Posts filed under '19th Century'

1863: William Lynch, suppressed mutineer

Add comment June 16th, 2020 Headsman

(Thanks to Edward Waldo Emerson, the son of transcendentalist chin-wagger Ralph Waldo Emerson, for the guest post. His account of the beloved Massachusetts cavalryman Charles Russell Lowell’s lethal suppression of a mutiny in his civil war regiment, as related to him by Lowell’s widow for his, Emerson’s, 1907 biography Life and Letters of Charles Russell Lowell. Lowell can’t speak for himself on this account because he was killed the next year at the Battle of Cedar Creek, after which he was posthumously promoted to Brigadier General.

Emerson does not directly narrate a death penalty story, but the image in the coda records the fate of one of the rebellious enlisted men. There were two others in legal jeopardy from this affair: Sylvester Riley died while awaiting his court-martial in Fort Independence in Boston Harbor; and, 16-year-old Francis Dew drew a death sentence which was commuted by President Abraham Lincoln on account of Dew’s youth. -ed.)

Mrs. Lowell, anxious that the exact facts be known, wrote for me this account of the

MUTINY IN BOSTON.

A very painful incident took place while Colonel Lowell was recruiting for the Second Cavalry, which impressed him very much.

Stopping as usual, at eight o’clock one morning, at the recruiting station, he found the small squad of new recruits who were to be transferred that day to the camp at Readville, in a state of mutiny. Hearing the noise on his arrival, he descended at once to the basement, and the Sergeant in command explained that he had ordered a man to be handcuffed, that the others had said it was unjust and should not be done, and had resisted. Colonel Lowell at once said: ‘The order must be obeyed.’ ‘No! No!’ shouted the men. He continued: ‘After it is obeyed, I will hear what you have to say, and will decide the case on its merits, but it must be obeyed first. God knows, my men, I don’t want to kill any of you; but I shall shoot the first man who resists. Sergeant, iron your man.’ As the Sergeant stepped forward with the irons, the men made a rush, and Colonel Lowell shot the leader, who fell at once. The men succumbed immediately, some bursting into tears, such was their excitement.

The whole incident was very painful to Colonel Lowell, especially because he had always regarded it as one of the privileges of an officer that he did not have to kill with his own hand.

The circumstances, however, turned out as fortunately as was possible in such a case. The man had no relatives, so far as could be discovered, and his record showed that he was a very bad man, and had previously been in the Regular Army, so that he knew very well what he was doing in resisting an order.

One of Governor Andrew‘s staff, who was present when Colonel Lowell reported his action, gave the following account, which I copy from Professor Peirce’s life of Lowell in the Harvard Memorial Biographies:

Entering his Excellency’s room, he made a military salute and said, ‘I have to report to you, sir, that in the discharge of my duty I have shot a man’; then saluted again, and immediately withdrew. ‘I need nothing more,’ said the Governor to a bystander, ‘Colonel Lowell is as humane as he is brave.’

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Massachusetts,Military Crimes,Mutiny,Shot,Soldiers,USA,Wartime Executions

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1825: Odysseus Androutsos

Add comment June 5th, 2020 Headsman

On this date* in 1825, Greek revolutionary Odysseus (or Odysseas) Androutsos was summarily executed as a traitor by his comrades.

Fruit of Ithaca like the immortal hero of the same name, Androutsos joined the uprising that became the Greek War of Independence and repelled the numerically overwhelming forces of the cruel Ottoman governor Ali Pasha that had lately crushed Athanasios Diakos.

This upstart victory at the Battle of Gravia Inn might have been decisive in saving the independence bid from being destroyed in its cradle. In its day it established Androutsos as one of the major commanders of the revolution, good enough for unprincipled English rogue and Lord Byron crony Edward John Trelawny to fall in with long enough to marry Androutsos’s sister.**

According to the Scottish historian George Finlay — another British interloper in this war — many of the warlords who prosecuted Greek’s revolution are best viewed in the perspective of klephts or hajduks: an archetype combining anti-Ottoman insurgent and opportunistic brigand, making for themselves on treacherous terrain. “Odysseus never attached any importance to political independence and national liberty,” Finlay opines. “His conduct from the commencement of the Revolution testified that he had no confidence in its ultimate success. He viewed it as a temporary revolt, which might be rendered conducive to his own interests.”

Installed in eastern Greece, it was only natural that such a figure would consider cutting deals with the Ottomans. Androutsos’s brief and little-harmful defection was prosecuted as treason by his comrades — his execution on Athens’s Acropolis conducted by his former second-in-commannd, Yannis Gouras — but countrymen down the years have been quite a bit more understanding. The Greek government reconsidered its malediction and in 1865 reburied Androutsos with honors; his grave is never since to be found without the garlands of admiring posterity.

* June 5 is the Julian date, an exception from our normal Gregorian preference in the 19th century because, well, it’s a national hero of an Orthodox polity. Nevertheless, the Gregorian June 17 can be found mentioned here and there, including even on Androutsos’s cemetery stele.

** Trelawny dumped her when his Greek holiday had run its course, and he returned to England a bachelor.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Greece,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1868: Thomas Griffin, gold commissioner

Add comment June 1st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1868, disgraced Australian gold commissioner Thomas Griffin was hanged for murdering two police escorts in the course of a robbery.

He was an Irish-born constable who parlayed decorated service in the Crimean War into emigration to Australia.

There he lodged himself in the policing ranks and by dint of energy and charm worked his way up by late 1863 to the administrative post of gold commissioner in the emerging gold rush boom town of Clermont, Queensland.

“During his four years’ residence at Clermont, Griffin became widely known in the district,” according to The Early History of Rockhampton by a working journalist who knew Griffin, J.T.S. Bird.

In addition to being physically a fine manly-looking fellow, he had a very suave and attractive manner, and readily gained the favour and friendship of those whom he desired to stand well with.* To those under him he was as a rule distant and overbearing, and was by no means well liked … Ostentation and vanity, with a fondness for display, were leading traits of his character, and were noticeable to all who knew him.

One index of his no means well-likedness was the community petition that deposed him from his post in September 1867. It seems that Griffin had formed a reputation as “despotic, arbitrary and partial,” made himself a fixture of gambling dens, and had been investigated for embezzling mining revenues that he was supposed to hold in trust.

Demoted to a lower position in the same bureau in nearby Rockhampton, Griffin immediately vindicated his critics by arranging to accompany the next “gold escort” transporting valuables between Clermont and Rockhampton, along with troopers Patrick Cahill and John Power. En route, Griffin gunned the two men down by surprise on the Mackenzie River, making off with about £4000 in notes (not gold). He then unconvincingly presented himself back in Rockhampton as having separated naturally from the party, surprised as anyone that the other two hadn’t returned. Although he participated in the initial search, he was arrested within days.

Bird has a lengthy narrative of the investigation and trial; one notable aspect was early forensic experimentation with shooting sheeps’ skulls in an attempt to model the damage done by the gunshots received by the unfortunate guards — further to demonstrating that they were murdered execution-style at close range rather than shot from a distance as a wilderness brigand might do.

Suffice to say that no matter the spattering of ruminant brains, Griffin’s foul reputation made his pretense of innocence completely untenable, even though he continued it all the way to the gallows.

After a prayer at the foot of the scaffold, Griffin stood up and Mr. Smith said:

I shall meet you at the judgment seat of God; you have but a few minutes to live, and in the sight of God who is to judge between us all, I ask you will you not acknowledge your guilt?

Griffin drew himself up and said in a resolute voice, “No!”

He went up the first of the scaffold steps two or three at a time, finishing the remainder with a firm step. Stepping on the drop, he came promptly to “attention.” Griffin told the executioner [John Hutton] he had nothing to give him, but if he saw Mr. Brown he would give him something. The hangman then asked if Griffin had anything to confess.

Griffin replied in a firm voice: “No, I have nothing to confess!”

The white cap was placed in position, and Griffin, as though impatient at any delay, said: “Go on, I am ready!” The bolt was drawn, and death followed instantly.

Griffin had frequently told Dr. Salmond and others that he would die with calm firmness, and he was as good as his word.

His was the first of nine executions recorded at Rockhampton Gaol. A week after the hanging, Griffin’s grave was robbed and his head stolen.

* One early indicator of the man’s character was his seduction of a wealthy widow on the very ship he took to Australia. After quickly dissipating her fortune, he parted ways with her by publishing a fake death notice in the newspaper.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Theft

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1831: Ciro Menotti, hero to Garibaldi

Add comment May 26th, 2020 Headsman

Italian patriotic hero Ciro Menotti was hanged on this date* in 1831.


Marker in Modena to the martyrdom of Ciro Menotti and Vincenzo Borelli. (cc) image from Filippo Fabbri.

Menotti (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) was a member of the revolutionary carbonari who stood at the fore of an insurrection in northern Italy in 1831. The plot was sponsored by the Duke of Modena and quashed by the same when he realized its premature exposure compromised its utility as a vehicle for expanding his dominions. The arrival of Austrian troops in March of 1831 swiftly pacified the risings.

In tribute of Menotti, national patron saint Giuseppe Garibaldi named one of his sons for him — Menotti Garibaldi, later a deputy in the parliament of the independent and unified Italy whose realization had been the common quest of both his namesakes.

* There are some citations out there for May 23, rather than May 26. This appears unambiguously mistaken to me (witness the date on the monument pictured in this post); I haven’t been able to determine the initial source of the discrepancy.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Italy,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Treason

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1865: George Baker and George Beal, Salem murderers

Add comment May 17th, 2020 Headsman

A 1938 Oregon Magazine retrospective on the May 17, 1865 Salem, Ore. hanging of George Baker and George Beal(e) comes from a compilation of research on the wonderful site Oregon Pioneers.

These were very much pioneer days. The Pacific Northwest Oregon Territory started drawing large scale white settlement from the 1830s, with the onset of the Oregon Trail, the means by which both the offenders and the victim in this case arrived at this distant land.

The state of Oregon (only a subset of the Oregon Territory, which also comprised the present-day states of Washington and Idaho) attained statehood in 1859 with the census population weighing in at 52,000 the following year. Its first judicial executions only occurred in 1850 — so this punishment was very much a novelty, as the piece below indicates. (I’ve added some line breaks for readability.) There’s a great deal more at the Oregon Pioneers site.

SEVENTY-THREE Years is a long time, yet there are people now living who witnessed the execution of Beal and Baker on May l7th, 1865. The writer was a boy of 10 years at that time. Well do I remember the trial and execution of the men, for the murder of Daniel Delaney for his money.

Daniel Delaney was a wealthy stock raiser living about two miles southwest of Turner. He was a southerner and brought slaves with him to Oregon. He was a good citizen and a clean man, and his stock roamed over the hills and the valleys around Turner Station.

At that time he settled here there were no fences and the stock roamed over the whole country. There were no banks in this part of the state and whoever had money must hide it about his premises.

Delaney was supposed to have a lot of money. Beal was keeping a saloon in Salem in a building now occupied by the Marion Hotel. He lived across the street in a house south of the old Rector Hotel with his wife and mother. Beal had a partner in the crime, George Baker, who drove cattle for the early day butchers of Salem. He was a weak minded man, and lived on the block south of Beal’s saloon with his wife and three or four children.

On the night of the murder, Beal met Baker at a point on Mill Creek, formerly agreed upon. Beal was walking and Baker was riding a black mare hereafter mentioned in this article. At this point they obtained some charcoal which they used on their faces to disguise themselves, as Beal was well acquainted with Delaney, and often would stay all night with him while off on hunting trips when in that part of the country. He also crossed the plains in the same train with Delaney in 1843.

Delaney lived alone except for a colored boy, 12 years of age, and his dog. They called the old man out of the house and shot him and also the dog. The colored boy hid in the wood pile near the house. Delaney, who was wounded, recognized Beal and said to him, “Spare my life, Beal, and you can have all the money I have got.” Beal drew a revolver from his pocket and said to him, “Dead men do not talk,” and fired a shot that finished Delaney, who was wounded.

The colored boy remained in hiding until daylight next morning, then taking the dog, which was badly wounded, carried him over to one of Delaney’s sons about a mile away, giving the alarm.

Beal and Baker were soon arrested for the crime on suspicion. One of the suspicious circumstances was that the black mare which Baker was riding on the night of the murder had lost one shoe. Another was the finding of a hat band which had been lost off Beal’s hat.

The trial was very interesting and so many people wanted to hear the trial that there was not room in the old wooden court house which occupied the same ground as the present one, so the trial was held in the Holman block, used by the legislature before the state capitol was built.

The prisoners were defended by Caton & Curl with David Logan, prominent attorney in Oregon at that time. Rufus Mallory was prosecuting attorney. The colored boy proved to be a very good witness for the state; also the hat band which fitted Beal’s hat was found in his bed room after his arrest; also the black mare had one shoe missing.

The prisoners were found guilty after a long and tedious trial and were sentenced to be executed on the 17th day of May, 1865. For this purpose the county of Marion erected a wooden scaffold on the block on South Church street, bounded by Church, Mill, Winter and Leslie streets.

The prisoners were confined in a small brick jail on the northwest corner of the court house block, until the day of the execution, when they were taken from the jail by the then Sheriff of Marion County, Samuel Hedrick, and placed in a hotel bus and taken to the place of execution, where they paid the penalty of their crime.

The death march was impressive. At that time Marion county had a militia company known as the Marion Rifles. They were dressed in gaudy uniforms as on dress parade and formed around the bus in a hollow square with fixed bayonets. Marching east on Court to Church street, thence south on Church street to the place of execution. The procession was followed by a vast crowd of people.

The military unit then formed about the scaffold until after the execution. People came to witness this execution from all parts of the state, even some Indians from Grand Ronde and the Siletz reservations. In fact, it was considered a public holiday. My old school teacher, Pearson, a law and order man, dismissed school so his pupils could witness the execution of these men as an object lesson.

The high grounds about the mill race formed a natural amphitheater for the occasion. Beal walked up the steps to the platform on the scaffold with a firm step. He then produced a small bible and read from it a short chapter, and then said in a firm voice, “Now take this book and read it and follow its teachings and you will never come to what I have.” He then tossed the book to the people in the crowd.

Baker was very weak and had to be assisted up the steps.

Soon the rope was placed about the necks of the prisoners and it was soon over. Public sentiment was strong against these men, especially Beal, who was considered the master mind in this sad affair; even so much so that objections were made to them being buried in our local cemetery. But Daniel Waldo, a good old pioneer, granted space for them on his farm on what is known as the Waldo Hills. He said every man, good or bad, should be entitled to six feet of earth.

The public sentiment against the murderers was so far reaching it even extended to the attorneys for the defense, in the loss of practice. However, it sent Rufus Mallory, who prosecuted the case, to the lower house of congress from Oregon.

And it must have had some good effect in a moral way, for it was twenty years before another man was executed for murder in Marion County.

I wrote this story as I remember it as a boy of ten years of age. I had a chum like most boys, and we were interested very much in the trial and excitement. Sometimes we could not get a seat. One time we secured good seats but the sheriff, Samuel Hedrick, made us give them up to older people. We did not like it very much, but had to do it with a smile. But twenty-three years later the ten-year old boy had taken over his office.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Oregon,Public Executions,USA

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1826: Francis Irvin, the first hanging in Ohio County, Kentucky

Add comment May 13th, 2020 Headsman

This chapter titled “The First Hanging in Ohio County, KY” comes from the public-domain 1926 volume Ohio County Kentucky in the Olden Days. The footnote appears in the original text.

Francis Irvin, who was raised in the Adams Fork settlement, had become involved In a lawsuit with an old gentleman named William Maxwell in which Irvin’s character and purse were involved. Maxwell gave a deposition and, after he had testified, mounted his horse to go home. That was the last seen of Maxwell alive. At a late hour in the evening his riderless horse reached the farm and whinnied for his master. The animal was found by a member of the family who at once saw that the empty saddle was covered with blood, indicating that the rider had been seriously hurt or killed.

Several days were spent in hunting the body, in which hunt Irvin joined. Being suspected of the crime he was constantly watched. It was afterwards observed that he always proposed searching in different localities from that in which the body was eventually found. It had been thrown into a slight pool or basin worn by the water of a small branch where it poured over the roots that partially obstructed the channel. It was there found covered with loose stones, logs, dirt, and leaves. A heavy fall of rain had washed away all the lighter covering, and after the high water subsided, the body was left exposed to sight.

Cowardly sneaks, although the most disposed, should never commit crime. Had Irvin been a man of iron nerve and will and boldly protested his innocence, he could never have been lawfully convicted, but his craven heart gave evidence as soon as the body was discovered. He trembled and turned pale, and although his confession might have been made under sufficient threats and persuasions to have excluded it as evidence on the trial, yet he gave facts which fastened the guilt on him, such as telling where he had hidden Maxwell’s hat and shoes and where they could find another bullet hole in the body, one which, up to then, had not been noticed.

Irvin was arrested and committed to the old log jail in Hartford. The old house was so weak that it had to be guarded at a great expense until he was removed to the Hardinsburg jail for safe-keeping.

His case lingered in court for nearly two years and at one time resulted in a hung jury. A final trial was had and the jury brought in a verdict of murder.

Joseph Allen, of Hardinsburg, had been a practitioner at the Hartford bar from perhaps the first circuit court held in the county. He was Irvin’s lawyer, and was able, untiring, and devoted to his client. Great reliance was placed on the selection of juries in desperate cases. Next to the hardened villain who feared punishment himself, the mild, tender-hearted man who abhorred a murder and shrank from taking life, even by due process of law, was sought as a juryman. The panel was at last completed save one, and the defendant still had one or more peremptory challenges in reserve. Timothy Condit was called. There perhaps never lived a purer Christian or more tender-hearted man. He seldom listened to a tale of suffering or misery without tears.

Mr. Allen viewed him sternly and critically and took him without challenge, and during the trial and in his argument always aimed to excite the old man’s sympathy. This he no doubt succeeded in doing for tears were seen coursing down his cheeks during the trial, also when a verdict of guilt was announced. The able counsel for the defendant looked surprised, but no doubt still clung to the hope that Timothy Condit would “give down,” so he called for a poll of the jury.

This was done by each juryman being called by name and asked whether he agreed to the verdict. Condit’s name was the last on the list. When his name was called, Mr. Allen assumed a grave and solemn tone of voice, and, pausing on each word, said: “Mister Condit, do you agree to that verdict?” — with an emphasis on “you,” “agree,” and “verdict.”

During all this time the courthouse was thronged with spectators. The interest felt seemed painfully intense. Every eye was turned on the meek, simple-hearted old man. Every ear was strained to hear his words. The good old man raised his eyes to heaven; tears trickled down his cheeks. His words were feeble, yet thrilling. Slowly he said: “In the name of the Lord, I do.” A murmur of applause burst from the crowd. This was followed by a titter of laughter at an ill-natured remark by Allen about the old man and his Lord. Allen then threw down his papers and books and left the courthouse.

Judge Alney McLean, whose heart was always overflowing with human kindness, could not pass sentence with anything like due composure. He solemnly set the day of execution — May 13, 1826 — but when he spoke the words “that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead!” — his voice became husky and almost inaudible as he wiped tears from his eyes.*

A hanging had never before occurred in Ohio County. Men, women, and children of every age and condition came not only from this county but also from Daviess, Breckinridge, Grayson, Butler, and Muhlenberg. Taverns, private houses in town, and even homes for miles in the country were crowded with visitors. Even the courthouse was filled over night with campers. The whole of the four acres of the public square was then unoccupied, except as a common, and was almost as green as a meadow, but the morning after the hanging it resembled a battlefield.

The erection of a gallows in the center of the town was unusual, but the reason was this: Shortly after the sentence was passed, remonstrances came in from every neighborhood to the sheriff, John Rogers, against erecting a gallows on the road they traveled to town. No man would give leave for its erection on his property. The sheriff did not wish to incur the ill will of the whole community, so, upon the advice of the county attorney, he built the scaffold in Washington Street, a short distance below the crossing of Market Street.

The night previous to the execution the poor wife of the condemned man brought him a new suit of snow white home-made linen and a very large twist of home-grown tobacco.

Dressed in his suit of white, with his big twist of tobacco protruding largely from his pantaloon pocket, he was driven to the gallows in a one-horse cart by the sheriff. He seemed determined to take the tobacco with him to another world, for, just before the rope was adjusted around his neck, he pulled out his twist, took an enormous chew, and then put the twist back in his pocket and buttoned the flap over it, apparently with anxious care.

Irvin’s conduct upon the scaffold seemed to excite only pity and contempt. He showed nothing but a weak, cowardly fear of death — no courage, no stoicism to excite admiration, certainly nothing to stimulate the most depraved spectator to emulate his example. Whilst the sheriff was adjusting the cap over his face and the rope around his neck, he clung to him like a drowning man, and the sheriff had to pull from him. The cart moved suddenly away. A few convulsive struggles, a quiver of muscles, and the melon-stealing, orchard-robbing boy who had culminated into a vile murderer in middle age was no more.

* In a subsequent article Mr. Taylor makes a correction to the effect that upon further reflection he found “the scene with Timothy Condit and Joseph Allen” took place at the first trial of Irvin and not the last. He attended all the trials and admits that “after a lapse of these many years these trials became blended together in the writer’s memory.” Judge John B. Wilson, in a memorandum (1926) citing Order Book No. 7, pages 10 and 44, says that the last trial ended on Tuesday, April 4, 1826, and that the jury consisted of: George Oldham, Job Malin, Joseph D. McFarland, Ezekiel Kennedy, Cornelius Roach, Joseph Paxton, Stephen Rowan, Churchill Jones, Michael Myers, Nicholas Taylor, Allan May, and Ansel Watson, foreman.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Kentucky,Murder,Public Executions,USA

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1811: Arthur William Hodge, brutal slaveowner

Add comment May 8th, 2020 Headsman

West Indies planter Arthur William Hodge hanged on this date in 1811 — a distinctive punishment, for the crime imputed was the murder of his own property, a slave named Prosper.

The Oxford-educated gentleman ruled an estate upon Tortola called Bellevue, aptly called* for Hodge gives every symptom of laboring under some sort of madness, even beyond that madness which might be inherent to a slaveholding society. Famous among other planters for his cruelty long before he came to his own grief, Hodge had allegedly reduced through sheer barbarity his own farm’s slave roster from 140 in 1803 to 35 by the time of his death. (This allegation seems to be contradicted by a post-execution advertisement for the sale of his estate enumerating 160 slaves.)

Documents published in 1811 as a Report on the Trial of Arthur Hodge, Esquire — available here and here — are thick with blood-curdling reports of Hodge’s “repeated and excessive acts of cruelty towards his slaves,” e.g.

That a slave, called “Tom Boiler,” between three and four years ago [i.e., circa 1807-1808 -ed.], was by order of the said Hodge, laid down and cart-whipped without intermission for at least an hour; that the said Arthur Hodge stood by and saw it done … that when the said negro slave “Tom Boiler,” after the infliction of said punishment attempted to rise, he could not stand, but was taken up and carried to the sick-house, from whence he never came out, but died in about a week …

That this deponent hath known the said Hodge to order, at different times, kettles of boiling water, prepared for the purpose of pouring said water down the throats of his negroes, who had offended him.

That Margaret, the cook, and Else, a washer, were served so; that said Hodge said they were going to poison Mrs. Hodge and the children, and he would put an end to them — that this deponent did not see the boiling water poured down their throats, because she had not the heart to be present; but heard the screams of Margaret, and saw both Margaret and Else running afterwards with scalded mouths, &c. …

That this deponent in passing the sick-house saw a child, about ten years of age, named Sampson, with the skin all off … that this deponent made enquiry concerning said child, and learnt by general report on the estate, from the negroes, that said child had been by order of said Hodge, dipped into a copper of boiling liquor.

-Deposition of a free black woman named Perreen Georges who was intermittently employed at Bellevue

Another negro slave, about nineteen years of age, was by order of said Hodge very severely cart-whipped and put in heavy irons, crook puddings, &c. and allowed little or nothing to eat. That he was burnt in the mouth with an hot iron, and that he, this deponent, saw him in consequence thereof, with his mouth all raw, and that he shortly after died …

That a free man, named Peter, was hired by said Hodge … to work as a cooper, on said Hodge’s estate. And that he, this deponent, has seen said Hodge in his presence, cart-whipping said Peter repeatedly, at short quarters,** and every other way, and put chains upon him, and had him worked upon his estate with the field negroes; that Peter died as this deponent believes, in consequence of the ill treatment of said Hodge …

That Bella, a small mulatto child, reputed to be the natural child of said Hodge, by his female slave Peggy, (then about eight years of age, as this deponent believes) was repeatedly cart-whipped by order of said Hodge; and this deponent further saith, he hath more than once seen the said Hodge strike said child with a stick, upon her head, and break her head; and hath repeatedly seen him kick her so violently in the lower part of her belly, as to send her several feet on the ground, from whence, he, this deponent, thought she never again would rise.

-Deposition of Stephen M’Keough, a former overseer on Hodges’s Bellevue estate

It’s a matter of speculation just why it was that Hodge’s excesses were judged by his peers sufficiently outrageous to merit what appears to be the first and only execution doled out in the British empire to a slaveholder for mistreating his chattel. Was it fear in the wake of the Haitian Revolution that his behavior invited a jacquerie on this sugar colony where the slave population outnumbered the white landowners 7:1? A stirring of the advancing abolitionist spirit that had barred the slave trade in 1807? Notably, this prosecution in 1811 for a three-year-old crime took place only with the advent of a new anti-slavery governor.

That crime, however dated when finally brought to bar, was every bit as dreadful as the sampling above from Perreen Georges and Stephen M’Keough — and Virgin Island elites gave short shrift to the planter’s defense “that a Negro, being property, ‘it was no greater offense in law for his owner to kill him, than it would be to kill his dog.'” “My God! Are we patiently to hear such a declaration?” the Crown prosecutor answered in horror. “If we one instant even tacitly acquiesced we could expect nothing short of the vengeance of heaven to overtake us and the judgments of an offended Deity, with plague, pestilence and famine to be our merited punishments.”

Prosper caught Hodge’s fury on account of losing a mango and when he was unable to produce payment for the fruit he was flogged 100 times on consecutive days, until he was too weak even to cry out. Carried to a sick-house and abandoned there without rations, he was “found there dead, and in a state of putrefaction, some days afterwards; that crawlers were found in his wounds, and not a piece of black flesh was to be seen on the hinder part of his body where he had been flogged.” With the colony in a state of outrage at these charges — “I am sensible that the country thirsts for my blood,” Hodge said in his unsuccessful closing statement to his jurors — the court defied all precedent to condemn him. In the few days before the sentence was executed, Tortola was heavily locked down to preempt possible disturbances around the public hanging, which went off without incident.

However anomalous the execution of a slaveowner, Hodge’s tyranny would be invoked again and again in a project to reform judicial administration of the West Indies that stretched into the 1830s. The concern, as Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford describe in Rage for Order, was that these reservoirs of local and private power, barely checked in a distant colony where the justices deciding cases were hopelessly compromised by their membership in the same social circles and economic engines as their fellows, corrupted the law, bringing Britain herself into disrepute. “The flywheel of this project,” Benton and Ford note, “was the subordination of masters to imperial authority, not the championing of the rights of slaves.”

* The New York asylum by which the innocent name Bellevue attains its association with psychiatric disorders did not open until 1879.

** M’Keough’s testimony digresses to define close or short quarters as Hodge’s own term, meaning “the most cruel and severe mode of cart-whipping, as the whip is shortened and goes all round the body, cutting every part, particularly the stomach and belly, making no noise, which he believes to have been an inducement with said Hodge to practice it.” While we’re dallying with definitions, a cart-whip is described as “a certain instrument of punishment … made of wood and rope of the value of one shilling” used to flog and beat slaves.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,British Virgin Islands,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions

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1899: Kat-koo-at

Add comment May 5th, 2020 Headsman

From the Corvallis (Ore.) Gazette, May 9, 1899:

Says that the Clootchman Anna and Okh-kho-not are equally guilty — body delivered to the medical college for dissection.

Kat-koo-at, the Chilicat Indian who was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in the United States Circuit Court for the murder of Thomas J. Brown, in Alaska Territory last January, was hanged yesterday afternoon. [This article is not explicitly datelined, but the day referred to is May 5, 1899 -ed.] United States Marshall Waters performed the unwelcome official duty of carrying into execution the sentence imposed by the court, and vindicated the outraged law. The execution took place in the jailyard, the same gallows on which James Johnson and Archie Brown suffered the extreme penalty of the law being used. Notwithstanding the public was well aware that Kat-koo-at was to be hanged there was very little excitement felt over the event and no guards or military companies were ordered out as in the case of Brown and Johnson. The stockade which had been erected to shut out public view from the appalling spectacle, did not prevent many from witnessing it who were not holders of tickets. Spectators were admitted until all the available space inside the enclosure was occupied, and many curiously disposed persons clambered up to the top of the fence and looked over, or peeped through the cracks between the planks and watched with evident interest the preparations which preceded the execution.

Kat-koo-at’s conduct.

Yesterday morning the doomed man ate a hearty breakfast at 6:30. After dispatching his meal Kat-koo-at sat down very composedly and smoked his pipe for some time. About 10 o’clock in the forenoon, Rev. W.C. Chattin called at his cell. Mr. Chattin, who converses quite fluently in the Chinook tongue, asked Kat-koo-at after the usual saluation if he was aware of the fact that he was going to die soon. The Indian replied:

“Yes, I know that; what time is it now?”

Mr. Chattin said “ten o’clock;” to which Kat-koo-at responded:

“Three hours yet before I die.”

He asked Mr. Chattin if he was afraid to die, to which he answered negatively.

This Indian it is said had been a regular attendant of the Mission School of the Greek church at Sitka, and has been taught about as much about God and Christ, and heaven and hell, as his untutored mind can comprehend. During his confinement, he frequently sung Sabbath school songs which he learned at Sitka.

Kat-koo-at was reminded by Mr. Chattin how upon the cross Christ forgave his enemies and asked whether he did likewise. Kat-koo-at answered: “Annie and Och-kho-not helped to kill Brown, and were as guilty as he himself; but I forgive them; I have put away all angry feeling; I feel as though you are the only friend I have, and I want you to be present with me to the last and pray for me.”

In the Prison.

U.S. Marshal Waters had made every preparation for the execution. The rope had been attached to the beam above the scaffold, the fatal drop drawn up to its proper position and all that was needed was the victim. To prevent a crowd, the court house doors were closed at 12 o’clock and about 75 persons who held tickets of admission were allowed to enter. In company with the officers, Rev. Mr. Chattin entered the cell of the doomed Indian at 12:45 and said (speaking the Chinook tongue), “Kat-koo-at, you are near your death.” He answered, “Yes.” Mr. Chattin continued, “You know it is a bad thing to die. Now tell me, were Annie and Och-kho-not equally guilty?” To which he responded “yes.” The question was asked Kat-koo-at whether his people would be angry with the whites for his execution, and whether they would take revenge for it. Kat-koo-at answered “no.”

The Fatal Drop.

Precisely 53 minutes past 12 o’clock Kat-koo-at, followed by U.S. Marshal A.W. Waters, Deputy Marshal W.P. Burns, Sheriff B.L. Norden, Constable M.B. Wallace, and Rev. W.C. Chattin, left the cell, ascended the steps leading to the scaffold, and took places thereon. As Kat-koo-at took his place in the center of the trap he surveyed the bystanders and made a profound bow. Marshal A.W. Waters then read the death sentence in paragraphs, which was interpreted to the Indian by Constable M.B. Wallace. At the conclusion of each paragraph, Kat-koo-at nodded assent. Mr. Wallace asked him whether he had anything to say, which was answered in the negative. Mr. Waters then drew the black cap quickly over the murderer’s face and adjusted the noose, while Mr. Burns placed handcuffs on the wrists and buckled a strap around the ankles. From the time Kat-koo-at came upon the scaffold until the drop fell, he maintained a stolid indifference, and not a quiver of a muscle was visible. However, he was under excitement, as his pulse beat 120 when he left his cell.

At 12:58, after the noose had been adjusted, Mr. Chattin advanced, and offered the following prayer in the Chinook tongue:

Oh, God! Thou art the Father of us all. Look in pity on this poor Indian, who is about to die. Although he has been a wicked man, he has renounced his sins and prays forgiveness.

The “Amen,” the click of the trigger, and a thud were then heard almost simultaneously. Kat-koo-at had stood too close to the edge of the trap, and as he dropped, his body struck the side of the trap-way and bounded to the other side. The breast heaved for two minutes and then the body was still. At 1:02 the shoulders were drawn up. This was the last perceptible movement of the body.

At 1:02½ Dr. Littlefield, the attending physician, felt the pulse and pronounced it very feeble.

At 1:03½ the pulse was barely perceptible.

At 1:04½ the pulse had ceased to beat, but by auscultation the feeble heart beats were counted 80 to the minute.

At 1:06, 58 to the minute.

At 1:09 there was only a slight murmur. At 12 he was pronounced dead, but the body was allowed to hang until 1:18, having hung a little longer than 19 minutes.

The fall was about 5½ feet — quite sufficient to have dislocated the Indian’s neck had he not struck against the edge of the scaffold. An examination was made after Kat-koo-at whas [sic] dead which disclosed the fact that death had been produced by strangulation instead of dislocation. After life was

Pronounced Extinct

The body was cut down and placed in a rude coffin. Subsequently it was conveyed to the medical college in conformity with the order of the court, and delivered to the professors and students of that institution.

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1876: Louis Thomas, gallows builder

1 comment April 28th, 2020 Headsman

This musing on the torments for condemned prisoners of seeing their own rickety gallows put up in their own prison yard comes via Ken Leyton-Brown’s The Practice of Execution in Canada … and culminates with a Winnipeg execution that took place on April 28, 1876.

In principle, hanging may be said to have begun when the procession arrived at the scaffold, at which point the hangman took control of proceedings, and to have ended with the death of the condemned. During what was supposed to be a brief time, the hangman was to perform a number of tasks. First, the condemned had to be positioned over the trap. In the years just after Confederation, this might be delayed while he made a short address to the assembled onlookers, but in later years, the address was rarely permitted. Second, the hangman would secure his ankles and sometimes his knees. Third, what was called a cap, but was actually a bag, was placed over his head, and the oose was put about his neck and tightened. And lastly, the trap would be released, allowing him to drop through the platform.

This seems a fairly simple set of operations, and it might be expected that hanging was generally quite straightforward, but in fact, problems could arise at every stage. The first of these sprang from the fact that hangings occurred at the prson where the condemned person had been held during trial. An inevitable consequence of this was that they took place in a large number of small facilities across the country, frequently in locations that had never conducted them before. This meant that the required apparatus had to be built from scratch, virtually always by people who lacked either plans or experience to guide them. Thus, predictably, it was not always a great success: a hastily erected scaffold might not work properly, and its construction could be unsettling, sometimes even cruel, to prisoners waiting to be hanged.

Even a hurriedly built gallows took some time to assemble because it had to be a substantial structure, able to meet the demands that would be placed upon it. It required a platform large enough to accommodate the various civic officials, one or more spiritual advisors, the hangman, and the condemned; it must include a trap door and a stout overhead beam; and it needed enough clearance underneath to allow for both the body to hang and the subsequent examination to ensure the death had occurred. None of this would be difficult for skilled carpenters, provided they had enough wood and nails, but the task did not necessarily appeal to them. Therefore, a gallows was often built to less than the desired standard, and on occasion this adversely affected its functioning. More serious, though, was that its construction meant for the condemned, and for everyone in the prison. It was a noisy project, and the sound of sawing and hammering, combined with the certain knowledge of what was being built and what would happen when it finished, preyed on people’s minds, especially, one supposes, on that of the condemned. Worse, they could sometimes see its manufacture, either from their cell or was they went for exercise, and could watch it take shape, knowng that they would die upon it. A Winnipeg Free Press discussion of the preparation of a scaffold for Philip Johnston and Frank Sullivan illustrates this well:

Reverberating through the precincts of the provincial jail today are the sounds of the hammer and saw and to the two men these sounds mean the beginning of the end of their existence. Formal announcement is expected today from Ottawa that no reprieve can be granted Frank Sullivan and Philip Johnson, the two men condemned to pay the extreme penalty of the law for the murder of Constable Snowden.

Yesterday’s word from Ottawa that John Stoike had been reprieved and the fact that no announcement was made in regard to a new trial for the other two men caused a start to be made on the erection of the scaffold. Unless Minister of Justice Doherty grants a stay of execution today in order to listen to a new witness the men will be executed at 7 o’clock Friday morning.

Ellis, the executioner, is expected to reach the city tomorrow. Last night the floor of the double scaffold had been constructed and the framework will be completed in time for a thorough test to be made by noon tomorrow.

A scaffold had to be a sturdy affair, and it was often left standing for long or short periods as a mute reminder to prisoners of what their future might hold if they were unlucky or did not mend their ways. Usually, though, the scaffold was taken apart after a hanging and the wood either salvaged or stored. A stored scaffold could be reassembled when next it was needed, a detail typically mentioned in newspaper accounts. The hanging of Louis Thomas in 1876 provides an example. In 1874 Joseph Michaud had been hanged at Winnipeg, and it appears that the scaffold had been dismantled and the pieces stored. Two years later, when Angus McIvor was executed, it was taken out of storage and reassembled. The scaffold was then left up, and four months later Thomas became the third person to die on it. The most macabre feature of this was that, while in jail, Thomas was required to help raise McIvor’s scaffold, all the while knowing that his life would probably end on the same apparatus.

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1849: Sarah Harriet Thomas, the last female juvenile hanged in Great Britain

Add comment April 20th, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprinted section from a longer article about under-18 girls executed in the 19th century that was originally published on that site. (Executed Today has taken the liberty of adding some explanatory links.) CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere, including a wider history of the juvenile death penalty in England. -ed.)

Sarah’s was to be Bristol‘s final public hanging on the flat roof of the gatehouse of New Gaol in Cumberland Road. She was a house maid to sixty one year old Miss Elizabeth Jefferies, who according to Sarah, did not treat her well and had locked her in the kitchen all night among other perceived abuses. There was almost certain to be conflict between a cranky, elderly spinster and a rebellious young girl and this culminated in Sarah bludgeoning Miss Jefferies to death with a large stone as she slept, on the night of Sunday the 4th of March 1849. Sarah had also killed Miss Jefferies’ dog and thrown its body into the lavatory. She left the house, but not without helping herself to some of her mistresses’ jewellery. Miss Jefferies’ brother was alerted to a possible problem by a neighbour who noticed that the window shutters were still closed and called the local constable to help him investigate. When they forced entry they made the gruesome discoveries. Suspicion immediately fell upon Sarah and she was arrested the next day at her mother’s house in Pensford. Initially she told the police that another girl had committed the killings and that she had only been involved with ransacking the house.

She was tried at Gloucester on the 3rd of April 1849, the public gallery being particularly crowded to hear every gruesome detail. Sarah seemed not to treat the court proceedings seriously until she was convicted and the judge donned the black cap and sentenced her to be hanged by the neck until she was dead. On hearing these words of doom she collapsed and had to be carried from the dock by two warders. A petition was got up to save her but this was to no avail. Sarah made a confession to the prison governor, Mr. J A Gardiner and two female matrons seventeen days before her execution and it was read to her every day in case she wanted to correct it. In the confession she told of the ill treatment that she had endured from Miss Jefferies and spoke of her regret in having committed the killings.

On Thursday the 19th of April the gallows was erected and William Calcraft, the hangman, arrived from London. He was to have George Smith from Dudley to assist him. The following morning a huge number of people had assembled in front of the prison to watch Sarah die.

She was dragged up two flights of stairs by six warders onto the gatehouse roof and then up a few more steps onto the platform. She was held on the trap by two warders whilst Calcraft strapped her legs, placed the white hood over her head and tightened the halter style noose around her neck. As the preparations continued Sarah cried out “I won’t be hanged; take me home!” Calcraft quickly operated the trap and Sarah’s body dropped about eighteen inches through it, quivering for a few moments before becoming still. Everybody present on the gatehouse roof was upset by the distressing scene they had witnessed and the governor of the prison fainted. Sarah’s body was buried in private in an unmarked grave within the prison later in the day.

Even the by now veteran hangman, Calcraft, was greatly affected by this job and said later that Sarah Thomas was “in my opinion, one of the prettiest and most intellectual girls I have met with.”

A crime reporter, one Mr. E. Austin, who attended the execution reported: “Ribald jests were bandied about and after waiting to see the corpse cut down, the crowd dispersed, and the harvest of the taverns in the neighbourhood commenced.” However, some in the crowd felt pity for the poor girl. Sadly for the majority it was probably seen much more as a free, slightly pornographic show put on by the authorities for their voyeuristic pleasure.

Sarah was the last teenage girl to be hanged in Britain. One hundred years earlier she would have suffered a far worse fate as her crime would have been deemed to be Petty Treason and she would have been burnt at the stake for it.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Women

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