Posts filed under 'Doctors'

1752: William Jillet, Daniel Johnson, and David Smith

Add comment October 16th, 2018 Headsman

From the New-York Mercury, Nov. 27, 1752:

Newbern, in North-Carolina, August 28.

About a Fortnight ago, was committed to Goal in this Town, four Men, viz. Patrick Moore, a Taylor by Trade, Daniel Johnson, alias Dixon, a Chymist or Doctor, William Jillet, a Blacksmith, and Peter Matthews, for making bad Money: They were taken by the Sheriff of this County at Peter Matthews’s House, about 30 Miles from this Town, near to which, in a great Swamp, they had erected a Forge, and prepared Moulds and other Materials for making Doubloons, Pistoles, Pieces of Eight and half Pistereens: There were some of the Doubloons a Pistole, Pieces of Eight, and half Pistereens found upon them, but so badly done as not to be easily imposed upon any Body; which may be owing to the timely Discovery of the Plot, which prevented their finishing them in the Manner they intended; for the Similitude as to Size, is very exact, only they are much wanting in Colour, which perhaps was to have been the finishing Stroke.

Patrick Moore, who upon his Examination, seems to give the clearest Evidence, says, That he lived in Virginia, and work’d at this Trade, at the House of one Richard Booker, in Glocester [sic] County, where the said Daniel Johnson, alias Dillon, and William Jillet, resorted; that the said Booker gave him the said Moore, a small Boat, with Provisions sufficient, to bring the said Johnson, alias Dixon, and William Jillet, with their Bellows, Hammer, Moulds, and other Materials for making Money, into this Province; which he accordingly did about two Months since, and landed them up Neuse River, from whence they travelled to the House of the said Peter Matthews, as above, set up their Forge, and were proceeding to the good Work; and would, in all Probability, have plyed us plentifully with Doubloons, Pistoles, and Pieces of Eight, had not the Plot been timely discovered.

From the Pennsylvania Gazette, Nov. 23, 1752:

Newbern, in North-Carolina, October 6.

On Tuesday last ended the General Court here, when three Persons were capitally convicted, and received Sentence of Death, viz. William Jillet, and Daniel Johnston, alias Dixon, for Coining; and David Smith, alias Griffith, for Felony, in Robbing a Store in Johnson County, about four Years ago.

Patrick Moore, who was concerned with the Coiners, turn’d Evidence against them; and Peter Matthews, at whose House they were taken, and who was thought to have been concern’d with them, was acquitted.

October 20. On Monday last was executed at the Gallows near this Town, pursuant to their Sentence, Daniel Johnston, alias Dixon, William Jillet, and David Smith, alias Griffith. They were attended to the Gallows by the Rev. Mr. Lopierre, who also attended them while in Goal. They all appeared very penitent, and expressed much Sorrow and Contrition for their Crimes, which they confessed; and Jillet and Johnston declared Patrick Moore to have been the sole Contriver and Promoter of the wretched Scheme, for which they suffered, and which would have been so destructive to the Community had it succeeded. Johnston died a stanch Roman Catholick, and was very earnest and pathetick in his Prayers for the Friends and Followers of Lord Lovat, Kilmarnock, Balmerino, and all the Rebels that suffer’d in the late Rebellion, and heartily pray’d for a Continuance of that noble Spirit which he hop’d was yet alive in Scotland among the Well-wishers of the Pretender.

They made several Attempts, while in Goal, to escape, but were prevented by the Sheriff, who kept a Watch round the Prison every Night; and indeed it has been intirely owing to his great Vigilance and Industry, that these Pests of Society were first apprehended, and preserv’d safe in a Goal (which has hitherto been remarkable for letting Prisoners escape) till they received the Reward due to their Crimes.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,Doctors,England,Execution,Hanged,History,North Carolina,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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1758: Not Florence Hensey, Seven Years’ War spy

1 comment July 12th, 2018 Headsman

The French spy Florence Hensey was due to die at Tyburn on this date in 1758. As it happened, the only violence done there was to the spectators.

A well-traveled Irish Catholic, Hensey had a prosperous London medical practice when he made an offer to a former colleague in France to share intelligence on war preparations at the outset of the England-vs.-France Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).

Upon being accepted into the ranks of salaried moles, Hensey set his industry to forming acquaintances at establishments where parliamentarians and their clerks met and gossiped, transmitting the resulting nuggets to France by way of Germany in lemon juice ink concealed within letters bearing nothing but everyday pleasantries. Eventually clerks suspicious at the volume of such superficially trivial exchanges being imposed upon the international post got nosy and found out the real story.

Hensey’s treachery was obvious, ongoing, and in the midst of wartime. He should have died for it, but on that very morning he was spared that miserable fate. The Newgate calendar professes “much surprise at the extension of royal mercy” considering numerous other precedents to the contrary.

De la Motte, the particulars of whose case we shall hereafter give, was “hanged, drawn, and quartered,” for the same kind of offence which Hensey committed; and in still more recent times, numbers have suffered death for similar treason; and yet we have to observe, without finding any especial reason for it, that Doctor Hensey was pardoned. If granted from political motives, it must have been in fear of Spain; an unworthy impulse of the ministers of a far greater and more powerful nation.

Indeed, the Spanish connection appears to be the best explanation for Hensey’s unexpected reprieve: he had a brother in the retinue of a Spanish ambassador who was able to exercise his empire’s diplomatic channels in the doctor’s service. (Spain was on the sidelines at this moment, and Britain keen to keep her there; the Spanish finally joined the war on France’s side very late in the game, in 1762.)

This gambit, however, came as quite a nasty surprise to the ample and bloodthirsty crowd that had turned up at Tyburn.

The awful procession to Tyburn, intended to impress the multitude with sentiments of reverence for the laws of their country, produced a very contrary effect; and the eager and detestable curiosity of the populace, to witness executions, became a source of considerable emolument to certain miscreants, who were in the habit of erecting scaffolds for spectators; many of these scaffolds were substantial wooden buildings, and erected at every point from whence a glimpse of the execution could be obtained; the prices for seats varied according to the turpitude or quality of the criminal: — Dr. Hensey was to have been executed for High Treason in 1758, the prices of seats for that exhibition amounted to 2s. and 2s. 6d.; but, in the midst of general expectation, the Doctor was most provokingly reprieved.

As the mob descended from their stations with unwilling steps, it occurred to them, that, as they had been deprived of the intended entertainment, the proprietors of the seats ought to return the admission-money; which they demanded in terms vociferous, and with blows offensive, and in short, exercised their happy talent for rioting with unbounded success. On this occasion a vast number of these erections were destroyed.

Hensey spent a couple more years in Newgate, then was released into obscurity; presumably he left the realm to his brother’s custody.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Doctors,Drawn and Quartered,England,Espionage,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Last Minute Reprieve,Lucky to be Alive,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Spies,Wartime Executions

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1866: Dr. John Hughes, Cleveland bigamist

Add comment February 9th, 2018 Headsman

From America’s State Trials, vol. II, whose “Narrative” excerpted here continues in the form of trial transcripts explicating the particulars of this sad and banal stalker-murder situation. (As a juridical matter, Hughes’s fate hinged on finely measuring his degree of premeditation and intent — and drunkenness — at the moment that he shot his 17-year-old other wife; however, once the decision was in, even Hughes called “the verdict of the jury, just; the sentence of the law, inevitable … I know that I deserve death.”)

THE TRIAL OF DR. JOHN W. HUGHES FOR THE MURDER OF TAMZEN PARSONS, CLEVELAND, OHIO, 1865

THE NARRATIVE.

Dr. Hughes To His Friends
(one of several poems Hughes wrote as he awaited hanging -ed.)

Of trifles the world is composed,
Like minutes that grow into years;
So friendship, in pity reposed,
Allays our most troublesome fears.

Away from all comforts at home,
From all the desires of my heart,
Not building on pleasures to come,
With feelings of hope I must part.

A moment of phrenzy, unthought,
A second of madness defined —
What change in the creature is wrought.
The soul in such horror entwined!

To review the dear scenes of the past,
Is but a renewal of strife
To a mind so constant o’ercast
In weighing the issues of life.

Grateful thanks is all I can give
For mercies which others deny.
Oh! that I were destined to live
To recompense you bye and bye.

Your efforts are sadly in vain;
The plea was a day or two late.
Remonstrance its malice to rain
Had hopelessly finished my fate.

Yet your prayers shall be to my death
Like the hidden treasure of leaven,
My spirit to raise by their breath
To waft it to Jesus in heaven.

I pray, and I never forget
To ask of my best friend above,
For blessings on those in whose debt
I am bound by their pitying love.

On the ninth of August, 1865, John W. Hughes, physician and surgeon, of Cleveland, Ohio, committed a murder in the small neighboring village of Bedford, which, from the nature of the case, the character of the parties to the tragedy, and the antecedents of the deed, forced him upon the attention of the people of Cleveland and of the whole of the State of Ohio. The public was shocked on the following morning by the publication in the newspapers that Miss Tamzen Parsons, a young lady of seventeen years of age, had been shot down in the streets of Bedford by this man, who had been her lover, and who, under cover of a forged decree of divorce from his wife, had married her in Pittsburgh, in December, 1864, and suffered in the Pennsylvania penitentiary, the penalty attaching to the crime of bigamy.

Dr. Hughes was born in the Isle of Man, educated at a Scotch University, and emigrated with his wife to the United States in 1862. After practicing his profession of a physician for a few months in Chicago and Cleveland, he enlisted in an Ohio regiment as a private, but was very soon promoted to the position of Assistant Surgeon of the 48th United States Infantry. After serving for about a year he resigned on account of the illness of a son in November, 1864. He now began the practice of medicine in Cleveland, but making the acquaintance of Tamzen Parsons, he induced her to go with him to Pittsburgh, after showing her a paper which he persuaded her was a decree of divorce from his wife. For this he was convicted and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in a Pennsylvania penitentiary, but was pardoned after serving five months. Returning to Cleveland, he resumed the practice of medicine and after having sent his wife and child back to the Isle of Man on a visit, he endeavored to win again the affections of Tamzen, who refused to have anything more to do with him. One night in July after drinking deeply, he went to the house of her father in the village of Bedford at night and, by his noise, aroused the old gentlemen, who tried to eject him. Hughes refused to leave the house, and objected with sufficient force to give ground for a charge of assault and battery, which was brought on the following day, Tamzen herself appearing and making the affidavit against him, an act which enraged him. Personal differences, however, were at length adjusted and legal proceedings stayed, the Doctor solemnly promising that he would thenceforth have nothing to do with the Parsons family.

But, alas! a drunken revel with a companion, Oscar Russell, on the night of the eighth of August, ended in their driving to Bedford and drinking at all the road houses on the way. Hughes, Russell and their driver, Carr, issued from a hotel in Bedford, and drove to the house of Mr. Parsons. Dr. Hughes entered the house and learned that Tamzen and her mother had gone blackberrying. They drove on, but soon met the women, and the Doctor sought a private conference with Tamzen. A neighbor, however, came along in a wagon and took her home, while the men drove to the grocery, where they held a drunken revel for two hours. Hughes learning that all the Parsons family had gone to Bedford for safety and to arrest him, started to the village and, seeing Tamzen coming out of the house, he ran after her, calling on her to stop. She flew up the walk, saying, “No, I will not stop,” and rushed through the gate, endeavoring to reach the front door. But before that asylum was reached, the pursuer laid hands on her, and shouting, “You won’t stop, will you?” fired his revolver. The ball glanced off her head, she screamed, but the piteous cry was instantly hushed by a second and fatal discharge of the deadly weapon.

The noise attracted a number of persons, who pursued Hughes, who jumped into the carriage with Russell and Carr, and, menacing the crowd with his revolver, succeeded in getting a good start of his pursuers. But he was captured in a few hours and landed in jail.

Indicted by the Grand Jury for murder, after a trial lasting eighteen days, he was convicted, though his counsel tried very hard to prove that he was insane at the time he committed the act. On February 9th, 1866, he was hanged in the yard of the Cleveland jail.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Ohio,Sex,USA

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1892: Thomas Neill Cream, “I am Jack the …”

Add comment November 15th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1892, globetrotting murderer Thomas Neill Cream hanged.

Act I

Glasgow-born, Cream grew up in Canada and did his parents proud by becoming a doctor with a big black moustache.

He manifested an early knack for being in the vicinity of patients who died unexpectedly: Cream’s wife Flora died of consumption in 1877 while on a medicine regimen he had prescribed her (granted, Cream himself was away in London at this time), and a patient and possible mistress turned up dead outside the good doctor’s offices overdosed on chloroform. As suspicion burgeoned, Cream legged it for the United States.

Cream set up as a red light district abortionist in Chicago, and it didn’t take long for his special gift to manifest again. He beat one murder charge when a patient’s rotting corpse was found stashed in his midwife’s apartment; but, in 1881, epilepsy pills he provided another mistress for her husband turned out to be spiked with strychnine in a botched attempt to stitch up the druggist for blackmail. Daniel Stott ended up dead; Thomas Cream, in Joliet — 31 years old with a life sentence.

So ended the homicidal career of Thomas Cream … until 1891, when Gov. Joseph Fifer yielded to the entreaties and bribes of Thomas’s brother and commuted the sentence.

Act II

Cream sailed for England that October and a fresh start … in the same line of work. He’d be back in custody by the following June, with at least four more murders under his belt, sloppy and incontinent now like the late-career Ted Bundy.

Cream took lodgings in Lambeth and dove right into London’s seedy underbelly. Barely two weeks after his arrival, a 19-year-old prostitute he’d plied with drinks was dead of strychnine and Cream was using his old ploy of blackmailing a random bourgeois for her murder. A few days later, he did the same thing with yet another streetwalker and another extortion target.

The nigh-industrial rapidity of these maneuvers speaks to Cream’s self-destructive impulsiveness; one can picture such a high-risk caper working (maybe Cream had even made it work sometimes back in Chicago) but only if the murder was executed with great care and the shakedown target very deliberately selected and framed. The “Lambeth Poisoner” (as the press came to call the writer of these anonymous blackmail letters) had done neither; his hamfisted money grabs only drew the attention of Scotland Yard.

Cream so ached for exposure that he gave a visiting New Yorker whom he met an impromptu tour of the sites associated with the Lambeth Poisoner — whose number had by then been augmented with yet two additional prostitutes, again offed with strychnine. Creeped out at the fellow’s suspicious expertise, the Yank tipped off the police; pieces fell into place quickly from that point.

His whole career, including that bit on the far side of the Atlantic, was exposed now and Cream (who here referred to himself as “Dr. Thomas Neill”, as reflected by the carton above) was convicted in a short trial in October 1892 — just a few weeks before the court’s sure sentence was imposed.

Act III?

Cream murdered a minimum of five people. Beyond those five, he’s worth a cocked eyebrow or more in the death of his wife and several women under his care in his medical (mostly abortionist) guise.

Chris Scott’s historical novel Jack imagines Cream as the Whitechapel killer.

But hangman James Billington put Cream into a whole different coffee when he claimed that the Lambeth Poisoner had gone through the trap uttering the aborted sentence “I am Jack the–” … meaning, Billington means you to understand, Jack the Ripper. As a result, Dr. Cream has a ledger in every Ripperology suspects table but there are at least a couple of major problems with the hypothesis:

  1. Nobody else present for the execution reported hearing any such suggestion from the condemned man; and
  2. The Ripper was an elusive criminal with a whole different m.o.; and
  3. Cream was still serving his Illinois prison term when the Ripper murders toook place back in 1888.

You might think that being clad in irons on a different continent makes for an ironclad alibi, but bars are no bar to a criminal as nimble as Jack. The Cream dossier makes the incredible claim that Cream chanced to have a lookalike double in the criminal underworld, and that the two routinely passed as one another — so Cream could have been serving his sentence while his double committed the Whitechapel murders, or vice versa.

If this twist strikes the reader as a little bit too Scooby Doo for reality, well, the man’s verifiable body count more than qualified the doctor for his place in the criminal annals … and his place on the gallows.

A few books about Thomas Neill Cream

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Doctors,England,Execution,Famous Last Words,Hanged,Illinois,Murder,Pelf,Serial Killers,USA

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324 B.C.E.: Glaucias, negligent physician

1 comment September 30th, 2017 Headsman

On an unknown date in the autumn of 324 BCE, the sudden death at Ecbatana of Alexander the Great‘s closest companion led the grief-stricken conqueror to execute a physician for negligence.

Hephaestion was the Macedonian prince’s intimate friend and presumed lover from childhood, described by their mutual tutor Aristotle as “one soul abiding in two bodies.”* They even looked alike.

If Alexander was Achilles then Hephaestion was his inseparable Patroclus — a parallel that seems to have been on the minds of the Macedonians themselves while, as king and general, their host tore through the near and not-so-near East. As a loyal and energetic commander, Hephaestion was entrusted over and over again by Alexander with critical military positions; as confidante, Hephaestion gave Alexander counsel on the dangerous political decisions demanded by his civilization-straddling empire.

By the end, Hephaestion was not only Alexander’s clear number two but his brother-in-law — both men having taken brides from the conquered Persian royal family in the summer of 324, perhaps with a romantic eye toward the future dynastic union of their own descendants.

Such was never to be for Alexander, and not for Hephaestion either. Like Patroclus, he predeceased his companion but the spear of Hector in this case seems merely to have been a disease like typhus and the young warrior’s indiscipline at following a doctor’s strictures. Perhaps there lurked behind a draught more purposeful and sinister than overgorging on wine — who can tell at this distance? — but Hephaestion shockingly went from the acme of health to his sickbed to sudden death in a matter of days. A distraught Alexander wanted honors and grief but he also wanted someone to blame.

As to the physician’s execution, we are unsure of the fact as well as the date, but it seems like the sort of larger-than-life gesture of sorrow that an Alexander ought to make. We’re thinly sourced 2400 years into the past; Plutarch, writing some 400 years later, has one version of a story that had clearly become common coinage in the ancient world:

[I]t chanced that Hephaestion had a fever; and since, young man and soldier that he was, he could not submit to a strict regimen, as soon as Glaucus, his physician, had gone off to the theatre, he sat down to breakfast, ate a boiled fowl, drank a huge cooler of wine, fell sick, and in a little while died. Alexander’s grief at this loss knew no bounds. He immediately ordered that the manes and tails of all horses and mules should be shorn in token of mourning, and took away the battlements of the cities round about; he also crucified the wretched physician, and put a stop to the sound of flutes and every kind of music in the camp for a long time, until an oracular response from Ammon came bidding him honour Hephaestion as a hero and sacrifice to him.


Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus, by Gavin Hamilton (c. 1760)

The Greek historian Arrian makes a similar (albeit more circumspect) claim to that of his Roman near-contemporary.

In Ecbatana Alexander offered sacrifice according to his custom, for his good fortune; and he celebrated a gymnastic and musical contest. He also held drinking parties with his Companions.

At this time Hephaestion fell sick; and they say that the stadium was full of people on the seventh day of his fever, for on that day there was a gymnastic contest for boys. When Alexander was informed that Hephaestion was in a critical state, he went to him without delay, but found him no longer alive.

Different authors have given different accounts of Alexander’s grief on this occasion; but they all agree in this, that his grief was great. As to what was done in honour of Hephaestion, they make diverse statements, just as each writer was actuated by good-will or envy towards him, or even towards Alexander himself. Of the authors who have made these reckless statements, some seem to me to have thought that whatever Alexander said or did to show his excessive grief for the man who was the dearest to him in the world, redounds to his honour; whereas others seem to have thought that it rather tended to his disgrace, as being conduct unbecoming to any king and especially to Alexander. Some say that he threw himself on his companion’s body and lay there for the greater part of that day, bewailing him and refusing to depart from him, until he was forcibly carried away by his Companions. Others that he lay upon the body the whole day and night. Others again say that he hanged the physician Glaucias, for having indiscreetly given the medicine; while others affirm that he, being a spectator of the games, neglected Hephaestion, who was filled with wine.

Whatever we make of the Glaucias subplot, it’s a certainty that mighty Alexander then proceeded upon a protracted performance of conspicuous languishing that was aborted only by his own death about eight months later: two men who had stood hand in hand upon the summit of the world, stricken dead in such rapid and inexplicable succession that their bereavements ran upon one another.** As Arrian notes, the Macedon Achilles determined in honor of his Patroclus “to celebrate a gymnastic and musical contest, much more magnificent than any of the preceding, both in the multitude of competitors and in the amount of money expended upon it” — and that many of its reputed 3,000 participants “a short time after also competed in the games held at Alexander’s own funeral.”

* Yet another one of Macedonia’s greatest generation under Aristotle’s tutelage was destined in time to execute Alexander’s mother.

** It’s merely speculative, but one could readily imagine that Alexander’s own downward health spiral had a little something to do with despondency at the loss of his friend.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Iran,Macedonia,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Persia,Summary Executions,Uncertain Dates

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1975: Dr. Mohamed Forna, former Finance Minister of Sierra Leone

2 comments July 19th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1975, Dr. Mohamed Forna and other Sierra Leone dissidents were executed as traitors.

A medical doctor who entered politics and was Minister of Finance in the government of the All People’s Congress (APC) from 1968-1970, Forna grew disenchanted with the parasitical kleptocracy of Siaka Stevens and, with another ex-state minister, Ibrahim Taqi, helped to launch the opposition United Democratic Party.

The party was swiftly banned but Forna remained in the ranks of dissidents, until he was arrested in 1973. In a mass capital trial, 15 alleged “traitors” were condemned to hang — a harvest of souls reduced by about half in the interest of moderation.

Forna’s daughter Aminatta Forna explores the legacy of this horror in her memoir The Devil That Danced on the Water. (Review | excerpt) A former journalist, Aminatta Forna reconstructed events by interviewing the people involved in them, including the witnesses who supplied suborned evidence to doom her father.

The executions began at midnight on 19 July. I was asleep in my dormitory at school. The aeroplane carrying Mum was crossing the Sahara, thirty thousand feet up in the sky.

The first two men to die were soldiers. The civilians were executed in the order in which they were indicted by the court. Mohamed Forna, First Accused, my father, walked the length of the block, past the cells of his companions, towards the noose waiting for him behind the door at the end of the building. I close my eyes and imagine his final walk: his stride, just like my own; broad, flat African feet inherited by me; his handcuffed hands: long, strong fingers, slightly flared at the tip and reborn in my brother; the broad, intelligent forehead, the same brow I see in my sister every time we meet. The men were hanged every half an hour, the men in the other blocks told me. They could tell, you see, because the music and the sounds of the guards’ bacchanal died for a few seconds, then rose up again more clamorous than before. If you listened very carefully in the moments in between, you could hear the sound of the trap door.

The next day my father’s body, and those of the seven other men who had been hanged, were displayed in open coffins before the crowds outside Pademba Road Prison. Stevens had promised a public execution; in the end he had slaughtered them in secret and displayed his trophies afterwards. Under cover of darkness the bodies were removed, loaded into military trucks and driven out to Rokupa cemetery on the road to Hastings, where they were doused with acid and dumped in a mass grave.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Notably Survived By,Politicians,Power,Sierra Leone,Treason

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1835: Joshua Cotton and William Saunders, steam doctors

1 comment July 4th, 2017 Headsman

In the Mississippi slave insurrection panic of 1835, slavers’ fears attached themselves right from the start to the prospect of white leadership affiliating with the prospective black rising.

Israel Campbell, a slave who would eventually reach freedom in the North and publish a fascinating autobiography on the eve of the Civil War, was present in the vicinity. He knew nothing of any rebellion until

two white men came to my house one night after I had gone to bed, and ordered me to get up immediately. I could not think, for my life, what was the matter. Before I got my clothes on, they became impatient, and called for me to open the door. As I done this, one of them seized me by the collar, having a bowie-knife in one hand. Uttering a horrible oath, he asked —

“What do you know about Doctor Cotton’s scrape?”

“Nothing at all, sir,” I replied.

“Don’t you tell me a lie. Do you know Dr. Cotton? When did you see him last?”

I replied, that I would not tell them a lie; that I did know Mr. Cotton, but that I had not seen him for some time. They went on asking a number of questions, wanting to know if I knew Harris’ old Dave, the negro preacher, and when I heard him preach last, and where at? I answered them satisfactorily these queries. They then wanted to know if I staid at the meeting until the people had all dispersed? If they talked any thing about getting free and killing the white people?

I replied to them about knowing the different parties; but about the rising of the slaves I had heard nothing.

After convincing themselves that I was ignorant, they left, warning me, however, not to be caught outside our own plantation, nor talk with any strange negroes or white men. They told me that Dr. Cotton and some other mean white men and a great many of the negroes were laying plans to rise and kill off the white people and free the negroes. After giving me some brandy, and again warning me, that if I did not heed their advice, I would be shot, they left my house.

They, with other parties, went around among all the slave quarters. Many they scared so badly, that they told lies of every description, and suffered for it. When they thought they had succeeded in quelling the insurrection, they commenced punishing those they had caught. Some they hung, others they burned, and some of those they thought not so guilty they pulled cats back-wards on their bare backs. Two of the party hung themselves in the prison.

The man these rude guests hunted with that menacing Bowie knife was Joshua Cotton, an itinerant homeopath expounding the fad launched by Samuel Thomson‘s hit publication New Guide to Health. Thomson had by means of some natural palliatives healed his family of several ailments that confounded legitimate medical practitioners; his emphasis on having patients sweat out toxins by immersion in steam led his followers to be derided as “steam doctors.”

Cotton wasn’t the only steam doctor beating the bushes in Madison County: an intimate named William Saunders was also about. Their wandering practice, interacting with free men and slaves alike, profiled as precisely the types who would be orchestrating a coordinated rebellion — and they had been implicated under the lash by the Beatties Bluff slaves, where the insurrection panic had begun days earlier.

Though not yet aware that they would be caught up in the panic, the steam doctors were making their own moves in these days. Saunders attended a June 30 meeting of Livingston whites to organize suppression of the supposed rebellion and advised them that the other steam doctor, Cotton, “was in the habit of trading with negroes; would buy any thing they would steal and bring to him.” This put the vigilantes onto Cotton; Saunders left town in peace and made, so he said, for Texas — which would have been a wise choice, as events would show.

On the road to Vicksburg and a river crossing to the safety of Louisiana, Saunders repeated the story to another traveler who just so happened to have a more suspicious frame of mind than the Livingstonians. This Good Samaritan promptly brought Saunders in as a suspected conspirator himself. Both steam doctors were under lock and key as the Beatties Bluff allegations of their complicity reached Livingston.

Saunders elaborated his charges against Cotton, plainly hoping to trade his opposite number’s life for his own: that Cotton was forever going about pretending to lose his horses in the countryside “as a pretext for hunting them, that he might have opportunities to converse with the negroes, and, by that means, to seduce them from their allegiance to their owners, by instilling rebellious notions among them; and to form plans, and to make converts to his propositions, which he could not do by being a steam-doctor.” Since a slave brought from Beatties Bluff also identified Cotton on sight as the man keen on seducing him to rebellion, Cotton could perceive that his fate was surely sealed, and while the vigilantes deliberated on July 4 he sent them a desperate offer to confess in exchange for leniency. The committee refused the offer … but confession was still the only card Cotton had to play, and he submitted the confession on spec. In it, he leaned for his narrative on Virgil Stewart’s recently published claims about a slave plot led by the bandit John Murrell.

I am one of the Murrell clan, a member of what we called the grand council … Our object in undertaking to excite the negroes to rebellion, was not for the purpose of liberating them, but for plunder. I was trying to carry into effect the plan of Murrell as laid down in Stewart’s pamphlet … from the exposure of our plans in said pamphlet, we expected the citizens would be on their guard at the time mentioned, being the 25th of December next; and we determined to take them by surprise, and try it on the night of the 4th of July, and it would have been tried to-night (and perhaps may yet), but for the detection of our plans.

Cotton also repaid tit for tat by naming Saunders as one of the plotters, confirming some slaves’ accusations and leaving the backstabbing chum to twist on his own useless protestations of innocence.

The upshot of Cotton’s statement was an offer to buy his own life by continuing to reveal more information about the conspiracy going forward — essentially, to become a standing informant against anyone whom the slavers might next suspect. “But the committee, deeming it of infinitely more importance to check the impending storm, by immediately destroying two of the ringleaders, and thereby creating dismay and panic among them, ordered their execution” — which was effected immediately, both steam doctors being marched directly from their hearing to the jail where, “fastening a rope to the grating of a window, in the upper story of the jail, and leaning a couple of rails against the wall, assisted the culprits upon the rails; then, adjusting the other end of the rope around their necks, removed the rails. They were left hanging until the next morning.”

The final extent of the executions/lynchings meted out during the course the insurrection panic is uncertain. Israel Campbell, however, would remember that Cotton and Saunders were certainly not the end of it when it came to rootless itinerants in the vicinity — and not only the steam doctor set. “[T]he party who were making arrests endeavored to get hold of every steam doctor and colored preacher they could,” he wrote in his autobiography.

[O]nce in their grasp, there was very little mercy shown them. The heads of the preachers they cut off and put on poles, and placed them along the road, where they remained until they were bleached. I saw several of their skulls in an apothecary store at Mount Vernon the latter part of that fall. Dr. Cotton was a noble-looking man and a friend to the slave, and he died a martyr to the cause he had so much at heart, — the emancipation of the slave.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mississippi,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions,Torture,USA

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1945: Majda Vrhovnik, Slovenian resistance

Add comment May 4th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1945, Slovene resistance member Majda Vrhovnik was executed by the Gestapo in Klagenfurt, days before the end of World War II.

A University of Ljubljana medical student and Communist destined to be honored as a national hero of Yugoslavia, Vrhovnik (English Wikipedia entry | Slovenian) joined the underground resistance when the Nazis occupied Yugoslvia in 1941. She’d spend the bulk of the war years producing and distributing illicit anti-occupation propaganda but by war’s end she had been detailed to nearby Klagenfurt — a heavily Slovene city just over the border in Austria.

She was finally caught there and arrested on February 28, 1945, and shot in prison even as Klagenfurt awaited Allied occupation which would arrive on May 8.

Her credentials as a patriotic martyr — there’s a Majda Vrhovnik school named for her — would surface her name in 1988 in connection with an affair that helped begin the breakup of Yugoslavia into ethnic statelets, when an opposition journalist published a censored article under the pseudonym “Majda Vrhovnik”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Austria,Doctors,Execution,Germany,History,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Shot,Slovenia,Spies,Torture,Wartime Executions,Women,Yugoslavia

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1781: Margaret Tinkler, abortionist

Add comment November 20th, 2016 Headsman


British Evening Post, Nov. 27-29, 1781

On this date in 1781, midwife Margaret Tinkler hanged at Durham.

Tinkler had care of Jane Parkinson who wished to rid her belly of a pregnancy. The reader might well guess that procuring an abortion in 18th century England was a frightful procedure; in Parkinson’s case it took her life thanks to (as the court found) Tinkler’s “thrusting and inserting 2 pieces of wood into & against the private parts & womb of the said Jane giving the said Jane diverse mortal wounds punctures and bruises of which she languished from 1st to 23rd July & then died.” (Source) All that “languishing” gave the dying Parkinson time to accuse Tinkler; the midwife’s insistence that she had merely counseled her patient how to contrive an abortion rather than performing that abortion fell on deaf ears. (Tinkler maintained that story to her last confession.)

As a murderer, Tinkler was posthumously anatomized. The surgeons discovered “two long black double wire pins, as used at that time in women’s hair … in her belly, which it was supposed she had swallowed to destroy her life.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Doctors,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Women

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1946: The Neuengamme camp war criminals

Add comment October 8th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1946, eleven men convicted by a British war crimes court of war crimes at the Neuengamme concentration camp hanged at Hamelin prison.

Neuengamme held about 106,000 prisoners from 1938 until the British overran it on May 3, 1945. (In a tragic coda, many of the last prisoners died when the ships to which they had been transferred were mistakenly strafed by the Royal Air Force that same day.)

Though its primary purpose was slave labor — Neuengamme inmates cranked out bricks and armaments — rather than extermination, close on half of its residents died of the maltreatment. Anne Frank’s elderly roommate-in-hiding “Albert Dussel” (his real name was Fritz Pfeffer) died there of enterocolitis in 1944; Suriname national hero Anton de Kom succumbed to tuberculosis at Neuengamme days before it was liberated.

Nor was Neuengamme above more direct methods — of course it wasn’t. As the Third Reich collapsed, Neuengamme was used to dispose of 71 leftists for no better reason than the Nazis begrudged their potential postwar life; meanwhile, Jewish children who had been subjected to medical experiments were hanged by their stonehearted SS doctor.

That gentleman, Alfred Trzebinski, was one of the men in the dock for Neuengamme, and ultimately, one of the men on the scaffold.*

Camp commandant Max Pauly and SS Schutzhaftlagerführer Anton Thumann were among the 10 others executed for Neuengamme, all together on October 8, 1946.

* Sigmund Freud’s grandson Walter worked for the War Crimes Investigation Unit on (among other cases) Trzebinski’s Bullenhuser Damm school hangings.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,England,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Soldiers,War Crimes

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