Posts filed under 'Disfavored Minorities'

1616: Margaret Vincent, “Pitilesse Mother”

Add comment May 18th, 2015 Headsman


(Via)

A pitiless mother, that most unnaturally at one time murdered two of her own children, at Acton within six miles from London, upon Holy Thursday last 1616, the ninth of May. Being a gentlewoman named Margaret Vincent, wife of Mr. Jarvis Vincent of the same town. With her examination, confession and true discovery of all proceedings in the said bloody accident.

How easy are the ways unto evil, and how soon are our minds (by the Devil’s enticement) withdrawn from goodness. Leviathan, the archenemy of mankind, hath set such and so many bewitching snares to entrap us that unless we continually stand watching with careful diligence to shun them, we are like to cast the principal substance of our reputation upon the rack of his ensnaring engines. As for example, a gentlewoman, ere now fresh in memory, presents her own ruin amongst us, whose life’s overthrow may well serve for a clear looking-glass to see a woman’s weakness in, how soon and apt she is won unto wickedness, not only to the body’s overthrow but the soul’s danger. God of his mercy keep us all from the like wilfulness.

At Acton, some six miles westward from London, this unfortunate gentlewoman dwelled, named Margaret Vincent, the wife of Mr. Jarvis Vincent, gentleman, who by unhappy destiny marked to mischance I here now make the subject of my pen and publish her hard hap unto the world, that all others may shun the like occasions by which she was overthrown.

This Margaret Vincent before named, of good parentage, born in the county of Hertford at a town named Rickmansworth, her name from her parents Margaret Day, of good education, graced with good parts from her youth that promised succeeding virtues in her age, if good luck had served. For being discreet, civil, and of modest conversation, she was preferred in marriage to this gentleman Master Vincent, with whom she lived in good estimation, well beloved and much esteemed of all that knew her for her modesty and seemly carriage. And so might have continued to her old age, had not this bloody accident committed upon her own children blemished the glory of the same.

But now mark (gentle reader) the first entrance into her life’s overthrow, and consider with thyself how strangely the Devil here set in his foot and what cunning instruments he used in his assailments. The gentlewoman being witty and of a ripe understanding desired much conference in religion, and being careful, as it seemed, of her soul’s happiness, many times resorted to divines to have instructions to salvation, little thinking to fall into the hands of Roman wolves (as she did) and to have the sweet lamb, her soul, thus entangled by their persuasions.

Twelve or fourteen years had she lived in marriage with her husband well beloved, having for their comforts diverse pretty children between them with all other things in plenty, as health, riches, and such like, to increase concord and no necessity that might be hindrance to contentment. Yet at last there was such traps and engines set that her quet was caught and her discontent set at liberty. Her opinion of the true faith (by the subtle sophistry of some close Papists) was converted to a blind belief of bewitching heresy. For they have such charming persuasions that hardly the female kind can escape their enticements, of which weak sex they continually make prize of and by them lay plots to ensnare others, as they did by this deceived gentlewoman. For she, good soul, being made a bird of their own feather, desired to beget more of the same kind and from time to time made persuasive arguments to win her husband to the same opinion, and deemed it a meritorious deed to charge his conscience with that infectious burden of Romish opinions, affirming by many false reasons that his former life had been led in blindness, and that she was appointed by the Holy Church to shew him the light of true understanding. These and such like were the instructions she had given her to entangle her husband in and win him if she might to their blind heresies.

But he, good gentleman, over-deeply grounded in the right faith of religion than to be thus so easily removed, grew regardless of her persuasions, accounting them vain and frivolous, and she undutiful to make so fond an attempt, many times snubbing her with some few unkind speeches, which bred in her heart a purpose of more extremity. For having learned this maxim of their religion that it was meritorious, yea, and pardonable, to take away the lives of any opposing Protestants were it of any degree whatsoever, in which resolution or bloody purpose she long stood upon and at last (only by the Devil’s temptation) resolved the ruin of her own children, affirming to her conscience these reasons: that they were brought up in blindness and darksome errors, hoodwinked (by her husband’s instructions) from the true light, and therefore to save their soul (as she vainly thought) she purposed to become a tigerous mother, and so wolfishly to commit the murder of her own flesh and blood. In which opinion she steadfastly continued, never relenting according to nature but casting about to find time and place for so wicked a deed, which unhappily fell out as after followed.

It so chanced that a discord arose between the two towns of Acton and Willesden about a certain common bordering between them, where the town of Acton, as it seems, having the more right unto it, by watching defended it a time from the other’s cattle. whereupon the women of the same town, having likewise a willingness to assist their husbands in the same defence, appointed a day for the like purpose, which was the Ascension Day last past, commonly called Holy Thursday, falling upon the 9th of the last past month of May. Which day (as ill chance would have it) was the fatal time appointed for her to act this bloody tragedy, whereon she made her husband fatherless of two as pretty children as ever came from woman’s womb.

Upon the Ascension Day aforesaid, after the time of divine service, the women of the town being gathered together about their promised business, some of them came to Mistress Vincent and according to promise desired her company. Who having a mind as then more settled on bloody purposes than country occasions, feigned an excuse of ill at ease and not half well, desired pardon of them, and offering her maid in her behalf, who being a good, apt, and willing servant was accepted of, and so the townswomen, misdoubting no such hard accident as after happened, proceeded in their aforesaid defences. The gentlewoman’s husband being also from home, in whose absence, by the fury and assistance of the Devil, she enacted this woeful accident in form and manner following.

This Mistress Vincent, now deserving no name of gentlewoman, being in her own house fast locked up only with her two small children, the one of the age of five years, the other hardly two years old, unhappily brought to that age to be made away by their own mother, who by nature should have cherished them with her own body, as the pelican that pecks her own breast to feed her young ones with her blood. But she, more cruel than the viper, the envenomed serpent, the snake, or any beast whatsoever, against all kind, takes away those lives to whom she first gave life.

Being alone (as I said before) assisted by the Devil, she took the youngest of the two, having a countenance so sweet that might have begged mercy at a tyrant’s hand, but she regarding neither the pretty smiles it made nor the dadling before the mother’s face, nor anything it could do, but like a fierce and bloody Medea she took it violently by the throat, and with a garter taken from her leg, making thereof a noose and putting the same about her child’s sweet neck, she in a wrathful manner drew the same so close together that in a moment she parted the soul and body. Without any terror of conscience she laid the lifeless infant, still remaining warm, upon her bed and with a relentless countenance looking thereon, thinking thereby she had done a deed of immortality. Oh, blinded ignorance! Oh, inhumane devotion! Purposing by this to merit Heaven, she hath deserved (without true repentance) the reward of damnation.

This creature not deserving mother’s name, as I said before, not yet glutted nor sufficed with these few drops of innocent blood, nay, her own dear blood bred in her own body, cherished in her own womb with much dearness full forty weeks. Not satisfied, I say, with this one murder but she would headlong run unto a second and to heap more vengeance upon her head. She came unto the elder child of that small age that it could hardly discern a mother’s cruelty nor understand the fatal destiny fallen upon the other before, which as it were seemed to smile upon her as though it begged for pity, but all in vain, for so tyrannous was her heart that without all motherly pity she made it drink of the same bitter cup as she had done the other. For with her garter she likewise pressed out the sweet air of life and laid it by the other upon the bed sleeping in death together, a sight that might have burst an iron heart asunder and made the very tiger to relent.

These two pretty children being thus murdered, without all hope of recovery, she began to grow desperate and still to desire more and more blood, which had been a third murder of her own babes, had it not been abroad at nurse and by that means could not be accomplished. Whereupon she fell into a violent rage, purposing as then to shew the like mischief upon herself, being of this strange opinion that she herself by that deed had made saints of her two children in Heaven. So taking the same garter that was the instrument of their deaths and putting the noose thereof about her own neck, she strove therewith to have strangled herself. But nature being weak and flesh frail, she was not able to do it. Whereupon in a more violent fury (still animated foreward by instigation of the Devil) she ran into the yard purposing there in a pond to have drowned herself, having not one good motion of salvation left within her.

But here, good reader, mark what a happy prevention chanced to preserve her in hope of repentance, which at that time stayed her from that desperate attempt. The maid, by great fortune, at the very instant of this deed of desperation returned from the field or common where she had left most of the neighbours. And coming in at the backside, perceiving her mistress by her ghastly countenance that all was not well and that some hard chance had happened her or hers, demanded how the children did.

“Oh Nan,” quoth she, “never, oh never, shalt thou see thy Tom more,” and withal gave the maid a box upon the ear. At which she laid hold upon her mistress, calling out for help into the town. whereat diverse came running in and after them her husband, within a while after, who finding what had happened were all so amazed together that they knew not what to do. some wrung their hands, some wept, some called out for neighbours; so general a fear was struck amongst them all that they knew not whether to go nor run.

Especially the good gentleman her husband, that seeing his own children slain, murdered by his wife and their own mother, a deed beyond nature and humanity, in which ecstasy of grief at last he broke out in these speeches: “Oh Margaret, Margaret, how often have I persuaded thee from this damned opinion, this damned opinion that hath undone us all.”

Whereupon with a ghastly look and fearful eye she replied thus, “Oh Jarvis, this had never been done if thou hadst been ruled and by me converted. But what is done is past, for they are saints in Heaven, and I nothing at all repent it.”

These and such like words passed betwixt them till such time as the constable and others of the townsmen came in and according to law carried her before a justice of the peace, which is a gentleman named Master Roberts of Willesden, who, understanding these heinous offences, rightly according to law and course of justice made a mittimus for her conveyance to Newgate in London, there to remain till the Sessions of her trial. Yet this is to be remembered that by examination she voluntarily confessed the fact how she murdered them to save their souls and to make them saints in Heaven, that they might not be brought up in blindness to their own damnation. Oh, wilful heresy, that ever Christian should in conscience be thus miscarried. But to be short, she proved herself to be an obstinate papist, for there was found about her neck a crucifix with other relics which she then wore about her, that by the justice was commanded to be taken away and an English Bible to be delivered her to read, the which she with great stubbornness threw from her, not willing as once to look thereupon, nor to hear any divine comforts delivered thereout for the succour of her soul.

But now again to her conveyance towards prison. It being Ascension Day and near the closing of the evening, too late as then to be sent to London she was by commandment put to the constable’s keeping for that night, who with a strong watch lodged her in his own house till morning, which was at the Bell in Acton where he dwelled. Shewing the part and duty of a good Christian, with diverse other of his neighbours, all that same night they plied her with good admonitions, tending to repentance, and seeking with great pains to convert her from those erroneous opinions which she so stubbornly stood in. But it little availed, for she seemed in outward shew so obstinate in arguments that she made small reckoning of repentance, nor was a whit sorrowful for the murder committed upon her children but maintained the deed to be meritorious and of high desert.

Oh, that the blood of her own body should have no more power to pierce remorse into her iron natured heart, when pagan women that know not God nor have any feeling of his deity will shun to commit bloodshed, much more of their own seed. The cannibals that eat one another will spare the fruits of their own bodies; the savages will do the like; yea, every beast and fowl hath a feeling of nature, and according to kind will cherish their young ones. And shall woman, nay, a Christian woman, God’s own image, be more unnatural than pagan, cannibal, savage, beast, or fowl? It even now makes a trembling fear to best me to think what an error this unhappy gentlewoman was bewitched with, a witchcraft begot by Hell and nursed by the Romish sect, from which enchantment God of Heaven defend us.

But now again to our purpose. The next day being Friday and the tenth of May, by the Constable Master Dighton of the Bell in Acton, with other of his neighbours, she was conveyed to Newgate in London. Where lodging, in the master’s side, many people resorted to her, as well of her acquaintance as others and as before, with sweet and comfortable persuasions practised to beget repentance and to be sorry for that which she had committed. But blindness so prevailed that she continued still in her former stubbornness, affirming (contrary to all persuasive reasons) that she had done a deed of charity in making them saints in Heaven that otherwise might have lived to destruction in Hell, and likewise refused to look upon any Protestant book as Bible, meditation, prayer book, and such like, affirming them to be erroneous and dangerous for any Romish Catholic to look in. Such were the violent opinions she had been instructed in, and with such fervencies therein she continued that no dissuasions could withdraw her from them, no, not death itself, being here possessed with such bewitching wilfulness.

In this danger of mind continued she all Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The Sessions drawing near, there came certain godly preachers unto her, who prevailed with her by celestial consolations, that her heart by degrees became a little mollified and in nature somewhat repentant for these her most heinous offences. Her soul, a little leaning to salvation, encouraged these good men to persevere and go forward in so godly a labour, who at last brought her to this opinion, as it was justified by one that came from her in Newgate upon the Monday before the Sessions: that she earnestly believed she had eternally deserved hellfire for the murder of her children, and that she so earnestly repented the deed, saying that if they were alive again not all the world should procure her to do it. Thus was she truly repentant, to which (no doubt) but by the good means of these preachers she was wrought unto.

And now to come to a conclusion, as well of the discourse as of her life, she deserved death, and both law and justice hath awarded her the same. For her examination and free confession needed no jury: her own tongue proved a sufficient evidence, and her conscience a witness that condemned her. Her judgment and execution she received with a patient mind, her soul no doubt hath got a true penitent desire to be in Heaven, and the blood of her two innocent children so wilfully shed (according to all charitable judgements) is washed away by the mercies of God. Forgive and forget her, good gentlewomen. She is not the first that hath been blemished with blood nor the last that will make a husband wifeless. Her offence was begot by a strange occasion but buried, I hope, with true repentance.

Thus, countrymen of England, have you heard the ruin of a gentlewoman who, if Popish persuasions had not been, the world could not have spotted her with the smallest mark of infamy but had carried the name of virtue even unto her grave. And for a warning unto you all, by her example, take heed how you put confidence unto that dangerous sect, for they surely will deceive you.

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1945: Sudeten Germans, known but to God

Add comment May 10th, 2015 Headsman

Jirí Chmelnicek shot this footage in just-liberated Prague on May 10, 1945 of Czechs celebrating the end of World War II by doling out mistreatment — including a chilling mass-execution — to Sudeten Germans. It was the presence of that population, the reader will recall, that Berlin invoked to justify its occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Chmelnicek’s video only surfaced publicly in 2010: its images were far too sensitive to air closer to the Great War, especially while Czechoslovakia was under communist control. As Der Spiegel reported.

Chmelnicek’s film shows how the Germans were rounded up in a nearby movie theater, also called the Borislavka. The camera then pans to the side of the street, where 40 men and at least one woman stand with their backs to the lens. A meadow can be seen in the background. Shots ring out and, one after another, each person in the line slumps and falls forward over a low embankment. The injured lying on the ground beg for mercy. Then a Red Army truck rolls up, its tires crushing dead and wounded alike. Later other Germans can be seen, forced to dig a mass grave in the meadow.

We do not know who these people are. Considering the indiscriminate revenge visited on Sudeten Germans after the war, it is not likely that these several dozen souls were selected for their fate with care.

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1726: Three molly-house sodomites

Add comment May 9th, 2015 Headsman

Nine men and one notorious women died at Tyburn on this date in 1726 at a more than usually raucous execution-day.

“At the Place of Execution, Map got himself loose, threw himself out of the Halter, and jump’d 3 or 4 Yards from the Cart, upon the Heads of the numerous Crowd of People, but the Officers following after him, wounded him with their Pikes, and the Executioner and some others soon brought him back again,” the Ordinary’s account remarked. “Vigous got himself free of the Halter also, which was immediately observ’d: Gillingham was the more desirous of Prayers, having the Night before taken Poyson, and conscious of his Guilt.”

And that’s just what was happening under the nooses.

Out in the audience,

Just before the Execution, a Scaffold that had been built near Tyburn, and had about 150 People upon it, fell down. A Snuff Box Maker in Castle-Street, and a Gentleman then not known, were, as ’tis believed, mortally Wounded; and about 12 other Men and Women, Maimed and Wounded in a most cruel Manner: Some having their Legs, others their Arms, &c. broke.

Some part of the Scaffold being left standing, the Mob gathered upon it again in Numbers; and in about Half an Hour more, that also fell down, and several were hurt. Soon after another Scaffold broke down, with about 100 Persons upon it; but the People that were damaged by it, being immediately carried off on Mens Backs, and in Coaches, we must defer the Particulars of that Mischief … (Daily Journal, May 10, 1726)

We will leave for a future May 9th the notorious fate of the woman, Catherine Hayes, and focus for this post on the fate of the notorious men: sodomites Gabriel Lawrence, William Griffin, and Thomas Wright.

A mere three months before, this trio had been among dozens of men rounded up in a raid on London’s thriving “molly house”.

These establishments catered to what we might anachronistically call the gay scene of Georgian London — or the molly scene, if you like, from the slang term for effeminate, cross-dressing, or homosexual men encompassing a panoply of alternate sexual identities and preferences. What these behaviors “among Christians not to be named” had in common, of course, was the opprobrium of the surrounding world.

Rictor Norton, who keeps the voluminous Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century Enland site and wrote a book about Mother Clap’s Molly House, records a 1726 letter to the editor demanding an exemplary punishment to check the misuse of genitalia.

It being too notorious, that there are vile Clubs of Miscreants in and about this City, who meet to Practise and Propagate the detestable Sin of Sodomy, a Crime which drew down the flaming Vengeance of God upon the City of Sodom, in a Day when they had not that Light which we are bless’d with now, ’tis humbly propos’d that the following Method may not only destroy the Practice, but blot out the Names of the monstrous Wretches from under Heaven, viz. when any are Detected, Prosecuted and Convicted, that after Sentence Pronounc’d, the Common Hangman tie him Hand and Foot before the Judge’s Face in open Court, that a Skilful Surgeon be provided immediately to take out his Testicles, and that then the Hangman sear up his Scrotum with an hot Iron, as in Cases of burning in the Hand.

Old Blighty was never favored with courtroom scrotum-searings, but connoisseurs of same-sex love “must risque our necks for” it well into the next century.

But what pleasures welcomed the man who was ready to wager his life! An informant reported from that same Mother Clap’s that he

found between 40 and 50 Men making Love to one another, as they call’d it. Sometimes they would sit on one another’s Laps, kissing in a lewd Manner, and using their Hands indecently. Then they would get up, Dance and make Curtsies, and mimick the voices of Women. O, Fie, Sir! – Pray, Sir. – Dear Sir. Lord, how can you serve me so? – I swear I’ll cry out. – You’re a wicked Devil. – And you’re a bold Face. – Eh ye little dear Toad! Come, buss! – Then they’d hug, and play, and toy, and go out by Couples into another Room on the same Floor, to be marry’d, as they call’d it.

Several such informers were stalking the city’s molly-houses in the 1720s, goaded (or forced) by both police and private bluenoses. One of the resulting court records notes that “[t]he discovering of the Molly Houses, was chiefly owing to a Quarrel betwixt Mark Partridge and – Harrington: For upon this Quarrel Partridge to be revenged on Harrington, had blab’d something of the Secret, and afterwards gave a large Information of a great many others.”

Many lives hung on this lover’s spat. Mother Clap’s was raided in February 1726, but it was just the most famous of a whole series that forced into public awareness “a new, distinct molly ‘sodomite’ identity.”

The saving grace for the twoscore arrestees at Mother Clap’s was that even in Bloody Code England, a fairly high bar was required to execute for same-sex sodomy: penetratio, that is res in re (“thing in thing”)* — often quite difficult to prove.** As nobody had actually been caught in flagrante delicto, most of those initially arrested were simply released un-charged.

But the informants raise their scaly heads once more here: as they were themselves habitues of the molly circuit, they could provide firsthand eyewitness testimony about the acts of buggery several men had committed with them.

Five men were put on trial for their lives in April on the strength of accusations made by informants Mark Partridge, Thomas Newton, and Edward Courtney. The cases are described in some detail at Norton’s site: Gabriel Lawrence and William Griffin, both 43-year-old married men, were Mother Clap regulars who implausibly claimed to have no idea it was a molly house. (The place was a coffee shop/tavern.) Griffin actually lived there. Both these men were easily condemned but refused to the end to admit their proclivities to the Newgate Ordinary, and insisted that they had been framed.

Thomas Wright, seller of ale, had gone so far to set up his own molly house where he both slept with Newton, and procured Newton for his other customers. Wright, who “inclin’d to the Anabaptist-Way,” also said that Newton had perjured himself; nevertheless, he “could not deny his following this abominable Courses, only he refus’d to make particular Confessions.”

A third informant keyed two additional capital trials that didn’t end at Tyburn. George Kedger (Keger) and George Whittle (Whytle) both mounted much stronger defenses casting much greater doubt on the circumstances of their entrapment.

Charged with taking Courtney into his bed, Kedger contended that he had in fact resisted Courtney’s advances until the latter threatened to “swear my Life away”. Kedger was condemned, but pardoned. Whittle did still better by forcing his accuser to admit that he was a convict three times over and insinuating that rumors about his buggery were started by a disgruntled lodger. With a parade of character witnesses at his back, Whittle was acquitted outright.

* This was also the standard for same-sex rape; we’ve seen in these pages a man’s life hang on a question of just the tip.

** Attempted buggery — a charge which could result from making a sexual advance on another man that he rejected, or as a judicial punt when same-sex activity was afoot but no penetration could be proven — might land one a fine and a trip to the pillory. This was no mean sentence; the pillory could be quite a dangerous (sometimes lethal) ordeal for homosexuals or for anyone else.

Mother Clap herself, whose molly house we have referred to throughout this post, was also pilloried, not executed. Her eventual fate is not known; a marker in Holborn notes the former site of her famous establishment.

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1829: Richard Johnson and Catharine Cashiere, the last public hangings in New York City

Add comment May 7th, 2015 Headsman

New York Evening Post, Nov. 21, 1828

[O]n his return from Rochester, [Richard] Johnson brought with him a little girl, apparently about three years old.

This child he declared to be his by Mrs. [Ursula] Newman, and repeatedly demanded of her to acknowledge it, which she as often refused to do.

On Thursday afternoon he came into the dining room, the windows of which are in the rear of the house, and having locked the door by which he entered, and put the key in his pocket, again made the above mentioned demand. Another female was in the room, and heard the conversation which took place between them.

Mrs. Newman, perceiving that Johnson was more than usually excited, said to him “Good God, Johnson what are you going to do.” He replied “I am going to shew you that I am a man, you have imposed upon me too long.”

Mrs. Newman then called to the other female to open the door, which she could not do as Johnson had the key in his pocket.

Becoming frightened at his violence, Mrs. Newman opened one of the windows and sprang into the yard — from that went into a small room in the rear of the stair-case.

He followed her, threatening that if she did not acknowledge the child he would shoot her, and shortly after he discharged the pistol at her. She had the child hanging upon her left arm, in such a manner that Johnson could not take a fatal aim without wounding the child. He put one hand to the child, moved it out of the way, and with the other, clapping the pistol to her breast, discharged it.

Finding that the wound was not fatal, he ran up stairs, loaded the pistol again with several slugs, and returned.

At the first discharge a number of persons had rushed into the house; but on his returning, and declaring his intention of taking her life, and that if one shot did not do the work another should, they all took to flight.

The family however remained.

Johnson then made several attempts to take aim at Mrs. Newman, but was prevented by the resolution of her daughter, a girl of about eighteen years of age, who repeatedly thrust aside the pistol and prevented him.

After several attempts he discharged the pistol, but the daughter in pushing the weapon aside prevented the shot from taking the fatal effect intended, and the slugs were lodged in her mother’s arm.

The pistol burst in the discharge, shattering Johnson’s right hand and wounding the hand of the girl considerably. Since this tragical affair the daughter has not left her mother’s bedside, but has continued ever since to watch over her and to pay her every possible attention, notwithstanding the painful wound she has received. [she died that Saturday, two days after being shot -ed.]

At noon today Mrs. Newman was still alive, and in perfect possession of her senses, tho’ in extreme pain. The physicians think there is little hope of her recovery. The fatal wound was inflicted by the first discharge of the pistol. The ball passed through her body and lodged in the back, near the spine.

New York Evening Post, Feb. 7, 1829

Murder. — Susannah Anthony, a colored woman, was killed last night at about seven o’clock by Catharine Cashiere. The deceased gave a card party at the corner of Centre and Anthony street, at which there were 30 or 40 persons, all colored, and mostly penitentiary birds.

During the evening an agreement was made between Maria Collet and Catharine Cashiere, that they would have a quarrel with the deceased. They went into the room where she was and began some loud and abusive language, the deceased endeavoured to prevail on them to go away, and put her hands gently upon Cashiere to enforce her request, the latter thereupon drew a jack-knife, cut off deceased neck-handkerchief, & made two stabs at her.

The first wounded her hand with which she attempted to defend herself, and the second entered the chest and penetrated the heart. The blood spouted from the wound against the opposite wall, and the wounded woman fell and instantly expired. The murdress was secured and lodged in Bridewell.

A Coroner’s Inquest was held this morning at the house where the horrible deed was committed, and the verdict of the jury was, that the deceased came to her death by the wound of a knife, inflicted by the hand of Catharine Cashiere.


Hampshire Gazette, March 25, 1829

About half past ten, Richard Johnson and Catherine Cashiere were borught over from the Bridewell and placed near the fire place in the N.W. part of the room.

Johnson was immediately surrounded by several officers, with whom he appeared to converse in the most unrestrained manner. He seemed broken, but not contrite in spirit; and while anguish of mind was apparent, it was not seemingly of that character which is the beginning of true repentance.

The woman, however, was just the reverse in her deportment and appearance, and as soon as she was brought into court, she appeared considerably distressed and wept with great apparent emotion. But her tears were dried before the court came in; and she listened to her sentence with perfect composure though with due solemnity. She is a good looking young woman, with but a shade of the olive complexion, dark lustrous eyes, and rather an agreeable expression of countenance.

The sentence of Johnson was pronounced first. — On the usual question being put, “If he had any thing to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced according to law?” he addressed the Court as follows:

If your Honors please — I am asked, “what I have to say, why judgment of death should not be pronounced upon me?”

To this, I reply, to the judgment of the law, nothing.

A jury of my country has pronounced me Guilty; and there remains no discretion with the court, but to pronounce upon me the sentence of the law. But to the judgment of the world, I have much to say. I have been convicted of a crime, the bare recital of which causes humanity to shudder; — and it is a duty I owe to myself, while living, and to my memory when dead, that the circumstances of my offence should be fully explained.

Before entering into this detail, I must take this public opportunity, in the name of that Omniscient and All Merciful Being, who will hereafter pronounce His judgment, alike upon my judges and myself, of disclaiming any knowledge of the transaction of that fatal 20th of November.

I do not mean to impugn the decision of the jury; — the movements of the mind were beyond their power to penetrate; and hard as is my fate, I humbly bow to their verdict.

I cannot here enter fully into the details of my intimacy with the unfortunate cause of my own present awful situation. Duped and betrayed as I have been, into sorrow, despair, and lastly involuntary crime, I am unwilling, while living, to indulge in unavailing reproaches.

In life the deceased was the object of my tenderest affection, — an affection that her own unkind conduct seemed but to inflame, and that, baffled in its honorable purposes — expelled reason from her throne — and in its absence, led to the commission of the offence for which I am now to satisfy the offended community, by my own life.

Was I conscious of any moral guilt, at this result I should not repine. Accustomed throughout my life to respect the law, I have not now to learn that the blood of the murdered is alike a propitiatory sacrifice to the laws of God and man.

Convicted of the legal crime, I know my fate. For the moral offence, I have to answer to my conscience and my God; and that innate monitor tells me, that I stand before this Court and this community a legal, but not a moral murderer.

To my counsel, who have so ably, though vainly managed my defence, I tender my warmest thanks.

Of the Court I have but one request to make — that the period allowed me, to prepare for my impending fate, may be, as long as the law will permit.

His manner was firm and collected; his articulation deliberate and distinct; and he delivered himself with a studied oratorical air.

His Honor Judge Irving then pronounced his sentence as follows:

Richard Johnson, you have been found guilty by a jury of your country, of one of the greatest crimes a human being can perpetrate.

Instigated by evil passions, you have suddenly and with premeditated violence taken the life of a fellow being. Ursula Newman, the victim of your unbridled passions, was but shortly before the commission of this offence, the object of your strong attachment.

Yet that attachment not being based upon virtuous affection, has enkindled those furious passions, which have plunged you into guilt and have terminated in your destruction.

You stand a melancholy proof how speedy can be the transition from one licentious passion to another, and that vice is so all-absorbing in its nature that he who gives himself to its indulgence will eventually be led on to deeds of the greatest depravity.

The object for several years of your improper pursuit has at last perished by your hand. She has been hurried by you out of existence, without time allowed to her for preparation. Her children, some of whom are of very tender years, and who were entirely dependent upon her, have been deprived by you of their earthly support, and are now cast upon the world orphans and destitute.

I mention not these painful circumstances to harass your feelings, deeply as I trust they must be afflicted by these consequences of your crime. I dwell upon them for a better purpose. I would awaken your mind to a scene of its situation, with the hope of leading you to contrition. It is one of the most consoling principles of our religion, that however great are our offences, forgiveness will await the contrite, and that our Maker is as merciful as he is just.

The character which was testified of you on your trial, was that of being industrious in your habits, upright in your dealings, and kind in your general deportment — that you had been brought up to a reputable business, and which you was [sic] diligently pursuing for a livelihood. Young in life, had you only kept a vigilant guard upon your conduct, you had every think [sic] to hope.

The indulgence in one vice has blasted these expectations — has hurried you into the commission of an enormous crime, and has left you miserable and desolate.

While we pity you, public justice requires that you be held up an example and a warning to others. We would enjoin you not to be misled by the hope of escaping the fate which must so soon await you. The yielding to such hope, will only beguile your mind from that serious reflection which your present situation most solemnly requires.

What is left to you of life, is too short to be passed otherwise than in humble preparation for your future state. Let your thoughts be anxiously devoted to your religious duties; and while every thing is failing you here, let your reliance in penitence and humility of soul, be placed upon Him, who, in the deepest extremity, is able to console and to sustain you.

The sentence of the Court is, that you, Richard Johnson, be taken hence to the prison from which you last came, and from thence on Thursday, the seventh day of May next, to the place of execution, and there there, between the hours of seven in the forenoon and twelve at noon, you be hung by the neck till you are dead. May God prepare you for that awful event, and have mercy on your sou.

Catharine Cashiere, the colored girl, was then requested to stand up, and the Clerk put the usual question. She replied faintly, that she had nothing to say. The sentence of the court was then pronounced by Judge Edwards, as follows:

Catharine Cashiere — As you have been already informed, you are now arraigned at this bar for the purpose of receiving sentence of death.

Upon this solemn occasion it is proper that something should be said in vindication of the justice of the country, and with a view to awaken you to a realizing sense of your situation.

After a patient investigation of your case — after being zealously and ably defended by your counsel, a jury of your country have found you guilty of the crime of murder. In the circumstances attending the transaction, I can discover nothing to palliate your offence.

It is true that you were in a state of intoxication, but this in the eye of the law is no excuse. A contrary doctrine would be tantamoun to a letter of license to drunkards to depredate upon society with impunity.

Susan Anthony now lies in her cold and silent grave, bereft of life and all its enjoyments by your hands; and you must soon follow her to the silent mansions of the dead. By the laws of our country, by the laws of all countries, civilized as well as barbarous, the crime of murder is punished with death. As life is precious above all things, it is the bounden duty of those to whom is committed the safety of society, to take the most effectual measures for its protection.

Your situation is indeed an awful one.

At the early age of twenty-one, your existence will be brought to a sudden and violent end, a victim to the violated justice of the country. With earth and all its enjoyments, your connexion will soon cease forever, and you must go away, with all your imperfections upon your head, into the presence of your Maker.

Let me beseech you to devote the small remnant of your existence in preparing for this change.

Remember, and never let it be absent from your thoughts, that as you are indebted to him for your existence and all you have enjoyed here, so you must look to him for all you can hope for hereafter.

Before I proceed to sentence the prisoner, I conceive it to be my duty to address some remarks to this numerous audience, which most forcibly pressed themselves upon my attention during and since her trial.

Upon a former occasion, I expressed, from this bench, my sentiments upon the subject of the deplorable consequences attendant upon the facilities afforded in this city, for the vending of ardent spirits.

We were then called upon to sentence seven young men to the state prison, for killing one of our fellow citizens in a wanton and unprovoked manner, in the public streets. It appeared that prior to sallying out they had each been helped to seven or eight glasses of spirituous liquors by one of our licensed retailers; and that the crime was committed under the influence of the delirium necessarily consequent thereon.

During the present court we have been called to pass upon two cases of homicide, in one of which, both the prisoner and the deceased were at the time the offence was alledged to have been committed, in a state of beastly intoxication. And in the other, the case of the miserable being who is now arraigned at this bar, it was also proved by one of our licensed retailers, that he sold her on the night of the murder three or four glasses, although at the time she came into the store, she was so intoxicated that she staggered.

Thus prepared, in a state of mind thus phrenzied, this crime was committed.

If, as we are taught to believe, it is a crime to tempt as well as to be tempted, how can those hope to escape moral retribution, who hold forth lures to intemperance and by assisting to overthrow the reason of the vicious prepare them for the work of iniquity?

It is undeniably true, that a very large proportion of the crimes which are committed, are traceable either directly or indirectly to the influence of spirituous liquors; and I will add, that the poverty and wretchedness which prevails in society are to be ascribed more to this than all other causes united.

These facts are matters of notoriety, and yet the evil continues, spreading and extending a baneful influence.

In probing the sources of this evil we are met with the appaling fact that there [are] at this moment three thousand persons in this city, who are licensed to retail spirituous liquors. Licensed to pursue a calling the direct tendency and necesary consequences of which, is to ruin the health and deprave the morals of thousands of our fellow beings.

While such facilities are afforded for depraving morals and dethroning reason, is it matter of surprise, that “blood stained murder” stalks abroad among us. If the power of applying a correction was not in the hands of the people, if the government under which we live was independent of any superior to the will of the people, “if an enemy had done this thing,” there might be some excuse for us.

But as all power is either mediately or immediately derived from them, and is in their hands, as it is but necessary for them to will that a correction should be applied, and it will be done, how can we stand acuqitted in neglecting to apply a remedy.

In our ardent and headlong career through this world, in the pursuit of property or honor, let us pause for a moment to consider the cause of suffering humanity; let us devise the most judicious measures for the correction of this evil, and by a firm, united and determined concert of action, carry those measures into effect.

It is the cause of public justice, of public morals, and of suffering humanity, which demands our aid. Vain are all the expectations which are formed, of its being in the power of the ministers of justice to restrain the workers of iniquity — to stay the hand of violence, until this evil is corrected. Fifty are corrupted by ardent spirits, to where one is corrected by the law.

I will now proceed to the discharge of the last and most painful duty of the court.

Catharine Cashiere — Listen to your sentence. It is, that you be taken hence to the prison whence you last came, and that you be taken from thence on Thursday the seventh day of May next to the place of execution, and that between the hours of seven in the morning and twelve at noon of that day you be there hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may God have mercy on your soul.

There was no visible increase of emotion on the part of either of the prisoners, either during the time the Judges were speaking, or at the close of the concluding and awful sentence.


Both prisoners appealed to Enos Throop, the then-interim governor weeks after Martin Van Buren had resigned the post to serve in the cabinet of the newly-inaugurated President Andrew Jackson. Gov. Throop rejected both in separate letters directed to the sheriff imploring the prisoners’ jailers not to burden Johnson or Cashiere with any fanciful hopes of reprieve.

Executive Department
Albany, April 25, 1829

Sir, — I have received a petition for pardon, in behalf of Richard Johnson, in your custody, under sentence of death for murder, and have bestowed upon the case that attention which the importance and painful interest of the subject demand.

The killing was in the presence of witnesses, and the manner in which it was perpetrated is not a matter of doubt or dispute. It was done deliberately. The pistol was put in order and prepared for the occasion; it was twice discharged; and its contents were, each time, lodged in the body of the deceased.

The tragic deed was the result of a previous misunderstanding between the parties, of several days continuance; and the proximate cause, a personal struggle, commenced with angry feelings, and carried on with a sufficient interval before its fatal termination to accomplish the death of the miserable victim of his violence.

During several preceding days he exhibited those appearances of gloom, abstraction of mind, and depression of spirits, which indicate a bosom deeply agitated with violent passion, and a mind occupied with absorbing subjects.

It is urged in his favor, that his mind was deranged when the deed was done, — and that he had before sustained a good character, and was of an amiable and benevolent disposition.

The question of insanity was a matter in issue on the trial; and the jury, after hearing all the testimony, decided against him. — I see nothing in the evidence to induce me to doubt the correctness of their verdict in that respect.

His supposed amiable character, while it is evidence, in a doubtful case, to be duly weighed by the jury in pronouncing upon the intent, and appeals to our sympathy, does not afford a sufficient reason for arresting the course of Justice. It is in proof, however, upon this point, that he had lived in a licentious intercourse with this woman for several years, and their intimacy has, in the ordinary process of vice, terminated in the highest misdeeds.

The laws have pronounced his doom, and declared him a fit object of exemplary punishment; and I do not feel justified in interposing the Executive arm to defeat their politic ends.

I must therefore request you, to communicate to the wretched convict my decision, without delay, that he may prepare himself to meet his fate, and make his peace with his offended God.

I am respectfully, your’s [sic], &c.
E.T. Throop

Executive Department
Albany, May 4th, 1829

Sir — My attention has been recently called to the case of Catharine Cashiere, a coloured woman in your custody, under the sentence of death for the murder of Susan Anthony, also a colored woman.

On receiving a report of the trial from the presiding Judge, accompanied by affidavits, I at a former day attentively examined the case: but the respectability of the petition, which has been forwarded to me, through the praise worthy exertions of humane persons, in behalf of a friendless individual, has induced me to re-examine the case, and look, with scrupulous care, at the conclusion to which my mind has arrived.

All punishments are prescribed by the wisdom of our lawgives, for purposes of public good, and should not be dispensed with for light causes. It is a maxim drawn from experience, and sanctioned by sound reason, that laws restrain crime, not by the severity of their enactments, but by the certainty of their being enforced.

It was not intended by the framers of the Constitution to erect in the Executive a tribunal which shall arbitrarily dispense with those judgments of our courts, which are pronounced in strict conformity to the design of wise and prudent laws; but one which shall discreetly exercise its powers to favor the designs of the Legislature in tempering undesigned severities with the administration of justice.

With these views I have examined the case of Catharine Cashiere.

The facts as reported shew: That the convict came to the house of the deceased by invitation, and soon began to use indecent and profane language. She was requested by the deceased to go out, and did so. She returned again in a few minutes, resumed her ill conduct, and was again mildly requested to go out. — She refused to go, and used language shewing her determination not to go.

The deceased then gently laid her hand upon her, when the convict made three attempts to stab her with a knife, which she drew from under her apron. The two first attempts were ineffectual, but the last was made with much force and preparation, and the knife reached the heart of her victim.

It further appears that while she was absent from the room after the commencement of the affray, she was seen in a grocery kept in another part of the same house, with a knife in her hand. Whether she procured the knife then, or had it before, is not in proof, but the testimony affords good reason to believe that she there opened it and hid it under her apron, and returned to the room for the purpose of renewing the quarrel, and contemplating the dreadful catastrophe which ensued. — Here was positive proof of malice propense.

Although the design of murder was conceived after the quarrel was begun, yet the wrong was altogether on the part of the convict, and the interval of absence from the room was sufficient and was employed in deliberately contriving the execution of the bloody deed.

Independent of the common law doctrines of murder, stabbing is so odious that special statutory provisions exist, declaring designed stabbing which produced death to be murder without proof of malice.

It is declared by statute, “that if any person or persons shall stab or thrust any person or persons that hath not then any weapon drawn, or that hath not then first stricken, the party who shall so stab or thrust so as the person so stabbed or thrust shall thereof die within the space of six months then next following, although it cannot be proved that the same was done of malice aforethought, every such unlawful killing shall be adjudged, taken and deemed wilful murder.” Her case comes directly within this statute.

It is urged that she was insane, and that she was intoxicated. Drunkenness afford no excuse for crime. If it should, every species of crime, from arson and murder down to the smallest larcenies, would be perpetrated under that pretence. The facts in regard to her drinking were before the jury.

It is said that when she is intoxicated she is deranged: that is the natural effect of intoxication: but the law says, with great justice, that voluntary derangement shall not excuse crime.

Affidavits are presented to shew that when she was a child she received a hurt in her head which impaired the strength of her mind, and that when she is intoxicated she exhibits insanity which is supposed to result from the hurt in her head, and that the fact of the hurt was not proved on the trial. It is not satisfactorily proved that she ever manifested symptoms of insanity, except when she was under the influence of liquor.

Her conduct during the quarrel, from its commencement until its fatal termination, shews no evidence of insanity, nor that prostration of mind by liquor which totally extinguishes reason; but, on the contrary, it evinced a capacity to plan and execute her projects of revenge.

I therefore feel it a duty which I owe to the state, the execution of whose laws are entrusted to me, to deny the pardon solicited. You will therefore make known to the miserable culprit my determination, so that if she has cherished any hope from Executive clemency, she may dismiss it, and prepare her mind to appear before that high tribunal where there is no error in judgment and from which there is no appeal.

Your obedient servant,
E.T. Throop


Baltimore Patriot, May 9, 1829

From the New York Post of Thursday.

EXECUTIONS. — Richard Johnson and Catherine Cashiere, under sentence of death for murder, were this forenoon executed on Blackwell’s Island.

They were taken from the Bridewell a little after 8 o’clock, and conveyed to the gallows, accompanied by the Sheriff and a troop of horse, and followed by an assemblage of several thousands of men, women and boys, eager to witness the dying struggles of two of their fellow beings.

Early in the morning Broadway, opposite the Bridewell, was blocked up with spectators, so much so as to make it difficult for carriages to pass: and for a short time before the procession moved every avenue leading to the prison was completely closed.

We hope it will be the last time a similar opportunity will be afforded to gratify the idle curiosity of the populace of this large city. The revised laws provide that after the year 1829, all executions for capital crimes shall be performed in the yard of the prison where the convict is confined, in the presence of the proper officers.

We have just learned that the poor unfortunate wretches were turned off between 10 and 11 o’clock, from a gallows erected for the purpose on Blackwell’s Island, and that a great part of the procession were disappointed in witnessing the spectacle, not being able to procure boats to convey them across the river to the Island; and this perhaps was a fortunate circumstance, for we have heard that one of the few boats which were put in requisition, with twelve persons in it, was upset and before assistance could be rendered several were drowned.


It was indeed the last public hanging in New York City.

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1606: Henry Garnet, Gunpowder Plot confessor

Add comment May 3rd, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1606, the English Jesuit Henry Garnet was hanged, drawn and quartered in the churchyard of Old St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Garnet, “the prime scholar of Winchester College” as a gifted young student, left England to enter the Society of Jesus and study under Robert Bellarmine, a theologian so Catholic that he would later bring the hammer down on Galileo’s heliocentrism.

After eleven years in letters on the continent, the Society called Garnet to return to England in 1586 as the lead missionary to his native realm’s Catholic minority. It was a lonely burden for Garnet, especially after his opposite number Robert Southwell was arrested in 1592. (Southwell, too, went to the scaffold.) But Garnet carried it off as well as anyone. He remained free for nearly twenty years — creating an underground press and numerous illegal cells.

“Under his care the Jesuits in the English mission increased from one to forty, and that not a single letter of complaint, it is said, was sent to headquarters against him,” lauds the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Theologically, Garnet was noted for his defense of the doctrine of equivocation — that is (in the hostile reading of its Protestant interlocutors) of finding hair-splitting rationales for lying. It was an intellectual exercise of many centuries’ vintage, but for England’s beleaguered Catholics it was as urgent as life and death. Most specifically, this doctrine reckoned an oath insufficient to compel a truthful response to official inquiries as to the whereabouts and activities of fellow-Catholics who’d be liable with discovery to attain martyrdom. The liberal definition of “truth” to include an outright lie with a “secret meaning reserved in [one’s] mind” was obviously ripe for the scorn of persecutors for whom it was little but treason neatly clothed.

Knock, knock! Who’s there, in th’ other devil’s name?
Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both
the scales against either scale, who committed
treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not
equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.

-Macbeth (c. 1606), Act 2, Scene 3

Much of Garnet’s last weeks in custody ahead of his execution were spent in harrowing the doctrine of equivocation; indeed, this is even the very last exchange he had with doctors of the English church sent to accompany him.

One of those standing near him then asked him, “Whether he still held the same opinion as he had formerly expressed about equivocation, and whether he thought it lawful to equivocate at the point of death?” He refused to give an opinion at that time; and the Dean of St. Paul’s sharply inveighing against equivocation, and saying that seditious doctrine of that kind was the parent of all such impious treasons and designs as those for which he suffered, Garnet said, “that how equivocation was lawful, and when, he had shewn his mind elsewhere, and that he should, at any rate, use no equivocation now.”

There were nevertheless equivocations that Garnet would never countenance. His A Treatise of Christian Renunciation, compiling quotes from Church fathers detailing the things a good Catholic must be prepared to renounce for his faith, excoriated those who attended Anglican chuches. Their pretense, he said, was nothing but their own comfort.

Certaine private persons, who have wholly addicted them selves to make them Gods either of their belly and ease, or of the wicked mammon, setting God behind all things which may delight them … refuse also to beleeve that the do amisse …

Judas with a kisse dost thou betray me? amongst hereticks dost thou professe me? no other place to professe chastity, but in the bedd of a harlott?

Harried as they were, England’s Catholics greeted with anticipation the 1603 accession of King James: raised Protestant, but the son of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. Garnet shared Catholics’ hope that James would ease off harassment of the Old Faith; he even authorized the betrayal of fellow-Catholics’ regicidal Bye Plot as a show of loyalty and to pre-empt a possible backlash. “Quiete et pacifice,” he begged.

But toleration was still not quickly forthcoming, and soon Catholics had reverted to “a stage of desperation.” James was only in his thirties: would the trials be neverending?

Garnet continued endeavouring to keep Catholics calm and give the new sovereign the political space necessary to relax persecution. But many of his flock soon tired of quiete et pacifice.

In 1605, there would be another try — one that is still remember, remembered to this day.

Here Garnet again gets into hot water with theological doctrine. Garnet caught indirect wind of Guy Fawkes’ terrorist plot — but he heard it kind-of-sort-of under the seal of the confessional: another priest who himself had heard the design under confession told it to Garnet in a more ambiguous circumstance.

Garnet’s excuses here might strike the reader as far too fine; certainly that is how his prosecutors viewed it. The circumstances of the plot’s revelation certainly appeared to give the priest enough leave to find a way to reveal it, especially since he knew about it for many months before that almost-fateful Fifth of November. Garnet seems to have wanted the resolution — or loathed to plant another Judas-kiss. Maybe he thought his exhortations could stop it without anyone winding up drawn on a hurdle. Maybe, after 19 furtive years knowing every morning that his next sleep might be in a dungeon, his heart of hearts wanted to see it to go ahead.

When the attempt to explosively decapitate the English state was discovered Garnet was hunted to ground; his last days of “liberty” were spent stuffed in a coffin-sized priest hole at Hindlip Hall before the “customs of nature which must of necessity be done” finally forced him to out into the sight of his captors.

His fate looks like a foregone conclusion in retrospect, but Garnet did fight it — for two months before his condemnation, and five more weeks after from trial until his execution during which he maneuvered to exculpate himself. (See Investigating Gunpowder Treason for an Since English law of course did not recognize the seal of the confessional, the most charitable reading of Garnet’s own admissions start at misprision of treason. It is but a single step from there to the scaffold if one supposes his long silence shrouded any sort of approval of or aid to the plotters.

Garnet received the mercy of being hanged to death before he was cut down for the public butchery part of his sentence.

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Feast Day of Popes Cletus and Marcellinus

Add comment April 26th, 2015 Headsman

Back before being pope meant jeweled slippers and your own guillotine, the bishopric of Rome — at least as chronicled in the early histories of the Church — was a virtual halfway house to a pagan executioner.

Granted, the very earliest pontiffs are mostly ciphers to posterity; little dependable information about most of them survives. We have sketchy documentation, conflated names, and traditions of legendary hagiography further to the glory of Christianity’s earliest fathers. They are almost universally ranked as both saints, and martyrs.

But is it really right that literally none of these heirs of St. Peter for three centuries reached leadership positions by dint of being venal political hustlers? Or that none just dropped dead of some inglorious disease before they could exalt their deaths in martyrdom?

Persecutions of Christianity were not, after all, literally continuous throughout this age; indeed, prominent as they are in our latter-day remembrance, instances where they turned deadly were likely rather few and far between. Roman governors had provinces to administer; not many of them viewed hunting down and killing otherwise law-abiding cultists as the most important thing to prioritize.

“Christians and pagans could live on very good terms with each other,” Victor Duruy writes in his History of Rome, and of the Roman People, from its Origin.

Asper declared openly that he was disinclined to prosecutions of that kind … Severus furnished them the reply which permitted him to discharge them … Candidus treated them as contentious persons, and sent them back to their towns with these words: “Go, and be at peace with your fellow-citizens.” “Unhappy men,” said another to them [i.e., to Christians seeking their own martyrdom], “if you are resolved to perish, are there not ropes or precipies enough for you?” and he drives them from his tribunal.

Little as we know of these men, it is a sure thing that, pre-Constantine, they did run some risk of life and limb to profess Christianity under the noses of Rome’s rulers. Even a period of toleration could turn ugly with the rise of a hostile emperor or some chance shift of the political winds; the first persecution, after all, is supposed to have been initiated by Nero as an expedient to deflect anger over the Great Fire of Rome. But despite this site‘s use of the martyrology, we can hardly take for granted that any early Christian of significance was put to a baroque death by bloodthirsty Romans.

April 26 is or was the shared feast date of two of these popes from Rome’s antiquity — both of them traditionally considered martyrs, but both now on the outs with Rome’s official chronicle. It’s a reminder that even the ancient past isn’t really past and that history, like religion, is not so much holy writ as an eternal process of becoming.

Pope Cletus was the third pope, and the second in a row after Peter’s direct successor Pope Linus to make you think of a cartoon character. One early chronology named Cletus and Anacletus (or Anencletus) as the third and fourth popes; it is generally understood now that these were merely two different names for one single man. In 1960 a distinct July 13 feast for “Saint Anacletus” was removed from the calendar, collapsing everything to April 26.

Still, basically nothing definite is known of Pope St. Cletus — including the occasion or circumstances of his death, which may well have been promoted to a martyrdom simply from reverence of Cletus’s Erdos numberChrist number of 3 or less. Cletus is said to have ordained 25 priests, and died in the year 88 or 92. He was ultimately removed from Catholicism’s liturgical calendar in 1969, though he still remains in the Roman Martyrology.

Near the opposite chronological end of Rome’s era of official intolerance we find Pope St. Marcellinus.

Marcellinus was the 29th pope, and had the tiara* when the Diocletian persecutions began in 303. While such information as survives about Marcellinus is also not very substantial, it is quite interesting.

When anti-Christian persecutions did crop up, those Christians who weren’t in active pursuit of martyrdom had a difficult choice to make: either apostasy, or punishment. Confronted in the breach with a demand to make the requisite obeisance to the gods of Rome, many ordinary Christians preferred the expedient burning a few sacrificial herbs to the prospect of, if not death, prison, torture, exile, harassment, property seizure, or whatever else was on offer for their sect at that moment. These were the lapsi — the lapsed ones.

Such episodes tended to create post-persecution friction between the go-along, get-along crowd on the one hand, and the purists who refused any such accommodation on the other. Could lapsi be re-admitted to the communion after renouncing their faith to please a Roman proconsul? (Broadly speaking, the official church did welcome lapsi back with some kind of penance and absolution.)

Pope Marcellinus is interesting because he too is said to have lapsed under the initial pressure of Diocletian’s persecution. The Liber Pontificalis, likely combining distinct traditions that were in circulation about Marcellinus, says that he burned incense to the Roman gods when it was demanded of him — and that only afterwards did he repent his weakness and confess Christianity unto martyrdom.

It is not at all certain that Marcellinus did apostatize, but it is clear that a story to that effect (disputed by ex-apostate St. Augustine, among others) was out there in late antiquity — and it’s a bit suspicious that Marcellinus’s name is omitted from some early lists of popes. (It’s possible he was being conflated with his successor, Marcellus: the opposite of what happened with Pope Cletus.) It’s also very uncertain that Marcellinus was in fact martyred; the Catholic encylopedia considers his “in all probability, a natural death” in 304. And it was probably not in April that this death occurred.

Given all those question marks, Marcellinus’s April 26 celebration was booted from the liturgical calendar in the same 1969 cleanup that fixed Pope Cletus.

* The papal tiara did not yet literally exist at this point, of course.

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1859: Baltimore’s Plug Uglies

Add comment April 8th, 2015 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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


Plug Ugly ruffians boss a ward. (Via)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1889: Mark Francis and James Turney

Add comment March 27th, 2015 Headsman

LEBANON, Tenn., March 27. — Mack Francis and James Turney, negroes, were hanged at 12.23 this afternoon for the murder of Lew Martin last summer. They showed a great deal of bravado and confessed their guilt after ascending the scaffold. Francis struggled much, but Turney died instantly, his neck being broken. The execution was private, but a large number of people stood around the gallows.

Lew Martin was a half-witted, inoffensive negro. On the evening of the murder he went to church, having $7* in his possession. This he imprudently displayed, and the two men who were to-day hanged saw it. They planned the murder while sitting behind the church, and shot their victim as he was on his way home. In his confession Francis said:

We waited outside the door of the church till the crowd came out, and when Martin was about one hundred yards down the road we followed him. When we caught up with him he was walking with some of the people from the church and we fell back and waited till he got by himself. Then we caught up with him again and walked along, one of us on each side of him. Then Jim drew his pistol and shot him twice. Lew’s head fell forward and he said ‘Jim.’ Jim then turned to me and said threateningly, ‘Shoot; why don’t you shoot.’ I then shot twice, and hit Lew in the body, and Jim shot three more times, when Lew fell. We went through his pockets and found seven dollars, and Jim took four dollars and I took three. When we killed him we thought he had more money, but when we left the church I had no idea of killing him.

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 28, 1889.

* The equivalent of about $175 in 2014 dollars. (via)

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1531: Sikke Freriks, Menno Simons inspiration

Add comment March 20th, 2015 Headsman

Dutch artisan Sikke Freriks, beheaded on this date in 1531 in Leeuwarden‘s market, was the first Anabaptist put to death in that Friesland city.

While a minor milestone in the crowded history of Reformation martyrdoms, Freriks had a noteworthy posthumous effect: word of his heresy — adherence to adult, rather than infant, baptism — came to the ears of a Catholic priest, who later wrote that a man’s dying for this illicit doctrine led him to investigate it further.

To his amazement, the priest found no scriptural support for the established church’s practice of baptizing infants before they developed the maturity and volition to embrace Christ from the will of their own hearts. Christians are “cheated” by the loss of that opportunity of freely giving oneself in baptism, he later wrote.

This man, Menno Simons, would follow his discomfiting scrutiny of holy writ all the way out of the priesthood and into that same forbidden sect. His preeminence in the Anabaptist movement after its disastrous Münster rebellion — and particularly his pacifistic orientation — eventually ennobled him as the founder as well as the namesake of the Mennonites, a term that in Menno Simons’s own lifetime became all but synonymous for Dutch Anabaptism.

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1943: David Cobb, the first U.S. serviceman hanged in World War II Britain

4 comments March 12th, 2015 Headsman

David Cobb, Private, Company C, 827th Engineer Battalion (Aviation), on March 12, 1943 achieved the milestone distinction of becoming the first U.S. soldier executed in Great Britain.

On December 27, 1942 — a mere 11 days after arriving in Britain — Cobb was ordered by a Lt. Robert Cobner to surrender his weapon when the private popped off to him during a routine inspection. Instead, Cobb shot Cobner dead.

He was hanged by the British executioner Thomas Pierrepoint at Shepton Mallet prison — a fortress dating to 1610 and still in use to the present day. The U.S. Army employed part of the prison during World War II to carry out 18 military executions; over half of these men were, like Cobb, black.

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