Posts filed under 'Maryland'

1668: Walter P(e)ake

Add comment December 17th, 2019 Headsman

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Maryland,Murder,Public Executions,USA

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1685: Rebecca Fowler, Chesapeake witch

3 comments October 9th, 2018 Headsman

From The Penguin Book of Witches concerning the milestone execution of the rare Maryland “witch” Rebecca Fowler on this date in 1685; italicized text is the modern writer’s commentary.


One of the rare Chesapeake witches, Fowler was accused of being led by the Devil to injure a man named Francis Sandsbury using witchcraft and sorcery. She was hanged. Usually Chesapeake witchcraft cases were milder than their New England equivalents, often limited to bad-mouthing and rumor. Accused witches in the South were fewer in number and were usually acquitted. Fowler is thought to be the only witch executed in the Maryland colony, though a man named John Cowman was accused of witchcraft, condemned, and then begged a stay of execution.

Court Records of Rebecca Fowler

At a meeting of the provincial court on the 29th day of September, 1685, Rebecca Fowler was indicted by a grand jury.

For that she, the said Rebecca Fowler, the last day of August in the year of our Lord, 1685, and at diverse other days and times, as well before and after, having not the fear of God before her eyes, but being led by the instigation of the Devil certain evil and diabolical arts, called witchcrafts, enchantments, charms, and sorceries, then wickedly, devilishly, and feloniously, at Mount Calvert Hundred and several other places in Calvert County of her malice forethought feloniously did use, practice, and exercise, in, upon, and against one Francis Sandsbury, late of Calvert County aforesaid, laborer, and several other persons of the said county, whereby the said Francis Sandsbury and several others, as aforesaid, the last day of August, in the year aforesaid and several other days and times as well before as after, at Mount Calvert Hundred and several other places in the said county, in his and their bodies were very much the worse, consumed, pined, and lamed again the peace, et cetera, and against the form of the statute in this case made and provided.

To this indictment Rebecca pleaded not guilty. She was tried before a jury who rendered the following verdict:

We find that Rebecca Fowler is guilty of the matters of fact charge din the indictment against her and if the court finds the matters contained in the indictment make her guilty of witchcraft, charms, and sorceries, et cetera, then they find her guilty. And if the court finds those matters contained in the indictment do not make her guilty of witchcraft, charms, sorceries, et cetera, then they find her not guilty.

In view of this finding of the jury, judgment was “respited” until the court had time to further consider the case. After the court reconvened a few days later, Rebecca was again brought to the bar and the judges having “advised themselves of and upon the premises, it is considered by the court that the said Rebecca Fowler be hanged by the neck until she be dead, which was performed the ninth day of October aforesaid.”

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Maryland,Milestones,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,USA,Witchcraft,Women

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2005: Wesley Baker, the last in Maryland

2 comments December 5th, 2017 Headsman

The U.S. state Maryland executed Wesley Baker on this date in 2005 — the last man ever put to death there.

Baker accosted* a 49-year-old woman named Jane Frances Tyson in the parking lot of a Catonsville shopping mall after she’d finished shoe-shopping, shooting her point-blank while two young grandkids looked on in order to grab her purse. Had Baker and his getaway driver/accomplice Gregory Lawrence not been captured almost immediately — a bystander noted the license plate and called it in — they’d have had $12 to share.

Baker’s life, too, was cheap, according to a Washington Post profile.

Born unwanted to a teenage mother, he was sexually abused by age 5 and was using heroin regularly by age 10, his attorneys wrote in the petition to the governor. By 14, Baker was living with a prostitute twice his age, trading sex for drugs. He became a father the next year.

Maryland was a halfhearted readopter of the death penalty in its late-20th century “modern” era in the U.S., and by the 2000s Baker’s execution was delayed for a moratorium to study racial inequity in the system. After concluding that, yes, racial bias was rife in the Maryland capital punishment system, the state went ahead and executed him anyway.

But this proved to be a throwback to a disappearing law-and-order era. The very next year, complications with the state’s lethal injection procedures led Maryland courts to suspend executions, a situation that transitioned into another moratorium and eventually, in 2013, outright abolition. Maryland today has no death penalty, and its last four pre-abolition condemned prisoners had their sentences commuted on December 31, 2014 by outgoing Governor Martin O’Malley.

* Baker argued deep into his appeals that Lawrence was, or at least might have been, the gunman; the Fourth Circuit federal court of appeal agreed that proof that Baker fired the shot “was not overwhelming,” but did not mitigate the sentence.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Maryland,Milestones,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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1893: A day in the death penalty around the U.S.

Add comment June 30th, 2017 Headsman


This headline tally from the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette of July 1, 1893 omits an additional Georgia hanging on the same day (also overlooked by the Espy File index of U.S. historical executions), but mistakenly attributes the June 29 execution of Pietro Buccieri in Pennsylvania to the 30th; between the two contrary errors, it arrives at the correct total of noosings. A sixth execution occurred by musketry in the Indian Territory on the same day.

Indian Territory (Oklahoma): Joe Bird


Dallas Morning News, July 1, 1893

Maryland: Daniel Barber and William Pinkney


Baltimore Sun, July 1, 1893

Louisiana: Gus Albers


New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 30, 1893

Georgia: Sam Thorpe…


Macon Telegraph, July 1, 1893

… and George Summer Rachen


Macon Telegraph, July 1, 1893

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1773: Four convict labor escapees in Maryland

Add comment October 22nd, 2015 Headsman

We owe this date’s post, as with a number of others on this site, to Anthony Vaver, proprietor of the superb (albeit recently dormant) Early American Crime blog.

Vaver wrote the book on pre-Revolutionary War convict transportation to the Americas, and we were directed to the men featured today in a post Vaver ran on one of the most common resistance strategies — running away.

Being shipped out of Britain to the American colonies where they faced years of involuntary labor and the prospect of being bought and sold like slaves, convicts could hardly fail to ponder the advantages of escape.

Many did more than ponder: colonial newspapers are rife with adverts for absconded convict laborers, whose descriptions of the fugitives also make for a rich source on the everyday accoutrements of the 18th century working class. Pictured here are a very few arbitrarily chosen samples of the genre:

Such self-liberation did not always entail slipping away in an unsupervised moment: more direct means were occasionally employed, a fantasy that many surely entertained counterpoised by the threat of violent state reprisal. The four men who hanged together at Frederick, Maryland, made bold to put the dream into bloody actuality.

These men had been purchased by a merchant specializing in the convict labor trade — part of “a parcel of convicts” as the New York Gazetteer matter-of-factly described it (Aug. 5, 1773) which Archibald Moffman obtained “in order to dispose of them again to advantage.”

Instead it was Moffman who was disposed of. As Moffman and his nonplussed workingman retinue traveled through Maryland,

about two or three miles on the other side of Frederick-Town, one of the servants told his master that he was too much fatigued to go any further; they therefore all rested themselves on an old tree by the side of the main road. After some time, Moffman told them they must proceed on their journey, but they refused and immediately threw him backwards over the tree, dragged him about five steps into the woods, and then cut his throat from ear to ear; took his pocket book and then went over the mountain, calling at every tavern on the road.

But while the proximity of wilderness and the mutability of identity in the 18th century potentially facilitated escape, the colonies’ sparse habitation also made it harder to disappear into the obscurity of plain sight. Maryland was one of the most populous of the New World jurisdictions with barely 200,000 souls in 1770. It wasn’t that everybody knew everybody, but at such scales one could only go so long without engaging by chance the recognition of some acquaintance or busybody.

Seen in this light, the decision of our murderous fellows to call at every tavern on the road looks a mightily ill-considered course of action for men who ought to have felt the scourge of desperation at their backs. At one of these watering-holes, someone who had noticed these convict laborers on the road recently as they accompanied the yet-unkilled Moffman now ran into them sans oversight, and made inquiries — justifiably skeptical of the “parcel’s” story that their owner was following a few leisurely clicks behind. Failing to find Moffman on his way down the road, he sent up an alarm and the cutthroat tipplers were soon detained. Confession, conviction, and execution all followed within a matter of weeks.

The newspaper stories about this quartet do not so much as mention their names.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Known But To God,Maryland,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,USA

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1899: Armstead Taylor and John Alfred Brown, horribly

Add comment August 18th, 2015 Headsman

From the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Times, Aug. 18, 1899:

ROCKVILLE, Md., Aug. 18 — Armstead Taylor and John Alfred Brown, negroes, were hanged here this morning for the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Rosenstein at Slidelle in March last.

The drop fell at 10:15[?]. The hanging was a horrible botch. the knot did not slip but the drop was long enough. The men writhed, groaned and uttered inarticualate [sic] sounds for nearly ten minutes.

The murders for which they were convicted and sentenced to be hanged were committed at Slidelle, a little station two miles north of Boyds, Md. on March 13 last.

Louis Rosenstein, the postmaster of the hamlet[,] lived with his aged parents in the rear of the post office. They were said to have plenty of money. Early one morning they were attacked and the man’s skull was crushed and the woman’s head pounded with some blunt instrument.

The store was ransacked and a little over $3,000, a pair of shoes and several articles were taken.

Louis Rosenstein died the day after of his injuries and Mrs. Rosenstein lingered until May when she succumbed in a hospital at Baltimore.

Taylor went to Washington and soon attracted attention by spending money in a lavish manner in Georgetown. Suspicious neighbors gave the police the information that led to his capture.

Before Taylor was arrested, however, Sergeant Fritz Bassau of the Washington police force gave up his life. Taylor shot him down as he was climbing the stairs to arrest him, where he was concealed in the house at Georgetown. He also shot Officer Gowon in the hand.

Taylor was taken back to Montgomery county, but did not stand trial for injuring the policemen. His trial was begun at Frederick on July [?] and Brown’s a week later. Both were convicted and sentenced to be hanged August 18.

Strong efforts were made to have Brown respited, it being believed by many that he was only an accessory after the fact.

The men mounted the scaffold at 10:15. They were both calm and exhibited nerve. As they were placed on the door the sheriff asked if they had anything to say. Taylor made a rambling statement in an almost inaudible voice. He appeared weak and swayed upon his feet. He said:

Gentlemen, I done both the killings myself. My Uncle Brown is not guilty. I am the guilty man, but I expect to go to heaven.

Brown refused to make any statement beyond that he had forgiven his enemies and had found salvation.

The deputies then adjusted the rope, before placing the black caps on their heads. Both men smiled and Brown said good-bye to some friends in the crowd who spoke to him.

Sheriff Thompson tok [sic] a board about six feet in length, walked over to the side of the scaffold, reached down and inserted the end of a plank in the wire ring and sprung the trap.

The bodies fell through simultaneously and began to writhe and sway in a horrible manner. Taylor seemed to be conscious and appeared to be trying to speak.

The priests pronounced it the most horrible execution they had ever seen.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Maryland,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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1746: Three Catholic servants

Add comment May 16th, 2015 Headsman

All stories from issues of the Maryland Gazette, datelined Annapolis. (via) Though not explicit in any of these stories, the attack by Catholic servants upon their master while the Jacobite rising was still afoot must have been read by Maryland’s grandees as more menacing than your everyday domestic crime.


Tuesday, April 22, 1746

The following Particulars of the murder of Richard Waters, in Kent Co., on the 5th inst., having been transmitted to us, are here inserted:

About two months ago Hector Grant, a Highland Papist, and James Horney, an Irish one, both Servants to Mr. Waters, communicated to a West Co. convict woman (servant to Mr. Waters, and of the same communion with the other two), and an orphan apprentice girl, their intention to murder their Master; to which the women agreeing, they all swore on a Bible not to make any discovery.

Having been several Times disappointed in their Design to way-lay him on the Road, in order to perpetrate their Villainy, it happened that on Saturday the 5th Instant, Mr. Waters being at a Muster, and having drank too freely; he was conducted home by two of his Neighbours, who had put him to Bed, and left him about an Hour within the Night: When the Woman, having put his two Children to Bed with him, persuaded the Orphan Girl to go over with her to a Neighbour’s.

In the meantime the two Men murder’d the poor Man, overcome with Liquor and Sleep, by giving him a desperate Blow on the Head with an Axe; after which they dragg’d him out of Bed upon the Floor, repeating their Blows, tho’ any one of them would have proved mortal: The Children sleeping sound all the While; it is thought prevented their undergoing the same Fate; tho’ the Highlander proposed setting the House on fire, and burning the Children therein.

The Girls returning, found the Fellows rejoicing in their Villany, who then put the Deceased’s Cloaths on him, and throwing his Body across a Horse carried it to a Branch about half a Mile from the House, and there buried it; They afterwards burnt the bloody Sheets, clean’d away the Blood, and the next Morning gave out, that their Master set out for Annapolis by Day-break. Nobody had any Suspicion of what had been transacted ’til about the Middle of the Week, when one of the Deceased’s Shoes and Buckles were found; and their carousing, buying Rum, and idling about, and the Horse’s being seen at home, gave the Neigbours reason to suspect the Matter; whereupon the Men were apprehended, and a bloody Shirt found, but no further Discovery made ’til Sunday; when the Orphan Girl, after she had at a solemn Examination denied she knew anything of the Fact, privately confess’d that she had been sworn to the Secresy: On being told that her Oath, being extorted by the Fellows, could not be binding, she related all she knew of it.

The same Evening, the Irishman, finding the Girl had made a Discovery, confess’d every Circumstance told; as also where the body was buried, and where he had concealed his Master’s Watch, Ring, Clasps, &c. which were all accordingly found. The two Men and the Woman, were brought in, by the Coroner’s Inquest, guilty of Wilful Murder.

The Highlander received the Sacrament at Mass, the Sunday before this tragic scene was executed; and, notwithstanding his most obstinate denial of knowing anything of the fact, appears to have been the first proposer and principal actor in this tragedy.


Tuesday, May 6, 1746

Friday last was held, at Chester in Kenty County, a Special Court of Oyer and Terminer, for trying the Murderers of Richard Waters; when the two Men and the Woman were found guilty of the Indictment, and received Sentence of Death; Grant and Horney are to hang’d and the Woman (Esther Anderson is to be burnt.)


Tuesday, May 20, 1746

On Friday last, Hector Grant, James Horney, and Esther Anderson, were Executed at Chester in Kent County, pursuant to their Sentence, for the Murder of their late Master. The Men were Hang’d, the Woman Burn’d. They died penitent, acknowleging their Crimes, and the Justice of their Punishment.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Maryland,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,USA,Women

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1859: Baltimore’s Plug Uglies

Add comment April 8th, 2015 Headsman

This date in 1859 saw the joint hanging of youths from a notorious Baltimore gang, and in honor of the occasion thousands upon thousands of curiosity-seekers packed Charm City from “all parts of the State, the District of Columbia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and even New York city and Buffalo” to throng the hills and high points overlooking the Baltimore City Jail, where a fine view could be had of the nominally private gallows.

“The housetops, windows, trees and all other places from whence a more enlarged view could be obtained, were crowded with human beings,” reported the Baltimore Sun (Apr. 9, 1859). “A sea of faces met the eye far and near — men, women and children — old age and infancy — white and black — swelled up the vast multitude, drawn to witness the horrible spectacle.”

The doomed quartet were four men named Henry Gambrill, Marion Crop, Peter Corrie, and John Cryphus. Cryphus was a black man condemned for a knife murder committed under the name John Stephens, and he vainly protested all the way to the gallows that Stephens was not he.

The other three who hanged with him — our principal focus today — were entirely unconnected to him. Gambrill, Crop, and Corrie were all stalwarts of the “Plug Uglies”, who were at once a street gang and a political goon squad, involved (with several similar entities) in a number of election day poll riots in the 1850s. Baltimore was at this point America’s third-largest city, having boomed to 200,000 souls rather faster than its civic institutions could cope.

The city veered near to mob rule (for which it earned the sobriquet “Mobtown”): rival gangs of toughs like the Plug Uglies regularly fought deadly street battles involving hundreds of participants — especially around municipal elections which they shamelessly rigged with armed bullying and prodigious vote-stuffing.* The anti-Know Nothing mayoral candidate in 1858 simply conceded the election rather than invite “loss of life and the general disorder of the city.”


Plug Ugly ruffians boss a ward. (Via)

Affiliated with the nativist, anti-Catholic “Know-Nothing” movement,** the Plug Uglies’ nickname underscores the brutal tenor of their times:

[Baltimore’s gangs] carried pugnacious and frequently obscene banners and often brandished weapons. The awl was seen as a workingman’s weapon, and many were made and handed out at rallies. They were used to “plug” Democrats “ugly” and to prevent them from voting. (Source)

Not long before that peacekeeping 1858 mayoral concession, alliterative policemen Benjamin Benton and Robert Rigdon had arrested a Plug Ugly crony for disorderly conduct, when Henry Gambrill raced up to the grappling trio and shot Officer Benton in the head.

Officer Rigdon, who knew Gambrill well, testified against the goon in the resulting murder trial. So incensed were Gambrill’s pals that they contrived to assassinate Officer Rigdon in revenge: covered by a lookout, Marion Crop in the dark of night shot Rigdon through a window as the cop stood at his mantelpiece chatting with his wife. Both Crop and the lookout, Peter Corrie, were chased down and condemned for first degree murder at separate, and sensational, trials in January 1859.

Despite the power of the Know-Nothings, this outrage proved to fall well outside the range of the Plug Uglies’ impunity. If they could do this, then what institutional pillar of the city would remain standing?

No small sentiment went abroad to skip the assassins’ trials and proceed directly to the hanging — perhaps a problematic means by which to stave off anarchy. In a more promising vein, the affair catalyzed some long-sought political reform measures from the legislature to rein in political violence. And on a chilly, overcast morning in April, Marion Crop stood on the gallows and belted out a hymn for the nation’s gawkers, joined with varying enthusiasms by the other three doomed men.

Former friends, we now must leave you
All our earthly hopes are o’er
But in heaven we hope to greet you
There to meet to part no more.

When a few more moments wasted
And this dying scene is o’er
When this last dread grief we’ve tasted
We shall rise to fall no more.

Fast our sun of life’s declining
Soon it will set in endless night
But our hopes pure and reviving
Rise to fairer worlds of light.

Cease this mourning, trembling, sighing,
Death shall burst this sudden gloom
Then our spirits fluttering, flying
Shall be borne beyond the tomb.

Corrie and Crop were buried privately. Gambrill enjoyed a solem public funeral with a procession of a hundred or so carriages through the center of town. An estimated eight to ten thousand Know-Nothing sympathizers attended it.

* Full marks for period color to the gangs of that time, which included the Rip Raps, Black Snakes, Blood Tub, Regulators, Rough Skins, Double Pumps, and Calithumpians. The successful Plug Uglies, who spread to other cities than Baltimore, were the ones destined to give their name to the language as a synonym for a an urban rowdy. (It’s also the name of some bars.)

** Shortly after the events in this post, Baltimore would be distinguished by a massive, and deadly, riot against a column of federal troops being dispatched to Virginia in the immediate aftermath of Fort Sumter. Since the Battle of Fort Sumter itself had not resulted in any combat fatalities, it was this riot that laid in the ground the first bodies of America’s bloody Civil War.

† While the Know-Nothings’ national impact was limited, they essentially took over Maryland’s political apparatus in the 1850s and made it the party bastion. Know-Nothing nominee (and former U.S. President) Millard Fillmore carried only one state in the 1856 presidential election won by James Buchanan: Maryland.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Maryland,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1829: George Swearingen, Maryland sheriff

Add comment October 2nd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1829, George Swearingen, late the sheriff of Washington County, Md., was hanged for murder.

Swearingen murdered his wife after he became infatuated with a woman of ill repute. To savor this tawdry tale, we’re going to reprise our periodic endorsements of our friend (and occasional guest-blogger) Robert Wilhelm at Murder by Gaslight.

Here are a few morsels from the fall of George Swearingen to whet the appetite:

Mary was away from her marital duties for at least six months and George had to find other ways to meet his needs. In his words, “I occasionally visited those houses of libertinism and chambering, which, Solomon declares to be ‘the way to hell leading down to the chambers of death.’

Hmm.

One night he caught her in an amorous embrace with another young man, a Mr. G—. As a result, the two men fought a duel. Orlando Haverley was killed, and Rachel went to live with the victor.

And then there’s this Huck Finn interlude.

George and Rachel both fled Maryland; first travelling together, then separating, planning to meet in New Orleans. Rachel, travelling by steamboat, probably passed George who, travelling under the name Martin, was floating down the Mississippi in a flatboat.

And competing interpretations of troubling forensic evidence.

Swearingen’s defense attorney, John L. M’Mahon explained that Mary had suffered from “leuco phlegmatic temperament” which made her liable to spontaneous uterine hemorrhaging. Her doctor had advised her to refrain from sex — explaining why George strayed in the first place. The condition also explained why she appeared to have been raped before death. For good measure, he speculated that Charity Johnson had attacked the body with a broomstick to implicate Swearingen as a rapist.

Read the whole thing here.

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

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1814: Not William Beanes, anthem enabler

Add comment September 14th, 2014 Headsman

On this date two centuries ago, a man on a mission of mercy found his accidental entry into history.

The mercy in question was required for a Maryland fellow named William Beanes. During the War of 1812, the British had seized this 65-year-old doctor on their march back from torching the White House, on grounds of his role jailing British soldiers who were doing some freelance plundering around his beloved Upper Marlboro.

They were making worrying (possibly empty) threats about hanging the man for infringing the laws of war as they held Dr. Beanes in the Chesapeake Bay aboard the H.M.S. Tonnant.* Beanes’s friends recruited a respected lawyer (and amateur poet) to get the venerable gentleman out of the soup.

This was accomplished easily enough. Approaching the British warship under a flag of truce, the lawyer and a buddy who was the government’s designated prisoner exchange agent managed to convince Gen. Robert Ross to parole his “war criminal” by producing a packet of testimonials from previous British POWs affirming the honorable treatment Dr. Beanes had accorded them. Problem solved.

There was one minor hitch.

Because the British were preparing to attack Baltimore, and the visiting envoys had perforce become privy to some of the forthcoming operational details whose exposure might complicate matters, the hosts detained the whole party at sea pending the encounter’s conclusion.

There the Americans looked on, helplessly entranced, as the Battle of Baltimore unfolded. On September 12, there was a land battle (the munificent Gen. Ross was slain by an American sharpshooter as he directed troops in this affair). Then at dawn on September 13, the British fleet commenced a withering bombardment of Baltimore’s principal harbor bulwark, Fort McHenry. Safely out of range of the fort’s guns, British cannons rained ordnance on the fort throughout the day, 1,500 bombs in all. At one point a missile ripped a white star from the fort’s gigantic American flag.

The firing continued into the night. The American bystanders now saw nothing of the fort save by the fleeting illumination of exploding shells. Could it possibly weather the assault? As morning approached, the fleet’s firing came to a virtual stop. The Americans could only surmise that this abatement might indicate Fort McHenry’s capture by the British. The suspense over the course of the long, dark night must have been near unbearable.

Dawn’s early light on September 14, 1814 brought for the Yankees a wondrous sight: the tattered American banner somehow still fluttered over the fort, where they had watched it all the day before.


On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key beholds the American flag still flying over Baltimore, just as it had at the previous twilight’s last gleaming. (1912 painting by Edward Moran.)

Overjoyed now, Beanes’s deliverer Francis Scott Key put his poetic gifts to patriotic use and dashed off a verse celebrating Baltimore’s fortitude. “The Defence of Fort McHenry” is better known today (when set to the tune of a British drinking song) as “The Star-Spangled Banner” — the American national anthem. We owe it all to Williams Beanes’s capture and prospective hanging.

* A French-built ship captured in Egypt by Horatio Nelson. (Cool painting.) She would go on to fight in the naval prelude to the Battle of New Orleans.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Doctors,England,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Maryland,No Formal Charge,Not Executed,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,USA,Wartime Executions

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