Johann Christian Woyzeck was publicly beheaded on this date in 1824 for fatally daggering his lover in a jealous wrath.
An orphan to whom the Napoleonic Wars gifted to the rudderless youth the stopgap profession of soldiering, but once the fighting stopped, Woyzeck wandered back to his native Leipzig and gave rein to his many vices.
Suicidal, drinking heavily, and unable to hold down steady work, Woyzeck frequently abused his special lady friend, the widow Johanna Christiane Woost. He would later say that he was often urged by voices in his mind to slay her — and on the night of June 21, 1821, after she canceled a rendezvous, he did so at last.
A pathetic exit from life turned out to be an entrance into judicial and literary history.
There was no question but that Woyzeck’s hand had taken Woost’s life, but proceedings against the killer dragged on for three years as courts vacillated on his mental competence. Woyzeck had been wildly depressed and owned to hallucinations and unbalanced moods that his contemporaries could readily recognize as falling near the pall of madness.
Nevertheless, Woyzeck had initially been slated for execution in November 1822 based on the evaluation of celebrated Leipzig physician Johann Christian August Clarus, but another doctor — academics will recognize the irksome intervention of reviewer no. 2 here — horned in with a missive questioning the conclusion.
That stay invited an 11th-hour stay and five more examinations worth of billable hours for Dr. Clarus, who studied up his man again and came to the same conclusion: that Woyzeck, though disturbed, was cogent enough to bear responsibility for his actions. It was in the end by this verdict that the executioner’s sword-arm swung.
The lost soul’s end on a Leipzig scaffold on this date would eventually inspire the writer Georg Buchner to pen the play Woyzeck. Though left unfinished when Buchner died young, the play has been frequently staged down to the present day, and even adapted for the silver screen by Werner Herzog:
Litterateur Barnabé Farmian Durosoy was guillotined in Paris on this date in 1792.
Playwright, poet, and (most problematically) journalist, Durosoy‘s newspaper Gazette de Paris took issue with the French Revolution’s radical and anti-clerical turn — incurring the dangerous denunciation of Marat.
“If these rebels dare to degrade the king then they dare to judge, and if they judge then their verdict is death!” Durosoy thundered.
He would not even live long enough to see his prophecy fulfilled: the Gazette was immediately suppressed and Durosoy brought to trial as “cashier of all the Anti-revolutionists of the interior.” (Carlyle)
He was the first journalist guillotined in revolutionary France — noting that he died as a royalist ought on the feast day of St. Louis.
In an effort to sustain some measure of order, a number of the city’s respectable citizens banded together to create a famous or infamous Vigilance Committee.
Sworn in their published constitution of June 9, 1851 “to do and perform every lawful act for the maintenance of law and order,” the Committee declared itself “determined that no thief, burglar, incendiary or assassin shall escape punishment, either by the quibbles of the law, the insecurity of prisons, the carelessness or corruption o the Police, or a laxity of those who pretend to administer justice.”
Two days later, they proved their chops by hanging on no authority but their own emigre from Australia named John Jenkins for stealing a safe. A month later, James Stuart, also late of Sydney, was lynched at the Vigilance Committee’s hands, too.
Detail view (click for full image) of Whittaker and McKenzie’s lynching.
Though not the first Vigilance Committee hangings, Samuel Whittaker and Robert McKenzie might be the best-known.
Like their predecessors, Whittaker and McKenzie had arrived from Australia** — which had aptly bequeathed to gold rush San Francisco a criminal colony of its own in the form of a network known as the Sydney Ducks. Scrambling to save his own neck, Stuart had informed on a number of these confederates.
Whittaker and McKenzie were arrested based on Stuart’s information, as the Vigilance Committee tried to smash up the Ducks. Though extrajudicial, the Committee’s investigations were at least as meticulous as one might expect from the law at this moment in time, and the minutes of its witness interviews can be read here.
In the end, the two were basically convicted not so much for any individual crime as for their lengthy careers of robbery, often violent — for “divers offences, whereby the safety of Lives and property have been endangered” (as read the executive report on Whittaker) that rendered each “a hardened offender, and dangerous to this community … it would be unsafe to hand him over to the Authorities or mete out to him a less Penalty than Death” (as read the report on McKenzie).
Such an arrangement of juridical powers, exercised in lieu of “unsafe” Authorities, can scarcely persist long-term. Here, the governor of California, John McDougall determined to intervene in order that the fracturing of the Australians’ vertebrae would also vindicate the majesty of the law.
McDougal arrived to San Francisco and secured a writ to seize the suspects from the Vigilance Committee’s hands, tucking them away in the county jail.
Although in principle this orderly and lawful prosecution of malefactors was exactly what the Committee wanted to see happen, Gov. McDougal’s intervention when they were on the brink of consummating their own process left everyone with a frustrating sensation of justice interruptus.
And so that next Sunday — August 24, 1851 — when prisoners were removed from their cells to a chapel for the salvation of their souls and the jail’s guard detail was reduced by the proportion of gendarmes attending services of their own, a party of 36 Vigilance Committee men barged into the jail, overpowered all concerned, and seized their prey.
“Never before was San Francisco so excited,” editorialized the Steamer Alta California (Sept. 1, 1851).
Through every street, in all directions, the hurrying crowd of humanity rushed with the utmost precipitation — no one knew whither, no one knew for what. The bell of the Vigilance Committee had sounded its alarum note — and instantly the streets were living, swaying masses of human beings — uncertainty and conflicting fears and hopes ruled the hour … with a sweep like the rushing of a torrent of lava they bend their course towards the Rooms of the Vigilance Committee. Almost instantly California street, Battery street, and all their approaches, are filled with one dense mass of human beings. From lip to lip the news flies that the two criminals, Mackenzie and Whittaker, have been taken by force from the jail, by an armed posse of the Vigilance Committee. On the eager and excited multitude press toward the Rooms. On, on, on — the crowd becomes denser and broader. Wonder is stamped on every face — a solemn, almost awful silence pervades the thousands who are anxiously gazing up at the building, when quickly the doors are opened — a moment of preparation — and the numberless multitude holds its breath as the two malefactors are seen suspended by the neck — a struggle or two, a spasmodic heaving of the chest — and each spectator feels a thrill of terror coursing his veins as he involuntarily utters — dead, dead, dead!
Yes, they were dead! The two men — Whittaker and Mackenzie — who were taken from the hands of the Vigilance Committee a few nights since, by virtue of a write of habeas corpus, had been torn from the ail by force, in the middle of the day, and at the risk of life, hurried to the Committee rooms, and executed without scarcely a moment’s preparation. It is a most terrible tragedy! Well, indeed, might one exclaim, “I have supped full with horrors!”
Such are the terrible effects of misrule — these are the fruits of maladministered laws — these the results of official corruption, neglect and malfeasance. Well may the patriotic and the good turn in sadness and grief from the contemplation of such horrors. The timid may shrink from beholding them — the quiet desire an end to them; but neither fear, regret, nor desire will accomplish our security. It must go abroad over the land that this community possesses the power and the will to protect itself against every species of wrong, and that it is resolved to do it at all hazards.
Whilst we regret that the Vigilance Committee have by this act, been brought into direct collision with the constituted authorities, we cannot but approve their course in executing the two criminals. This condition of affairs was not sought by the committee; it was rather forced upon them by the action of the authorities. True, the authorities acted rightly in rescuing the men; but the course they took has proved to be unnecessary and injudicious. No one doubts the guilt of the men executed, and no one believes but that they deserved the punishment they received. The Vigilance Committee felt this, and believing that the public welfare would be promoted by the act, they had resolved to execute Whittaker and Mackenzie. But the officers of the law, with unusual adroitness, prevented the decision from being carried into effect. The Vigilance Committee have now redeemed their honor, and carried out their original determination, by recapturing the prisoners and executing them. The line of division between the legitimate civil power and the Vigilance Committee is therefore plain, broad and unmistakable.
And what is to result? We see nothing disheartening or dispiriting in the prospect. On the contrary, we think we perceive that settled determination on the part of the body politic to have justice done, which is to be the great lever of our salvation. When crime is convinced, as it must now be, that nothing is capable of preserving it from speedy and avenging punishment — when the abandoned feel, as they will now feel, that there is no safety for them here — when all bad men shall understand, as they may now understand, that their unworthy acts will surely be visited with condign reward — then will the country rise above its tribulations and its sorrows.
But this is a dreadful storm! If we did not know the ship, the crew and the passengers, we might despair of our reaching port. As it is, we speak confidently. We feel that there is gloom around us, but there is nothing to alarm the honest and patriotic. The guilty may, and ought to, flee before the gale of popular indignation; but it is through such trials that our voyage is ultimately to become a prosperous and fortunate one. Through the watches of the night of darkness which now surrounds us, there is a gentle voice whispering “Be firm, be calm, be just, and the welcome daylight will soon come!”
The Vigilance Committee disbanded itself a few weeks later. Its last act in 1851† was to prevent the lynching of a sea captain by sailors angered at his brutality, an expression of class solidarity in the definition and punishment of crime as timeless as America herself. (Source)
* These fires were widely feared to be the product of arson motivated by the opportunity to loot. This is likely a reversal of cause and effect. One inclines here to reckon with Tolstoy that cities have a natural tendency to kindling fire, and those fires are liable to blaze out of control in inverse proportion to the city’s administrative faculties.
The late San Francisco police officer and amateur historian Kevin Mullen puts together an argument here that merchants opportunistically torching excess stock to sustain gold rush price gouging was also a contributing factor.
** Both men were born in England; many of the Sydney Ducks hailed originally from the British Isles.
† Like Batman, the Vigilance Committee later emerged from retirement to fight crime again, in 1856.
ROCKVILLE, Md., Aug. 18 — Armstead Taylor and John Alfred Brown, negroes, were hanged here this morning for the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Rosenstein at Slidelle in March last.
The drop fell at 10:15[?]. The hanging was a horrible botch. the knot did not slip but the drop was long enough. The men writhed, groaned and uttered inarticualate [sic] sounds for nearly ten minutes.
The murders for which they were convicted and sentenced to be hanged were committed at Slidelle, a little station two miles north of Boyds, Md. on March 13 last.
Louis Rosenstein, the postmaster of the hamlet[,] lived with his aged parents in the rear of the post office. They were said to have plenty of money. Early one morning they were attacked and the man’s skull was crushed and the woman’s head pounded with some blunt instrument.
The store was ransacked and a little over $3,000, a pair of shoes and several articles were taken.
Louis Rosenstein died the day after of his injuries and Mrs. Rosenstein lingered until May when she succumbed in a hospital at Baltimore.
Taylor went to Washington and soon attracted attention by spending money in a lavish manner in Georgetown. Suspicious neighbors gave the police the information that led to his capture.
Before Taylor was arrested, however, Sergeant Fritz Bassau of the Washington police force gave up his life. Taylor shot him down as he was climbing the stairs to arrest him, where he was concealed in the house at Georgetown. He also shot Officer Gowon in the hand.
Taylor was taken back to Montgomery county, but did not stand trial for injuring the policemen. His trial was begun at Frederick on July [?] and Brown’s a week later. Both were convicted and sentenced to be hanged August 18.
Strong efforts were made to have Brown respited, it being believed by many that he was only an accessory after the fact.
The men mounted the scaffold at 10:15. They were both calm and exhibited nerve. As they were placed on the door the sheriff asked if they had anything to say. Taylor made a rambling statement in an almost inaudible voice. He appeared weak and swayed upon his feet. He said:
Gentlemen, I done both the killings myself. My Uncle Brown is not guilty. I am the guilty man, but I expect to go to heaven.
Brown refused to make any statement beyond that he had forgiven his enemies and had found salvation.
The deputies then adjusted the rope, before placing the black caps on their heads. Both men smiled and Brown said good-bye to some friends in the crowd who spoke to him.
Sheriff Thompson tok [sic] a board about six feet in length, walked over to the side of the scaffold, reached down and inserted the end of a plank in the wire ring and sprung the trap.
The bodies fell through simultaneously and began to writhe and sway in a horrible manner. Taylor seemed to be conscious and appeared to be trying to speak.
The priests pronounced it the most horrible execution they had ever seen.
One hundred years ago today, Leo M. Franks was lynched to an oak tree at Marietta — one of the most notorious mob murders in American history.
Methodically extracted hours before from the Midgeville State Penitentiary by an Ocean’s Eleven-style team of coordinated professionals, Frank’s murder was as shocking in 1915 as it reads in retrospect.
The well-heeled Jewish Yankee was factory superintendent at the National Pencil Company in Atlanta when a 13-year-old girl in his employ was discovered in the factory’s basement — throttled and apparently raped. That was in 1913; for the ensuing two years, the prosecution of Mary Phagan’s boss as her murderer would play out in sensational press coverage.
Frank is today widely thought innocent of the crime, although the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has balked at issuing an unconditional pardon since so little of the original evidence survives. (A 1986 pardon came down “without attempting to address the question of guilt or innocence” in recognition of the slanted trial and the failure to protect Frank from lynchers.) But this was much more than a courtroom drama; the Frank affair crackles with the social tensions of early 20th century America. Industry and labor; integration; sexual violation; sectional politics; race and class and power.
Populist Party politician Thomas E. Watson, whose magazines made a dishonorable intervention by openly agitating for (and then celebrating) Frank’s lynching, captures the Zeitgeist for us as he fulminates against the nationwide campaign to grant the convicted murderer a new trial: “Frank belongs to the Jewish aristocracy, and it was determined by the rich Jews that no aristocrat of their race should die for the death of a working-class Gentile.” Frank came to enjoy (if that’s the right word) the editorial support of most of the country’s major papers, but the meddling of northern publishers, and of fellow Jews in solidarity,* arguably led Georgians to circle wagons in response. Present-day Muslims called upon to disavow every bad act by every other Muslim would surely recognize this no-win position.
But then we must also add that Watson himself, a lawyer, had been approached by Frank’s defense team hoping to enlist his bombast to defend their man at trial. The white supremacist demagogue would have been perfect for the job, for the legal battle pitted the credibility of a black janitor named Jim Conley against that of Frank.
Here amid the nadir of American race relations Frank’s team made its own ugly and unsuccessful pitch for racial solidarity with his neighbors. When formulaically asked by the court that had convicted him for any statement to mitigate the impending sentence, Frank replied that
my execution will make the advent of a new era in Georgia, where a good name and stainless honor count for naught against the word of a vile criminal; where the testimony of Southern white women of unimpeachable character is branded as false by the prosecution, disregarded by the jury and the perjured vaporings of a black brute alone accepted as the whole truth.
This violent collision of two vulnerable minorities each with the keen sense that one or the other of them was being outfitted for WASP America’s nooses makes for riveting and sometimes bizarre reading. Newspapers could hardly fail to note that the all-white jury (Leo Frank’s defense team struck all the blacks) had, as Frank complained, privileged the account of just the sort of “black brute” that Southern courts were accustomed to scorn, or railroad. Thus we have the NAACP organ The Crisis taking umbrage that “Atlanta tried to lynch a Negro for the alleged murder of a young white girl” but “a white degenerate has now been indicted for the crime.” It was likewise reasoned by some that since Conley was a young black man with a criminal record who was a potential suspect in the Deep South in the murderous sexual assault of a little white girl, “the mere fact that Conley did not long ago make his exit from this terrestrial sphere, via a chariot of fire is convincing proof that he, at least, is not the man who committed the deed.”** (New York Age, Oct. 29, 1914.)
In the end it was a zero-sum game between Jim Conley and Leo Frank: one of them was the murderer; each accused the other. Their respective desperate interests permeated to their respective communities. (After Frank’s lynching, hundreds of Jews left Georgia; many who remained took pains to downplay their Jewishness.)
By whatever circumstance police zeroed on Frank and the white community’s passion followed — tunnel vision that would eventually manifest itself in a circus courtroom atmosphere where the prosecuting attorney was cheered and defense witnesses hooted at and the ultimate outcome more demanded than anticipated. The judge feared that an acquittal would result in the summary lynching of not only Frank but his defenders.
Unusually for the time, appeals on the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court which declined to intervene — although two justices filed a dissent citing the egregious trial atmosphere.
Mob law does not become due process of law by securing the assent of a terrorized jury …
This is not a matter for polite presumptions; we must look facts in the face. Any judge who has sat with juries knows that in spite of forms they are extremely likely to be impregnated by the environing atmosphere … we think the presumption overwhelming that the jury responded to the passions of the mob …
lynch law [is] as little valid when practiced by a regularly drawn jury as when administered by one elected by a mob intent on death.
“Feeling as I do about this case, I would be a murderer if I allowed this man to hang,” the governor said. “It may mean that I must live in obscurity the rest of my days, but I would rather be plowing in a field than feel for the rest of my days that I had this man’s blood on my hands.”†
Frank was spirited away to the penitentiary under cover of darkness; it was hoped that the remote and reinforced edifice would deter any reprisal. It turned out that the furies who hunted Franks could not be dissuaded by mere inconvenience: a committee calling itself the Knights of Mary Phagan formed with the open object of organizing the intended mob vengeance — and indeed it was almost superseded in July of that year by a fellow-prisoner who slashed Frank’s throat as he slept.
Frank survived that murder attempt only to await the next one. Who knows what fancies frequented him in those weeks when he ducked from the shadow of the gallows to that of the lynching-tree, object of pity or hatred. He had time on the last day to savor his impending fate when the Knights methodically cut their way into the penitentiary — snipping the phone wires and disabling the vehicles — and marched their man out with nary a shot fired. Then, a convoy of automobiles “sped” (at 18 miles per hour) all the way back to a prepared execution-site at Marietta. The drive took seven or eight hours over unpaved country lanes, and for every moment of it Frank surely knew how it would end.
As a contrasting response, the American Jewish Committee declined to participate in the Frank campaign for fear of lending counterproductive credence to charges such as those voiced by the New York Sun (Oct. 12, 1913):
The anti-Semitic feeling was the natural result of the belief that the Jews had banded to free Frank, innocent or guilty. The supposed solidarity of the Jews for Frank, even if he was guilty, caused a Gentile solidarity against him.
** Maurianne Davis’s Strangers and Neighbors: Relations between Blacks and Jews in the United States has a trove of interesting editorial comment from Frank’s contemporaries in the black press, and the Jewish press. Conley was actually the confessed accessory, and served a year in prison for it: he said that he complied with Frank’s order to hide the body for fear that his “white” boss could easily get Conley lynched for the crime. Conley also wrote (under Frank’s directive, he said) the preposterous “murder notes” found with the body that purported to be Mary Phagan’s dying indictment of Newt Lee, the African-American night watchman.
† The allusion to political suicide suggests Slaton’s mind was on the precedent of Illinois Gov. John Altgeld, whose career was destroyed by pardoning some of the Haymarket anarchists. If so, Slaton was quite correct; he actually had to flee Georgia altogether and could not return to the state for more than a decade.
Miscarriages of justice perpetrated by actors in a position to extract private benefit from generating criminal prosecutions is a story as old as the hills. This one, as reprinted in the London Morning Chronicle, Aug. 25, 1817, at least has a happy ending:
Two soldiers, named Hall and Morrison, were on the 26th July tried for a highway robbery at the Stafford Assizes, before Baron Garrow, convicted, and ordered to be executed. They were prosecuted by a man named Read, a bricklayers labourer, who swore that they knocked him down and robbed him of a shilling and a penny, in a church-yard at Wolverhampton, on the 23d July. The evidence of the woman in whose house the prisoners resided, went to prove that they did not sleep at home on the night of the imputed robbery. To those two witnesses the evidence was confined, and against it there appeared nothing upon the trial, except the declarations of the prisoners, containing facts which were afterwards sworn to be others, and which, after the utmost labour of a few benevolent persons, were the means of saving the innocent prisoners from a death which appeared to all to be inevitable.
The two soldiers were, upon the 23d of July, drinking at an hour too late for admission at their lodging at Wolverhampton, and, after applying in vain to be allowed to go into the guardroom to sleep, walked about the village to kill time.
In loitering through the church-yard they met a man who seemed to be in want of work, and, like themselves, without a lodging for the night. A conversation ensued, and the stranger told them his name was Read; that he was a bricklayer’s labourer out of employment, and a Hertfordshire man.
It happened, that in his description he hit upon the part of the country from which one of the prisoners came. A jesting dialogue took place between them, and at length it was agreed that they should wrestle.
Hall was the friendly opponent of Read upon the occasion, and he was thrown in the first round of wrestling. In the second, however, Hall was more successful in the feat of activity, but his triumph nearly robbed him of his life. The vanquished man dropped a shilling and a penny from his pocket. Morrison immediately picked up the money, said it would do for beer, and put it into his pocket. The soldiers quizzed Read about his loss, and were heard by a watchman near the spot acknowledging that they had the shilling, and would certainly dispose of it in the most convivial way.
Read growled about his money, and showed a disposition to quarrel, but did not utter a word about his being robbed of it. About five o’clock in the morning the three were seen near the market-place by another watchman, and the soldiers were bantering Read upon the same subject.
The good humour of Read, however, at this time, appeared quite broken up; he spoke of having the soldiers taken into custody, but was answered by a laugh from them. A grocer, named Powis, saw them all under similar circumstances, and heard Read complain of no attempt at robbery, but saw that he was not pleased at being laughed at.
The grocer soon after met a man named Roberts, the keeper of the House of Correction at Wolverhampton, and mentioned to him that Read said two soldiers had got his money. The answer of Roberts, which did not strike the grocer as extraordinary at first, was, “I must see that man; this is a good job.”
The event, however, soon explained the language. Roberts immediately inquired after Read, questioned him upon the loss he had sustained, and in a very short time apprehended the two soldiers upon the charge of robbing Read in the highway of a shilling and a penny. Before the magistrate, Read swore that the soldiers knocked him down and robbed him of his money in the church-yard. Their commitment was immediately made out, and they were sent to the Assizes of Stafford, where, on the Saturday following they were tried and condemned for the capital offense.
The inhabitants of Wolverhampton knew nothing of the intention of Read upon the interference of Roberts in this transaction. It was generally concluded amongst them that the angry state of mind in which Read appeared, would have influenced him to swear a common assault, but nothing at all serious was apprehended from the wrestling bout. There was consequently no interference upon the part of those who were acquainted with many of the circumstances; and the matter died away until the village was struck with horror at an account in the Stafford paper of the proceedings of the Assizes. An old man was reading the paper in an ale-house to a number of politicians, who were not much affected at any thing they heard until he came to that part which stated the number of persons left for execution. Amongst the names were those of Hall and Morrison. The whole population of Wolverhampton instantly showed how they felt upon an occasion so dreadful.
The Rev. Mr. Guard, one of the most venerable characters in that part of the country, who officiates in the village where Hall’s family resides, upon hearing the event of the trial, set out for Wolverhampton, where he found the people already meeting and acting upon this subject. The men were to be hanged this day (Saturday last), and not a moment was to be lost. Mr. Guard, who had known Hall from his infancy, and would have staked his life upon the integrity of the young man, made a quick but deep inquiry into the facts, and having found every thing confirmatory of his innocence, followed Baron Garrow on his circuit to state what he had learned from the very best authority, and obtain a respite.
He saw Mr. Baron Garrow, but his Lordship appeared to see no reason to alter the opinion which he had formed from hearing the trial. The worthy Clergyman, however, was so well convinced of the truth of his own information, that he could not help exclaiming, with more zeal than discretion, “I see you are determined to hang these poor men.”
Mr. Baron Garrow was naturally offended at this intemperate observation, and an eminent Barrister remarked, that Mr. Guard’s object was wholly defeated by the use of it.
Mr. Guard was not, however, to be turned from the endeavour to save the lives of the two soldiers; there was another quarter to which he could apply. He immediately came to town, and went without ceremony to Lord Sidmouth, to whom he obtained an easy access. He remained in conversation with his Lordship between three and four hours, and Lord Sidmouth afterwards declared, that he never in his life saw such an interest taken in the fate of men who were not related by domestic ties to the individuals whom he was labouring to save. This meeting gave Mr. Guard hopes; though Lord Sidmouth had observed, that in cases of this kind the Judge was necessarily better acquainted with all the bearings of the evidence than the Secretary of State, and therefore his power was seldom interfered with, except under circumstances of strong fact.
Mr. Guard posted back to Wolverhampton the moment after he parted from the Secretary. A meeting of the inhabitants was called, at which Mr. Mander, and all the other respectable residents of Wolverhampton attended.
The witnesses were sworn, and a Petition to the Prince Regent was signed and delivered into the hands of Mr. Guard, who, accompanied by Mr. Charles Mander, very soon after arrived in town. These two gentlemen went, with Mr. Pearsall, of Cheapside, to Lord Sidmouth, and put into his hands the evidence of the innocence of the soldiers. His Lordship requested that Mr. Pearsall would relate the circumstance.
That gentleman repeated the manner in which Read and the two soldiers had acted in the presence of the watchmen and the grocer. Lord Sidmouth was just going up with the Recorder’s Report, and said, that upon his return he would examine the affidavits, and act upon them. Mr. Pearsall observed, that the men were ordered for execution on Saturday, but was assured by his Lordship that their case should not be neglected, and that the affidavits should be laid before the Attorney-General.
Upon the next meeting, Lord Sidmouth said there had been no necessity for laying the affidavits before the Attorney-General. The case, he observed, was one of the most interesting that ever came before him.
Indeed, such was the effect of the affidavits upon him, that he was not only immediately convinced that the soldiers should not be executed, but, in the absence of his clerks, he wrote the dispatch for their respite with his own hand, and sent it to the Sheriff; “because,” said his Lordship, “I could not endure the thought that the soldiers should have one hour more of unnecessary anxiety.”
Mr. Pearsall said there was no doubt that the men had no intention of felony; it would also appear, at another time, that the prosecutor had no intention of indicting them, until he was instigated by Roberts, with the view of gaining the reward called “Blood-money,” which was accordingly pocketed by Read and the keeper of the prison, to the amount of 80l.
Lord Sidmouth declared, that, under such circumstances, an immediate investigation should take place. He coincided in the opinion of the impropriety of Roberts’s conduct, and said a pardon would be instantly granted to the soldiers. He also complimented, in the warmest manner, the conduct of Mr. Guard and the other gentleman, who had exerted themselves. In the course of his observations to Lord Sidmouth, Mr. Guard said he would give up half his fortune to save the life of Hall, so convinced was he of his honesty.
While these operations were going forward in London, affidavits, copied from those handed to the Secretary, were brought to Mr. Baron Garrow by Lieut. Buchanan, of the same regiment as the soldiers, and a respite was instantly granted by his Lordship when he read them.
The Officer stated, that Baron Garrow, upon reading the affidavits, said, if the facts had been known before, their respite should have been granted; and asked whether they would, upon being pardoned, be taken into the regiment again? Lieutenant Buchanan immediately replied, that they would be most gladly received.
THE EXECUTION OF John Brown, Thos. Jackson, Geo. Booth & John King.
The above unfortunate men were arraigned at our late Assizes for setting fire to certain hay and corn stacks, the property of Winfield Halton, Esq. of Southwingfield, in this county, and after a long and impartial trial were found guilty on the most satisfactory evidence, by a very respectable jury of their fellow countrymen. The awful sentence of the law was passed upon them in the most impressive manner by the Judge, who endeavoured to prepare them for the fate which awaited them by assuring them that the heinous nature of their offence precluded all hopes of mercy.
For some days after their condemnation, however, they cherished a hope that pardon or at least a mitigation of their sentence might be extended to them. Under this impression they persisted in asserting their innocence of the crime for which they were about to suffer, and even when this delusion could no longer influence their conduct, their denial of all participation in the offence of which they had been convicted was repeatedly made in the most solemn manner. The faithful exhortations of the Chaplain, and also of a Dissenting Minister, who at their own request attended Brown and Booth, failed to draw a confession of the fact from them. Still they did not appear unimpressed by certain religious convictions which might have been expected to lead to contrition. But in the midst of their profession of forgiveness towards their prosecutor and the witnesses who appeared against them, there was a manifest irritation of mind and a vindictive expression of feeling which justified a doubt of the sincerity of their repentance.
This was particularly the case with Brown and Booth, who were confined together. Jackson exhibited a calmer state of spirit, but still protested that he was not guilty. King shewed the most absolute submission to the fate which awaited him, and his assertions of innocence seemed to be made more in deference to the wishes of his fellow criminals, than to arise from another cause. Indeed he had made a confession of the offence before his trial, but was led subsequently to retract what he had admitted.
It was vainly hoped that at the place of execution they would prove by their confession that their general professions of contrition were sincere. But they had previously stated that they should die with the protestations of innocence on their lips, and not even the dread prospect of that eternity on which they were about to enter was able to produce a charge in this determination.
They were brought out upon the scaffold about a quarter before one o’clock, and seemed but little affected by the sad solemnities by which they were surrounded. After the Chaplain had concluded his devotions, in which they appeared to unite with some degree of fervour, they sang a hymn, all joining in it except King, whose manner expressed a firmness bordering on indifference, and a high disdain of the enthusiastic fervours by which the others seemed to be sustained. Booth and Brown addressed the immense multitudes who were assembled before them; the former expressing himself in unwarrantable terms against individuals whom he named, and the latter exhorting the croud to religious faith and practice.
They, as well as Jackson spoke familiarly to their acquaintances who came to witness their tragical end, and their whole behaviour betrayed an insensibility to their real situation which it was painful to observe, and would be difficult to account for, were not their previous abandoned characters sufficient to furnish the solution. The drop fell from under them about five minutes after one o’clock, and they seemed to die almost without a struggle.
Such was the deportment of these wretched men; even in the closing scene of their lives, aggravating the heavy criminality of their former conduct, by their continued protestations of innocence. Many circumstances tended to produce this. The state of the prison in which they were confined did not, unfortunately, admit of their being in solitary cells, and their intercourse with each other seems to have given them hardihood to deny what had been so clearly proved against them, by evidence which has not been in the slightest degree affected by any circumstances that have subsequently transpired. Indiscreet communications from their friends, by which they were assured that their innocence was believed by their neighbours, farther tended to make them persevere in their first protestations. They seemed unwilling to destroy the sympathy which they believed they had succeeded in exciting.
Still it appears incredible to many that guilt should be so bold, and the professions of religion loudly made by two of the criminals are thought by some to be greatly in favour of their sincerity. Nothing however is more common than protestations of innocence even at the place and hour of execution; nor is it wonderful, where all moral feeling has been outraged during a long course of years that it should not be displayed in a nice regard to truth even in the most awful moments.
The professions of religion made by men who have not been brought by penitence to confession, may well be regarded with suspicion, and such conduct would be inconceivable were we not aware that a species of fanaticism is abroad in the world which separates religion from morals, and substitutes mere profession in the place of practice.
As every fact which may tend to illustrate the principles of human action deserves notice, it is worth observing, that a heavy shower happening, whilst the men were singing the hymn, two of them deliberately retreated to the shelter of an umbrella which was expanded on the drop, and a third placed himself under cover of the door way. The inconvenicne of being wet was felt and avoided by men who knew they had not five minutes longer to live!! The whole of the scene now recorded was one of great horror, increased by the conduct of the criminals themselves. The many thousands of spectators behaved with great decorum, but retired from the spectacle apparently little impressed with sympathy towards men who had evinced so much insensibility to the real nature of their own unhappy condition.
Having observed that of late years it is become Customary to publish the dying Speeches of such as have been in a Publick manner Executed as Criminals, I thought the sight of these Speeches (not as Speeches or Discourses only, but) as the Speeches of these two (so much talk’d of) Men, would to most be very acceptable, all persons I believe being curious to know what they would say in their Circumstances, I did not think it necessary to make any Animadversions upon them, but leave it to the [illegible] of every Reader to make his own Remarks, (it being as easie to animadvert in this Case as to read) I would as unwillingly impose my Comment upon others, as I would be imposed upon my self.
The Speech of Mr. John King.
I do not doubt but that many that are Spectators here, have some other end, than to be edified by what they may see and hear in the last words of one going to Eternity, but if any one of you have Ears to hear, (which I nothing doubt but some of this great gathering have) I desire your Ears and Attention, if the Lord shall help and permit me to speak, to a few things.
I bless the Lord, since infinite Wisdom and holy Providence has so carved out my Lot to dye after the manner that I do, not unwillingly, neither by force: It’s true, I could not do this of my self, Nature always having an Inclination to put the evil day far off, but through Grace I have been helped, and by this Grace yet hope I shall: ‘Tis true, through Policy I might have shunned such a hard Sentence, if I had done some things, but though I could I durst not, God knows, redeem my life with the loss of my Integrity and Honesty. I bless the Lord that since I have been apprehended and made a Prisoner, God hath very wonderfully upholden me, and made out that comfortable word, Fear not, be not dismayed, I am with thee, I will strengthen thee, I will uphold thee by the right hand of my Righteousness, Isaiah 42.10. [sic – the correct cite is Isaiah 41:10 -ed.] I thank the Lord he never yet gave me leave so much as to have a thought, much less to seek after any [illegible] that might be the least sinful: I did always, and yet do judge it better to suffer Affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of Sin for a Season; therefore I am come hither to lay down my life; I bless the Lord I dye not as a Fool dyeth, though I acknowledge I have nothing to boast of in myself: yea I acknowledge I am a Sinner, and one of the chiefest that hath gone under the name of a Professor of Religion; yea amongst the unworthiest of those that have Preached the Gospel; my Sins and Corruptions have been many, and have defiled me in all things; and even in following and doing of my Duty, I have not wanted my own sinful Infirmities and Weaknesses, so that I may truly say, I have no Righteousness of my own, all is evil and like filthy Rags; but blessed be God that there is a Saviour and an Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and I do believe that Jesus Christ is come into the World to save Sinners, of whom I am the chief, and that through Faith and his Righteousness I have obtained Mercy; and that through him, and him alone, I desire and hope to have a happy and glorious Victory over Sin, Satan, Hell, and Death; and that I shall attain unto the Resurrection of the just, and be made Partaker of Eternal Life. I know in whom I have believed, and that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. I have, according to my poor Capacity, preached Slavation in his name; and as I have preached, so do I believe, and withal my Soul have commended it, and still do commend to all of you the riches of his Grace, and faith in his Name, as the alone and only way whereby to come to be saved.
It may be many may think (but I bless the Lord without any solid ground) that I suffer as an Evil-Doer, and as a busie body in other mens matters; but I reckon not much upon that, having the Testimony of my own Conscience for me. It was the lot of our blessed Saviour himself, and also the lot of many of his eminent precious Servants and People to suffer by the World as Evil-doers: Yea I think I have so good ground not to be fear’d as such a lot, that I count it my non-such-honour; and Oh what am I that I should be honoured so, when so many Worthies have panted after the like, and have not come at it: My Soul rejoyceth in being brought into Conformity with my Blessed Lord, and Head, and so Blessed a Company in this way and lot; and I desire to pray that I may be to none of you this day upon this account a Stone of stumbling, and a Rock of Offence: and blessed is he that shall not be offended in Christ and his poor Followers and Members, because of their being Condemned as Evil doers by the World.
As for these things for which Sentence of Death hath past against me, I bless the Lord my Conscience doth not condemn me, I have not been Rebellious, nor do I judge it Rebellion for me to have endeavoured in my Capacity what possibly I could for the born-down and ruined Interest of my Lord and Master, and for the Relief of my poor Brethren afflicted and persecuted, not only in their Liberties, Priviledges, and Persons, but also in their Lives; therefore it was that I joyned with that poor handful; the Lord knows, who is the searcher of hearts, that neither my design nor practice was against his Majesty’s person and just Government, but I always studyed to be Loyal to lawful Authority in the Lord, and I thank God my heart doth not condemn me of any Disloyalty; I have been Loyal, and I do recommend it to all to be obedient to higher Powers in the Lord.
And that I preached at Field-Meetings, which is the ground of my Sentence, I am so far from acknowledging that the Gospel preached that way was a Rendezvous of Rebellion, as it is so tearmed, that I bless the Lord that ever he counted me worthy to be Witness of such Meetings; which have been so undoubtedly countenanced and owned, not only to the conviction, but even to the Conversion of many; therefore I do assert, That if the Lord hath had any purer Church in the Land than other, it hath been in and amonst these Meetings in Fields and Houses, so much now despised by some, and persecuted by others.
That [illegible] up Rebellion, and taking up Arms [illegible] authority is untrue, I bless the Lord my Conscience doth not condemn me for that; this never being my design; if I could have preached Christ, and Salvation through his name, it was my work; and herein have I walked according to the Light and Rule of the Word of God, as it did become me, though one of the meanest of the Ministers of the Gospel.
I have been looked upon by some, and represented by others to be of a divisive, and Factious Humor, and one that stirred up division in the Church, but I am hopeful that they will all now give me their Charity, being within a little to stand before my Judge, and I pray the Lord forgive them that did so misrepresent me; but I thank the Lord what-ever men have said against me concerning this, that on the contrary, I have often disswaded from such ways and practices, as contrary to the Word of God, and of our Covenanted and reformed Religion; and as I ever Abhorred division, and Faction in the Church, as that which tends to its utter Ruine, if the Lord prevent it not. So I would in the bowels of my lord and Master, if such an one as I am may presume to perswade, and Exhort both Ministers and Professors; if there be any Consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love; if any Fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies that you be like minded, having the same Love, being of one accord, of one mind the Lowliness of mind; let each esteem other better than themselves, Phil. 1.12. [again, sic; I believe Philippians 2:3 is the citation] Harmoniousness and Honesty in the things of God, can never enough be south after, and [illegible] tend to the prejudice and hurt of Christians [illegible] can never enough be fled from and avoided.
And as I am come hither willingly to lay down my Tabernacle, so also I die in the belief, and faith of the Holy Scriptures, and in the faith of the Apostles, and primitives Christians, and Protestant Reformed Churches, and particularly the Church of Scotland, whereof I am a poor member: That have been so wonderfully carried on against so many Oppositions, by the mighty Power and goodness and Wisdome of God, I bear my Witness and Testimony to the Doctrine and worship, Discipline and Government of the Church of Scotland, by Kirk Sessions, Presbyters, Synods with Assembles.
Here he also bore his Testimony to the Solemn League and Covenant.
Also I bear Testimony to our publick confessing of sins, and Ingagements to duties, and that either as to what concerns the reformation of the whole Church in general, as also the causes of Gods wrath, the neglecting of which is feared, to be one of the greatest causes of Gods wrath this day against the Land: I also give witness and Testimony unto the protestation, given in against the Receiving the Malignant party into places of power and trust, contrary to our Solemn Ingagements, and Obligations to God, also I adhere unto our Confession of Faith, Larger and shorter Catechisms. I witness my Testimony against Popery, which is so greatly increased, yea so much Countenanced, and professed openly by many, and that without the least punishment; I bear witness against the Antichristian Prelacy now — established by a Law contrary to our Vows to Almighty God, and against defending all our Solemn Oaths, and ingagements, as a thing that Calls for Divine Vengeance.
Here he bore witness against all Oaths contrary to the Covenant: and then proceeded thus.
Also I bear my Testimony against all Error, Schisme, Heresie, contrary to our ingagements to God, and especially against that Reviving again, and Soul deluding evil or rather Devilry Quakerisme so much Connived at, if not allowed and Countenanced by many, whose Office it is to restrain it, as also against all the Steps and Courses of Backslidings, defections, which have been and now are on Foot in the Land, and against all branches and parties thereof, under whatsoever name or Notion; moreover, I bear my Testimony to all the Testimonys both formerly and of late, by suffering and banished witnesses, and to all the Testimonies by our first suffering Gentlemen, Noble-men, and others, that have suffered in this City and Kingdome, who Chearfully laid down their lives with admirable Divine Assistance, and all those who have laid down their lives, as also to those who have Sealed their Testimony, either with suffering imprisonment or Banishment upon this account, Score, and quarrel.
Here he bore his Testimony against their Act of Supremacy.
As also I bear my Testimony against the Cess imposed by the late Convention of Estates, whereby the Enemies of Christ, and his Church, are supplyed with all necessaries, for the utter extirpating of the interest of Christ in this Church.
And there is one thing more I would say, that the Lord seems to be very wroth with the Land. The causes are many, first the dreadful sleights our Lord Jesus Christ, has received in the Offers of his Gospel.
Secondly, The Horrid profanity that has overspread the whole Land, That not only Religion in its Exercise, but even Common Civility is gone.
Thirdly, there is the Horrid perjury in the matters of our vows and ingagements, its to be feared will provoke the Lord to bring his Sword upon these Lands.
Fourthly, The dreadful formality and stupidity in the duties of Religion, which is introduced, like that which came upon the Carless Daughters.
Fifthly, Horrid ingratitude, what do we render to him for his goodness? is not the most of all that we do, to work wickedness, and to strengthen our selves to do evil, and want of Humility under all all [sic] our Breaches? We are brought Low, and yet we are not Low in the sight of God, what a dreadful Covetousness, and minding our own things more than the things of God, and that amonst all Ranks? would to God that there were not too much of this among many, who are Enemies of the Cross of Christ, and mind earthly things.
And yet I dare not say, but there are many faithful and precious to him in Scotland, both of Ministers, and Professors, whom I trust God will keep stedfast, and who will Labour to be found faithful to their Lord and Master, and whom I hope he will make a brazen wall and Iron Pillars, and as a strong defenced City, in the following of their duties in these sad evil times, but it were to be wished, That there were not too many to strengthen the hands of the evil-doers, and make themselves Transgressors, by endeavouring to buidl again that which formerly they did estroy, but let such take heed of the flying Roll, Zach. 5. And let all the Lords Servants and Ministers take heed that they watch, and be stedfast in the faith, and quit themselves like men, and be strong, and set the Trumpet to the mouth, and give Seasonable and faithful warning to all Ranks Concerning sins, and duties, especially against the sins of this sinful time: it is to be Lamented and sadly Regretted by many of the Lords people, that there has been so much silence and fainting, even amongst Ministers of how great Concernment it is; now in this sad Juncture, let Ministers consider well, what it is that God calls for at their hands. To be silent now, especially when so many Cruel and Horrid things are [illegible], when they are so much called, and ought to be concerned to speak even upon the Peril of their lives, certainly a dreadful sin in the sight of God, their silence must be. I shall only desire that the Lord would open the mouths of his faithful servants, that with all boldness, they may speak out the mind of their Master, that so the work, interest, Crown and Kingdome of our Lord Jesus Christ, may not be destroyed, and that the troubles of his poor people, which are precious to him, may not without a Testimony be ruined. I shall but say a few words.
First, All you that are profane, I would seriously Exhort you that you return to the Lord by serious Repentance; if you do, iniquity shall not be your Ruine; if you do not, know that the day of the Lords Vengeance is near and hastneth on. Oh know for your comfort, there is a door of mercy yet open, if you be not despisers of the day of Salvation. And you that have been, and yet are, Reproachers and persecutors of Godliness, and of such as live Godly; take heed, Oh take heed, sad will be your day, when God arises to scatter his Enemies, if you repent not for your ungodly deeds.
Secondly, All those who are taken up with their own private interests, and if that go well they Care the less for the interests of Christ, take heed and be zealous, and repent, lest the Lord pass the Sentence I will spew you out of my mouth.
Thirdly, For the truly Godly, and such as are Lamenting after the Lord, and are mourning for all the abominations of this City, and are taking pleasure in the very Rubbish and Stones of Zion, be of good Courage, and Cast not away your Confidence, I dare not say any thing to future things, but surely the Lord has a handful that are precious to him, to whom he will be Gracious; to these is a dark night at present, how long it will last the Lord knows. Oh let not the sad disasters, that his poor people meet with, though very astonishing, Terrifie you, beware of snares that abound, Cleave fast to your Reformed Religion, do not Shift the Cross of Christ, if you be called to it, it is better to suffer than sin, account the reproaches of Christ greater Riches than all the Treasures of the World.
In the last place, let not my Death be Grievous to any of you, I hope it will be more profitable both for you and me, and for the Church and interest of God, than my life could have been. I bless the Lord, I can freely and Frankly forgive all men, even as I desire to be forgiven of God, pray for them that persecute you, bless them that Curse you. As to the cause of Christ, I bless the Lord I never had cause, to this day, to repent for any thing I have suffered, or can now suffer for his name. I thank the Lord who has shewed mercy to such a vile sinner as I am, and that ever he should advance me to so High a dignity, as to be made a Minister of his blessed and everlasting Gospel, and that ever I should have a Seal set to my Ministry, upon the hearts of some in several places and Corners of this Land: the Lord visit Scotland with more and more faithful Pasters, and send a Reviving day unto the people of God; in the mean time be patient, be stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; and live in Love and peace one with another, and the Lord be with his poor Afflicted Groaning people, that yet remain.
Now I bid farewell to all my friends, and dear Relations; Farewell my poor Wife and Children, whom I leave in the good hand of him who is better than seven Husbands, and who will be a Father to the fatherless. Farewell all Creature comforts, Welcome everlasting life, everlasting glory, Welcome everlasting love, everlasting praise; bless the Lord, O my Soul, and all that is within me.
August, 14th. 1679.
Tolbooth, Circa boram Septimam.
The Speech of Mr. John Kid.
Right Worthy and well beloved Spectators and Auditors.
Considering what bodily distempers I have been exercised with since I came out of the Torture, (viz.) Scarce two hours out of my naked bed in one day, it cannot be expected, that I should be in Case to say any thing to purpose at this Juncture, especially seeing I am not as yet free of it, however I cannot but Reverence the good hand of God upon me, and desires with all my Soul to bless him for this my present Lot.
It may be there are a great many here that Judge my Lot very sad and deplorable. I must confess death it self, is very Terrible to Flesh and blood, but as it is an out-let to sin, and an in-let to righteousness, it is the Christians great and inexpressible priviledge, and give me leave to say this, that there is somthing in a Christians Condition, that can never put him without the reach of insufferableness, even shame, death, and the Cross being included.
And then if there be peace betwixt God and the Soul, nothing can damp peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, this is a most supporting ingredient in the bitterest Cup, and under the sharpest, and firiest Tryal he can be exposed unto. This is my mercy, That I have somthing of this to lay Claim unto, viz., The intimacies of pardon, and peace betwixt God and my Soul.
And as concerning that, for which I am condemned, I magnifie his grace, that I never had the least challenge for it, but on the contrary, I Judge it my Honour, that ever I was counted worthy to come upon the Stage upon such a consideration; another thing that renders the most despicable Lot of the Christian, and mine insufferable, is a felt and sensible presence from the Lord, strengthening the Soul when most put to it, and if I could have this for my Allowance this day, I could be bold to say, Oh death where is thy sting, and could not but cry out Welcome to it, and all that follows upon it: I grant the Lord from an Act of Soveraignity may come, and go as he pleases, but yet he will never forsake his people, and this is a Cordial to me in the Case I am now exposed unto.
Thirdly, The exercising and puting forth his glorious power, is able to Transport the Soul of the believer, and mine, above the reach of all Sublunary difficulties, and therefore seeing I have hope to be kept up by this power, I would not have you to look upon my Lot, or any other that is or may be in my Cafe, in the least deplorable, seeing we have ground to believe, that in more or less he will perfect his power and strength in weakness.
Fourthly, That I may come a little nearer to the purpose in hand, I declare before you all, in the sight of God, Angels and men, and in the sight of that Son and all that he has Created, that I am a most miserable sinner, in regard of my Original and Actual Transgressions. I must confess they are more in number than the Haires of my Head. They are gone up above my Head, and are past numbering, I cannot but say as Jacob said, I am less than the least of all Gods mercies, yet I must declare to the exalting of his free grace, That to me who am the least of all Saints is this grace made known, and that by a strong hand, and I dare not but say he has loved me, and washed me in his own blood from all iniquities, and well is it for me this day, That ever I heard or read that faithful saying, that Jesus Christ, came into the World to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
Fifthly, I must also declare in his sight, I am the most unworthiest that ever opened his mouth to preach the unsearchable Riches of Christ in the Gospel. yea the sense of this made me altogether unwilling to fall about so great a work, until by the importunity of some whose names are precious and savoury to me and many others, I was prevailed with to fall about it, and yet I am hopeful not altogether without some fruit, and if I durst say it without vanity, I never found so much of the presence of God upon my Spirit, as I have found in exercises of that nature, though I must still confess attended with inexpressible weakness, and this is the main thing for which I must lay down my Tabernacle this day, viz. That I did preach Christ and the Gospel in several places of this Nation; for which I bless him (as I can), That ever such a poor obscure person as I am, have been thus priviledged by him, for making mention of his grace as I was able.
Sixthly, Give me leave to add this word farther, that though there be great appearances, for spreading and preaching this Glorious Gospel, yet I fear there is a snare at the bottom, and poyson in that dish which may gender, and be productive, of not only greater Scarcity of Honest preaching and preachers, but a Real Famine of the Word, this I say is my fear, and I hope God will keep his servants and people from fomenting any thing to the detriment of the Gospel.
Seventhly, I am also afraid that the Lord is tending to multiply his stroaks upon the Land, we have walked seven times contrary to him, and therefore we may lay our account (unless Repentance prevent it) that he will walk seven times contrary to us, there is more and more grounds to fear that a Sword is Brandished in Heaven, a Glittering Sword, sharpned and forbished against the Guilty and Harlot Scotland.
Eightly, As for the Fifth Cause in my indictment, upon which my sentence of death is founded, (viz.) Presonal preference, Twice or thrice, with that party whom they call the Rebels; for my own part I never Judged them such: I Acknowledge and do believe there were many there that came in the simplicity of their hearts, like those that followed Absolom long ago, and I am as sure on the other hand there were a great party there that had nothing before them but the repairing of the Fallen work, and the restoring of the breach, which is wide as the Sea, and I am apt to think that such of these who were most branded with mistake, will be found to be most single: but for Rebellion against his Majesties person or Lawful Authority, the Lord knows my Soul Abhorreth the name and thing; Loyal I have been, and I wish every Christian to be so, and I was ever of this Judgment, To give to Caesar the things that are caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.
Ninthly, Since I came to prison, I have been much branded with many that I must call Aspersons whereof Jesuitisme is one, I am hopeful there was never one that did converse with me that had the least ground for laying this to my Charge, I know not how it comes to pass it is laid upon me now, except implacable prejudice that some have been prepossest with against me. I am not Ignorant that near two years ago, a person of some note in this Church while Living, was pleased to say, I was dyed in that Judgment: after he was better informed, he Changed his Note, and said it was misinformation: but now the Lord, before whom I must stand, and be Judged by and by, knows I have a perfect Abhorrence of that thing. And that it was never my Temptation directly nor indirectly. Though I must confess, some few years ago, some were very pressing upon me that I would conform, and imbrace Prelacy? But for Popery, and that Truth, it never came nearer my heart than the Popes Conclave, and the Alcoran, which my Soul Abhors.
Tenthly, I Have also been branded with factiousness, divisive, and seditious preaching, and practices. I must confess if it be so, it was more than ever I was aware of: according to the measure that God has given me, it was my endeavor to commend Christ to the hearts and Souls of the people, even repentance towards God and Faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the word of God, confession of faith, and Catechismes Larger and Shorter, yea I did press them, when God did cast it in my way to remember their former Obligations in Doctrine, worship, Discipline and Government, and that they would make it their work to stand to it, in substance and Circumstance, seeing it is so Cryed down in this day, and if this be divisive preaching, I cannot deny it.
Eleventhly, I am prest in Conscience to bear my Testimony to and Abhorrence of every Invasion, Usurpation, and incroachment that is made or has been made against Christs Royal prerogative, Crown, and Kingdome, Originate upon and derivate from that which they call the Supremacy. I was never free to say a Confederacy with those that I judge have in a great part said a Confederacy with that thing, and the Lord is my record, I was never free in my Conscience for that that is called indulgence, neither first nor second, as it was rendered by the Counsel, and as it was imbraced by a great many Godly men in this Land, yea it was never Laudable nor expedient to me, and in effect this is one of the main grounds, why I am rendred so Obnoxious to so many imputations, that I have been all along contrary to that indulgence in my Judgment. I confess I have been so, and I die in my Judgment contrary to it, and this I crave Leave to say without any Offence given to the many Godly and Learned, that are of another Judgment.
Twelfthly, I Judge it fit likewise in this Cafe to leave my Testimony against that Stent, Taxation and Cess, that has been so injustly imposed, so frivolently founded, and vigorously carried on by the Abettors of that contention, and meerly upon no other account imaginable, but to make a Final Extirpation of Christ, and his Gospel Ordinances out of the Land, and how Lamentable it is to consider how many professors did willingly pay it, and were most forward for inciting others to do the same.
In the next place, though to many I die desired, yet I know to not a few my death is not desired, and it is the rejoycing of my heart, that I die in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has loved me, and given himself for me, and in the faith of the Prophets and Apostles, and in this faith that there’s not a name under heaven by which men can be saved, but the name of Jesus, and in the Faith of the Doctrine and Worship of the Kirke of Scotland, as it is now established according to the word of God, Confession of faith, Catechisms Larger and shorter, and likewise I joyn my Testimony against Popery, Perjury, Profanity, Heresie, and every thing contrary to sound Doctrine.
In the Close, as a dying person, and as one who has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful, I would Humbly leave it upon godly Ministers to be faithful for their Lord and Master, and not to hold their peace in such a day, when so many ways are taken for injuring of him, his name, way, Sanctuary, Ordinances, Crown and Kingdome, I hope there will be found a party in this Land, that will continue for him, and his Matters, in all Hazzards, and as faithfulness is called for in Ministers, so professors would concern themselves that they Countenance not, nor abet any thing inconsistent with former Principles and practices. Let the Land consider how Neuteral and indifferent we are grown in the matters of God, even like Ephraim long ago, a Cake not turned.
Next how far we are fallen from our first love, how far we are degenerated from the noble Vine into which the Lord did once plant us; Lamentable it is how far we are gone in the way of Egypt, drinking the Waters of Sichar, &c. [i.e., drunkenness -ed.]
Again, What a woeful Spirit of bitterness is predominate in this Land, in this our Age, Ephraim vexing Judah, and Judah Ephraim, Manasseth Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseth, the growing dogedness of this temper almost amongst us all, portends terrible things from the Lord against Scotland.
Fourthly, Reformation neither designed nor practiced, what means all this deformity that is come to pass in these days, instead of the contrary? how many of us are pulling down that which we have been building up; how many of us calling good evil, and evil good, dis-owning and dis-favouring that which sometime we judged our honour to testifie for and to avouch.
Fifthly, A Publick Spirit in contending for God in his matters, in substance and circumstance, according to our Vows and Obligations, is much wanting amonst us at this day.
Farther I am prest in Conscience to make honourable mention of all those glorious things that God has done in Scot. since the year 1638. the abundant measure of his spirit that has been power’d out upon his people.
Here he spoke much concerning the Solemn League and Convenant; and afterwards proceeded as followeth.
And moreover I bear my Testimonies against all other Confusions, Imprisonment and Blood, that is or may be intended against those of the Land that desire to keep their Garments clean, whether in Prison or out of Prison.
6thly, As concerning that which is the ground of my death, viz. Preaching here and there in some Corners, I bless my God I have not the least challenge for it, and though those that Condemned me are pleased to call such Preachings Rendezvouses of Rebellion, yet I must say this of them, they were so far from being reputed such in my Eyes, that if ever Christ had a People or party wherein his Soul took pleasure, I am bold to say these Meetings were a great part of them; the shineing and Glory of God was eminently seen amonst these Meetings, the convincing Power and Authority of our Lord went out with his Servants in those blasphemously nick-named Conventicles; this I say without reflection upon any. I have a word to say farther, that God is calling persons to Repentance, and to do their first work; Oh that Scotland were a mourning Land, and that Reformation were our practice, according as we are sworn in the Covenant.
Again, that Christians of Grace and Experience would study more streightness and stability in this day, when so many are turning to the right hand, and many to the left; he that endureth to the end shall be saved; he has appointed the Kingdom for such as continue with him in his Temptations.
Next, if ever you expect to have the Form of the House shewed you in all the Laws thereof, goings on thereof, and comings in thereof, then think it no shame to take shame to you for all that has been done, sitting down on this side Jordan is like to be our bane. Oh when shall we get up and run after him till he bring us into the promised Land, let us up and after him with all our heart, and never rest till he return.
I recommend my Wife and young one to the care and faithfulness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God that has fed me to this day, and who is the God of my Salvation, their God and my God, their Father and my Father, I am also hopeful, that Christians, Friends, and Relations, will not be unmindful of them when I am gone.
Lastly, I do further bear my Testimony to the Cross of Christ, and bless him that ever he counted me worthy to appear for him in such a lot as this: Glory to him that ever I heard tell of him, and that ever he fell upon such a method of dealing with me as this, and therefore let none that loves Christ and his Righteous Cause be offended in me.
And as I have lived in the faith of this, that the three Kingdoms are married Lands, so I dye in the faith of it, that there will be a resurrection of his Name, Word, Cause, and of all his Interest therein, though I dare not determine the time when, nor the manner how, but leave all these things to the infinitely wise God, who has done, and will do all things well. Oh that he would return to this Land again, to repair our breaches, and take away our back sliding, and appear for his work: Oh that he were pacified towards us; Oh that he would pass by Scotland once again, and make our time a time of Love, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Himself hasten it in his own time and way. The Lord is my light and life, my joy, my song, and my salvation; the God of his chosen be my Mercy this day, and the inriching comforts of the holy Ghost keep up and carry me fair through, to the Glory of his Grace, to the edification of his people, and my own eternal advantage. Amen.
August, 14th. 1679.
Tolbooth, Ante horam Septimam.
Whatever military advantages the Huguenots obtained in various parts of the realm were more than outweighed by the death of “the brave Montbrun.”
This daring and energetic leader, the terror of the enemy in Dauphiny, had just defeated a large body of Swiss auxiliaries, upon whom he inflicted a loss of eight or nine hundred men and eighteen ensigns, while that of the Huguenots scarcely amounted to half a dozen men.
But his brilliant success in this and other engagements had made Montbrun and his soldiers more incautious than usual.
They attacked a strong detachment of men-at-arms, and mistaking the confusion into which they threw the advance guard for a rout of the entire body, dispersed to gather the booty and offered a tempting opportunity to the Roman Catholics as they came up.
Montbrun, who, too late, discovered the danger of his troops, and endeavored to rally them, was at one time enveloped by the enemy, but would have made good his escape had there not been a broad ditch in his way. Here his horse missed its footing, and in the fall the leader’s thigh was broken.
In this pitiable plight he surrendered his sword to a Roman Catholic captain, from whom he received the assurance that his life would be spared.
The king and his mother had other views.
Henry, on receiving the grateful news of Montbrun’s capture, promptly gave orders that the prisoner be taken to Grenoble and tried by the Parliament of Dauphiny on a charge of treason.
Vain were the efforts of the Huguenots, equally vain the intercession of the Duke of Guise, who wished to have Montbrun exchanged for Besme, Coligny‘s murderer, recently fallen into Huguenot hands.
Henry and Catharine de’ Medici were determined that Montbrun should die. They urged the reluctant judges by reiterated commands; they overruled the objection that to put the prisoner to death would be to violate good faith and the laws of honorable warfare.
Catharine had not forgotten the honest Frenchman’s allusion to her “perfidious and degenerate” countrymen.
As for Henry, an insult received at Montbrun’s hands rankled in his breast and made forgiveness impossible. Some months before, the king had sent a message to him in a somewhat haughty tone, demanding the restoration of the royal baggage and certain prisoners taken by the Huguenots.
“What is this!” exclaimed the general. “The king writes to me as a king, and as if I were bound to obey him! I want him to know that that would be very well in time of peace; I should then recognize his royal claim. But in time of war, when men are armed and in the saddle, all men are equal.”
On hearing this, we are told, Henry swore that Montbrun should repent his insolence.
In his glee over the Huguenot’s mishap he recalled the prophecy and broke out with the exclamation, “Montbrun will now see whether he is my equal.”
Under these circumstances there was little chance for a Huguenot, were he never so innocent, to be acquitted by a servile parliament.
Accordingly Montbrun was condemned to be beheaded as a rebel against the king and a disturber of the public peace. The execution was hastened last natural death from the injury received should balk the malice of his relentless enemies.
A contemporary, who may even have been an eye-witness, describes the closing scene in words eloquent from their unaffected simplicity.
He was dragged, half dead, from the prison, and was carried in a chair to the place of execution, exhibiting in his affliction an assured countenance; while the Parliament of Grenoble trembled and the entire city lamented. He had been enjoined not to say a word to the people, unless he wished to have his tongue cut off.
Nevertheless he complained, in the presence of the whole parliament, of the wrong done to him, proving at great length his innocence and contemning the fury of his enemies who were attacking a man as good as dead. He showed that it was without cause that he was charged with being a rebel, since never had he had any design but to guarantee peaceable Frenchmen from the violence of strangers who abused the name and authority of the king.
His death was constant and Christian. He was a gentleman held in high esteem, inasmuch as he was neither avaricious nor rapacious, but on the contrary devoted to religion, bold, moderate, upright; yet he was too indulgent to his soldiers, whose license and excesses gained him much ill-will and many enemies in Dauphiny. His death so irritated these soldiers that they ravaged after a strange fashion the environs of Grenoble.
The death of so prominent and energetic a Huguenot captain was likely to embolden the Roman Catholic party, not only in Dauphiny but in the rest of the kingdom. In reality, it only transferred the supreme direction in warlike affairs to still more competent hands.
The young lieutenant of Montbrun, who shortly succeeded him in command, was Francois de Bonne, better known from his territorial designation as Sieur des Lesdiguieres, a future marshal of Henry the Fourth.
Although the resplendent military abilities of Lesdiguieres had not yet had an opportunity for display, it was not long before the Roman Catholics discovered that they gained nothing by the exchange.
Lesdiguieres was as brave as his master in arms, and he was his master’s superior in the skill and caution with which he sketched and executed his military plans. The discipline of the Huguenot army at once exhibited marked improvement.
A century since highwaymen were as common as insolvent debtors are now.
Public vehicles were then little known. The roads were covered with night travellers, either on horse or foot, who became the easy prey of one or two armed and desperate ruffians. Turpin, Sixteen-String-Jack, and others of less notoriety, almost made these criminals fashionable; for, strange to say, there is a fashion even in crime.
Their daring was great; and in a country where personal prowess and high courage were so much prized, it was not to be wondered at that such characters should obtain a sort of fame. Now that our roads are covered with stage coaches, the race of highwaymen is extinct; solitary individuals of the species may be now and then met with, but the “calling” has decidedly fallen into disuse; pickpockets have succeeded them, and robberies are thus achieved with greater facility, less danger of personal violence, and with less dread of legal punishment.
The callosity of London thieves is dreadful. The Rev. Mr. Cotton is ordinary of Newgate, and in allusion to that gentleman’s spiritual consolation on the fatal platform, they call hanging, “dying with your ears stuffed with cotton.”
A pickpocket lately gave it as his reason for following his profession, “That it didn’t hurt above the arm pits;” i.e. that if discovered, the punishment was transportation, not hanging.
None of the numerous depredators we have already noticed, can excel in villainy, the subject of the present memoir. He was one of the most fierce, depraved, and infamous of the human race.
From early life he exhibited in his disposition a combination of the worst feelings of our nature, which, as the period of manhood approached, settled into a sort of prerogative of plunder and depredation, by which he seemed to consider himself as entitled to prey on the property, and sport with the lives, of his fellow creatures, with the most heartless impunity.
He attached himself to gangs of the most notorious thieves, and imposters, over whom, by a kind of supererogatory talent for all sorts of villainy, he very soon acquired unlimited influence and command, and by whose aid he committed such numerous and daring acts of highway-robbery, house-breaking, and plunder, as made him the dread and terror of the metropolis and its vicinity.
Kennington Common, Hounslow Heath, Bagshot Heath, and indeed all the commons and roads for several miles round London, were the scenes of the predatory depredations of Avershaw and his associates; and such a degree of terror had his repeated acts of robbery and brutality inspired, that the post-boys, coachmen, and all whose duty compelled them frequently to travel over the theatre of his exploits, trembled at his name and dreaded his visitation.
Although the peculiar features of the criminal laws of our country for a long time operated to the impunity of this abandoned ruffian and desperado, the cup of his iniquities was gradually filling, and he at length fell under the hand of outraged justice; but not till, unhappily, he had added a new act of murder to the long and black catalogue of his unatoned crimes: and it is lamentable to record that so base, so villainous, and so bloody a being, should have found creatures, bearing the form and name of men, so entirely forgetful of their duties to society and to God, as not only to become the admirers and apologists of what they misnamed the valour of Avershaw, but who absolutely affected to trace something prophetic in the fiendlike declarations he had too often made, that “he would murder the first ****** who attempted to deliver him into the hands of justice,” because, in the spirit of his diabolical declarations, he did actually shed the blood of a fellow-creature, who in the performance of his duty as a police officer, essayed the arrest of this most notorious of culprits.
Jerry Avershaw was the son of a laboring man who worked at one of the dye houses at Bankside — his father having met with a severe accident, was rendered incapable of following his usual employment — the support of the family consequently devolved upon the mother who took in washing, and was very indulgent to her family.
Jerry was educated in the parochial school of St. Saviour’s, Southwark — and at an early age resorted to places of public amusement which were then established in the neighborhood of St. George’s fields, where he soon became distinguished by his extravagant style of dress and profuse expenditure.
He associated at that time with many respectable young men, who were unacquainted with his real character, and way of living. This however became at length so notorious that he was obliged to seek associates in the lowest pot-houses, where from his superior address and appearance — and the liberal manner in which he spent his money — he was always welcome. Without reference to his other crimes, we shall proceed to give an account of his remarkable trial.
The prisoner was charged on two indictments; one for having, at the Two Brewers Public-house,* Southwark, feloniously shot at and murdered D. Price, an Officer belonging to the Police-Office, held at Union-hall, in the Borough. The other indictment was for having, at the same time and place, fired a pistol at Bernard Turner, another officer attached the office at Union-hall, with an intent to murder him.
Mr. Garrow, the leading counsel for the prosecution, opened the case to the Court and jury, by stating, that the prisoner at the bar, being a person of very ill fame, had been suspected of having perpetrated a number of felonies. The Magistrates of the Police-Office in the Borough of Southwark, having received information against the prisoner, sent, as was their duty, an order for his apprehension.
To execute the warrant, the deceased Price, and another officer of the name of Turner, went to the Two Brewers, a public-house, in Maid Lane, where they understood he was then drinking, in company with some other persons.
At the entrance of a parlour in the house, the prisoner appeared in a posture of intending to resist. Holding a loaded pistol in each of his hands, he with threats and imprecations desired the officers to stand off, as he would otherwise fire at them.
The officers, without being intimidated by those menaces, attempted to rush in and seize him, on which the prisoner discharged both the pistols at the same instant of time, lodging the contents of one in the body of David Price, and with the other wounded Turner very severely in the head. Price after languishing a few hours died of the wound.
Mr. Garrow was very pathetic and animated in his description of the several circumstances composing the shocking barbarity. To prove it, he would call four witnesses, whose evidence, he said, would be but too clear to establish the prisoner’s guilt.
The Jury would be enabled to judge from the facts to be submitted to them, and would undoubtedly decide on the issue joined between the Crown and the prisoner at the bar.
The learned counsel accordingly called Turner, the landlord of the house, a surgeon, and a fourth witness; but as the substance of their evidence is comprised in Mr. G’s opening of the indictment, it would be superfluous to repeat it. Turner said positively, he saw the prisoner discharge the pistols, from one of which he himself received his wound, and the contents of the other were lodged in the body of Price, who died very shortly after. The surgeon proved that the death was in consequence of the wound.
Mr. Knowles and Mr. Best were counsel for the prisoner, but the weight of evidence against him was too strong to be combatted by any exertions.
Mr. Baron Perryn summed up the evidence, on every essential part of which his lordship made several apposite, pointed, and accurate observations. The counsel for the prisoner, he remarked to the jury, had principally rested his defence on the circumstances of several other persons being present when the pistols were discharged, by some of which they contended the death wound might possibly have been inflicted. But, with respect to that part of the transaction, it would be proper for the jury to observe, that the witness Turner, had sworn positively to his having seen the prisoner in the act of discharging the contents of the pistol.
The jury, after a consultation of about three minutes, pronounced the dreadful verdict of — Guilty.
Through a flaw in the indictment for the murder, an objection was taken by the counsel. The indictment did not state that Price died in St. Saviour’s parish. This was argued nearly two hours, when Mr. Baron Perryn intimating a wish to take the opinion of the Twelve Judges of England, the counsel for the prosecution, waiving [sic] the point for the present, insisted on the prisoner’s being tried on the another [sic] indictment, for feloniously shooting at Barnaby Windsor, the officer who apprehended him after he had shot Price, which the learned counsel said, would occupy no great portion of time, as it could be sufficiently supported by the testimony of a single witness. He was accordingly tried and found guilty on a second capital indictment.
The prisoner, who, contrary to expectation, had in a great measure refrained from his usual audacity, began with unparalelled insolence of expression and gesture, to ask his lordship if he “was to be murderd by the evidence of one witness?” several times repeating the question, till the jury returned him Guilty.
When Mr. Baron Perryn put on the judicial cap, the prisoner, unconscious, and regardless of his dreadful situation, at the same time put on his hat, observing the judge with contemptuous looks while he was passing the sentence. When the constables were removing him from the dock to a coach, he continued to vent torrents of abuse against the judge and jury, whom, he charged with, as he styled it, his murder.
As his desperate dispostion was well known, he was, to prevent resistance, hand-cuffed, and his thighs and arms also bound strongly together, in which situation he was conveyed back to prison.
So callous was this ruffian to every degree of feeling, that on his way to be tried, as he was passing near the usual place of execution on Kennington Common, he put his head out of the coach window, and with all the sang froid imaginable, asked some of those who guarded him, if they did not think he would be twisted on that pretty spot by Saturday.
He was executed on Kennington Common, on the 3rd of August, 1795, with James [John] Little for the murder of Mr. Macevoy and Mrs. King at Richmond, and Sarah King for the murder of her new born bastard, at Nutfield, Surrey, in the presence of an immense multitude of spectators, among whom he recognized many acquaintances and confederates, to whom he bowed, nodded, and laughed with the most unfeeling indifference.
He had a flower in his mouth, and his waistcoat and shirt were unbuttoned, leaving his bosom open in the true style of vulgar gaiety: and, talking to the mob, and venting curses on the officers, he died, as he had lived, a ruffian and a brute! He was afterwards hung in chains upon Wimbledon Common.
The infamy of his life, and the atrocity of his deeds, rendered him a fit object for the posthumous punishment of hanging in chains on the arena of his crimes, and (painful as is the record, the truth must be told,) while the disgusting carcass of this malefactor, devoured by the birds and withered by the elements, gradually disappeared, the spot on which he had been gibbetted was converted into a temple of infamy, to which the thieves and vagabonds of London resorted in a sort of pilgrimage; and while the leading ruffians of the flash school, of which Avershaw was the child and champion, procured from his decaying and piece-meal carcass the bones of his fingers and toes to convert into stoppers for their tobacco-pipes, the tyro villains contented themselves with tearing the buttons from his clothes, as mementos of the estimation in which they held their arch prototype.
The newsmen effected horror that “Abershaw continued to the last moment of his existence in the same hardened state” (Telegraph, Aug. 4, 1795) and “took no notice either of his fellow-sufferers, or what the clergyman endeavoured to say to him” — then “when the executioner took the whip and touched the horse, made a spring from the cart, and was heard to repeat a horrid curse the last word he spoke.”
Avershaw’s larger-than-death performance of “dying game” would in subsequent years be a much-honored exemplar among kindred spirits who would not occasionally be required to attempt to outdo him in dramatic contempt of the gallows.