Posts filed under 'New York'

1888: Oscar Beckwith, the Austerlitz Murderer

Add comment March 1st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1888, the “Austerlitz Murderer” — not a Napoleonic figure but an irascible septuagenarian woodsman — hanged in New York.

Oscar Beckwith’s crime, explains the New York Herald of Jan. 18, anticipating the sixth issuance of his sentence for this crime,

was the killing of Simon A. Vandercook at Austerlitz, Columbia county, in January, 1882. Both men were wood-choppers and quarrelled over a supposed gold mine near the town. The victim’s body was found in Beckwith’s hut, portions of it having been burned.* Beckwith fled to Canada and eluded capture until February, 1885. He was extradited, and while in custody admitted the killing, but claimed that it was done in self-defence.

That same paper four days afterwards informs us that he favored the court on this occasion with an “excited tirade” blaming the affair on “Freemason devils” as he was hauled back to his cell, where “he kept up a running invective against everybody who had any connection with his case.”

Via Atlas Obscura.

* More specifically, after suspicions were aroused by the awful smell belched by Beckwith’s stovepipe, the body was found hacked up and stashed under Beckwith’s bed, save that “the head, one hand and a foot were gone. The teeth were found in the ashes of the stove.” (Troy Weekly Times, March 1, 1888) This grisly pile spurred (likely baseless) rumors of cannibalism; he’s also sometimes tagged the “Austerlitz Cannibal”.

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1673: Kaelkompte and Keketamape, Albany milestones

Add comment February 15th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1673, Indians named Kaelkompte and Keketamape were sentenced to hanging and gibbeting for the murder of an English soldier near Albany, New York. (The date this sentence was executed, if it was not immediate, has been lost to history.)

This place had been known as Beverwijck up until a few years prior, when the English gave it its new and still-current christening* after taking away New Netherland during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. The transition of its legal organs was a more gradual process — with a long survival of Dutch practices upon which the English were gradually overlaid.

The case at hand was a milestone in that jurisprudence: it appears to be the first documented jury trial (pdf) in Albany — a practice imported from England and reflective of the growing sway of the new boss.

Jury trials did not from that point become universal practice, however, and their use in this instance might have connected to the unusual nature of the prosecution.

Lying at the most northerly navigable point of the Hudson River, at the frontier of the powerful Mohawk and dependent upon they and other friendly indigenes to facilitate its fur trading, Albany kept a practiced blind eye when it came to Indian crimes. The 1665 murder of a Dutchman, the last previous documented homicide between the peoples, appears to have gone completely unpunished: in practice, intercultural grievances were settled privately, if at all.

But English law at least aspired to a more totalizing view and when one of the King’s subjects was murdered by natives who were not members of the powerful Iroquois confederation, it found its ideal test case — as we see in Courts Minutes of Albany, Rennselaerswyck and Schenectady, 1668-1673 (landing page | specific pdf volume). The ability of Albany to impose not only hanging but a potentially provocative gibbeting in this instance essentially confirmed the precedence of colonial jurisdiction over the smaller Hudson tribes. (The Iroquois were quite a different question and maintained expansive rights against the European encroach even into the post-colonial era.)

Kaelkompte, a northern Indian, from Narachtack castle, appearing in irons before the court, was asked whether he had any objection against any of the 12 jurymen standing before him?

Answered, that none of them had done him any harm.

Thereupon 12 jurors were sworn, as shown by the list, to do justice between the king and the prisoner.

As to the first point of the preliminary examination, as to conspiracy, etc., Kaelkompte answers that Keketamape asked him in the woods whether Stuart had any goods? To which he replied that some time ago he had seen three blankets and some coats there. Also, that Keketamape, sitting with him near the fire in the woods, said to him: “I shall kill Stuart.”

Whereupon Kaelkompte, saying that he did not quite understand, asked him: “W hat did you say? You wish to kill Stuart? If you kill him, you will kill yourself.”

Nota Bene. Here followed the further circumstances of the case. From the proceedings and the further documents it appears that Keketamape confessed that he was guilty of the murder.

Dirck Wessels, Meyndert Hermansz, Johannes Wendel, Willem Nottingam and Jan Jacobsz declare under oath that some time ago, being with the prisoners, listening to their caviling, [they heard] Keketamape say to Kaelkompe: “You killed Stuart and you say that I did it all.” Kaelkompe replied to this: “You did too.”

Kaelkompte acknowledges that he said it, but [declares] that it was longer ago than they say.

Indictment read to Keketamape and Kaelkompte

Keketamape admits that he had a hand in the murder and that he is guilty of having killed Stuart.

Kaelkompte admits that he consented by using these words: “There he is now. First kill him!” But he denies that he is guilty of the killing and says that he is not a bit afraid. He admits further, upon conviction by the interpreters, that he helped to kill Stuart by [the words of] his mouth.

The jury, having carefully weighed and considered the case according to the evidence, informations and confessions, conclude and decide that Keketamape and Kaelkompte are guilty of the murder of the person of Mr Stuart.


Therefore, their honors sitting as this Special Court of Oyer and Terminer, having duly taken into account and considered the proceedings and also the verdict of the twelve jurymen that according to the documents placed into their hands the said Kaelkompte and Keketamape are guilty of the murder of the aforesaid Jan Stuart, condemn them both, as they condemn them hereby in the name of his Royal Majesty of Great Britain, under the government of the Right Honorable Colonel Francis Lovelace, to be brought together to the place of execution to be hanged by the neck until they are dead, dead, dead, and thereafter to hang in chains. Actum in Fort Albany, the 15th of February 1672/73.

By order of the honorable Court of Oyer and Terminer
Ludovicus Cobes, Secretary

One of the jurors in this trial, Willem Teller, might have been the same man at issue in a case five years later when “a certain squaw was shot dead at the house of Teller, burgher of this city.” The court found it an accident and ordered him to pay the Mahican nation fifty florins: laying aside any question of proportionality, this later case also demonstrates English courts successfully asserting their rights over violence between peoples that formerly would have been settled in private.

* The name “Albany” honored the Duke of Albany, the man who would eventually be King James II … until he was deposed by a Dutchman.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Netherlands,New York,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Uncertain Dates,USA

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1851: Ruben Dunbar, Destructiveness and Combativeness

Add comment January 31st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1851, Ruben Dunbar hanged in New York for murdering two little boys: the 8- and 10-year-old nephews to his widowed mother’s second husband. Thanks to the mother’s remarriage, these boys had supplanted Dunbar as the heirs to his mother’s property.

We’re indebted for attention to this case to our crime-blogging friends at Murder by Gaslight, who also call attention to a short pamphlet entitled “Phrenological Character of Reuben Dunbar, With a Short Treatise on The Casuses and Prevention of Crime”. This item is available free from Google Books and contains the findings of a phrenologist — Margaret Thompson — who examined Dunbar. (Phrenology was already into an advanced stage of disrepute by the 1850s.)

We begin with the core metrics:

His physiology is sound and good. He has a fair proportion of all the temperaments, with a predominance of the vital. The size of his head is 22 3/4 inches in curcumference, over the organs of Individuality and Philoprogenitiveness; and 13½ inches over the top, from Destructiveness to Destructiveness, over Firmness. The size of his phrenological developments, on a scale of from one to seven, are as follows:

Amativeness, 5; Philoprogenitiveness, 4; Adhesiveness, 6; Inhabitiveness, 5; Concentrativeness, 4; Vitativeness, 6; Combativeness, 6; Destructiveness, 6; Alimentiveness, 6; Acquisitiveness, 6; Secretiveness, 7; Cautiousness, 6 to 7; Approbativeness, 7; Self-Esteem, 4; Firmness, 7; Consceintiousness, 4; Hope[,[ 5; Marvellousness, 4; Veneration, 4; Benevolence, 5; Constructiveness, 5; Ideality, 4; Sublimity, 5; Imitation, 5; Mirthfulness, 5; Individuality, 6; Form, 6; Size, 6; Weight, 6; Color, 6; Order, 6; Calculation, 5; Locality, 6; Eventuality, 6; Time, 5; Language, 5; Causality, 5; Comparison, 6

Several pages then elucidate the weight and combination of these figures in the estimation of the examiner, also neatly retrofitting the crime that she knows Dunbar stands accused of.

Philoprogenitiveness is only average. He might love his own children, but would not care for the children of others; and his large Destructiveness and Combativeness would incline him naturally to be impatient, severe, and even cruel with children over whom he has control.

His selfish propensities are large, while his moral faculties are between full and average. In such an organization the selfish feelings have a very powerful influence, and without great care and constant exercise of the moral organs, will be sure to gain the ascendancy. Acquisitiveness is large and very active. This gives him a strong desire to obtain money, property, &c.; and with his inferior moral brain, would lead him to be penurious and covetous. Secretiveness is very large. He is exceedingly cunning, and capable of acting artfully and deceitfully; has uncommon power to conceal his real feelings. Seldom discloses his plans to others; is secretive and says little. Destructiveness and Combativeness are large also; so is firmness. These, with his other combination of organs, make him quarrelsome, harsh, severe, self-willed, tenacious of his rights, wilful, and desperately determined.

All told, she reckons, Dunbar labored under “an unfortunate organization; one in which the animal propensities govern, because the moral faculties are not sufficiently large to balance and control them.”

Thompson’s pamphlet then pivots curiously from her diagnosis of Dunbar to that of his entire society, and reaches her own science’s strange circuits a familiar conclusion:

Crime is caused by an abuse or perverted action of the animal propensities, owing principally to education, and partly to the hereditary transmission of those faculties from parents to their children … It is a fact which comes within the range of our observation daily, that the faculties of Destructiveness and Combativeness are almost universally strengthened and encouraged in children by severe and coercive measures … Punishment with the rod invariably tends to give a highly stimulated and perverted action to Destructiveness and Combativeness … by repeated whippings an increased quantity of blood is sent to the base of the brain, and it is thereby inflamed and excited, and increased in size and activity. If children are punished in anger, and from a spirit of retaliation, we may reasonably expect to see in them, when full grown and matured, an abnormal exercise of Destructiveness and Combativeness.

Thompson recommends a more rehabilitative approach to criminal justice, a combination of instruction and what she calls “the law of love” — “of the efficacy and power of kindness over man, even when in ruins, and sunk to the lowest depths of sin and degradation. However far he may have wandered from the paths of truth and virtue, still he is a man and a brother — an immortal being, having claims on our sympathy, and our best efforts to reform him and make him happy.”

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

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1866: Charles Carrington

Add comment January 5th, 2018 Headsman

This from the Albany Journal of January 8, 1866, whose subject should not be confused with the prolific Victorian erotica publisher of the same name.

The sheriff in this Buffalo hanging was Oliver J. Eggert, not future president Grover Cleveland who attained that office — and its associated responsibility for hanging convicts — only in 1871.

Charles H. Davis, better known as Carrington, was executed at Buffalo Friday. The Commercial brings the particulars of the execution, which we condense, giving the essential points.

The prisoner was 20 years of age, born in Os[h]kosh, Wis., and his mother lived in Buffalo with one Theodore Carrington (formerly of this city,) and her reputation was bad. Davis had bad associates, and led a hard life for one so young. On the night of the 10th of January last, he with two other fellows was engaged in a burglary, plundering the house of a woman in Buffalo. The woman gave the alarm, and two policemen ran to the spot and gave chase to the thieves. Davis was behind a fence, and as Policeman Dell came up he shot him dead, then fled, and concealed himself, but was soon after arrested. He was tried in February, and the jury failed to agree. He was again tried in June and convicted. The case was carried up, but the higher courts confirmed the proceedings, and the prisoner was executed under the sentence. He escaped from jail and was recaptured sixteen miles from the city. His conduct in jail was good, and up to a few days since he expected a commutation of sentence. No effort was spared to induce Gov. Fenton to interfere, but he stood up manfully for the execution of the law, and for this is entitled to the respect of the people. Shooting a policeman in the discharge of his duty, seeking to arrest the midnight marauder, was a crime that richly merited death, and the Governor would not interfere.

The culprit gave himself up to spiritual advice and made preparation to die, but he protested his innocence to the last.


He mounted the scaffold with a firm step, accompanied by the officiating clergyman, the sexton and his assistant, and Officer Lester.

The clergyman made a short prayer, after which Carrington was told that if he wished to say anything to those present he could do so.


He rose, holding the Bible in his hand, and spoke, in effect, as follows: —

It was hard to see a young man, not twenty years old, standing there. He had always worked for a living and had never been arrested before. Had lived in Buffalo for some years and thought it was a hard place. On the night in question he had been led away. He said: “I stand with a clear heart, with the Bible in my hand, expecting to meet my Maker in a few minutes.” There was no object in denying his guilt, if he was guilty. He could look all present in the face, with a clear conscience, and declare that he never took the life of any man.

He never felt so easy and contented in his life as now. He had been waiting for his doom for two weeks; he had been so excited that he could not rest, but he was now easy in his mind — being prepared to die. He would rather be in his place than that of the man who cut the rope, though not meaning anything against him (the Sheriff,) or any other person. When he went down (pointing to the trap upon which he stood,) his soul, he trusted, would go up to another and better place.

He had lain in jail almost a year. The jailor, as well as his family and assistants, had always used him well — nobody could have been used better. He would like to talk all day. Those present could stand it, if the weather was cold. He here repeated the assertion of his innocence, and reiterated his former avowal that he bore no malice toward any person. He never took the life of Dill, he declared; there was another man who ought to be standing where he was, though he did not know “for certain,” who committed the crime. He spoke of the evidence adduced against him, and did not think it sufficient for his conviction.

Women of ill-fame, he said, would ruin any man. There were many men now in prison who would not be there had it not been for them. He declared that he had confessed all his sins to the clergyman who had attended him. He had not confessed the guilt of the crime for which he was about to suffer, as he was innocent, and could not confess that. He said, as he had but three minutes to live he could not explain things as he wished and as he would like to. He was here told that five minutes would be given him. He replied that he could not do it in five minutes, and that he might as well go in three. He was sorry to stand where he did, and die as he was about to die. [Here he repeated his former assertion about another person who should stand in his place.]

He was, he continued, about to leave this world, but nobody could say anything against his character. He had been to church and Sunday school, and had never done anything wrong. [Of course we do not pretend to follow him, verbatim, in his remarks, and to give the repetitions in which he indulged. We only seek to give a rough outline of what he said.]

The clergyman here spoke a few words to him in a low tone — which those standing below did not hear — and concluded by shaking hands and bidding him good-bye. He threw to the ground the handkerchief which he held in his hand, meaning it, as we understood him, as a present to Captain Bennett, of police station No. 3, who stood near, and who was instrumental in effecting his arrest.


The rope, the noose of which had previously been placed about his neck, was now adjusted to the beam above by Officer Kester, and Carrington, looking up to the gallows frame and the staple to which the rope had been attached, said, “It is hard.”

After his arms were pinioned and the black cap drawn over his face, he said, “I expect to die easy, and hope to meet all in a better place than this.” He hoped none would think he was guilty. He was ready to go.

He continued to speak until ten minutes to twelve, when the sexton dropped the handkerchief — the signal was repeated to the sheriff by the jailor — the rope was severed by a blow, and Charles Carrington was no longer of this world.


The neck was instantly broken — he dying with very little struggling or apparent pain. Drs. Green, Lathrop, Richards and Hauenstein were present, and it was announced that the pulse had ceased to beat at the end of seven minutes, though the pulsations of the heart continued faintly for about eighteen minutes.

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1812: George Hart, Gotham batterer

Add comment January 3rd, 2018 Headsman

From the Essex Register, Jan. 1, 1812.


From the New York Morning Post.

Court of Oyer and Terminer, Thursday, 28th November, 1811 — Present, the Hon. Judge Van Ness, Alderman Fell, and Alderman Buckmaster.

The People vs. George Hart — MURDER.

When the Jury were sworn in, the prisoner challenged three; the reasons were not given. Mr. Macomb, the Clerk of the Court, informed the Jury, that the prisoner stood indicted for the murder of MARY VAN HOUSEN, that upon his arraignment he plead not guilty — that he had now put himself upon his country, which country they were, and that they had to determine from the evidence which would be produced to them, whether the prisoner was innocent or guilty of the felony, with which he stood charged.

Mr. Riker then addressed the Jury, and after defining in a clear and satisfactory manner, the nature of the crime, for the commission of which, the prisoner stood before them, briefly related the prominent features of the testimony that would be brought forward on the part of the prosecution against the prisoner. He stated, that if they found him guilty, the prisoner would have to suffer death, that he was convinced that they would maturely, and with carefulness, weigh well the testimony and if there was a doubt in their minds, they ought to acquit; but if none should appear, he felt assured they would not shrink from their duty, but with firmness would pronounce him guilty.

The first witness produced, was Charles Campbell, in the cellar of whose house the prisoner lived. He stated, that on the 25th June, 1811, about 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning, he heard a cry of murder issue from the cellar, that he went down into it, and found the deceased laying upon her side upon the floor, with her face bruised and bloody — her arm appeared as if it had been severely stamped upon, and very much hurt by his blows — that he asked the prisoner, “what are you doing this for.” The prisoner said “she has stole four shillings from my pocket, and I will serve any d—d w—e so, who robs me of money.” That he then tore all her clothes off, except her stockings, and appeared more like a madman that any thing else; insomuch, that the witness was alarmed for his own personal safety — that he went and procured the competent authority with all possible despatch, and had the prisoner committed to Bridewell. In his cross examination, he repeated that he was afraid to interfere, lest Hart would injure him — that the prisoner was by no means a weak man, and after he was in custody, he declared “he would sit on a chest and fight any man.”

Nancy Campbell — After her husband had gone for the officer, witness heard the sound of from twenty to thirty blows, and the deceased exclaim, “My dear George, do not murder me!” The noise ceasing, witness apprehended that the prisoner had killed his wife, asked Mrs. Clark to go down with her and see if it was the case: Mrs. Clark was afraid to go; but witness went down, and saw Hart strike the deceased, who was naked, with the large end of an oak broom stick; Witness asked him what he was doing? He said “I will kill one half of the d—d w—s in town.” What has she done to you? He replied “she has taken four shillings from my pocket.” He then kicked her twice on the side — witness pushed him back, and he told her not to be alarmed, for he would not hurt her — that the deceased was speechless when witness entered the cellar, and she did not speak while witness remained there. In her cross examination, witness in answer to the questions put up by the counsel for the prisoner, said, that he must have been out of his senses to have acted so — that she saw the blood run from the ear and cheek of the deceased, that she thought her dead, that the prisoner struck her with the largest end of the broom stick, that he had no mark of violence upon him, and that he did not appear to be in the least sorry for what he had done, but was perfectly indifferent at the situation of the deceased. That Mr. Campbell was about half an hour in going for the officers.

Katharine Keech, went with Mrs. Campbell into the cellar, and told the prisoner it was a shame to behave to any one in so cruel a manner — He replied “damn you, you bitch, I’ll serve you the same sauce,” and then kicked the deceased, wounded as she was, twice on the head with great violence — that witness then said “it is a pity some constable would not come and take you away.” That he again replied “he would serve her in the same way if she said any thing, and any d—d w—e that would rob him of his money,” that she saw the blood issue from the eye and ear of the deceased.

During the cross examination, witness said, that the deceased was bloody both at the time when she entered the cellar, and after the kicks. Here Mr. Justice Van Ness asked witness to explain in what manner the prisoner kicked the deceased? She answered that “he kicked her thus, (stamping her foot down) and with all his might — that she lay on her right side — and that she at one time asked for a drink of water.”

William Willis, Coroner, stated that a woman had been murdered, and the corpse lay at the Hospital — that he held an inquest over the body — that the prisoner at his request was bro’t to the Hospital who there acknowledged he was the person who had beaten her, and that he had done it because she had stolen 2s 6d out of his pocket, and shewed whilst looking at the body no visible concern. — Witness further stated that her right arm was broken, and one of her hands horribly disfigured, and that her head and body presented a shocking spectacle.

Cross examination. The counsel for the prisoner asked Mr. Willis if the prisoner did not evince symptoms of insanity — witness answered that he appeared to be very indifferent, but did not discover any thing like insanity or derangement.

Thomas Hazard testified that he had known the prisoner two or three years, but had never supposed him to be deranged.

Dr. Post stated that the deceased was brought to the Hospital about 12 o’clock — that there was a severe cut on the left side of her head — that a considerable quantity of blood had come from her ear — that her arm was broken, and her hand very much bruised which appeared to have been occasioned by a glancing blow — that she made some unintelligible reply to one of the attendants — that she appeared in great distress by the convulsive writhings of her body — and that after he had given directions to have her washed, and ordered the proper remedies to be used, he departed — that in about half an hour after his absence, as he understood, she expired — that he had no doubt her death was occasioned by the wounds she received. The counsel for the prisoner then asked witness, “Have you ever known instances of mental derangement occasioned by a paralysis?” Witness answered that such instances he believed had occurred, but they were very rare.

Henry C. Southwick, was produced on the part of the prisoner, and stated that he had never discovered in him any signs of insanity — that his intellects were none of the brightest, as he was not sharp in making a bargain.

After the district Attorney had read several authorities, and pointed out to the jury, the legal meaning of murder, J.A. Graham, of counsel for the prisoner, arose and addressed the Court and Jury, as follows: —

May it please the Court and you Gentlemen of the Jury,

The crime of wilful and deliberate Murder is a crime at which human nature shudders — a crime which harrows up every fibre of the soul — and is punished almost universally throughout the world with Death. This crime is defined to be ‘The wilful and felonious killing of any person with malice aforethought, either express or implied, so as the party wounded or hurt, die within a year and a day after the fact.’ Malice, therefore, (either express or implied) makes the gist of this indictment. To prove express malice, it ought to appear evident that there was some ill will, and the killing was with a sedate mind, & also a formed design of doing it. Implied malice is, when one kills another suddenly, having nothing to defend himself, as going over a stile or the like, Hale’s P.C. 47. If a person on any provocation beat another so that it might pla[i]nly appear he meant not to kill, but only to chastise him, or if he restrains himself, till the other hath put himself on his guard, and then, in fighting with him, killeth him, he will not be guilty of Murder, but Manslaughter. I. Hawkins P.C. 82. Judge Blackstone in his commentaries on the laws of England, vol. 4. p. 190, says, that the degrees of Guilt which divide the offence into Manslaughter and Murder, consist in this — Manslaughter arises from the sudden heat of the passions; Murder from the wickedness of the Heart. I contend that the prisoner was not guilty of wilful and deliberate Murder. It is true, his conduct was in the extreme, most diabolical, still I do contend that his crime is not Murder, but Manslaughter. The deceased had been guilty of felony; she had stolen four shillings in money from him, she lived with him as a concubine, and he undertook to chastise her for the felony; therefore, he had no premeditated design in killing her. This had been apparent from all the testimony, particularly as respects his after conduct, that he shewed little or no concern at what had taken place. Now, I would ask, is it among the number of possibilities that any person, wilfully guilty of committing so horrible a crime, being in their right mind, without having manifested on the occasion some compunction of conscience, or perturbation of mind? The prisoner went with the Coroner to see the corpse, and Mr. Willis informs us, he shewed no concern whatever. Gentlemen, I shall not go minutely into the testimony, it is apparent that the deceased came to her death by the chastisement given by the prisoner, as is stated by the examination of Surgeon Post, whom we all agree, is one of the first surgeons in America. But I do contend, that the Prisoner is guilty of Manslaughter, not Murder. — There had been no previous quarrel, he had taken this woman to his bosom, she fed at his table, and he had passed her as his wife. I cannot for myself, believe, that there is scarcely any man, in his right mind, capable of being so great a monster, as, in cold blood to commit murder on a person living, as was the deceased, with the prisoner. Gentleen — I know you possess all the reason light & understanding which the importance of your situation demands, in deciding between the prisoner and the public. But I charge you, that while in your inquiries, which you are about to make in discharge of the duty you owe the public, remember that you owe a debt of the greatest magnitude to the prisoner, which I hope and trust you will conscientiously discharge. When I look at the prisoner, I feel a crust of icy coldness gathering round me. The wild and awful scene of Gallows-hill presents itself, with all its horrors to my view. Then, I cast my eye towards the Hon. Attorney General, when the vision in part dissolves: looking farther up to the learned Judge, the dawn of day, in favor of the prisoner, begins to brighte, and the Judgment Seat appears to have the effect of enchantment.

(To be continued.)

From the Essex Register, Jan. 4, 1812.


From the New York Morning Post.

Court of Oyer and Terminer, Thursday, 28th November, 1811 — Present, the Hon. Judge Van Ness, Alderman Fell, and Alderman Buckmaster.

The People vs. George Hart. — MURDER

Mr. Riker summed up on the part of the prosecution, and acknowledged with great sensibility, the disagreeable task which his official station had imposed upon him. But as it was a duty he owed the community, he would not shrink from the performance of it. After disclaiming all prejudice against the prisoner, he thought it the plainest case of murder, according to the established principles of law, which had ever been presented to the consideration of Court or Jury; and in a solemn and impressive manner, dwelt upon the trivial offence committed by the deceased, and the dreadful punishment inflicted upon her by the accused. Mr. Riker then endeavoured, by minutely dissecting the testimony, to find some excuse for the prisoner’s conduct; but after viewing it in every possible shape, he told the Jury they must pronounce him a murderer, for not a doubt of his guilt could remain upon the mind of any who had heard the witnesses. Mr. Riker then argumented upon the evidence, and concluded neartly in these words: “If I lay too much stress upon the testimony against the prisoner, I beg, I beseech you, to cast away from my statement, as much as you conceive to be overcoloured; but, upon reviewing all the circumstances, I am convinced there cannot be the smallest doubt, and the prisoner ought not to look for mercy from this court, but to that God, from whom finally he must hope only to receive it.”

Mr. Justice Van Ness, in charging the Jury, informed the counsel for the prisoner, that no lenity could be expected from the court, as it was compelled, from the strong testimony adduced, to say that he was a Murderer: and added — “if you have any doubt, gentlemen, you ought to acquit. If I could say any thing in favour of the prisoner, I would cordially do it; but as I cannot, I deem it unnecessary to recapitulate those circumstances which must have sufficiently shocked you already. Indeed, you are to decide upon the law and the facts, and ought not to take a verdict from the court. — With these observations, I shall now leave you to decide upon the fate of the prisoner, with an assurance that you will decide correctly.[“]

The Jury then retired [about half past three o’clock] and at 4 returned with a verdict of “GUILTY.”

The prisoner being put to the bar, the Clerk of the court informed him that he had been indicted for a felony, and on his arraignment had plead “not guilty” and had put himself upon his country for trial, which country had found him “Guilty” — “The court is now,” said the clerk, “about to pronounce sentence against you; have you any thing to say why the terrible punishment which the law inflicts upon the perpetrators of the crime, whereof you are convicted shall not be announced to you?” The prisoner offering nothing in bar of Judgment, His Hon. Mr. Justice Van Ness, addressed himself to the prisoner as follows:

[The words were taken down by Mr. Sampson, who has obligingly furnished us with a copy of them.]

GEORGE HART — It is now the painful duty of the Court, to pronounce on you, that sentence, which our religion and our law concur in awarding against those, who are guilty of the crime of deliberate Murder — This crime has been punished with death, by the laws of every civilized country, ancient or modern. They have all considered it unpardonable, and the offender has been justly deemed unfit to live. The punishment of it, is the highest known to our law, and publick policy requires, that the community should be rid of one, who has shewn so diabolical a disposition, as deliberately to take away the life of his fellow creature.

The sentence of the law then is, that you be taken from hence, to the place where you have been lately confined thence to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck, ’till you are dead; on the 3d day of January next between the hours of twelve and two o’clock.

I have now discharged my duty as a publick magistrate. I have a few words to add, which I address to you as a friend. I have stated to the unfortunate man, who stands beside you, that he might entertain hopes of pardon;* but I should be false to you, and faithless to my duty, if I gave you the slightest hopes. For it would be in vain to search the annals of the most barbarous people, or the traditions of the most untutored savages, for a crime of equal enormity to yours. Through the course of your trial, I have sought, but in vain, for a single circumstance of mitigation; the woman whom you murdered lived with you as your wife. Standing in that relation the offence imputed to her, was light, and trivial. You usurped over her, a power, which the law itself could give to no man; and of your own authority, you put her inhumanly to death. — Thus was in your act, the extreme of cruelty and cowardice. You took advantage of a feeble unresisting woman; one who could look to you only as her protector. You took unmanly advantage of your superior strength; and by brutal force you took away her life — This marks you out as a man of disposition both mean and dastardly. Though this woman had been an hour and a half exposed to your cruelty, and all the time intreating for mercy, yet unfortunately, the people in the house were afraid to descend into that place, which was her habitation, till by your cruelty, it was converted, I may almost say, to her sepulchre, fearing that their lives might be also jeopardized. As long as she could speak, she was heard to address you in tones of tenderness & supplica[t]ion, that would have vibrated on the heart of any one possessed of human feeling. Yet you continued for half an hour, unmoved by her intreaties, to inflict those barbarous wounds and mutilations, that finished her existance; and when your neighbors went to remonstrate, you threatened them with death, and before their face, inflicted new wounds on her naked and prostrate body, so that from the testimony of the physician and of other persons, no one part of her was free from wounds or bruises.

A Murder so unprovoked, so deliberately inhuman, has seldom been known; for almost all the murders, that come to light, have some foundation in provocation or temptation. The highwayman that stops the traveller, does it for his money. The bully or the assassin does it for revenge. In every case, there is some motive or incentive. Here there was none but savage cruelty. Had she robbed you (as you pretended) of three or of four shillings, as your wife, you should have forgiven her, and as her friend, you should have rebuked her in the language of tenderness; instead of which, you exercised that superior strength, which nature gave to your sex, for the protection of the other, and in a way, that I am at a loss to describe, you mercilessly took away her life.

For this offence, the law requires your life as an atonement, and that religion, which most of us believe, and which is publickly taught amonst us, and on which our morals as our laws are founded — has said that “whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” It has been doubted from this whether man had power to pardon the deliberate murderer.

You have a short course now to run, and a dark and gloomy prospect around you. If you look back, you have little satisfaction; as to your present condition in this world, you have no hope of pardon. As to the future, you have too small claims to mercy. But conversant with books, you must know something of religion; were it not for the mercy, which that religion teaches, your views of futurity would be most painful, for in that world of spirits, where a more awful judgment is to follow, the accusing spirit of this murdered woman must appear against you; your only hope lies in the [sic] rightly employing the little time you have in this life, in imploring that Being who alone has power to pardon you, and I pray that he may pardon you, and hope that you will approach his throne, with an humble and a contrite heart. You should, therefore, all your time, both day and night, deprecate His Wrath. I trust, that the Ministers of the Holy Gospel in this city, will administer their aid, and instruct you to pray devoutly and sincerely. Your situation is painful, so is that of the Court. In the world to come, you will find, that punishment follows guilt in this life, but we are taught that there is mercy shewn, even for those “whose sins are as scarlet” and that you may turn your whole attention to that only hope; I once more implore you to indulge no thought of mercy on this side of the grave. One gleam of hope of future mercy is more precious than any thing you have to look for here below. I feel myself the importance of what I have said, and wish that I could make it more strongly felt by you. You have but a few days — let them be spent in profit to your soul. And that the Lord may have mercy upon you, is the sincere and ardent wish of the Court.

* Benjamin Farmer, who was tried and found guilty of Manslaughter, and sentenced at the same time. [this footnote appears in the original -ed.]

From the New York Evening Post, Jan. 3, 1812.

Pursuant to sentence, was executed this day, at the upper end of Broadway near Dydes [Hotel], on a gallows created for the purpose, George Hart, for the murder of Mary Van Housen.

From the New York Evening Post, Jan. 4, 1812.

Published by Desire.

George Hart, who was executed on the 3d inst. in his dying confession, mentions a Mr. Thomas, Printer, who was formerly a partner of his, in destroying the Dogs of this city. The public are respectfully informed, that the Thomas mentioned by Hart, is not Mr. Isaiah W. Thomas, Printer, from Massachusetts.

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1952: Wallace Ford, horrible in-law

Add comment October 30th, 2017 Headsman

Wallace P. Ford, Jr., a former Buffalo steelworker, was electrocuted by New York on this date in 1952.

His crime, “a senseless, meaningless affair, without motive or purpose,”* in the words of his own court-appointed attorney, was the sad culmination of family woes.

The man had been left by his wife, Frances, who returned to her mother’s house with the couple’s infant daughter in tow. Not long after, in June of 1951, Ford accosted Frances’s kid sister, Nancy, age 15, when the latter was picking up some groceries.

Nancy told him to get lost or something — Ford would later say that it was the girl’s insisting that their family would keep his little son that made him snap — and the extranged brother-in-law bashed her with a rock. Here the horror really begins. Blood racing, Ford must have careened from panic to despair to resolution as he contemplated the crumpled but still-living girl, his already-poor judgment scrambled by stress. The assailant packed Nancy Bridges’s stunned and bloodied form into his vehicle and sped out of Buffalo looking for some way to dispose of his mistake. In that moment, for a disordered mind, that meant to finish her off.

Ford said he thought about drowning the girl in Lake Erie, or pitching her off an elevated railroad. Every possible means would carry its own special horror, to be sure, but Ford settled on a truly vile expedient: he dumped her in a deserted stretch of rural Townline Road and pitilessly drove over her limp form … then popped into reverse and backed over her, too, crushing her chest and driving rib splinters into her liver and lungs.

Nancy Ford’s mangled body was discovered in the adjacent woods by a teenage hunter the next afternoon. Wallace Ford must have been the first name on the lips of the family when investigators asked if they had any enemies, and he didn’t bother to evade responsibility when the police came for him. But he would have served himself better and the Fords too had he reached his epiphany of resignation a little earlier in this process.

* New York Times, Aug. 26, 1952.

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1741: John Ury, schoolmaster

Add comment August 29th, 2017 Headsman

Colonial New York’s summer 1741 slave rebellion panic* drew to a close on this date with the execution of the alleged Catholic priest John Ury.

The supposed plot to fire the city, whose reality and extent have been questioned ever since, had seen some 30 souls to the gallows and stakes these past four months after a suspicious series of fires hit the city in the spring.

The original supposed spider at the center of the web of was a white innkeep called John Hughson, who kept a raucous tavern frequented by blacks — and also kept a serving-girl named Mary Burton, the “eyewitness” who would become the inquisitor-judge Daniel Horsmanden‘s faithful familiar throughout the trials, conjuring every new accusation required of the next plot twist.

But even as Hughson was executed in June, the compounding accusations of people in fear of their lives had driven the story past the confines of his humble tavern, all the way to the capitals of the European powers against whom England was fighting a New World naval war. Jill LePore in New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan characterizes four Venn-patterned seditions that investigators perceived over the course of these months:

  • Hughson’s Plot, centered on the publican and his establishment;
  • The Negro Plot, extending well beyond Hughson’s circle to compass perhaps the majority of black people in New York;
  • The Spanish Plot, a foreign plan — possibly coordinated with an internal slave rising — to destroy New York or seize her for Spain; and,
  • The Catholic Plot.

It was the last of these, perfectly calibrated for the Anglo id, that would gather all the other strands together. What hand could unite the threats within and without? The priest. Who moved conspiratorially among Englishmen while obeying the dictates of a foreign potentate? The priest. Who gave men the boldness to murder their masters through his promise of absolving worldly sin? The priest.

The confusing — the incoherent — unfolding of trials that summer became marvelously clarified once apprehended as a Catholic intrigue; maybe the only wonder was that this decisive reveal emerged so late. The prosecutor of the trial that concerns us in this post would say as much in his summation:

Though this work of darkness, in the contrivance of a horrible plot, to burn and destroy this city, has manifested itself in many blazing effects, to the terror and amazement of us all; yet the secret springs of this mischief lay long concealed: this destructive scene has opened by slow degrees: but now, gentlemen, we have at length great reason to conclude, that it took its rise from a foreign influence; and that it originally depended upon causes, that we ourselves little thought of, and which, perhaps, very few of the inferior and subordinate agents were intimately acquainted with.

Gentlemen, if the evidence you have heard is sufficient to produce a general conviction that the late fires in this city, and the murderous design against its inhabitants, are the effects of a Spanish and popish plot, then the mystery of this iniquity, which has so much puzzled us, is unveiled, and our admiration ceases: all the mischiefs we have suffered or been threatened with, are but a sprout from that evil root, a small stream from that overflowing fountain of destruction, that has often deluged the earth with slaughter and blood, and spread ruin and desolation far and wide.

It might have been a warning letter sent by governor of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, that prepared this popish cast to events. “Some intelligence I had of a villainous design of a very extraordinary nature, if true, very important, viz. that the Spaniards had employed emissaries to burn all the magazines and considerable towns in the English North-America,” Oglethorpe wrote in May of 1741. And who were these “emissaries”? “Many priests were employed, who pretended to be physicians, dancing-masters, and other such kinds of occupations; and under that pretence to get admittance and confidence in families.”

These few words would prove a death warrant.

Days after Oglethorpe’s letter arrived to New York, a Manhattan newcomer named John Ury was taken up as a suspected undercover priest — appearing to fit Oglethorpe’s description for he had advertised himself a schoolmaster “pretending to teach Greek and Latin.” Latin!

Mary Burton, the Hughsons’ servant turned stool pigeon for all seasons, revised her original depositions averring that she had never seen white people besides her own household at Hughson’s nefarious negro gatherings and now conveniently remembered that this guy named Ury or Jury “used to come there almost every night, and sometimes used to lie there.” And he was Catholicizing the slaves as he inducted them into a spectacular conspiracy. How could I have forgotten to mention it?!

“Corroborating” testimony to this same effect would also be wrenched from the white soldier William Kane … when Mary’s fabrications against Kane forced him to choose between joining his accuser in perjury or joining slaves at the gallows. And the case was cinched by John Hughson’s miserable daughter Sarah, who spent that entire summer suspended between life and death before she was finally pardoned on the very morning of John Ury’s trial — an expedient necessary to clear the reluctant but desperate young woman to provide evidence against the “priest.”

Ury denied being Catholic at all; he defended himself vigorously in a nine-hour trial and clowned his accuser on cross-examination:

Prisoner: You say you have seen me several times at Hughson’s, what clothes did I usually wear?

Mary Burton: I cannot tell what clothes you wore particularly.

Prisoner: That is strange, and [k]now me so well.

Furthermore, Ury noted, he had been forewarned of the suspicions against him but not attempted to flee. Plus, what about all those people who had been executed since May? “The negro who confessed as it is said that he set fire to the fort did not mention me in all his confession doubtless he would not have neglected and passed over such a person as I am said to be … neither Huson his wife nor the creature that was hanged with them and all that have been put to death since did not once name me.”

Show trials are not proper venues for defenses, of course. If anything can be said on behalf of Ury’s appalling prosecution, it is that the production of an arch-villain permitted the final closure of a terrorist-hunt that weeks before had seemed on the verge of becoming a literal hecatomb. Horsmanden’s senior colleague on the bench, James De Lancey, had shown keen to wrap things up; at the same time, as an Atlantic oligarch, he likely viewed the foreign threat of the Spanish and/or Catholic plot far more gravely. From either perspective, Ury’s death was a fit end to the scene.

Ury was hanged on August 29, 1741, a month to the day after his trial. (He was originally to have shared his gallows with the Spaniard Juan de la Silva on August 15, but had been respited.) The freelance teacher turned infernal mastermind prepared a written vindication of himself for a friend, and at the gallows he “repeated somewhat of the substance of it before he was turned of.” Here it is:

Fellow Christians —

I am now going to suffer a death attended with ignominy and pain; but it is the cup that my heavenly father has put into my hand, and I drink it with pleasure; it is the cross of my dear redeemer, I bear it with alacrity; knowing that all that live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution; and we must be made in some degree partakers of his sufferings before we can share in the glories of his resurrection: for he went not up to glory before he ascended Mount Calvary; did not wear the crown of glory before the crown of thorns.

And I am to appear before an awful and tremendous God, a being of infinite purity and unerring justice, a God who by no means will clear the guilty, that cannot be reconciled either to sin or sinners; now this is the being at whose bar I am to stand, in the presence of this God, the possessor of heaven and earth, I lift up my hands and solemnly protest I am innocent of what is laid to my charge: I appeal to the great God for my non-knowledge of Hewson [sic], his wife, or the creature that was hanged with them, I never saw them living, dying, or dead; nor never had I any knowledge or confederacy with white or black as to any plot; and upon the memorials of the body and blood of my dearest lord, in the creatures of bread and wine, in which I have commemorated the love of my dying lord, I protest that the witnesses are perjured; I never knew the perjured witnesses but at my trial.

But for the removal of all scruples that may arise after my death I shall give my thoughts on some points.

First — I firmly believe and attest, that it is not in the power of man to forgive sin; that it is the prerogative only of the great God to dispense pardon for sins; and that those who dare pretend to such a power, do in some degree commit that great and unpardonable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit, because they pretend to that power which their own consciences proclaim to be a lie.

Again, I solemnly attest and believe, that a person having committed crimes that have or might have proved hurtful or destructive to the peace of society, and does not discover the whole scheme, and all the persons concerned with them, cannot obtain pardon from God: and it is not the taking any oath or oaths that ought to hinder him from confessing his guilt, and all that he knows about it; for such obligations are not only sinful, but unpardonable, if not broken: now a person firmly believing this, and knowing that an eternal state of happiness or misery depends upon the performance or non-performance of the above-mentioned things, cannot, will not trifle with such important affairs.

I have not more to say by way of clearing my innocence, knowing that to a true Christian unprejudiced mind, I must appear guiltless; but however, I am not very solicitous about it. I rejoice, and it is now my comfort (and that will support me and protect me from the crowd of evil spirits that I must meet with in my flight to the region of bliss assigned me) that my conscience speaks peace to me.

Indeed, it may be shocking to some serious Christians, that the holy God should suffer innocence to be slain by the hands of cruel and bloody persons; (I mean the witnesses who swore against me at my trial), indeed, there may be reasons assigned for it; but, as they may be liable to objections, I decline them; and shall only say, that this is one of the dark providences of the great God, in his wise, just and good government of this lower earth.

In fine, I depart this waste, this howling wilderness, with a mind serene, free from all malice, with a forgiving spirit, so far as the gospel of my dear and only redeemer obliges and enjoins me to, hoping and praying, that Jesus, who alone is the giver of repentance, will convince, conquer and enlighten my murderers’ souls, that they may publicly confess their horrid wickedness before God and the world, so that their souls may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

And now, a word of advice to you, spectators: behold me launching into eternity; seriously, solemnly view me, and ask yourselves severally, how stands the case with me? die I must: am I prepared to meet my Lord when the midnight cry is echoed forth? shall I then have the wedding garment on? Oh, sinners! trifle no longer; consider life hangs on a thread; here to-day and gone to-morrow; forsake your sins ere ye be forsaken forever: hearken, now is God awfully calling you to repent, warning you by me, his minister and prisoner, to embrace Jesus, to take, to lay hold on him for your alone savior, in order to escape the wrath to come; no longer delay, seeing the summons may come before ye are aware, and you standing before the bar of a God who is consuming fire out of the Lord Jesus Christ, should be hurled, be doomed to that place, where their worm dies not, and their fire is never to be quenched.

* Longtime readers may recall that the series to which this post belongs ran last year. Embarrassingly I lost track of the date, and in the almanac form the calendar is unforgiving.

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1920: Rickey Harrison, Hudson Duster

Add comment May 13th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1920, Rickey Harrison of the Greenwich Village “Hudson Dusters” went to the electric chair for a murder committed in the course of an armed robbery.

As befits a gaggle of old time New York hoodlums this crowd was rife with colorful nicknames — Goo Goo Knox, Circular Jack, Ding Dong — and hired out its thrashings in service of Tammany Hall‘s rude electoral manipulations. Their signal achievement was earning a popular doggerel tribute that rang in the streets in its day, by beating senseless a beat cop who’d had the temerity to arrest some of their number.

Says Dinny [patrolman Dennis Sullivan], “Here’s me only chance
To gain meself a name;
I’ll clean up the Hudson Dusters,
And reach the hall of fame.”*
He lost his stick and cannon,
and his shield they took away.
It was then he remembered,
Every dog had his day.

At their peak the Hudson Dusters could rank as one of the brighter stars in the dizzying constellation of Big Apple crooks. Herbert Asbury’s classic The Gangs of New York notes that “perhaps fifty small groups … operated south of Forty-second street [and] owed allegiance to the Gophers, Eastmans, Five Pointers, Gas Housers, and Hudson Dusters … Each of these small gangs was supreme in its own territory, which other gangs under the same sovereighty might not invade, but its leader was always responsible to the chieftain of the larger gang, just as a prince is responsible to his king.” Allegedly future Catholic social justice activist Dorothy Day, then a teenage radical journalist just moved to New York City, enjoyed carousing with the Dusters in the 1910s.

Despite political pull through Tammany (and heavenly pull through Dorothy) arrests and gang wars dusted the Dusters over the first two decades of the 20th century.

Our man Rickey Harrison, a pipsqueak Irishman with a substandard nickname (“Greenwich Village Terror” … lame), led a gangland raid on a high-stakes poker game at the Knickerbocker Waiters Club on September 7, 1918, and shot dead a Canadian soldier who refused to give up his boodle. Harrison would go to his grave insisting that it was not he who fired the fatal shot, although he was markedly less scrupulous about accounting the undetected and unprosecuted crimes of his career.

As a last indignity, Harrison and another murderer named Chester Cantine — who preceded the gangster to the electric chair — had to brace themselves for eternity within earshot of a raucous Sing Sing vandeville show where prisoners and 800 visitors were “applauding and roaring with laughter in an improvised theatre a few feet away … comic sketches [and] jazz music resounded throughout the prison.” (New York Times, May 14, 1920)

Harrison’s last sentiment — “Let us hope and pray they will never do this thing to another man, innocent or guilty” — still awaits fulfillment a century later.

* The apparent allusion is to the Hall of Fame for Great Americas, a civic pantheon opened in 1900 that is now part of Bronx Community College. This outdoor colonnade, still extant but largely forgotten, imported its busts-of-great-men concept from Bavaria; the Hall’s popularity in its time makes it the ancestor of the innumerable Halls of Fame that have since come to litter the North American civic landscape.

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1821: Tommy Jemmy executes Kauquatau

Add comment May 2nd, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1821, a chief of the Seneca Native American nation slit the throat of a woman named Kauquatau, who had been condemned as a witch.

As Matthew Dennis explains in his book on the Seneca of the early American Republic, Seneca Possessed, the rapid march of European settlement and the Seneca’s recent and ambiguous incorporation into the newborn United States had strained the indigenous society in complex ways.

One of those reactions was a period of gendered witch-hunting in the early 19th century, especially growing out of the religious movement of the prophet Handsome Lake.

“Handsome Lake pinpointed the dangers the Seneca faced, the threats that they faced, the source of those threats, and a way … of purging his society of those who were most likely to resist his changes,” Dennis explained in this New Books Network podcast interview.

The “threat” for the instance at hand was a tribal healer who had become suspected of bewitching a man to his death — and her guilt in the same voted on by the Seneca elders. One of their number, Chief Soonongise — known as Tommy Jemmy to whites — went to her cabin on May 2, 1821, and killed her. It’s anyone’s guess whether Kauquatau realized what was happening — whether she took it as a social call or recognized her angel of death from the outset. But to New Yorkers, it was murder plain as day — and Tommy Jemmy was soon confined to a gaol to stand trial for his life.

Another reaction occasioned by the upheaval of those years, a reaction destined to emerge dramatically in this instance, was a feeling-out of the Seneca people’s position within the Anglo Republic that had engulfed it. “If the Senecas were a conquered people, as some tried to allege, the terms of their conquest were ill defined, their sovereignty, though diminished, still recognizable,” Harris writes. In these very pages we have met this ill-defined sovereignty several times: a few years on from the events of this post, the state of Georgia would defy a Supreme Court stay and execute a Cherokee man in a case turning on disputed sovereignty.*

Here in New York, Tommy Jemmy’s trial would open a different contest over the same underlying question.

Rather than attempting to deny or minimize his “crime,” Tommy Jemmy defended it as a legal execution conducted by the proper jurisdiction of Seneca laws — no matter for the interference of New York. It’s a position that appeared to have ample sympathy among Anglo New Yorkers,** who gingerly kicked the argument to a Circuit Court and thence to the New York Supreme Court which found itself thereby obliged to “a very thorough examination of all the laws, treaties, documents and public history relating to the Indians” going all the way back to the Dutch. (Cherry-Valley Gazette, Aug. 21, 1821)

What musty old scrolls could supply by precedence, the luminous Seneca orator Red Jacket brought to life in his forceful defense. Red Jacket had an expert feel for the pangs in the Anglo conscience, as one can appreciate by his retort against one obvious line of condescension.

What! Do you denounce us fools and bigots because we still believe what you yourselves believed two centuries ago? Your black-coats thundered this doctrine from the pulpit, your judges pronounced it from the bench, and sanctioned it with the formality of law; and would you now punish our unfortunate brother for adhering to the faith of his fathers and of yours? Go to Salem! Look at the records of your own government, and you will find that thousands have been executed for the very crime which has called forth the sentence of condemnation against this woman, and drawn upon her the arm of vengeance. What have our brothers done more than the rulers of your people? And what crime has this man committed, by executing in a summary way the laws of his country and the command of the Great Spirit?

It was by no means certain that Tommy Jemmy’s argument would prevail here; a literally simultaneous case in Michigan saw a native defendant make a similar jursidictional argument and still wind up on the gallows. The question in the end stood outside any existing grant of law — and it was resolved in a legally questionable way, too.

Accepting the merits of Tommy Jemmy’s position but also unwilling to render Indian power over life and death into the statutes, Tommy Jemmy was set free without any judgment and subsequently pardoned by the legislature — the pardon reversing no conviction. He was an executioner, after all.

* U.S. President Andrew Jackson vigorously supported the state in this separation-of-powers dispute: it’s the case of which he alleged to have remarked, “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.”

** In an essay appearing in New World Orders: Violence, Sanction, and Authority in the Colonial Americas, Dennis notes the precedent here of an 1802 trial involving a Seneca man named Stiff-Armed George. Although Stiff-Armed George murdered a white victim and not on Seneca land, Red Jacket also urged a defense, successfully: “Did we ever make a treaty with the state of New-York, and agree to conform to its laws? No. We are independent from that state of New-York … we appeal to the government of the United States.” (The Seneca did have treaties with the federal government.)

They finessed the issue in the end: Stiff-Armed George was convicted, but immediately pardoned.

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1896: Carl Feigenbaum, the Ripper abroad?

Add comment April 27th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1896, New York City electrocuted Carl Feigenbaum.

He’d been convicted of slaying the widow from whom he rented a room at eight cents per day … but many at the time suspected his homicidal exploits might also have traced to Whitechapel, under the dread sobriquet Jack.

We can only really be sure of the one murder: on September 1, 1894, he attacked 56-year-old Julianna Hoffman in her room on East Sixth Street, for the possible reason of robbing her. One ferocious slash with his long bread knife nearly decapitated the landlady; the disturbance roused Hoffman’s 16-year-old son who burst in on the assailant — reportedly just as Feigenbaum had his blade poised to begin horribly gouging the corpse. Both killer and witness grappled briefly and then fled from each other; Feigenbaum was arrested before the day was out.

Today you’d call the part of town East Village but back in the 1890s it was Klein Deutschland, with one of the world’s largest concentrations of Germans abroad.

Probing his client for material to use for an insanity defense,* Feigenbaum’s attorney elicited his client’s self-diagnosis that “I have for years suffered from a singular disease, which induces an all-absorbing passion; this passion manifests itself in a desire to kill and mutilate the woman who falls in my way. At such times I am unable to control myself.” That seems interesting.

It emerged that Feigenbaum had left Germany as a merchant mariner, and that profession had possibly seen his boats tied up in the Thames during the pivotal months when the Whitechapel murders took place.

In the Big Apple, the idea of modern crime’s great bogeyman throwing his demonic shadow across their very own dungeons appealed irresistibly, to nobody moreso than Fiegenbaum’s own attorney William Lawton, who reveled in his hypothesis of proximity to evil and made a silly bid for celebrity on that basis. Lawton claimed to have hit upon the Ripper idea as he pondered the meaning of Feigenbaum’s professed impulse to mutilate women.

From the St. Albans (Vt.) Daily Messenger, April 28, 1896.

The very day after his client’s electrocution, Lawton explicated the suspected connection to the press, “stak[ing] my professional reputation that if the police will trace this man’s movements carefully for the last few years their investigations will lead them to Whitechapel.” (Lawton is also the sole source of Feigenbaum’s alleged self-incrimination, quoted above: to everybody else Feigenbaum insisted on his innocence far past any possible stretch of plausibility, and even carried that insistence to the electric chair.)

Regrettably, Feigenbaum’s pre-Hoffman movements are obscure to the point where Lawton’s theory is essentially immune to corroboration (or refutation). Even when Lawton dropped his intended bombshell did his hypothesis come in for some public ribbing; the New York Tribune scoffed on April 29 of that year that Feigenbaum now being indisposed to object, all the city’s most troublesome unresolved homicides ought to be attributed to this empty cipher.

Despite the surface similarities of his aborted disemboweling to the infamous London crime spree, Feigenbaum’s case for Ripper immortality doesn’t enjoy much of a constituency today. (Trevor Marriott’s 2005 Jack the Ripper: The 21st Century Investigation is a notable exception to the skepticism.)

* Feigenbaum, who had been literally caught red-handed, ultimately did not pursue the insanity defense that was probably his only hope of avoiding the chair because he did not have enough money to hire the expert alienists who would be required to present such a case to the jury. But for a guy supposedly resource-constrained, Lawton does seem to have gone to some trouble to research the possible Ripper connection.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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