Posts filed under 'USA'

1779: Manuel, burned for witchcraft in the USA?

Add comment June 15th, 2019 Clarence Alvord

(Thanks to the late University of Illinois history professor Clarence Walworth Alvord for the guest post, which originally appeared in an essay he wrote for the centennial of the Land of Lincoln‘s 1818 statehood. For context to this 1779 execution, the area comprising the future U.S. state of Illinois had been attached by the British crown to its own recently annexed province of Quebec, formerly French and Catholic. Illinois had then been seized during the Revolutionary War by Virginia, which at this moment (and only a few years thereafter) maintained it as Virginia’s own “Illinois County”. Notwithstanding Dr. Alvord’s rebuttal, the slave Manuel is still frequently described down to the present day as having been burned for witchcraft. -ed.)

The secret of writing true history depends upon the collection of all the contemporary evidence bearing on the case. The reason that people complain of the changing interpretations of history is that new material is found as society demands a broader and broader interpretation of the phenomena of the past. There was a time when history consisted in what we call to-day the drum and fife history; the doings of the great political leaders, events of military glory; and almost no other phenomena of changing society were noted. To-day the task of the historian, however, is far greater; and he is obliged to cast his net far afield in order to collect the material for the social development of the past …

“it must be remembered that the Creoles were very ignorant and superstitious, and that they one and all, including, apparently, even their priests, firmly believed in witchcraft and sorcery. Some of their negro slaves had been born in Africa, the others had come from the Lower Mississippi or the West Indies; they practised the strange rites of voudooism, and a few were adepts in the art of poisoning. Accordingly the French were always on the look-out lest their slaves should, by spell or poison, take their lives …

At this time the Creoles were smitten by a sudden epidemic of fear that their negro slaves were trying to bewitch and poison them. Several of the negroes were seized and tried, and in June two were condemned to death. One, named Moreau, was sentenced to be hung outside Cahokia. The other, a Kaskaskian slave named Manuel, suffered a worse fate. He was sentenced “to be chained to a post at the water-side, and there to be burnt alive and his ashes scattered.” These two sentences, and the directions for their immediate execution, reveal a dark chapter in the early history of Illinois. It seems a strange thing that, in the United States, three years after the declaration of independence, men should have been burnt and hung for witchcraft, in accordance with the laws and with the decision of the proper court. The fact that the victim, before being burned, was forced to make “honorable fine” at the door of the Catholic church, shows that the priest at least acquiesced in the decision. The blame justly resting on the Puritans of seventeenth-century New England must likewise fall on the Catholic French of eighteenth-century Illinois.

-Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West

An example of how easy it is to misinterpret a past event, provided all the material available is not collected, and how easy is that interpretation after the material has been found, has come under my observation … About forty years ago Edward G. Mason, at that time secretary of the Chicago Histori[c]al Society, found the record book kept by the county Lieutenant, John Todd,* in the year 1779, when Todd came to govern the territory that had been occupied by George Rogers Clark and his Virginians during the Revolutionary War. In this record book Mason found the copy of a warrant for the death of a negro, named Manuel, by burning at the stake, which burning was to take place after consolation to the criminal had been given by the parish priest. The copy of the warrant had been crossed out by drawing lines through it. Please bear this fact in mind, since it should have suggested a correct interpretation. Naturally this warrant aroused the imagination of Mr. Mason, and he vegan to search for an explanation and discovered that about this time there was an outbreak of voodooism among the Illinois slaves and that two slaves had been put to death. He drew the natural conclusion therefore that Manuel had been burned at the stake for the practice of witchcraft. Basing his interpretation upon Mr. Mason’s find, a well-known ex-president, Theodore Roosevelt, who among other occupations has dabbled in history, wrote at some length upon this episode and drew a comparison between eighteenth century Catholic Illinois, where for the practice of witchcraft men were burned at the stake with the sancttion [sic] of the parish priest and in accordance with French Catholic law, with a similar episode in the history of Puritan Massachusetts in the seventeenth century.

Fortunately there has come into my hands a full record of the court’s proceedings by which Manuel was condemned; and I find that the judges in the case, although they were obliged to listen to the superstitious accusations of negro slaves, were careful to determine the fact that Manuel and another negro had been guilty of murder by poisoning their master and mistress, Mr. and Mrs. Nicolle, and that it was for this act the two negroes were condemned to death. I then looked up the law of the land. Naturally it might be supposed as Roosevelt did that this was French law, but there was another possibility, namely that Virginia law in criminal cases would be used by a Virginian magistrate, such as John Todd. I found that the Virginia law in the case of murder of a master by a slave was death by burning at the stake so that in the case of Manuel you see that the condemnation was strictly in accordance with Virginia law and not with French law. Another document of even greater interest in the case also came to my hands. It certainly was a surprise. This was another warrant for the death of Manuel, issued at a later hour in the day, but by this later warrant the death penalty was changed from burning at the stake to hanging by the neck. To summarize then: Manuel was not condemned for witchcraft but for murder; he was not condemned to be burned at the stake in accordance with French law, but in accordance with Virginia law; and finally he was not burned at the stake at all, but was hung by the neck. This is an excellent example of the danger of drawing inferences in regard to historic events upon too narrow information. There was one fact which both Mr. Mason and Mr. Roosevelt ignored in their interpretation of the warrant. The copy of the warrant was found in a carefully kept record book, and was crossed out by lines being drawn through it. That fact should have made them suspicious of their own interpretation. Records such as this condemnation to death would not be lightly erased by the keeper of a record book. An historical Sherlock Holmes would not have been misled.

* Todd’s brother Levi was grandfather to eventual U.S. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. -ed.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Illinois,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,USA,Virginia,Witchcraft

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2010: Melbert Ray Ford, abusive partner

2 comments June 9th, 2019 Headsman

Melbert Ray Ford was executed by lethal injection in Georgia on this date in 2010, for murdering his ex-girlfriend and her niece.

On tilt from when Martha Chapman Matich broke up with him several weeks prior to the March 1986 crime, Ford had menaced her repeatedly by phone while openly fantasizing to friends about murdering her execution-style after forcing her to beg for mercy. It did not require the benefit of hindsight to know that this was more than idle talk; Ford had a previous conviction (from 1978) for making terroristic threats and criminal trespass. He’d also been violently abusive to Matich during their relationship of more than a year.

On March 6, Ford hired an unemployed teenager to drive him to the Newton County grocery where Matich worked, just after closing. (That driver, Roger Turner, got a prison sentence and was paroled in 1991.) Matich was working alone there — another employee had gone home sick — accompanied only by her 11-year-old niece Lisa.

As the terrified woman sounded the store’s alarm, Ford blasted his way through the locked glass door, then shot his former lover thrice. As for the little girl, “Lisa was at the store playing with the minnows and crickets sold as bait and didn’t want to leave her aunt alone at the store. According to the March 23, 1986 edition of The Covington News, Turner confessed that ‘Ford described killing Lisa Chapman in the bathroom at the grocery. Turner said that Ford told him that she was crouched by the toilet staring at him, so he felt he had to shoot her.’ ‘She was begging him not to do it in the bathroom where she went to hide,” said [Lisa’s mother Cindy] Chapman-Griffeth.”

Ford fled the store with a sack of loot and left the scene with his confederate — the last night he would spend at liberty on this earth. Police responding to the store alarm rolled up minutes later, to find Martha Matich dead behind the counter and Lisa Chapman convulsing on the restroom floor with a mortal gunshot wound to the head.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Georgia,Lethal Injection,Murder,Theft,USA

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1895: John Eisenminger, forgiven

1 comment June 6th, 2019 Headsman

From the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot of June 7, 1895.

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

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1895: Lafayette Prince

Add comment May 29th, 2019 Headsman

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 29, 1895. The hot swap from “Chaplain Winget” to “Chaplin Wingate” is all [sic].

Columbus, May 28. — (Special.) — Lafayette Prince partook heartily at 6 o’clock of his last meal, at which he was given porterhouse steak, fried eggs and coffee, finishing the meal with strawberry short cake and cream. The other seven inmates at the annex were present at the meal. All appeared to relish the dainty dishes with the exception of Molnar, who was very nervous and excited.

Chaplain Winget conducted general religious services in the annex, in which all took part. At 8:35 Capt. John Langenberger entered the annex and informed Prince that the time had arrived for him to enter the death cage. It was expected that the murderer would weaken when the time came for the final separation from the others, but Prince surprised all by promptly replying to the request of Langenberger, “All right.” He then bade the other inmates farewell and with a light step ascended the stairway to a little narrow cell which he was to leave only to go to his death. At 10 o’clock a report reached the front office that the man so soon to enter eternity was at that time whistling “Irish Moll.”

Prince has always expressed great affection for his little boy and has often wished to see him before his death. When Chaplin Wingate visited the murderer at 10:30 Prince gave him a box of letters and a few small trinkets and requested that they be given to the boy. The letters were those received by the murderer since he was received at the penitentiary.

Prince was still holding out well at 11:30, and when asked how he felt responded “tip top.” He regretted very much that his brother at Cleveland had failed to be present, and said his brother had written him a few days ago that he would be here. “But that makes no difference,” said Prince. “I have made my peace with God and man and am prepared to go.”

Warden James read the death warrant to Prince at 11:30. The condemned man was unmoved during the reading of the instrument, and at the conclusion remarked that he was ready to go and anxious for the execution to be over.

Prince was hanged shortly after midnight. The drop fell at 12:11, and in fourteen and one-half minutes life was pronounced extinct. Prince’s nerve did not desert him to the last, and he died without a show or emotion or a struggle.

While the fastenings of death were being adjusted by two guards the condemned man gazed intently before him and appeared to be the least concerned of all present. Prince was asked if he desired to make a statement and replied: “No; I have nothing to say.” The black cap was then adjusted, the rope placed about his neck and the lever sprung. The body shot through the drop with lightning like rapidity, rebounded, turned half around and then hung limp until life was pronounced extinct. The neck was broken by the fall. The dead house gang entered, removed the body and the final act in the tragedy was completed.


The crime for which Lafayette Prince was hanged was the murder of his wife in Nottingham on the morning of Sept. 17, 1894. Prince had difficulty with his wife for several months. They did not live happily together. She insisted that she would go and assist her brother in gathering his grape crop. Prince remonstrated and insisted that she and the only son, Freddy Prince, should devote their time to gathering the crop on the Prince farm. Mrs. Prince argued that the grapes on the Prince farm were not in a condition to gather. The breach widened and on the afternoon of Sept. 16 Mrs. Prince and her son returned from her brother’s farm, which was two miles distant, and gathering a few personal effects went to her brother’s house and remained all night.

Prince returned home that night and discovered the absence of his wife. He prepared his own supper, ate it and walked over to the house of his brother. The twilight had settled and he hid behind a hay stack to ascertain as to whether his wife would leave the house.

Her brother had loaded a wagon with grapes the night before and was to take them into town early in the morning. He appeared before dawn and hitching the horse drove toward the city on the Nottingham road. Prince could not discover in the darkness whether his wife was on the wagon or not. He ran home, mounted a horse, and, taking a short cut, hid under the shadow of the Nottingham bridge. When the wagon appeared he discovered that his wife was not with the brother. He returned to his house, coolly cooked his breakfast and went back to his brother-in-law’s house, arriving there about 7 o’clock. His sister-in-law was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. The women were alone, the only man in the house having taken the grapes to the city.

Prince knocked at the door and said:

“I want to see my wife, Caroline.”

“I don’t know whether it would be best to do it or not,” replied his sister-in-law.

Prince then shoved her aside, walked through the sitting room and went up stairs.

“For God’s sake, Lafe, don’t go up there; you’ll murder her,” screamed his sister-in-law.

He went up stairs and into a back room, where Mrs. Prince and the boy were in bed.

“Caroline,” said Prince, “I want you to come home with me.”

“I can’t do it, Lafe,” she said, “you’ve promised to treat me right so many times that I’ve no faith in you.”

Prince kneeled on the floor and crying bitterly asked her to come. Freddy was also crying.

“Freddie,” said Prince, turning to his son, “won’t you come home? Come home to your father. I’ll treat you right, my boy. I’ll treat you right.”

The boy cried bitterly and said he wouldn’t do it. Prince arose hurriedly and went down stairs. His sister-in-law followed him out. Prince went out of the house and went to the woodhouse. He was watched carefully by his sister-in-law. He appeared from the woodhouse with an ax in his hand. His sister-in-law screamed and bolted the door. Prince knocked the door in with the ax and rushed up into his wife’s chamber. She was apprised of his approach and leaped from the bed. She ran down stairs, followed by her husband and the boy. He caught her in the yard and was about to strike her with the ax when the boy interfered. He threw the boy roughly aside. He again caught his wife in the road and struck her twice in the head with an ax. She sank to the ground and the boy again interfered. He was thrown roughly aside. Prince struck his wife several times in the head and twice on the body. She was clad in her night clothes and had no protection. One blow nearly cut her body in two. Prince went home and attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat with a razor. He was unsuccessful.

During last term of court he was tried. Counsel attempted to work the insanity dodge without success. The jury was out forty-five minutes and the case was carried no higher.

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

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1918: A day in the death penalty around the U.S.

Add comment May 24th, 2019 Headsman

From the Pueblo Chieftain (May 25, 1918):

Salt Lake City, May 24. — Howard H. Deweese, who was shot here today for the murder of his wife, Fannie Fisher Deweese, left a grim legacy for his wife’s former husband. It is a silk handkerchief and the bullets which passed thru the heart of Deweese, first passed thru the bit of silk which he had pinned over his chest.

Before his execution Deweese secured the promise of the warden of the state prison to forward the handkerchief, together with a note to Fisher in New York. The letter, dated at the Utah state penitentiary last Monday, reads:

Mr. H.W. Fisher, 150 Second avenue, New York:

Greetings:

In accordance with customs observed by certain people, I herewith conform with precedents and law governing the conduct of aforesaid people. I have rigidly adhered to my vows. You have violated yours. Therefore, put your house in order. The allotted time customary in such cases is yours. The souvenir enclosed herewith (by the warden of this institution) will doubtless serve to convince you that time, distance, political influence or money cannot change the inexorable workings of things decreed by men who do not hesitate in risking all, even life, for things they have sworn to uphold.

The U.B.C. thru one who has proven loyal, bids you ‘prepare.’ It is written.

(Signed)
J.E.W.

The initials affixed at the bottom of the note stand for Deweese’s alias — J.E. Warren. The “U.B.C.” Deweese explained just before his execution, was the initials of the “Universal Brotherhood Club of New York.”


From the Kansas City Star (May 24, 1918):

DALLAS, TEX. May 23. — A claim that the idea for the Red Cross poster, “The Greatest Mother in the World,” originated in the mind of Leonard Dodd, who with Walter Stevenson is sentenced to hang here tomorrow for murder, was placed here today before the state board of pardons at Austin as part of a plea for commutation of sentence.

Council for Dodd informed the board a draft of the poster had been sent by him to the Red Cross headquarters at Washington and that it was later drawn by an Eastern artist. Dodd, Stevenson, and Emmett Vestal, also convicted of murder, will be hanged tomorrow unless Governor Hobby commutes their sentences. [Dodd and Stevenson hanged; as for Vestal’s … read on. -ed.]


From the Arizona Republic, Jan. 1, 1955:

Evangelist Emmett T. (Texas Slim) Vestal, a man twice condemned to die in the electric chair, is in Phoenix conducting a revival, and illustrating that “no matter how low a man can get, he still can be saved by following Christ.”

For more than 20 years, Mr. Vestal has been preaching in churches throughout the country, and recounting his experiences as bank robber, drug addict, and gang member.

Services will be conducted every night through next Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Revival Center, 902 N. 24th St.

In 1917 he shot a rival gang leader who tried to ambush him near Victoria, Tex. and was sentenced to die May 24, 1918. Five minutes before the hanging, he was granted a reprieve by the late Governor W.P. Hobby.

He returned to prison, contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a state hospital from which he escaped. Law officials found him in 1926 in St. Louis and took him back to Texas for a new trial because the state had changed his sentence from hanging to electrocution.

He was again convicted and sentenced to die, this time in the electric chair. Three days before the electrocution, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the late Governor Miriam (Ma) Ferguson. Three days after that she granted him a full pardon.

Methodist church workers taught him to read and write and gave him Christian education while he was in prison. After his release he began his evangelic career. He was ordained a baptist minister.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Last Minute Reprieve,Murder,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Shot,Texas,USA,Utah

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1899: Claude Branton, gallows photograph

Add comment May 12th, 2019 Headsman

Claude Henry Branton was noosed in Eugene, Oregon on this date in 1899, with the last words, “I haven’t much to say. I hope for God’s sake no one will try to run my folks down on account of this. They are innocent. I hope people will learn a lesson from this and tread on the right path. I hope to meet you all in the other world. I ask this for Jesus’s sake. Amen.”

Branton with another young farmhand named Courtland Green murdered rancher John Linn when the three were in the wilderness driving horses to Oregon’s McKenzie River Valley for sale. The motive was the thousand dollars or so that they thought that Linn was carrying; instead, the two killers found only $65 to split: he’d wisely given his ready cash to a friend for safekeeping before setting out.

And now they had to explain why they were arriving as a duo when they had set out as a trio.

A retrospective (May 20, 2018) from the Redmond (Ore.) Spokesman compares their subsequent situation to Melmoth the Wanderer, vainly sounding the valley for someone to give them an alibi.

The two of them decided what they needed was to find some rustic sucker willing to perjure himself by swearing that he had seen the three of them together, bringing the horses down.

And so commenced Branton and Green’s Melmoth-like wanderings through the McKenzie valley, horses in tow, looking for friends old and new who would be willing to perjure themselves in exchange for the pick of the herd.

Branton even made a fake beard so that he could pretend to be Linn at one spot. This didn’t work, though, because the rancher he was trying to fool recognized his voice.

The two of them tried several times to sell the horses, too, but no one would take them because Linn wasn’t there to sign the bill of sale.

Eventually the two murderers split up, Branton fleeing out of the state and Green into the bottle. But neither man found his refuge secure. Conscience and drink overcame Green’s composure and he revealed the crime (he ended up with a life sentence). Branton unwisely returned to Eugene without realizing that the murder had been exposed, and was instantly arrested.

There were about 50 official witnesses to the hanging, which took place within a stockade outside the Lane County courthouse while a large crowd milled outside or sought elevated vantage points in order to steal a glimpse. A few years later, a similarly raucous scene outside a similar “private” hanging in Portland, the Beaver State moved all executions indoors to the state penitentiary at Salem.

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

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1942: Julius “Babe” Hoffmeister, alcoholic POW

Add comment May 10th, 2019 Headsman

An American Morris-Knudsen civilian contractor captured when the Japanese forces seized Wake Island during World War II was executed on this date in 1942.

Julius “Babe” Hoffmeister’s essential offense was alcoholism; this indeed was the reason for his presence on Wake in the first place, as he’d signed up for this remote hitch in an effort to force himself to cold-turkey detox. Thereafter finding himself in a war zone did no favors for his illness.

During the December 1941 Japanese bombardment of Wake, Hoffmeister looted alcohol from the hospital and stashed it around the atoll, stealing back to them periodically in the subsequent months of slave labor for the occupiers to self-medicate against the misery of his situation. By May those stockpiles had been exhausted, forcing Hoffmeister to more desperate ventures.

We catch a glimpse of this unfortunate man his countrymen’s diaries.

One of those observers was an officer named Leal Henderson Russell, whose rank entitled him to milder treatment and a degree of cordiality with his Japanese opposite numbers. On May 8th, Russell’s journal (self-published in 1987 and hard to come by) recorded

Wakened by guards on coming into the barracks. They went inside and I could hear them questioning someone. After breakfast I found that they had arrested Babe Hoffmeister who was out of the compound during the night. Okazaki told me later he had broken into the canteen. They called several of the men in to question them concerning it but I think he was alone at the time. I also heard he was drunk. It is apt to go very hard on Babe as he had been repeatedly warned.

Two days afterwards, it did go very hard.

May 10th — Julius ‘Babe’ Hoffmeister was murdered this morning. Nearly all foremen and dept. superintendents were called to witness it. Possibly it will serve as a warning to some who still feel that they have some rights here.

A different prisoner, Logan Kay, noted well the warning

The Japs made Hoffmeister crouch on his hands and knees. A Jap officer took his sword, laid the blade on his neck, brought it back like a golf club and then down on his neck, severing his head with a single blow.

Far more extensive horrors awaited the prisoners of Wake as the war progressed.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,History,Japan,Occupation and Colonialism,USA,Wartime Executions

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1780: Dennis Carragan, John Hill, and Marmaduke Grant, robbers

Add comment May 6th, 2019 Headsman


From the Pennsylvania Packet, May 23, 1780.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Pennsylvania,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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1877: James Singleton, Beeville character

Add comment April 27th, 2019 Headsman

James Edward Singleton caught a death sentence in Texas after setting out from Beeville with a business partner carrying a wad of cash with which they intended to set up a saloon in Rockport.

The business partner never made it there, and Singleton swung in Beeville on April 27, 1877, after having been arrested boarding a boat with all their saloon boodle in his pocket. He left this colorful last will and testament; the reader will not be surprised to learn that it was not honored. (The document survives in damaged condition; ellipses indicate lost text.)

In the Name of the Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omnificient of science and common sense Amen. I, J.E. Singleton (cosmopolite) Now sojourning in Galveston Jail, State of Texas, And, being of sound mind. Do by these presents, Will, divise, and bequeath, (for the diffusion of anatomical knowledge among mankind) — my mortal remains to J.J. Swann, on the following conditions.

First, that my body — after the execution — be prepared in the most scientific & skillful manner known in anatomical art, and placed in his Office, in the Courthouse in Beeville … O … ter temple of Justice … may …

Second. It is my express desire — If [his prosecutor -ed.] Dave Walton has no objections — That two drumheads, be made of skin. On one of which shall be written in Indellible characters Popes universal prayer, & on the other the following Verdict, –

We, the Jury, find the defendant, Jas. E. Singleton, guilty of murder in the first degree, as charged in the Indictment, and assess the penalty of death.

The said drum heads to be presented to my distinguished friend and fellow citizen, Frank Boggus — drummer for Tom Holly’s division — On the following conditions that he, the aforesaid Frank Boggus, shall beat, or cause to be beaten on said drum heads the popular tune [Old Mollie Hare] … front on the 8th day of June Annually.

The viscera, and other parts of my body, useless for anatomical purposes, I wish composted for a fertilizer, and presented to Mr. Barclay, proprietor of the Grand Palace Hotel in Beeville, to be used by him for the purpose of nourishing the growth of cabbage, turnips, pertaters, and other garden sass, that the worthy people of Bee County — or at least the masculine portion thereof — may have something to relieve the monotony of hash & dried apples, during their brief sojourn at the aforesaid Hotel, while assembled at Beeville, for the purpose of dishing out Justice to Violators of the Law.

J.E. Singleton.

The foregoing is my last will and testement, and I wish J.J. Swann to act as Executor. I feel very grateful to the Citizens of Bee County in general, and to J.J. Swann in particular for the many favors conferred upon me by them. I also feel that I am indebted to them, to some extent pecuniarily, and being at present in Indigent circumstances, I write and leave this will, alike to liquidate my debts, and prove my gratitude.

Singleton really was quite a character. Newspapers around the Republic reported his pig-out last meal request of “one dish ham and eggs, one apple pie, one peach pie, one egg custard, one fruit pudding, one large pound cake, and two bottles of wine.” He also attempted to cheat the hangman by taking his own life, leaving a note for his mother that also hit the papers in which he confesses himself in very human terms not excluding his amusing disdain for the community that was preparing to take his life. (This from the Galveston Weekly News of May 7, 1877:)

Dear Mother — When you read this, I, your sinful, rebellious, neglectful son, will be no more on this earth. But, mother dear, I am not going to give these worthy people of Bee county the pleasure of publicly executing me. You will understand by this that I contemplate destroying my own life. And such is the case. I am aware that you look upon it as an unpardonable sin, or almost as such, but I can not bear the idea of being hanged in public, before a gaping multitude of fools, and especially Bee county fools. I am compelled to lose my life, mother dear; there is no other alternative, and you will pardon me, I’m sure, for this act, for it is only shortening my existence a few hours at most.

As for the justice of my conviction, I will not speak or write falsely to you at this time, and I reckon the verdict of the jury was a just one. I did the murder, but not with malice aforethought, as every one thinks, nor was I actuated by any hope of gain. It was for a quarrel about a trifle, and the provocation was not sufficient to warrant the killing; therefore, I don’t feel justified.

It’s hard, mother dear, for me to calmly contemplate death, and a great deal harder, when I think of your long suffering toll and privations for me. I know you are suffering and will suffer after my death. I would to God I could avert it from you, but I can not; but I think it’s better to take my life, than to be executed by the minions of the law in this place. I will not ask you not to grieve for me, mother, for I know that would be useless; but try and bear up the best you can. I trust that we may meet again in that better world beyond the grave. I do not feel capable of saying anything that will strengthen or comfort you at this time, when I know how much you need comfort and strength. But one thing, mother, please for my sake, and for the sake of Lee and Mamie, do not despair nor give up, if you can help it. Think how you, and none but you, can instruct them how to be great and good men. Some would think that my career was a contradiction of what I say, but God knows that the fact of my now being under sentence of death, and my name forever disgraced, is not the consequence of my home training. I was taught things that were right, but I was too weak and sinful to profit by your good teachings, but I do hope to God it will be different with the two younger ones. Teach them always to do right at all times, and for my sake teach them to think with pity and never with scorn of the disgraced and outcast murderer. For with all my faults, I always loved them; but I am not much afraid on that score, if they continue as they are now, as I do not in the least doubt their love for me. I saw Mamie this evening. I am thankful that I was permitted to see him once more. I regret not having seen Lee very much, but as I did not, you must convey my loving farewell to him. I must close this, mother, for writing here, solitary and alone as I am, of our loved ones causes such a rush of old half-forgotten memories that I am almost overpowered. I am not as near cast-iron as I thought. Well, dear, dear mother, farewell, and may God, in His infinite mercy, bless, comfort and console you is the prayer of your loving but unhappy son.

JAMES EDWARD SINGLETON

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Texas,USA

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1831: Atanasio, shot for some buttons

Add comment April 26th, 2019 Headsman

This episode from Mexican Alta California comes from the short-lived administration of Manuel Victoria, who proved himself such a martinet in his few months as governor of that territory that a rebellion that December forced Victoria’s resignation.

Our source is Hubert Howe Bancroft, a historian of the American West, in this volume of his chronicle of California:

The administration of justice was a subject which early claimed the new ruler’s attention. It had been much neglected by the easy-going Echeandia, and crime had gone unpunished. Criminal proceedings had been often instituted, as we have seen in the local presidial annals of the last six years, but penalties had been rarely inflicted with fitting severity. Victoria had strict ideas of discipline, and no doubt of his ability to enforce the laws. He is said to have boasted soon after his arrival at Monterey that before long he would make it safe for any man to leave his handkerchief or his watch lying in the plaza until he might choose to come for it. How he carried out his ideas in this direction will be apparent from a few causas celebres of the year.

The case of Atanasio was pending when Victoria came. Atanasio was an Indian boy less than eighteen years of age, a servant in sub-comisario Jimeno’s office, who had in 1830 stolen from the warehouse property to the extent of something over $200. The prosecution was conducted by Fernandez del Campo, Padres, and Ibarra as fiscales; and the last-named demanded, in consideration of the youth and ignorance of the culprit, as well as on account of the carelessness with which the goods had been exposed, a sentence of only two years in the public works. The asesor, Rafael Gomez, after having sent the case back to the fiscal for the correction of certain irregularities, rendered an opinion April 18th, in favor of the death penalty; and by order of the comandante general Atanasio was shot at 11 a.m. on the 26th. Gomez was an able lawyer, and I suppose was technically correct in his advice, though the penalty seems a severe one. Naturally the Californians were shocked; and though an example of severity was doubtless needed, Victoria was not fortunate in his selection. The circumstance that led to the culprit’s detection seems to have been his using some military buttons for gambling with his comrades; and the popular version of the whole affair has been that an Indian boy was shot by Victoria for stealing a few buttons.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Mexico,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Theft

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