Posts filed under 'New York'

1812: George Hart, Gotham batterer

Add comment January 3rd, 2018 Headsman

From the Essex Register, Jan. 1, 1812.

TRIAL FOR MURDER.

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.

TRIAL FOR MURDER.

From the New York Morning Post.

LAW INTELLIGENCE
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
(concluded)

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.

On this day..

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

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1952: Wallace Ford, horrible in-law

2 comments 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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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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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.

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1702: Not Nicholas Bayard, anti-Leislerian

Add comment March 30th, 2017 Headsman

March 30, 1702 was the date colonial New York spared Col. Nicholas Bayard from undergoing a hanging scheduled later that same day.

A “puzzling affair, made so by frustratingly incomplete documentation,” in the estimate of Adrian Howe, whose William and Mary Quarterly article (January 1990) “The Bayard Treason Trial: Dramatizing Anglo-Dutch Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century New York City” is a key source for this post: it was certainly blowback for the execution a decade earlier of the Dutch merchant Jacob Leisler who seized control of New York in a populist rising to cement its adherence to the Glorious Revolution. Bayard, a colonial elite related to Peter Stuyvesant himself, was Leisler’s superior in the militia but abhorred the Leislerian intervention on behalf of the usurping Dutch king William III.

Bayard got his by helping to manage Leisler’s prosecution all the way to the gallows, even reputedly hosting the new royal governor at his own house while his party plied him with alcohol in a (successful) bid to overcome his reluctance to sign Leisler’s death warrant — a triumph Bayard celebrated by gaily hanging a flag from his window on the day Leisler hanged.

Unchastened by having found it necessary to flee the city for his own safety during Leisler’s hour, Bayard did not refrain from provoking a foe that grew to hate him. Anglican clergyman John Miller surveyed the city during the intervening years and noticed that team Leisler “have vowed revenge & Some Say want but an opportunity to effect their purpose.”

As the 18th century dawned, the Leislerian party — think artisans, against the magnates — was back in control of the New York’s Provincial Council, and could finally see a way to that purpose. It seized on an intemperate petition that Bayard had drawn up against the late, pro-Leislerian governor Bellomont* and turned a 1691 anti-Leisler law-and-order statue against it.

The resulting eight-day trial in early March was a nakedly political operation although New York’s Dutchmen fell a bit short of the Robespierrian standard: it’s not clear whether they really meant to hound Bayard all the way to death or whether the last-minute pardon was the plan from day one. To get it, Bayard had to submit himself as far a very grudging apology for the offense — “which by the said sentence he finds and is convinced he has committed.” Apparently this sullen abasement was enough to satisfy Team Leisler, who cut here a picture of moderation and restraint that would do their countrymen’s latter-day stereotypes proud; when a new governor arrived, Bayard’s condemnation was fully reversed and expunged, “as if no such trial had been.”

This escape and restoration left Leisler to publish a pamphlet against his treatment, An Account of the illegal prosecution and tryal of Coll. Nicholas Bayard, in the province of New-York, for supposed high-treason, in the year 1701.

* Among other things in his venturesome life, Bellomont sponsored William Kidd when he was a somewhat legitimate privateer, but eventually orchestrated Kidd’s capture as a pirate.

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1641: Not Manuel de Gerrit de Reus, chosen by lot, saved by hemp

Add comment January 24th, 2017 Headsman

Dutch New Amsterdam’s council minutes give us today’s remarkable story, of the chance condemnation and chance deliverance of an Angolan

Our Manuel — his “de Reus” surname came from his Dutch owner — appears to have been among the very earliest slaves imported into New Amsterdam when the Dutch West India Company first introduced this institution in 1626.

By every indication apart from this brush with the scaffold he was a respected man who prospered about as well as his situation permitted. Manuel received (partial) freedom in 1644 along with nine other slaves, prominently including several others charged in this same fracas. These freedmen and their families would thereafter form the nucleus of Manhattan’s first black community by settling (post-manumission) neighboring farming plots north of Fresh Water Pond.*

We can continue to track Manuel, fleetingly, through colonial records as late as 1674 — by which time his place was no longer New Amsterdam at all, but New York.


Anno 1641. In the Name of God

On Thursday, being the 17th of January, Cornelio vander Hoykens, fiscal, plaintiff, vs. little Antonio Paulo d’Angola, Gracia d’Angola, Jan of Fort Orange, Manuel of Gerrit de Reus, Anthony the Portuguese, Manuel Minuit, Simon Conge and big Manuel, all Negroes, defendants, charged with homicide of Jan Premero, also a Negro. The plaintiff charges the defendants with manslaughter committed in killing Jan Premero and demands that Justice be administered in the case, as this is directly contrary to the laws of God and man, since they have committed a crime of lese majesty against God, their prince and their masters by robbing the same of their subject and servant.

The defendants appeared in court and without torture or shackles voluntarily declared and confessed that they jointly committed the murder, whereupon we examined the defendants, asking them who was the leader in perpetrating this deed and who gave Jan Premero the death blow. The defendants said that they did not know, except that they committed the deed together.

The aforesaid case having been duly considered, it is after mature deliberation resolved, inasmuch as the actual murderer can not be discovered, the defendants acknowledging only that they jointly committed the murder and that one is as guilty as another, to have them draw lots as to who shall be punished by hanging until death do ensue, praying Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, to designate the culprit by lot.

The defendants having drawn lots in court, the lot, by the providence of God, fell upon Manuel of Gerrit de Reus, who shall be kept in prison until the next court day, when sentence shall be pronounced and he be executed.

On the 24th of January, being Thursday The governor and council, residing in New Netherland in the name of the High and Mighty Lords the States General of the United Netherlands, his highness of Orange and the honorable directors of the Chartered West India Company, having seen the criminal proceedings of Cornelio vander Hoykens, fiscal, against little Antonio, Paulo d’Angola, Gracia d’Angola, Jan of Fort Orange, Manuel of Gerrit de Reus, Antony the Portuguese, Manuel Minuit, Simon Conge and big Manuel, all Negroes and slaves of the aforesaid Company, in which criminal proceedings by the fiscal the said Negroes are charged with the murder of Jan Premero, also a slave, committed on the 6th of January 1641, which said defendants on Monday last, being the 21st of this month, without torture or irons, jointly acknowledged in court at Fort Amsterdam that they had committed the ugly deed against the slain Premero in the woods near their houses; therefore, wishing to provide herein and to do justice, as we do hereby, in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and secular ordinances, we have, after due deliberation and consideration of the matter, condemned the delinquents to draw lots which of them shall be hanged until death ensue. And after we had called upon God to designate the culprit by lot, finally, through the providence of God, the lot fell upon Manuel of Gerrit de Reus, who therefore is thereby debarred from any exceptions, pleas and defenses which in the aforesaid matter he might in any wise set up, inasmuch as the ugly murderous deed is committed against the highest majesty of God and His supreme rulers, whom he has deliberately robbed of their servant, whose blood calls for vengence before God; all of which can in no wise be tolerated or suffered in countries where it is customary to maintain justice and should be punished as an example to others; therefore, we have condemned, as we do hereby condemn, the afore­said Manuel of Gerrlt de Reus (inasmuch as he drew the lot) to be punished by hanging until death follows, as an example to all such malefactors.

Thus done and sentenced in our council and put into execution on the 24th of January of this year of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ anno 1641.

On the 24th of January 1641 Manuel of Gerrit de Reus having been condemned to be executed with the rope so that death would follow, standing on the ladder, was pushed off by the executioner, being a Negro, having around his neck two good ropes, both of which broke, whereupon the inhabitants and bystanders called for mercy and very earnestly solicited the same.

We, therefore, having taken into consideration the request of the community, as also that the said Manuel had partly under­gone his sentence, have graciously granted him his life and pardoned him and all the other Negroes, on promise of good behavior and willing service. Thus done the day and year above written, in Fort Amsterdam in New Netherland.

* Also (and better) known as Collect Pond. Although the body of water itself has long since gone the way of urban infill, we touched on its interesting proximity to Gotham’s criminal history in a footnote to this post.

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1881: A day in the death penalty around the U.S.

Add comment October 14th, 2016 Headsman

Four hangings from the four corners of a continental empire darkened American jurisprudence on this date in 1881.

Sageville, New York

Edward Earl hanged in this Adirondacks hamlet for stabbing to death his wife (never named in any press account I located) four years before

Earl attempted (and obviously failed) an insanity defense, which was an interesting tidbit since Charles Guiteau was at this moment gearing up to do the same after assassinating President Garfield earlier this same year.

Dawson, Georgia

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 15, 1881:

ATLANTA, Oct. 14 — Frank Hudson, colored, was hanged at Dawson, this state, to-day, for the murder in August last of David Lee, Mrs. Lee and a negro girl. His purpose, according to his confession, was robbery. He was taken to the gallows under guard of a military company and appeared calm and unmoved. He acknowledged his guilt and the justice of his sentence, and hoped he had been forgiven. He was dead in ten minutes from the time the trap was sprung. This is the first execution that has taken place in Kerrell county.

Ukiah, California

For the background of this murder in the heart of hops country, we’ll crib the meandering but compulsively specific testimony of the event’s only third-party witness in original old-timey cant, as quoted by an appellate court:

Harvey Mortier was speakng angry to Richard Macpherson about a wedge ax that Harvey Mortier accused him with stealing, accused him for taking a wedge ax, and Richard Macpherson says to him, he didn’t do it. He says he would go to Hi Stalder and find out who took the ax. The ax belonged to a man named Hi Stalder.

Well! says Harvey Mortier to him, why don’t you come down now and find out who took the ax? Now, says Richard Macpherson, I won’t go till this evening. He says, you had better come now. He says no, he won’t.

“I will find somebody down in the woods that will put a good head on you; give you a good licking.” This last was said by Mortier to Macpherson. Macpherson didn’t go down to Hi Stalder’s to find out who took the ax. He remained with me chopping, and I was chopping at the time and Richard Macpherson was working with me.

He started to work and Harvey Mortier (the defendant) went away, passing where we were. He went on a little, small trail. Before he left he asked me if I see any deers? I said, yes sir. I says, I seen some deers over there in that direction; so he passes along that little trail going that way, towards that way, and I was chopping wood. Didn’t pay no attention to it.

In a few minutes the gun was fired and I looked and seen Macpherson and Mortier. I saw Harvey Mortier shooting. I seen the smoke and the gun in front of him, and he taking the gun down from him. He was standing in bushes that were chopped down, about two feet high.

(The witness here showed the position of Mortier when the shot was fired, which was a stooping one.)

I saw the smoke in front of his face, and he was trying to hide himself. Mortier was thirty-four yards from Macpherson at the time the shot was fired. I measured in the next day with a six-foot pole.

The smoke was right at the end of the gun. I saw Mortier’s face distinctly and recognized him. I had known him five or six years.

After the shot, Macpherson and I ran away. He ran two hundred and thirty-five steps after he was shot. We ran as soon as the shot was fired.

The last I saw of him he was leaning against a fence. He fell down. I then went after help to bring him home.

At the time the shot was fired Macpherson was standing in front of Mortier and I was standing on one side. Macpherson was chopping a tree about six inches through. Macpherson lived about half an hour after the shot was fired.

Silver City, Idaho

We cannot improve on the correspondent who reported Henry MacDonald’s hanging* in Silver City’s local Owyhee Avalanche the very next day:

* Note that the findagrave.com link misdates this hanging as of this post’s publication. In 1881, October 14 (not the 15th) was the Friday, and I trust that the article reproduced here will constitute evidence that “October 15” did not appear in the original text of the story.

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1791: Whiting Sweeting, who slew the first U.S. cop to die in the line of duty

Add comment August 26th, 2016 Headsman

In a drama of curious names, Albany, New York hanged a gentleman named Whiting Sweeting on this date in 1791. He had slain Darius Quimby in the first recorded killing of a U.S. law enforcement officer in the line of duty.

Showing that needlessly aggressive police tactics are no modern innovation, Quimby put himself in harm’s way by doing the post-colonial equivalent of a no-knock raid.

He was not a regular policeman, but was deputized as part of a small ad hoc posse who attempted to arrest Sweeting on January 3 of that year on a warrant for possessing a stolen kettle.* Because 18th century, the bunch pregamed en route to the encounter by stopping to throw back some rum with buddies; at last arriving at Sweeting’s house in the evening they discovered the man absent and so followed his snowbound footprints into a dark wood.

This Cornell library page preserves several similar versions of original 1791 pamphlets about the case, which consist heavily of Sweeting’s own erudite writings. The testimony of the other constables themselves unanimously agrees that when they found Whiting they started yelling at him to surrender but never announced themselves as officers of the law conducting a legal arrest.

So to sum up, a howling drunken gang surprised Sweeting in an unlit wood, and he for some unaccountable reason resisted them. Brandishing a knife, he vowed to kill anyone who touched him. An empty threat, he would later claim, for he could perceive that he was completely outnumbered — but they would soon be words he would have preferred to take back.

As his pursuers closed in, Sweeting leaped from or was knocked off a rock where he’d been cornered — attempting to flee towards a nearby road, he said — and careened headlong into Quimby, with whom he grappled in the snow as the remainder of the posse piled on him. By the end of it, Quimby had a mortal wound from Sweeting’s knife. Say, didn’t you just threaten to do exactly that?

One might well look askance at Sweeting’s claim that Quimby conveniently fell on the knife that he was clutching as the two tussled; it would probably stand more consistent with the rest of his story had he fought back desperately believing he was being attacked or robbed. One of the arresting party claimed to have perceived, in the moonlit melee, Sweeting making a stabbing motion, an observation that led Sweeting in the commentary remarks he published about the trial to declaim against the shoddy and provocative performance of John Law in terms that would stand up awfully well for many a present-day encounter. Noting that the other posse members who appeared against him were self-interested to vindicate their own rum-buzzed behavior, they had dubiously claimed to have clearly seen and heard events “in a dark night, at some distance, in a hurry, pursuing a man, in a deep snow.”

I think it was said in court, I flew upon Quimby, tho’ it has been said by them he was upon me. If then they saw the arm of the uppermost man move, it was not mine. If they saw either move it must be difficult, if not impossible to determine which … considering we were both buried in the depth of the snow.

Would it not have deserved a moment’s thought whether a party of men having a lawful warrant and though cloathed with the authority of law, getting drunk and committing a riot, ought not to leave a doubt on the mind whether full faith and credit ought to be placed upon their testimony in a cause of life and death … Is it the common practice of a constable to collect such a number, to execute a trifling warrant — to come in such a riotous manner, with an intention to break doors, to take a man prisoner dead or alive?

If this is law, yet it must leave a suspicion, that those persons when called as witnesses respecting their own transaction, do not feel that coolness and calmness which witnesses ever ought to feel in matters of such importance.

Maybe this apt critique got someone chewed out behind closed doors, but it didn’t acquit him with the jury.

Sweeting did earn some public sympathy via a show of conspicuous piety and forgiveness in the weeks leading up to his execution. His remarks from jail dwell mostly on Scripture; while he insisted on his innocence to the last, the printed artifacts left for us evince little bitterness. According to a correspondent’s “Letter from Niagara” that circulated in the young states’ papers, the hanging took place “in the presence of a vast concourse of people” whom Sweeting exhorted “to avoid sin, and to take warning by him whose end was a consequent thereof, and strongly recommended obedience to magistrates, a disobedience of whom was a breach of the law of God … then addressed himself to the throne of grace in an admirable well-adapted prayer, which closed with ‘Jesus receive my spirit.'” (Vermont Gazette, September 5, 1791)

* Whiting would say to the very end that the kettle was not stolen.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,New York,Public Executions,USA

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