Posts filed under 'Racial and Ethnic Minorities'

1903: A day in the death penalty around the U.S. (and Canada)

Add comment December 11th, 2018 Headsman

The U.S. states of Illinois, Georgia and California, and the Canadian province of British Columbia, all distinguished December 11, 1903 with hangings.


Duluth (Minn.) News-Tribune, Dec. 12, 1903:


Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, Dec. 12, 1903:


Santa Cruz (Calif.) Evening Sentinel, Dec. 12, 1903:


Anaconda (Mont.) Standard, Dec. 12, 1903:

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,Montana,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1982: Charles Brooks, Jr., the first by lethal injection

Add comment December 7th, 2018 Headsman

Besides being Pearl Harbor Day and Noam Chomsky Day, December 7 is a black-letter anniversary for capital punishment as the date in 1982 when the United States first executed a prisoner by means of lethal injection.

Charles Brooks, Jr. — who had by the time of his death converted to Islam and started going by Shareef Ahmad Abdul-Rahim — suffered the punishment in Texas for abducting and murdering a car lot mechanic. With an accomplice,* he had feigned interest in a test drive in order to steal the car, stuffing the mechanic in the trunk and then shooting him dead in a hotel room.

The “modern” U.S. death penalty era had just dawned with 1976’s Gregg v. Georgia decision affirming new procedures meant to reduce systemic arbitrariness — and the machinery was reawakening after a decade’s abeyance.

In the wake of the circus atmosphere surrounding the January 1977 firing squad execution of Gary Gilmore, the laboratories of democracy started casting about for killing technologies that were a little bit less … appalling.

“We had discussed what happened to Gary Gilmore,” former Oklahoma chief medical examiner Jay Chapman later recalled. “At that time we put animals to death more humanely than we did human beings — so the idea of using medical drugs seemed a much better alternative.”

This was not actually a new idea: proposals for a medicalized execution process had been floated as far back as the 1880s, when New York instead opted for a more Frankenstein vibe by inventing the electric chair. And the Third Reich ran a wholesale euthanasia program based on lethal injections.

But 1977 was the year that lethal injection was officially adopted as the lynchpin method for regular judicial executions. It happened in Oklahoma, and Chapman’s three-drug protocol — sodium thiopental (an anaesthetic), followed by pancuronium bromide (to stop breathing) and potassium chloride (to stop the heart) — became the standard execution procedure swiftly taken up by numerous other U.S. states in the ensuing years. As years have gone by, Chapman’s procedure has come under fire and supply bottlenecks have led various states to experiment with different drug cocktails; all the same, nearly 90% of modern U.S. executions have run through the needle.*

Texas was one early adopter, rolling in the gurney to displace its half-century-old electric chair. Its debut with Charlie Brooks was also Texas’s debut on the modern execution scene, and both novelties have had a lot of staying power since: every one of Texas’s many executions in the years since — 557 executions over 36 years as of this writing — has employed lethal injection.

* For up-to-date figures, check the Death Penalty Information Center’s executions database.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,Theft,USA

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1856: Six Tennessee slaves, election panic casualties

Add comment December 4th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1856, the white citixens of Dover, Tennessee hanged at least six black slaves in the midst of a regional panic.

They could well sense, as could all Americans, the hollowing authority of slavery in the 1850s with the Civil War looming ahead in 1861. Conflict over the issue had split the country sectionally over the disposition of the huge territory annexed in the Mexican-American War; the matter came to literal blows on the western frontier in the “Bleeding Kansas” bush war.

On the cultural plane, these are the years that germinated the definitive anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852); on the legal plane, they produced the the notorious pro-slavery Dred Scott Supreme Court case (1857).

And on the political plane, the slavery issue tore apart the old Whig Party — and so the 1856 presidential election for the first time featured the new anti-slavery Republican Party as the chief opposition. The very first Republican presidential nominee, John Fremont, carried 11 states on November 4, 1856: not enough to capture the White House, but enough to put the Slave Power in fear for its human chattel and catalyze, in the weeks surrounding the vote, paranoid reactions in various southerly locales to the effect that Fremont-inspired blacks would be coming to dispossess all the masters.

Now it only takes a glance at Twitter to evidence the capacity of a presidential ballot to dominate the public mind, so there can hardly be doubt that seditious rumors of liberty fell from black lips which had never been so close to tasting emancipation. “Wait till Fremont is elected, and den I guess as how, missess, you will have to dew de pots yourself,” a Memphis kitchen-slave supposedly told her mistress on the eve of the election. (New York Herald, December 11, 1856) The masters too would have spoken of the same topic, but with trepidation; nobody knew but what the future could hold, and words overheard would have worked their way to and fro across the color line to shape hope, terror, anticipation. The newspapers from the last weeks of 1856 have reports of rumored insurrections and white vigilance committees in Missouri, in Texas, in Arkansas, in Louisiana.

As is usual in slave rising panics no firm evidence exists that black plots consisted in this moment of anything more substantial than whispered hopes. Whites in scattered localities saw Nat Turner everywhere — and nowhere was this more the case than in western Tennessee. There, slaves around the Cumberland River were believed to be organizing a Christmas Day rising* to cut their masters’ throats, run amok, and rendezvous with an imagined army of Fremont liberators. One correspondent described for northern papers how

the credulity of these poor people is such that, in the belief of the whites who excite them, they imagine that Col. Fremont, with a large army is awaiting at the mouth of the river Cumberland … Certain slaves are so greatly imbued with this fable, that I have seen them smile while they are being whipped, and have heard them say that ‘Fremont and his men can bear the blows they receive.’ (via the Barre (Mass.) Gazette, Dec. 19, 1956)

Against such hope — more blows. A truly horrifying and widely republished editorial in the Clarksville (Tenn.) Jeffersonian that Dec. 3 proposed an overwhelming bloodletting to crush this prospective jacquerie.

It is useless to shut our eyes and deny the facts, or sneer at the developments which have been made. Every hour multiplies the proof and corroborates previous discoveries. It is no Titus Oates affair, but a solemn, fearful and startling reality, and must be dealt with accordingly.

The crimes contemplated should be atoned for precisely as though those crimes had been attmpted and consummated. Fearful and terrible examples should be made, and if need be, the fagot and the flame should be brought into requisition to show these deluded maniacs the fierceness and the vigor, the swiftness and completeness of the white man’s vengeance. Let a terrible example be made in every neighborhood where the crime can be established, and if necessary let every tree in the country bend with negro meat. Temporizing in such cases as this is utter madness. We must strike terror, and make a lasting impression, for only in such a course can we find the guaranties of future security …

The path of future safety must be wet with the blood of those who have meditated these awful crimes. Misplaced clemency, and we believe that any clemency would be misplaced, may at no distant day bring upon this people, the horrors and the inexpressible crimes which marked the enfranchisement of St. Domingo. While retributive justice, sternly and unbendingly enforced, will certainly remove the cause of the evils we now suffer and prove our sure protection against their repetition in all time to come.

So far as this writer can establish it is not certain how many people overall in Tennessee and throughout the Slave Power met the guns and nooses of white vigilantes, but some of the best-established are a sextet hanged at Dover on December 4, 1856. This town on the Cumberland was roiled by rumors that slaves from nearby communities intended to march, armed, on Dover itself, an idea that seems not much less fanciful than that of deliverance by Fremont; it became thereby an epicenter of the suppression, and favors us from a sea of unreliable timelines and misstated figures with a concrete eyewitness description.

Tuesday morning [sic — the writer means Thursday, Dec. 4, having narrated Wednesday, Dec. 3 immediately prior], I went to Dover, and arrived there about 2 o’clock. The people had hung four negroes at 11 o’clock that morning, and two more then in town to be hung. I got to the place of execution in time to see the last one go off. Of the six that were hung, three had been preachers. They were all proved to be ring-leaders. I learned that the men at the forge were at work whipping the truth out of their negroes, so I rode out there that night, and was up with them all night. I never had such feelings in my life. I saw a list of negroes that had been whipped, and was told what they all had stated, and then I heard the balance examined — some taking five and six hundred lashes before they would tell the tale … One of the negroes at the forge died from whipping that night, several hours after the operation.

We are at work here to-day. We have one negro in chains, and will hang him I think, certain; if the committee will not the community are determined to do it. I think we will have quite an exciting time here before we get through. I have no doubt but that it is a universal thing all over the Southern States, and that every negro fifteen years old, either knows of it or is into it … (Louisville Daily Courier, Dec. 29, 1856)

Two key academic sources on this affair are:

  • Harvey Wish, “The Slave Insurrection Panic of 1856,” The Journal of Southern History, May, 1939
  • Charles Dew, “Black Ironworkers and the Slave Insurrection Panic of 1856,” The Journal of Southern History, August 1975

* Shades of Jamaica.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,Summary Executions,Tennessee,Torture,Treason,USA

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1884: Howard Sullivan, too leisurely about escaping

Add comment December 2nd, 2018 Headsman

The moral of this story is that when you have the opportunity to break out of death row, don’t dawdle.


Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 1, 1884


New York Herald, Dec. 3, 1884

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

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1840: Zachariah Freeman

Add comment November 19th, 2018 John O'Sullivan

(Thanks for the guest post to American newsman and reformer John L. O’Sullivan. Best-known as the fellow who coined that potent brand for American empire, “manifest destiny,” O’Sullivan was also a vigorous advocate for abolishing capital punishment as a New York legislator in the 1840s, and made several proposals to that effect. The summary here is one of many reported in O’Sullivan’s appendix to his Report in favor of the abolition of punishment of death, by law, made to the legislature of the state of New York, April 14, 1841. The report did not achieve its objective. -ed.)

Tried in September, 1840, for the murder of Sarah Boyd, his quasiwife, in the town of Lysander, Onondaga county, on the 18th of May, 1840.

Both were negroes. They lived in the same house with his father, 80 years of age, his brother Elihu, and a woman who lived with his brother as his wife. Zachariah was much attached to Sarah, and had taken some steps toward making arrangements for a legal marriage with her.

Jealousy was the motive to the murder — or a combination of jealousy and insanity. They had some trifling dispute, in which she refused to comply with some domestic order of her husband, when he raised a chair, and struck her across the arm, knocking her down. On recovering herself, she declared she would never live with him again. He thereupon went to some woods at a short distance, and made an attempt to hang himself — whether in earnest, or to frighten them, does not appear clear. He was stopped with the rope round his neck, and brought back to the house.

While he was away she expressed great dread of his returning, saying, that if he did, she should be a corpse before morning — that though he had not threatened her, she saw it in his eye. While he was out, before returning to the house, he was praying and singing hymns. He entreated a reconciliation with her, which she refused; — he was willing to go down on his knees to her. She consented to leave it to the rest to decide the next morning, if he would now behave himself.

On this arrangement the rest went to bed — he remained up, smoking a pipe. He had insisted on smoking her pipe, refusing any other. According to his confession of what followed, he after a time leaned his head on the bed, and she kicked him. He then got the knife with which he committed the act, and went to some distance from the house for the purpose of killing himself; but while whetting it, determined to go back to see her once more. She was sitting up in bed. He placed his left hand on her shoulder, and attempted to kiss her. He had no thought of injuring her — “she was young, handsome, and everything that was nice, and it had not occurred to his mind to damage her at all.”

She refused to receive him, and slapped him on the face. He then gave her a stab, which was in a few moments fatal, immediately cutting his own throat also. Though a severe wound, this did not prove fatal.

The family were immediately roused, and eventually he was cured of his wound. He expressed much grief and repentance. He was jealous of his brother Elihu, whom he believed to have criminal intercourse with her. Zachariah had wished her to remove with him to another house, but she had refused. He said, after the affair, that “if she would not lie any more with him, he would not let her with any other man” — “he thought she should never sleep with another man, and he never with another woman.”

He said, he expected to be hanged, but added: “I shall go to the gallows in as good a cause as ever a man went.” His previous general character was good. He was hung November 19th, 1840.

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

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1807: Henry Niles

Add comment November 4th, 2018 Headsman

From the Greenfield (Massachusetts) Gazette, November 30, 1807:

NEW LONDON, (Con.) Nov. 11.

On Wednesday last, Henry Niles, an Indian, was executed in this city, for the murder of his wife, pursuant to the sentence of the Supreme Court.

The day before his execution the prisoner attempted to anticipate his sentence, and with a piece of the blade of a knife opened a vein in his thigh, from which a large quantity of blood issued before his purpose was prevented.

On the day of execution, he was taken from prison by the Sheriff and his Deputies, (the Independent Company acting as guards) and carried to the Presbyterian meeting house, where a sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. [Abel] M’Ewen.

At the place of execution the prisoner made a short speech to the spectators, and was then launched into eternity.

It is 21 years since the execution of a criminal in this city, and the spectacle of the public death of a human being, though “a poor Indian,” drew together a large concourse of people; the number has, by many observers, been computed at 6, 8, and 10 thousand. The prisoner behaved with much calmness, and when passing from prison thro’ the crowd, his countenance bespoke the magnanimity of the American savage.

The death of his wife was occasioned by a quarrel produced by intoxication, the effects of which are known to be peculiarly mischievous among the aborigines of America.

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

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1790: Joseph Mountain, Atlantic picaro

Add comment October 20th, 2018 Headsman

The remarkable-if-true criminal autobiography of Joseph Mountain, executed on this date in 1790 in New Haven, Connecticut, is transcribed here from the Dec. 14 and 21, 1790 issues of Spooners Vermont Journal, which has repurposed them from the American Mercury.

From the AMERICAN MERCURY.

Sketches of the life of JOSEPH MOUNTAIN, a Negro, who was executed at Newhaven, on the 20th day of October, 1y790, for a Rape, committed on the 26th day of May last.

I, Joseph Mountain, was born on the 7th day of July, A.D. 1758, in the house of Samuel Mifflin, Esq., of Philadelphia, father of the present Governor of Pennsylvania. My father, Fling Mountain, is a Mulatto, and now lives at Philadelphia. My mother is a Negro and was a slave until she was twenty one years of age. She now lives at Reading in Pennsylvania.

The first seventeen years of my life were spent in Mr. Mifflin’s family. As a servant in the house I acquired the reputation of unusual uprightness and activity. My master was industrious to instruct me in the Presbyterian religion which he professed, teach me to read and write, and impress my mind with sentiments of virtue. How grossly these opportunities have been neglected, the following story will too fully evince.

In the 17th year of my age, on the 17th of March 1775, with my master’s consent, I entered on board the ship Chalkley, commanded by Joseph Spain, and owned by Messirs. James and Drinker of Philadelphia, and on the 20th of May following we arrived in the Downs. I soon quitted the vessel, and in four days was strolling the streets of London in quest of amusements. In this situation, the public will easily conceive, I could not long remain an idle spectator. It will not be surprising to find me speedily initiated in practices disgraceful to human nature, and destructive of every moral virtue. Unfortunately for me, a scene began to open which will close only in the shadow of death.

One day, at an alehouse in London, I accidentally became acquainted with one Francis Hyde, originally from Middlesex, and one Thomas Wilson, of Staffordshire in England. They were travelling the country, with a hand organ and various other musical instruments, pretending to great art in numerous performances, and really professing surprising knowledge in every species of juggling. This was their employment in the day time, for the purpose of executing more effectually the principal business of their lives, viz. highway robbery. [Here a footnote in the original text clarifies that “the reader will note, that when we use the term footpad we mean him who robs on foot only; highwayman intends one who robs on horseback.” -ed.] They soon found me susceptible of almost any impression, and neither incapable of, nor averse to, becoming a companion in their iniquity. We all set out from London about 8 o’clock in the evening after I had joined them, each armed with a hanger and a brace of pistols. We had also suitable dresses and a dark lanthorn. Our landlord, who kept tavern at the sign of the Black horse, in Charingcross, furnished us with every requisite for the expedition. His name was William Humphrys. The plan this evening was to attack the mail coach, which would start at 12 o’clock at night, from the ship tavern, between Woolwich and Gravesend, about 9 miles from London.

We were on the spot at the hour agreed upon, and dignified ourselves for the adventure. Hyde and Wilson were dressed in white frocks and boots, with their faces painted yellow to resemble Mulattoes. Mountain was dressed in the same manner, with the addition of a large tail wig, white gloves, and a black mask over his face. When the stage arrived, I started, and caught the leading horses by their bridles, while Hyde and Wilson each presented a brace of pistols in at the coach window, and demanded of the passengers their money. There were four gentlemen and one lady in the coach. They denied having any money. Wilson said, “Deliver, or death.” They then gave us a bank note of 50 l. one other of 20 l. and about 60 guineas in cash. We then retired to an unfrequented place, shifted [?] our dresses, and prepared to prosecute our journey to Chathaw in the County of Kent.

In the day time, Hyde and Wilson commonly played upon their instruments, and preformed [sic] various feats of slight of hand, as though that was their sole occupation. We were also very particular in making observations upon all travellers, to learn if they might be touched (For that was our word for robbed).

In four days after the former robbery, we met a Capt. Hill, at the foot of Rochester bridge near Chatham — He was a captain of the marines, and we had seen him in the day time at Brumpton Barracks, about half a mile from the bridge. We walked directly before his horse. Wison asked him the time of night. He made no reply. Hyde then caught the bridle; I, his left hand, and Wilson presented a pistol to his breast, and said, “Deliver, or death.” He assured us that he had no money worth taking. Wilson said, “then give us your watch,” which he did. The watch was gold, and valued at 50 guineas. We then walked off about 300 rods towards Gravesend, and immediately tacked for Rochester, where we lodged at the mariner’s inn. There was a great hue and cry for us; but the pursuers, supposing from Capt. Hill’s information, we had gone for Gravesend, entirely mistook our rout. The next morning we took postchaise for London, where we arrived about 6 o’clock in the evening. Our booty was delivered to a broker whom we constantly employed. He was a Jew, and lived in St. Katherine’s Row, near Tower-hill, and his name was William Moses. There were also other brokers in different parts of England, with whom we had constant communication, and who were perfectly acquainted with our modes of acquiring property. After such a jaunt we thought it adviseable to recruit ourselves by rioting on our spoils.

In a few days, it was concluded that I should go alone, and attempt to “touch” some gentlemen who frequented the play at Covent Garden: this, considering my age and inexperience, was thought rather a bold stroke. Being villain enough to attempt any thing, I did not hesitate; but posted myself agreeably to direction. My efforts were wholly unsuccessful and I returned empty. The next night I was placed at London bridge, while Hyde stood at Blackfriars, and Wilson at Westminster. At half-past 11 o’clock I met a Captain Duffield, and asked him the time of night. He told me. I said, “You know my profession; deliver or death.” He stepped back to strike me with his cane; I cocked my pistol, and told him to deliver instantly, or death should be his portion. He then threw me his purse, which contained about 10 guineas and a silver watch, which was valued by our broker at 6 l. Hide, the same night, obtained about 40 guineas of Sir John Griffing, Wilson about 30 of a Mr. Burke; and each a watch, one gold, the other pinchbeck. The next day we saw advertisements describing the robberies, and offering rewards for the perpetrators.

The next night, with little difficulty, I robbed Hugh Lindsly of 16 guineas, and a gold ring. Hyde, on the same evening, took from Lord John Cavendish about 20 guineas, and Wilson robbed William Burke of 11 guineas.

We now concluded to remain in London for a while, gentlemen of pleasure. the repeated robberies had furnished us with cash in abundance, and we indulged in every species of debauchery. We gambled very deeply at dice, cards and billiards. Hyde and Wilson were very expert at this business, and wou’d almost invariably swindle, a stranger out of his money.

In March 1776 we went to the city of York, about 200 miles from London. Here we continued several weeks, waiting some favorable opportunities to rob at the plays; but none presented. We went from York to Newmarket, to attend the famous races which took place about the first of June. There we found Lord Gore of Richmond, and Lord Tufton of Sheffield in Yorkshire: We were much perplexed to invent the most advantageous mode of “touching” them. It was at length concluded to attack them at their lodgings, which were at an inn very large and greatly frequented by various classes of people. About 7 o’clock in the evening, while the attendants of those gentlemen were in the kitchens and stables, we entered the front door, and having bribed the porter with a few guineas, were immediately let into the room. Lords Tore and Tufton were sitting over a table at a dish of coffee, and reading newspapers. We instantly presented our pistols and demanded their money. Lord Tufton delivered us one bank note of 100 l. and three others of 50 l. each. Lord Gore delivered us about 100 guineas and two gold mourning rings. We quitted Newmarket next morning, and went in the flags to York, where Wilson presented his bills for payment. Unfortunately for us, Lord Tufton immediately after the robbery dispatched his servant to the bank, with orders to stop those bills if offered. The bills were accordingly stopped, and Wilson arrested and sent to Newmarket to be examined before a justice of the peace. Upon his examination he pressed Hyde to swear that he was riding from Newmarket to York with Wilson, and that he saw him pick up a pocket book containing those bills. The coachman, having been previously bribed, swore to the same fact. Upon this testimony, Wilson was acquitted. I was not sent for as a witness at this examination, as I understood Lord Robert Manners was then in Newmarket, and would probably attend the trial. The reason why I did not wish to meet his Lordship’s eye was, that on the night before we left London, I made a most daring attack upon him. He was walking unarmed, near Hounslow Heath, attended by his footman. I met him, presented my pistol, and he gave me 75 guineas, two gold watches, and two gold rings. Hyde and Wilson were near at hand; but they did not discover themselves, leaving me “to play the hero alone.”

In the latter end of June we again met at the old rendezvous in London and divided our plunder. The property which I then had on hand enabled me to live very freely for some months. My time was spent in that round of dissipation which was the necessary attendant upon so vicious a character, and which was tolerably well supported by the stock of cash in my own possession, and that of my broker.

I now resolved to quit this course of life which I had hitherto pursued with so much success. Accordingly I entered on board the brig Sally [?], as cook, and made two voyages in her to Lisbon. Upon my return, after exhausting my pay, I made another voyage in the Fanny, Capt. Sinclair, to Kingston in Jamaica: Which being finished in nine months, I again visited London, and concluded to relinquish the seafaring business for the present. At the old place of resort I became acquainted with one Haynes and Jones, both of Yorkshire. They were partially initiated in the science of footpads. They soon proposed that I should resume my profession, and join them. My former mode of life, though singularly vicious, yet possessed many charms in my view. I therefore complied with their request; at the same time doubting, if they were possessed of sufficient courage and skill for companions to one who had served under experienced makers, and who considered himself at the head of the profession. Our first object was to assail the Newcastle stage, which would be in Tottenham Court road at 8 o’clock in the evening. We were on the spot in season, and Mountain addressed them thus: “My lads, it is a hazardous attempt — for God’s sake make a bold stroke.” Upon the arrival of the coach at half past 7 o’clock, four miles from London, I seized the bridles of the two foremost horses. Jones and Jaynes went to the coach door, and said, “Deliver, or death.” Lord Garnick and several others were passengers: His Lordship said, “Yes, yes, I’ll deliver,” and instantly discharged a pistol at Jones, the contents of which entered his left shoulder: Upon which he and Haynes made their escape. The coachmen was then directed to drive on. He replied, “There is a man who yet holds the leading horses.” Lord Garnick then fired at me, but without damage; upon which I discharged my pistol at the coach, but without effect. Jones was so badly wounded, that Hyanes and I were obliged to carry him into London upon our shoulders. We were soon overtaken by two highwaymen, who had assaulted Lord Garnick about 15 minutes before our engagement, one of whom was badly wounded. The next day we saw an advertisement offering a reward of 60 guineas for the detection of the robbers, and informing, that it was supposing three were killed. This specimen of the enterprize of my new associates convinced me, that they were not adepts in their occupation, and induced me to quit their society.

The business which now seemed most alluring to me, was that of highwayman. Considering myself at the head of footpads, I aspired for a more honorable employment, and therefore determined to join myself to the gang of highwaymen, whose rendezvous were at Broad St. Giles’s, up Holborne, at the sing of the Hampshire hog, and kept by a William Harrison, a native of the Isle of Man. Harrison was the support, the protector and the landlord of this whole company. The horses and accoutrements were kept and furnished by him, and occasionally supplied to adventurers. He inquired my name, and finding that I was Mountain, who was confederate with Hyde and Wilson, he readily admitted me to the fratnerity. He asked if I dared to take a jaunt alone; and finding me willing for any thing, he quickly furnished me with equipments proper for the expedition. Mounted on a very fleet horse, and prepared with proper changes of dress, I set out for Coventry, about 90 miles from London. I made great dispatch in travelling, and about 10 o’clock the night after my departure, I met Richard Watts coming out of a lane about two miles from Coventry. I rode up to him, and inquired if he was afraid of highwaymen. He replied, “No, I have no property of value about me.” I then told him that I was a man of the profession, and that he must deliver or abide the consequences. Upon this he gave me his gold watch: I insisted on his money, and cocked my pistol, threatening him with instant death. He perceived that resistance and persuasion were equally unavailable, and threw me his purse, containing 13 half guineas and some pocket pieces. The gold watch was valued at 40 guinea. I then ordered him back down the lane, accompanied him thither, and fled with the greatest haste into an adjacent wood: Here I shifted my own and horse’s dress, leaving them in a bye place, rode directly to a neighboring town, and there put up for the night: Thence I took my course for Newcastle in Devonshire, about 270 miles north of London, and thence to Warrington in Lancastershire. Here about 7 o’clock in the evening I met with a gentleman who drew his watch, and told me the hour. I observed, “You have a very fine watch.” He answered, “Fine enough.” “Sir, ’tis too fine for you — you know my profession — deliver.” He drew back, I caught his bridle, with one hand, presented a pistol with the other, and said, “Deliver, or I’ll cool your porridge:” He handed me his purse of 8 guineas, and a gold watch valued at 30 l. sterling. To complete the iniquity, and exhibit the extent of my villany [sic], I then took a prayerbook from my pocket, and ordered him to swear upon this solemnity of God’s word, that he would make no discovery in twelve hours: He took the oath: I quitted him, and heard nothing of the matter until the next morning about 10 o’clock, when I saw a particular detail of the transaction in the newspapers.

Liverpool was my next stage. Here I tarried two days making observations for evening adventures. On the night of the second day I robbed Thomas Reave of 6 guineas, and a gold watch worth 30 l. sterling. To insult him in his distress, after committing the act, I pulled off my hat, made a low bow, wished him good night, and set out for Lancaster in company with the stage. It occurred to me, that riding as a guard to the stage would secure me against suspicion. Accordingly, I accompanied it to Lancaster, and there put up at the “swan and two necks.” Here I continued three days, waiting a favorable opportunity to exercise my profession. On the third evening at eight o’clock, I stopped a Col. Pritchard, took from him a gold watch valued at 44 guineas, a purse of 30 guineas, 3 gold rings, and a pair of gold kneebuckles worth 6 l. The kneebuckles appeared so tempting, I told Pritchard, I could not avoid taking them. At 11 o’clock I left Lancaster, and having rode about one mile from town, I stopped, pulled off my hat, and bid them “good bye.”

My course was now for Manchester, where I put up for about 24 hours at the “bull’s head.” The evening following I touched a Quaker. It was nearly 9 o’clock when I met him. I inquired if he was not afraid to ride alone. He answered, No. I asked him his religion; he replied, “I am a Friend.” I observed, “You are the very man I was looking for — you must deliver your money.” He seemed very unwilling, and said, “Thou art very hard with me.” I replied, “You must not thou me.” He then gave me his plain gold watch, 6 guineas, and 4 bank notes of 20 l. each. I then presented a prayer book, and demanded an oath that he would make no discovery in 3 hours: He refused an oath, alledging that it was contrary to his religion, but gave his word that my request should be complied with. I then dismissed him, returning the bank notes and took a circuitous rout for London. The guineas which I had obtained in this jaunt, I concealed and carried in the soles of my boots, which were calculated for that purpose, and effectually answered it. The mare which I rode was trained for the business. She would put her head in at a coach window with the utmost ease, and stand like a stock against any thing. She would travel also with surprising speed. Upon my arrival at Harrison’s (having been gone eleven days) I gave a faithful narrative of my transactions, and produced the plunder as undeniable proof. I never shall forget with what joy I was received. The house rung with the praises of Mountain. An elegant supper was provided, and he placed at the head of the table. Notwithstanding the darkness of his complexion, he was complimented as the first of his profession, and qualified for the most daring enterprizes.

Fatigued with such a jaunt, and fearing lest too frequent adventures might expose me, I determined on tarrying a while at home. My horse was given to another, and he directed to seek for prey.

After one month’s absence he returned with only 16 guineas, and was treated accordingly by the gang. He was inadequate to the business, and was therefore ordered to tarry at home, just to visit the playhouses and sharp it among people who might easily be [choufed?] of their property. Each took his tour of duty in course; some succeeded; others, from misfortune or want of spirit, was [sic] disgraced. One young fellow of the party was about this time detected at Guilford in Surry, tried, condemned and executed. He made no discovery, though we all trembled. A plan was now in agitation to dispatch two or three of the gang to Portsmouth, to attack some of the navy officers: It was finally adopted, and one Billy Coats, a Londoner, and Mountain were selected as the most suitable for the expedition. We mounted our horses on the next morning, and reached Portsmouth that day, a distance of more than 70 miles. We took lodgings at an inn kept by a rich old miser. We were soon convinced that he had cash in plenty, and that it “was our duty to get it;” but the difficulty was what plan should be concerted. At length, by a stratagem which was deeply laid, and faithfully executed, we plundered the old man’s hosue of 300 guineas, and 50 l. sterling in shillings and sixpences. There was a very great clamor raised the next morning. The house was surrounded with the populace. The old fellow was raving at a great rate for the loss of his money. I was a spectator of this chagrin of the old man and his wife. We remained at Portsmouth two days, and then returned to London richly laden, and received the applause of our companions. The three following months I spent in frequently ale-houses, defrauding and cheating, with false dice, and practicing every species of imposition which ingenuity could invent, or the most depraved heart execute.

In the beginning of June 1780, I joined the mob headed by Lord George Gordon. This mob was the result of a dispute between the Papists and the Protestants. It was a matter of the most sovereign indifference to me, whether the rebellion was just or unjust: I eagerly joined the sport, rejoicing that an opportunity presented whereby I might obtain considerable plunder in the general confusion. Lord Gordon represented to us in a speech of some length, the open attempts upon the Protestant religion, and the manner in which the petitions of the injured had been treated by parliament. He exhorted us all to follow him to the house of commons, and protect him while he should present, with his own hand, the parchment roll, containing the names of those who had signed the petition, to the amount of about 120,000 protestants. His speech was answered with loud huzzas, and repeated assurances of our zeal to support him and his cause. The whole body of us, in number about 50,000, left St. George’s fields, and marched directly for the parliament house: We were in four separate divisions. A most tremendous shout was heard from all quarters, upon our arrival before both houses. Lord Gordon moved that he might introduce the petition; but the house would not consent that it should be then taken up. The mob became greatly inflamed; they insulted several members of the house of lords, who narrowly escaped with their lives. Several gentlemen of parliament reprobated the conduct of Lord George in the severest terms; and Col. Gordon, a relation of his Lordship, threatened him with instant death the moment any of the rioters should enter the house. At length, when the question was put in the house of commons, in defiance of the menaces of the mob, only six out of two hundred voted for the petition. The rioters now disposed themselves into various parts of the city, destroying and burning the chapels of the Roman Catholics and their houses. The five succeeding days were employed in demolishing the houses of Sir George Saville, in burning Newgate, and relieving about 300 persons confined in it, (some under sentence of death) in setting fire to King’s Bench and Fleetprisons, and in innumerable other acts of violence and outrage towards those who wer ein the opposition. The bank was twice assailed, but was two [sic] well guarded for our attempts. On the 7th day we were overpowered by superior force, and obliged to disperse. During this confusion, I provided for myself, by plundering, at various times, about 500 l. sterling.

(To be concluded in our next.)

(The narrative continues in the Dec. 21 issue)

After leading a live of such dissipation, for five or six years, an incident occurred which caused me, for some time, to abandon my former pursuit and settle down in tolerable regularity. I became acquainted with a Miss Nancy Allingame, a white girl of about 18 years of age. She was possessed of about 500 l. in personal property, and a house at Islington. It may appear singular to many, that a woman of this description should be in the least interested in my favor; yet such was the fact, and she not only endured my society, but actually married me in about six months after our first acquaintance. Her father and friends remonstrated against this connexion; but she quitted them all, and united herself to me. My whole residence with her was about three years, during which time I exhausted all the property which came into my possession by the marriage. We then separated, and she was received by her father.

In June 1782, having joined Hyde and Wilson, we determined to quit England and see if the French gentlemen could bear “touching.” We accordingly crossed at Dover, and at Dunkirk about 7 o’clock in the evening robbed a gentlemen of about 200 French crowns. We then proceeded to Paris by way of Brest. On the second evening after our arrival in this city, we robbed Count Dillon, on his return from the plays, of a gold watch and 12 French guineas. The next day, about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, we attacked Governor Du Boyer, at his country seat, about four miles from Paris, and took from him about 200 l. in bank bills. Hyde and Wilson performed this, while I lay about 250 yards distant.

Dispatch in travelling, after such bold adventures, became very necessary. We immediately quitted Paris, and rode all night for Havre de Grace, where we arrived the evening of the next day. Here we found an advertisement, which prevented our changing the notes and induced us to burn them.

Bayonne was the next object of our pursuit. At this place Hyde robbed two gentlemen in one night, Willson one, and Mountain one — the whole of that evening’s plunder amounted to about 500 l. sterling. France now became dangerous, and therefore we pushed with all possible expedition for Spain, and arrived at Madrid, the capital, in a few days. The regulations of this city were such, that we were obliged to quit the object of our pursuit. The city was strongly walled in, and most scrupulously guarded. The gates were shut every evening at 8 o’clock, and every man compelled to be in his own habitation. After spending several months in rioting on our booty, we went to Gibraltar. We bribed the Spanish centinel, and entered the British lines. We appeared before the English commander, General Elliot, and informed him we were Englishmen, and mechanicks by profession. The fleet commanded by Lord How, arrived there on the fourth day after us. General Elliot consented that we should enter on board the fleet as seamen. Accordingly I joined myself to the Magnificent of 74 guns, commanded by Capt. John Elverston; Hyde entered the Victory, Lord Hose; and Wilson a 74 gun ship, whose name I do not recollect. This was in the fall of 1782. I never saw Hyde and Wilson again until since the peace took place between England and the United States. I tarried on board the Magnificent about three months, during which time we had an engagement with the French and Spanish fleets. We drove them out of the Straits, sunk their junk ships with hot shot, and captured the St. Michael, a Spanish ship of 74 guns. The Magnificent sailed with the fleet for Spithead, where, directly after my arrival, I made my escape from her by bribing the centinel with 5 guineas, and swimming three quarters of a mile to the Isle of Wight. From this place I went to London by way of Plymouth. The landlord at the old place of resort received me very cordially.

The business of robbing again solicited my attention, and in the fall of the year 1783, as I was walking in Wapping in quest of plunder, I accidentally fell in company with my old companions, Hyde and Wilson. They had remained in the sea service ever since we left Gibralttar. We concluded it adviseable to join ourselves to the gang at Harrison’s, and resume our occupation. Holland now appeared an object worth attention. In November 1783, we went to Ostend, and thence to Amsterdam. On the road through Holland, we knocked an old Dutchman down, and took from him 1100 guilders. The next day about 4 [o’]clock in the morning, Hyde attacked a merchant, and obtained about 100 guilders; and the evening following, we robbed four gentlemen of about 150 l. sterling, and three silver watches of small value. We continued living very freely at Amsterdam 4 weeks, without effecting any thing: During which period we were preparing to assail a bank. At length, by the help of various instruments, we entered it about 1 o’clock at night. We found an iron chest which we could not open. We brought a way two bags of gold, containing about 1100 l. sterling. We buried them about 2 miles distant, and suffered them to remain there two months. The noise, relative to the robbery having by this time subsided, we took our money, entered on board a vessel bound for England, and were safely back in London in the spring of the year 1784. To invest our cash, &c. in real property and quit a course of life attended with so much fatigue and hazard, was thought the most eligible plan. In pursuance of this idea, Hyde bought him an house and lot about four miles from London. My share was joined with Hyde’s. Wilson purchased him a situation at Cherry gardenstairs. Each kept an house for the reception of gamblers, swindlers and footpads.

The rioters who were concerned in Lord Gordon’s rebellion were now daily arrested, tried and executed. Knowing myself deeply concerned in this mob, and supposing it probable that Mountain’s turn might come next, I quitted London, went on board an European vessel, and made a voyage to Grenada. From this period until August 1789, I was employed as a sailor, during which time I made two voyages to the coast of Guinea, and brought cargoes of negroes to Jamaica; one voyage to Greenland; one to Leghorn and Venice; three to Philadelphia, and one to St. Kitts. Upon my return from voyages, I frequently went from Liverpool to London, and put up at Hyde’s or Wilson’s. In October 1786, we committed a burglary upon the house of General Arnold, who then resided in London. We entered his house about 2 o’clock at night, with a dark lantern, and, from a bureau in the room where the General and Lady were asleep, we stole about 150 l. sterling, in cash, and a pair of stone shoe buckles.

In the month of August 1789, I left Newyork in the Briton, with a cargo of bread and flour owned by Mr. John Murray, jun. of New york, and went to Bilboa in Spain. The vessel proved leaky, and was sold. Being discharged, I entered on board the brig Aunt, commanded by Captain Thomas Mosely, and owned by William Gray, of Boston, sailed from Bilboa the 7th day of March, and arrived in Boston the 2d of May last. On the 14th of the same month I quitted Boston on foot for Newyork. On my journey, at Easthartford, I stole five dollars from the cabin of a sloop lying in Connecticut river. I was immediately apprehended, carried before George Pitkin, Esq. and adjudged to be whipped ten stripes. The sentence was executed forthwith, and I dismissed. This was the first time I was ever arraigned before any court. No event in my antecedent life produced such mortification as this; that a highwayman of the first eminence, who had robbed in most of the cities in Europe, who had attacked gentlemen of the first distinction with success; who had escaped King’s bench prison and Old Bailey, that he should be punished for such a petty offence, in such an obscure part of the country, was truly humiliating. On the Saturday evening following, I arrived at Newhaven. The Wednesday following, being the 26th of May, about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, I set out for Newyork: At the distance of one mile, I met the unhappy girl whom I have so wantonly injured. She was in company with an older [friend?], going into Newhaven. I began a conversation with them, and attempted, by persuasion, to effect my purpose. They were terrified at my conduct, and endeavored to avoid me. Upon this I seized the eldest girl; she, however, struggled from me. I then caught the younger, and threw her on the ground. I have uniformly thought that the witnesses were mistaken in swearing to the commission of a Rape: That I abused her in a most brutal and savage manner; that her tender years and pitiable shrieks were unavailable; and that no exertion was wanting to ruin her, I frankly confess. However I may attempt to palliate this transaction, there can be no excuse given for me, unless intoxication may be pleaded in mitigation of an offence. It was a most cruel attack upon an innocent girl, whose years, whose intreaties must have softened an heart not callous to every tender feeling. When her cries had brought to her assistance some neighboring people, I continued my barbarity, by insulting her in her distress, boasting of the fact, and glorying in my iniquity. Upon reflection, I am often surprised that I did not attempt my escape; opportunity to effect it frequently presented before I was apprehended. Yet, by some unaccountable fatality, I loitered unconcerned, as though my conduct would bear the strictest scrutiny. The counsel of heaven determined that such a prodigy in vice should no longer infest society. At four o’clock I was brought before Mr. Justice Daggert for examination. The testimony was so pointed, that I was ordered into immediate confinement, to await the approaching session of the Superiour Court.

On the 5th of August last, I was arraigned before the Bar of the Superiour Court. My trial was far more favorable than I expected. There was every indulgence granted me which I could have wished; and the court, jurors and spectators appeared very differently from those I have seen at Old Bailey. The jury had little hesitation; indeed the most compassionate hearer of this cause could have only pronounced me Guilty. I beheld with astonishment the lenity of the court, and am sure, that in a country where such a sacred regard is had to the liberty of the subject, no man’s life can be unjustly taken from him. On the Tuesday following, the Chief Justice pronounced Sentence of Death against me. I thought myself less moved with this pathetic address than either of the court, or any spectator, and yet, I confess, I was more affected by it, than by any thing which had previously happened in my life. On the next sabbath I attended meeting. The address of the Rev. Dr. Dana on that day, and the subsequent advice and admonitions which I have received from the Clergy of this and other places, were calculated to awaken every feeling of my heart. Much gratitude is due to those gentlemen who have exhibited such a tender concern for my immortal interest.

It now remains that I die a death justly merited by my crimes, “The crimes of injured innocence have entered the ears of the Lord of Sabbath, and called for vengeance.” If the reader of this story can acquiesce in my fate, and view me “stumbling on the dark mountain of the shadow of death,” with composure, he will yet compassionate a soul stained with the [strongest?] crimes, just about to appear unembodied before a God of infinite purity.

JOSEPH MOUNTAIN.

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1976: Michiah Shobek

Add comment October 19th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1976, American killer Michiah Shobek was hanged in the Bahamas.

Born James Michael Shoffner, Shobek was a Milwaukee handyman who murdered* three other Americans abroad in Nassau during a two-month period — people Shobek called “angels of Lucifer.”

* Two by stabbing, one by strangulation.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bahamas,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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1967: The Asaba Massacre

Add comment October 7th, 2018 Headsman

The Asaba Massacre during Nigeria’s Biafran War culminated on this date in 1967 with a horrific mass execution.

Nigeria had attained independence in 1960 but still carried the legacy of its many decades under British control. Notably, the borders bequeathed to Nigeria amalgamate a coastal, Christian population in the south to an inland, Muslim population in the north — a fissure that continues to shape Nigeria down to the present day.

The ethnicity of interest for this post is the Igbo, one of those southern and Christian populations, and also a people who had been ethnically cleansed from the north in 1966 after an exchange of Christian and Mulim coups brought Nigeria to the brink of disintegration. Their homeland in southeast Nigeria — historically known as Igboland, and called Eastern Region within Nigeria — would become from May 30, 1967 the breakaway state of Biafra.

Biafra’s bid for independence triggered a devastating war with the Nigerian federal government. By the time that it ended in early 1970, perhaps as many as two million Biafrans were dead from mass starvation.

Asaba, where our massacre takes place, is a predominantly Igbo city on the western (non-Biafran) shore of the Niger River, opposite the Biafran eastern shore city Onitsha.

In the war’s opening weeks, Biafran forces actually struck out from their homeland and into Nigeria proper, crossing the Niger River. They would re-cross it in the opposite direction days before this massacre, taking bridges from Asaba to Onitsha and then cutting those bridges to frustrate the federal troops pursuing them.

Federal soldiers reaching Asaba in the first days of October took out that frustration on the city’s Igbo population, whom they robbed and abused as rebel sympathizers. Murders/summary executions for several days together comprise the Asaba Massacre of Massacres … but the single most emblematic and traumatic event took place on Saturday the 7th.

On October 4-6, soldiers occupied the town, and some began killing boys and men, accusing them of being Biafran sympathizers. On October 7, Asaba leaders met, and then summoned everyone to gather, dancing and singing to welcome the troops, and offering a pledge to One Nigeria. People were encouraged to wear akwa ocha, the ceremonial white, embroidered clothing that signifies peace, hoping that this strategy would end the violence. Although there was much trepidation, and some refused to participate, hundreds of men, women, and children assembled for the march, walking to the village square of Ogbeosewa, one of the five quarters of Asaba. Ify Uraih, then 13 years old, describes what happened when he joined the parade with his father and three older brothers, Paul, Emmanuel (Emma), and Gabriel:

There, they separated the men from the women … I looked around and saw machine-guns being mounted all around us … Some people broke loose and tried to run away. My brother was holding me by the hand; he released me and pushed me further into the crowd … They shot my brother in the back, he fell down, and I saw blood coming out of his body. And then the rest of us … just fell down on top of each other. And they continued shooting, and shooting, and shooting … I lost count of time, I don’t know how long it took … After some time there was silence. I stood up … my body was covered in blood, but I knew that I was safe. My father was lying not far away; his eyes were open but he was dead.

Exactly how many died is not clear; between 500 and 800 seems likely, in addition to many who died in the previous days. Most victims were buried in several mass graves, without observing requisite ceremonial practices. Along with his father, Uraih lost Emma and Paul; Gabriel was shot repeatedly, but recovered. The long-term impacts were profound; many extended families lost multiple breadwinners, and the town’s leadership was decimated. ()Source)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Executions Survived,History,Innocent Bystanders,Mass Executions,Nigeria,No Formal Charge,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1956: Melvin Jackson, by calculus

Add comment September 28th, 2018 Headsman

This day’s post arrives to us via George Wallace: American Populist, and it concerns not the pugilistic Wallace but a previous Alabama governor, Big Jim Folsom.

Folsom, as we see here, was a man who had to choose his exercises of executive mercy very carefully due to the fraught racial politics of his state.

“I admit that we have got the worst penal system in the world, including Dark Africa,” Folsom said two years later* in the course of commuting the death sentence of a man whose crime was stealing $1.95.

What made Folsom most vulnerable to abandonment by even those deeply committed to his social programs was his demonstrative concern about the plight of Alabama’s blacks. He freely pardoned and paroled black convicts, believing they had been wrongly jailed or punished excessively because of their race. He harbored deep misgivings about the death penalty, especially in Alabama because use of the electric chair seemed reserved almost exclusively for blacks. In 1956, at a time of growing racial tension in the state, two black men were scheduled to die in Kilby Prison’s electric chair on the same night, one for murdering his wife and the other for raping a white woman. Folsom commuted the murderer’s sentence to life in prison, but he allowed the young rapist (who had been nineteen at the time of the crime) to die and said that he “just couldn’t” commute the sentence of a black man convicted of raping a white woman. “I’d never get anything done for the rest of my term if I did that,” he said. “Hell, things are getting so bad, they’re even trying to take Black & White Scotch off the shelves.” (It was true. The government of Alabama, which controlled the sale of liquor in the state, seriously considered barring that brand of Scotch whisky because of the name and because its label showed two Scottish terriers — one white and one black — joyfully playing together.)


The miscegenating spirit urges you to get in the holiday spirit.

* Folsom said that in 1958, the same year he let Jeremiah Reeves go to the electric chair.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Political Expedience,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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