On this date in 1885, a vast concourse crowded into Morganfield, Ky. for the satisfaction of seeing the hated Mose Caton hang.
Caton was a Union County, Ky., farmer and cooper who married a widow to secure some land. And he seems like a catch! “Mose Caton seemed to be of the opinion that he had absolute power over the lives of his family,” this contemporaneous chronicler recorded. “The ethics of most people at the present day would prompt them to interfere if his treatment of his family should be practiced toward ordinary domestic animals.”
The poor widow Hester took to her new hubby’s thrashings like the Stanford prison experiment inmates and soon became a beaten, broken soul. Out in the boondocks, Caton had a free hand.
Disheveled and too frightened to speak, she ate in the corner, sat on a box separate from the rest of the family, slept on a filthy feather bed and absorbed any humiliation Mose cared to inflict on her … up to and including actually having Mose move his mistress right into the house, and having the mistress physically whip the wife. When Mose built a new house he gave the abused Hester the loft, into which household fire-boxes (rather than fireplaces) emptied their smoke. The woman lived in hell itself.
But she didn’t live there very long.
She died on Sunday, February 22.
As neighbors helped the next day to dress the body for burial, they saw written in the bruised flesh the terrible treatment Hester had endured … including a dreadful abrasion about the neck that looked for all the world like the mark of a cord about her neck.
Though the corpse was buried, reports of its condition soon led to its disinterment — bruised, oozing blood, visibly murdered.
“Mose Caton’s face was the most notable feature of the man. It might well be styled Mongolian in its principal characteristics. The rather scant chin whisker and mustache was the first requisite to this effect. Then the prominent cheek-bones; eyebrows, highest at the outside ends; and a deep sinister wrinkle, starting at the sides of the nostrils, and dropping down past the mustache, heightened the effect. His eyes, more yellow than grey, were not capable of shame, and yet they were not firm and steadfast. He could keep his eyes upon your face, but he could not look steadily into your eyes. His eyes would wander to your forehead, chin, cheeks, back to your eyes, and then away again all over your face.
“His forehead was high, but rather narrow, and retreated from the eyebrows back. The hair was black and slightly tinged with grey. He parted his hair on both sides, and a lock fell down the center of his forehead, not unlike the one commonly seen in the pictures of old Father Time. The ends of the rather long hair was tucked under like Secretary Lamar wears his hair. His clothing was of ordinary woolen goods. He wore a white shirt, and a celluloid turn down collar that was too small for him. He supplemented its length with a red ribbon, which ran through the front button-hole of his shirt collar and tied the ends of his celluloid collar together with the loose ends of the ribbon.” (Source)
“Have him at all hazards,” someone said, voicing the shocked sentiment of all present.
A posse of 25 somewhat fearful men — for Caton had a forbiddingly malevolent public reputation quite apart from the treatment of his spouse — was formed to arrest the tyrannical husband, along with the mistress and the boys. The Catons battened down the hatches and started firing. Their daughter Annie absorbed a breast- and bowel-ful of buckshot in the crossfire, a mortal injury. Only when the posse threatened to burn the house down did the besieged clan give up.
Even then, their trip to the lockup “was interrupted many times by bands of men on foot, emerging from the cypress forests in the icy wilderness, and demanding that the prisoners should be hung then and there.”
Authorities managed to keep the lynching sentiment at bay, but only just. Outraged locals were understood to stand ready to take matters into their own hands at any hint of excess delicacy or dawdling on the part of the judiciary. There were even rumors that an artillery piece had been procured to make certain matters should the need arise to assault the jail, and that the courthouse audience itself had several ropes in hand should it be called upon to issue its summary verdict.
When the jury announced that this would not be necessary, the onlookers bayed in bloodthirsty satisfaction at the sentence. Caton had scarcely a month yet to live, and this was not enough time to dissipate the hatred he had earned of his neighbors: there was an intent to hang Caton privately, but thousands of people pouring into Morganfield, Ky., made it clearly understood that they would riot and pull down the barrier if they were balked of their sight.
[O]n his return from Rochester, [Richard] Johnson brought with him a little girl, apparently about three years old.
This child he declared to be his by Mrs. [Ursula] Newman, and repeatedly demanded of her to acknowledge it, which she as often refused to do.
On Thursday afternoon he came into the dining room, the windows of which are in the rear of the house, and having locked the door by which he entered, and put the key in his pocket, again made the above mentioned demand. Another female was in the room, and heard the conversation which took place between them.
Mrs. Newman, perceiving that Johnson was more than usually excited, said to him “Good God, Johnson what are you going to do.” He replied “I am going to shew you that I am a man, you have imposed upon me too long.”
Mrs. Newman then called to the other female to open the door, which she could not do as Johnson had the key in his pocket.
Becoming frightened at his violence, Mrs. Newman opened one of the windows and sprang into the yard — from that went into a small room in the rear of the stair-case.
He followed her, threatening that if she did not acknowledge the child he would shoot her, and shortly after he discharged the pistol at her. She had the child hanging upon her left arm, in such a manner that Johnson could not take a fatal aim without wounding the child. He put one hand to the child, moved it out of the way, and with the other, clapping the pistol to her breast, discharged it.
Finding that the wound was not fatal, he ran up stairs, loaded the pistol again with several slugs, and returned.
At the first discharge a number of persons had rushed into the house; but on his returning, and declaring his intention of taking her life, and that if one shot did not do the work another should, they all took to flight.
The family however remained.
Johnson then made several attempts to take aim at Mrs. Newman, but was prevented by the resolution of her daughter, a girl of about eighteen years of age, who repeatedly thrust aside the pistol and prevented him.
After several attempts he discharged the pistol, but the daughter in pushing the weapon aside prevented the shot from taking the fatal effect intended, and the slugs were lodged in her mother’s arm.
The pistol burst in the discharge, shattering Johnson’s right hand and wounding the hand of the girl considerably. Since this tragical affair the daughter has not left her mother’s bedside, but has continued ever since to watch over her and to pay her every possible attention, notwithstanding the painful wound she has received. [she died that Saturday, two days after being shot -ed.]
At noon today Mrs. Newman was still alive, and in perfect possession of her senses, tho’ in extreme pain. The physicians think there is little hope of her recovery. The fatal wound was inflicted by the first discharge of the pistol. The ball passed through her body and lodged in the back, near the spine.
New York Evening Post, Feb. 7, 1829
Murder. — Susannah Anthony, a colored woman, was killed last night at about seven o’clock by Catharine Cashiere. The deceased gave a card party at the corner of Centre and Anthony street, at which there were 30 or 40 persons, all colored, and mostly penitentiary birds.
During the evening an agreement was made between Maria Collet and Catharine Cashiere, that they would have a quarrel with the deceased. They went into the room where she was and began some loud and abusive language, the deceased endeavoured to prevail on them to go away, and put her hands gently upon Cashiere to enforce her request, the latter thereupon drew a jack-knife, cut off deceased neck-handkerchief, & made two stabs at her.
The first wounded her hand with which she attempted to defend herself, and the second entered the chest and penetrated the heart. The blood spouted from the wound against the opposite wall, and the wounded woman fell and instantly expired. The murdress was secured and lodged in Bridewell.
A Coroner’s Inquest was held this morning at the house where the horrible deed was committed, and the verdict of the jury was, that the deceased came to her death by the wound of a knife, inflicted by the hand of Catharine Cashiere.
Hampshire Gazette, March 25, 1829
About half past ten, Richard Johnson and Catherine Cashiere were borught over from the Bridewell and placed near the fire place in the N.W. part of the room.
Johnson was immediately surrounded by several officers, with whom he appeared to converse in the most unrestrained manner. He seemed broken, but not contrite in spirit; and while anguish of mind was apparent, it was not seemingly of that character which is the beginning of true repentance.
The woman, however, was just the reverse in her deportment and appearance, and as soon as she was brought into court, she appeared considerably distressed and wept with great apparent emotion. But her tears were dried before the court came in; and she listened to her sentence with perfect composure though with due solemnity. She is a good looking young woman, with but a shade of the olive complexion, dark lustrous eyes, and rather an agreeable expression of countenance.
The sentence of Johnson was pronounced first. — On the usual question being put, “If he had any thing to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced according to law?” he addressed the Court as follows:
If your Honors please — I am asked, “what I have to say, why judgment of death should not be pronounced upon me?”
To this, I reply, to the judgment of the law, nothing.
A jury of my country has pronounced me Guilty; and there remains no discretion with the court, but to pronounce upon me the sentence of the law. But to the judgment of the world, I have much to say. I have been convicted of a crime, the bare recital of which causes humanity to shudder; — and it is a duty I owe to myself, while living, and to my memory when dead, that the circumstances of my offence should be fully explained.
Before entering into this detail, I must take this public opportunity, in the name of that Omniscient and All Merciful Being, who will hereafter pronounce His judgment, alike upon my judges and myself, of disclaiming any knowledge of the transaction of that fatal 20th of November.
I do not mean to impugn the decision of the jury; — the movements of the mind were beyond their power to penetrate; and hard as is my fate, I humbly bow to their verdict.
I cannot here enter fully into the details of my intimacy with the unfortunate cause of my own present awful situation. Duped and betrayed as I have been, into sorrow, despair, and lastly involuntary crime, I am unwilling, while living, to indulge in unavailing reproaches.
In life the deceased was the object of my tenderest affection, — an affection that her own unkind conduct seemed but to inflame, and that, baffled in its honorable purposes — expelled reason from her throne — and in its absence, led to the commission of the offence for which I am now to satisfy the offended community, by my own life.
Was I conscious of any moral guilt, at this result I should not repine. Accustomed throughout my life to respect the law, I have not now to learn that the blood of the murdered is alike a propitiatory sacrifice to the laws of God and man.
Convicted of the legal crime, I know my fate. For the moral offence, I have to answer to my conscience and my God; and that innate monitor tells me, that I stand before this Court and this community a legal, but not a moral murderer.
To my counsel, who have so ably, though vainly managed my defence, I tender my warmest thanks.
Of the Court I have but one request to make — that the period allowed me, to prepare for my impending fate, may be, as long as the law will permit.
His manner was firm and collected; his articulation deliberate and distinct; and he delivered himself with a studied oratorical air.
His Honor Judge Irving then pronounced his sentence as follows:
Richard Johnson, you have been found guilty by a jury of your country, of one of the greatest crimes a human being can perpetrate.
Instigated by evil passions, you have suddenly and with premeditated violence taken the life of a fellow being. Ursula Newman, the victim of your unbridled passions, was but shortly before the commission of this offence, the object of your strong attachment.
Yet that attachment not being based upon virtuous affection, has enkindled those furious passions, which have plunged you into guilt and have terminated in your destruction.
You stand a melancholy proof how speedy can be the transition from one licentious passion to another, and that vice is so all-absorbing in its nature that he who gives himself to its indulgence will eventually be led on to deeds of the greatest depravity.
The object for several years of your improper pursuit has at last perished by your hand. She has been hurried by you out of existence, without time allowed to her for preparation. Her children, some of whom are of very tender years, and who were entirely dependent upon her, have been deprived by you of their earthly support, and are now cast upon the world orphans and destitute.
I mention not these painful circumstances to harass your feelings, deeply as I trust they must be afflicted by these consequences of your crime. I dwell upon them for a better purpose. I would awaken your mind to a scene of its situation, with the hope of leading you to contrition. It is one of the most consoling principles of our religion, that however great are our offences, forgiveness will await the contrite, and that our Maker is as merciful as he is just.
The character which was testified of you on your trial, was that of being industrious in your habits, upright in your dealings, and kind in your general deportment — that you had been brought up to a reputable business, and which you was [sic] diligently pursuing for a livelihood. Young in life, had you only kept a vigilant guard upon your conduct, you had every think [sic] to hope.
The indulgence in one vice has blasted these expectations — has hurried you into the commission of an enormous crime, and has left you miserable and desolate.
While we pity you, public justice requires that you be held up an example and a warning to others. We would enjoin you not to be misled by the hope of escaping the fate which must so soon await you. The yielding to such hope, will only beguile your mind from that serious reflection which your present situation most solemnly requires.
What is left to you of life, is too short to be passed otherwise than in humble preparation for your future state. Let your thoughts be anxiously devoted to your religious duties; and while every thing is failing you here, let your reliance in penitence and humility of soul, be placed upon Him, who, in the deepest extremity, is able to console and to sustain you.
The sentence of the Court is, that you, Richard Johnson, be taken hence to the prison from which you last came, and from thence on Thursday, the seventh day of May next, to the place of execution, and there there, between the hours of seven in the forenoon and twelve at noon, you be hung by the neck till you are dead. May God prepare you for that awful event, and have mercy on your sou.
Catharine Cashiere, the colored girl, was then requested to stand up, and the Clerk put the usual question. She replied faintly, that she had nothing to say. The sentence of the court was then pronounced by Judge Edwards, as follows:
Catharine Cashiere — As you have been already informed, you are now arraigned at this bar for the purpose of receiving sentence of death.
Upon this solemn occasion it is proper that something should be said in vindication of the justice of the country, and with a view to awaken you to a realizing sense of your situation.
After a patient investigation of your case — after being zealously and ably defended by your counsel, a jury of your country have found you guilty of the crime of murder. In the circumstances attending the transaction, I can discover nothing to palliate your offence.
It is true that you were in a state of intoxication, but this in the eye of the law is no excuse. A contrary doctrine would be tantamoun to a letter of license to drunkards to depredate upon society with impunity.
Susan Anthony now lies in her cold and silent grave, bereft of life and all its enjoyments by your hands; and you must soon follow her to the silent mansions of the dead. By the laws of our country, by the laws of all countries, civilized as well as barbarous, the crime of murder is punished with death. As life is precious above all things, it is the bounden duty of those to whom is committed the safety of society, to take the most effectual measures for its protection.
Your situation is indeed an awful one.
At the early age of twenty-one, your existence will be brought to a sudden and violent end, a victim to the violated justice of the country. With earth and all its enjoyments, your connexion will soon cease forever, and you must go away, with all your imperfections upon your head, into the presence of your Maker.
Let me beseech you to devote the small remnant of your existence in preparing for this change.
Remember, and never let it be absent from your thoughts, that as you are indebted to him for your existence and all you have enjoyed here, so you must look to him for all you can hope for hereafter.
Before I proceed to sentence the prisoner, I conceive it to be my duty to address some remarks to this numerous audience, which most forcibly pressed themselves upon my attention during and since her trial.
Upon a former occasion, I expressed, from this bench, my sentiments upon the subject of the deplorable consequences attendant upon the facilities afforded in this city, for the vending of ardent spirits.
We were then called upon to sentence seven young men to the state prison, for killing one of our fellow citizens in a wanton and unprovoked manner, in the public streets. It appeared that prior to sallying out they had each been helped to seven or eight glasses of spirituous liquors by one of our licensed retailers; and that the crime was committed under the influence of the delirium necessarily consequent thereon.
During the present court we have been called to pass upon two cases of homicide, in one of which, both the prisoner and the deceased were at the time the offence was alledged to have been committed, in a state of beastly intoxication. And in the other, the case of the miserable being who is now arraigned at this bar, it was also proved by one of our licensed retailers, that he sold her on the night of the murder three or four glasses, although at the time she came into the store, she was so intoxicated that she staggered.
Thus prepared, in a state of mind thus phrenzied, this crime was committed.
If, as we are taught to believe, it is a crime to tempt as well as to be tempted, how can those hope to escape moral retribution, who hold forth lures to intemperance and by assisting to overthrow the reason of the vicious prepare them for the work of iniquity?
It is undeniably true, that a very large proportion of the crimes which are committed, are traceable either directly or indirectly to the influence of spirituous liquors; and I will add, that the poverty and wretchedness which prevails in society are to be ascribed more to this than all other causes united.
These facts are matters of notoriety, and yet the evil continues, spreading and extending a baneful influence.
In probing the sources of this evil we are met with the appaling fact that there [are] at this moment three thousand persons in this city, who are licensed to retail spirituous liquors. Licensed to pursue a calling the direct tendency and necesary consequences of which, is to ruin the health and deprave the morals of thousands of our fellow beings.
While such facilities are afforded for depraving morals and dethroning reason, is it matter of surprise, that “blood stained murder” stalks abroad among us. If the power of applying a correction was not in the hands of the people, if the government under which we live was independent of any superior to the will of the people, “if an enemy had done this thing,” there might be some excuse for us.
But as all power is either mediately or immediately derived from them, and is in their hands, as it is but necessary for them to will that a correction should be applied, and it will be done, how can we stand acuqitted in neglecting to apply a remedy.
In our ardent and headlong career through this world, in the pursuit of property or honor, let us pause for a moment to consider the cause of suffering humanity; let us devise the most judicious measures for the correction of this evil, and by a firm, united and determined concert of action, carry those measures into effect.
It is the cause of public justice, of public morals, and of suffering humanity, which demands our aid. Vain are all the expectations which are formed, of its being in the power of the ministers of justice to restrain the workers of iniquity — to stay the hand of violence, until this evil is corrected. Fifty are corrupted by ardent spirits, to where one is corrected by the law.
I will now proceed to the discharge of the last and most painful duty of the court.
Catharine Cashiere — Listen to your sentence. It is, that you be taken hence to the prison whence you last came, and that you be taken from thence on Thursday the seventh day of May next to the place of execution, and that between the hours of seven in the morning and twelve at noon of that day you be there hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may God have mercy on your soul.
There was no visible increase of emotion on the part of either of the prisoners, either during the time the Judges were speaking, or at the close of the concluding and awful sentence.
Both prisoners appealed to Enos Throop, the then-interim governor weeks after Martin Van Buren had resigned the post to serve in the cabinet of the newly-inaugurated President Andrew Jackson. Gov. Throop rejected both in separate letters directed to the sheriff imploring the prisoners’ jailers not to burden Johnson or Cashiere with any fanciful hopes of reprieve.
Albany, April 25, 1829
Sir, — I have received a petition for pardon, in behalf of Richard Johnson, in your custody, under sentence of death for murder, and have bestowed upon the case that attention which the importance and painful interest of the subject demand.
The killing was in the presence of witnesses, and the manner in which it was perpetrated is not a matter of doubt or dispute. It was done deliberately. The pistol was put in order and prepared for the occasion; it was twice discharged; and its contents were, each time, lodged in the body of the deceased.
The tragic deed was the result of a previous misunderstanding between the parties, of several days continuance; and the proximate cause, a personal struggle, commenced with angry feelings, and carried on with a sufficient interval before its fatal termination to accomplish the death of the miserable victim of his violence.
During several preceding days he exhibited those appearances of gloom, abstraction of mind, and depression of spirits, which indicate a bosom deeply agitated with violent passion, and a mind occupied with absorbing subjects.
It is urged in his favor, that his mind was deranged when the deed was done, — and that he had before sustained a good character, and was of an amiable and benevolent disposition.
The question of insanity was a matter in issue on the trial; and the jury, after hearing all the testimony, decided against him. — I see nothing in the evidence to induce me to doubt the correctness of their verdict in that respect.
His supposed amiable character, while it is evidence, in a doubtful case, to be duly weighed by the jury in pronouncing upon the intent, and appeals to our sympathy, does not afford a sufficient reason for arresting the course of Justice. It is in proof, however, upon this point, that he had lived in a licentious intercourse with this woman for several years, and their intimacy has, in the ordinary process of vice, terminated in the highest misdeeds.
The laws have pronounced his doom, and declared him a fit object of exemplary punishment; and I do not feel justified in interposing the Executive arm to defeat their politic ends.
I must therefore request you, to communicate to the wretched convict my decision, without delay, that he may prepare himself to meet his fate, and make his peace with his offended God.
I am respectfully, your’s [sic], &c.
Albany, May 4th, 1829
Sir — My attention has been recently called to the case of Catharine Cashiere, a coloured woman in your custody, under the sentence of death for the murder of Susan Anthony, also a colored woman.
On receiving a report of the trial from the presiding Judge, accompanied by affidavits, I at a former day attentively examined the case: but the respectability of the petition, which has been forwarded to me, through the praise worthy exertions of humane persons, in behalf of a friendless individual, has induced me to re-examine the case, and look, with scrupulous care, at the conclusion to which my mind has arrived.
All punishments are prescribed by the wisdom of our lawgives, for purposes of public good, and should not be dispensed with for light causes. It is a maxim drawn from experience, and sanctioned by sound reason, that laws restrain crime, not by the severity of their enactments, but by the certainty of their being enforced.
It was not intended by the framers of the Constitution to erect in the Executive a tribunal which shall arbitrarily dispense with those judgments of our courts, which are pronounced in strict conformity to the design of wise and prudent laws; but one which shall discreetly exercise its powers to favor the designs of the Legislature in tempering undesigned severities with the administration of justice.
With these views I have examined the case of Catharine Cashiere.
The facts as reported shew: That the convict came to the house of the deceased by invitation, and soon began to use indecent and profane language. She was requested by the deceased to go out, and did so. She returned again in a few minutes, resumed her ill conduct, and was again mildly requested to go out. — She refused to go, and used language shewing her determination not to go.
The deceased then gently laid her hand upon her, when the convict made three attempts to stab her with a knife, which she drew from under her apron. The two first attempts were ineffectual, but the last was made with much force and preparation, and the knife reached the heart of her victim.
It further appears that while she was absent from the room after the commencement of the affray, she was seen in a grocery kept in another part of the same house, with a knife in her hand. Whether she procured the knife then, or had it before, is not in proof, but the testimony affords good reason to believe that she there opened it and hid it under her apron, and returned to the room for the purpose of renewing the quarrel, and contemplating the dreadful catastrophe which ensued. — Here was positive proof of malice propense.
Although the design of murder was conceived after the quarrel was begun, yet the wrong was altogether on the part of the convict, and the interval of absence from the room was sufficient and was employed in deliberately contriving the execution of the bloody deed.
Independent of the common law doctrines of murder, stabbing is so odious that special statutory provisions exist, declaring designed stabbing which produced death to be murder without proof of malice.
It is declared by statute, “that if any person or persons shall stab or thrust any person or persons that hath not then any weapon drawn, or that hath not then first stricken, the party who shall so stab or thrust so as the person so stabbed or thrust shall thereof die within the space of six months then next following, although it cannot be proved that the same was done of malice aforethought, every such unlawful killing shall be adjudged, taken and deemed wilful murder.” Her case comes directly within this statute.
It is urged that she was insane, and that she was intoxicated. Drunkenness afford no excuse for crime. If it should, every species of crime, from arson and murder down to the smallest larcenies, would be perpetrated under that pretence. The facts in regard to her drinking were before the jury.
It is said that when she is intoxicated she is deranged: that is the natural effect of intoxication: but the law says, with great justice, that voluntary derangement shall not excuse crime.
Affidavits are presented to shew that when she was a child she received a hurt in her head which impaired the strength of her mind, and that when she is intoxicated she exhibits insanity which is supposed to result from the hurt in her head, and that the fact of the hurt was not proved on the trial. It is not satisfactorily proved that she ever manifested symptoms of insanity, except when she was under the influence of liquor.
Her conduct during the quarrel, from its commencement until its fatal termination, shews no evidence of insanity, nor that prostration of mind by liquor which totally extinguishes reason; but, on the contrary, it evinced a capacity to plan and execute her projects of revenge.
I therefore feel it a duty which I owe to the state, the execution of whose laws are entrusted to me, to deny the pardon solicited. You will therefore make known to the miserable culprit my determination, so that if she has cherished any hope from Executive clemency, she may dismiss it, and prepare her mind to appear before that high tribunal where there is no error in judgment and from which there is no appeal.
Your obedient servant,
Baltimore Patriot, May 9, 1829
From the New York Post of Thursday.
EXECUTIONS. — Richard Johnson and Catherine Cashiere, under sentence of death for murder, were this forenoon executed on Blackwell’s Island.
They were taken from the Bridewell a little after 8 o’clock, and conveyed to the gallows, accompanied by the Sheriff and a troop of horse, and followed by an assemblage of several thousands of men, women and boys, eager to witness the dying struggles of two of their fellow beings.
Early in the morning Broadway, opposite the Bridewell, was blocked up with spectators, so much so as to make it difficult for carriages to pass: and for a short time before the procession moved every avenue leading to the prison was completely closed.
We hope it will be the last time a similar opportunity will be afforded to gratify the idle curiosity of the populace of this large city. The revised laws provide that after the year 1829, all executions for capital crimes shall be performed in the yard of the prison where the convict is confined, in the presence of the proper officers.
We have just learned that the poor unfortunate wretches were turned off between 10 and 11 o’clock, from a gallows erected for the purpose on Blackwell’s Island, and that a great part of the procession were disappointed in witnessing the spectacle, not being able to procure boats to convey them across the river to the Island; and this perhaps was a fortunate circumstance, for we have heard that one of the few boats which were put in requisition, with twelve persons in it, was upset and before assistance could be rendered several were drowned.
The first execution in Tunis since the French occupation took place yesterday. Three Kroumirs, Ali Ben Debbah, Mahomed Ben Salah, and Ali Ben Salah, who had assassinated two Kabyle merchants in order to rob them, were guillotined in the morning at the Saadoun Gate.
At half-past 4 o’clock, M. Herbault, the Procureur of the Republic, in presence of several officials, announced to the condemned men that their appeal for mercy had been rejected. They received the statement very quietly, although they protested, as they had previously done, that they were innocent. As the prison is at some distance from the place of execution, it was not till 25 minutes past 5 that the prison van, preceded and followed by a company of Zeuaves, reached the place of execution, where a large crowd had assembled. At half-past 5 the bodies were removed to the Sadiki Hospital.
In order to put down any attempt at disturbance a large number of soldiers were drawn up near the guillotine, but there was no occasion for their services. There were very few natives among those present at the execution. A fourth Kroumir, who was condemned to death for the same crime, was informed yesterday that his sentence had been commuted by the President of the Republic.
(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog here. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)
“You may break my neck, but you won’t break the seal of manhood.”
-Thomas R. Dawson, convicted of desertion and rape, hanging, Virginia.
Executed April 25, 1864
An Englishman who had served in the Crimean War, Dawson was already the recipient of both the Victoria Cross and the Cross of Honor. [but see this post’s comments -ed.] He had been serving in Company H, Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry, when he was convicted. “He was an excellent soldier,” according to the infantry record, “intelligent and obedient.” On the gallows, a misjudgment of rope length caused Dawson to hit the ground standing when he fell through the trapdoor.
Panicking, the executioner grabbed the end of the rope “and jerked the prisoner upwards until death slowly came.”
Two hundred years ago today, Lancaster Castle hosted a quintuple hanging, starring career thief George Lyon.
At age 54, Lyon could be considered a throwback: he openly styled himself “The King of Robbers”, inspiring a sarcastic hack “to congratulate the inhabitants of Wigan and the neighbourhood, and indeed the country at large, on the conviction of George Lyon.” (This notice ran in a number of publications at the time.) He was basically a well-known crook and authorities were thrilled to get one of his fellows to turn Crown’s Evidence on him and make a charge stick.
He had eleven indictments including a stickup of the Liverpool mail, and on this basis has been described as the last highwayman executed at Lancaster — but in the main his methods less romantic and more straightforward. The crime that hanged them — for Lyon died along with two confederates, plus two other unconnected men — was taking advantage of the access a house-painting hire afforded them to just loot the joint.
Lyon did make sure to class it up for his hang-day, however, in a natty black suit and jockey boots to be on point for some 5,000 Lancastrians who reportedly crowded the banks of the castle moat to gawp.
Lyon’s wife arranged to take the body — saving the old footpad from a posthumous anatomization — and buried it in Upholland in the grave of their daughter, Nanny Lyon. (The stone can still be seen to this date: it does not mention George.) It’s been alleged that his spirit has been spooking the place in the 200 years since, including at the venerable White Lion Pub, adjacent to Nanny and George’s final resting place.
Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser, April 29, 1815
On this date in 1897, criminals William Haas and William Wiley became the first two people to be executed in Ohio’s electric chair. Haas had actually been scheduled to die earlier that month, but the chair had a damaged electrical coil and his execution was postponed so the coil could be replaced.
William Wiley (left) and William Haas.
Haas, an illiterate farm worker, had had murdered Mrs. William Brady, his employer’s wife, the previous summer in Cincinnati. He raped her, slit her throat after she threatened to tell her husband, and set the house on fire to cover his tracks. Some berry pickers nearby saw the fire, though, and put it out before it could cause any real damage. Haas found himself arrested that very same day. He was only seventeen years old.
Thirty-eight-year-old Wiley, a tailor who was also from Cincinnati, had shot his wife to death in a drunken, jealous rage, “seemingly possessed by the devil himself.” After the murder he hid in a closet and was injured in the ensuing fight with police officers as they attempted to arrest him.
The prison officials made Haas and Wiley flip a coin to determine which would die first, and Haas “won.” He was electrocuted at 12:27 a.m.
Just after his body was removed from the chair, Wiley was brought in. A Sacramento Daily Unionarticle summarized the results:
An examination of the bodies after they had been removed to the prison morgue did not disclose even the slightest abrasion or irritation of the skin at the points of contact, and the physicians and experts pronounced the executions as perfect as it was possible to make them.
Bondy, today a Paris suburb, was in the Middle Ages a forest notorious for the bandits and murderers who laired in its leafy shadows — a reputation stretching back to antiquity. The Merovingian king Childeric II was assassinated while hunting there.
Just as the French Revolution swept away the titles and prerogatives left over from feudal Europe, it put the onetime thieves’ forest on the track to respectability. The golden age of the highwayman was rapidly closing anyway; as the 19th century unfolded, the lumberman, the railroad, and the police inspector combined to drain away the outlaw’s arboreal habitat.
Take the tram where angels once feared to tread. ((cc) image from gasdub.
But such transitions do not happen overnight, and on this date in 1824 were guillotined in Paris three representatives of this vanishing species — brigands from a ferocious gang who, in the words of their executioners’ memoirs, “excelled in the art of waylaying stage-coaches, and killing the passengers if they refused to give up their money.”
Renaud, Ochard and Delaporte were their names; five others of their band had received sentences of life in prison at hard labor.
On this date in 1805, servant Mary Morgan, age 17, was hanged at Presteigne for murdering her bastard child.
An undercook in M.P. Walter Wilkins‘s Maesllwch Castle, Morgan had that achingly typical infanticide story: an unwed youth down the servants’ quarters desperately concealing the pregnancy until her coworkers sniffed her out, barged into the room where she had locked herself up to surreptitiously give birth, and discovered the newborn, “cutt open, deep sunk in the Feathers with the Child’s head nearly divided from the Body” by the efficient hand of a young under-cook who had often used that same pen-knife to slaughter chickens.
“I determined, therefore, to kill it, poor thing!” she would later confess of the (unnamed) father’s refusing her any aid. “Out of the way, being perfectly sure that I could not provide for it myself.”
That was in September of 1804. She would remain imprisoned until she could be tried at the Radnorshire assizes the following April.
Morgan expected lenient treatment — more on that in a moment — and must have been shocked to have the death sentence pronounced on April 11, with no more than two days to prepare herself for the ordeal. She was reportedly in a state of near-collapse when hanged at Gallows Lane.
Mary Morgan’s grave marker in St. Andrew’s parish church. A much longer and more sanctimonious stone, erected by a friend of the judge, also stands in the same cemetery.
We have seen elsewhere in these pages that executing women for infanticide was becoming distinctly uncomfortable for Europeans at this period, and Great Britain was no exception.
During those many decades, close to 200 infanticide cases came to its bar. Hardly any of the accused women were even convicted, never mind condemned.* All the more surprising, then, that the one and only prisoner to merit a death sentence was a 17-year-old. Why did Mary Morgan hang when other Welsh infanticides walked?
The (presumably unobtainable) answer has occasioned a good deal of modern-day speculation.
One possible reason was a cruel judgment on Mary’s unbecoming nonchalance in the court. The presiding judge, George Hardinge,** wrote in private correspondence to the Bishop of St. Asaph that young Miss Morgan “took it for granted that she would be acquitted; had ordered gay apparel to attest the event of her deliverance; and supposed the young gentleman (who I well knew) would save her by a letter to me.” Judges like to see a little cowering.
The young gentleman Hardinge alludes to is another person of interest with respect to Mary Morgan’s surprising fate: Walter Wilkins, Jr. — the heir in the household where Mary served. This man seduced Mary but was not — so said both Mary and Walter — the father of the unfortunate child. In an egregious conflict of interest, Wilkins served on the grand jury that found his lover guilty. Was he playing a double game, posing as a potential intercessor even while keen to eliminate the evidence of his misdeeds?
Kilday suspects that in the end it was nothing but the calculated caprice of Judge Hardinge — who, although he often acquitted accused infanticides, was also alarmed by the prevalence of the practice and wanted to stake out at least one deterrent instance of truly exemplary punishment. As he said in his sentencing address to Mary Morgan, “many other girls (thoughtless and light as you have been) would have been encouraged by your escape to commit your crime, with hopes of impunity; the merciful turn of your example will save them.”
Hardinge himself might not have been fully at home with this rationale. He’s reported to have visited the grave of his “thoughtless and light” defendant several times, even composing a verse “On Seeing the Tomb of Mary Morgan”:
Flow the tear that Pity loves,
Upon Mary’s hapless fate:
It’s a tear that God approves;
He can strike, but cannot hate.
Read in time, oh beauteous Maid!
Shun the Lover’s poisoning art!
Mary was by Love betray’d,
And a viper stung the heart.
Love the constant and the good!
Wed the Husband of your choice,
Blest is then your Children’s food,
Sweet the little Cherub’s voice.
Had Religion glanc’d its beam
On the Mourner’s frantic bed,
Mute had been the tablet’s theme,
Nor would Mary’s child have bled.
She for an example fell,
But is Man from censure free?
Thine Seducer, is the knell,
It’s a Messenger to thee.
* Kilday makes it 149 indictments from 1730 to 1804, with seven convictions and two executions — Jane Humphries in 1734 and Elinor Hadley in 1739; and, after Mary Morgan, another 46 indictments up until 1830 without a single conviction.
On this date in 1879, a circuitous four-year journey to the gibbet — quite Odyssean by 1870s standards — concluded when John P. Phair was hanged in St. Albans, Vt., still protesting his innocence.
Phair was convicted on circumstantial evidence of the murder of his former companion, Ann Freese: that circumstance was his pawning the late widow’s watch in Boston.
Though police had the exact serial number of the timepiece, Phair staunchly insisted that the man who sold it was not he — damning the Jewish pawnbrokers who identified him as the seller:
Their business is that of pawnbroking — a life of fraud. Their race bears the curse of God, because they crucified his Son eighteen centuries ago … They don’t regard an oath administered in the Christian form.
That salty quote is courtesy of the case file in the excellent historical crime blog Murder by Gaslight, which tracks the strange subsequent progress of John Phair to the gallows in 1877.
On that occasion, two years nearly to the day before his eventual execution, Phair had been due to die — but his supporters had also roused considerable skepticism on the justice of the sentence. For instance, the murderer had apparently covered his tracks by torching the place, and Freese’s remains were discovered badly burnt after the fire was put out. But this fire was detected at 7 a.m., three hours after the departure of the train Phair would have taken to Boston. And Phair produced a quasi-alibi in the form a train passenger who tentatively corroborated Phair’s claim to have merely switched trains in Boston without stopping long enough to fence a watch. So …
Boston Evening Journal, April 4, 1877
Wherever the judicial system proposes to situate the threshold for conviction and condemnation, some subset of messy real-life cases will always smudge the brightest of lines. Phair’s contemporaries simply could not satisfy themselves that they really had the right man. But neither were they convinced of Phair’s repeated denials. In the absence of moral certainty, legal process takes the reins. A dramatic eleventh-hour reprieve from the governor saved Phair in 1877. But as Murder by Gaslight notes:
The problem for Phair now was that by Vermont law he could not ask for a new trial if more than two years had passed since the original verdict. The governor granted him another reprieve until the first Friday of April, 1879 while the legislature debated changing the law.
Phair won this battle — the legislature empowered judges to refer such a case to the Supreme Court — but lost the war. In February 1879, Vermont’s high court considered, and then quickly rejected, Phair’s appeal. Past this point, exertions for the condemned man became the longest of shots, but this is not to say that they did not continue. The man’s exhaustive last-ditch efforts, some by his own hand and some mounted by his friends, have a whiff of the familiar present-day spectacle to them. (The Cleveland Plain Dealer sarcastically titled its after-action report “Hanged At Last”)
Phair won a six-day reprieve from a scheduled April 4 execution; on the eve of the hanging, two judges were taking Phair’s last appeal for a fresh trial; and on the morning of the execution the state’s governor was obliged to reject Phair’s supporters’ plea for a delay to allow the legislature to intervene yet again. (Phair didn’t even know this last one was occurring.)
The man himself was reported calm in the last hours, even as he persisted with his denials. Guilty or not, he finally fell through the long-awaited gallows trap murmuring “Lord, remember me!” at 2:11 p.m. on this date in 1879.
This date in 1859 saw the joint hanging of four youths from a notorious Baltimore gang, and in honor of the occasion thousands upon thousands of curiosity-seekers packed Charm City from “all parts of the State, the District of Columbia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and even New York city and Buffalo” to throng the hills and high points overlooking the Baltimore City Jail, where a fine view could be had of the nominally private gallows.
“The housetops, windows, trees and all other places from whence a more enlarged view could be obtained, were crowded with human beings,” reported the Baltimore Sun (Apr. 9, 1859). “A sea of faces met the eye far and near — men, women and children — old age and infancy — white and black — swelled up the vast multitude, drawn to witness the horrible spectacle.”
The doomed quartet were four men named Henry Gambrill, Marion Crop, Peter Corrie, and John Cryphus. Cryphus was a black man condemned for a knife murder committed under the name John Stephens, and he vainly protested all the way to the gallows that Stephens was not he.
The other three who hanged with him — our principal focus today — were entirely unconnected to him. Gambrill, Crop, and Corrie were all stalwarts of the “Plug Uglies”, who were at once a street gang and a political goon squad, involved (with several similar entities) in a number of election day poll riots in the 1850s. Baltimore was at this point America’s third-largest city, having boomed to 200,000 souls rather faster than its civic institutions could cope.
The city veered near to mob rule (for which it earned the sobriquet “Mobtown”): rival gangs of toughs like the Plug Uglies regularly fought deadly street battles involving hundreds of participants — especially around municipal elections which they shamelessly rigged with armed bullying and prodigious vote-stuffing.* The anti-Know Nothing mayoral candidate in 1858 simply conceded the election rather than invite “loss of life and the general disorder of the city.”
[Baltimore’s gangs] carried pugnacious and frequently obscene banners and often brandished weapons. The awl was seen as a workingman’s weapon, and many were made and handed out at rallies. They were used to “plug” Democrats “ugly” and to prevent them from voting. (Source)
Not long before that peacekeeping 1858 mayoral concession, alliterative policemen Benjamin Benton and Robert Rigdon had arrested a Plug Ugly crony for disorderly conduct, when Henry Gambrill raced up to the grappling trio and shot Officer Benton in the head.
Officer Rigdon, who knew Gambrill well, testified against the goon in the resulting murder trial. So incensed were Gambrill’s pals that they contrived to assassinate Officer Rigdon in revenge: covered by a lookout, Marion Crop in the dark of night shot Rigdon through a window as the cop stood at his mantelpiece chatting with his wife. Both Crop and the lookout, Peter Corrie, were chased down and condemned for first degree murder at separate, and sensational, trials in January 1859.
Despite the power of the Know-Nothings, this outrage proved to fall well outside the range of the Plug Uglies’ impunity. If they could do this, then what institutional pillar of the city would remain standing?
No small sentiment went abroad to skip the assassins’ trials and proceed directly to the hanging — perhaps a problematic means by which to stave off anarchy. In a more promising vein, the affair catalyzed some long-sought political reform measures from the legislature to rein in political violence. And on a chilly, overcast morning in April, Marion Crop stood on the gallows and belted out a hymn for the nation’s gawkers, joined with varying enthusiasms by the other three doomed men.
Former friends, we now must leave you
All our earthly hopes are o’er
But in heaven we hope to greet you
There to meet to part no more.
When a few more moments wasted
And this dying scene is o’er
When this last dread grief we’ve tasted
We shall rise to fall no more.
Fast our sun of life’s declining
Soon it will set in endless night
But our hopes pure and reviving
Rise to fairer worlds of light.
Cease this mourning, trembling, sighing,
Death shall burst this sudden gloom
Then our spirits fluttering, flying
Shall be borne beyond the tomb.
Corrie and Crop were buried privately. Gambrill enjoyed a solem public funeral with a procession of a hundred or so carriages through the center of town. An estimated eight to ten thousand Know-Nothing sympathizers attended it.
* Full marks for period color to the gangs of that time, which included the Rip Raps, Black Snakes, Blood Tub, Regulators, Rough Skins, Double Pumps, and Calithumpians. The successful Plug Uglies, who spread to other cities than Baltimore, were the ones destined to give their name to the language as a synonym for a an urban rowdy. (It’s also the name of somebars.)
** Shortly after the events in this post, Baltimore would be distinguished by a massive, and deadly, riot against a column of federal troops being dispatched to Virginia in the immediate aftermath of Fort Sumter. Since the Battle of Fort Sumter itself had not resulted in any combat fatalities, it was this riot that laid in the ground the first bodies of America’s bloody Civil War.