On this date in 1770, inveterate burglar William Linsey was hanged in Worcester, Mass.
Linsey never killed anyone but just couldn’t lay off the thieving — as he owned himself in a gallows broadsheet: “Having so often escaped with impunity, for my wretched crimes, I was under no awe or restraint, neither learning God nor regarding man, resolutely bent upon working wickedness.” That didn’t mean he didn’t get caught: he frequently did, and once was pilloried, flogged, and branded all in the same day as punishment for fraud.
The quote is courtesy of a Linsey profile by friend of the blog and occasionalguest poster Anthony Vaver, on his site Early American Crime — which notes that Linsey ultimately fell foul of a sort of colonial three-strikes law escalating penalties for mere property crimes all the way to the gallows in the case of repeat offenders.
On this date in 1853, three bushrangers hanged in Melbourne Gaol for the sensational (and very nearly successful) McIvor Gold Escort attack.
Our hanged trio’s crime traces to the mad 1850s gold rush to Victoria, mainland Australia’s southwesternmost province* and more specifically to the McIvor Creek diggings near Heathcote. Gold was struck there late in 1853; by the next year, the place was heavy with prospectors. And gold, why, we know what gold does to men’s souls.
The notes are eternal but gold sings her siren song in every major and minor key; where she calls men, haggard and desperate, bearing pickaxes and gilded dreams, she also beckons in another register to their counterparts bearing ready sidearms and black hearts. Miners after a different name.
On July 20, 1853, some 2,300 ounces of gold extracted from the McIvor diggings were dispatched with an armed guard from the Private Escort Cmpany on its regular run to Kyneton. Here was a mother lode for characters who could stake it.
The July 20 gold escort encountered a blocked road and six desperadoes waiting in a well-orchestrated ambush: without bothering to demand the escort stand and deliver, the robbers opened fire on their prey, wounding four of the troopers — non-fatally, but enough to compel submission — and killing the coach driver, William Flookes, ere they looted the dray of treasure worth near £10,000.
19th century illustration of the attak on the McIvor gold escort.
When news of the incident reached McIvor, 400 outraged miners formed up in posses and set off in pursuit — but the robbers had planned their strike cunningly and were well ahead of the chase. Racing away through wilderness, they paused to divide their spoils near Kilmore and proceeded to Melbourne, where they scattered themselves and were able to duck a sweeping but essentially blind manhunt for several weeks.
Joseph Grey, George and Joseph Francis, William Atkins, George Wilson, and George Melville were perhaps on the verge of completing the caper by August 13 when George Francis got cold feet and turned himself into the police — shopping all of his confederates into the bargain.
Joseph Grey, the wiliest of the bunch, was cautiously changing his address every single night — and so George Francis’s information did not nab him. Grey managed to stay ahead of the search and make good an escape with his share of the booty: he was never caught.
The remaining four — including Joseph Francis, George Francis’s own brother — were all speedily snapped up.
A twist in the plot occurred when star witness George Francis slashed his own throat, leaving the crown with a virtually empty case until brother Joseph fulfilled the informer’s place, piously declaiming against the shootings as more crime than either Francis had bargained for. This self-serving pap came in for uproarious pillory by the defense barristers when the surviving Francis took the witness stand — “with your own person in danger, you would sacrifice your mother and tell any lie you rpoor intelligence could invent!” — but the stool pigeon’s evidence stuck, corroborated by accounts from the troopers who survived the ambush.
Atkins, Wilson, and Melville hanged together at Melbourne Gaol sixteen days after their judge donned the black cap. Melville’s wife availed her right to claim her husband’s body and scandalized Melbourne’s authorities by cheekily garlanding the corpse in flowers and putting it on display in her oyster shop on Little Bourke Street, charging half a crown per gawk. Melbourne Gaol’s hanged thereafter were exclusively buried within the prison yards itself, and Parliament soon legislated this as a nationwide requirement.
* While the gold rush brought many boom towns that expired with their associated mineral veins, it boomed the frontier town of Melbourne right into the gigantic metropolis it remains today.
From the diary of Felix Platter, a Swiss youth studying in Montpellier, France. It is not completely evident from context (“afterwards …”) whether the masked dummy was “executed” on the same occasion as the coiner, or whether that effigy was punished on a different day.
Afterwards a masked dummy was brought on a hurdle, and was laid on the cross and its limbs broken, as I have described. This dummy represented a Greek who had studied at Montpellier and had been accounted one of the keenest blades of the town. He had married Gillette d’Andrieu, a girl of doubtful reputation, who had neither beauty nor fortune. She had a very long nose, and her lover could scarcely manage to kiss her on the lips, especially since he too had a nose of respectable size.
The Greek was insulted by a canon, Pierre Saint-Ravy, who taunted him, at the moment when he was about to relieve himself, of having had intercourse with his wife. The husband at once stabbed the canon and fled; he could therefore be executed only in effigy. His wife continued to live in Montpellier, and was often in Rondelet’s house she was a relative of his.*
She often came there to dance, and one day I danced with her, all booted and spurred, on my return from Vendargues. As I turned, my spurs entangled themselves in her dress, and I fell full length on the floor. Some tablets I had in a breast pocket were broken into pieces, and I was so stunned that I had to be helped up.
From the Lowell (Mass.) Patriot, September 18, 1835 — channeling, as the headling indicates, the Boston Morning Post. In addition to a wanton overuse of commas, this article’s casual alternation between the interchangeable spellings of “Marshal” and “Marshall” is [sic]. The piracy at issue was the subject of a previous Executed Today post.
Francisco Ruiz, the carpenter of the Spanish piratical schooner Panda, who was distinguished above his brother buccaneers, by his pre-eminence in guilt, and violence, in the robbery of the Mexican, and yet had succeeded outliving them a few months, and prolonging a miserable existence in jail, by counterfeiting madness, in which, however, there was altogether too much method, was executed on Saturday morning in the jail yard.
At the trial of the Pirates, last December,* Ruiz was more positively identified than the others, on account of the prominent part which he took in the proceedings on board of the Mexican: he was pointed out as the man, who, with a drawn sword, drove the crew below, and as keeping guard over the hatchway while the vessel was pillaged of her specie; he was also singled out by the steward as the individual who beat him with a baton to compel him to disclose where he had secreted his private property.
Under his direction the sails were slashed, the combustables collected in the camboose, and the arrangements completed, for the setting fire to the sails and rigging of the plundered brig, which was happily arrested by her crew who escaped from below, by an aperture, which the pirates, in their haste to abandon her, fortunately omitted to secure.
Had the crew remained below an other [sic] minute, the brig would have been enveloped in one general conflagration, and not a man could have survived to recount the fate of his vessel and companions.
In the river Nazareth too, when the Panda, closely pressed by the British boats, was abandoned by her officers and crew, to Ruiz was assigned the dangerous duty of securing the ship’s papers, and then blowing her up, but his attempt to explode her magazine proved as unsuccessful as his infernal endeavor to wrap the Mexican in flames, in the middle of the ocean.
Since the expiration of Ruiz’s second respite, Mr. Marshall Sibley had procured the attendance, at the jail, of two experienced physicians, belonging to the U.S. Service, and who, being acquainted, with the Spanish language, were able to converse freely with him.
They had continued access to him, during the past month, and, as the result of their observations, reported to the Marshall in writing, that they had visited Ruiz several times for the purpose of ascertaining whether he was, or was not insane; and from their opportunities of observing him, they expressed their belief, that he was not insane.
This opinion being corroborated by other physicians, unacquainted with the Spanish language, but judging only from Ruiz’s conduct, induced the Marshal to forbear urging the Executive for a further respite; and for the first time, on Saturday morning, in an interview with the Spanish Interpreter and Priest, he was made sensible, that longer evasion of the sentence of the law was impracticable, and that he must surely die.
They informed him, that he had but half an hour to live, and retired, when he requested that he might not be disturbed during the brief space that remained to him, and turning his back to the open entrance of his cell, he unrolled some fragments of printed prayers, and commenced reading them to himself.
During this interval he neither spoke, nor heeded those who were watching him; but undoubtedly sufferred ]sic] extreme mental agony. At one minute he would [obscure] his chin on his bosom, and stand motionless; at another he would press his brow to the wall of his cell, or wave his body from side to side, as if wrung with unutterable anguish.
Suddenly, he would throw himself upon his knees on his mattress, and prostrate himself on his face as if in prayer; then throwing his prayers from him, he would clutch his rug in his fingers, and like a child try to double it up, or pick it to pieces.
After snatching up his rug and throwing it away again and again, he would suddenly resume his prayers, and erect posture, and stand mute, gazing through the aperture that admitted the light of day, for upwards of a minute.
This scene of imbecility and indecision — of horrible prostration of mind — eased in some degree when the Catholic clergyman re-entered his cell.
Precisely at 10 o’clock, the prisoner was removed from the prison, and, during his process to the scaffold, though the palor of death was spread over his countenance, and he trembled n every joint with fear, he chanted with a powerful voice an appropriate service from the Catholic ritual.
Several times he turned half round to survey the heavens, which at that moment were clear and bright above him, and when he ascended the platform, after concluding his last audible prayer, he took one long and steadfast gaze at the sun, and waited, in silence, his fate.
Unlike his comrades who had preceded him, he uttered no exclamations of innocence — his mind never appeared to revert to his crime.
His powers, mental and physical, had been suddenly crushed with the appalling reality that surrounded him; his whole soul was absorbed with one master feeling — the dread of a speedy and violent death.
Misunderstanding the lenity of the government, and the humanity of the officers, he had deluded himself with the hope of eluding his fate, and not having steeled his heart for the trying ordeal, it quailed in the presence of the dreadful paraphernalia of his punishment, as much as if he had been a stranger to deeds of blood, and never dealt death to his fellow man, as he ploughed the deep under the black flag of piracy, with the motto of “Rob, Kill, and Burn.”
He appeared entirely unconscious — dead, as it were — to all that was passing around him, when Deputy Marshal Bass coolly and securely adjusted the fatal cap, and, at the Marshall’s signal, which soon followed, adroitly cut the rope, which held down the latches of the platform.
The body dropoped heavily, and the harsh, abrupt shock must have instantly deprived him of all sensation, as there was no voluntary action of the hands afterwards. The body hung motionless half a minute, when a violent spasmodic action took place, occasioned simply by muscular contraction, but confined chiefly to the trunk of the body, which seemed to draw up the lower extremities into itself. The muscles of the heart continued to act nearly half an hour, but no pulsation was perceptible in a very few minutes after the fall.
Thus terminated his career of crime, in a foreign land, without one friend to recognize or cheer him, or a single being to regret his death — dying in very truth “unwept, unhonored.”
The skull of Delgrado, the suicide, who held the knife to Capt. Butman’s throat, was thought by the phrenologists to favor their supposed science; but they will find in the head of Ruiz a still more extraordinary development of the destructive, and other animal propensities, if we were not deceived in the alleged localities of these organs.
The execution took place in one of the most secluded situations in the City — not a hundred persons could witness it from within the yard; and very few, excepting professional persons, having business there, and the officers, were admitted inside.
Great credit is due to the U.S. Marshall for the privacy with which he caused the execution to be performed, and for not interrupting, by exhibiting a public, and exciting through barbarous spectacle, the business of the community.
* The long interval which has elapsed since the conviction of Capt. Gilbert and his crew, has afforded the most ample time to bring to light facts tending to establish their innocence, if any had been in existence; and the non-production of such facts, under the circumstances, must remove every possible shadow of a doubt of their guilt.
WILKESBARRE. Tuesday, Sept. 13, 1853
On Friday last, at 1 o’clock, P.M., the youthful murderer, of whose trial and conviction I gave brief sketches, for the benefit of the readers of the TIMES, a few months since, suffered the extreme penalty of the law.
Soon after his conviction, he made a full confession of his guilt, and professed, to his spiritual adviser, contrition for the enormous crime. He also had prepared a history of his life, disclosing many other brutal adventures in wickedness, to be published after his death.
During the greater portion of the time subsequent to the arrival of the warrant for his execution, he gave himself but partially and unsteadily to the work of preparation for death. Small events diverted his attention, and interrupted his progress.
He was a perfect stoic, and his heart seemed frozen. He would talk of his numerous sins with no apparent emotion. He seldom wept or sighed. He seemed to have the most perfect control of his feelings.
The last few days of his life were spent in solemn preparations for his end. He spent much time in prayer, and seemed desirous to do his utmost to wipe the stain of blood from his soul.
He had an interview with the widow of the murdered man, which was truly affecting.
“Evans,” said she, “did Reese say anything when you shot him?”
He answered, simply, “No.”
“Did he not say anything about the child?”
“No,” was the answer.
“Had you any spite against him?”
“O, I would give you my two stores if you had only spared my husband.”
Evans covered his face with his hand, and seemed to struggle against his feelings.
He then said, “Mrs. Reese, I am very sorry I did it; if you can, I hope you will forgive me.”
After a little hesitation, and a look at him which seemed a mingled expression of resentment and compassion, she answered, in her somewhat imperfect English, “If I not forgive you, it don’t bring back my husband — Reese was a young man, and you are a young man, you both now be gone — O, you ought not to do it — but I forgive you.”
Her sad black eye swam in tears, and she gazed upon him for half a minute — he looking down, only glancing at her for a moment at a time. She then gave him her hand, and bad him “good bye.”
This scene transpired on Thursday, before noon, just after he had received holy baptism.
He had the company of several ministers alternately throughout the night. On Friday morning he received the holy communion — his father, sister and brother being present.
It was a deeply affecting season, and yet he merely moistened his eyes with a tear or two.
He took leave of his counsel, and of his friends, with a little increased evidence of feeling. He was disturbed with the prospect of more spectators than he desired; but was directed to loo to God, before whom he would soon appear, and pay no attention to surrounding circumstances.
He chose not to be dressed in his shroud, but to die in his ordinary dress. He walked out of his cell into the yard, and ascended the scaffold without faltering. He was seated upon a stool, which he occupied during the religious service.
Rev. Dr. Peck, his spiritual adviser, announced the order of the exercises. Two short prayers were offered; the clergy took their leave of him with a brief exhortation; the Sheriff then adjusted the rope, and upon taking him by the hand, said “Farewell, Evans.”
He responded, “Farewell, Sheriff Palmer — I thank you and your family for all your kindness to me.”
The Sheriff descended, and with a firm nerve gave note of the time, during which Evans stood erect, praying in a low tone, but so as to be heard.
At length the drop fell, and he was launched into eternity.
Evans was a few weeks past eighteen when he murdered the Jew, Louis Reese, in open day, for the purpose of plunder.
How a mere beardless boy should attain such a desperate daring has been to many a profound mystery. His own disclosures show that he did not become a murderer by a sudden impulse, but that it was by commencing early and taking terrible strides in vicious conduct, that he, so early in life, became a giant in wickedness.
His penitence, although unattended by the usual signs of mental anguish, seemed deep and sincere. He had to struggle against habits of thought and feeling which had become imbued in his nature; and made great efforts to resuscitate a conscience which he had well-nigh succeeded in annihilating. This was hard work; and the process was slow, and attended with results but too dubious, down nearly to the day of his execution.
The story of this young man is briefly this: His father was a drunkard when he was a child; he forsook his family, and his mother became insane.
He was partially cared for by strangers, from the age of seven to that of eleven.
After this he wandered about, having no home or steady employment.
He early commenced a system of thieving, to meet his necessities, and proceeded, from step to step, until he reached the climax of wickedness in cold-blooded murder; and ended his career upon the gallows.
The history and fate of this young offender furnish a terrible warning to intemperate and negligent parents, as well as to idle and reckless young men. Small beginnings in crime may soon reach a fearful magnitude. The boy who steals a pen-knife may die by the halter before he is twenty!
After maliciously prosecuting a Woman he was executed at Ilchester, at the Summer Assizes, 1806, in Somersetshire, for Forgery
JOHN DOCKE ROUVELETT, a notorious swindler, was well known at Bath, where he passed for a West Indian of considerable fortune and family. He was about forty years of age, and had the appearance of a creole. He lived with a woman of the name of Elizabeth Barnet, who passed for his wife. Having been arrested for debt, he was occasionally visited by this woman in the Fleet Prison, and was afterwards removed, by habeas corpus, into Somersetshire, on a charge of forgery.
Conscious that Elizabeth Barnet was the only witness against him, by whose evidence he could be convicted of the forgery, as well as of perjury, another case also pending — Rouvelett having falsely sworn a debt against Mr Dorant, of the York Hotel, Albemarle Street — he had her taken up for a supposed robbery, and charged her with stealing his purse in the Fleet Prison, containing forty guineas, half-a-guinea, and a valuable diamond.
This case of singular atrocity came on at the Old Bailey, Saturday, 5th of July, 1806. The young woman was fashionably attired, and her appearance excited universal sympathy. Rouvelett was brought up from Ilchester jail, ironed, to prosecute on his indictment. An application was made to put off the trial, on the affidavit of the prosecutor, which stated that some material witnesses at Liverpool had not had sufficient notice to attend. The object of this attempt was to prevent the woman appearing against him on his trial for forgery, and also to prevent her becoming a witness against him in the case of perjury, as already mentioned. The recorder saw through the transactions, which he described as the most foul and audacious that ever were attempted. He ordered the trial to proceed.
Rouvelett, who called himself a gentleman, stated that the prisoner was with him on the 11th of June, 1805, when he drew half-a-guinea from his purse and gave it to a messenger; after which he put the purse containing the property as stated in the indictment into the pocket of a surtout coat, which was hanging up in the room, in which was the ring, worth thirty pounds. There were no other persons in the room but the prisoner and himself, and in twenty minutes after she was gone he missed his property from the greatcoat pocket. He concluded that the money was safe, as the prisoner had gone to Dorant’s hotel, Albemarle Street, and he did not suppose her capable of robbing him. She, however, absconded, and he never saw her again until she was arrested at his suit, jointly with Dorant, in an action of trover for twenty thousand pounds for deeds, mortgages and bonds, bearing interest, for which bail was given. He had no opportunity of bringing her to justice for the alleged robbery, being himself a prisoner. (The recorder here remarked that the prosecutor could find the prisoner for a civil suit, although he could not find her for the criminal act.)
On the cross-examination of the prosecutor he said he was born at St Martin’s, in the West Indies, and had been at most of the islands in that quarter. His uncle was a planter in the West Indies, and he lived on such means, whilst in England, as his family afforded him. He was brought up in Amsterdam, at the house of Mr Hope, banker; after which he became a lieutenant in the British Army (the 87th Regiment). He knew Mr Hope, of Harley Street, Cavendish Square, and Mr Hope knew him to be Mr Rouvelett, of St Martin’s, for the two families had been closely connected for a hundred years. He lived in England on remittances from his uncle, in goods or bills, but he had no property of his own. Messrs Stephens & Boulton used to pay witness his remittances at Liverpool, but he could not tell who paid them in London. The recorder observed that the witness should not be pressed too far to give an account of himself, as he (the prisoner) stood charged with forgery. Being asked if he, the witness, had not said he would be revenged on the prisoner, as she was intimate with Dorant, and charge her with a felony, he answered that he did not recollect having said so; but the question being pressed, he partly acknowledged it. The purse, which was empty, witness acknowledged was found under the pillow, on the 12th of June, the day after the alleged robbery, by his room chum, a man of the name of Cummings. The prisoner was with him in prison after the 12th of June, although he had said she had absconded.
The recorder did not suffer the cause to be further proceeded in, and directed the jury to acquit the prisoner; he also observed this was the most foul charge he had ever heard of.
The disgust of the persons in court as the fellow retired was manifested by hisses and groans in such a manner as baffled the efforts of the officers of justice for some time to suppress.
The trial of this malicious offender, who was thus happily disappointed in his views, came on at Wells, on Tuesday, 12th of August, 1806, before Baron Thompson, and excited uncommon interest throughout the county of Somerset.
The prisoner, John Docke Romney alias Rouvelett, was indicted for having feloniously and knowingly forged a certain bill of exchange, dated Grenada, 10th of November, 1804, for four hundred and twenty pounds sterling, payable at nine months’ sight to the order of George Danley, Esq., and drawn by Willis & Co. on Messrs Child & Co. in London, with the forged acceptance of Messrs Child & Co. on the face thereof, with intent to defraud Mary Simeon.
Mr Burrough entered into the details of the case, which were afterwards substantiated by the evidence.
Mr Philip George, the younger clerk to the Mayor of Bath, stated that the bill in question was delivered to him by the Mayor of Bath, and that he had ever since kept the bill in his own custody.
Mrs Mary Simeon, dealer in laces, at Bath, deposed that in April, 1805, she lived at Bath. The prisoner came to her house on or about the 16th of March 1805; he looked at several articles in which she dealt, bought a fan, paid for it, and said he should bring his wife with him in the afternoon. He accordingly did so, and brought Elizabeth Barnet as his wife, Mrs Romney. He asked whether Mrs Simeon had a Brussels veil of a hundred and fifty guineas’ value. The witness answered she had not. He then bought two yards of lace, at four guineas a yard, and went away. This happened on a Saturday. The following Monday he came again, accompanied by his wife, looked at a lace cloak, at veils worth five and twenty guineas, and other goods, but did not buy any. In the course of the week he called again, and proposed to purchase a quantity of goods from the witness, if she would take a bill of a long date, accepted by Messrs Child & Co., bankers, in London. Witness answered she had no objections to take a bill accepted by such a house. He returned in two or three days and purchased articles to the value of about one hundred and forty pounds, which, with other goods afterwards bought, and with money advanced by her, made the prisoner her debtor to the amount of two hundred and ninety-nine pounds. He bought all the articles himself, unaccompanied by his wife. In the month of April, between the 20th and 24th, the prisoner proposed paying for the different articles, and he brought his wife to the house, when a meeting took place between them and the witness, and her brother, Mr Du Hamel. He said: “I am going to London, and I should like to settle with you. This is the bill I proposed to you to take; it is accepted by Child & Co., bankers, in London”; and, turning over the bill, he added: “The endorser is as good as the acceptors.”
The bill was here produced, and proved by Mrs Simeon to be the same which the prisoner gave to her in April, 1805.
The witness then took the bill, and her brother, Mr Du Hamel, paid to him, for her, thirty-five pounds, which, with the articles previously bought, made the whole of the prisoner’s debt to her two hundred and ninety-nine pounds. In her presence he wrote on the bill the name of John Romney, as his name. He afterwards went to London by the mail. She sent the bill to London the next day.
The conversation which passed between her and the prisoner, in the presence of her brother and Elizabeth Barnet, was entirely in the French language. He left his wife at her house, where she slept. While he was absent the witness received intelligence from London that the bill was a forgery, and she instantly wrote a letter to the prisoner, informing him of it. He came to Bath in consequence of the letter, late on a Sunday night, and a meeting took place then at her house with him, his wife, herself, her brother, and her solicitor, Mr Luke Evill, of Bath. The conversation then passed in English. Several questions were put to the prisoner by herself and by Mr Evill. Mr Evill asked him whether he had any business with W. A. Bailey, the endorser, which induced him to take the bill. He said Mr Bailey had sold some sugar for him. She asked him if Bailey lived in London; he replied at some inn or coffee-house, the name of which she did not recollect. He was then asked in what island or islands Mr Bailey’s property was situated. He mentioned two or three islands in the West Indies, but he did not know in which of them Mr Bailey was at that time. The prisoner then inquired where the bill was. Being informed by the witness that it was in London, he said she must write to get it sent back. She, however, declared that such an application would be unavailing, and the prisoner pressed her to go to London herself. She refused to go alone, and he entreated Mr Evill to accompany her, saying that he would give Mr Evill twenty pounds to defray the expenses of the journey, which he accordingly did. She set out at ten o’clock that night, accompanied by Mr Evill, and obtained the bill from Messrs Sloper & Allen, in whose custody it was, by paying three hundred guineas, which was all the money she then had at her bankers’. She brought the bill back to Bath, having stopped but one day in London; but the prisoner was not at Bath when she returned. He had left some property at her house with his wife, who had removed from Sidney House, with his clothes, etc. The bill remained after this in her custody about a twelvemonth, and was given up to Mr Evill by her brother. Mr Dorant paid the whole of the debt due by the prisoner on the 6th of May, 1805, a few days after the prisoner finally left Bath.
Upon the cross-examination of Mrs Simeon, it appeared that she considered the prisoner and Elizabeth Barnet as man and wife. It was not until May, 1806, that she appeared before the Mayor of Bath against the prisoner, whom she knew to have been in the Fleet Prison. She did not go before the magistrate at the solicitation of Mr Dorant, nor did she at any time, nor on any account, receive any money from Dorant, but what was actually and fairly due to her by the prisoner.
Mr Du Hamel, brother of Mrs Simeon, corroborated all the principal facts stated by his sister.
Mr Whelan deposed that he was a clerk in the house of Messrs Child & Co. He had filled that situation for about nine years, and, from his knowledge of the business, was enabled to state their manner of accepting bills. The house had no correspondence whatever at Grenada by the name of Willis & Co., and the acceptance which appeared on the face of the bill was not the acceptance of Messrs Child & Co.
Elizabeth Barnet was next called. She deposed that she became acquainted with the prisoner in the month of September, 1804, when at Liverpool. About a fortnight after she first saw him she began to live with him, and continued till the 6th of June, 1805; during all that period she passed under the name of Mrs Romney. She left Liverpool in the month of January, 1805, and came to London with the prisoner. They then took lodgings at Mr Dorant’s hotel, in Albemarle Street. The account he gave of himself to her was that he was a West Indian planter, and that he had estates in Martinique and St Kitts. They remained between two and three months at Mr Dorant’s hotel, during which time they were not visited by anybody except a Mr Hope, whom she remembered seeing with the prisoner. This Mr Hope was not represented to her as coming from Holland. She accompanied Mr Romney to Bath, and on their arrival there they lodged at the White Hart Inn for about a fortnight previous to her lodging at Madame Simeon’s. Soon after their arrival at the White Hart she went along with the prisoner to Madame Simeon’s to look at some laces and a black cloak. None of these articles, however, was purchased at that time by the prisoner, they being afterwards bought when she was not present. She heard the prisoner state to Madame Simeon that he would give her a bill of exchange, accepted by Child & Co. of London. She did not then see any bill in his possession, but saw him writing one three days afterwards, when he sent the witness for some red ink. Two or three days after the prisoner gave the bill to Madame Simeon he was much disturbed, and on being asked the reason he said he would be hanged. He asked her to fetch him his writing-desk, which she did. He then took out a large parcel of papers and burned them. She had no opportunity of seeing what those papers were. She said to him: “Were the papers any harm?” He said: “Yes; and there was a paper which must not be seen.” She never lived with the prisoner after the 6th of June, 1805. She, however, remembered visiting him in the Fleet Prison. She was soon afterwards arrested at Bath, at the prisoner’s instance, for the sum of twenty thousand, three hundred and twenty pounds, and carried to Winchester jail, and afterwards removed to the King’s Bench. She saw the prisoner on this occasion, and again at the Old Bailey, when he was examined as a witness against her on her trial. He then charged her with having robbed him on the 11th of June, 1805, of forty guineas and a diamond ring, when he was in the Fleet Prison. This charge was totally without foundation, as was also the alleged debt of twenty thousand, three hundred and twenty pounds. She never had any transactions in her life to which such a charge could refer.
On her cross-examination she deposed that her real name was Elizabeth Barnet. She was the daughter of a farmer in Shropshire, from whom she had had a plain education. She left her father when nineteen years of age and went to Liverpool, where she lodged with a Mrs Barns. She lived in Liverpool about nine or ten months. After she had left off seeing Mr Rouvelett in the Fleet she lodged at a Mr Fox’s, in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, for seven or eight weeks. She afterwards went to Berry Street.
To some additional interrogatories by Mr Burrough this witness further deposed that the prisoner Romney sued out a writ against her for twelve hundred pounds, exclusive of the sum before mentioned. This was after she had ceased to visit him in prison and had gone to reside at her father’s, and it was also previous to the arrest for the twenty thousand, three hundred and twenty pounds already taken notice of. No demand was made against her by the prisoner when she visited him in the jail.
The jury, having consulted for a few minutes, returned a verdict of guilty of forging the acceptance, and of uttering it knowing it to be forged.
The trial lasted nearly twelve hours, and the court was filled in every part. Among the audience were the first characters in the country. This notorious offender was executed at Ilchester, pursuant to his sentence, on the 3rd of September, 1806. He was dressed in a blue coat with metal buttons, striped trousers, green slippers, and a fur cap.
On this date in 1827, a “Carnival of Death” in Richmond saw the hanging of three Spanish pirates who had but recently perpetrated an infamous slaughter all their own.
These men had shipped aboard the brig Crawford out of Matanzas, Cuba. The Crawford was bound for New York, but these Spaniards and a French-born American with the unfortunate name Tardy had a different idea: they had brought aboard a set of Spanish papers for the vessel that would show her under their command, sailing for Hamburg.
One night on the seas, the four rose up and murdered most of the rest of the crew. A cook and a French passenger were spared, as was the mate Edmund Dobson who convinced the hijackers that he could be of service navigating their prize.
The ship’s original papers vanished into the waves, along with Captain Henry Brightman of Troy, Mass., and eight other crew and passengers whose deaths make pitiable reading. Oliver Potter scampered up a mast to escape the mutineers, but having been gashed by their blades he eventually became “exhausted by the loss of his blood, [and] fell to the deck and expired.” Two other men lept overboard and begged for their tormenters to allow them some piece of debris that would keep them afloat, “but the demons regarded [them] not.” (both quotes from the North Carolina Sentinel, June 30, 1827).
It would afterward emerge that Alexander Tardy was a veteran terror of the Atlantic lanes, and had been in the words of a Philadelphia Gazette report widely reprinted around the republic
many years on our coast, and in our cities, planning and executing his black and hellish deeds with all the coolness of a demon, and after having been suffered by the mildness of our laws to escape the gallows, and repeat his murders, when in many other Christian countries he would long since have hung in gibbets … his early execution would have saved hundreds of lives, and certainly the eight lives on board the brig Crawford.
“Hundreds” seems quite a bit on the exaggerated side, but by accounts Tardy had committed several seaborne murders and escaped from hard prison time in Virginia and South Carolina.
The Gazette gives us sneaky murders by poison, rather than slaughterous main-force ship seizures, and it appears that for all his accomplishments in the field of homicide, Tardy seems to have rarely or never actually managed to commandeer a prize: perhaps this was the margin that kept him off the gibbets all those years.
He was not destined for the gallows in this instance, either.
Since our quartet purposed to reroute the Crawford from a run up the coast to a cross-Atlantic voyage, they needed to augment her provisions. To this effect, at the suggestion of the heroic and unusually persuasive mate Dobson,* the Crawford put in at Old Point Comfort on the Virginia capes. There, Dobson was able to slip the pirates and row to shore. By the time he returned with authorities, the Spaniards had put ashore in a vain attempt to flee, while Tardy had cut his own throat.
It was the eventual understanding of the federal (not Virginia) court that tried them before a standing-room crowd that the Galician Felix Barbeto was Tardy’s equal in the plot, and that Barbeto and Tardy had hired the other two Spaniards: Couro (aka Jose Morando) and Pepe (aka Jose Hilario Casaris) both addressed their comrade as “Don Felix”.
Hanging in chains having fallen well out of favor by this date, Tardy “was buried at the low water mark near Old Point Comfort, with his face downward, and every mark of ignominy.” (Alexandria Gazette, July 24, 1827) A few hours later, someone thought to obtain his specimen for the quack science of the day and “he was disinterred, his head taken off, and dispatched to Baltimore, for the inspection of the Galls and Spurzheims of that city. They will probably find the organ of distructiveness [sic], finely developed.”
This was not the last of the Frankenstein stuff, either in medicine or in law. After the Spanish were conducted through Richmond to a public gallows before a vast throng of curious Virginians,* their three corpses were given over to the mania for galvanicexperimentation.
“I happened to be in Richmond the day on which the Pirates were hung,” an anonymous correspondent wrote to the National Intelligencer a few days later.
In an attempt to obtain their bodies for galvanic experiments, &c. a very ludicrous evidence was given of the mania prevailing about State rights. Doct. — who had prepared the galvanic battery, was unapprised that the act of Congress, relative to criminals, authorised the court in certain cases, to consign the bodies for dissection; he, of course, omitted to make the necessary application for the Pirates. But, on the day of execution, finding that the Marshall had no authority to permit the bodies to be taken from the gallows before interment, the Doctor was advised to apply to Governor Giles for permission to take them. He concluded to do so, and knowing there was some difficulty in the case, deemed it advisable to approach his Excellency delicately, and if practicable, get him mounted on his hobby. To that end the Doctor broached the subject of State Rights, and suggested a doubt whether the authority of the Federal Court extended to the right of burying. The Governor caught at the idea, and, without hesitation, told the Doctor that there was no doubt in his mind but that, without permission of the State authority, the Marshal, acting under the authority of the Union, had no right to turn an inch of the soil; he therefore saw no difficulty in the Doctor’s taking possession of the bodies the moment they were cut from the gallows. — This the Doctor felt as sufficient authority, and proceeded to the place of execution.
On this date in 1912, George Shelton and his brother-in-law John Bailey were executed in Nashville, Tennessee for the murders of Ben Pettigrew and his two children. One of them can be identified as a daughter named Pearl. The other child’s identity is unclear; it may be another, unnamed daughter, or a son named Fred.
This is an unusual case because, in the Jim Crow South, these two white men had faced the death penalty for killing black victims, and their crime was characterized by many as a lynching.
Ben Pettigrew was a successful cotton farmer from Clifton, Tennessee. He had a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness, “unequaled among the colored population of this section of the country.” In fact, he was “regarded as highly as any member of his race in the south.”
Philadelphia Inquirer, July 27, 1912
On December 5, 1911, Ben and his two children were taking a load of seed cotton to a cotton gin in Savannah, Tennessee when their wagon was ambushed on the road by four white men.
Accounts about the murder differ as to what exactly occurred: one story is that Ben was shot and his two children hanged, and their bodies put on top of the wagon and set on fire with the cotton. Another has it that all three victims were tied, alive, on top of the load of cotton and then it was set on fire.
Also unclear is the motive for the crime, if there was any motive at all. According to some stories, the killers may have been white land tenants angry that blacks were occupying their former homes. It’s possible that they were jealous of the Pettigrew family’s respectability and economic success.
Other farmers in the area saw the fire and hurried to extinguish it, arriving just in time to see the four suspects run off into the woods. A posse assembled to hunt down the killers; it started out with 50 men and quickly grew to over 300 volunteers, with bloodhounds. In due course two people were captured; the others got away.
Little is known about Shelton and Bailey, farmhands described by the NAACP as “friendless, ignorant white boys” — a label borne out by the garbled written confession they made:
To the, Publick, and the, honer, cort, of decaturville, Tenn; we was assoated with Mr. J.M. Hill he read the Bible, to us, and talked to us, about our soles, and, all so Read To Us in St. Mathews the 10th Chapter and the, 26 Verce, that thire was nothing covered but, what would, be uncovered and nothing hid what would, be knowen and, he talked to us about telling the truth at the blessed Jesues, said that to tell the truth and, bleave the truth and it would make us, free and we do know that we did a great rong but god has forvie us, as Mr, Hill, had us us to go to god and, he has forgive us, and now we with up stretched, ormes, ask the clemences, and mercies, of, the, People, and, the, cort, to do all the cane, for, us, as we, air both maried boyes and, i Georg Shelton aire onley 18 yares, old. and, never, Had, the, chence, to go to school and raised up by a Good Fother. And, Oh, My, Der, ole, Mother, and my, Wife, and, Little, Baby! If, i, Had Onley of, Knowen at the start what all this would of, cause, me, i would Not, of done, it, for aney amount, of, Money, But, Mr, Lige Scott, tole, me to; That ole Ben ort to be, Killed, and got, out, of, the neighborhood. And John Bailey, is, A Brothernlaw of, George Shelton, and, is 24, yares, old, and His Parints, Died, when he was a Little Boy, and, he, was raised up heare and, yonder, and, kik from Piller, to Post and, we Both, have, no Egacation, and never relised what a black Path, of, sin we have been travling, till Mr. J.M. Hill, Read, the Bible to us, And Praid, for and with us, and then we begin to Relise what we had done.
The hanging of Albert Hicks on Bedloe’s Island on this date in 1860 marked perhaps the last execution for piracy in U.S. history.*
This was a century and more past the Golden Age of Piracy. By the mid-19th century, the picaresque buccaneer had long ago hornswaggled his last doubloons and retired from Atlantic sea lanes into literary nostalgia. According to the Espy file, there had been only a single piracy death case, a double execution in Virginia in 1852, over the preceding quarter-century.
Hicks, who alternately went by William Johnson, wasn’t exactly Captain Kidd: think less freebooter, and more hijacker.
Shipping out of New York on the sloop E.A. Johnson, Hicks — urged on by the devil, he later claimed — seized the vessel by murdering two crewmates, Oliver and Smith Watts, and the captain, George Burr. As that was the entirety of his company, that gave him the ship too. He didn’t mean to raise the Jolly Roger and go a-plundering with his prize: he simply stripped his victims of portable valuables, pitched their bodies into the drink 50 miles off Sandy Hook, and abandoned ship. Eventually the creepy hulk of the E.A. Johnson drifted back into New York’s harbor.
Hicks was tracked down in Providence, R.I. and arrested a few days later — the only survivor of a bloodstained mystery ship who happened to have a large quantity of coins he couldn’t quite account for.
Newsmen meeting him during his incarceration not infrequently express skepticism of Hicks’s veracity and motivations as he attaches himself to new outrages; in particular, Hicks might have been interested to create sensational gallows copy in order to support the family he would soon leave behind. One report shortly after Hicks’s arrest (Boston Courier, March 29, 1860) has his soon-to-be-widow visiting Hick’s cell where “she broke out upon him in the most vituperative language, charging him with being a bloody villain. She held her child up in front of the cell door, and exclaimed, ‘Look at your offspring, you rascal, and think what you have brought on us. If I could get in at you I would pull your bloody heart out.'”
Execution report from the July 14, 1860 New York Herald.
* The U.S. also enforced — loosely — its anti-slaving provisions under piracy statutes, so the 1862 execution of slave trader Nathaniel Gordon occurred under an anti-piracy law. Whether that makes him pirate enough for the milestone, the reader may judge.