A quarter-century ago this date, a “scared” mentally disabled prisoner named Jerome Bowden was electrocuted in Georgia for a crime many think he did not commit.
Bowden drew a death sentence for a robbery-murder on the strength of two very suspect pieces of evidence:
the accusation of a juvenile co-defendant who might well have been the real murderer; and
a signed confession Bowden could barely understand
While present-day DNA exonerations are fortunately forcing reconsideration of the ubiquitous problem of false confessions, Bowden’s was understandably doubted even before his execution.
Asked to explain his signature on a document obviously beyond his capacity to compose himself, he gave a confused answer that seemed to indicate he’d been led to sign it by a suggestion that it would keep him out of the electric chair.
“Detective Myles had told me this here … Had told me about could help me, that he could, you know, which I knew that confessing to something you didn’t take part in was-if you confess to something that you didn’t do, as if you did it, because you are saying that you did.”
Bowden’s assent to this fatal “admission” sadly evokes the characteristic eagerness to please one often encounters in the developmentally disabled — sometimes, as with Joe Arridy, to their own destruction.
It’s noticeable, too, in Bowden’s incongruously ingratiating last statements, recordings of which were taken and subsequently leaked publicly. This and others are available at SoundPortraits.org.*
Bowden had been evaluated with an I.Q. of 59 at the age of 14, the examiner reporting him “functioning at the lower limits of mild retardation. He has little or no insight into his situation … He is easily distracted and has a tendency to act on impulse regardless of the consequences.”
And even though the authorities hustled through a test the day before his execution that reckoned Bowden with an I.Q. of 65 — still solidly below the conventional threshold for retardation, but good enough for the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles — the whole affair shook the state. It “unsettled more than a few persons in government and law enforcement,” the Atlanta Constitution later editorialized.
Its [the state's] reasoning was grievously faulty. Whether Bowden understood his fate or not, whether he knew right from wrong — he was indisputably handicapped …
Most states have progressed beyond the dated right-wrong standard in weighing such cases … and ask: Could the defendant help himself? There is compelling evidence that Bowden could not …
brute whimsy was given full sway. For the state of Georgia, it was a willful lapse of decency.
-Atlanta Constitution, July 1, 1986 editorial**
This lapse of decency rippled over the months ahead until Georgia in 1988 became the first state to enact a law barring the execution of the mentally disabled.
While that decision was reversed in 2002, the putative ban on executing the mentally retarded in the United States remains very far from a bright line. It’s up to the states themselves to decide who falls under that definition,† and at least some have given ample indication that they’re prepared to exploit any expediency necessary to get a fellow onto death row, or keep him there. Earlier this very week, Texas (of course) put to death a man of dubious competence, Milton Mathis, essentially by cherry-picking its data and having federal appellate review barred on a technicality.
A quarter-century on, those ripples started by Jerome Bowden still have a way to go.
There, he and a fellow veteran named William Horbord or Horboard shot dead a native Maliseet for stealing their hog.
This brought neighboring peoples to a deadly tense standoff. The Maliseet demanded justice for their victim; white Canadians demanded … well, the right to shoot Maliseet without fear of their own neck.
Nelson and Horbord went right on trial, but how to finesse the situation?
According to an exhibit that unfortunately seems to have vanished from the Virtual Museum of Canada, natives “camped out around the presiding Judge Kingsclear’s home.” That must have got his commute off to an awkward start each day.
So a Solomonic compromise obtained: after the two were duly convicted and doomed to hang, Nelson, the principal offender, was measured for his coffin … while Horbord, deemed less culpable, received a pardon.
On this date in 1535, Catholic prelate John Fisher was beheaded on Tower Hill for refusing to endorse Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England.
The longtime Bishop of Rochester had only been elevated to the cardinalate weeks before by the new Pope Paul III, in the vain hope that the sublimity of the position would induce King Henry to ease the prelate’s imprisonment.
Henry eased it, all right. Permanently.*
Forbidding the official hat to be delivered to Albion, Henry declared he would dispatch its owner’s head to Rome instead.
A jury including the father of the usurping queen who had occasioned all this trouble — Anne Boleyn, of course, bound for the block herself in less than a year — condemned the aged ecclesiastic to death for treason.
He was hustled to the scaffold on this date to beat the June 24 feast day of his patron and namesake Saint John the Baptist, Christ‘s Biblical precursor who was … beheaded by a ruthless king whose marriage the Baptist had denounced. Struck a little too close to home, that.
Fisher’s friend and fellow-traveler both spiritual and temporal, Sir Thomas More, followed the cardinal’s footsteps to Calvary a fortnight later.
* It’s possible Henry had been out for Fisher’s blood for some time. As a foe of the king in his so-called Great Matter of many years’ standing, Fisher was the presumed target of a 1531 assassination-by-poison attempt that resulted in a horrific execution by boiling alive.
On this date in 1924, a group of Japanese Oomoto* sect members was lined up for execution by a Manchurian warlord — only to be saved at the last moment by the intervention of the Japanese consulate.
These inordinately lucky folk were the remnants of a bizarre “spiritual army” under Onisaburo Deguchi, who set out to plant a utopian colony on the Mongolian steppe.
Onisaburo (left) and Ueshiba, shackled together for deportation after their near-execution. Onisaburo’s part of this image looks a little touched-up.
Oomoto got started as a splinter sect from Shinto with an illiterate peasant woman named Nao Deguchi, who began receiving spiritual visions in the in the 1890′s. Onisaburo was her follower, and then her son-in-law, and certainly the foundling cult’s greatest exponent.
With his guidance, it blossomed as one of the early 20th century’s most successful “new religions”, a term encompassing the dizzying array of novel religious movements in Japan after the Meiji Restoration.**
A born showman and innovative communicator, Onisaburo was a natural to
[mediate] between traditional and modern Japan in a time of national transformation.
… he was no less a master at what Eric Hobsbawm termed the “invention of tradition.” …
Onisaburo’s imaginative rituals and personal presentation (he loved to star in movies, and to dress as a shaman or Shinto deity) combined enough folk tradition to seem familiar, yet always with a new twist suggesting up-to-date modernity and “scientific” awareness to boot.
In private communication with this site, Ellwood compared the advent of new religions like Oomoto to the roughly contemporaneous advent in the west of movements like Christian Science and Religious Science. Both of these, like Oomoto, explicitly aimed to yoke tradition and modernity together.
“In Japan the leap from a closed-off feudal society to a modern industrial powerhouse was particularly profound, and naturally disturbing to a lot of ordinary people,” Ellwood said. “The new religions tried to combine old and new, giving people baffled by change and the breakup of traditional peasant communities and ways of life something to hold on to. They said in effect, ‘We understand your problems; we can show how it all makes sense, how it will come out good in the end, and how you can fit in, be part of exciting times, and gain power in the process.’”
Onisaburo’s brand of evangelical, grassroots millenialism hit the big time in the 1910s and 1920s.
It also attracted official censure from authorities wary of deviation from the official Shinto religion.
Onisaburo did a short stint in prison for subversion in 1921, and shifted his attentions abroad.
“Onisaburo considered himself strongly internationalist in an idealistic way, and therefore was led to challenge the increasing nationalism of his time and even the Emperor himself, whereas many of the other new religions accommodated themselves to the prevailing political currents,” Ellwood observed. Later, Onisaburo would actually be prosecuted for lese majeste for his insufficient accommodation to imperial authority.
At any rate, as part of feeling out the proper spiritual direction after his first stint as a ward of the state, Onisaburo and some followers quietly slipped out of Japan in early 1924.
They made for Manchuria, then a de facto independent principality under the Tokyo-allied warlord Zhang Zuolin.
There, they recruited one of Zhang’s subordinates on a mission to form up a “spiritual army” to invade Outer Mongolia.
According to Stalker, this adventure initially had Zhang’s blessing — but he quickly soured on the freelance militia, a leader now calling himself the Dalai Lama, and the gang’s escalating aspiration to unite all of Mongolia on his borders. Zhang surrounded and suppressed the expedition, summarily executing most of the Chinese personnel.
Even if my body is exposed
on the plains of Mongolia
I will still keep the dignity of a Japanese
I will ascend to Heaven and protect
not only Japan but the whole world
Far away from Japan
I will now join the gods
in the sky of Mongolia
But the execution was dramatically aborted when Onisaburo was fortuitously able to hail a Japanese consular official who protected his countrymen.
Scarcely chastened — indeed, the adventure with its miraculous escape drew romantic media coverage back home — Onisaburo returned to Japan to rebuild Oomoto. He would continue dabbling in both internationalism (Oomoto adopted the sometimes-persecuted artificial language Esperanto) and Japan’s right-wing fringe (Stalker says that Onisaburo wisely declined Ikki Kita‘s invitation to finance a disastrous right-wing revolt).
Oomoto was violently suppressed in the 1930s, but retained many adherents and still exists today.
Martial artist Morihei Ueshiba was one of Onisaburo’s disciples to escape execution this date. Upon returning to Japan, the man parted ways with Oomoto and instead created the martial art form aikido.
* Alternatively, Omoto, or Omotokyo.
** And continuing to the present day. While Oomoto is also a going concern, the “new religion” most widely familiar to most readers will be the Aum Shinrikyo sect — notorious for carrying out the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway.
This master’s thesis (pdf) sets the scene for new religions (and specifically Oomoto) in early 20th century Japan.
This date marks the centennial of perhaps the most famous execution in the history of Reunion Island: the June 20, 1911 guillotining of Sitarane and Fontaine.
Sitarane (French link) — his actual name was Simicoudza Simicourba — hailed from Portuguese Mozambique, supposedly from a long line of sorcerors.
A contract job brought him to Reunion, but he soon abandoned it for the black [magic] economy. A fellow purported necromancer named Pierre-Elie Calendrin pulled Sitarane and run-of-the-mill hoodlum Emmanuel Fontaine into a prolific little crime ring that terrorized Reunion around 1907 to 1909, amassing about a dozen murders.
And what murders!
Most of the sources on this circle are French, and they narrate weird occult criminality: reading tarot and sacrificing a black cock before a proposed adventure, drinking the blood of their victims to gain their strength.
Still, this was practical magic: Calendrin, Sitarane and Fontaine killed people so that they could rob them.
So it was with their dark arts, too: the sacrificed chickens were drugged and tossed to watchdogs; a mysterious powder blown through keyholes narcotized targets before the gang burst in to do its dirty work. It’s Sherlock Holmes in the Indian Ocean.
The three were finally surprised in the midst of one of their mercantile and monstrous sorties, and tried in 1910.
Although all three received death sentences, Calendrin — who as the trio’s leader would figure to have been the most culpable among them — had his execution mysteriously commuted to penal transportation to Guyana instead. Maybe he foretold the lottery numbers for a judge, or just cooked him a mean chicken dinner.
Sitarane died wailing a Comorian death-chant. Fontaine, more panicky, resisted the executioners and got his neck in a twist, resulting in a bad strike from the blade that lodged in his jaw.
But bad luck on the appellate circuit would mean a bit of immortality that the spared Calendrin could never obtain: today’s doomed — most particularly Sitarane — live on yet as popular saints with a special appeal to the underworld.
Sitarane’s jaunty red grave in Saint-Pierre attracts a lively flow of cult offerings from supplicants hoping to avail the powers of its resident thaumaturge … and of gawkers who do not fear to tempt the evil eye by photographing same. Allegedly, it’s the place to pray for fortune in the sort of nefarious scheme Sitarane used to get up to: folk contemplating a robbery or homicide are among those particularly likely to invoke their criminal forebear, as are those who fear such plots against them.
Image: Par Thierry Caro (Travail personnel) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) ou CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The toxic hallucinogen Datura, a “witches’ weed” of long standing deployed over the centuries in all manner of potions and poultices, is knownlocally as Herbe à Sitarane.
Anyone who has ever had an unedifying experience of pedagogy ought to be able to sympathize with Jan Sten, the Marxist philosopher once hired to tune up Joseph Stalin’s intellectual credentials and who on this date in 1937 was purged by his former pupil.
Hardly anyone knew Stalin better than Sten. Stalin, as we know, received no systematic education. Without success Stalin struggled to understand philosophical questions. And then, in 1925, he called in Jan Sten, one of the leading Marxist philosophers of that time, to direct his study of Hegelian dialectics. Sten drew up a program of study for Stalin and conscientiously, twice a week, dinned Hegelian wisdom into his illustrious pupil. (In those years dialectics was studied by a system that Pokrovsky had worked out at the Institute of Red Professors, a parallel study of Marx’s Capital and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind.) Often Sten told me in confidence about these lessons, about the difficulties he as the teacher, was having because of his student’s inability to master Hegelian dialectics. Jan often dropped in to see me after a lesson with Stalin, in a depressed and gloomy state, and despite his naturally cheerful disposition, he found it difficult to regain his equilibrium. Sten was not only a leading philosopher but also a political activist, an outstanding member of the Leninist cohort of old Bolsheviks. The meetings with Stalin, the conversations with him on philosophical matters, during which Jan would always bring up contemporary political problems, opened his eyes more and more to Stalin’s true nature, his striving for one-man rule, his craft schemes and methods for putting them into effect … As early as 1928, in a small circle of his personal friends, Sten said: “Koba will do things that will put the trials of Dreyfus and of Beilis in the shade.”This was his answer to his comrades’ request for a prognosis of Stalin’s leadership over ten years’ time. Thus, Sten was not wrong either in his characterization of Stalin’s rule or in the time schedule for the realization of his bloody schemes.
Sten’s lessons with Stalin ended in 1928. Several years later he was expelled from the party for a year and exiled to Akmolinsk. In 1937 he was seized on the direct order of Stalin, who declared him one of the chiefs of the Menshevizing idealists.* At the time the printer had just finished a volume of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia that contained a major article by Sten, “Dialectical Materialism.” The ordinary solution — and such problems were ordinary in those years — was to destroy the entire printing. But in this case the editors of the encyclopedia found a cheaper solution. Only one page of the whole printing was changed, the one with the signature of Jan Sten. “Dialectical Materialism” appeared over the name of M.B. Mitin, the future academician and editor in chief of Problems of Philosophy, thus adding to his list the one publication that is really interesting. On June 19, 1937, Sten was put to death in Lefortovo prison.
* Menshevizing idealism — here’s an official Soviet definition from the 1970′s — was among Stalin-era “polemical by-words for philosophical heresy.” (Robert Tucker, “The Rise of Stalin’s Personality Cult,” The American Historical Review, Apr. 1979)
It’s at dawn on this date in 1800 that the republican Mario Cavaradossi is shot at Castel Sant’Angelo in the climax of the Puccini opera Tosca.
This opera was adapted from the play La Tosca, by Victorien Sardou. That author does this site the considerable favor of exactly dating the action; a character at the end of Act 1, Scene 1 announces, “this evening, 17 June, a celebration at the Palazzo Farnese in honor of this victory.” The remaining story unfolds over that night and into the next morning.
En route to Marengo: Jacques-Louis David‘s heroic picture of Napoleon crossing the Alps comes from this campaign.
“This victory” worth the proposed palazzo party is the Austrian defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Marengo during Bonaparte’s 1800 invasion of Italy.
But there’s a minor problem. Said seesaw battle went not to Austria but (decisively) to Napoleon, after a late French rally.
The action of Tosca takes place in a Rome which has received an initial, incorrect notice of Austrian victory. This is of particular import in the Eternal City because it’s under the temporary receivership of the Hapsburg Queen Maria Carolina, a virulent foe of the French Republic as befits a sister of Marie Antoinette.
(France-supported Italian revolutionaries had already deposed Maria Carolina once; the Corsican’s reappearance on her peninsula gave her good cause to fear that it would happen again.*)
At any rate, “Queen Caroline” and her husband Ferdinand were not above spilling blood to hold down the republican elements in Rome. Harold Acton pegged their harvest at “8,000 political prisoners … 105 were condemned to death, six of whom were reprieved.”
Our date’s fictional principal would reckon among those.
We meet him as a painter with subversively liberal inclinations, in love with the titular heroine as she with him — but opposed by police chief Scarpia: his profession is to pursue revolutionaries; his passion, to pursue Tosca.
Scarpia captures, and tortures, Cavaradossi for aiding an escaped official of the recently destroyed Roman Republic, and forces Tosca to yield herself to him in exchange for her lover’s life.** This is Tosca’s aria lamenting her position:
One thing: because Scarpia doesn’t want to be implicated in the release of a dangerous radical, he insists on a mock-execution in which the prisoner will appear to be shot and feign death, the better to spirit Cavaradossi away and on to happily-ever-after.†
And because Scarpia is a villain, he arranges for his rival’s “mock” execution to be not so mock after all … to the suicidal horror of Tosca.
There are scads more Tosca excerpts on YouTube. Here’s an Italian-English libretto, and here a handy summary.
This is the anniversary of that day, which saw droogish brothers Isaac, Israel, and Nelson Thayer turned off from the same gallows for the murder of John Love — the Thayers’ former boarder, turned considerable creditor, turned potential forecloser.
We have received from Constantinople the following further particulars of the revolt of the Janissaries: –
“June 16, 3 o’clock p.m.
“The Sultan was at his summer palace of Bschektash. The Aga Pacha, and the Pacha commanding on the Asiatic bank of the Bosphorus, repaired to Constantinople with their troops: 8,000 topschis, or artillery, also went thither. At length, his Sublimity being resolved to quell the rebellion, caused the standard of the Prophet to be displayed, and proclamations to be made in all the quarters of the city, that all men of honour — that is to say, true believers — had immediately to rally round this standard. The Ulemas met in the Seraglio. The appearance of the Snadgiak Sherif caused some hesitation among the rebels; their numbers were reduced by desertion, while, on the other hand, all the people hastened to assemble round the sacred standard. The energy of the Aga Pacha did the rest; he has crushed the rebles with grape-shot, burnt their barracks in the Ahnudan, and pursued them without mercy.
“The Grand Vizier is in the Court of the Mosque of Sultan Achmet, in the Hippodrome, with the Sandgiak Sherif still displayed; the chiefs of the corps of the Ulemas are met there in council; the Sultan is at the Seraglio, with the great men of the empire. Every moment persons are brought into the Hippodrome, and executed on the spot. Above 100 Oustas have already suffered this fate. This morning all the gates of Constantinople, except one, are shut or guarded by topschis and citizens. The remainder of the rebels have taken refuge in some khans built of stone, where they are invested, and where, to all appearance, famine will soon deliver them to the mercy of the Aga Pacha.
-London Times, July 15, 1826 (translating July 11 reports published in the French papers)
This date in 1826 finds Constantinople in the midst of what history will remember as the Auspicious Incident — an attempted revolt by the Ottoman Empire’s elite Janissary corps that was not at all auspicious for the Janissaries.
Jealous of their material privileges and political prerogatives even as the dawn of industry and conscript armies undermined their combat utility, the Janissaries had become much more trouble than they were worth.†
They had “begun to present a serious threat to the Empire,” wrote Lord Kinross in Ottoman Centuries. “On the battlefield they were gaining a reputation among the modern foreign armies for ineptitude and even cowardice under arms … In the capital … they came to be a dominant power and a focus of sedition.”
Kinross wrote that about the Janissaries of the early 17th century, in the reign of Osman II. (Osman tried to curtail the troop’s power, and was executed by his bodyguards for his trouble.)
A couple of centuries on from that moment, and the Janissaries are still skulking about the Seraglio, still keeping their supposed masters in mortal terror, still arbitrating the succession.
For a generation, Mahmud had waited and readied himself for the opportunity to sweep this piece off the chessboard. This would be a most Auspicious Incident indeed.
Kinross and many other historians suspect that Mahmud intentionally baited the Janissaries to revolt in 1826, but whether or not that is so, they did revolt — in response to a decree reorganizing the corps.
Mahmud was ready for them. He repelled the Janissary mutiny on June 15, and as described by our third-hand correspondent above, proceeded to slaughter them without mercy: under artillery barrage in the barracks they retreated to, or by the summary execution of all who surrendered — not just on this date, but throughout the Incident and extending to the further reaches of the empire where Mahmud’s agents carried his decree abolishing the Janissaries forever.
* Culled from children taken from non-Muslim families and raised as Islamic converts.
† There’s a competing historiography contending (pdf) that, contrary to the corrupt-backwards-military-caste story, it was the Janissaries’ economic and social links that brought on their destruction: they became the entity representing the autonomous Ottoman classes, such as artisans and guilds, who had the most to lose from the elites’ state modernization project.
(The illustrations, their captions, and the footnotes are interpositions from ExecutedToday.com.)
In Boston, the earliest execution for witchcraft was that of Margaret Jones, of Charlestown, on June 15, 1648.* There seems to be no evidence that any earlier case of witchcraft was under investigation in the colony.
Her husband, Thomas Jones, was arrested at the same time on the same charge, but he was not convicted. The little we know of Margaret Jones we find in Governor Winthrop’s Journal. She was evidently a strong-minded woman, and a skilful practitioner of medicine … There was no charge that she had bewitched any one, and the usualphenomena of spectres, fits, spasms, etc. were wanting. The main evidence on which she was convicted was her imps, which were detected by “watching” her …
The Court Records and the Deputies’ Records … for May 18, give an order concerning Margaret Jones and her husband, without the mention of their names, as follows: –
This court, desirous that the same course which hath been taken in England for the discovery of witches, by watching [them a certain time] may also be taken here with the witch now in question: [It is ordered that the best and surest way may forthwith be put in practice, to begin tis night, if it may be, being the 18th of the 3d month] that a strict watch be set about her every night, and that her husband be confined to a private room and watched also” (Deputies’ Records, with the words in brackets inserted from the Court records).
The theory of the English law books was that every witch had familiars or imps, which were sent out by the witch to work deeds of darkness, and that they returned to the witch once a day, at least, for sustenance, and usually in the night. By watching the witch these imps might be detected, and thus furnish certain proof of guilt in the accused.
1647 frontispiece of English witch hunter Matthew Hopkins‘s tract The Discovery of Witches shows witches and their various named familiars.
Michael Dalton’s Country Justice, containing the Practice, Duty, and Power of Justices of the Peace, was a common book in the colonies, and was quoted in the witch trials at Salem. In the chapter on “Witchcraft” it has the following directions: –
Now against these witches, being the most cruel, revengeful, and bloody of all the rest, the justices of the Peace may not always expect direct evidence, seeing all their works are the works of darkness, and no witnesses present with them to accuse them; and, therefore, for the better discovery, I thought good here to insert certain observations, partly out of the ‘Book of Discovery of the Witches that were arraigned at Lancaster, Anno 1612, before Sir James Altham and Sir Edward Bromley, Judges of Assize there,’ and partly out of Mr. [Richard] Bernard’s ‘Guide to Grand Jurymen.’
These witches have ordinarily a familiar, or spirit, which appeareth to them, sometimes in one shape and sometimes in another; as in the shape of a man, woman, boy, dog, cat, foal, hare, rat, toad etc.
A 1579 English image of a witch feeding her familiars. (But not from secret teats.)
And to these their spirits they give names, and they meet together to christen them (as they speak). Their said familiar hath some big or little teat upon their body, and in some secret place, where he sucketh them. And besides their sucking the Devil leaveth other marks upon their body, sometimes like a blue or red spot, like a flea-biting, sometimes the flesh sunk in and hollow (all which for a time may be covered, yea, taken away, but will come out again in their old form). And these Devil’s marks be insensible, and being pricked will not bleed, and be often in their secretest parts, and therefore require diligent and careful search. These first two are main points to discover and convict those witches; for they fully prove that those witches have a familiar, and made a league with the Devil. So, likewise, if the suspected be proved to have been heard to call upon their spirits, or to talk to them, or of them, or have offered them to others. So if they have been seen with their spirit, or to feed something secretly; these are proofs that they have a familiar. They have often pictures [images] of clay or wax, like a man, etc., made of such as they would bewitch, found in their house, or which they may roast or bury in the earth, that as the picture consumes, so may the parties bewitched consume (Edition of 1727, p. 514.)
Mr. John Gaule, in his Select Cases of Conscience touching Witches and Witchcraft, 1646, p. 77, condemning the barbarous methods of discovering witches, thus describes the mode of “watching a witch” in use at the time: –
Having taken the suspected witch, she is placed in the middle of a room upon a stool or table, cross-legged, or in some uneasy posture, to which if she submits not, she is bound with cords. She is there watched, and kept without meat or sleep for the space of four-and-twenty hours. — for they say within that time they shall see her imp come and suck. A little hole is likewise made in the door for the imps to come in at.
Margaret Jones was “searched” and “watched;” the fatal witch-marks were discovered, and her imp was seen in “the clear day-light,” as appears in the record of the case which Governor Winthrop made in his Journal at the time: –
[June 15, 1648].** At this court, one Margaret Jones, of Chalrestown, was indicted and found guilty of witchcraft, and hanged for it. The evidence against her was –
That she was found to have such a malignant touch, as many persons, men, women, and children,, whom she stroked or touched with any affection or displeasure, or etc. [sic], were taken with deafness, or vomiting, or other violent pains or sickness.
She practising physic, and her medicines being such things as, by her own confession, were harmless, — as anise-seed, liquors, etc., — yet had extraordinary violent effects.
She would use to tell such as would not make use of her physic, that they would never be healed; and accordingly their diseases and hurts continued, with relapse against the ordinary course, and beyond he apprehension of all physicians and surgeons.
Some things which she foretold came to pass accordingly; other things she would tell of, as secret speeches, etc., which she had no ordinary means to come to the knowledge of.
She had, upon search, an apparent teat … as fresh as if it had been newly sucked; and after it had been scanned, upon a forced search, that was withered, and another began on the opposite side.
In the prison, in the clear day-light, there was seen in her arms, she sitting on the floor, and her clothes up, etc., a little child, which ran from her into another room, and the officer following it, it was vanished. the like child was seen in two other places to which she had relation; and one maid that saw it, fell sick upon it, and was cured by the said Margaret who used means to be employed to that end. Her behavior at her trial was very intemperate, lying notoriously, and railing upon the jury and witnesses, etc., and in the like distemper she died. The same day and hour she was executed, there was a very great tempest at Connecticut, which blew down many trees, etc. (ii. 397, ed. of 1853).
Mr. John Hale,† in his Modest Inquiry, p. 17, mentions the case, but none of the incidents recorded by Winthrop. He was born in Charlestown, was twelve years old at the time, and with some neighbors visited the condemned woman in prison the day she was executed. He says: –
… She was suspected, partly because that, after some angry words passing between her and her neighbors, some msichief befell such neighbors in their creatures [cattle] or the like; partly because some things supposed to be bewitched, or have a charm upon them, being burned, she came to the fire and seemed concerned.
The day of her execution I went, in company of some neighbors, who took great pains to bring her to confession and repentance; but she constantly professed herself innocent of that crime. Then one prayed her to consider if God did not bring this punishment upon her for some other crime; and asked if she had not been guilty of stealing many years ago. She answered, she had stolen something; but it was long since, and she had repented of it, and there was grace enough in Christ to pardno that long ago; but as for witchcraft she was wholly free from it, — and so she said unto her death.
There is no other contemporary mention of the case. It is a horrible record; and if downright, stolid superstition and inhumanity was not surpassed, if, indeed, it was equalled, at Salem forty-four years later. That it was an incident characteristic of the time, and that similar atrocities were being committed in every nation in Europe without shocking the sensibilities of the most refined and cultivated men of that day, are the only mitigating circumstances which can be suggested.
Thomas Jones, the husband of the woman executed, found, on his release from prison, that his troubles had only begun. He resolved to leave the country, and took passage in the Boston ship “Welcome,” riding at anchor before Charlestown … The weather was calm, yet the ship fell to rolling, and so deep it was feared she would founder … hearing that te husband of the executed witch was on board, between whom and the captain a dispute had arisen as to his passage-money, [the County Court of Boston] sent officers to arrest him, one of them saying “the ship would stand still as soon as he was in prison.” No sooner was the warrant shown, tan the rolling of the ship began to stop, and after the man was in prison it moved no more.‡
* Not to be confused with the first witchcraft execution in all of New England, witchwhich distinction belongs, so far as can be documented, to Alse Young in Connecticut the previous year.
** Winthrop does not date this entry himself. The author of this piece observes in a footnote here that “the date next preceding is June 4, 1648. The true date of the execution was doubtless June 15, as appears in Danforth‘s Almanac for that year.
† John Hale is of particular interest as one of the ministers later involved in the Salem witch trials — proceedings he initially supported, but turned against as they unfolded. He appears in that capacity as a character in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible; there’s a short YouTube video series exploring his character in that play: Part 1 | Part 2
The work cited here, A Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft, was Hale’s post-Salem critique of witchcraft theology and jurisprudence.
‡ Suggestive evidence indeed. Montague Summers might encourage us to consider the possibility that the Joneses really were witches.