On this date in 1770, the King of Yorkshire counterfeiters hanged (along with one of his subjects) at York’s Tyburn gallows.
Hartley was the chief of a band of currency manipulators who achieved surprising success and longevity operating from the haunting moors of England’s north.* Known (in order of least to greatest geographical specificity) as the Yokrshire, or West Riding, or Cragg Vale coiners, their operation was a straightforward shaving precious metal from coins but found its edge — so to speak — in their lair’s remoteness from the capital.
Illustration of the coining tools for Portuguese money seized from King David’s band, from The Yorkshire Coiners, 1767-1783. (Portuguese coins, a Cragg Vale specialty, were in active and legal circulation in England at this time, along with other continental coinage.)
According to this public domain volume about the criminals, the first recognition of their activities by law enforcement occurred in 1767, when a coin-clipper named Greenwood “confessed who learnt him the art of clipping in your neighbourhood” — which makes it sound like those artists were already both numerous and practiced. The next year, a man named Joseph Stell hanged for the crime, but the Leeds Intelligencer editorialized in 1769 against “the number of Sweaters and Filers of Gold coin [who] still continue to infest the Western part of this County with impunity” because “if they are suffered to go on a few years in this public and daring manner, it is supposed the current gold coin of the nation in general will be reduced a fifth part.” (A parliamentary inquiry in 1773 found that the overall weight of the country’s coinage came up a full 9% short of its face value: certainly not entirely the work of Cragg Vale, but an alarming state of affairs.)
The business had an undeniable appeal despite the occupational hazard of the gallows. With England awash in the whole world’s specie as the dominant mercantile power, the West Riding became a veritable Silicon Valley for currency entrepreneurs. It’s thought their number might have ranged into the hundreds.
Gold Coin, which has heretofore been so scarce among us as to command a large Premium against Bills of Exchange, flows in upon us with great Rapidity from all parts of the Island; and by the Hocus Pocus Touch of a Number of experimental Philosophers and Chymists (not by an addition to its weight, but by an ingenious Multiplication of its Numbers) is so greatly increased, that all Payments in Paper will soon be at an end … [they] are in a fair Way of drawing Half the Gold in the two Kingdoms into this happy Country … If you wish to be rich, and can sacrifice a few nonsensical Scruples to that Deity, make haste hither, and you may soon be instructed in these Mysteries, which, (with great Ease and Pleasure) will enable you to convert a thousand of your old-fashioned Guineas into Twelve Hundred, and, with a moderate Industry, to repeat the Process every Week.
-Letter from Halifax, July 14, 1769
This letter reflects an alarming situation: not merely the extent of the operation but the degree to which it had become normalized, winked-at, and even integrated into Yorkshire’s economic circuits. “It had become a common practice of the moneyed people — the merchant and manufacturers of the Parish of Halifax — and of those by which that Parish was surrounded, comprising a large portion of the West Riding of the County of York, to carry on a somewhat lucrative business with the Coiners,” one observer wrote. “The central body, if such it may be called, with, for a time, ‘King David’ at its head, was constituted into a kind of Banking Company, with whom certain capitalists deposited large amounts in the shape of guineas.” After all, this bank could offer steady guarantees of investment return.
But bubbles are blown for the bursting, and however many Yorkshiremen had been looking the other way while chymists multiplied guineas, it was about this time that officers of the law started putting the screws to the Yorkshire coiners. (Needless to say, the illicit bank’s merchant customers weren’t handled quite the same way.)
Confrontation came into the open with the 1769 arrests of our man David Hartley (nicknamed “King” for self-evident reasons) and at least a half-dozen others. York Castle’s bowels began to fill up with coiners and collaborators, courtesy of a crown excise officer named William Dighton (or Deighton). Dighton bgan rolling up the gang in a very modern way: starting with bribes to obtain informants and then using their information to smash through the cells.
But so vaunting were the Yorkshire coiners that David Hartley’s brother Isaac put up a £100 reward for the murder of William Dighton — and two guys duly ambushed him in a dark lane in Halifax in November 1769 and shot Dighton dead. This gambit by Isaac was much more loyal than it was wise, for the effrontery to murder an agent of the state invited a ferocious counterattack. (It also didn’t help David Hartley in the least: there was no plan to break him out, only vindictiveness against his persecutor.) the Marquess of Rockingham — the once (1765-66) and future (1782) Prime Minister — was dispatched to the scene to avenge the murdered Dighton, and had 30 coiners in custody by Christmas.
The coiners were done shooting back by this point, and the remaining tales form a tissue of outlaw desperation — flight from manhunts, maneuvering to mitigate death sentences, informing on one another. (Its particulars, and the evidence marshaled against various coiners, can be read in detail at the public domain history already cited.) David Hartley was brought up on capital charges at the next assizes;** his former comrades, including the assassins of Dighton, were hunted to ground. Soon, such counterfeiters as might still be found were reduced to their customary posture, in hidey-holes leaching a few dank groats from the neglected plumbing under the economy, rather than as retail concerns with banking ledgers and armed toughs.
But they left countless others besides — passive co-conspirators, whose wealth their shaving and filing had enlarged and who like King Charles‘s regicides could never fully be brought to book. And they’re not done to this very day: a coiners’ museum is reportedly in the works to capture a few tourist dollars, too.
** Death sentences came down liberally at the assizes, but were (almost) as liberally reprieved — including, for the instance at hand, all of the following: “Thomas Harrison and Benjamin Smith, for Burglary; Benjamin Parkinson, for returning from Transportation; Richard Whitfield, for stealing Linen Cloth from a Bleaching Field; William Dalby, and Robert Moor, alias William Moor, for Horse-stealing; William Owen, George Carr, and John Tunningly, for Cow-stealing; and Robert Allerton, for Sheep-stealing.” (London Public Advertiser, April 13, 1770.)
Infamous Swedish murderer Maria Romberg and three accomplices were beheaded in the city of Boras on this date in 1725.
Romberg (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish) was the daughter of a magistrate in that town and given in an arranged marriage to a merchant 27 years her senior. Anders Boberg was said to be an abusive drunk; it’s a sure bet that even at his best he had quite a bit less in common with his wife than did her childhood friend Haqvin Wijndruf. These two carried on a years-long affair heedless of appearances; when later implicated in murder, numerous servants and confidantes were availiable to paint the adulterers in scarlet, as did the 500-odd love letters that they had helped the pair shuttle back and forth.
By December 1724, Maria and Haqvin had been trying for going on two years to get rid of the sot. Once again evincing a mind-boggling want of discretion, they had enlisted two other outsiders into the plot: a maid named Karin Andersdotter, and a folk magician named Romans Ingeborg (who was initially hired to bewitch Haqvin to his death, but got to stay in the game even when her sorcery proved unequal to assassination).
Three days after Christmas, the three women in the conspiracy — Maria, Karin, and Romans — simply crept into Anders’s bedroom and battered him to death as he slept, afterwards positioning the body in an attempt to make it look like he had simply fallen near the fireplace and cracked open his head.
Forensic science wasn’t exactly CSI quality in the 1720s, but it was good enough to see through that story. The lovers and killers had not the wit or steel to throw up a veil of silence, and at the first cock of an inquisitorial eyebrow, they all started blabbing and pointing fingers.
According to this Swedish blogger, the site where they all lost their heads is a placid hill on a biking path near Lake Ramnasjön.
A (lengthy) gallows broadsheet via James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches From Eighteenth-Century Ireland. Almost all the [bracketed] content is exactly as Kelly has rendered it, interpolating wherever possible damage to the document that obscures small bits of text.
The Last Speech, Confession and Dying Words of Mr. J. Dunbar
who was Try’d and Condemn’d, for High Treason against his Majesty King George; at the Assizes, of Oyer, Terminer, or Goal Delivery, holden, at Carrickfergus, for and in the County of Antrim, the 17th Day of Ma. 1725. And was Executed Saturday, April 10th for the same together with his last Advice to his Children prov’d by Scripture Texts, &c. As it was taken from his own Mouth in the Goal, and desir’d to be Printed.
Into whose Hands those my Dying Words shall come; they may not be look’d upon as a Form, because it is Customary, for unfortunate Persons under my Fate so to do; No, but with a sincere Heart to clear my Conscience, as I am a Dying Man. First to my Creator & Redeemer, by whom and thro’ his great Mercy I hope to merit Salvation.
I JAMES DUNBAR, was born in the Town land of Grogan, in the Parish of Drummal, near Ronaldstown, in the County of Antrim of honest Parents; My Father was a Farmer, Liv’d in the fear of God, attended the Meetings constantly with his Family, doing to the best of his Knowledge as became a Man in his Station; brought up all under his care in the fear and service of God. To this Day I well remember when I was about Eleven years of Age, I had amongst others learned a great Word to swear by my Conscience, and in his hearing, he finding it became practice took an opportunity to Chastize me for it, but with that pleasant Fatherly Correction, that he perfectly sham’d me out of it, the same was so imprinted in my mind, be in what Company soever, I never was any way addicted to that Sin of Swearing to this Day. He taught me the Catechism and Psalm Book; brought me up to the Age of Sixteen, then I stray’d away from him and Listed in the Service, where in Flanders and Ireland I served seven years under King William, in which time I receiv’d three Wounds, during my whole Travels my mind was always bent upon the Genuine part, casting Molds of several sorts, each exceeding the other.
Upon my return I settled, Marry’d a Wife, and got things necessary about me: But in process of time, hearing such a Character of New England, what great Advantage was to be made by those that could carry some Money with them, I resolv’d for that place: In order thereunto I made Sale of all I had, & proceeding forward at Newtown-Stuart chang’d my Mind, which I now dearly repent. Settles again there about three Years. At Leisure times to recreate my self with an Innocent Pleasure I took delight in Fishing; but once too often, for by an unhappy fall, there was a Knife with the point Towards me, stuck into and gave me a Wound six Inches deep, the same I lay by sixteen Weeks. Even upon my Recovery, came three Idle Fellows, knowing me to be an Ingenious Artist, desired me to make them a Crown Molud in Steel for the use of Coyning, I told them in Horn, Brass, Pewter, Silver or Gold I could; but because I had never try’d in Steel I should spoil it, they not fearing told me that I should have twelve pence per Day if I did, not being of Steel as I said, I did notwithstanding they paid me twelve Shillings. Sometime after they came to me again to do the same the which I dextrously Perform’d to a truith, and [for] the same receiv’d forty Shillings; Some of the same 3 [men] have been Executed on that Head since: As for In[stance] David Denniston at Omey the last Assizes. For my [own] part my Genious so far exceeded other Men that I have [no] occasion for help but for Company sake; I ca[n make] Molds and could Perform all that Art requir’d; [but because] the Laws of the Land are so strict I must own an[d confess] myself Guilty of what is laid to my Charge, a[nd I am] willing to resign my Vital Breath and Soul to hi[m, my God,] for the same, in whom I trust thro his great Me[rcy, with] sincere Repentance I have made my Peace, and s[eek out] the ingdom of Heaven, forsaking this Life for [that of the etern]nal. I Die in Charity with all People, freely fo[rgiving] those that was the cause of this my untimely Dea[th and any] others that ever wrong’d me in Thought Word [or Deed] and for all those that I have wrong’d Directly or [Indirectly] I ask Pardon and Forgiveness. First of my Grea[t and Glo]rious GOD, the which I hope to obtain for all [my off]ences; next of them, hoping they will do the s[ame, I] do expect to be forgiven at the latter Day.
My dear Friends and Countrey-Men, and all [people that] hears of my Unhappy Fall to take Warning in t[his; let it] be an Example to all; especially Young People, w[hatever walk] of Life it is the[y] go on in, and to their utmost En[deavour] shun all lewd Company. Besure [sic] first choose the [compa]ny, than their Liquor, and then not to Debauch […] with it, so as to be bereft of Sense; it is the f[irst step to] Destruction. Next to shun all lewd Women, […] Total Overthrow, and nothing but the Works [of the Devil] proceeds from them. Thirdly be not Covetous of […]stance. And fourthly, If the LORD is pleased to [endow us] with a Talent to be more Ingenious than any other [to put] it to that Use that the great Giver of all Design[s ordains.] I leave behind me one Son and three Daughters [; Grant] them Grace to lead their Life and Conversation u[ntroubled be]fore God and Man. I hope there is no Person w[ill put] either upon my Wife or them after my Decease. T[o] all that knew me in my Settlement in the County of Derry; and all others, that knew me else where, what a Value and Esteem all People had for me, for my Ingenuous Performances in that Trade of Horning. How I lived in my Family is well known for many years together, performing the Duty as becometh a Professor or Christian to do, I could inlarge: But let no Man boast in his own Strength least he Fall, they are well kept whom the LORD keeps.
I have laid down some Scripture Proofs to shew the Error of Man, and the Scourage [sic] that attend it, which I hope may prove of some Use after my Decease, as follows
V. 17. Be not a terrour unto me thou art my hope in the Day of evil. V. 18. Let them be confounded that presecute [sic] me, but let not me be confounded. Let them be dismayed bring upon them the day of evil and destroy them with double Destruction.
I will look unto thee O Lord for Deliverance from all my Troubles: For there is no Power like unto thy Power, who delivered thy People from all the Power of Egypt, and with a strong Hand brought them through the Red Sea.
Mat 9.10[-13]. And it came to pass as Jesus sat at Meat in the house behold many Publicans and Sinners came and Sat down with him and his Disciples; And when the Pharisees saw it they said unto his Disciples, Why eateth your Master with Publicans and Sinners. But when Jesus heard that he said unto them, They that be well need not a Physician, but they that are sick. Now go ye and learn what that meanet, I will have Mercy and not Sacrifice; for I am not come to call the righteous, but Sinners to Repentance.
[Some] Advice from a Father to his Children, when he was near to his Death.
[My] Son James Dunbar, I Charge thee in the Name of [the L]ord thy God, that thou keep thy self from the Unlaw[ful, Lewd] Women strong Drink, and Sabbath breaking for [they d]raw away thy Heart from the Lord thy God, & [follow the w]ay of his Commandments.
[Proverbs 5:]3. For the Lips of a strange Woman drop as a Hon[eycomb an]d her Mouth is smoother than Oil. V. 4. But her [end is bitter] as Wormwood, sharp as a two edged sword. V. 5. [Her feet go] down to Death, her steps take hold on Hell. V. 6. [Lest thou sh]ouldest ponder the path of Life, her ways are move[able th]ou canst not know them. V. 7. Hear me therefore, [o sons], and depart not from the Words of my Mouth re[move thy way] far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house.
[Keep thy]self from all Woman kind, except thy own [wife (if] you live to have one) for that Unlawful Use of [them an]d strong Drink hath been the Ruin of me, and [others], and so it will be of thee and thine, if ever thou [follow that pr]actice.
[Hear m]e my dear Children, hear the Instruction of your [dying Fa]ther, from the Word of God, receive them and [take them dee]p in your Hears [sic], for they will be an Ornament […] to your Hands, and Chains of Gold about your [wais]t as They will render you Beautiful and Accept[able to Go]d and good Men. When you are in Trouble, God [hears y]our Cries when ye pray unto him, and will deliv[er you ou]t of all your Distresses, if you be not in the wrong; [These a]re the Troubles that Afflict the Just but the [good be]ereth them out of them all. My dear children, [let your e]yes be fixed on the Lord your God in all your [actions;] if you offend in one you are guilty of all; there[fore keep e]qual Regard and Respect to them all, and when [you have d]one all that you can, say you are Unprofitable […].
[But] be not Lifted up, nor High in your own Eyes, but fear least ye be Tempted to Sin and God be provoked to cast you down again, as he has justly done to me. Therefore I beseech you for your Saviour’s sake, beware of vain Glory and high Mindedness but Contrarywise of be Humble and Meek and Lowly, and God will lift you up, but if he do not be Content he is well worth the trusting for he is not Unrighteous to forget your Work and Labour of Love for when he seeth you Diligent and Sincere in your Christian Course he will help you with his Blessing in the Work of your Hands and he will encourage you and strengthen your Hearts with the gracious of his Spirit, but if it be his Will to keep you Low and Mean in the World be Content and do not fret nor repine at the Dispensations of God, for that is the way to keep you Low and Mean still, but contrarywise be thankfull, and say with Paul I have learned in whatsoever State or Condition I am therewith to be content. [Philippians 4:11 -ed] For if you be content and have but a Morsel of dry Bread or Herbs you have a good Feast. For Contentment is great gain, Likewise I beseech you my dear children set your Hearts to seek the Lord with all your might.
Thess. 5:16,17. Rejoice evermore Pray without ceasing. V. 18. in every thing give thanks, for this is the Will of God in Christ Jesu,concerning you. V. 19 Quench not the Spirit. V. 20. Dispise not Prophesying. V. 21. Prove all things hold fast that which is good V. 22. Abstain from all appearance of evil, V. 23. And the very God of Peace sanctifie you wholly, and I pray God your whole Soul and Body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ &c.
Consider my Chidlren, these words, Pray without Ceasing. It is not that you should always be upon your Knees at Prayer, but that you shall be always in a Praying Flame of Spirit. But more particularly, dear Children see that ye neglect not to Pray in secret every Morning, and at Night, for that is the Duty of all others. That you may pour foth [sic] your Hearts to God, in the most familiar way without Bashfulness or Confusion, and expect most of the Presence of the Holy Ghost.
Eph. 6 16, [sic: he means Ephesians 6:18] Praying always with all prayer and Supplication in the Spirit and watching thereunto with all Perseverance and Supplication for all Saints.
And now my dear Children, I might have Recommended you to many more Places of Scripture, but I rather Recommend you to the search of the whole Old and New Testment, [sic] which is able to make you Wise unto Salvation.
I humbly beg leave of thee, O Father, of Heaven and Earth, to return thee my hearty thanks, for inspiring an Spirit of Remorse & Pity, into the Hearts and Minds of those Learned Gentlemen the Clergy of the Presbytery of the Town of Belfast &c. Who was pleas’d to remember me in their publick Service, joyn’d with their Congregations, on Sunday last. Humbly rendering their Prayers to thee O GOD to have Mercy on me, a poor lost Soul, without thy help; hoping thou was pleas’d to hear the same, and that I may find the Sweetness, Joy and Comfort of it, at this my Sudden Departure; altho’ I was no ways deserving of such a Compassionate Christian Favour, being a fallen Member and Transgressor of the same; That they will be pleased to receive this as in obedience of thanks Paid to them as true Professors obedient to God’s Holy Word, and Teachers of the same; and all those that joyn’d with them in that Charitable Act.
Also those Worthy Gentlemen of the Church of England, who hath since offered up their Prayers for me.
My time is spent my Glass is run, sweet Saviour open thy Arms of Mercy, for unto thee I come. O Lord, shut not thy Gate against me stretch forth thy Almighty Hand, and take me to thy self and let not SATAN have Power over me; now I launch into Eternity in full Hopes of Assurance to be with thee in thy Heavenly Kingdom, there to remain with thee and thy holy Angels, World without end.
I Die in the Presbyterian Communion, and upwards of Fifty Years of Age.
Have Mercy on me O LORD sweet JESUS I COME. I COME, Mercy I crave at this my last Minute, Grant it for thy dear Son’s sake Amen.
On this date in 1721, six men hanged at Tyburn. One, John Cobige, was condemned for highway robbery. The other five were all sent to the gallows for returning from convict transportation.
Although forms of penal transportation dated back as much as a century before this time, 1721 was early years for the regime of systematically shipping convicted criminals to the New World.* The enabling legislation had been implemented only three years before.
Convict transportation allowed condemned prisoners’ death sentences to be remitted for labor service in the British colonies, typically 14 years. One could argue that this second chance at life was a mercy, even if the convicts themselves didn’t always see it that way.
But there was a distinct second category of transported convicts, besides the death-sentenced ones: petty crooks, whose crimes were not capital, who now could be directly sentenced to transportation for a term of 7 years. This was an essential innovation of the Transportation Act, one begged after by London magistrates who perceived a crime wave in the 1710s and wanted tougher measures to purge even minor criminals from the city.
In effect it was an interval of civic death, enforced by the threat of bodily death; its design bears some resemblance to the condition of prisoners in Thomas More‘s Utopia. Returning to England before the full term meant the noose — for both classes of transported convicts, including those whose initial crime was so petty that it didn’t merit execution even in Bloody Code England. This circumstance describes four of the Tyburn hangings on the third of April, 1721:
Of our date’s group, only John Filewood, who had posed as a porter to steal a valuable portmanteau, slashing its owner’s hand in the process, had received an initial death sentence commuted to transportation.
The prospect that a body could be shipped to the New World’s frontier for indentured labor over a handkerchief and executed for the “crime” of returning to hearth and home naturally chafed at the sense of justice. In 1721, the whole convict transportation arrangement was still so new that nobody had become inured to the horror of it. It’s plain from the sermon the Ordinary preached at them that the prisoners in question took their fates quite hard.
I took Occasion to mention to the Malefactors, the Returning from Transportation, which not one of them could be made to believe was sinful. I endeavour’d, to the best of my Capacity, to convince them that they were not faultless and unblameable in the following Manner: If the disobeying the higher Powers, even every Ordinance of Man, be sinful, as forbidden, (1 Pet. 2. 13, 14, and 17, &c.) Then their particular Offence, which is disobeying the Orninence of Man, must be forbidden in Scripture and be sinful.
Another way, that it may be shown is thus. Not only Robbing and Stealing, but whatsoever else is detrimental to the Society we are Members of, is a Sin: Now this particular Action is detrimental to the Nation, (both in the Practice, and also in the Example); and therefore is sinful.
I told them, if they could not be convinc’d that they had sinned, because they were possest of the Notion that the Legislative Power was in this particular too severe; they might read, 1 Pet. 2. 18. Be subject to your Masters, not only to the Gentle, but also to the Froward: But that this was not their Case.
Struggling to supercharge their repentance, the Ordinary arranged to have his resentful charges “carry’d constantly to the Chapel” — twice a day. But
they could not be convinc’d they had done any Harm in Returning from Transportation, [and] scarce any one of them could believe he should dye for it. Henry Woodford in particular undertook (as he had declared in Chapel he would) to demonstrate to me, That the returning to his Wife and young Children, in order to keep them from Starving in his Absence, was so far from being a Crime, that it was his Duty so to act; and that no Law could disingage him, or any thing but Death, from the great Duty of providing for his Family.
Out of all the doomed, Henry “seem’d most to resent his Dying” and complained that they ought better to have been overtly sold as slaves if this was their condition.
Still other terrors stalked these men. The highwayman Cobige, who at age 50 was the only one among them not in the spring of youth, “was in very great Passions of Grief some Days before his Death, because his second Wife, as he told me, was gone away from his Children.” His hanging would thus orphan a 14-year-old daughter and her three siblings all under 10 years of age. John Filewood, an admitted career criminal, regretted “having brought so much Disgrace to his good Mother and Sister, and not taking Warning at the untimely Death of his Brother, who was taken off much earlier in his Sins.”** And Martin Gray, a 22-year-old illiterate fisherman,
was greatly frighted, least his Body should be cut, and torn, and mangled after Death, and had sent his Wife to his Uncle to obtain some Money to prevent it. I cannot mention much of his good Behaviour; but before he died, he seem’d very much concerned; and told me, he had taken all Opportunities to hear his Fellow Prisoners read, and to pray with them; and that he hoped God would take Pity on him, a poor ignorant and foolish Fellow, and not throw him into Hell.
I know not the Time, when I have omitted to write you, so long. I have received but three Letters from you, since We parted, and these were short ones. Do you write by the Post? If you do there must have been some Legerdemain. The Post comes now constantly once a Week, and brings me News Papers, but no Letters. I have ventured to write by the Post, but whether my Letters are received or not, I dont know. If you distrust the Post, the Speaker or your Unkle Smith will find frequent Opportunities of conveying Letters.
I never was more desirous of hearing frequently from Home, and never before heard so seldom. We have Reports here, not very favourable to the Town of Boston. It is said that Dissipation prevails and that Toryism abounds, and is openly avowed at the Coffee Houses. I hope the Reports are false. Apostacies in Boston are more abominable than in any other Place. Toryism finds worse Quarter here. A poor fellow, detected here as a Spy, employed as he confesses by Lord Howe and Mr. Galloway to procure Pilots for Delaware River, and for other Purposes, was this day at Noon, executed on the Gallows in the Presence of an immense Crowd of Spectators. His Name was James Molesworth. He has been Mayors Clerk to three or four Mayors.
I believe you will think my Letters, very trifling. Indeed they are. I write in Trammells. Accidents have thrown so many Letters into the Hands of the Enemy, and they take such a malicious Pleasure, in exposing them, that I choose they should have nothing but Trifles from me to expose. For this Reason I never write any Thing of Consequence from Europe, from Philadelphia, from Camp, or any where else. If I could write freely I would lay open to you, the whole system of Politicks and War, and would delineate all the Characters in Either Drama, as minutely, altho I could not do it, so elegantly, as Tully did in his Letters to Atticus.
We have Letters however from France by a Vessell in at Portsmouth — of her important Cargo you have heard. There is News of very great Importance in the Letters, but I am not at Liberty. The News, however, is very agreable.
The enclosed Resolves of Congress, which I have the Honour of transmitting, will naturally claim your Attention from their great Importance.
The Regulations relative to the Payment of the Troops and the Department of the Paymaster General, will I hope be the Means of introducing Order and Regularity into that Part of the Army; where, it must be confessed, they were extremely wanted.
General Gates having laid before Congress the Proceedings and Sentence of a Court Martial on a certain James Molesworth who was accused and found guilty of being a Spy, they immediately approved the same. He has since suffered the Punishment due to his Crime. From his repeated Confession, it appears, that Mr Galloway was extremely active in engaging him to undertake this infamous Business, and was the Person employed to make the Bargain with him. He says indeed, Lord Howe was present: but from the Description he gave of his Person, it is supposed he must be mistaken.
The Congress have directed Genl Gates to take Genl Fermoy with him to Ticonderoga, and such other french Officers as he may think proper. Genl St Clair being ordered to Ticonderoga, but previously to repair to this City to wait the further Order of Congress, you will please to direct him to repair here accordingly as soon as possible. I have the Honour to be with the most perfect Esteem & Respect Sir Your most obed. & very hble Serv.
On this date in 1781, the Spanish social bandit Diego Corrientes Mateos was hanged and quartered in Seville.
A robber who plied the roads from Portugal to his native Seville, Corrientes (English Wikpedia entry | Spanish) was said to be of farmworker stock himself. His consequent good treatment of the rural common folk enabled him to operate with great freedom and situated him as a Robin Hood character; folklore has consequently inflated the valor of his exploits and the bile of Sheriff of Nottinghamesque pursuers like the lieutenant governor of Seville. For example, surprising his adversary on one occasion, Corrientes is supposed to have remarked, “I have learned that you boast you will be able to capture me.”
“Yes, and hang you,” shot back Francisco de Bruna.
“Then I must spare your life so you can fulfill your promise,” the sporting Corrietes allowed. (The reader will discern that Francisco de Bruna soon made good his threat.)
The assize model we’ve been featuring this week surely underscores during the Bloody Code days the law as a wholesale instrument.
For a site like this which prefers to zero in on a story for the day, the phenomenon is most discomfiting. But even if executions in the Anglo world have for the past century or two mostly unfolded as individual tragic stories arcing from beginning through middle and end, they have still merely sat atop a legal machine that grinds up lives by thousands.
The specter of the noose perhaps highlights the trend in a way that “mere” terms of years does not quite dramatize for us. Even so, now as then, no small number of convicts prefer the hemp to the life-destroying “mercy” of a lengthy prison sentence or penal transportation overseas.
All of this is mere commentary for today’s hanging trio, who are criminals of no consequence with misdeeds but scantily attested; their trials, like most in that period, would have spanned only minutes or at most a couple of hours, and been determined by gentlemen already looking ahead to the next case. “The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, and wretches hang that jurymen may dine”: Alexander Pope had set that line down in The Rape of the Lock more than 70 years before.
“The capital convictions of the late Lent assizes, exhibit a most melancholy picture of the depravity of the times,” lamented the Leeds Intelligencer taking stock on April 5, 1785 of that season’s legal bulletins. “The following short list will prove it; — at Shrewsbury 11, York 7, Derby 6, Lincoln 9 (executed), Gloucester 11, Nottingham 4, (executed) Stafford 3, (executed) and Dorchester 5. There were 112 tried at Gloucester.”
Shrewsbury split its sentences, five for the scaffold and six for reprieve; the last three of the doomed lost their lives on this date in 1785 for various property crimes. These few words on the Salopean assizes were printed in several newspapers, and are quoted here from The British Chronicle, or, Pugh’s Hereford Journal, March 31, 1785:
At the assizes for Shropshire, which ended at Shrewsbury on Wednesday night last, John Green, for the wilful murder of his wife Elizabeth Green, by shooting her through the head, in a cellar in his own house, at Bromfield near Ludlows, and Ann Hancock, for the wilful murder of her male bastard child, at her lodgings in the Castle-foregate, in Shrewsbury, being fully convicted, received sentence of death, and were on Friday [March 18, 1785] executed at the Old Heath, pursuant thereto, and their bodies were delivered to the surgeons to be anatomized. At the place of execution Ann Hancock comfessed the fact for which she suffered, but Green did not.
Here the Shropshire narrative breaks, consigning the remaining death sentences to the newspaper’s dregs.
… where we find:
The nine following persons were also capitally convicted, and received sentence of death, viz. William Williams, for burglariously stealing 130l. and upwards, the property of Mr. Edw. Jeffreys; Edward Edwards, for burglariously stealing a considerable sum of money, the property of Robert Pemberton, Esq; Sarah Davies, for housebreaking; William Griffiths, for stealing a black mare; Mary Davies, Rich. Pyfield, Mary Boulton, alias Bolton, William Evans, and William Hotchkins, for burglaries. The six latter were reprieved; and William Williams, Edward Edwards, and Sarah Davies, left for execution.
On Sunday morning last Ann Mansfield, the widow of a soldier, and lately a servant to Mr. Richard Wilson of this town, on her return to her father, who lives at Cradley, near Stourbridge, was found on the road, about half a mile beyond Hales-Owen, barbarously murdered. It is supposed, from the circumstances under which she was found, that she had been also ravished: her hair was dishevelled, her handkerchief and cap torn off, and her under petticoat lay by her side.
When she set out from hence, she had a small bundle, containing a new pair of stuff shoes, one pair of pattens, a black silk handkerchief, with lace to trim it, and sundry other things of small value; a new black silk hat pinned to her side, and wore a black and a white cloak, over both of which she pinned a white hat; which were all taken away.
A strong suspicion prevails against the S———- carrier (behind whom she rode through Hales-Owen the night before) who not only that night delivered a woodcock and some light parcels in S———-, but sent on Sunday morning her two cloaks to her father by two chimney-sweepers, who were both stopped, in order to undergo an examination. — The carrier is also taken up.
This “letter” was printed in several English newspapers; sometimes abridged for space needs, in time it appears to have evolved with the progress of available facts and suppositions.
Here it is in the Leeds Intelligencer for Dec. 27:
On Saturday evening last, Ann Mansfield having left the service of Mr. Richard Wilson, was returning to her father, who lives at Cradley, near Stourbridge, and for that purpose had sent part of her things by the carrier, and intended to have accompanied him herself; but calling on her sister, who lives with Mrs. Horton, in Mount-Pleasant, was detained till near dark, when the mistress very humanely begged her to stay all night, as it was impossible for her to overtake the carrier; but neither Mrs. Horton’s kindness nor her sister’s persuasions could prevail, for she unhappily persisted in her design of going home; and what is very remarkable, on leaving the house complained (to make use of her own expression) or a sinking at her heart.
She had with her a small bundle, containing a new pair of stuff shoes, one pair of pattens, a black silk handkerchief, with lace to trim it, and sundry other things of small value; a new black silk hat pinned to her side, and one black and one white cloak, both of which she wore, and a white hat pinned over them.
Some time yesterday morning she was found murdered near the spot where the Darbys are now hanging. — She is supposed from the situation she was found in to be ravished, and that the villains who perpetrated the horrid fact stuffed something in her mouth to prevent her alarming the neighbours with her cries, as no wounds of consequence enough to cause her death appeared outwardly, but the skin is forced off her hands and fingers, as supposed by struggling.
When found, she had her hair dishevelled, her handkerchief and cap torn off, and every thing of value taken away. — She had only four-pence in her pocket, which she intended to give the carrier. She was carried to Hales-Owen church.
Two fellows are taken up on suspicion of committing the horrid crime, one of whom had a white cloak in his pocket, supposed to belong to the unfortunate young woman, and they are sent this morning for examination. It appears that the carrier before-mentioned waited for this poor young creature and took her behind him, and was met by many people; which getting wind the carrier was taken up, and it is feared is too justly suspected, as he greatly prevaricates.
However much embroidery affects this story, we have a sense of the event — and of the dangers of an unlit nighttime road.
That this attack was (quite deservedly) recognized as the most egregious crime handled at Shrewsbury’s Lent 1775 assizes can be seen in the disposition of the sentences. This from Say’s Weekly Journal of April 1, 1775:
At Shrewbury assizes the following persons received sentence of death, viz. John Parry, and William Roberts, capitally convicted last assize, for plundering a wreck; Joseph Skidmore, for the murder of Ann Chandler, in a lane near Hales-Owen; Edward Stol, for horse stealing; Jane Aston, for stealing household goods; Samuel Thomas and Philip Jones, for horse-stealing; and Jemima Asplin, for breaking out of gaol, after having received sentence of transportation at last county sessions. — A respite during his Majesty’s pleasure was received for Roberts on Thursday; Aston, Thomas, Jones, and Asplin were reprieved; and Parry, Stol, and Skidmore, left for execution, the latter of whom suffered on Saturday last.
Just why the victim has become “Ann Chandler” instead of “Ann Mansfield” nor which a historian ought to prefer I cannot determine. But after Skidmore’s March 25 hanging, and the April 1 execution of Parry, all the others condemned at the 1775 assizes were reprieved their death sentences.
Helen Torrance and Jean Waldie were executed this day, for stealing a child, eight or nine years of age, and selling its body to the surgeons for dissection. Alive on Tuesday, when carried off, and dead on Friday, with an incision in the belly, but sewn up again.
This date in 1752 marks a milestone in the mutation of the Enlightenment’s piercing medical gaze into the beginnings of a macabre and sordid niche industry that kept doctors well-supplied with cadavers into which to gaze.
The March 18 hanging in Edinburgh of Helen Torrence and Jean Waldie appears to be the first known execution for an anatomy murder.
In the bad old days when dissection subjects were so hard to come by that medical students were known to snatch fresh bodies from the grave like Dr. Frankenstein, the Scots Magazinereported that the two women “frequently promised two or three surgeon-apprentices to procure them a subject” in exchange for a small fee. That fee really was quite small: two shillings, and a few extra pence they haggled for, not at all a favorable rate to sell one’s soul and maybe little more than enough to cover their costs.
Torrence and Waldie were supposed to obtain the subject while sitting on a ceremonial death watch with a dead child, but having no such deceased moppet to hand and really needing a couple of shillings, the ladies went the far more perilous route of snatching a real live eight-year-old while his parents were away. They plied little John Dallas with ale and suffocated his breath away, and Torrence even schlepped the cadaver to the apprentice surgeons in her own apron for an added tip.
The prisoners’ hair-splitting defense, a masterpiece of legal black comedy, was that they could only be shown guilty of kidnapping a living child and then selling a dead child — and neither of these acts constituted a capital crime. Considering the deep-rooted public loathing of resurrectionists’ grave-raiding, the court readily made free to infer from the juxtaposition of these circumstances the hated women’s culpability for John Dallas’s demise.
* 1752 was the last year that England maintained the old Julian calendar, and with it, the recognition of New Year’s Day on Lady Day (March 25) rather than January 1, so the documents of the time make this execution March 18, 1751. The change to the Gregorian calendar took place that summer.
On this date in 1706, Bavarian butcher Matthias Kraus was beheaded and quartered for an anti-Austrian rebellion.
This commoner was the victim at several orders’ remove of distant imperial politics; as such, he will enter this story only as a coda. Instead, we begin in the 1690s, in Spain, with the approaching death of the childless Spanish king Charles II.
The question of who would succeed Charles presented European diplomats the stickiest of wickets: there were rival claims that augured civil war, which was bad enough, but such a war’s potential winners could themselves be scions of the French Bourbons or the Austrian Habsburgs … which meant that Spain’s world empire could become conjoined with that of another great European power and unbalance everything.
For a while this whelp looked like the answer the continent’s schemers were searching for, since neither the state of Bavaria nor his father’s House of Wittelsbach was already a great power — and thus, they could be elevated without creating a new hegemon. But in 1699, months after the infirm Charles had designated the little boy “my legitimate successor in all my kingdoms, states and dominions,” Joseph Ferdinand too dropped dead.
The boy was only seven years old — but he had lived long enough to whet his father’s appetite for a more substantial patrimony. When Charles II finally died in 1700 with the inheritance situation still unresolved, Max Emanuel entered the resulting continental war — the War of Spanish Succession — allying himself with France with the intent of supplanting the Habsburg dynasty on the Austrian throne.
This was a bold gambit to be sure but in the war’s earliest years it looked like it might really work. The Elector of Bavaria parlayed his strong position on the Danube (and ample French support) into a menacing thrust into Austria that threatened to capture Vienna. For the Wittelsbachs, this would mean promotion to a higher plane of dynastic inbreeding; for France, it would mean a lethal blow to the rival Austrian-English-Dutch “Grand Alliance”.
All this statecraft brings us as a postscript the unhappy fate of our butcher, Herr Kraus.
The Austrian occupation of Bavaria — complete with punishing wartime levies — triggered in 1705 a peasants’ revolt grandly titled the Bavarian People’s Uprising. Matthias Kraus was a leader in this rising.
Like the Wittelsbach pretension writ small, Kraus was intrepid but doomed. Having seized the town of Kelheim with a force of 200 or so, he held it for just five days. Austrian forces appearing at the gate negotiated for a peaceful surrender of the city, but as soon as they got the gates open they ran amok in a general massacre.
Kraus himself, interrogated under torture in Ingolstadt, was returned to Kelheim for public execution — his body’s quarters to be mounted around the city as a warning.
Detail view (click for a full image) of an Austrian leaflet publicizing the fate of the rebellious Kraus.
His martyrdom at the hands of a foreign occupation has stood Kraus in good stead in posterity. There is a Matthias-Kraus-Gasse in Kelheim, as well as a fountain memorial put up to celebrate the 1905 bicentennial of his his fleeting moment of heroism.