Posts filed under '19th Century'

1820: John and Lavinia Fisher

Add comment February 18th, 2019 Headsman

February 18, 1820 was the execution date of South Carolina crime Hall of Famers John and Lavinia Fisher.

By legendary repute the first serial killer in America, Fisher and her husband John were said to lure travelers to their Six Mile Wayfarer House near Ashley Ferry outside Charleston where they’d be poisoned, stabbed, and robbed.

Alas, the Fishers were actually a more conventional sort of brigand.


National Advocate for the Country (New York, N.Y.), January 28, 1820.

Quite incredible legends have been embroidered for this purported Bates Motel of the early Republic: for instance, that their cover was blown by a man named John Peoples/Peeples who grew suspicious enough to avoid drinking the poisoned tea and then sat up all night like young Felix Platter until he caught wind of the imminent attack, sprang out a window, and fled to safety. If so, it was a woeful failure of the period’s journalists merely to report that he had been savagely beaten and robbed.

A few books about the Lavinia Fisher case

Instead, these two seemed to be part of a gang of bandits who occupied not only their Six Mile House but also the Five Mile House, and Lavinia wasn’t the only woman in the lot: one Jane Howard was among the half-dozen arrested when the Six Mile lair was raided by a vigilante posse in February 1819, along with William Heyward, James M’Elwray, and Seth Young, along with others uncaptured. (Names via National Advocate, March 3, 1819) Papers of the time slate them with offenses like stealing livestock and highway robbery, and it’s the latter crime — not murder — that brought the Fishers to their gallows.

Either way, Charleston tour guides will tell you that she haunts the old city jail to this day. She’s also famous for her purported last words, “If you have a message you want to send to Hell, give it to me; I’ll carry it,” which might even be a real quote.


Alexandria [Va.] Gazette & Daily Advertiser, Feb. 26, 1820

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Hanged,History,Organized Crime,Public Executions,South Carolina,The Supernatural,Theft,USA,Women

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1883: Vasudev Balwant Phadke dies on hunger strike

Add comment February 17th, 2019 Headsman

Vasudev Balwant Phadke died on hunger strike against his British captivity on this date in 1883.

The “father of armed rebellion” in India, Phadke radicalized while working as a clerk in Pune and arose as a prominent revolutionary in 1875 whipping up protests against the British for deposing the Maharaja of Baroda State and for the grinding agricultural crisis.

He took his sharp anti-colonial oratory on a then-novel barnstorming tour, and eventually formed the Ramosi Peasant Force — an armed peasant insurgency consisting of a few hundred souls.

Its successes were more of the local and symbolic variety — most notably, he got control of the city of Pune for a few days — but they sufficed to draw a price on Phadke’s head which eventually found a seller. (Phadke had made contemptuous reply by issuing his own bounty on the Governor of Bombay, a purse that was not claimed.) Even after capture, he briefly escaped by tearing his cell door off his hinges.

Needing to defuse his power as a potential martyr, the British gave him a term of years rather than a death sentence, and they moved him to Aden, Yemen, to serve it. Phadke overruled the sentence and clinched his martyr’s crown by refusing food until he succumbed on February 17, 1883.

There’s an eponymous 2007 biopic celebrating this Indian national hero, clips of which can be found in the usual places.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,England,Guerrillas,History,India,Martyrs,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Starved,Yemen

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1831: Vicente Guerrero, former President of Mexico

2 comments February 14th, 2019 Headsman

Vicente Guerrero, late the president of Mexico, was executed on this date in 1831.

He was once a rebel soldier under Jose Maria Morelos in the Mexican War of Independence against Spain.

The Afro-Mestizo Guerrero (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) cinched that conflict by successfully appealing to his royalist opposite number, Agustin de Iturbide, to switch sides. Their combined forces rode into Mexico City together in September 1821 but the conservative Iturbide and the liberal Guerrero soon parted ways.

Iturbide was elevated to emperor of Mexico; Guerrero by 1823 had returned to the field to rebel against the strongman. When Iturbide was deposed (and eventually executed), Guerrero became one of the ruling triumvirs and a national political figure. He contested the 19281828 presidential election which he lost at the ballot box but won in the ensuing street battles — an affair that featured the intervention on Guerrero’s side of Santa Anna.

He was quick about abolishing slavery and he had to be, for this mixed-race populist was deposed by his conservative vice president within months — beginning another round of civil conflict that was dishonorably resolved when an Italian sea captain arranged with the Mexico City government to lure him aboard and arrest him. For this gambit Judas received 50,000 pesos and Guerrero a summary court-martial and a firing squad at Cuilapam.

The cruel treatment of Guerrero requires an explanation. Bravo had been defeated in 1827 but was merely exiled and there were other similar cases. It is reasonable to ask, therefore, why in the case of Guerrero the government resorted to the ultimate penalty. The clue is provided by Zavala who, writing several years later, noted that Guerrero was of mixed blood and that the opposition to his presidency came from the great landowners, generals, clerics and Spaniards resident in Mexico. These people could not forget the war of independence with its threat of social and racial subversion. Despite his revolutionary past, the wealthy creole Bravo belonged to this “gentleman’s club’, as did the cultured creole, Zavala, even with his radicalism. Hence Guerrero’s execution was perhaps a warning to men considered as socially and ethnically inferior not to dare to dream of becoming president. (Source)

The southern Mexico state of Guerrero is named for him; its slogan, mi patria es primero (my fatherland is first) is the legendary reply that the young Vicente Guerrero made to his Spain-supporting father when asked to foreswear the independence movement.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Heads of State,History,Martyrs,Mexico,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1844: John Knatchbull, moral madman

Add comment February 13th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1844, John Knatchbull hanged before an orderly crowd of 10,000 at Taylor Square in Sydney, Australia.

Knatchbull was among 20 children of a prolific baronet. The youngster fought at sea in the Napoleonic Wars but found himself in financial straits after demobilization and spiraled into a criminality.

Transported to Australia for an armed robbery, he there cultivated an extensive rap sheet — mutiny, forgery, poisoning his guards. It was a comprehensive Jekyll-to-Hyde heel turn: “all traces of a gentleman had long disappeared, he exhibited no evidence that he had been in a higher social position,” wrote a clergyman who visited him. “[H]e appeared to be in his natural place.”

So you couldn’t say that nobody saw it coming in early 1844 when Knatchbull, out on a ticket of leave, went

into the shop of a poor widow, named Ellen Jamieson, and asked for some trifling article. While Mrs. Jamieson was serving him, the ruffian raised a tomahawk, which he held in his hand, and clove the unfortunate woman’s head in a savage manner. She lingered for a few days, and died, leaving two orphan children … though an attempt was made to set up a plea of insanity, a barrister being employed by the agent for the suppression of capital punishment, so foul a villain could not be saved from the gallows. (Source)

This insanity defense was a then-novel “moral insanity” claim contending “a form of mental derangement in which the intellectual faculties were unaffected, but the affects or emotions were damaged, causing patients to be carried away by some kind of furious instinct.” That is, Knatchbull knew that he did wrong when he struck the luckless shopkeep, but he had no power to restrain himself. The court took a pass.


Sketch of the scene at Knatchbull’s hanging.

More fortunate of birth and temperament, John’s brother Edward Knatchbull, who was not only the sitting baronet but the UK’s Paymaster General, made good his vocation by arranging a donative to Ellen Jamieson’s orphaned children.

This family — the donors, not the orphans — remains among the peers of the realm, its vintage baronetcy of Mersham Hatch having been upgraded to a baronage in 1880. It’s currently held by Norton Knatchbull, who is also Earl Mountbatten (he’s the maternal grandson of the Mountbatten who led British forces in Southeast Asia, took down the Union Jack in India, and was assassinated by the IRA).

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Nobility,Notably Survived By,Public Executions

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1876: Owen Lindsay, of the Baldwinsville Homicide

Add comment February 11th, 2019 Headsman

Friend of the site (and sometime guest-blogger) Robert Wilhelm brings this story from his essential Murder by Gaslight

Lindsay’s trip to the gallows began when a mysterious body was fished out of the drink in the upstate New York village of Baldwinsville.

Much as with Homer Simpson (electrocuted in 1929), posterity might indulge a chuckle that the instrument of Lindsay’s hanging was a fellow bearing the subsequently interesting name of Vader; needless to say, though, the means by which Lindsay and his Sith accomplice put Francis Colvin into the Seneca River was no elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

Find the whole post at MBG right here.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,USA

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1803: Antonio Lavagnini, impiccato e squartato

Add comment February 5th, 2019 Headsman

Antonio Lavagnini, impiccato e squartato in Zagarola li 5 febbraio 1803, per aver grassato un uomo avendogli levato 27 paoli.

Antonio Lavagnini hanged and quartered in Zagarola February 5, 1803, for having robbed a man of 27 paoli.

-From the journal of prolific Italian executioner Mastro Titta.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Italy,Papal States,Public Executions,Theft

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1821: Henry Tobin, extortionist

Add comment January 31st, 2019 Headsman

Five men hanged together at Newgate Prison on this date in 1821.

All stood convicted of stealing by means of violence. In four cases, they’d deployed fists and blades further to grim street muggings in the Great Wen.

The fifth, Henry Tobin, used the executioner as his weapon of choice — in the form of a threat to expose a man named Charles Overall for sexual deviance. Such a threat would carry public obloquy and the potential for capital punishment.

The historian Rictor Norton’s archive of reportage on same-sex news from that period informs us that

Tobin was convicted, upon the most satisfatory testimony, of extorting money from a respectable tradesman in Thames-stereet, by threatening to charge him with an unnatural crime; and the audacity with which he several times repeated his extortions has seldom been equalled. He was a young man of genteel appearance and insinuating manners, and possessed talents, which, if well applied, would have rendered him an ornament of society.

In fact, Norton notes at least three other people executed in this same year of 1821 for blackmailing “unnatural criminals.” Yet for this period the same courtrooms where this hard line was held against exploiting sodomites were ones in which sodomy cases were also prosecuted; no doubt there were a few black caps which came out of the drawer on this day for the one varietal and the next day for the other.

The noose ceased to threaten English same-sexers inside of a generation. Extortioners kept up their predations for many, many years beyond.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,Homosexuals,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Theft

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1886: The leadership of the Proletariat Party

Add comment January 28th, 2019 Headsman

A quartet of revolutionary socialists were executed by the tsarist authorities at Warsaw Citadel on this date in 1886.

Poland’s first socialist party of any consequence, the Proletariat was founded in 1882 by Ludwik Warynski.

“Small in number and very young in age,” were these founding socialists, “sons and daughters of a shattered class and a defeated nation.” But Moscow had long feared the diffusion of revolutionary ideologies in Poland, for as an 1873 Russian security brief observed, “of all the lands belonging to his Imperial Majesty the Kingdom of Poland more than any other constitutes a favorable ground for the Internationale.” (Both quotes from The Origins of Polish Socialism: The History and Ideas of the First Polish Socialist Party 1878-1886.)

The Proletariat Party went some way to vindicating the fears of the secret police by gaining several hundred members in its first years and conducting some successful protest campaigns in Warsaw. Naturally this invited state violence on the heads of the leadership; Warynski was in irons by the end of 1883, and would die in prison six years later.

This in turn brought new and more implacable men to the fore of the movement, like one of our day’s principals Stanislaw Kunicki (English Wikipedia entry | Polish) — who better inclined to ally the Proletariat Party with the anti-autocrat terrorist organization Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will). Eventually in the course of the 1880s crackdown

several hundred members of Proletariat were arrested, of whom twenty-nine from the industrial areas of Poland were selected as being principally responsible for the direction of the party. The trial of 23 November to 20 December 1885 produced its first socialist martyrs. In the end the Russian Piotr Bardovsky, Stanislaw Kunicki, the shoemaker Michal Ossowski and the weaver Jan Petrusinski were hanged on 28 January 1886.


A plaque at Warsaw Citadel commemorates the Proletariat martyrs ((cc) image by Mateusz Opasinski.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Poland,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Russia,Treason

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1887: Georgette and Sylvain Thomas, guillotine couples act

Add comment January 24th, 2019 Headsman

Georgette Thomas was guillotined on this date in 1887 at Romorantin, followed moments later by her husband Sylvain.

This farming couple had burned to death Georgett’s mother Marie Lebon six months previous, aided by Georgette’s brothers Alexander and Alexis who both caught life sentences for their participation.

Lebon’s offense? The family had become convinced that mom was a sorceress on the strength of a compounding series of rural disasters: lost hay, failed harvests, sickness striking down horses and chickens and even the human kids.

To exorcise her infernal influence, they doused her with oil and holy water, set her ablaze, and forced her into the farmhouse fireplace … right in front of those kids she had bewitched.

Some two thousand people crowded the public square for this rare spectacle of a husband-wife joint marital severing. So shocking was the execution of the struggling Georgette Thomas in particular — and so distressed was that veteran taker of heads Louis Deibler, who asked out of any female chops in the future — that France never again publicly guillotined a woman.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Witchcraft,Women

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1892: A day in the death penalty around the U.S. South

Add comment January 22nd, 2019 Headsman

All five of the people executed on January 22, 1892, and all four of the victims associated with their various homicides, were African-Americans.


From the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, Jan. 23, 1982.

Robert Carter, hanged in the Camden, Alabama, jail on January 22 for murdering his wife, a crime he admitted.

“The murder was most brutal,” wrote the newsman under the headline pictured above, indulging a touch of anatomical hyperbole. “He followed his wife into the woods from the field where both were working and beat her to death, crushing almost all the bones in her body.”


Less certain was the case of the adulterous lovers Jim Lyles and Margaret Lashley hanged in Danville, Virginia, that same January 22 for slaying Lashley’s husband George.

Lashley asserted her innocence from arrest to execution, and her trial jury had recommended her for mercy. The day before execution, Lyles made a full confession in which he claimed sole responsibility for the crime, exonerating his paramour; Lashley’s bid for an eleventh-hour clemency on the basis of was nevertheless denied.

They died together, “displaying not a semblance of weakness” after “the prayer and song service, which lasted thirty minutes, both principals rendering, in strong harmonious voices, the hymns selected for the occasion.” (Columbia, S.C. State, Jan. 23, 1892)


Lucius Dotson hanged in Savannah, Georgia, on the same morning, for the murder of Jeff Goates.

Even at the late date of 1892, Dotson’s brother, “fearing that medical students had captured Lucius’s carcass, had the coffin opened at the depot … and was surprised to find his broken-neck brother in it.” (Charleston, S.C., News and Courier, Jan. 24, 1892)


The last woman ever hanged in North Carolina, Caroline Shipp died on a Dallas, North Carolina gallows before a crowd of some 3,000 souls.

A woman of “barely 20 years old”, condemned for poisoning her infant child. Under the noose, she “displayed great coolness” and “talked eight minutes, re-affirming her innocence, and declared a man [her lover -ed.] named Mack Farrar committed the crime.” The drop of the rope hit her with what a local paper called “a soul-sickening jerk”; it took her 20 minutes to strangle to death.

The event has proven to have a durable hold on Gaston County’s memory, and Shipp’s claim of innocence continues to interest latter-day researchers.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,Murder,North Carolina,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Virginia,Women

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