Posts filed under 'England'

1774: John Malcom, tarred and feathered

Add comment January 25th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1774,* in the British official John Malco(l)m was tarred and feathered and mock-executed by enraged Bostonians during the tense run-up to the American Revolution.

Malcom’s militant Loyalism put him sharply at odds with his city’s’s rising Patriot ultras — the sorts of people who, just a month before, had provocatively dumped British East India Company tea into Boston Harbor.

Malcom himself hadn’t been proximate to that event but as a customs official he’d made himself obnoxious on the docks before. In October of 1773, he seized a ship in Falmouth,** threatening “to sheath his sword in the bowels of any one who dared dispute his authority.” The sailors responded by sheathing John Malcom in a coat of tar and feathers and marching him through the streets.

This vigilante justice was meant to come up short of serious physical injury, and it did. But it was a crippling public disgrace, far beyond the streets of Falmouth — an ironic situation since Malcom’s own late brother Daniel was a celebrated Patriot bootlegger.† Back in Boston, Malcom found himself heckled in the streets about the incident to such an extent that he complained to the governor. (The governor told him to suck it up.) And it bubbled right to the surface in the incident that brings today’s post, too.

On January 25 of 1774, one of the Patriot participants in the aforementioned Boston Tea Party named George Robert Twelves Hewes‡ happened across the hated crown agent — “standing over a small boy who was pushing a little sled before him, cursing, damning, threatening and shaking a very large cane with a very heavy ferril on it.” (That’s according to the next week’s (Jan. 31, 1774) Boston Gazette, as are the subsequent quotes in this post.) Apparently the kid had crashed his conveyance into Malcom while out frolicking in the deep winter’s snow.

Hewes interceded for the child, and Malcom rounded on him: “you are an impertinent rascal, it is none of your business!” Flexing his class rank, Malcom further scolded the “vagabond” that he ought not address a gentleman in public. Hewes dissented and after an exchange of barbs cut Malcom to the quick with the retort, “be that as it will, I never was tarred or feathered.” This own brought Malcom’s heavy cane crashing into Hewes’s head, crumpling the Good Samaritan to the cobblestones.

Angry bystanders to the incident trailed Malcom home, and heaven only knows what hard words were traded on the way. He should have been worried and maybe he was, but his blood was up from Hewes’s insult: Malcom stood on the threshold and verbally sparred with his angry neighbors — “you say I was tarred and feathered, and that it was not done in a proper manner, damn you let me see the man that dare do it better! I want to see it done in the new-fashioned manner.” The man’s Falmouth tarring, you see, had been leniently poured over his clothes, which might have been hell on his dry cleaning bills but also minimized the injury that hot tar could do to naked skin. Now he was daring a rougher treatment at the hands of Bostonians who had certainly proven up to that challenge in the past.

Calmer heads knew this situation could spiral out of control and judiciously steered the irate official into his house. But Malcom was not to be stilled; when his wife opened a sash to implore the crowd to disperse, her husband exploited the opening to thrust a sword into the breast of a bystander. Luckily for both parties the blade struck bone, causing only a glancing flesh wound.

Somehow the irascible coot restrained himself in the house long enough for this disturbance to subside, while Hewes shook off his concussion well enough to swear out a warrant.

But by evening, word of this politically charged provocation had circulated in Boston, along with all Malcom’s bluster — “among other things, that he would split down the yankees by dozens, and receive 20l. sterling a head for every one he destroyed.” A crowd started assembling again at Mr. Malcom’s door, now dangerously intent on its purpose.

they got ladders and beating in an upper window, entered the house and took him without loss of blood, and dragging him out put him on a sled, and amidst the huzzas of thousand[s], brought him into King street. Several Gentlemen endeavoured to divert the populace from their intention, alledging that he was open to the laws of the land which would undoubtedly award a reasonable satisfaction to the parties he had abused; they answered he had been an old, impudent and mischievous offender — he had joined in the murders at North Carolina — he had seized vessels on account of sailors having a bottle or two of gin on board — he had in office, and otherwise, behaved in the most capricious, insulting and daringly abusive manner — and on every occasion discovered the most rooted enmity to this country, and the defenders of its rights — that in case they let him go they might expect a like satisfaction as they had received in the cafes of Richardson and the soldiers, and the other friends of government. With these and such-like arguments, together with a gentle crouding of persons not of their way of thinking out of the ring, they proceeded to elevate Mr. Malcom from his sled into the cart, and stripping him to buff and breeches, gave him a modern jacket, and hurried him away to liberty-tree, where they proposed to him to renounce his present commission, and swear that he would never hold another inconsistent with the liberties of his country; but this he obstinately refusing, they then carted him to the gallows, passed a rope round his neck, and threw the other end over the beam as if they intended to hang him: But this manoeuvre he set at defiance. They then basted him for some time with rope’s end, and threatened to cut his ears off, and on this he complied, and they the brought him home.

See, reader, the effects of a government in which the people have no confidence!


“Bostonians Paying the Excise-Man, or Tarring and Feathering” (color version of same). This print and the next one make reference to a dubious report in London papers that Malcom was made to guzzle tea to the point of bursting for “your whole Fraternity at the Custom house would drench us with this Poison, and we are to have our Throats cut if it will not stay upon our Stomachs.”


“A new method of macarony making, as practiced in Boston”. (A different print with a nearly identical title shows an expanded view of a gallows here.) The number 45 seen on the hat above was code for Liberty at this period, due to the daring anti-monarchist sentiment in issue no. 45 of radical agitator John Wilkes‘s The North Briton.


A French engraving of the event, from 1784.

* There are a few other dates besides Tuesday, January 25 to be found out there, but newspaper reports from the time clearly place it on that day. Malcom himself later circulated a strange bulletin to Boston churches confirming the date with the words “John Malcom returns thanks to Almighty God, that again he is able to wait on him again in the public worship, after the cruel and barbarous usage of a cruel and barbarous savage mob in Boston, on the 25th evening of January last past confined him to house, bed and room.”

** The town of Falmouth is now Portland, Maine. Its most famous revolutionary war incident was put it to the torch by the British in 1775.

Daniel Malco(l)m’s grave is pocked by musket balls fired at the marker for good luck by redcoats.

‡ Hewes lived to the ripe old age of 98. Enjoy a public domain 1830s biography drawn from personal conversation with the old veteran here … including Hewes’s recollection of the tarring and feathering, which in his telling was clearly extremely traumatic to his antagonist.

The people, however, soon broke open the door, and took Malcom into their custody. They then took him to the place where the massacre was committed, and their flogged him with thirty-nine stripes. After which, they besmeared him thoroughly with tar and feathers; they then whipped him through the town, till they arrived at the gallows, on the neck, where they gave him thirty-nine stripes more, and then, after putting one end of a rope about his neck, and throwing the other end over the gallows, told him to remember that he had come within one of being hanged. They then took him back to the house from whence they had taken him, and discharged him from their custody.

The severity of the flogging they had given him, together with the cold coat of tar with which they had invested him, had such a benumbing effect upon his health, that it required considerable effort to restore his usual circulation. During the process of his chastisement, the deleterious effect of the frost, it being a cold season, generated a morbid affection upon the prominent parts of his face, especially upon his chin, which caused a separation and peeling off of some fragments of loose skin and flesh, which, with a portion of the tar and feathers, which adhered to him, he preserved in a box, and soon after carried with him to England, as the testimonials of his sufferings in the cause of his country. On his arrival in England soon after this catastrophe Malcom obtained an annual pension of fifty pounds, but lived only two years after to enjoy it.

On relating this adventure, the very excitement which the affront must have wrought upon him, evidently began to rekindle, and he remarked with emphasis, I shall carry to my grave the scar which the wound Malcom gave me left on my head; and passing my finger over the spot to which he directed it, there was obviously such a scar, as must have been occasioned by the wound he had described.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",England,Hanged,History,Lynching,Massachusetts,Mock Executions,No Formal Charge,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Summary Executions,USA

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1779: Claudius Smith, Cowboy of the Ramapos

Add comment January 22nd, 2020 Headsman

Claudius Smith, a feared Tory guerrilla during the American, was hanged in Goshen, N.Y., on this date in 1779.

“The Cowboy of the Ramapos” for his penchant for livestock-rustling in the Ramapo Mountains, Smith headlined a gang of pro-British criminals/partisans operating out of Monroe, N.Y., near the New Jersey border — a zone of dirty irregular warfare.

Quite a lot of legends apparently proliferated about this guy, including in his own time: one wanted poster described him as seven feet tall.

If you were a British loyalist in his neighborhood you might have figured him along the lines of an Anglo hajduk — the Balkan freebooters who straddled the line between social bandit and hero insurgent. To a Patriot, he was little better than a brigand, and not satisfied with riding off cattle and horses ventured also to invade farm houses for plunder. After one of his band’s deadly raids, Orange County Whigs complained to New York Gov. George Clinton, “we have not thought ourselves secure for a long time. We live so scattered that they can come in the dead of night to any one family & do what they please.”

So unsettled were the wartime frontiers that Gov. Clinton was notably unable to satisfy their petition for quite some time, and Smith’s raids, sometimes working in concert with the pro-British Mohawk commander Joseph Brant, continued to frighten those scattered revolutionists.

A Continental Army major named Jesse Brush finally captured Smith on Long Island late in 1778, and delivered him back to authorities at Orange County who gave him a proper trial and condemned him to hang for several robberies. (Murder wasn’t on the rap sheet.)

One month later, Smith’s son Richard with a band of cowboys revenged the execution by slaying a Goshen man named Richard Clark — and pinning to his corpse a warning to their persecutors.

A Warning to the Rebels

You are hereby warned from hanging any more friends to the government as you did Claudius Smith. You are warned likewise to use James Smith, James Flewelling, and William Cole well and ease them from their irons, for we are determined to hang six for one, for the blood of the innocent cries aloud for vengeance. Your noted friend, Capt. Williams and his crew of robbers and murders we have got in our power, and the blood of Claudius Smith shall be repaid. There are particular companies of us who belong to Col. Butler’s army, Indians as well as white men, and particularly numbers from New York that are resolved to be revenged on you for your cruelty and murders. We are to remind you that you are the beginners and aggressors, for by your cruel oppressions and bloody actions drive us to it. This is the first and we are determined to pursue it on your heads and leaders to the last till the whole of you is massacred.

Dated New York February 1779.

It was tall talk that the raiders couldn’t back up: rewards and informants soon broke up the band, leaving the cowboys and Claudius Smith to pass into history.

Ramblers might enjoy a visit to Claudius Smith’s Den, a cave that formerly served as a refuge for Smith’s gang. Beware of ghosts!


(cc) image from The Turducken.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Murder,New York,Occupation and Colonialism,Outlaws,Public Executions,Soldiers,Terrorists,Theft,USA,Wartime Executions

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1877: Dato Maharaja Lela, Perak War rebel

Add comment January 20th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1877, the British put a bow on a suppressed rebellion in Malaysia by executing one of its leaders.

The conflict is known as the Perak War. Perak was a sultanate on the Malaysian peninsula that had been torn by conflict for much of the 19th century and in 1874 sought protectorate status from the trade-hungry British who were only too happy to grant it.

Many Malayans were much less happy, and the very next year the first British Resident of Perak, James W. W. Birch, was assassinated by nationalists chuffed at his meddling — launching in the process the brief and unsuccessful Perak War.

The sultan-appointed mufti Dato Maharaja Lela (English Wikipedia entry | Malaysian) was the author of this murder* and then one of the primary leaders of a very short-lived rebellion. It was all done and dusted in a matter of weeks with the British carrying a couple of decisive early engagements and our Maharaja sinking into the wilderness for a few months as a fugitive. Add in some mopping up and there’s your war.

He’d be captured and eventually executed for the Birch assassination, in Taiping, Perak (Not to be confused with Taiping Island, in Taiwan); in this he had a better fate than the sultan, whom the British merely exiled to the Seychelles — where the deposed sovereign occupied his time adapting a French ditty into what became the Malaysian national anthem.

* Birch’s ham-handed carelessness of local mores is the stock motivation imputed to his killers, but some have pointed to his move towards outlawing the slave trade as a serious ding to Dato Maharaja Lela’s bottom line.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Malaysia,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Separatists,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1848: Thomas Sale, game

Add comment January 10th, 2020 William Hepworth Dixon

(Thanks to Victorian historian William Hepworth Dixon for the guest post, excerpted from his John Howard, and the Prison-world of Europe The date is confirmed, as many dates hereabouts often are, by reference to the voluminous logs at CapitalPunishmentUK.org. Dixon’s distaste for the execution spectacle was received opinion among his class of bourgeois chin-strokers by this time; not for nothing, public executions became within the ensuing generation a thing of the past.)

It is, we fear, a capital mistake, under any circumstance, to lend an air of importance to the death of a criminal; and to invest or environ it with anything like beauty, dignity and romance, infinitely mischievous. There should be nothing of the heroic about public punishments — nothing which the vulgar mind could possibly deem desirable, or in which the most depraved heart could sympathize.

Only a few months ago [10 January 1848 -ed.] the writer was present at the execution of [Thomas] Sale the murderer. The crowd collected to see the exhibition was enormous. Amongst that crowd was the mother of the culprit. When the wretched man came forward on the scaffold, he looked pale and ghastly; but his bearing was insolent, and he died with the apparent insensibility of a dog. “Bravo!” cried his mother, as the drop fell, and the murderer was launched into eternity, “I knew he would die game!” A woman who had lived in adulterous intercourse with the malefactor was with her; they had made up a party to come and see the last of “poor Tom,” and when the tragedy was over, sallied off to a public house and made a day of it. Nor was this all. Among the party was another of the Sales, — brother to the murderer, son of the woman who, instead of shame, had found a glory in his death; he had been liberated from gaol only two or three days before the execution. His history is the moral of the gallows. Within a few weeks he was again arrested on a charge of robbery; the crime was clearly brought home to him, and he now lies under sentence of transportation. Another brother had been already sent off to a penal colony, these terrible warnings — hangings and transportation — were inoperative, even to the blood of the sufferers. From the altitude of its own scaffold, to hurl defiance in the face of society, in the presence of thousands of witnesses, is a point of honor and of pride with the criminal class. It is being game. Within its own sphere the family of which we speak enjoys a sort of high pre-eminence — a heroism in guilt. Dr. Moore is not far wrong when he says that our mode of punishing murderers is such as to warrant the idea that our object is not to prevent any one from following their example. Death punishments should be secret, but at the same time swift and certain; surrounded by all the terrors of an unseen but inexorable doom. When he passes from the court in which he receives condemnation the culprit should be seen of the world no more. This arrangement would be merciful to him, for no sufferer can be wholly unmindful of the vast tribunal before which he is now called upon to die, and a thousand thoughts of who may be there, what eyes may gaze upon his fall, and how he must and will deport himself in presence of these exacting judges, rush into and occupy his mind, to the exclusion of all better and more needful thoughts: at the same time, it would be far more terrible to his compeers in guilt — as much more terrible as the dark mystery of a doom which leaves no room for hope, and yet much scope for fear, always is, — than an end which we have seen, a worst which we have known.

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

1829: Thomas Maynard, the last hanged for forgery

Add comment December 31st, 2019 Headsman

The last day of the 1820s marked the last hanging for forgery in Great Britain: that of Thomas Maynard, at London’s Newgate Prison.

Maynard was charged with two other men* for forging an order of His Majesty’s Customs to pay them £1,973. They got the money and for a few months had that blessed relief from the weight of penury and debt; one of the numerous witnesses in their case described how one of Maynard’s confederates “was in difficulties in the year 1828 … I saw him in June last, when he told me his wife had 700l.”

It must have been nice, but they weren’t quite quick enough about executing their plan to sail for America.

Although the sovereign himself was the victim in this instance, British juries had grown ever more reluctant in the early 19th century to impose capital punishment for faking a document to non-violently steal some money — although there were still 218 such executions over the first 30 years of the century.

The availability of the death penalty for such a deed was repealed in 1832.

* Joseph West, who was acquitted, and Richard Jones, who was convicted only as an accessory and transported to Australia.

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1943: Four Aussie escapees, at the Hotel Tacloban

Add comment December 25th, 2019 Headsman

Christmas Day of 1943 witnessed the demoralizing beheadings of four Australian POWs in the Japanese camp near Tacloban on the Philippines island of Leyte.

This camp held Aussie and British war captives, but its definitive account titled The Hotel Tacloban* comes from the mouth of a lone American mixed in among them — witness to the cross-cutting tensions in this little world between the two nationalities, and between enlisted men and officers. Of notable import for this episode is the campwide resentment of the ranking British officer, one Major Roland Leeds Cumyns.

By the account of our American interlocutor, Cumyns “was the most arrogant, most conceited son-of-a-bitch I’d ever come across in my life; an impossible officer who was thoroughly convinced that God was an Englishman.” Worse, he embodied the class snobbishness of the privileged caste from whom British field officers were drawn and shamelessly aligned himself with the Japanese camp commandant Captain Yoshishito. The Australians in particular, for whom British class prerogatives were not imbibed with mother’s milk, abhorred him. “Pampered, primped and preened, the Major wholeheartedly believed that it was his manifest destiny to ascend to the pinnacle of his profession,” sneered our American observer, who fraternized mostly with the Aussies. “The Major took every opportunity to attend to his own creature comforts while flaunting his disdain for the plight of the Australians.”

On Christmas Eve, our four principals — names of Travis MacNaughton, Justice “Jassy” Colby, Larry Whitelam, and Tommy Philips, Aussies all — escaped from the Hotel Tacloban. Maybe they would have acted differently had they but known that the U.S. invasion of the Philippines would begin on the beaches of Leyte itself just ten months hence — but then again, ten months in this particular camp might have been worth the risk of one’s life. U.S. Army rangers who liberated the prisoners apparently wept to behold the “monstrous degradation” of their condition.

So thrilled that night by news of the breakout that the British and Australian sections competed in belting jovial renditions of “It’s a long way to Tipperary” and “Waltzing Matilda”, the camp by Christmas morning was tense with nervous anticipation. And as feared, right around daybreak, all four escapees were driven up on a flatbed truck, “badly beaten, blindfolded and bound in chains.” The entire camp was called to assemble for what came next, not excepting those in the infirmary who were carried out and propped up by their unwilling comrades, for “no ones was to be spared the executions.”

When everyone was present, Captain Yoshishito advanced and stood impassively beside the Major, both of their backs turned indifferently on the open space separating them from the four condemned Aussies on the back of the truck. With Yoshishito was the Executioner, a scabbard hanging from his hip, its tip dragging along the ground, the handle on the ceremonial sword itself almost a foot long and tucked up under his arm. Expressionless, their hooded eyes darting left and right, Yoshishito’s lieutenants stood poised and alert in front of Travis, Jassy, Larry and Tommy.

Tommy was reacting the worst; he’d gone completely to pieces. He was crying hysterically and had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the guards. Jassy and Larry were sobbing to themselves, struggling hard not to collapse. Travis was the only man who had not broken down. Standing ramrod straight, no sign of fear visible on his bearded face, he calmly asked that his blindfold be removed. The Major, with Captain Yoshishito’s approval, granted Travis’s request, and one of the Japanese officers untied it and pulled it off. And even though he stared directly into the rising sun, Travis didn’t blink. His eyes were glowing fiery red.

The guards separated the men four paces apart. They motioned for Travis to kneel in the dust with his head bent forward and he did so, without hesitation. The Executioner drew his sword and moved beside him. Dawn cast long shadows across the prison yard — the moment seemed arrested by the level sun.

I wanted to look away as I watched over the shoulder of the man standing in front of me, but there was some crazy compulsion to see. Try as I might, I couldn’t move my eyes from the blade on the ceremonial sword, which was long and slightly curved, but neither heavy nor thick nor ornate. Both hands on the hilt, the Executioner raised it above his shoulder, the sunlight momentarily glinting off the steel, then he brought it down.

I closed my eyes when he hit Travis — I couldn’t watch anymore after that — I just stood there with my eyes shut tight, hating myself and shivering inside, wanting desperately to cover my ears with my hands. But that wasn’t allowed, and three more times I heard that awful sound (the little bastards saved Tommy for last, for the devastating psychological effect), and then there was silence. Merciful silence. And in that absence of sound that followed the beheadings of Travis MacNaughton, Justice Colby, Larry Whitelam, and Tommy Philips, there wasn’t one man, Brit or Aussie, who didn’t know deep in his heart that the Major had to go. Speaking for every man there, Sgt. Major Goodhall, good soldier of the disgraced English Army, a man who’d been turned inside-out by his commanding officer’s treachery, a man who could no longer stand idly by while his honorable world crumbled around him, with utter contempt, turned and spit in the Major’s face.

Stunned speechless, his eyes blinking rapidly and his jaw muscle twitching uncontrolably, the Major quickly wiped the spittle away, then proceeded to strip Goodhall of his rank and ordered him placed under arrest. “Was there to be no end to the insults heaped upon him?” he seemed to be thinking. The man was insane.

Captain Yoshishito was astounded. It was inconceivable to him that ordinary soldiers of any army would demonstrate even the slightest hint of disrespect to their commanding officer. Such acts of defiance ate away at the very foundation upon which the chain of command is structured. Yoshishito stood there bewildered, regarding the situation with total disbelief — genuinely grieved that his brother officer, our lovely Major, had once again been publicly disgraced. Regaining his senses, Captain Yoshishito quickly signalled to his lieutenants, who selected eight Australians at random to dig graves and bury the dead. Then, speaking through a Filipino interpretor, he notified us that we were to be denied the right to conduct funeral services, that there would be no general issue of rice for the next two days, and that only the minimum water ration would be distributed, British officers excluded. The Australian officers were offered the same exemption, but flatly turned it down.

No one waited to be dismissed. Everyone just turned around and walked back to their huts.

The camp’s Aussie enlisted men drew straws the following morning for the responsibility of visiting their collective judgment on Major Cumyns. As night fell on Boxing Day, two of them garroted Cumyns in his tent, while their American adoptive comrade stood lookout.

* The Hotel Tacloban is by the American journalist Douglas Valentine, drawn from his conversations with (and primarily in the voice of) his father, the actual POW — also named Douglas Valentine. It’s a brief and compelling read, and it had an importance to the younger Valentine’s subsequent path quite surpassing the fact that it was his first book: Valentine’s empathetic portrayal of military men and the grim realities of war impressed CIA Director William Colby so much that Colby facilitated Valentine’s requested access to dozens of agents involved in the notorious Vietnam War-era assassination campaign, the Phoenix Program. The resulting interviews in turn led to Valentine’s still-essential tome The Phoenix Program and a subsequent career focus on the Agency which has produced (along with a great many articles) a book about intelligence coordination shaping the War on Drugs titled The Strength of the Pack, and the more recent volume, The CIA as Organized Crime. In Valentine’s own estimation, “Tacloban was key to unlocking the CIA’s door.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Australia,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Japan,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Philippines,Public Executions,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1609: Captain John Harris, Captain John Jennings, and 15 other pirates at Wapping

Add comment December 22nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date* in 1609, seventeen pirates hanged at Wapping’s “Execution Dock”. Though English, a large number of them had been taken in Ireland.

Elizabethan England had cultivated a reputation for the quantity and ferocity of her buccaneers, profitably plundering Spain’s New World treasure galleons and establishing themselves as a terror in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic — some, like Sir Francis Drake, with official blessing as privateers, and many others operating off-book knowing that a crown thirsty for specie would turn a blind eye to their business.

This sector was a rising tide that lifted many boats: commoners on the make and lords of the realm alike invested in pirating, and the proceeds washed over Britain’s wharfs to all the landlubbers who called pirates family, or who received their stolen plunder, or who sold ale to the conquering corsairs.

In 1603, the arrangement changed.

With Elizabeth’s death the crown passed to a man who disdained the profession and wanted to bring English hostilities with Spain to a close. James I had not yet even been crowned king in England when he published notice of a sea change in the piracy policy.

We are not ignorant that our late dear Sister, the late Queen of England, had of long time wars with the king of Spain, and during that time gave Licences and Commissions to divers of her, and our now Subjects, to let out and furnish to sea divers ships warlikely appointed, for the surprising and taking of the said King’s subjects’ goods, and for the enjoying of the same, being taken and brought home as lawful Prize.

We further will and command, that our men of war, as be now at sea having no sufficient commission as aforesaid, and have taken, or shall go to sea hereafter, and shall take any the ships or goods of any subject of any Prince in league or amity with us, shall be reputed and taken as pirates and both they and all their accessories, maintainers, comforters, and partakers shall suffer death as pirates and accessories to piracy, with confiscation of all their lands and goods, according to the ancient Laws of this Realm.

These are fine words for the diplomatic pouch but veteran raiders weren’t just going to throw over their only profession** and in practice James lacked the naval muscle to enforce his writ very far from English shores. Ireland, and in particular its most distant southwest province of Munster, had become a fine pirate haven jutting into Atlantic hunting-grounds, where the denizens of ports like Baltimore and Crookhaven merrily continued to welcome English sea rovers.

“Although these things happen more often in England than Ireland, by reason there is more plenty of Ports and Shipping, as also more abundance of Seamen,” wrote the English mariner Henry Mainwaring, who was alternately a pirate and a hunter of pirates.

yet in proportion Ireland doth much exceed it, for it may be well called the Nursery and Storehouse of Pirates, in regard of the general good entertainment they receive there; supply of victuals and men which continually repair thither out of England to meet with Pirates. As also, for that they have as good or rather better intelligence where your Majesty’s Ships are, than contrariwise they shall have of the Pirates. In regard of the benefit the Country receives by the one, and the prejudice, or incumber as they count it, of the other. Unto which must also be added the conveniency of the place, being that the South, the West, and the North Coasts, are so full of places and Harbours without command, that a Pirate being of any reasonable force, may do what he listeth. Besides that, many of that Nation are scarce so well reduced to any civil jurisdiction, as to make a conscience of trading with them.

And here we come to our post’s principal characters … who, it turns out, could not indeed do exactly what he listeth.

Bristol-born and ranging all the way to the Barbary Coast, Captain James Harris favored the port of Baltimore,† along Ireland’s southern coast, as a handy sanctuary where he “repaired and fresh victuald our ship” … but he should have favored it less. Having recently called there, Harris returned too soon, over the objections of his crew, who accurately warned that his name having been bandied about town was liable to attract some attention. He found an English warship waiting for his return but he was a game sport about the turn of fate that brought his end to show that he was no hypocrite since formerly, “making my felicity out of others mens miseries, while I thought prosperity at sea, as sure in my gripe, as the power to speak was free to my gontue, my actions were so imboldened, and my heart so hardned, that I held it a cowardise to dispaire to attempt, and effeminacy to pitie whosoever did perish.” Harris flung his hat to the crowd come to watch him die, and when someone shouted a question about a reprieve, he jauntily replied that he had “None, sir, but from the King of Kings.”

Preceding him at the Wapping gallows with a like prediction of eternal salvation, Captain John Jennings had a more operatic undoing when, likewise victualing at Baltimore, he insisted on taking his Irish lover aboard and triggered all the seamen’s superstitions when the pirates immediately ran into one of His Majesty’s warships, and soon thereafter barely survived a bloody scrap with two Spanish vessels that cost the pirates 10 crew members dead. The surviving crew huddled up and agreed that their rum luck “was a just judgement of God against them, in suffering their Captaine to bring his whore aboard.”

A mutiny overthrew his authority, and although it was eventually restored after the new guy proved himself a Queeg, the morale hit was obviously permanent, for much of his band deserted him the next time he put in at (again) Baltimore. With skeleton crew, he limped along the coast to the Earl of Thomond where he hoped for a hospitable reception; instead, his remaining mates betrayed him (and his last two loyal retainers) into English hands when the dissipated captain was blind drunk.

* The key source on this event is “The Lives, Apprehensions, Arraignments and Executions of the 19 late Pyrates, namely, Capt. Harris, Jennings, Longcastle, Downes, Haulsey, and their companions, as they were severally indited on St. Margret’s Hill, in Southwark, on the 22 of December last and executed the Friday following.” The title implies, wrongly, that the pirates were tried on Friday the 22nd and executed on Friday the 29th; in fact it is explicit right in the text that Captain Jennings “from a free and vnburthened heart, a patient mind and willing steps, I goe out of my chamber in the Marshalstes, the Friday morning being the two and twenty day of December to make my death-bed at Wapping.”

** Besides freebooting, English privateers were also keen to obtain new commissions from the Low Countries in the latter’s long-running revolt against Spain. But whether licensed or no, most regular sailors were scarcely in a position to hang up their cutlasses. “Those that were rich rested with what they had,” Captain John Smith wrote about the aftermath of James’s settlement with Spain. “Those that were poore and had nothing but from hand to mouth, turned Pirats; some, because became sleighted for those for whom they had got much wealth; some for that they could not get their due; some, all that lived bravely, would not abase themselves to poverty; some, vainly, only to get a name; others for revenge, covetousness, or as ill.” Plus ça change
.
† Baltimore figures in our story as a pirate-friendly landing; however, it’s most famous in buccaneering annals as the target for an infamous 1631 raid by Algiers corsairs, who carried off most of the villagers as slaves . See The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates.

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1739: Elizabeth Harrard

Add comment December 21st, 2019 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

The recovery of the body of a tiny baby boy was carried out by the Beadle of Isleworth, Mr. John Thackery, on Saturday the 14th of July 1739. He had been summoned to the bank of the Powder Mills River by a local farmer, one Mr. Ions who had discovered the baby floating in the river. Mr. Ions had taken the baby from the water and placed it on the grass beside the bank. The Beadle examined the corpse and noted that it had only been in the water a short while and was not bloated. He also noted that the little boy had received a severe blow to the left side of the head and that there was congealed blood around the wound. John Thackery took the child to the Stock House and the Middlesex Coroner, Mr. Wright, was informed of the death. Whilst there Mr. Thackery was told that there was a suspicion that one Elizabeth Harrard, of Isleworth was the mother of the baby and he duly investigated this. Elizabeth was detained by the Overseers of the Poor for neighbouring Teddington and bought back to Isleworth. She was in a very weak condition and Thackery was ordered to get her a bed as she was too ill to be sent to Newgate prison.

After Elizabeth’s arrest a Mrs. Elizabeth Nell examined the prisoner in her capacity as a midwife. Elizabeth told Mrs. Nell that she had given birth to a baby, claiming that it had been born on the previous Monday in a field and that she had been disturbed by some men and left the baby. Mrs. Nell replied that she did not believe this story and Elizabeth told her that the child was stillborn. Again Mrs. Nell said she did not believe this as she could tell from the corpse that the baby had been born alive. It seems that Elizabeth did not realise that Mrs. Nell was a professional midwife and when this was pointed out to her, Elizabeth gave another version of events. She now told Mrs. Nell that the baby had been born alive and had survived for just fifteen minutes. Elizabeth was resting by the river bank after giving birth and had the child on her lap when it rolled off and fell into the river. Mrs. Nell persisted with her questioning and the story changed a little, with Elizabeth now saying that the baby had lived for thirty minutes and that she wrapped it part of her apron and threw it into the river after it had been dead for an hour. Mrs. Nell had examined the corpse after it was recovered and noted that there was no water in it, in other words it had not drowned and felt that the cause of death was a severe blow to the head.

The Inquest was held on Wednesday the 18th of July and the coroner directed Mr. Thackery to show the body to Elizabeth. She begged him not to saying “’tis my own child, born of my own body.” Thackery asked her how she could tell that it was her child without seeing it. Elizabeth continued to insist that it was her child and implored the Beadle not to open the coffin.

The coroner’s court found that the child had been murdered by its mother and Elizabeth was committed for trial at the Old Bailey. This took place on the 6th of September 1739 and evidence was brought against her by John Thackery, Mrs. Elizabeth Nell and Mrs. Elizabeth Thackery (the Beadle’s wife), with Samuel Goodwin giving evidence for Elizabeth. John Thackery related the above story to the court.

Mrs. Thackery, the Beadle’s wife, also gave evidence against Elizabeth. Her husband had initially taken Elizabeth to a pub called the Sign of the Bell after her arrest and had asked his wife to look after her. She told the court that she had asked Elizabeth if she was the mother of the baby that had been found and Elizabeth agreed that she was. She also named the father as one John Gadd whom she had lived with for some time but who had deserted her when she became pregnant. She had also had a previous pregnancy by him which had miscarried. Elizabeth confessed to Mrs. Thackery that the baby had been born alive and that she had put it into the river. She told Mrs. Thackery that she was very poor indeed and had nothing to wrap the baby in, other than an old piece of apron.

In her own statement Elizabeth told the court that on the day the baby died she had walked to Richmond to seek work and had to rest because she had gone into labour. The Beadle of Richmond came to her and refused to get a woman to help her, instead threatening her and telling her to leave the parish immediately. She was similarly treated by Beadle of Twickenham and left in the field by the river to sort out her problems by her self. She told the court that she was in a very poor physical condition by this time and that she did not know whether the baby was dead or alive. Mrs. Nell confirmed that Elizabeth had told her of the Beadle of Richmond refusing her any form of assistance.

The only witness for the defence, other than Elizabeth herself, was Samuel Goodwin. He told the court that he has seen Elizabeth with John Gadd on several occasions and that she had told him that Gadd had taken the apron from her after the baby was born, torn off a piece of it and wrapped the baby in it before taking it away. He implied that it was therefore Gadd who had thrown it into the river and not Elizabeth. Against the rest of the evidence this was not really convincing and the jury returned a verdict of guilty against Elizabeth.

The Folly, Extravagance, and Luxury of young Gentlemen at this Time, especially of those about the Inns of Court, is but too notorious: Would they take warning by my Example, they would undoubtedly prevent those shocking Evils that are the sure Attendants upon Extravagance and Debauchery. Let them in the full Career of their Pleasures, reflect upon me. I have enjoy’d all the mad Delights the World could supply me with, have exhausted my Patrimony, impair’d my Health, and embarrass’d my Circumstances, in the Pursuit of Pleasure, and the Gratification of the Passions; the Consequence of which Conduct and Indulgence, (with bitterness of Soul I speak it) is my inevitable Destruction. Dear Friends, let Moderation and Temperance guide you in pursuit of Pleasure, acquiesce in the Dispensations of Providence, rest satisfy’d with the Portion that Heaven has bless’d you with, and be scrupulously tender of every Man’s Property. I am now upon the Point of bidding an eternal Adieu to the World, and what I speak is, from the very bottom of my Soul, and from the clear Ideas I have of the Beauty and Excellence of Virtue and Sobriety, and the pernicious Result of Vice and Immorality. Finally, my Brethren, whatsoever Things are honest, whatsoever Things are just, whatsoever Things are lovely, whatsoever Things are of good Report, if there be any Praise, if there be any Honour, think on these Things.

-last letter of William Barkwith, another condemned executed on Elizabeth Harrard’s same hanging-day

She was returned to Newgate to await sentence at the end of the Sessions and was duly condemned to hang. The Recorder did not recommend leniency in Elizabeth’s case and so she was scheduled for execution on the next “hanging day” which was to be Friday the 21st of December 1739. With her in the carts that morning were John Albin, John Maw, William Barkwith, James Shields, Charles Spinnel and Thomas Dent, all of whom had been convicted of highway robbery, Richard Turner who was to hang for stealing in dwelling house and Edward Goynes who had murdered his wife.

The usual procession set off for the journey to Tyburn where the prisoners were prepared by John Thrift and his assistants before all ten were launched into eternity together as the carts were drawn from under them. After they were suspended Susanna Broom was led to a stake that had been set up near the gallows and strangled and then burned for the Petty Treason murder by stabbing of her husband, John.

Elizabeth was one of seven women who were hanged nationally in 1739, and one of four to die for the murder of her bastard child.

Comment. It is impossible in this day and age to imagine the mental and physical condition that Elizabeth was in at the time the baby died. She was totally destitute, abandoned by her boyfriend, in great pain, very weak from having just given birth and denied assistance of any kind by the authorities. If indeed she did kill her baby it is not hard to understand the total desperation that led her to do so. However none of these factors, all of which were either known to the court at the time, or were basically self evident facts, were seen as an excuse for her crime in 1739.

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1583: Edward Arden, Shakespearean kin

Add comment December 20th, 2019 William Camden

(Thanks to historian William Camden for the guest post, via the 1583 chapter of his Annales. The gentleman in the second paragraph below, Edward Arden — second cousin to William Shakespeare’s mum — was executed on the 20th of December, 1583. -ed.)

And not onely these men troubled the Church at home, but also some which proceeded from these did the like abroad, namely Robert Browne a Cambridge man, a young student in Divinity, of whom the new sectaries were called Browniste, and Richard Harison a pety schoolmaster. for these two presuming but of their owne spirit to judge of matters of Religion, by bookes set forth at this time in Zeland and dispersed all over England condemned the Church of England as no Church, and intangled many in the snares of their new schisme, notwithstanding that their bookes were suppressed by the Queenes authority and soundly confuted by learned men, and that two of the Sectaryes, one after another, were excuted at Saint Edmunds Bury.

On the other side some Papists bookes against the Queene and Princes excommunicate drew some which had the Popes power in great reverence for their obedience, and amongst others they so distracted one Somervill, a gentilman, that in haste he undertooke a journey privily to the Queenes Court, and breathing nothing but blood against the Protestants, he furiously set upon one or two by the way with his sword drawne. Being apprehended, hee professed that hee would have killed the Queene with his owne hands. Whereupon he, and by his appeachment Edward Ardern his wives father, a man of very ancient gentility in the County of Warwicke, Ardern’s wife, their daughter Somervill, and Hall a Priest, as accessaries, were arrraigned and condemned. After three daies Somervill was found strangled in prison; Arderne, being condemned, was the next day after hanged and quartered; the woman and the Priest were spared. This woefull end of this gentleman, who was drawne in by the cunning of the Priest and cast by his own testimony, was commonly imputed to Leicesters malice. For certaine it is that hee had incurred Leicesters heavie displeasure, and not without cause, against whom hee had rashly opposed himselfe in all hee could, had reproached him as an adulterer, and detracted him as a new upstart.

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1668: Walter P(e)ake

Add comment December 17th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1668, Walter Peake or Pake was hanged in front of his own inn, for the drunken murder of his friend (and his occasional lawyer).

Our narrative below comes from an 1855 volume determined to establish the ancient presence (if not perhaps the consistently laudable behavior) of Catholics in Maryland. The distractingly jagged interposition of microquotes is original to the piece; these all allude to the record of the trial preserved in the Archives of Maryland, Volume 57. The indictment appears on p. 352 and after a couple of additional interceding indictments touching unrelated cases, the record of Peake/Pake’s trial unfolds from p. 354-356.

A genealogist’s take on this dangling ancestor is also available here.


It still remains for us, to notice the life of another Assembly-man of 1649; but one upon whose memory, is cast the shade of sin and shame; whose fate it was, under the stern laws of that period, to look forward, as the consequence of his own deed, to the forfeiture of all his lands, and to the beggary of his children; and, about the sixtieth year of his age, to suffer a felon’s death. The time of his arrival is not exactly known; but it is probable, he came in 1646; and that, in 1648 and 1649 (when he sat in the Assembly, apparently one of the most respectable members), he resided in Newtown hundred; as he certainly did soon afterwards, and for a period of many years later. From his association with Governor Calvert, we cannot doubt the sincerity of his attachment to the proprietary’s government. There is also further evidence of his faith in the Roman church, derived from the fact, that he did not sign the Protestant Declaration; from the composition of the jury, which tried his painful case; from his intimacy with many of the noted members of the Roman church, from more than one of whom did his children, at different times, receive those gifts, which it was so much the practice of the early colonial god-fathers to present; from the well-known Roman Catholic family of Peake, living in St. Mary’s, as late as the American Revolution, whose ascent indeed cannot be clearly traced (such has been the destruction of our records), but who, we have but little ground to doubt, were either his lineal or his collateral descendants; from the names given to his children; and from the marks borne by the tracts, he had taken up. His eldest daughter was named after the Virgin Mother; his son, in remembrance of him who is regarded as the chief of the Apostles, and the founder of the universal primacy of the Roman see. The names of his wife, of a second daughter, of a third member of his family, and of a friend, were, each of them, given to corresponding tracts, all of which had the prefix of St. More estates were surveyed for him, with the Roman Catholic mark, than for Governor Calvert, for Capt. Cornwallis, for Mr. Lewger, for Doctor Gerrard, or for any other Roman Catholic colonist in the whole province of Maryland. The evidence is conclusive.

At St. Mary’s city, in the month of December, during the year 1668, sat the high Provincial Court of the Right Honorable Cecilius, the lord proprietary. Charles Calvert, the governor, subsequently the third baron of Baltimore, was the chief justice. Before the bar of this tribunal, appeared this Assembly-man, indicted for the murder of William Price, by piercing him, with a “sword,” “on the left,” “through, to his right side, under the shoulder;” and then cutting his “throat,” to “the depth of three inches.” His plea (the usual one in such cases) was Not Guilty. Thomas Sprigg was the chief member of the grand jury; and Christopher Rowsby (destined, himself, many years afterwards, to die by the hand of violence*), the foreman of the panel summoned to try the case. No technical objection is made to the indictment; no attorney appears on the prisoner’s behalf; no testimony is offered in his defence; no witness for the proprietary, in any way, crossexamined.” The jury retire; but soon return with their verdict. Asking the court to say, whether the deed was manslaughter, or murder; they find he “is guilty of the death,” but “was drunk” at the time, and knew not “what he did.” He addresses no appeal to the sympathy of the judges; he submits no objection to the form of the verdict; but still remains in silence. “The whole bench, then,” decide, he is guilty of “murder.” But neither against the decision of the court, nor the impending sentence of death, does he utter a word. Once, and once only, did he open his mouth. It was the moment after the sentence. Then, he “desired,” as a favor (and the request was not denied), that “he” might “suffer death before his own house, where he” had “committed the fact.” Thus perished and passed away, upon the gallows, in the spirit of a Catholic penitent, after a life of toilsome, heroic sacrifice in the wilderness, one of the men so honorably connected with the most sublime and magnificent conception of the seventeenth century! Pope Alney was the name of his executioner — the only fact, which gives him a claim to any place upon the page of our country’s history.

* Rowsby (alternatively, Rousby) was fatally stabbed by George Talbot, a nephew of Lord Baltimore. (There’s a Talbot County, Maryland, which isn’t named for him personally but whose existence testifies to his family’s pull.) Talbot hid out in a cave that still bears his name on Garrett Island (aka Watson’s Island) — diligently fed by falcons, per local legend — before surrendering himself to judgment and the pardon of his kinsman, the governor. -ed.

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