Posts filed under 'Connecticut'

1662: Potter, bugger

1 comment June 6th, 2012 Cotton Mather

“Of Buggery”

by Cotton Mather (as printed in America Begins: Early American Writings)

On June 6, 1662, at New Haven, there was a most unparalleled wretch (one Potter, by name, about sixty years of age) executed for damnable bestialities, although this wretch had been for now twenty years a member of the church in that place, and kept up among the holy people of God there a reputation for serious Christianity. It seems that the unclean devil which had the possession of this monster had carried all his lusts with so much fury into this one channel of wickedness that there was no notice taken of his being wicked in any other. Hence ’twas that he was devout in worship, gifted in prayer, forward in edifying discourse among the religious, and zealous in reproving the sins of the other people. Everyone counted him a saint, and he enjoyed such a peace in his own mind that in several fits of sickness wherein he seemed “nigh unto death,” he seemed “willing to die”; yea, “death,” he said, “smiled on him.”

Nevertheless, this diabolical creature had lived in most infandous buggeries for no less than fifty years together; and now at the gallows there were killed before his eyes a cow, two heifers, three sheep, and two sows, with all of which he had committed his brutalities. His wife had seen him confounding himself with a bitch ten years before; and he then excused his filthiness as well as he could unto her, but conjured her to keep it secret. He afterwards hanged that bitch himself, and then returned unto his former villainies, until at last his son saw him hideously conversing with a sow. By these means the burning jealousy of the Lord Jesus Christ at length made the churches to know that he had all this while seen the covered filthiness of this hellish hypocrite, and exposed him also to the just judgment of death from the civil court of judicature.

Very remarkable had been the warnings which this hellhound had received from heaven to repent of his impieties. Many years before this he had a daughter who dreamt a dream which caused her in her sleep to cry out most bitterly. And her father than, with much ado, obtaining of her to tell her dream, she told him she dreamt that she was among a great multitude of people to see an execution, and it proved her own father that was to be hanged, at whose turning over she thus cried out. This happened before the time that any of his cursed practices were known unto her.

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1738: Katherine Garret, Pequot infanticide

4 comments May 3rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1738, before “a Vast Circle of people, more Numerous, perhaps, than Ever was gathered together before, On any Occasion” in Connecticut, Pequot servant Katherine “Indian Kate” Garret was hanged for murdering her newborn child.

As an unmarried young woman, Garret didn’t want a child to begin with, but she managed to pass off the pregnancy in her master’s house as just putting on a few extra pounds. Finally, one day, she slipped out to the household barn and delivered. The mistress of the house said they later found the dead infant, clubbed to death with a handy wood block.

It took an unusually protracted six-odd months to bring Garret’s case so far as the actual scaffold, giving the ministrations of a local pastor plenty of time to move the once-truculent lass to such devoutness that “with her hands lifted up, as she cou’d, she past out of life, in the posture of one praying.” We have her pious purported dying statement:

The Confession & Dying Warning of Katherine Garret.

I Katherine Garret, being Condemned to Die for the Crying Sin of Murder, Do Own the Justice of GOD in suffering me to die this Violent Death; and also Acknowledge the Justice of the Court who has Sentenced me to die this Death; and I thank them who have Lengthned the Time to me, whereby I have had great Opportunity to prepare for my Death: I thank those also who have taken pains with me for my Soul; so that since I have been in Prison, I have had opportunity to seek after Baptism & the Supper of the Lord & have obtained both. I Confess my self to have been a great Sinner; a sinner by Nature, also guilty of many Actual Transgressions, Particularly of Pride and Lying, as well as of the Sin of destroying the Fruit of my own Body, for which latter, I am now to Die. I thank God that I was learn’d to Read in my Childhood, which has been much my Exercise since I have been in Prison, and especially since my Condemnation. The Bible has been a precious Book to me. There I read, That JESUS CHRIST came into the world to Save Sinners, Even the Chief of Sinners: And that all manner of Sins shall be forgiven, One only Excepted; For His Blood Cleanseth from all Sin. And other good Books I have been favoured with, by peoples giving and lending them to me, which has been blessed to me.

I would Warn all Young People against Sinning against their own Consciences; For there is a GOD that Knows all things. Oh! Beware of all Sin, Especially of Fornication; for that has led me to Murder. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it Holy. Be Sober and wise. Redeem your Time, and Improve it well.

Little Children I would Warn you to take heed of Sinning against God. Be Dutiful to your Parents; For the Eye that Mocks at his Father and despiseth to Obey his Mother, the Ravens of the Valley shall pick it out, and the Young Eagles shall eat it. Little Children, Learn to Pray to God, Sit still on the Lord’s Day, and Love your Books.

I would also Warn Servants, Either Whites or Blacks, to be Obedient to your Masters & Mistresses. Be Faithful in your places and diligent: Above all Fear God; fear to Sin against Him: He is our Great Master.

I would also Intreat Parents and Masters to set a good Example before their Children and Servants, for You also must give an Account to God how you carry it to them.

I desire the Prayers of all God’s People for me, Private Christians, as well as Ministers of the Gospel, that I may while I have Life Improve it aright; May have all my Sins Pardoned and may be Accepted through CHRIST JESUS. Amen.

New London, May 3. 1738.
Katherine Garret.

The spiritual counselor who achieved this transformation, Eliphalet Adams, preached a lengthy sermon on the occasion.

The sound of the sermon — especially considered next to the protracted delay for Garret’s hanging — hints at a communal controversy over employing the death penalty in this case. Adams spends most of it fulminating against acquittals, jury nullification, and the insidious operation of sentimentality such as one might imagine might have attended an unmarried girl having rid of her unwanted infant: “What moving Expressions do sometimes come out of the mouths of poor people on such Occasions! … Judges are melted into tears, Yet they must not be so mollified thereby as to neglect Justice; With tears in their Eyes they must pronounce the righteous Sentence and commend them to the mercy of God, who have forfeited all Claim to be suffered any longer among men; Oh, piteous case, when the[y] cry for Mercy, Mercy must no longer be regarded! They must have Judgment without mercy, who have shewed no mercy.”

Stern stuff, ultimately straight from the dialogue around crime and punishment (capital and otherwise) down to the present day. Most of it, anyway. Some parts have changed:

Tho’ they may be great & Considerable persons who are guilty and they, whose blood they have done Violence unto, may be but Comparatively mean. This should not be so considered as to stop a prosecution, or stifle a testimony, or favour or forward an Escape, A Barbarian is of the meanest Nation, a Servant is of the lowest rank, an Infant is of the most imperfect age, Yet even their blood is required by God and the Laws, when it hath been unjustly shed; Rich and great people are most Honoured, Masters over Servants and Parents over Children, may seem to have most power and authority (I say nothing now of Princes over Subjects, that being a curious Argument and which may need very Cautious handling) Yet even these may not be protected by their greatness, authority or priviledge, if they have done Violence to blood, If they have defaced the Image of God in which every man is made and destroyed his workmanship, they also must flee to the pit and none may stay them.

It’s supposed to be the first hanging in New London. Original documents about Katherine Garret’s sad story are linked from the pamphlet about her case hosted here.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Women

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1922: Emil Schutte

Add comment October 24th, 2011 Headsman

WEATHERSFORD, Conn., Oct. 24. — Grasping in his hand two pink roses which had been brought to his cell, and well nigh speechless with terror, Emil Schutte, triple slayer, former storekeeper and constable of Haddam, was hanged today at the State prison. His only utterance was, “Well, goodby,” as the death cap was drawn over his head.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Oct. 24, 1922


Our rose-clutching former storekeeper was a German immigrant with a famous temper who did well for himself in Middlesex and tyrannized his wife and his brood of seven sons.

The weakness of the “despotic patriarch” gambit lies in its tendency to incite the clan to vengeance.

And in this case, the clan had the goods on Emil Schutte.

In 1921, after Schutte threatened his wife with a gun, his sons protected the mother and shopped Schutte for four different shooting-arson murders: that of Dennis LeDuc, a former Schutte farmhand found burned to death on the property; and, that of the three-member Ball family, who were Schutte’s feuding family rivals.

Though evidence in the LeDuc case was too weak to try, the Ball case was more than worth its clutch of roses.

Emil’s son Julius Schutte testified that as a teenager, he had helped his father set fire to the Ball house early one morning in 1915. Emil Schutte shot them dead as the fire flushed them out of the house.

The deaths had initially been ruled accidental, but Julius’s testimony was powerfully corroborated when the Ball graves were unearthed to reveal spent bullets that time had insensibly coaxed out of the blistered cadavers.

So … pretty compelling evidence.

Here’s a three-part series on this locally notorious crime: I, II, III. Or to commemorate it in the flesh, drop by Middlesex’s “Cremation Hill”, which got its name from Schutte’s pyrotechnics.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arson,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,USA

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1768: Isaac Frasier, three strikes offender

1 comment September 7th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1768, Isaac Frasier hanged at Fairfield, Connecticut for his career of (as the pamphlet told it) “Abominable Thefts”.

Frasier took to his larcenous ways from a very young age, and committed a host of thefts from the time of his minority apprenticed to a tightfisted shoemaker. For the volume and audacity of his thefts, Frasier was a sort of Charlie Peace of colonial New England with the significant difference that he was also extraordinarily bad about conducting his career in serial burglary without (repeated) detection.

And so Frasier was caught, over and over and over again: really, he might have thought about a different vocation. Eventually he ran afoul of an 18th-century three strikes law allowing the execution of repeat offenders. (And drawing in its case some lively public debate over the justice of hanging a man for a mere property crime under any circumstances whatsoever.

Anyway, thanks to his want of both restraint and wile, Frasier was clapped in irons, whipped, branded, sold to a privateer, had an ear cropped, whipped some more. He lost his wife after one arrest (that wasn’t juridical penalty, just a modicum of shame.)

He had a gift for escape which jibed well with his gift for arrest, but every time he busted out of stir he returned instantly to burglary with a positively alcoholic compulsion.

Even when he effected his last jailbreak while already under sentence of death for recidivism, he exercised not an iota of discretion but invited his swift recapture by frantically plundering every shopkeep he laid eyes on in a whirlwind tour of Connecticut and environs. Just one last fix for the road.

Last Wednesday evening the notorious FRASIER, who was under sentence of death for burglary, as has been mentioned, was brought from Worcester, (where he was taken up for theft, and whipt) and re-committed to the goal [sic] in this town, from whence he escaped about a month since, — in which time he has committed five or six burglaries and thefts, and traveled near 500 miles. The next night but one after his escape, he broke open no less than three shops in Middletown, from one of which he stole 70l. value in goods and cash. The Superior Court now sitting in Fairfield, have given strict orders, that he should be loaded with chains, and the goal guarded every night till the time of his execution …

Connecticut Gazette (aka New-London Gazette), Sep. 2, 1768

“Excessive Wickedness, the Way to an untimely Death.” That was the title of the gallows sermon they gave for him. At least they couldn’t knock him for idleness.

Frasier’s career is narrated in considerable detail at the excellent site Early American Crime, and this also affords enough excuse to note that this prolific blogger has published a book on his topic, Bound with an Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America. It’s a captivating read we recommend enthusiastically.

(Said blogger-author, Anthony Vaver, has also guest-posted on this site: see here and here.)

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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1772: Moses Paul

2 comments September 2nd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1772, the town of New Haven, Connecticut hanged a Mohegan Indian named Moses Paul for a drunken homicide. He’d been kicked out of a tavern as an unruly sot, and vengefully beat to death outside it a (white) fellow-customer with whom he had quarreled.

Notable to the reported “concourse” of attendees as the first execution in those parts for more than twenty years, it comes to posterity as the occasion for an interesting milestone: the first known Native American publication in America was Samson Occom‘s “A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, an Indian”. (pdf)

Occom, himself a Mohegan, was a Presbyterian divine whom the condemned solicited to deliver the hanging sermon. So the multitudes assembled were also treated to the edification of seeing an Indian preach from the scaffold, which may have been yet another first.

Occom’s sermon went predictably long on the hark-ye-to-this-warning Christian boilerplate (as a convert from heathenism, Occom did not want for zeal). But the speaker was also plainly self-conscious of his racial position,and took pains to invoke the egalitarianism of the afterlife:* the same death and judgment awaiting “Negroes, Indians, English, or … what nations soever.”

Given the liquor-induced crime that was even then a stereotype of Indian susceptibilities, Occom concluded “address[ing] myself to the Indians, my bretheren and kindred according to the flesh” with a call to temperance in view of the waste he saw laid to his own communities:

My Poor Kindred,

You see the woeful consequences of sin, by seeing this our poor miserable countryman now before us, who is to die this day for his sins and great wickedness. And it was the sin of drunkenness that has brought this destruction and untimely death upon him … this abominable, this beastly and accursed sin of drunkenness, that has stript us of every desirable comfort in this life; by this we are poor miserable and wretched; by this sin we have no name nor credit in the world among polite nations, for this sin we are despised in the world … when we are intoxicated with strong drink we drown our rational powers, by which we are distinguished from the brutal creation we unman ourselves, and bring ourselves not only level with the beasts of the field, but seven degrees beneath them.

Drunkenness is so common amongst us, that even our young men, (and what is still more shocking) young women are not ashamed to get drunk.

break off from your drunkenness … O let us reform our lives, and live as becomes dying creatures, in time to come. Let us be persuaded that we are accountable creatures to God, and we must be called to an account in a few days … Fight against all sins, and especially the sin that easily besets you, and behave in time to come as becomes rational creatures.

Ava Chamberlain’s “The Execution of Moses Paul: A Story of Crime and Contact in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut”, published in The New England Quarterly (September 2004) has a detailed summary of this case, Paul’s unsuccessful efforts to appeal around the question of premeditation, and the historiographical riddle left by Occom’s voluble commentary vis-a-vis his subject’s near-total silence.

* Our colonial Calvinist anticipated Marxist aphorists with the remark, “whether we concern ourselves with death or not, it will concern itself with us.” The colonists present probably would have appreciated the occasion more had they known they were participating in an Internet meme.

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

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1647: Alse Young, the first witchcraft execution in New England

Add comment May 26th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1647, the state of Connecticut carried out the first recorded execution of a witch in the American colonies.

A good half-century before the more renowned Salem witch trials, Alse Young — about whom little is recorded safe her infernal affiliations — hanged at Windsor for her devilry.

She was the first of several in Connecticut to suffer that penalty over the generation to come.

And though we’d be happy to blather on about it, we think you’ll find that Tim Abbott’s peripatetic Walking the Berkshires blog — still a font of compelling and original content in its sixth year on the beat — has Alse Young (and early Connecticut witchery) covered.

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2005: Michael Ross, the Roadside Strangler

3 comments May 13th, 2010 Headsman

As of this writing, New England has seen only one solitary execution in the past half-century.*

That one execution happened five years ago today: the lethal injection of serial murderer/rapist Michael Ross in Connecticut.

The “farm boy from Brooklyn, Conn.”, sexual sadist, and Cornell University graduate** went no a rape-and-murder spree in the early 1980s. He would confess to eight homicides.

Condemned in 1987, Ross spent 17 years fighting execution before a 2004 volte face had him waiving his appeals in the interests of sparing victims’ families any further agony.

This precipitated an intense last-minute legal melee over whether the admittedly disturbed Ross possessed legally sufficient competency to pursue his own death. A scheduled execution in January was scratched at the last moment when a federal judge insisted on a competency determination.

A serial killer who consents to his own execution wouldn’t typically be the sort to attract a lot of sympathy, but in true-blue New England, any brush with the executioner is cause for public hand-wringing.

Ross, of course, was adjudged competent to drop his appeals, and that was that.

After the execution, one of the psychiatrists who disputed Ross’s competency to choose execution received a mailed taunt from the killer, dated May 10:

Check, and mate. You never had a chance!

And it seems our date’s principal reserved an even gnarlier gambit for the judge who once blocked his execution.

District Court jurist Robert Chatigny has found himself much in the news with Michael Ross since he was nominated by President Barack Obama for a seat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. That nomination has been held up thus far largely because Chatigny berated and threatened Ross’s attorney (the one who was trying to get his client executed) with disbarment.

* The last one before Michael Ross? Joseph Taborsky, electrocuted in Connecticut on May 17, 1960.

** His criminal career began in Ithaca, N.Y. Cornell is famous for its suicides, but Ross apparently couldn’t go through with his after he contemplated taking his own life.

Ross was also a graduate of something called Killingly High School. True story.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Murder,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Serial Killers,USA,Volunteers

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1672: Thomas Rood, the only incest execution in America

Add comment October 18th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1672, Thomas Rood (or Rhood, or Roode, or even Rude) achieved in Norwich, Conn., the distinction of being the only person executed in the future United States of America for incest.

The native of Glastonbury, England got in a bad way for, in the words of the indictment,

not haveing the feare of God before thine eyes thou hast committed that abominable sin of incest haveing carnall copulation with Sarah Rhood thy reputed daughter for which according to the law of God & the law of this colony thou deservest to dye …

Actually, the laws of the colony said nothing about incest, requiring the Hartford Court of Assistants to ask around the local clergy whether this sort of thing should be a hanging offense.

Hey, what do you think they’re going to say? Antonin Scalia would call this originalism.

Thomas Rhood thou art to goe from here to the place from whence thou camest & in due time to be carryed from thence to the place of execution & there to be hanged by the neck till thou art dead & then cut down & buried.

Of course, it takes two to make the beast with two backs; daughter/lover Sarah was in some fear for her neck as well, until the court took

notice of a great appearance of force layd up upon her spirit by her father overaweing & Tiranical abuse of his parentall authority besides his bodily striveings which not onely at first brought her into the snare but allso in after yeilding to his Temptation.

Having seemingly found her to be a rape victim, the court extended leniency.

[T]he sentence of the court is that shee be severly whipt on the naked body once at Hartford & once at Norwich that others may heare & fear & do no more such abominable wickednesse.

17th century texts from this pdf on a site selling an 820-page genealogy of the Rood lineage in America … to which the randy old man contributed to the tune of at least nine children.

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1880: Edwin Hoyt, in Bridgeport

Add comment May 13th, 2009 Headsman

From the New York Times.

THE DEATH OF A PARRICIDE.

HANGING OF EDWIN HOYT AT BRIDGEPORT — PERSISTING TO THE LAST THAT HE WAS INSANE.

BRIDGEPORT, Conn., May 13. — The first administration of capital punishment in Fairfield County since 1809 occurred in this city to-day. Edwin Hoyt was hanged for the murder of his father, in the Town of Sherman, June 23, 1878. Hoyt was then 37 years of age, and had shown during his life a very ugly disposition. His wife, the mother of his five children, had experienced his temper in a manner which placed her life in danger, he having discharged a shot-gun at her and severely wounded her. On the Sunday of the murder he had nothing to exasperate him except the refusal of his brother-in-law to accompany him on a fishing trip. Having been refused, he went home, and, taking a butcher-knife from his house, told his wife that he was going to kill his father. He then returned to the house of his brother-in-law, where his father was at the dinner-table with the family. He appearad [sic] despondent, and said it would be better for him to die, but that there were two or three people he wanted to kill first. He then went to the porch and sat down with his father. A few minutes afterward he sprang up and stabbed his father several times, making a fatal wound in the neck. Hoyt was tried twice, the first time in October, 1878, and the second time in April, 1879. The State claimed that the motive for the killing was animosity toward his father, who had always exercised great severity toward him, and who, he believed, had decided to wholly disinherit him. The defense in both cases was that of insanity.

Hoyt had never believed that he was to be hanged until Wednesday evening, when the final attempt to save his life by means of a writ of error proved ineffectual. After this he was not despondent, but talked pleasantly with the Rev. Dr. E.W. Maxey, who baptized him according to the rites of the Protestant Episcopal Church about 7 o’clock in the evening. After the clergyman went away he ate a hearty supper, smoked a cigar, and wrote a letter to his brother George. The letter was finished by the time Judge Blydeuburgh, of New-Haven, and Mr. Taylor, of Danbury, Hoyt’s counsel, arrived. They were with him about an hour, during which time he delivered his will to them, saying that he wished to have it kept private. They suggested to him that he might desire to make a final statement. He had nothing to say, he answered, in addition to what he had said, for he was not responsible for the killing, having known nothing of it. After his lawyers had left him, the Rev. Dr. Maxey came to remain with him until the time of the hanging.

The hanging occurred in a yard on the west side of the jail, and was witnessed by about 500 people. The yard was nearly filled, and from the woman’s ward of the jail many spectators looked down on the gallows. The prisoners in the male ward were permitted to witness the hanging from their windows. At just 11:30 o’clock the procession to the gallows started. First came Sheriff Sanford; next came Deputies Bartram and Dann, and behind them walked Hoyt, the Rev. Dr. Maxey having his hand on his right arm. Deputies Wakeley and Hughes were in the rear of the prisoner, and behind them walked Drs. George R. Porter, Robert Lauder, and E.D. Noony, of Bridgeport, and Dr. Marshall, of Greenwich. Hoyt, on the scaffold, raised his face to the sky, but showed no emotion beyond that which was expressed in his pale face. He was dressed in the old clothing which he has worn in jail, having refused to change to a black suit sent to him by a friend. The streaks of gray in his otherwise black hair and mustache gave him the appearance of being at least 10 years older than he was. When he was placed on the trap Sheriff Sanford asked him if he had anything to say. He answered in a faint voice, “No, Sir.” Dr. Maxey then read prayers, after which the noose was arranged and the black cap adjusted. Sheriff Sanford shook hands with Hoyt, saying, “Good-bye, poor fellow,” and stepped to the spring near which one of his deputies was standing. The trap fell. There was no noise except that made as the body fell a distance of five and a half feet. Dr. Porter, who had been in charge of the bodies of Mrs. Surratt and the other conspirators executed at Washington, had his hand on the wrist of the condemned man as the rope straightened. The fall of the trap occurred at 11:35 1/2, and at 12:14 the body was taken down. Death was instantaneous, resulting from a dislocation of the neck. There was some muscular tremor, but it lasted only a second. After the body had been taken to the jail, the physicians applied electric batteries and produced muscular contortions of the face and limbs an hour and a quarter after death occurred. The body was given up to Hoyt’s sisters, and taken to Sherman for burial.

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

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1786: Hannah Ocuish, age 12

16 comments December 20th, 2008 Caitlin GD Hopkins

(Thanks to Caitlin at Vast Public Indifference for the guest post -ed.)

On December 20, 1786, the Sheriff of New London, Conn., led a distraught 12-year-old girl to the gallows, placed a rope around her neck, and hanged her in front of a crowd of spectators. The girl was Hannah Ocuish, a young member of the Pequot nation. She was charged with the murder of six-year-old Eunice Bolles, a white girl with whom Hannah had quarreled the previous summer.

While it is difficult to get a clear picture of Hannah’s life from the available sources, it is clear that hers was not a comfortable existence. An appendix to Rev. Henry Channing’s execution sermon notes that Hannah’s mother was “an abandoned creature, much addicted to the vice of drunkenness,” who sent Hannah to work as a servant in a white family’s home. At the age of six, Hannah was accused of beating a white child while trying to steal her necklace. The anonymous author describes Hannah’s character thus:

Her conduct, as appeared in evidence before the honorable Superior Court was marked with almost every thing bad. Theft and lying were her common vices. To these were added a maliciousness of disposition which made the children in the neighborhood much afraid of her. She had a degree of artful cunning and sagacity beyond many of her years.

This description, expressed in terms designed to emphasize the importance of training children in obedience, may or may not be accurate. Regardless, all evidence suggests that Hannah was alone in a hostile world.

On July 21, 1786, someone found Eunice Bolles’ body at the side of the road outside Norwich, Conn. The corpse displayed signs of extreme trauma: “the head and body were mangled in a shocking manner, the back and one arm broken, and a number of heavy stones placed on the body, arms and legs.” Investigators questioned Hannah, who initially denied any involvement, but mentioned that she had seen a group of boys on the road earlier. The town officials did not believe her. On July 22, “she was closely questioned, but repeatedly denied that she was guilty.” Still unconvinced, the investigators “carried [Hannah] to the house where the body lay, and being charged with the crime, burst into tears and confessed that she killed her, saying if she could be forgiven she would never do so again.”

Hannah’s confession, which was accepted as truth by the court, indicated that she had sought revenge on Eunice because the younger girl had “complained of her in strawberry time … for taking away her strawberries.” When Hannah saw Eunice walking to school alone, she beat and choked her, covering the body with rocks “to make people think that the wall fell upon her and killed her.”

Rev. Henry Channing, a talented local minister, visited Hannah in prison many times, urging her to repent so that her soul might be spared. On the day of her execution, he delivered a thundering sermon entitled, God Admonishing His People of Their Duty as Parents and Masters, which held Hannah up as an example of what could happen if parents did not raise their children to be “dutiful and obedient.”

Her crimes, he argued, were the “natural consequences of too great parental indulgence,” and warned that “appetites and passions unrestrained in childhood become furious in youth; and ensure dishonour, disease and an untimely death.” In the portion of the sermon directed at Hannah herself, Channing did his best to scare her into repentance:

HANNAH! — prisoner at the bar– agreeably to the laws of the land you have arraigned, tried and convicted of the crime of murder … The good and safety of society requires, that no one, of such a malignant character, shall be suffered to live, and the punishment of death is but the just demerit of your crime: and the sparing you on account of your age, would, as the law says, be of dangerous consequence to the publick, by holding up an idea, that children might commit such atrocious crimes with impunity … And you must consider that after death you must undergo another trial, infinitely more solemn and awful than what you have here passed through, before that God against whom you offended; at whose bar the deceased child will appear as a swift witness against you — And you will be condemned and consigned to an everlasting punishment, unless you now obtain a pardon, by confessing and sincerely repenting of your sins, and applying to his sovereign grace, through the merits of his Son, Jesus Christ, for mercy, who is able and willing to save the greatest offenders, who repent and believe in him.

At her trial in October, Hannah “appeared entirely unconcerned,” but as the date of her execution approached, she began to show fear. In early December, visitors began to ask her how long she had to live, and Hannah “would tell the Number of her Days with manifest Agitation.” On December 19th, she “appeared in great Distress . . . and continued in Tears most of the Day, and until her Execution.” Witnesses to her execution reported that Hannah “seemed greatly afraid when at the Gallows.” With her last words, she “thanked the Sheriff for his kindness, and launched into the eternal World.”

In the United States, the youngest children put to death by the government have all be children of color. James Arcene, a Cherokee boy, was only 10 or 11 years old when he was hanged for committed a robbery and murder that resulted in his 1885 hanging in Arkansas.* At 12, Hannah Ocuish was the youngest female offender executed by any state. In the 20th century, the youngest children executed were both African-American: 13-year-old Fortune Ferguson of Florida (1927) and 14-year-old George Stinney of South Carolina (1944).

In 2005, the United States Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for criminals who committed their crimes as juveniles (Roper v. Simmons). The court split 5-4, with Jutices Scalia, O’Connor, Thomas, and Chief Justice Rehnquist dissenting. In his dissent, Justice Scalia excoriated the majority for considering international consensus (along with the laws of 30 of the 50 U.S. states) on the cruelty of executing children under the age of 18 when determining the standard for “cruel and unusual.” Justice Scalia, an avowed proponent of Constitutional originalism, proclaimed, “I do not believe that the meaning of our Eighth Amendment, any more than the meaning of other provisions of our Constitution, should be determined by the subjective views of five Members of this Court and like-minded foreigners.”

* This post originally asserted that Arcene was a juvenile when hanged. In fact, he was (or claimed to have been) 10 years old or so at the time he committed the crime, but was not tried and hanged until over a decade later. (This is corrected in the Arcene post.) -ed.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Women

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