of malice aforethought, every such unlawful killing shall be adjudged, taken and deemed wilful murder.” Her case comes directly within this statute.
It is urged that she was insane, and that she was intoxicated. Drunkenness afford no excuse for crime. If it should, every species of crime, from arson and murder down to the smallest larcenies, would be perpetrated under that pretence. The facts in regard to her drinking were before the jury.
It is said that when she is intoxicated she is deranged: that is the natural effect of intoxication: but the law says, with great justice, that voluntary derangement shall not excuse crime.
Affidavits are presented to shew that when she was a child she received a hurt in her head which impaired the strength of her mind, and that when she is intoxicated she exhibits insanity which is supposed to result from the hurt in her head, and that the fact of the hurt was not proved on the trial. It is not satisfactorily proved that she ever manifested symptoms of insanity, except when she was under the influence of liquor.
Her conduct during the quarrel, from its commencement until its fatal termination, shews no evidence of insanity, nor that prostration of mind by liquor which totally extinguishes reason; but, on the contrary, it evinced a capacity to plan and execute her projects of revenge.
I therefore feel it a duty which I owe to the state, the execution of whose laws are entrusted to me, to deny the pardon solicited. You will therefore make known to the miserable culprit my determination, so that if she has cherished any hope from Executive clemency, she may dismiss it, and prepare her mind to appear before that high tribunal where there is no error in judgment and from which there is no appeal.
Your obedient servant,
Baltimore Patriot, May 9, 1829
From the New York Post of Thursday.
EXECUTIONS. — Richard Johnson and Catherine Cashiere, under sentence of death for murder, were this forenoon executed on Blackwell’s Island.
They were taken from the Bridewell a little after 8 o’clock, and conveyed to the gallows, accompanied by the Sheriff and a troop of horse, and followed by an assemblage of several thousands of men, women and boys, eager to witness the dying struggles of two of their fellow beings.
Early in the morning Broadway, opposite the Bridewell, was blocked up with spectators, so much so as to make it difficult for carriages to pass: and for a short time before the procession moved every avenue leading to the prison was completely closed.
We hope it will be the last time a similar opportunity will be afforded to gratify the idle curiosity of the populace of this large city. The revised laws provide that after the year 1829, all executions for capital crimes shall be performed in the yard of the prison where the convict is confined, in the presence of the proper officers.
We have just learned that the poor unfortunate wretches were turned off between 10 and 11 o’clock, from a gallows erected for the purpose on Blackwell’s Island, and that a great part of the procession were disappointed in witnessing the spectacle, not being able to procure boats to convey them across the river to the Island; and this perhaps was a fortunate circumstance, for we have heard that one of the few boats which were put in requisition, with twelve persons in it, was upset and before assistance could be rendered several were drowned.
The first execution in Tunis since the French occupation took place yesterday. Three Kroumirs, Ali Ben Debbah, Mahomed Ben Salah, and Ali Ben Salah, who had assassinated two Kabyle merchants in order to rob them, were guillotined in the morning at the Saadoun Gate.
At half-past 4 o’clock, M. Herbault, the Procureur of the Republic, in presence of several officials, announced to the condemned men that their appeal for mercy had been rejected. They received the statement very quietly, although they protested, as they had previously done, that they were innocent. As the prison is at some distance from the place of execution, it was not till 25 minutes past 5 that the prison van, preceded and followed by a company of Zeuaves, reached the place of execution, where a large crowd had assembled. At half-past 5 the bodies were removed to the Sadiki Hospital.
In order to put down any attempt at disturbance a large number of soldiers were drawn up near the guillotine, but there was no occasion for their services. There were very few natives among those present at the execution. A fourth Kroumir, who was condemned to death for the same crime, was informed yesterday that his sentence had been commuted by the President of the Republic.
There is next to no archival information surviving that would give us insight into this remarkably lateHexenprozess. However, it seems that Schnidenwind got Willinghamed: when a fire destroyed the village of Wyhl, local grandees immediately assumed that the cause of such a devastating event ware eine Zauberin (“would have been a sorceress,” as an abbot wrote in his diary).
Having begun from the conclusion it was simply a matter of finding the witchiest character in the vicinity to fit as the Zauberin. Schnidenwind, a 63-year-old peasant, probably had some pre-existing reputation as a possible witch — a reputation that a visit to the rack obligingly confirmed.