Posts filed under '19th Century'

1872: William Frederick Horry, Marwood’s first

7 comments April 1st, 2012 Headsman

If Pa killed Ma, who’d kill Pa?

Marwood.

-Victorian riddle/pun

On this date in 1872, the landmark hanging career of William Marwood commenced — when, having persuaded the authorities at Lincoln Castle Gaol, he executed his very first subject.

The man of the milestone was William Frederick Horry, a Boston native — not Boston, Massachusetts, but the Lincolnshire port that was its namesake.

“Fred” wed Jane and the two ran The George Hotel in Burslem together.

Until Fred’s drunken, possessive outbursts led Jane to flee the house. Let it be said that a partnership in the hospitality industry might not be the ideal choice for your controlling type.

Jane and the couple’s three children actually took refuge with Fred’s own kin, the husband’s father barring his own son from the home. Horry got around that by showing up with a revolver and shooting her dead in an act of coldly calculated passion: he immediately handed the gun to his stunned brother and stayed to await arrest, saying, “You have no notion, Tom, how I loved that woman, but I could not stand the jealousy.” Nor did he show any interest in appealing for clemency; he hanged within days of his conviction.

If this reads to modern eyes like the unedifying passion play of an abusive, loutish spouse, many in Burslem were ready to consider Fred Horry “a martyr, more sinned against than sinning.” (The funeral oration of a rector!) Three thousand people lined the streets to respectfully see Horry’s coffin to its rest; even the requisite crime broadsheet concurred in the apparent public judgment about Jane’s culpably easy virtue.

Now all you who give way to jealous passion,
And the crimes which it entails,
I hope that you will learn a lesson,
From my sad and mournful tale.
Their married life has ended early,
For his wife he says his temper tried
But for them now it is all ended,
For her faults she bled and died.

Supporters erected a monolith in his honor, an unusual tribute for a wife-murderer.


The man tasked to mete out the lesson for Horry’s jealous passion was, heretofore, a Horncastle cobbler.

Already into his fifties by this time, William Marwood was strictly self-educated in the science of hanging … but it is he who would bring the exacting mechanical arts to the hangman’s ancient craft.

(Actually, Marwood was fond of distinguishing himself from the mere hangman. “Calcraft hanged them,” he said of his notoriously slipshod predecessor’s operations. “I execute them.” He went so far as to assert his professionalism with business cards.)

To make this famous mark in the annals of capital punishment, Marwood the cobbler first had to talk his way into the Horry job. This was surely facilitated by the fact that the most recent execution at Lincoln Castle, that of Priscilla Biggadike or Biggadyke, had been a bit of a botch, with one of the realm’s forgettable barely-competent hangmen clumsily fitting the noose to the front of the convict’s throat on the supposition that this would snap her neck. Instead, she strangled.

Marwood’s arrival spelled the quick end to folklore and guesswork on the scaffold; his was the rational hand of industrial Britain finally touching the ancient hanging ritual.

For most of English history, the hanging had entailed simply shoving the unfortunate subject off a ladder or a cart, leaving them to gradually choke to death at the end of the noose. This protracted process was sometimes associated with unruly public scenes, and with “executed” criminals surviving (and even intentionally calculating to survive) the hanging. “Such as have but a very superficial Notion of Anotomy, may easily conceive how a Person very soon cut down may shew even strong Signs of Life,” the Ordinary of Newgate had passingly remarked in 1736, as if it really were no big deal.

Of course, it had long been understood that adding a little plummet could generate the force necessary to break the neck, to the advantage of both speed and certainty. Guy Fawkes is supposed to have exploited the carelessness of a Stuart executioner to hurl himself off the ladder when they were just setting up for the non-fatal hanging portion of his “hanged, drawn, and quartered” sentence — and thereby cleverly offed himself before they could do the agonizing Braveheart bits to his living body.

Small drops came into use with the move towards hanging platforms late in the 18th century, and by the mid-19th century larger drops of some kind were standard operating procedure: witness the description of the setup for the country’s first private hanging a few years before our date.

But the length and the nature of the drop remained very much within individual hangmen’s ad hoc discretion. The science of dropping would only arrive in the 1860s and 1870s.

The Irish doctor Samuel Haughton in 1866 published a landmark paper, “On hanging considered from a Mechanical and Physiological point of view” (read it here), in which he noted that whereas a short-dropped prisoner’s death by apoplexy or asphyxiation is “preceded by convulsions, lasting from five to forty-five minutes,” a broken neck “is instantaneous and painless, and is unaccompanied by any convulsive movement whatever.”

“It seems to me unworthy of the present state of science,” Haughton continued, “to continue a mode of execution which, as at present used, is extremely clumsy and also painful to the criminal.”

In a mass of equations abstractly working out foot-pounds’ shock expended on the neck and which vertebrae constituted the superior articulating surface, Haughton proceeded to suggest a protocol (adapted from the American drop method) “to give hanging all the rapidity of death by the guillotine without the painful spectacle of bloodshed.”

Haughton was just a theorist. Marwood actually put those concepts into practice.

Marwood is presumed to have been influenced by Haughton’s studies; although the basis for that renowned hangmanexecutioner‘s calculations is not known, Marwood is distinguished as the creator of the “long drop” hanging method — giving variable 4- to 10-foot falls to his subjects based on their body weight, with the knot stationed under the left jawline.

He was able to do all that because this first hanging of William Horry went off without a hitch. Still, as a nonentity at first, Marwood had to continue to hustle his hanging assignments — as with this solicitous handwritten 1873 pitch (page 1, page 2) to work an upcoming death date.

But Marwood’s clean long drops — he was the only executioner using the technique — soon secured him appointment as state executioner and the official London and Middlesex hangman. Over an 11-year career from 1872 to 1883, Marwood put 178 humans to death, the bulk of British executions during that period.

Marwood’s legacy — not his direct creation, since it was formalized in the years following his death — was the bureaucratic standardization of the hanging in the form of “drop tables” defining the length of rope to use relative to the weight of the executed prisoner to guarantee the death penalty would be implemented “in a becoming manner without risk of failure or miscarriage in any respect.”

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1815: Anthony Lingard, the last gibbeted in Derbyshire

1 comment March 28th, 2012 Headsman

On this date* in 1815, Anthony Lingard was hanged for murder and robbery at Derby.

Lingard strangled the widow who operated the Wardlow Miers tollbooth in order to rob her poor possessions and lavish those ill-gotten proceeds upon the girl he had impregnated — “with a view to induce her to father the child upon some other person.” That’s the world without contraception for you.

Lingard’s girl thought this bribe fishy and gave him back the widow’s incriminatingly distinctive shoes after hearing reports that footwear had been taken from the murder scene. Then, she testified against him at the Derby Assizes (Lingard had also confessed the crime). Tried on Saturday the 25th, convicted “after a few minutes,” and strung up in front of the county gaol at noontime Tuesday, Lingard “met his fate with a firmness which would deserve the praise of fortitude if it was not the result of insensibility. He appeared but little agitated or dejected by his dreadful situation.”

Rather than the increasingly standard post-execution coda of anatomization, Lingard’s body was given over to a use of more ancient vintage: gibbeting.

Hung up in chains on the aptly named Gibbot Field in Wardlow near the spot of the murder, Lingard’s bleaching bones provided a grisly object lesson to passersby of the consequences of crime. Or, maybe not: though the novelty at first made a crowd-pleasing spectacle, it soon faded into the scenery.

A few years later, a 16-year-old girl poisoned off a rival in the very shadow of the gibbet, winding up executed for her trouble. A younger fellow named William Lingard eventually drew a death sentence for highway robbery committed near his own older brother’s clanking remains — a sentence commuted to convict transportation.

If what was left of Anthony Lingard failed to overawe his criminal counterparts, it did at least leave an impression on poet William Newton, who penned this sad meditation on the local landmark, found in full here. (It must have helped his perspective that Newton was into his sixties when the young pup hanged.)

“The supposed Soliloquy of a Father, under the Gibbet of his Son; upon one of the Peak Mountains”
TIME — Midnight. SCENE — A Storm.

 Art thou, my Son, suspended here on high? —
Ah! what a sight to meet a Father’s eye!
To see what most I prized, what most I loved.
What most I cherish’d, — and once most approved,
Hung in mid air to feast the nauseous worm.
And waving horrid in the midnight storm!

 Let me be calm; — down, down, my swelling soul;
Ye winds, be still, — ye thunders, cease to roll!
No! ye fierce winds, in all your fury rage;
Ye thunders, roll; ye elements, engage;
O’er me be all your mutual terrors spread.
And tear the thin hairs from my frenzied head:
Bring all your wrathful stores from either pole.
And strike your arrows through my burning soul :
I feel not, — fear not, — care not, — shrink not, — when
I know, — believe, — and feel, — ye are not men!
Storms but fulfil the high decrees of God,
But man usurps his sceptre and his rod.
Tears from his hand the ensigns of his power.
To be the petty tyrant of an hour.

 My Son! My Son! how dreadful was thy crime!
Thy name stands branded to remotest time;
Gives all thy kindred to the eye of scorn,
Both those who are, and those that may be born;
Scatters through ages on thy hapless race
In every stage of life, and death, — disgrace:
In youth’s gay prime, in manhood’s perfect bloom.
Ah! more, — it ends not, dies not, on the tomb!
O woman! woman! choicest blessing given.
If pure; — the highest gift of highest heaven!
If lax, corrupt, deceitful, — worse than hell!
Worse than the worst of demons dare to tell!
It was thy lot, ill-fated Son! to find
Thy doom pour’d on thee by the faithless kind;
Fraudful, and false, their treacherous snares they spread.
And whelm’d destruction on thy thoughtless head.

 To die, to perish from the face of earth.
Oblivion closing on thy name and birth.
Hid under ground from each invidious eye,
From every curious, every rancorous spy,
Was what thy crime deserved: — not more;
The rest seems cruelty. — When heretofore
Our barbarous sires the aweful Gibbet rear’d.
The Gibbet only, not the laws were fear’d:
The untutored ruffian, of an untaught clime,
Fear’d more the punishment than dreaded crime.
We boast refinement, say our laws are mild.
Dealt equally to all, the man, the child: —
But ye, who, argue thus, come here and see,
Feel with a Father’s feelings; — feel with me!
See that poor shrivell’d form the tempest brave.
See the red lightning strike, the waters lave.
The thunders volleying on that fenceless breast! —
Who can see this, and wish him not at rest?

At rest, — vague word! — the immaterial mind
Perhaps even now is floating on the wind: —
Ah! no, — not mind, — not spirit, — but the shell;
The mind ere this has drank of Mercy’s well:
‘Tis not for that I feel, for that I sigh.
But sweltering, putrid, rank mortality.
O! blind to truth, to all experience blind.
Who think such spectacles improve mankind:
Bid untamed youth on such sights feast his eyes,
Harden you may, but never humanise.
Ye who have life, or death, at your command.
If crime demand it, let the offender die.
But let no more the Gibbet brave the sky:
No more let vengeance on the dead be hurl’d.
But hide the victim from a gazing world.

Anthony Lingard was the last person ever gibbeted in Derbyshire. England abolished gibbeting and hanging in chains full stop in the 1830s.

* The date March 8 is widely attributed on other sites, but the primary documentation for March 28 is unambiguous. I want to suspect a seminal typo somewhere that’s been copied a thousand other times over.

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1875: Tiburcio Vasquez, California bandido

5 comments March 19th, 2012 Headsman

A spirit of hatred and revenge took possession of me. I had numerous fights in defense of what I believed to be my rights and those of my countrymen. I believed we were unjustly deprived of the social rights that belonged to us.

-Tiburcio Vasquez

On this date in 1879, legendary Californio outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez was hanged in San Jose.

Born to a respectable family (his grandfather was the first mayor of San Jose) when the land was under Mexican control, Vasquez was among the many chagrined to find themselves demoted to second-class citizenry by the norteamericano conquest of the Mexican-American War.

That occurred when Vasquez was in his early teens, and soon thereafter the young man was plying California’s ill-policed byways with the whole litany of depredations characteristic of the frontier outlaw: livestock rustling, highway robbing, shopkeep stickups.*

One of the latter furnished the proximate cause of his death and probably the most infamous single incident among his exploits: an armed robbery in Tres Pinos** that resulted in three shooting deaths and a serious manhunt.

For Vasquez, the end of the rope (last word: “Pronto”) was just the last act of a legendary career, of poetry and horsemanship and countless enchanted inamoratas. He was renowned in his own time, and has graduated since into a mythical, and potently symbolic, figure of the other peoples of the Golden West.

For this anniversary of Tiburcio Vasquez’s execution, we’re pleased to welcome John Boessenecker, author of the recent biography Bandido: The Life and Times of Tiburcio Vasquez . (Find another topical interview with this same author here.)

Book CoverHow did you separate fact from folklore researching this outlaw? How much do we really know about him?

Generally speaking the whole genre of outlaws and lawmen is sort of known for bad research and myths and crazy stories. It tends to attract — here I’m denigrating myself– people who are a little off. Like myself. The movie buffs tend to get reality mixed up with what they’ve seen in the movies.

The whole genre has attracted poor research and sensational writers since the days of the dime novels. Though there are real historical groups: the Wild West History Association is probably the best example — True West magazine and Wild West magazine do a god job of publishing authentic history.

With Vasquez in particular, he became a folk hero in his own lifetime to disadvantaged Hispanics.

He was personally very well-liked; as a general rule, he didn’t rob Hispanics (although he did from time to time); he paid for safe harbor and food; he was a terrific dancer; he wrote poetry to is female admirers. He was a bigger-than-life personality, sort of the life of the party.

Among the larger Hispanic community as he became more notorious in the 1870s, he became a folk hero in his own lifetime. A lot of the myths are exaggerations of things he really did.

When the colonized cannot earn a living within the system, or when they are degraded, they strike out. The most physical way is to rebel. This can be done in an organized way, as was done by Juan Cortina in Texas, or it can express itself in bandit activity. An analysis of the life of Tiburcio Vasquez clearly demonstrates that, while in the strict sense of the word he was a criminal, at the same time his underlying motivation was self-defense. Some Anglo-American folklorists have attempted to portray Tiburcio Vasquez as a comical and oversexed Mexican bandit … dismiss[ing] the legitimate grievance of Chicanos during the nineteenth century. While it is true that Tiburcio Vasquez was an outlaw, many Mexicans still consider him a hero.

-Rodolfo Acuña, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos

His outlaw career seems like it’s bound up in this Anglo-Hispanic cultural collision. To what extent does that influence how he’s “read” by others?

His life is sort of a microcosm of what was going on. The first portion of my book deals with the rise and fall of the native settlers of California.

With the loss of California in the Mexican-American War and then the discovery of gold, they became second-class citizens in their own land. So Vasquez becomes a folk hero — he robbed stagecoaches, thumbed his nose at the sheriff, and got away.

But he was also a bandit.

In the 1960s, the so-called Chicano historians (pdf) latched on to Vasquez, and they actually believed he was a Robin Hood figure or a “social bandit”. This is a total crock.

You find these same outlaw myths in all cultures. Vasquez is no different, though he’s better documented than most. People would sing corridos about him.

There were some quotes by him that says that he was driven to it, the Anglos drove me to it — but that’s no different from Jesse James or Billy the Kid saying they were driven to it, even if it’s true. Most of these guys I’m talking about are or were history professors; they should have known better.

What led you to this story?

When I was a kid in the early 60s I watched all the westerns. Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen were my favorite. But then I wanted to know, was there a Wild West here in California? So when I got into high school I went and read everything I could get my hands on about early California history.

Vasquez and Black Bart were pretty much the most famous early California outlaws. So I started researching Vasquez in high school, and collected information for about 40 years, but it took me another four years to write it.

There’s never been a biography about Vasquez. There were three paperback books published about him, one after he was captured and two right after he was hanged — they’re not dime novels, but they’re sort of semi-fictional. There have been many magazines, many book chapters since, but everything published about him has just been a rehash of those three books. (n.b. — here’s a pdf of one of those original 1870s books -ed.)

It must have been a compelling story for you to stick with it for 40 years.

It’s just sort of a great story from early California. Vasquez was very colorful.

He fell under the influence of a guy named Anastacio Garcia when he was about 16 years old, and his parents seem to have separated. He had a large family; all of them were extremely honest. One of his brothers was a very prominent rancher; another brother served a term as a justice of the peace in Los Angeles County.

Vasquez, possibly because his father wasn’t around, fell under the influence of Garcia and got involved in the Roach-Belcher feud. Garcia was a hired gun, and the two of them were involved in a brawl in a Fandango house in 1854 and one of them killed a local constable. Tiburcio Vasquez fled Monterrey and never appeared openly after that.

But he basically did not change.

He was engaged to Garcia’s sister when he was 17 and she apparently broke it off. That seemed to have embittered him because he never had another serious relationship again with another woman. He was a real rounder, he got shot over women, took off with the wives of other gang members.

That was very foolish — that’s what got him the noose, when a cuckolded gang member testified against him at trial. He never made any effort to change; he was what you call a career criminal.

He was a very cultured person, and even if you compare him to more modern-day criminals like Clyde Barrow or Pretty Boy Floyd or John Dillinger, none of them had that kind of culture. He really was sort of the prototype of that sort of charismatic bandit who at the same time is both charming and deadly.

Probably the thing to me that was the most fascinating was the information I dug up about his family: his parents, his sisters who were very loyal to him; his brothers who all tried to get him to go straight. I was very pleased to meet the descendants of some of his brothers, so it was fascinating to reconstruct his family life to try to explain his personality.

So what was the nature of that bandit career?

Well, he wasn’t a remorseless killer, though he was involved in nine murders — he always said it was someone else.

The one that he was hanged for, his gang killed three people in a robbery. He claimed someone else pulled the trigger. Some witnesses said it was Vasquez himself, but under the law then and now, if you band together to commit a felony and someone dies, everyone involved is culpable for murder.

He’d been doing a lot of robberies before then, but he’d do them in remote areas. He tried not to kill anyone; he’d tie people up — but he was also involved in a lot of gunfights. Basically he’d shoot to escape. In doing the research I found that he had fired into a brothel in Santa Cruz and wounded three people; another time he fired into a stagecoach station.

One of the great Vasquez stories is, he gets out of San Quentin and he goes to San Juan Bautista which is one of the most picturesque villages in California then and now — it was one of his favorite hangouts. One of his gang members, Salazar, had tried to go straight. Vasquez shows up at San Juan and finds out that Salazar has married this gorgeous 15-year-old named “Pepita” and he and another gang member lust after her and get her to run off with the gang. So Salazar comes gunning for him; they have a gunfight right there in front of the mission, and Salazar shoots Vasquez through the chest and damn near kills him. His gang gets him out of it … the girl gets pregnant, evidently with Tiburcio’s child and she dies of a botched abortion. It’s sort of the Vasquez story in a microcosm, it looks pretty romantic on the surface and you look a little deeper and it becomes pretty grisly.

He gave a lot of interviews after he was captured and they give color to the story. There’s the natural human inclination to paint yourself in the best light.

None of which helped him avoid execution.

His hanging was actually the most publicized hanging in the history of the Pacific coast; newspapers came from Canada, New York all over the country to witness the hanging.

He was hanged in front of a big crowd, a thousand people or more present. People climbed trees and telegraph poles became the jailhouse was packed. The sheriff had 300 or 400 invitations issued and then many many more were clustered around.


Executed Today would be remiss not to add that our day’s gallows-bird was the namesake of the Vasquez Rocks, a small Natural Area Park north of Los Angeles where the outlaw used to hide out.


The Vasquez Rocks. (cc) image from KateMonkey.

This striking triangular rock formation, thrust out of the earth by tectonic action, has been used extensively in film productions of every genre since at least the 1930s, including with almost compulsive frequency in the Star Trek franchise — e.g., Captain Kirk fighting the Gorn:

* There’s a good deal of material about Tiburcio’s career linked here.

** The Tres Pinos robbed by Vasquez’s gang is now known as Paicines; it would lose its original name to the distinct settlement that grew up around the Tres Pinos train station 4.7 miles away.

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1865: Marcellus Jerome Clarke, “Sue Mundy”

2 comments March 15th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1865, Marcellus Jerome Clarke rode a carriage to a scaffold on Broadway Ave. in Louisville, Ky., where he addressed the multitude thus:

I am a regular Confederate soldier, and have served in the Confederate army four years … I could prove that I am a regular Confederate soldier, and I hope to die for the Confederate cause.

And then he did.

Clarke‘s last remarks were a protest against Kentucky’s military government. Having captured Clarke just three days before, it refused him prisoner-of-war status; regarding him rather as a franc-tireur, it gave him a pro forma secret trial even while throwing up the gallows for the preordained hanging.

This border region between North and South had seen bitter guerrilla war. As one indicator: the Northern effort in the Bluegrass State to suppress Confederate irregulars had been led by a general who earned the nickname “Butcher of Kentucky” for his ruthless exertions.

Stubbornly eluding those exertions (the Butcher was gone by March 1865) was Clarke, an elfin captain of 20 years with a band of cavalry raiders (in)famous for its hit-and run raids on Union men and supplies. (And on one infamous occasion, 30 African-American cattle-drivers.)

It was during this time that stories began circulating of a daring female commando, a “she-devil in pantaloons,” and the picturesque character — perfectly calibrated to twist the Butcher’s tail — seized popular imagination and moved newspapers.

While the honor is disputed by another Kentucky irregular hanged later in 1865, this “Sue Mundy” (or Munday) character soon came to be identified with the androgynous, just-old-enough-for-his-riding-license Clarke.

The Louisville Journal fantastically embroidered the Mundy legend and its alleged connection to Clarke — editorializing, for instance, that Clarke cross-dressed for amusement and advantage and could pull off his female alter ego thanks to his

“fair [complexion], long dark hair, which touched his shoulders, and a beautifully shaped mouth” (Mar. 16, 1865)

and his

“medium female statue, small feet and hands, face beardless and quite handsome, voice soft and feminine — all together making a counterfeit so perfect that even John Morgan, on a certain occasion, mistook him for a female.” (Jan. 14, 1865)


Right?

A captured Clarke would eventually complain that “he was not guilty for one-tenth of the outrages that he had been charged with and that the Louisville Journal had done him a great injustice.” Maybe he’d never heard that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

The publicity this afternoon, of course, was of the very worst variety, albeit not exactly inimical to the celebrity racket.

“The fall was not more than three feet, and did not break his neck; he choked to death. We have seen a great many persons hung, but never before did we witness such hard struggles and convulsions. It was feared for a time that he would break the lashings. His sufferings, however, were of short duration. Thus ended the career of the notorious Sue Mundy.”

Several historical markers in Kentucky still commemorate that notorious career.

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1862: Martin Dumollard, l’assassin des bonnes

1 comment March 8th, 2012 Headsman

It’s the sesquicentennial of France’s beheading of Martin Dumollard, one of the earliest — some even venture the earliest — serial killers in the modern record.

From Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors, this is no mere death mask — but the actual skin of the killer. More pictures here, including Dumollard’s creepy house.

This dull peasant spent at least the latter half of the 1850s (and maybe the first half, too) visiting Lyon where he would lure impecunious girls with the promise of good wages in a domestic position.

We know very well that there was no job awaiting these young women, but the twist is that Dumollard wasn’t a sex-killer, either — he just wanted to throttle his marks, drink their blood, and steal their poor clothes and meager possessions to re-sell them.

So, a strange, scary man: here’s his French Wikipedia page; most of the resources about him are in French, but this little biography should suffice to orient the Anglophone.

And in Second Empire France, with its haunting specters of Communism and nationalism, the migration of country bumpkins like Dumollard into urban areas, and the existential threat posed the entire polity by the rise of neighboring Prussia … in that France, Dumollard’s shocking spree really agitated the id of the respectable French bourgeoisie.

Relentless and grim — Dumollard had actually seen his own father put to death when the family fled as refugees to Italy during his boyhood — the illiterate, middle-aged murderer as presented to the public heedlessly stuffed his face with food while maintaining a near-total disinterest in the criminal case that would claim his head. He’d also shown no interest in subterfuge, leading the courts to castigate police for not detecting him years earlier even though several girls had escaped from him. His wife abetted the whole thing, dutifully washing out the victims’ stained clothes before market days. (She got a sentence of hard labor.)

Dumollard must have looked to his betters like some vengeful golem arisen from the soil, a homicidal automaton not even impelled by any recognizable human avidity, and a frightening warning of what might befall them.

According to Albert Borowitz, the unveiling a few months later of Jean-Francois Millet’s unnerving painting The Man with the Hoe raised hackles in France (and it did raise hackles) partly because of the farmer’s perceived resemblance to Martin Dumollard.


L’homme à la houe (The Man with the Hoe), by Jean-Francois Millet. “A monster without brow, dim-eyed and with an idiotic rictus, planted in the middle of a field like a scarecrow,” wrote Paul de Saint-Victor of this painting. “No trace of intelligence humanizes this brute at rest. Has he just been working, or murdering? Does he dig the land or hollow out the grave?

“The public voice has found his name: it is Dumollard, gravedigger of the good.”

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1865: Antone Richers, Galveston deserter

Add comment March 3rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1865, the Confederate forces defending Galveston, Texas shot Antone Richers for desertion.

With the U.S. Civil War into its mopping-up phase, the Texas port was bracing for the Union to land an irresistible force. Many soldiers inclined less to brace than to bow: with the handwriting on the wall for any fool to see, the grey army suffered an epidemic of judicious desertions.

Antone Richers was one of these. Just, maybe not so judicious.

Richers was retrieved from the drink when the stolen boat he was attempting to ride out to the Union blockade capsized, and the upright Confederate officer who pulled him out wouldn’t take a bribe to keep keep quiet about it.

Condemned “to be shot to death with musketry” for his trouble, Richers died this date in especially pitiable fashion. According to Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston, a newspaper report of the execution ran thus:

A sharp rattle of musketry, and the prisoner fell dead, several balls having passed through his breast … The saddest part of the story remains to be told. The friends of [the prisoner] had sent Rev. Father Ansteadt on the day before the execution, by hand car, to Houston, as bearer of documents addressed to General Walker, showing that [Richers] was not of sound mind, and setting forth other reasons why he ought to be respited. The telegraph line between [Galveston] and Houston broke down the evening before the execution, and remained down [until] fifteen minutes after the execution. No intelligence from General Walker could therefore reach [Galveston]. But as soon as the telegraph operated, a dispatch was received from General Walker, dated the night before, containing an order for the respite of Anton [Richers]. It was too late — the man was dead.

It was Galveston’s second and last military execution of the war.


Galveston’s Confederate monument, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy: “Dignified Resignation”. (cc) image from Patrick Feller.

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1864: Martin Robinson, treacherous guide

1 comment March 1st, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1864, a Union officer frustrated of a design to raid Richmond during the U.S. Civil War hanged a local African-American guide whom he thought had intentionally misled him like Susanin.

The account of an army chaplain attached to the 5th New York Cavalry explains:

The guide, a negro, had misled us during the night, and, to obviate the delay of retracing our steps. Col. Dahlgren, on the representations of the negro that an excellent ford was to be found at Dover Mills, concluded to cross at that point. After two hours’ halt we again moved on, and soon reached Dover Mills, but only to meet disappointment.


Dover Milles, Civil War era illustration

The negro had deceived us, no ford existed at this point nor any means of crossing the river. He then stated that the ford was three miles below: this was obviously false, as the river was evidently navigable to and above this place, as we saw a sloop going down the river.

… he came into our lines from Richmond … [and] was born and had always belonged in the immediate vicinity of Dover Mills, was very shrewd and intelligent, and it would seem impossible that he should not know that no ford existed in the neighborhood, where he had seen vessels daily passing. Col. Dahlgren had warned him that if detected acting in bad faith, or lying, we would surely hang him, and after we left Dover Mills, and had gone down the river so far as to render further prevarication unavailing, the colonel charged him with betraying us, destroying the whole design of the expedition, and hazarding the lives of every one engaged in it, — and told him that he should be hung in conformity with the terms of his service. The negro became greatly alarmed, stated confusedly that he was mistaken, thought we intended to cross the river in boats, and finally said that he had done wrong, was sorry, etc. The colonel ordered him to be hung, — a halter strap was used for the purpose, and we left the miserable wretch dangling by the roadside.

Our correspondent terms this the case of the “Faithless Negro”, but posterity has the luxury of a less paranoiac reading than indulged by a troupe of hotheaded commandos deep in enemy territory all a-panic as their expedition implodes. The James River was just plain swollen with winter rains. Bad luck all around.

A Goochland County marker marks the spot of the botched crossing and subsequent execution.

But we’re really just getting started. Stay tuned for some serious blowback from this bootless military debacle.

The full story of the raid is a tangled and contested affair, but it’s well worth perusing in detail. To sum up:

This expedition’s leader, Col. Ulric Dahlgren, abandoned the effort and in the attempt to fall back, rode into a Confederate ambush the next day. He died in the fusillade, while his men were captured.

The body of this late Col. Dahlgren, on whose authority our misfortunate guide was put to death, was found by the Confederates to bear some startling papers* … indicating that the intent of his ill-starred expedition was not merely to liberate starving northern prisoners, but that “once in the City it must be destroyed & Jeff. Davis and Cabinet killed.”

Within days, the story was abroad and Richmond newspapers floridly outraged at this proposed breach of chivalrous warfare.

Though Confederate General Robert E. Lee was able to quash public demands for the Dahlgren party’s summary execution, the documents may indeed have marked a turning point in the war’s conduct, a public announcement of total warfare sufficient for the South to “inaugurate a system of bloody retaliations.”** If so, it was a well-timed license: the Confederacy was in the process of being steamrolled and would soon require recourse to more desperate strategems.

After Dahlgren, argues Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Lincoln, “there was an increase in Confederate clandestine activity designed to encourage the antiwar faction in the North to organize and revolt” — even including a mirror-image Confederate cavalry raid on Washington D.C. with an eye towards capturing Lincoln.

There are, in fact, some historians who postulate that it was “bloody retaliation” for Dahlgren’s attempt on the Confederate president that ultimately led southern agents to initiate the late-war plots against Abraham Lincoln’s person — resulting ultimately in Lincoln’s assassination:

Ulric Dahlgren, and [his] probable patron [U.S. Secretary of War] Edwin Stanton set out to engineer the death of the Confederacy’s president; the legacy spawned out of the utter failure of their effort may have included the death of their own president.

That is some blowback.

Books exploring the alleged link between the Dahlgren Papers and the Lincoln assassination

* It must be said that the Dahlgren papers have been continually contested as frauds from the moment they were known, though many historians do indeed consider them legitimate. We are in no position to contribute to that debate, and for the purposes of this post’s narration the question is immaterial: the papers, forged or not, certainly existed, were widely publicized, and genuinely angered many southerners.

** These words are the demand of the March 8, 1864 Richmond Dispatch.

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1856: Auguste Chapdelaine, saintly casus belli

1 comment February 29th, 2012 Headsman

On February 29, 1856, local Chinese officials in Guangxi beheaded French missionary priest Auguste Chapdelaine — and handed his countrymen a pretext for war.

Chapdelaine (English Wikipedia page | French) had gone illegally to the Chinese interior to proselytize Christianity.

The local mandarin Zhang Mingfeng was no doubt disposed to take such an harsh line against this provocation by virtue of the ongoing, Christian-inspired Taiping Rebellion, which had originated right there in Guangxi and was in the process of engulfing all of southern China in one of history’s bloodiest conflicts.

So Chapdelaine and his associates were snapped up, put to a few days’ dreadful torture, and on this date a Chinese convert and Chapdelaine were both summarily beheaded. (A female convert, Agnes Tsaou-Kong, expired under torture around the same time.)

Pietistic accounts of believers’ last extremes are here and here.


(Images from this French page.)

It took months for word of this martyrdom to reach French consular officials, and many months more for the gears of international diplomacy to turn — but when they did so, France pressed a demand for reparations.

Since pere Chapdelaine had been acting illegally in the first place, the Qing’s obdurate Viceroy Ye(h) adamantly refused to offer Paris satisfaction.

By 1858, this intransigence sufficed to license French entry (alongside Britain) into the Second Opium War, from which the Europeans won by force of arms a noxious treaty guaranteeing their right to push Christianity in China, extracting a couple million silver taels in damages, and (of course) assuring their right to traffic opium into China.

It would be rather ungenerous to hold all the ugly imperial consequences personally against our day’s martyr. August Chapdelaine was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2000 as one of 120 Martyrs of China.

China was not impressed by this celebration of a onetime colonial catspaw, and met the Vatican’s “anti-China” celestial promotion announcement with one of its own — charging that Chapdelaine “collaborated with corrupt local officials, raped women and was notorious in those areas [where he preached].”

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1845: Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Dominican Republic heroine

Add comment February 27th, 2012 Headsman

We’ve previously noted in these pages Francisco del Rosario Sanchez, one of the Dominican Republic’s founding heroes, who in 1861 was shot for propounding independence.

Martyrdom was the family business.

On February 27, 1845, his sister Maria Trinidad Sanchez (Spanish link) had been, well, shot for propounding independence. (More Spanish)

That date, February 27, also happens to be the Dominican Republic’s Independence Day celebration — because a year to the date before her death, Maria Sanchez, her brother, and others of the anti-colonial La Trinitaria proclaimed independence from a bloody 22-year Haitian occupation.

Maria Sanchez, together with another woman named Concepcion Bona, made the first Dominican Republic flag.


Sanchez and Bona’s original flag for the Dominican Republic.

This was all well and good, until the resulting head of state steered the Dominican Republic towards recolonization by Spain, as a hedge against reconquest by Haiti. La Trinitaria types took an understandably dim view of this gambit, so busting them up was part of the deal.

Many of the country’s founding heroes, including brother Francisco, were chased into exile; Maria was rounded up by the new government and tortured for information about the Trinitarian “plots” against the new regime. She refused to name any names, and was shot on the country’s first independence anniversary.

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1870: Wyatt Outlaw lynched by the Ku Klux Klan

2 comments February 26th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1870, the lynching of a mulatto freedman in Alamance County, North Carolina sounded the tocsin for ex-Confederates’ rollback of Reconstruction.

Perhaps America’s most tragic period, the aftermath of the Civil War saw a too-brief attempt to enforce ex-slaves’ civil rights, before it succumbed to violent counterattack. The prevailing historiography in the century-long era of Southern apartheid that followed remembered it as a time of impertinent Negroes ravishing Dixie’s virtue by being seated in the legislature and giving orders to their natural betters.

Winners write history, after all.

Those of the pro-Republican coalition at the time, before Northerners folded their hand, had a mind to write a different history.

Alamance County was one epicenter of this aborted alternative. The enclave was cool to secession from the beginning, and in the early years of Reconstruction had a live black-white coalition. Wyatt Outlaw, a mixed-race Alamance native who had fought for the Union, was a local leader in it. A member of the antislavery Union League, which registered freedmen as voters throughout the South, he was appointed a town commissioner for Graham, N.C. under the state’s new constitution.

This made him a prime target of Ku Kluxers. On the night of February 26, 1870, an armed party of white supremacists about 100 strong raided his home and strung him up on an elm tree facing the county courthouse. Pinned to his corpse for the edification of the morning’s churchgoers was a note:

“Beware you guilty — both white and black.”

North Carolina Governor William Holden complained to the U.S. Senate of federal unwillingness to act against such outrages.

What is being done to protect good citizens in Alamance County? We have Federal troops, but we want power to act. Is it possible the government will abandon its loyal people to be whipped and hanged? The habeas corpus should be at once suspended.

After another pro-Reconstruction politician was murdered later that year, Holden boldly took the initiative himself and called out the troops to arrest suspected Klansmen. But the right-wing Democratic party won midterm elections in 1870, and promptly impeached Holden for this atrocious tyranny; he was the first U.S. governor ever removed from office by impeachment.*


A “carpetbagger” ally of Wyatt Outlaw named Albion Tourgee — a judge who stood as one of North Carolina’s most prominent and hated advocates for African American equality — later wrote a novel about his experiences, A Fool’s Errand, by One of the Fools. Now in the public domain and available free online, this book’s portrayal of the Reconstruction South is receiving renewed scholarly appreciation** — including Tourgee’s catalogue of terrorism against emancipated blacks and the Republican government. The novel was a sensation (pdf) in its time.

One of the characters in Fool’s Errand is a nearly exact representation of Wyatt Outlaw: “Uncle Jerry Hunt”, who resists the Klan. It is “chiefly through Uncle Jerry’s persuasions, and because of his prominence and acknowledged leadership, this spirit had gone out among the colored men of the county.” He meets a graphic end that almost journalistically reports Outlaw’s real fate.

It was a chill, dreary night. A dry, harsh wind blew from the north. The moon was at the full, and shone clear and cold in the blue vault.

There was one shrill whistle, some noise of quietly moving horses; and those who looked from their windows saw a black-gowned and grimly-masked horseman sitting upon a draped horse at every corner of the streets, and before each house, –grim, silent, threatening. Those who saw dared not move, or give any alarm. Instinctively they knew that the enemy they had feared had come, had them in his clutches, and would work his will of them, whether they resisted or not. So, with the instinct of self-preservation, all were silent–all simulated sleep.

Five, ten, fifteen minutes the silent watch continued. A half-hour passed, and there had been no sound. Each masked sentry sat his horse as if horse and rider were only some magic statuary with which the bleak night cheated the affrighted eye. Then a whistle sounded on the road toward Verdenton. The masked horsemen turned their horses’ heads in that direction, and slowly and silently moved away. Gathering in twos, they fell into ranks with the regularity and ease of a practiced soldiery, and, as they filed on towards Verdenton, showed a cavalcade of several hundred strong; and upon one of the foremost horses rode one with a strange figure lashed securely to him.

When the few who were awake in the little village found courage to inquire as to what the silent enemy had done, they rushed from house to house with chattering teeth and trembling limbs, only to find that all were safe within, until they came to the house where old Uncle Jerry Hunt had been dwelling alone since the death of his wife six months before. The door was open.

The house was empty. The straw mattress had been thrown from the bed, and the hempen cord on which it rested had been removed.

The sabbath morrow was well advanced when the Fool [i.e., Tourgee himself] was first apprised of the raid. He at once rode into the town, arriving there just as the morning services closed, and met the people coming along the streets to their homes. Upon the limb of a low-branching oak not more than forty steps from the Temple of Justice, hung the lifeless body of old Jerry. The wind turned it slowly to and fro. The snowy hair and beard contrasted strangely with the dusky pallor of the peaceful face, which seemed even in death to proffer a benison to the people of God who passed to and fro from the house of prayer, unmindful both of the peace which lighted the dead face, and of the rifled temple of the Holy Ghost which appealed to them for sepulture. Over all pulsed the sacred echo of the sabbath bells. The sun shone brightly. The wind rustled the autumn leaves. A few idlers sat upon the steps of the court-house, and gazed carelessly at the ghastly burden on the oak. The brightly-dressed church-goers enlivened the streets. Not a colored man was to be seen. All except the brown cadaver on the tree spoke of peace and prayer–a holy day among a godly people, with whom rested the benison of peace.

The Fool asked of some trusty friends the story of the night before. With trembling lips one told it to him,

“I heard the noise of horses–quiet and orderly, but many. Looking from the window in the clear moonlight, I saw horsemen passing down the street, taking their stations here and there, like guards who have been told off for duty, at specific points. Two stopped before my house, two opposite Mr. Haskin’s, and two or three upon the corner below. They seemed to have been sent on before as a sort of picket-guard for the main body, which soon came in. I should say there were from a hundred to a hundred and fifty still in line. They were all masked, and wore black robes. The horses were disguised, too, by drapings. There were only a few mules in the whole company. They were good horses, though: one could tell that by their movements. Oh, it was a respectable crowd! No doubt about that, sir. Beggars don’t ride in this country. I don’t know when I have seen so many good horses together since the Yankee cavalry left here after the surrender. They were well drilled too. Plenty of old soldiers in that crowd. Why, every thing went just like clock-work. Not a word was said–just a few whistles given. They came like a dream, and went away like a mist. I thought we should have to fight for our lives; but they did not disturb any one here. They gathered down by the court-house. I could not see precisely what they were at, but, from my back upper window, saw them down about the tree. After a while a signal was given, and just at that time a match was struck, and I saw a dark body swing down under the limb. I knew then they had hung somebody, but had no idea who it was. To tell the truth, I had a notion it was you, Colonel. I saw several citizens go out and speak to these men on the horses. There were lights in some of the offices about the court-house, and in several of the houses about town. Every thing was as still as the grave,–no shouting or loud talking, and no excitement or stir about town. It was evident that a great many of the citizens expected the movement, and were prepared to co-operate with it by manifesting no curiosity, or otherwise endangering its success. I am inclined to think a good many from this town were in it. I never felt so powerless in my life. Here the town was in the hands of two or three hundred armed and disciplined men, hidden from the eye of the law, and having friends and co-workers in almost every house. I knew that resistance was useless.”

“But why,” asked the Fool, “has not the body been removed?”

“We have been thinking about it,” was the reply; “but the truth is, it don’t seem like a very safe business. And, after what we saw last night, no one feels like being the first to do what may be held an affront by those men. I tell you, Colonel, I went through the war, and saw as much danger as most men in it; but I would rather charge up the Heights of Gettysburg again than be the object of a raid by that crowd.”

After some parley, however, some colored men were found, and a little party made up, who went out and saw the body of Uncle Jerry cut down, and laid upon a box to await the coming of the coroner, who had already been notified. The inquest developed only these facts, and the sworn jurors solemnly and honestly found the cause of death unknown. One of the colored men who had watched the proceedings gave utterance to the prevailing opinion, when he said,–

“It don’t do fer niggers to know too much! Dat’s what ail Uncle Jerry!”

And indeed it did seem as if his case was one in which ignorance might have been bliss.

The multitalented, ahead-of-his-time Tourgee might well have uttered the same sentiment in 1896, when he was the lead attorney on the losing side of Plessy v. Ferguson — the Supreme Court’s landmark sanction of the color line that Uncle Jerry’s hangmen had drawn.

There are a couple of interesting journal articles touching on Alamance County during Reconstruction which are freely available as pdfs from the Journal of Backcountry Studies: “Other Souths”: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Alamance County, North Carolina and Scalawags Among Us: Alamance County Among the “Other Souths”.

* Narrowly beating Nebraska’s David Butler, who got the boot a few months later. Holden remains the only governor to suffer this indignity in North Carolina history; there has been a recent push in the Raleigh legislature to posthumously pardon him. Holden’s own memoirs are also available free online.

** Along with the book’s contention that northern Republicans were to blame for vacillating on Reconstruction. “This cowardly shirking of responsibility, this pandering to sentimental whimsicalities, this snuffling whine about peace and conciliation, is sheer weakness … [the North is] a country debauched by weak humanitarianisms, more anxious to avoid the appearance of offending its enemies than desirous of securing its own power or its own ends.”

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