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1709: Christopher Slaughterford, “Vengeance, Vengeance!”

Add comment July 9th, 2020 Headsman

The aptly named Christopher Slaughterford hanged on this date in 1709 — condemned, quite possibly wrongfully, for murdering his fiancee Jane Young.

Slaughterford owned a maltings at Shalford in Surrey and was known to be paying court to Miss Young when the latter went missing on the evening of the 5th of October, 1703. She turned up weeks later, dead in a pond and it was clear from the state of the body that it had been no accidental fall.

The closest relations of the victim in such cases are natural first suspects, and it was no exception with Slaughterford. With his neighbors murmuring, he turned himself in and stood trial at the Kingston assizes, winning acquittal: there was no firm evidence against him.

But the good people of Shalford not being satisfied with this outcome subscribed a second, private prosecution against Slaughterford. Some witnesses swore they’d been seen together that evening; Slaughterford and his lodger said he’d been at home. Such information as survives does not license one to make a categorical assertion of Slaughterford’s innocence but even for the time it was no better than a weak circumstantial case.”Some of the depositions against him seem very striking; yet the testimony in his favour is equally clear. There appears nothing in the former part of his life to impeach his character; there is no proof of any animosity between him and the party murdered; and there is an apparent contradiction in part of the evidence against him,” laments the Newgate Calendar. “The charitable reader must, therefore, be inclined to think this man was innocent, and that he fell a sacrifice to the prejudices, laudable, perhaps, of his incensed neighbours.”

Slaughterford for his part carried his denial of guilt all the way to the noose, signing this statement on the day of his hanging.

GUILDFORD, JULY 9, 1709

Being brought here to die, according to the sentence passed upon me at the Queen’s-Bench bar, for a crime of which I am wholly innocent, I thought myself obliged to let the world know, that they may not reflect on my friends and relations, whom I have left behind me much troubled for my fatal end, that I know nothing of the death of Jane Young, nor how she came by her death, directly or indirectly, though some have been pleased to cast reflections on my aunt. However, I freely forgive all my enemies, and pray to God to give them a due sense of their errors, and in his due time to bring the truth to light. In the mean time, I beg every one to forbear reflecting on my dear mother, or any of my relations, for my unjust and unhappy fall, since what I have here set down is truth, and nothing but the truth, as I expect salvation at the hands of Almighty God; but I am heartily sorry that I should be the cause of persuading her to leave her dame, which is all that troubles me.

As witness my hand this 9th day of July.

While the Young family was poor, they were in respect of Slaughterford’s life mightier than the sovereign herself: a private prosecution admitted no intervention by other courts or crown once a conviction was secured. Perversely, he’d have been better off having been convicted at his first trial, when the unreliable evidence might have recommended him as a good case for mercy.

Having been shown no clemency in life, Slaughterford offers none in death. Legend has it that his angry spirit now haunts the High Street of Guildford where he hanged, bearing a halter about its neck and a terrible cry of “Vengeance, Vengeance!” upon its spectral lips.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,The Supernatural,Wrongful Executions

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1527: Hans Hergot, immovable type

Add comment May 20th, 2020 Headsman

Nuremberg printer Hans Hergot was beheaded in Leipzig on this date in 1527.*

He’d previously published work of revolutionary Thomas Müntzer and he proved his simpatico with that fellow’s millenarian vision by publishing his own tract, Von der newen Wandlung Eynes Christlichen (The New Transformation of Christian Living). It was for this utopian sedition that Hergot lost his life, and no wonder.

The vision is of an egalitarian, agrarian society organized on a parochial basis in which goods are held in common for the use of all, habitation is after the Carthusian pattern, farming and crafts operate harmoniously, and every invidious ground and sign of social distinction has disappeared …

The enemies of Hergot’s revelation on whom he pronounces God’s imminent wrath are the ruling nobility and the Lutheran “scripture wizards” who theologically collude with them, the unjust acquitting the unjust …

It is precisely the eclecticism of Hergot’s prophetic voice that underlies its importance. For it suggests how a far-flung outburst of enthusiasm for divine or evangelical law, as opposed to corrupt and compromised human ordinances, was a connecting thread among myriad reforming orientations int he early sixteenth century — humanist, Lutheran, mystical, and apocalyptic — all of which intersected with the German Peasants’ War and the development of Anabaptism and other strands of Christian social radicalism.

From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought

There’s a “Hans Hergot Tower” in the Saxon town of Uelzen.

* Overshadowed, on the Reformation martyrology, by Anabaptist Michael Sattler, who burned at Rottenburg on the same date.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,God,History,Martyrs,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries

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1811: Arthur William Hodge, brutal slaveowner

Add comment May 8th, 2020 Headsman

West Indies planter Arthur William Hodge hanged on this date in 1811 — a distinctive punishment, for the crime imputed was the murder of his own property, a slave named Prosper.

The Oxford-educated gentleman ruled an estate upon Tortola called Bellevue, aptly called* for Hodge gives every symptom of laboring under some sort of madness, even beyond that madness which might be inherent to a slaveholding society. Famous among other planters for his cruelty long before he came to his own grief, Hodge had allegedly reduced through sheer barbarity his own farm’s slave roster from 140 in 1803 to 35 by the time of his death. (This allegation seems to be contradicted by a post-execution advertisement for the sale of his estate enumerating 160 slaves.)

Documents published in 1811 as a Report on the Trial of Arthur Hodge, Esquire — available here and here — are thick with blood-curdling reports of Hodge’s “repeated and excessive acts of cruelty towards his slaves,” e.g.

That a slave, called “Tom Boiler,” between three and four years ago [i.e., circa 1807-1808 -ed.], was by order of the said Hodge, laid down and cart-whipped without intermission for at least an hour; that the said Arthur Hodge stood by and saw it done … that when the said negro slave “Tom Boiler,” after the infliction of said punishment attempted to rise, he could not stand, but was taken up and carried to the sick-house, from whence he never came out, but died in about a week …

That this deponent hath known the said Hodge to order, at different times, kettles of boiling water, prepared for the purpose of pouring said water down the throats of his negroes, who had offended him.

That Margaret, the cook, and Else, a washer, were served so; that said Hodge said they were going to poison Mrs. Hodge and the children, and he would put an end to them — that this deponent did not see the boiling water poured down their throats, because she had not the heart to be present; but heard the screams of Margaret, and saw both Margaret and Else running afterwards with scalded mouths, &c. …

That this deponent in passing the sick-house saw a child, about ten years of age, named Sampson, with the skin all off … that this deponent made enquiry concerning said child, and learnt by general report on the estate, from the negroes, that said child had been by order of said Hodge, dipped into a copper of boiling liquor.

-Deposition of a free black woman named Perreen Georges who was intermittently employed at Bellevue

Another negro slave, about nineteen years of age, was by order of said Hodge very severely cart-whipped and put in heavy irons, crook puddings, &c. and allowed little or nothing to eat. That he was burnt in the mouth with an hot iron, and that he, this deponent, saw him in consequence thereof, with his mouth all raw, and that he shortly after died …

That a free man, named Peter, was hired by said Hodge … to work as a cooper, on said Hodge’s estate. And that he, this deponent, has seen said Hodge in his presence, cart-whipping said Peter repeatedly, at short quarters,** and every other way, and put chains upon him, and had him worked upon his estate with the field negroes; that Peter died as this deponent believes, in consequence of the ill treatment of said Hodge …

That Bella, a small mulatto child, reputed to be the natural child of said Hodge, by his female slave Peggy, (then about eight years of age, as this deponent believes) was repeatedly cart-whipped by order of said Hodge; and this deponent further saith, he hath more than once seen the said Hodge strike said child with a stick, upon her head, and break her head; and hath repeatedly seen him kick her so violently in the lower part of her belly, as to send her several feet on the ground, from whence, he, this deponent, thought she never again would rise.

-Deposition of Stephen M’Keough, a former overseer on Hodges’s Bellevue estate

It’s a matter of speculation just why it was that Hodge’s excesses were judged by his peers sufficiently outrageous to merit what appears to be the first and only execution doled out in the British empire to a slaveholder for mistreating his chattel. Was it fear in the wake of the Haitian Revolution that his behavior invited a jacquerie on this sugar colony where the slave population outnumbered the white landowners 7:1? A stirring of the advancing abolitionist spirit that had barred the slave trade in 1807? Notably, this prosecution in 1811 for a three-year-old crime took place only with the advent of a new anti-slavery governor.

That crime, however dated when finally brought to bar, was every bit as dreadful as the sampling above from Perreen Georges and Stephen M’Keough — and Virgin Island elites gave short shrift to the planter’s defense “that a Negro, being property, ‘it was no greater offense in law for his owner to kill him, than it would be to kill his dog.'” “My God! Are we patiently to hear such a declaration?” the Crown prosecutor answered in horror. “If we one instant even tacitly acquiesced we could expect nothing short of the vengeance of heaven to overtake us and the judgments of an offended Deity, with plague, pestilence and famine to be our merited punishments.”

Prosper caught Hodge’s fury on account of losing a mango and when he was unable to produce payment for the fruit he was flogged 100 times on consecutive days, until he was too weak even to cry out. Carried to a sick-house and abandoned there without rations, he was “found there dead, and in a state of putrefaction, some days afterwards; that crawlers were found in his wounds, and not a piece of black flesh was to be seen on the hinder part of his body where he had been flogged.” With the colony in a state of outrage at these charges — “I am sensible that the country thirsts for my blood,” Hodge said in his unsuccessful closing statement to his jurors — the court defied all precedent to condemn him. In the few days before the sentence was executed, Tortola was heavily locked down to preempt possible disturbances around the public hanging, which went off without incident.

However anomalous the execution of a slaveowner, Hodge’s tyranny would be invoked again and again in a project to reform judicial administration of the West Indies that stretched into the 1830s. The concern, as Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford describe in Rage for Order, was that these reservoirs of local and private power, barely checked in a distant colony where the justices deciding cases were hopelessly compromised by their membership in the same social circles and economic engines as their fellows, corrupted the law, bringing Britain herself into disrepute. “The flywheel of this project,” Benton and Ford note, “was the subordination of masters to imperial authority, not the championing of the rights of slaves.”

* The New York asylum by which the innocent name Bellevue attains its association with psychiatric disorders did not open until 1879.

** M’Keough’s testimony digresses to define close or short quarters as Hodge’s own term, meaning “the most cruel and severe mode of cart-whipping, as the whip is shortened and goes all round the body, cutting every part, particularly the stomach and belly, making no noise, which he believes to have been an inducement with said Hodge to practice it.” While we’re dallying with definitions, a cart-whip is described as “a certain instrument of punishment … made of wood and rope of the value of one shilling” used to flog and beat slaves.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,British Virgin Islands,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions

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1731: Elizabeth Needham fatally pilloried

Add comment April 30th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1731 the English madam Elizabeth Needham stood in the pillory at Park Place, St. James’s, London. It wasn’t a death sentence de jure … but it became one de facto.

“Mother Needham” kept one of London’s most renowned brothels, far more exclusive than the dives of Covent Garden, and she made herself famous enough in the 1710s and 1720s to rate a place in the burgeoning print culture: Alexander Pope makes sly reference to her in The Dunciad, and as Hogarth seems to have modeled the titular courtesan of his Harlot’s Progress plates upon her.


Needham was famous for her recruiting talent. Here, Hogarth’s pockmarked Needham figure inveigles a pretty lass — the series’s central character, “Moll Hackabout” — freshly arriving to London from the hinterlands, while actual Needham client (and notorious sex-beast*) Francis Charteris leers from the stoop. In a subsequent panel in this same series, Hackabout as a seasoned whore encounters another Executed Today customer.

In her heyday a variety of japes, capers, and scandals unfolded in her precincts, beyond the obvious that was her stock in trade. For a number of years she carried out business unmolested by any chastisement from the law, but she suffered a couple of arrests in the 1720s and the heat on London’s brothels escalated uncomfortably with the onset of the 1730s. Thus it was that the wily old procuress earned a conviction for keeping a disorderly house on April 29, 1731.

Her punishment included a small fine and the duty to stand twice in the pillory, exposed to public obloquy. We have already noted in these pages that the horrors of such an ordeal extended beyond the reputational to an outright threat to life and limb. While it was not unheard-of for the pillorying to invert into a ritual of celebration and triumph for its sufferer were the crowd in sympathy, “it would seem that the default crowd at the pillory attended in expectation of an aggressive event.” (“Sodomites in the Pillory in Eighteenth-century London” by Peter Bartlett, Social & Legal Studies, December 1997)

This image of a crowd expecting to abuse the convict is consistent with the report in Fogg’s Weekly Journal in November 1728:

One Mitchel stood in the Pillory in Little Britain, for designing to extort Money from a Gentleman, by threatening to swear a detestable Sin against him [i.e., sodomy] — It was reported that he was to stand again in Aldersgate-street, upon which Occasion the Populace assembled, having furnish’d themselves with dead Cats, and other Ammunition used upon such Occasions, but the Person who was to make all the Sport not appearing, they diverted themselves with throwing their dead Cats at one another.

Elizabeth Needham had a wide notoriety that would have been especially charged in a mob’s eyes by her association with a villain like Charteris: we see her in Hogarth’s illustration above (not yet completed as of the time of her death) as the corrupt agent of predatory magnates. Moreover, she was apparently already weakened by illness. And although she was suffered simply to lie face down on the stage rather than standing dangerously exposed in the apparatus — and although she could afford to hire bodyguards to keep the crowd somewhat at bay — she received the aggressive version of the crowd whose abuse proved fatal to her.

Rictor Norton’s invaluable compilations of reporting on eighteenth century crime capture grub street’s coverage of the frightful end of Mother Needham (and one unfortunate spectator):

The famous Mother Needham was set before the pillory facing Park-place. She was so very ill, that she laid along under the pillory, notwithstanding which she was severely pelted, and it is thought she will die in a day or two … A boy getting upon a lamp post near the pillory, fell from the same upon iron spikes, and tore his belly in so violent a manner, that his bowels came out, and he expired in a few hours in great agonies …

Tuesday, May 4. Yesterday morning died Mother Needham … She declared in her last words, that what most affected her was the terror of standing in the pillory to-morrow in New Palace-Yard, having been so ungratefully used by the populace on Wednesday … They acted very ungratefully, considering how much she had done to oblige them.

* Charteris caught his own death sentence in 1730 for raping a servant, although he had the pull to obtain a royal pardon — with the aid of one of those familiar squid-inking campaigns of smearing his victim and casting doubt on the circumstances. “All the world agree he deserved to be hanged long ago, but they differ whether on this occasion,” one noble confided to his diary.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,England,History,Public Executions,Sex,Torture,Women

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1918: Bolo Pasha

Add comment April 17th, 2020 Headsman

French adventurer Bolo Pasha (English Wikipedia entry | French) was shot at Fort Vincennes on this date in 1918 as a World War I German agent.

Paul Bolo was his proper name, and a striving, wandering soul was his fatal curse. “A rolling stone that gathered no moss,” says this chronicler of the Great War’s spies, “and for sheer audacity, bold resourcefulness and indifference to fate his career matched, if it did not surpass, the strangest characters depicted by the master pen of Dumas.”

He’d spent his youth in Marseilles, and subsequently Lyon, repeatedly going bust in several attempted businesses — barber, soap-seller, lobsterman, photographer, silk manufacturer. But his charm and enterprise successfully landed him the hand of a wealthy Parisian widow and with the inheritance she eventually left him, he took himself to Cairo and made himself a good chum of the European-friendly Khedive who ruled that place as an Ottoman viceroy.

‘Twas this gentleman who bequeathed upon Paul the Turkish honorary under which he would pass for the balance of his years.

Those years accelerated upon the onset of the Great War in 1914. The Khedive was deposed in Egypt by the British, and his friend the Pasha segued from sharing Nile pleasure cruises to expatriating the former ruler’s wealth.

And upon this financial chicanery he pivoted — as he had formerly done with crustaceans and straight-razors — into a jag as a wartime operative.

What was alleged against him was an attempt to sow “defeatist,” pro-peace editorial lines in French papers via the influence of laundered German money. The evidence in his eventual military tribunal was circumstantial and firmly rejected by the proud Pasha — “I am the master of money, not its slave!” — but he had attracted the attention of Entente spies with his shuttling from Rome to Geneva to Paris and then on to New York. Financial footprints in the U.S., investigated by New York at the behest of France while diligently exonerating the cooperating bank (“so skillful had been the cunning of the German agent that Morgan & Company was utterly innocent of having been made a cat’s-paw of German intrigue”) showed his suspicious manipulation of $1.7 million apparently received from the German ambassador. His defense counterattacked with some effect, contending that his prosecution was a self-interested attack by the proprietor of Le Journal, Senator Charles Humbert, after the latter unsuccessfully tried to buy back Bolo’s own shares in his paper at a wartime discount.

Humbert was subsequently arrested himself on a similar suspicion of fifth-columnist machinations; he defeated the charge. It sounds like the Third Republic basically just had a beef with the inadequate bellicosity of Le Journal.

Wartime Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau had sharp words for any Frenchmen (or their new American allies, just entering the war) similarly disinclined to the fight after the Asiatic schemer stood before his firing squad:

This Bolo Pasha, who had had his way with everybody and in almost every situation, had met a strong man at last! Bolo Pasha was one of those gentlemen who began life by betraying women; he ended it by betraying nations. There is a great difference between betraying women and betraying nations! Women forgive and forget, but nations never, never! And so at the conclusion of their little interview Mr. Clemenceau escorted Bolo Pasha to the Forest of Vincennes, and placing him with his back to a wall, compelled him to face the business end of twelve French rifles. Bolo Pasha will never betray another nation. I want to tell you Americans that that is the only way to treat a traitor!


Sketch of Bolo Pasha being escorted to his firing squad, by Jean-Louis Forain.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Germany,History,Shot,Spies,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1689: Gabriel Milan, Danish West Indies governor

Add comment March 26th, 2020 Headsman

Gabriel Milan, the governor of the Danish West Indies, was beheaded on Copenhagen’s Nytorv Square on this date in 1689.

Born to an emigre family of former Marranos that had resumed open Judaism, Milan (English Wikipedia entry | Danish) was a cavalryman turned merchantman married to the daughter of one of Europe’s most prominent Jewish scholars.

Well-connected in the court of Prince George of Denmark, Milan in 1684 was tapped to govern the struggling nascent sugar colony of the Danish West Indies — the islands of Saint Thomas, Saint John, and Saint Croix that have comprised the U.S. Virgin Islands since Denmark sold the money pits off in 1917.

There he proved to be a pettifogging despot who was noxious to the island’s planters and conspicuous about exploiting his office to fatten his own coffers. His incompetent predecessor, who was only supposed to be sent back to the mother country, Milan instead clapped in a dungeon. Even his brutal treatment of slaves — using impalement for an execution! — shocked peers accustomed to a different spectrum of cruelty.

“I wish for my part that your Excellency could have been here a single day and heard what thundering there has been in the commission, with howling, shouting, and screaming, one against the other,” the official reporter noted. “God be thanked it is over.”

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Politicians,Public Executions,US Virgin Islands

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1892: The People’s Grocery Lynchings of Memphis

Add comment March 9th, 2020 Ida Wells

(Thanks to the nails-tough journalist Ida Wells for the guest post on the March 9, 1892 triple lynching in Memphis, Tennessee, of African American grocers Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart. Born a slave in Mississippi, Wells was in Memphis at this point running the black newspaper Free Press, which figures in the story; the victims, too, were personal friends of hers, particularly Tommie Moss to whose daughter Ida Wells stood godmother. The event is known as the Peoples’s Grocery Lynchings or the Lynchings at the Curve, and as will be seen from Wells’s piece it’s a rich cross-section of American pathologies. It’s also one that reshaped Wells’s entire life: she became the nation’s most ferocious anti-lynching crusader. This text is excerpted from a long address Wells delivered in Boston on February 13, 1893 titled “Lynch Law in All its Phases” — which was also the title of an anti-lynching pamphlet she was circulating. (Find the address and much more in this Ida Wells document archive.) She never returned to Memphis. -ed.)

We had nice homes, representatives in almost every branch of business and profession, and refined society. We had learned that helping each other helped all, and every well-conducted business by Afro-Americans prospered. With all our proscription in theatres, hotels and on railroads, we had never had a lynching* and did not believe we could have one. There had been lynchings and brutal outrages of all sorts in our own state and those adjoining us, but we had confidence and pride in our city and the majesty of its laws. So far in advance of other Southern cities was ours, we were content to endure the evils we had, to labor and wait.

But there was a rude awakening. On the morning of March 9, the bodies of three of our best young men were found in an old field horribly shot to pieces. These young men had owned and operated the People’s Grocery, situated at what was known as the Curve — a suburb made up almost entirely of colored people — about a mile from city limits. Thomas Moss, one of the oldest letter-carriers in the city, was president of the company, Calvin McDowell was manager and Will Stewart was a clerk. There were about ten other stockholders, all colored men. The young men were well known and popular and their business flourished, and that of Barrett, a white grocer who kept store there before the “People’s Grocery” was established, went down. One day an officer came to the “People’s Grocery” and inquired for a colored man who lived in the neighborhood, and for whom the officer had a warrant. Barrett was with him and when McDowell said he knew nothing as to the whereabouts of the man for whom they were searching, Barrett, not the officer, then accused McDowell of harboring the man, and McDowell gave the lie. Barrett drew his pistol and struck McDowell with it; thereupon McDowell, who was a tall, fine-looking six-footer, took Barrett’s pistol from him, knocked him down and gave him a good thrashing, while Will Stewart, the clerk, kept the special officer at bay. Barrett went to town, swore out a warrant for their arrest on a charge of assault and battery. McDowell went before the Criminal Court, immediately gave bond and returned to his store. Barrett then threatened (to use his own words) that he was going to clean out the whole store. Knowing how anxious he was to destroy their business, these young men consulted a lawyer who told them they were justified in defending themselves if attacked, as they were a mile beyond city limits and police protection. They accordingly armed several of their friends — not to assail, but to resist the threatened Saturday night attack.

When they saw Barrett enter the front door and a half dozen men at the rear door at 11 o’clock that night, they supposed the attack was on and immediately fired into the crowd wounding three men. These men, dressed in citizens’ clothes, turned out to be deputies who claimed to be hunting another man for whom they had a warrant, and whom any one of them could have arrested without trouble. When these men found they had fired upon officers of the law, they threw away their firearms and submitted to arrest, confident they should establish their innocence of intent to fire upon officers of the law. The daily papers in flaming headlines roused the evil passions of the whites, denounced these poor boys in unmeasured terms, nor permitted them a word in their own defense.


Headline and excerpt from the Appeal-Avalanche of March 9, 1892.

The neighborhood of the Curve was searched next day, and about thirty persons were thrown into jail, charged with conspiracy. No communication was to be had with friends any of the three days these men were in jail; bail was refused and Thomas Moss was not allowed to eat the food his wife prepared for him. The judge is reported to have said, “Any one can see them after three days.” They were seen after three days, but they were no longer able to respond to the greeting of friends. On Tuesday following the shooting at the grocery, the papers which had made much of the sufferings of the wounded deputies, and promised it would go hard with those who did the shooting, if they died, announced that the officers were all out of danger, and would recover. The friends of the prisoners breathed more easily and relaxed their vigilance. They felt that as the officers would not die, there was no danger that in the heat of passion the prisoners would meet violent death at the hands of the mob. Besides, we had such confidence in the law. But the law did not provide capital punishment for shooting which did not kill. So the mob did what the law could not be made to do, as a lesson to the Afro-American that he must not shoot a white man, — no matter what the provocation. The same night after the announcement was made in the papers that the officers would get well, the mob, in obedience to a plan known to every prominent white man in the city, went to the jail between two and three o’clock in the morning, dragged out these young men, hatless and shoeless, put them on the yard engine of the railroad which was in waiting just behind the jail, carried them a mile north of city limits and horribly shot them to death while the locomotive at a given signal let off steam and blew the whistle to deaden the sound of the firing.

“It was done by unknown men,” said the jury, yet the Appeal-Avalanche, which goes to press at 3 a.m., had a two-column account of the lynching. The papers also told how McDowell got hold of the guns of the mob, and as his grasp could not be loosened, his hand was shattered with a pistol ball and all the lower part of his face was torn away. There were four pools of blood found and only three bodies. It was whispered that he, McDowell, killed one of the lynchers with his gun, and it is well known that a policeman who was seen on the street a few days previous to the lynching, died very suddenly the next day after.

“It was done by unknown parties,” said the jury, yet the papers told how Tom Moss begged for his life, for the sake of his wife, his little daughter and his unborn infant. They also told us that his last words were, “If you will kill us, turn our faces to the West.”

All this we learned too late to save these men, even if the law had not been in the hands of their murderers. When the colored people realized that the flower of our young manhood had been stolen away at night and murdered, there was a rush for firearms to avenge the wrong, but no house would sell a colored man a gun; the armory of the Tennessee Rifles, our only colored military company, and of which McDowell was a member, was broken into by order of the Criminal Court judge, and its guns taken. One hundred men and irresponsible boys from fifteen years and up were armed by order of the authorities and rushed out to the Curve, where it was reported that the colored people were massing, and the point of the bayonet dispersed these men who could do nothing but talk. The cigars, wines, etc., of the grocery stock were freely used by the mob, who possessed the place on pretence of dispersing the conspiracy. The money drawer was broken into and contents taken. The trunk of Calvin McDowell, who had a room in the store, was broken open, and his clothing, which was not good enough to take away, was thrown out and trampled on the floor.

These men were murdered, their stock was attached by creditors and sold for less than one-eighth of its cost to that same man Barrett, who is to-day running his grocery in the same place. He had indeed kept his word, and by aid of the authorities destroyed the People’s Grocery Company root and branch. The relatives of Will Stewart and Calvin McDowell are bereft of their protectors. The baby daughter of Tom Moss, too young to express how she misses her father, toddles to the wardrobe, seizes the legs of the trousers of his letter-carrier uniform, hugs and kisses them with evident delight and stretches up her little hands to be taken up into the arms which will nevermore clasp his daughter’s form. His wife holds Thomas Moss, Jr., in her arms, upon whose unconscious baby face the tears fall thick and fast when she is thinking of the sad fate of the father he will never see, and of the two helpless children who cling to her for the support she cannot give. Although these men were peaceable, law-abiding citizens of this country, we are told there can be no punishment for their murderers nor indemnity for their relatives.

I have no power to describe the feeling of horror that possessed every member of the race in Memphis when the truth dawned upon us that the protection of the law which we had so long enjoyed was no longer ours; all this had been destroyed in a night, and the barriers of the law had been thrown down, and the guardians of the public peace and confidence scoffed away into the shadows, and all authority given into the hands of the mob, and innocent men cut down as if they were brutes — the first feeling was one of utter dismay, then intense indignation. Vengeance was whispered from ear to ear, but sober reflection brought the conviction that it would be extreme folly to seek vengeance when such action meant certain death for the men, and horrible slaughter for the women and children, as one of the evening papers took care to remind us. The power of the State, country and city, the civil authorities and the strong arm of the military power were all on the side of the mob and of lawlessness. Few of our men possessed firearms, our only company’s guns were confiscated, and the only white man who would sell a colored man a gun, was himself jailed, and his store closed. We were helpless in our great strength. It was our first object lesson in the doctrine of white supremacy; an illustration of the South’s cardinal principle that no matter what the attainments, character or standing of an Afro-American, the laws of the South will not protect him against a white man.

There was only one thing we could do, and a great determination seized upon the people to follow the advice of the martyred Moss, and “turn our faces to the West,”** whose laws protect all alike. The Free Speech supported by our ministers and leading business men advised the people to leave a community whose laws did not protect them. Hundreds left on foot to walk four hundred miles between Memphis and Oklahoma. A Baptist minister went to the territory, built a church, and took his entire congregation out in less than a month. Another minister sold his church and took his flock to California, and still another has settled in Kansas. In two months, six thousand persons had left the city and every branch of [white] business began to feel this silent resentment of the outrage, and failure of the authorities to punish the lynchers. There were a number of business failures and blocks of houses were for rent. The superintendent and treasurer of the street railway company called at the office of the Free Speech, to have us urge the colored people to ride again on the street cars. A real estate dealer said to a colored man who returned some property he had been buying on the installment plan: “I don’t see what you ‘niggers’ are cutting up about. You got off light. We first intended to kill every one of those thirty-one ‘niggers’ in jail, but concluded to let all go but the ‘leaders.'” They did let all go to the penitentiary. These so-called rioters have since been tried in the Criminal Court for the conspiracy of defending their property, and are now serving terms of three, eight, and fifteen years each in the Tennessee State prison.

To restore the equilibrium and put a stop to the great financial loss, the next move was to get rid of the Free Speech, — the disturbing element which kept the waters troubled; which would not let the people forget, and in obedience to whose advice nearly six thousand persons had left the city. In casting about for an excuse, the mob found it in the following editorial which appeared in the Memphis Free Speech, — May 21, 1892:

Eight negroes lynched in one week. Since last issue of the Free Speech one was lynched at Little Rock, Ark., where the citizens broke into the penitentiary and got their man; three near Anniston, Ala., and one in New Orleans, all on the same charge, the new alarm of assaulting white women — and three near Clarksville, Ga., for killing a white man. The same program of hanging — then shooting bullets into the lifeless bodies was carried out to the letter. Nobody in this section of the country believes the old threadbare lie that negro men rape white women. If Southern white men are not careful they will overreach themselves, and public sentiment will have a reaction. A conclusion will then be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women.

Commenting on this, The Daily Commercial of Wednesday following said:

Those negroes who are attempting to make lynching of individuals of their race a means for arousing the worst passions of their kind, are playing with a dangerous sentiment. The negroes may as well understand that there is no mercy for the negro rapist, and little patience with his defenders. A negro organ printed in this city in a recent issue publishes the following atrocious paragraph: ‘Nobody in this section believes the old threadbare lie that negro men rape white women. If Southern white men are not careful they will overreach themselves and public sentiment will have a reaction. A conclusion will be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women.’ The fact that a black scoundrel is allowed to live and utter such loathsome and repulsive calumnies is a volume of evidence as to the wonderful patience of Southern whites. There are some things the Southern white man will not tolerate, and the obscene intimation of the foregoing has brought the writer to the very uttermost limit of public patience. We hope we have said enough.

The Evening Scimitar of the same day copied this leading editorial and added this comment:

Patience under such circumstances is not a virtue. If the negroes themselves do not apply the remedy without delay, it will be the duty of those he has attacked, to tie the wretch who utters these calumnies to a stake at the intersection of Main and Madison streets, brand him in the forehead with a hot iron and —

Such open suggestions by the leading daily papers of the progressive city of Memphis were acted upon by the leading citizens and a meeting was held at the Cotton Exchange that evening. The Commercial two days later had the following account of it:

ATROCIOUS BLACKGUARDISM.

There will be no Lynching and no Repetition of the Offense.

In its issue of Wednesday The Commercial reproduced and commented upon an editorial which appeared a day or two before in a negro organ known as the Free Speech. The article was so insufferable and indecently slanderous that the whole city awoke to a feeling of intense resentment which came within an ace of culminating in one of those occurrences whose details are so eagerly seized and so prominently published by Northern newspapers. Conservative counsels, however, prevailed, and no extreme measures were resorted to. On Wednesday afternoon a meeting of citizens was held. It was not an assemblage of hoodlums or irresponsible fire-eaters, but solid, substantial business men who knew exactly what they were doing and who were far more indignant at the villainous insult to the women of the South than they would have been at any injury done themselves. This meeting appointed a committee to seek the author of the infamous editorial and warn him quietly that upon repetition of the offense he would find some other part of the country a good deal safer and pleasanter place of residence than this. The committee called on a negro preacher named Nightingale, but he disclaimed responsibility and convinced the gentlemen that he had really sold out his paper to a woman named Wells. This woman is not in Memphis at present. It was finally learned that one Fleming, a negro who was driven out of Crittenden Co. [the Arkansas county facing Memphis across the Mississippi River -ed.] during the trouble there a few years ago, wrote the paragraph. He had, however, heard of the meeting, and fled from a fate which he feared was in store for him, and which he knew he deserved. His whereabouts could not be ascertained, and the committee so reported. Later on, a communication from Fleming to a prominent Republican politician, and that politician’s reply were shown to one or two gentlemen. The former was an inquiry as to whether the writer might safely return to Memphis, the latter was an emphatic answer in the negative, and Fleming is still in hiding. Nothing further will be done in the matter. There will be no lynching, and it is very certain there will be no repetition of the outrage. If there should be —

Friday, May 25.

The only reason there was no lynching of Mr. Fleming who was business manager and half owner of the Free Speech, and who did not write the editorial, was because this same white Republican told him the committee was coming, and warned him not to trust them, but get out of the way. The committee scoured the city hunting him, and had to be content with Mr. Nightingale who was dragged to the meeting, shamefully abused (although it was known he had sold out his interest in the paper six months before). He was struck in the face and forced at the pistol’s point to sign a letter which was written by them, in which he denied all knowledge of the editorial, denounced and condemned it as slander on white women. I do not censure Mr. Nightingale for his action because, having never been at the pistol’s point myself, I do not feel that I am competent to sit in judgment on him, or say what I would do under such circumstances.

I had written that editorial with other matter for the week’s paper before leaving home the Friday previous for the General Conference of the A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia. Conference adjourned Tuesday, and Thursday, May 25, at 3 p.m., I landed in New York City for a few days’ stay before returning home, and there learned from the papers that my business manager had been driven away and the paper suspended. Telegraphing for news, I received telegrams and letters in return informing me that the trains were being watched, that I was to be dumped into the river and beaten, if not killed; it had been learned that I wrote the editorial and I was to be hanged in front of the court-house and my face bled if I returned, and I was implored by my friends to remain away. The creditors attacked the office in the meantime and the outfit was sold without more ado, thus destroying effectually that which it had taken years to build. One prominent insurance agent publicly declares he will make it his business to shoot me down on sight if I return to Memphis in twenty years, while a leading white lady had remarked she was opposed to the lynching of those three men in March, but she wished there was some way by which I could be gotten back and lynched. I have been censured for writing that editorial, but when I think of five men who were lynched that week for assault on white women and that not a week passes but some poor soul is violently ushered into eternity on this trumped up charge, knowing the many things I do, and part of which tried to tell in the New York Age of June 25, (and in the pamphlets I have with me) seeing that the whole race in the South was injured in the estimation of the world because of these false reports, I could no longer hold my peace, and I feel, yes, I am sure, that if it had to be done over again (provided no one else was the loser save myself) I would do and say the very same again. The lawlessness here described is not confined to one locality. In the past ten years over a thousand colored men, women and children have been butchered, murdered and burnt in all parts of the South. The details of these terrible outrages seldom reach beyond the narrow world where they occur. Those who commit the murders write the reports, and hence these blots upon the honor of a nation cause but a faint ripple on the outside world. They arouse no great indignation and call forth no adequate demand for justice. The victims were black, and the reports are so written as to make it appear that the helpless creatures deserved the fate which overtook them.

A few books about and by Ida Wells

* Just six months prior to the events described in this post, a labor conflict in Lee County, Arkansas — just down the Mississippi and involving some Memphis workers — had been, in the words of an Arkansas Gazette headline, “Settled with Rope”.

** Many migrated to Oklahoma, which opened formerly reservation land to non-Indian settlement on April 19, 1892.

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Entry Filed under: Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Lynching,No Formal Charge,Other Voices,Pelf,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Summary Executions,Tennessee,USA

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1668: Walter P(e)ake

Add comment December 17th, 2019 Headsman

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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1981: Gheorghe Stefanescu, the Walter White of wine

Add comment December 14th, 2019 Headsman

Romanian entrepreneur Gheorghe Stefanescu was shot at Jilava Prison on this date in 1981. He was at the center of one of the largest corruption scandals of the Communist period.

A Bucharest liquor-store administrator, Stefanescu built a vast network that sold unlicensed and adulterated wine throughout the 1970s. When arrested in 1978 — after a Securitate officer noticed that the wine he’d ordered for a wedding decayed into sludge when the festivity was delayed — Stefanescu had accumulated a villa, two cars, 18 kg in gold jewelry, and millions in lei. More than 200 other people, ranging from distributors to officials corrupted by bribes, were arrested when the operation was rolled up.

The way it worked was, a vineyards administrator would fraudulently declare part of his product a loss to natural disaster, and squirrel it away illicitly. This contraband was then multiplied in volume and profitability by diluting the highest-quality wine with cheap plonk. Stefanescu and friends moved some 400,000 liters of this stuff from 1971 to 1978, costing the Romanian government several million dollars in lost revenue — a laughably pinprick injury compared to Romania’s post-Ceausescu sea of corruption but as they say, a prophet is never welcome in his own country.

Bring your Romanian proficiency to enjoy the 1984 film about the affair, Secretul lui Bachus (Secrets of Bacchus).

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,History,Organized Crime,Pelf,Romania,Shot

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1805: Gabriel Aguilar and Manuel Ubalde, abortive Peruvian rebels

Add comment December 5th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1805, Cusco‘s Plaza Mayor hosted the hangings of two colonial Peruvian creoles who had aspired to revive the Incan resistance to Spain.

The devastating Tupac Amaru rebellion lay just 25 years in the background here, but these men were not themselves indigenes. They were, however, New World-born, and thus heirs to a resentment at colonial control from half a world’s distance that would within the coming generation separate Peru from Spain.

“Denizens of the lower strata of creole society,” as D.A. Brading writes, the lawyer Jose Manuel Ubalde and the mining entrepreneur Gabriel Aguilar — close friends from a previous association in Lina —

inhabited a world in which Catholic piety, patriotic fervour and personal ambition were fuelled by visions and dreams. For Aguilar obtained Ubalde’s support for proclaiming him Inca emperor of Peru by informing him of a childhood vision in which he had been assured of a great role in his country’s history. Both men agreed that Spanish rule was oppressive and that St Thomas Aquinas had recognised the right to rebel against tyranny. When they conferred with like-minded priests, one cleric cited the prediction of Raynal,* the 1771 representation of the Mexico City Council,** and the example of the ‘Americans of Boston’. But the current of religious emotion that underlay these arguments surfaced when another cleric fell into an ecstasy in Aguilar’s presence, and claimed later to have seen the pretender crowned in the cathedral of Cuzco.

Unfortunately, the path to such a coronation ran through the actions of sympathetic military men — and one of the officers that these conspirators reached out to shopped the plotters before they could set anything in motion.

After their arrest, Ubalde was reminded of the traditional doctrine that, since the Catholic king was God’s image on earth, any challenge to his authority was an attack on God. By way of reply, he insisted on the right of rebellion against tyranny and argued that natural law did not prescribe loyalty to any particular dynasty. After all, the Papacy had just recognised Napoleon as emperor of the French, despite the claims of the Bourbon dynasty to that throne. He went to his execution convinced that Aguilar had been chosen by providence as a creole Maccabee, called to liberate Peru from Spanish rule.

* French Enlightenment figure Guillaume Thomas Francois Raynal anticipated a rebellion that would destroy colonial slave empires from below: “Your slaves stand in no need either of your generosity or your counsels, in order to break the sacrilegious yoke of their oppression … they will rush on with more impetuosity than torrents; they will leave behind them, in all parts, indelible traces of their just resentment. Spaniards, Portuguese, English, French, Dutch, all their tyrants will become the victims of fire and sword.”

** Mexico submitted a notable May 2, 1771 petition to King Carlos III calling for most of the imperial positions in the New World to be staffed by people from the New World rather than home country cronies — and warning that to do otherwise was to invite “not only the loss of this America, but the ruin of the State.” (Source)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Lawyers,Occupation and Colonialism,Peru,Power,Pretenders to the Throne,Public Executions,Spain,Treason

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