Posts filed under 'Theft'

1784: Fifteen crooks hanged at Newgate

Add comment June 23rd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1784, no fewer than 15 men hanged on the public scaffold outside London’s Newgate Gaol. Per the next day’s Parker’s General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer,

William Smith, Isaac Torres, Charles Barton, Patrick Burne, Patrick Birmingham, John Lynch, James Farrel, James Davis, Daniel Bean, Archibald Burridge, Robert Ganley, and Thomas Randal, for burglary; Peter Haslet alias Edward Verily, for personating and assuming the name of Thomas Howard, of his Majesty’s ship the Pallas, with intent to receive his wages; and Joseph Haws and James Hawkins for a street robbery. The above unhappy men came upon the scaffold a little before seven o’clock; they all seemed devout and penitent, and behaved in every respect as became their miserable situation. The plat-form dropped about a quarter before eight, and at the same moment they were all launched into eternity. The concourse was immense; the windows and roofs of the houses commanding a view of the fatal spot, were crowded, and many thousands of people were assembled in the Old-Bailey before six o’clock.

Despite the immense concourse, this gigantic hanging of miscellaneous thieves rates little better than footnote mention in the period’s press. England was gallows-mad; CapitalPunishmentUK.org makes it 56 hangings in 1784 in London alone. There would be an even larger mass execution (20 people) the next February!

Even by the standards of the Bad Old Days, Old Blighty set a terrific pace. “The frequency of English executions was widely noted by foreign observers,” V.A.C. Gatrell writes in The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868

The Prussian code had restricted capital punishment as early as 1743, and after 1794 only murderers were executed. Catherine‘s reforms to similar effect followed in Russia in 1767 and Joseph II‘s in Austria in 1787. Philadelphia Quakers dispensed with capital punishment after the American Revolution. In Amsterdam in the 1780s less than 1 a year were killed; barely 15 were executed annually in Prussia in the 1770s, and a little over 10 in Sweden in the 1780s. Towards 1770 about 300 people a year were condemned in the whole of France; over twice that number were condemned annually between 1781 and 1785 in London alone. [most were reprieved -ed.] Before the guillotine’s invention French punishments were crueller than English … even so, only 32 people were executed in Paris in 1774-7, against 139 in London.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Theft

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1759: Catharine Knowland, the last to hang on the Tyburn Tree

Add comment June 18th, 2016 Headsman


The Tyburn Tree by Wayne Haag from the Hyde Park Barracks Mural Project, Sydney, Australia. (via)

On this date in 1759, Catharine Knowland became the last fruit of the Tyburn Tree.

Dating to the Elizabethan age, the triangular triple gallows had long secured its place in death penalty iconography.

Over the years its sturdy limbs ushered to the hereafter London’s most hated criminals and her most beloved; dashing outlaws; steely regicides; holy martyrs — in ones and twos, or in heavy crops of up to 24.

By the time of the Bloody Code, what had once been an outlying village was being absorbed into the city, and as we come to our scene in the mid-18th century was a place of rising respectability decreasingly at home with the sordid task appointed to it — and with the disorderly revel thereby invited. Neighbors were pushing to send away the gallows.


William Hogarth, Industry and Idleness, Plate 11; The Idle Prentice Executed at Tyburn (1747). The execution itself is barely visible, swallowed up in a disordered throng.

In little more than a generation’s time, public executions would indeed be removed from Tyburn altogether. But the tree itself did not quite make it to the end of Tyburn’s famous run.

That evil structure’s last client emerged around midnight on the night of April 16. Returning home late from a night of boozing and/or whoring, one Richard Ireland rounded onto Drury Lane where — he told the court — Catharine Knowland

bid me stop, and asked me where I was going; I said, what is that to you; she took hold on the skirt of my coat, and catch’d hold of my watch and pull’d it from my pocket; I made a struggle with her; then up came a man and said, You scoundrel dog, what business have you with my wife, and down he knock’d me; I was sensible and got up directly and pursued her.

The watch was worth 40 shillings, which meant it was worth a thief’s life.

Knowland unsuccessfully tried to plead her belly, a common enough ploy, but it seems her situation excited some sympathy beyond the ordinary for on this day of her death, “When she came to Tyburn, all the Cross-Beams were pulled down; so she was tied up on the Top of one of the upright Posts, and hung with her Back to it.” (London Public Advertiser, Tuesday, June 19, 1759.)

By that summer, beams and posts alike had been demolished — replaced by a smaller, portable structure, to begin public hangings’ a century-long shrinkage from the raucous mobs under the Tyburn Tree until the spectacle at last vanished behind prison walls altogether.

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1816: Philip Street

Add comment June 14th, 2016 Headsman

Two centuries ago today, a burglar named Philip Street hanged at London’s Newgate Gaol.

Though his were merely property crimes — which were still capital offenses at the time — Street was such a prolific burglar that the Old Bailey, faced with a stack of seven victims ready to pursue their cases against him, got a death sentence, and then a second for insurance, and paid the remaining five prosecutors to go away.

Street did enjoy some measure of representation: the barrister John Adolphus — whose subsequent representation of the likes of the Cato Street conspirators, John Thurtell and Benjamin Courvoisier all speak better to his prominence than his acumen — mounted the less than compelling technical objection that the court’s documents identified Street’s victim the Earl of Rosebery “as an Esquire, and commonly called a Lord, because in reality he was a Peer of the Realm, and therefore non constat that he an Esquire; and thefore the prisoner could not be convicted on such an indictment” — just the sort of lame cavil that would lead John Stuart Mill to lament in 1820 that “not one-half only but three-fourths at least of [a lawyer’s] business is deception.”

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1691: William Feilding, wicked inventor

Add comment June 3rd, 2016 Headsman

Eight hangings graced London’s old Tyburn gallows on this date in 1691.

All save one infanticide died for property crimes ranging from “one Linnen Bag, value 1 d. and 20 l. in Mony” to snatching [the victim’s] Hat and Perrywig off his Head” (a stolen wig was no mean loss).

William Feilding catches our eye especially as a thief ahead of his time, for he with his wife “came to all the Prosecutors and pretended that there was a Lady Dead who had left them Legacys, and Wheedled them to go to look after it, and the whilest Robbed their Houses; which was lookt upon as a very wicked Invention.” As all those Nigerian princes in your spam folder know, it was an invention with a rich future ahead.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Mass Executions,Murder,Public Executions,Theft,Women

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1726: James Stephens and Patrick Barnel, broadsided

Add comment May 25th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1726, two men hanged on Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green.

We meet these men, as we often do in this period, through the cheap hang-day publications that were hurried to press to sell for the occasion, and since in this instance we have two such brochures for the same event, it is a handy occasion to turn our gaze upon these ubiquitous ephemera.

Then as now, publishing was a perilous hustle forever beckoning its practitioners to shady expedients further to enhancing narrow margins.

Public executions — especially those of particularly notorious offenders — were pretty much the clickbait of broadside printers, and this one weird trick they could resort to was hawking rival pages each purporting to be the “last words and confession” of the poor sap on the gallows. Competition for access to a condemned fellow was intense, and where there could be the least question as to authenticity (for formulaic plausibilities could easily be hung around the handful of publicly discoverable facts) printers made free to use these solemn partings to take astonishingly vituperative shots at their commercial rivals* — a sure irreverence entirely in keeping with the carnivalesque orgies for which public hangings became infamous. Here a huckster whose main purpose is to use a dying man’s last passion to retaliate a rival scribbler’s previous libel, there a future gallows-bird relieving a gawker’s pocket of the penny he meant to waste on the tabloid.

Well might we latter-day ghouls thank these unprincipled pushers: their scandalous documents, be they ever so compromised and artless, constitute a rare and precious glimpse into the criminal class of the early modern world.

We are indebted in this instance to James Kelly’s fascinating Gallows Speeches From Eighteenth-Century Ireland, a book we have previously cited, for the two rival, contradictory, and mutually recriminatory broadsides recounting this execution. As Kelly’s own introduction notes, the mere existence of multiple competing reports — which we here humbly present for the reader’s discretion — does underscore “that public demand could sustain this volume of publication in individual instances.” And that fact alone would surely make the list of 26 secrets to make it as a printer in the the 18th century.


The True Last Speech, Confession, and Dying Words of
Mr. James Stevens and Account of Patrick Barnwell

who are to be executed at St. Stephen’s Green, on Wednesday the 25th Inst. May, 1726, being condemn’d for feloniously taking from Mr. Philip Kennersly of Dame-street, a Glas-case, Value 50l.

GOOD PEOPLE

If it were not usual for Men of every Degree, in my unfortunate Circumstances to make a Kind of Declaration at their Death of their past Behaviour, I shou’d not, as at this Day, nor even should the above mention’d Considerations move me to make this, my Only and Last, were I not sensible of the many Villanous [sic] Falsities, which might be publish’d concerning my unhappy Fate, by Persons of the vilest Characters themselves; such as one Hoy in Pembroke-Court, who publish’d a scandalous and wicked Paper on the last poor Wretches that suffer’d, under the name of G.F. or George Faulkner, a Person known to have no Being in this Kingdom, this long Time past, altho’ make his Tool and Screen for scandalizing the Chiefest of our Just and Good Governours, as vilely as the poor undone Wretches: Beside him, there is another as notorious for the like Villainy, living at the Rein Deer in Montrath-Street, unworthy, and noted for the above named wicked Practice. On these Considerations only, then I say, I the unhappy and unfortunate James Stephens, have thought fit to tender to Richard Dickson of Dame Street, Printer, THIS, for Publication, as he thinks proper.

FIRST, Then, since I see it is the Will of the most High God, whose Name be for ever Blessed, That in this World I should be brought from my Former happy, to this Wretched state, I submit, beseching [sic] humbly for his most Gracious mercy and Forgiveness for my manifold Transgressions in the Follies of my youth, and misspent Time, which began in the City of London, where I first Drew my Breath, being an entire Stranger here, of Creditable and Honest Parents, who Bred me Tenderly and well, till I was able to go Apprentice, which Time I serv’d to an Image-maker, after I had done with him, I Work’d for my self, and growing worth money, after I had spent some of my untainted Youth, in the Service abroad, belonging to the Ordnance, I set up to keep Hire-Horses, for the Court, in Nature of the great Mr. Blount, in the Parish of St. James, having Licenc’d coaches, and dealing for upwards of 500l, a year, till many Misfortunes comming [sic] on me, I was oblidg’d to leave my Native Country, and on a Woful [sic] Day, I came for Ireland with some small matter of Money, about a year since, where I follow’d making Images, till I came acquainted with the vile Woman Eleanour Fenly, who to save her Life at Tryal falsly [sic] said she was my Wife, Poverty forceing me to keep first with her, she pretending to have Friends who would make my Fortune, which alas! they have, it being her Brother, Fernando Fenly, and his Accomplice who swore my Life away, in declaring That about the 25th of March, last I have a Box of Goods, which were Mr. Kennersly’s, afterwards found in his Custody, and that I paid him 2 Shillings for carryage from the Sun Inn, in Francis Street, to Ross, which I vow all False, nor was I e’er Guilty of what was sworn, tho’ for it I must dye, having no Friend to appear for me, yet with the Constancy of a Christian who can accuse himself, of no great Crimes I go to meet my Fate, Dying in Charity with the World.

But this I further for my Innocency declare, I ne’er had Intention to rob Mr. Kennersly, nor e’er sold any of his Goods, but going into the Country with the Aforemention’d Eleanor Fenly to her Brother’s in Loghreagh, where he lives well; she came in Company with one Byrn, a Fellow [I] did not like and who resolv’d I suppose to do us an Injury, upon which I quarrel’d, and happening to be damag’d by some People in Caterlogh. I resolv’d to get Justice of which, being by ‘em suspected, they got me apprehended on Suspicion of an idle Person, and Nell Fenly getting some Toys to sell there, she was discover’d at that time, on which her Brother made the Examination aforesaid, against me, which caused me to be transmitted and tryed upon it, to save his own Life; she as I before said, escaping by alledging she was my Wife &c. I may likewise add, that had not my Fellow Sufferer hop’d to have sav’d his Life, he cou’d have clear’d me, for which I pray God forgive him, And now Dear Christians, I have nought to say, but heartily beg that some of you, who shall see me dye, out of mere Pity to my unhappy State, (an entire and poor Stranger) will cover me with Earth, an Hindrance to those Men whose Business it is, to keep forlorn Wretches from their Graves, for private Practice o’er their mangled Bodies. I now conclude begging your Prayers to God for my Forgiveness, being about 37 Years of Age, A Protestant Member of the Church of England.

James Stephens.

PATRICK BARNEL Who is to dye with Mr. Stephens, on the Persuasion of some Friends has declin’d making further Confession, than to his Ghostly Father, which he desires so might be forth, lest any imprudent Person should pretend he had made any Speech, giving no further Account of himself, than that he was pritty [sic] well educated, and when young, that he serv’d Major Arthur, to whom he owns great obligation, that after he left him, he went to serve a Weaver, whose Business he after, follow’d, dating his Misfortunes to begin in being concern’d in Mr. Kenerslys Robbery; to whom he afterwards gave up several Things in hopes to save his Life. He Dies a Roman Catholick, begging the Prayers of All good Christians.

Mr. Gray having by Gracious Mercy, obtained a Reprieve, ’tis hop’d no notice will be taken of the absurd Pieces, design’d and publish’d, by the said Hoy in Pembroke Court, or under any feign’d Name whatever, which is notoriously known to be intended by Hoy, who surely will cheat the Publick with some scandalous and lying Paper, intitled a Speech to the abovenamed unfortunate Men, in prejudice and defamation to the Printer hereof, who unwittingly gall’d hiim, in saying th’other Day, He look’d like Death, when a Person affirm’d to his Face, in the open street, he said he was a MOLLY, (term well known for Sodomite) a charge so bold, that it might be wished, before he strives to taint another’s, he’d clear his own Character, from that Aspersion, if so it may be term’d.

Printed by Richard Dickson, and Gwyn Needham in Dames-Street.


The Last Speech, Confession and Dying Words, of
Patrick Barnel, and James Stephens

who are to be executed at St. Stephens Green, this present Wednesday, the 25th of this Inst. May, 1726. For the Robbery of Mr. Kinnersly in Dames-Street.

The Speech of James Stephens.

Good People,

I James Stephens, was born at Cheswick, about five Miles from London: my Parents put me to a free School to learn to write, where I had the Character of an unlucky Boy. At 14 Years of Age, I was entertained by the celebrated Jonathan Wilde, under whom I arrived to such Dexterity in Picking Pockets and Impudence in bare-fac’d Robberies, that I robb’d on a Play Night in Drury Lane Edward Martin, Esq, of 75 Guineas and a Gold Watch. My honest Master for the sake of a Reward of ten Pounds for the Discovery of the Persons who committed the Robbery, made Oath that I was the Person.

But I having Timely notice of it, fled to France, where I with some others Rob’d and Murder’d Mr. Lock, and the English Gentlemen in his Company, then I took Shipping at Calais, and landed at Cork, where Information in a little Time was given against Me, for several Robberies; this obliged me to come to Dublin, where I most impudently perform’d that unparalleled Roguery of Stealing a Glass Case with Rings, Silver Spoons, Snuff-Boxes, &c. to the Value of Seventy Pounds from Mr. Kinnersly Goldsmith in Dame Street. I heartily and sincerely repent of my horrid Crimes, and desire the Prayers of all my Fellow Christians. I dye an unworthy Member of the Church of England.

James Stephens.

The Speech of PATRICK BARNWELL

Good Cristians, [sic]

I Patrick Barnel was born in the County of Dublin of Poor, but Honest Parents; their mean Circumstances was in a great Measure, the Cause of my Present Misfortune, for they could not give me any Education, and I was often obliged to take away from the little Children of the same Town their Victuals to satisfie my Hunger, when I was a Boy, I stole several little Things, and escaped without Punishment.

I was induced to commit great Rogueries; I became acquainted with a Gang of Tories who kept their Rendevouz [sic] in the County of Kerry with whom I committed such Cruel and Barbarous Actions, that we were all Obliged to disperse and shift every one for himself, it was my Fate to come to this City where I had not been above Six Months, before I introduced into the Company of my ellow-Sufferer, who was the Head of a Gang of about a Dozen, having no Manner of Subsisting myself.

I committed several petty Thefts with him and others, and at last that most notorious one for which I now die, I cannot deny that I am guilty, but having a true sence of my Crimes, I repent of them, and I desire your Prayers for my soul, I die a Member of the Church of Rome in which I was bred, and the Lord have mercy on my poor Soul.

N.B. On Sunday last, one Dickson a Printer who publishes Papers under the Name of G Needham, came to us in Newgate, and we not thinking him a proper Person to make any thing publick from us. We desire the publick be aware buying any Speech of ours from him, for whatever is printed by him is an Imposition of the Town, and can only be excused by his saying, He is a poor Boy, and must endeavour to better his miserable Circumstances, and maintain himself and his little Family. He had already advertised, that he has the Speech of one who is not to die.

Dublin: Printed by G.F. in Castle Street.

* The emoluments available for intermediating the sentiments of the hanged become quite obvious through the lucrative quasi-monopoly the Ordinary of Newgate was able to establish around his privileged access to London’s condemned.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Ireland,Public Executions,Theft

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1699: Nikol List, Golden Plate robber

Add comment May 23rd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1699 the robber prince Nikol List was broken on the wheel in the town of Celle — along with seven other members of his gang.

A former soldier and beer-house keeper, Saxony’s bandit career owned the usual long roster of outrages upon person and property but really fixed his name in the heavens (and his soul in the other place) by robbing St. Michael’s Church of Lüneburg of its treasured Golden Plate and sacrilegiously melting it down.

In the end his career was not long — just a few years in the late 1690s, nothing to compare with the likes of his near-contemporary Lips Tullian — for the outrage at St. Michael’s attracted the fury of the Duke of Brunswick who dedicated himself to the prompt destruction of these outlaws.


List is no. 6 in this illustration conflating the executions of various gang members who suffered at different times and places. The full numbered key to this forest of corpses can be found, along various other illustrations, here.

While List was alive and “working” his former house in Beutha was razed and a pillory set on the place instead, to disgrace the naughty native son. Worn “Nikol List Stones” can still be seen there. Two commemorate citizens whom List shot dead evading arrest on St. John’s Eve in 1696:

Christoph Kneuffler, farmer and sheriff of Hartenstein, shot on St. John’s Eve 1696 by Nikol List. This honest man was 50 years and 27 weeks old, and leaves a troubled widow and four children, namely three sons and one daughter.

Gottfried Eckhardt, citizen and butcher of Hartenstein, shot on St. John’s Eve 1696 by Nikol List. This man was 34 years and 34 weeks old, and has a poor afflicted widow and three small uneducated children, two sons and a daughter.

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1741: Caesar and Prince, leaders of a plot to burn New York?

Add comment May 11th, 2016 Headsman

The first executions for New York’s 1741 fires took place on this date in 1741, several weeks before any others. They were two slaves of regal name: Caesar, the property of a baker named John Vaarck, and Prince, who was owned by the merchant John Auboyneau.

The first thing to know about these two men is that they were arrested in the first days of March … more than two weeks before fire consumed Fort George and initiated Gotham’s burning season. Though Prince was out on bail (as were the tavern owners John and Peggy Hughson, also arrested at the same time), Caesar and his white lover Peggy Kerry had been under lock and key throughout the supposed arson spree, awaiting trial for burglary.

Days prior to their arrest, they had contrived to unlock a window and steal coins plus £60 of linen merchandise from the shop of Rebecca Hogg. These men were indeed thieves, and they had a reputation in a town still intimately small (12,000 or so). Back in 1738, Caesar and Prince — along with Cuffee, who in 1741 would again be esteemed their third triumvir — had been carted shirtless through a Manhattan winter’s day, “attended by a Number of Spectators of all Degrees Ages and Sizes, and were continually complimented with Snow Balls and Dirt, and at every Corner had five Lashes with a Cowskin well laid on each of their naked black Backs.” (New York Gazette) The reason was that, in a celebratory mood, the three had broken into a pub and stolen its gin, thereafter toasting themselves the Geneva Club in celebration. They used the liquor as part of a mock initiation ceremony, travestying for their own fraternity the outlandish rites of New York’s white Freemasons. This in turn had led to them christening themselves as Black Masons.

As Jill Lepore notes in New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan, the existence of this mock secret society would be conflated for the prosecutors of the 1741 burnings with a three-year plot to destroy New York.

This alliance of minor crooks was so obvious a target that the bailed-out Prince was re-arrested two days after Fort George burned, at the order of New York’s mayor. Round up the usual suspects!

They are also, collectively, the Patient Zero for that city’s epidemic of incendiary accusations. We can even date the first onset: April 22, 1741. That’s the day the Hughsons’ servant Mary Burton provided to Daniel Horsmanden‘s grand jury the crucial testimony that would cast their society as not merely deviant, but menacing. After making a great show of refusing to give evidence, Burton sang when threatened with the prospect of joining Caesar, Prince, Peggy Kerry, and the Hughsons in city hall’s cellar jail. Mary was no fool: far better the star witness in court than the undercard attraction at the gallows.

And when she started talking, she had a shocking story to tell them — one that would firmly fix upon the accused the city’s rampant rumors and speculations about a black plot.

Accordingly, she being sworn, came before the grand jury; but as they were proceeding to her examination, and before they asked her any questions, she told them she would acquaint them with what she knew relating to the goods stolen from Mr. Hogg’s, but would say nothing about the fires.

This expression thus, as it were providentially, slipping from the evidence, much alarmed the grand jury; for, as they naturally concluded, it did by construction amount to an affirmative, that she could give an account of the occasion of the several fires; and therefore, as it highly became those gentlemen in the discharge of their trust, they determined to use their utmost diligence to sift out the discovery, but still she remained inflexible, till at length, having recourse to religious topics, representing to her the heinousness of the crime which she would be guilty of, if she was privy to, and could discover so wicked a design, as the firing houses about our ears; whereby not only people’s estates would be destroyed, but many persons might lose their lives in the flames: this she would have to answer for at the day of judgment, as much as any person immediately concerned, because she might have prevented this destruction, and would not; so that a most damnable sin would lie at her door; and what need she fear from her divulging it; she was sure of the protection of the magistrates? or the grand jury expressed themselves in words to the same purpose; which arguments at last prevailed, and she gave the following evidence, which however, notwithstanding what had been said, came from her, as if still under some terrible apprehensions or restraints.

Deposition, No. 1. — Mary Burton, being sworn, deposeth,

1. “That Prince and Caesar brought the things of which they had robbed Mr. Hogg, to her master, John Hughson’s house, and that they were handed in through the window, Hughson, his wife, and Peggy receiving them, about two or three o’clock on a Sunday morning.

2. “That Caesar, Prince, and Mr. Philipse’s* negro man (Cuffee) used to meet frequently at her master’s house, and that she had heard them (the negroes) talk frequently of burning the fort; and that they would go down to the fly and burn the whole town; and that her master and mistress said, they would aid and assist them as much as they could.

3. “That in their common conversation they used to say, that when all this was done, Caesar should be governor, and Hughson, her master, should be king.

4. “That Cuffee used to say, that a great many people had too much, and others too little; that his old master had a great deal of money, but that, in a short time, he should have less, and that he (Cuffee) should have more.

5. “That at the same time when the things of which Mr. Hogg was robbed, were brought to her master’s house, they brought some indigo and bees wax, which was likewise received by her master and mistress.

6. “That at the meetings of the three aforesaid negroes, Caesar, Prince, and Cuffee, at her master’s house, they used to say, in their conversations, that when they set fire to the town, they would do it in the night, and as the white people came to extinguish it, they would kill and destroy them.

7. “That she has known at times, seven or eight guns in her master’s house, and some swords, and that she has seen twenty or thirty negroes at one time in her master’s house; and that at such large meetings, the three aforesaid negroes, Cuffee, Prince, and Caesar, were generally present, and most active, and that they used to say, that the other negroes durst not refuse to do what they commanded them, and they were sure that they had a number sufficient to stand by them.

8. “That Hughson (her master) and her mistress used to threaten, that if she, the deponent, ever made mention of the goods stolen from Mr. Hogg, they would poison her; and the negroes swore, if ever she published, or discovered the design of burning the town, they would burn her whenever they met her.

9. “That she never saw any white person in company when they talked of burning the town, but her master, her mistress, and Peggy.”

This evidence of a conspiracy, not only to burn the city, but also destroy and murder the people, was most astonishing to the grand jury, and that any white people should become so abandoned as to confederate with slaves in such an execrable and detestable purpose, could not but be very amazing to everyone that heard it; what could scarce be credited; but that the several fires had been occasioned by some combination of villains, was, at the time of them, naturally to be collected from the manner and circumstances attending them.

By the summer, Mary Burton’s credibility was shot. But for months before her fall from public confidence, the town fence’s 16-year-old servant sent many slaves and some whites too scrambling to protect themselves, unfolding a warren of defensive silences, opportunistic denials, and pay-it-forward name-naming that would flesh out the “twenty or thirty negroes” and more.

Caesar and Prince were just the low-hanging fruit. Languishing in jail and already charged with a theft that could be constructed as a capital crime, their now-certain doom became the leverage used against their white co-accused. Before they died, they would see Caesar’s lover Peggy Kerry, the mother of his son,** “admit” the plot — desperate gambit that would not in the end save her, either.

The court did not bother to keep them around for the arson trials that would come, but it was clear at Caesar and Prince’s sentencing (May 8, 1741) that it wasn’t the stolen linens that were on Judge Philipse’s mind.

I have great reason to believe, that the crimes you now stand convicted of, are not the least of those you have been concerned in; for by your general characters you have been very wicked fellows, hardened sinners, and ripe, as well as ready, for the most enormous and daring enterprises especially you, Caesar: and as the time you have yet to live is to be but very short, I earnestly advise and exhort both of you to employ it in the most diligent and best manner you can, by confessing your sins, repenting sincerely of them, and praying God of his infinite goodness to have mercy on your souls: and as God knows the secrets of your hearts, and cannot be cheated or imposed upon, so you must shortly give an account to him, and answer for all your actions; and depend upon it, if you do not truly repent before you die, there is a hell to punish the wicked eternally.

And as it is not in your powers to make full restitution for the many injuries you have done the public; so I advise both of you to do all that in you is, to prevent further mischief’s, by discovering such persons as have been concerned with you, in designing or endeavouring to burn this city, and to destroy its inhabitants. This I am fully persuaded is in your power to do if you will; if so, and you do not make such discovery, be assured God Almighty will punish you for it, though we do not:† therefore I advise you to consider this well, and I hope both of you will tell the truth.

The condemned slaves did not gratify their persecutors with any such discoveries.

MONDAY, MAY 11

Caesar and Prince were executed this day at the gallows, according to sentence. They died very stubbornly, without confessing any thing about the conspiracy; and denied they knew any thing of it to the last. The body of Caesar was accordingly hung in chains.

These two negroes bore the characters of very wicked idle fellows; had before been detected in some robberies, for which they had been publicly chastised at the whipping-post, and were persons of most obstinate and untractable tempers; so that there was no expectation of drawing any thing from them which would make for the discovery of the conspiracy, though there seemed good reason to conclude, as well from their characters as what had been charged upon them by information from others, that they were two principal ringleaders in it amongst the blacks. It was thought proper to execute them for the robbery, and not wait for the bringing them to a trial for the conspiracy, though the proof against them was strong and clear concerning their guilt as to that also; and it was imagined, that as stealing and plundering was a principal part of the he1lish scheme in agitation, amongst the inferior sort of these infernal confederates, this earnest of example and punishment might break the knot, and induce some of them to unfold this mystery of iniquity, in hopes thereby to recommend themselves to mercy, and it is probable, that with some it had this effect.

* Frederick Philipse, also one of the judges in this case. As already noted, the city was intimately small.

** An infant at the time events unfold here, the child presumably died as it disappears from the record about the time Peggy Kerry was arrested.

† Many other slaves burned for the purported conspiracy instead of “merely” hanging; this surely would have been the fate of Caesar and Prince had they been formally convicted of leading a plot to fire the city. But it’s still not quite the case that they weren’t punished for the fires: slaves being valuable property, it’s rather doubtful that they would have been executed for the linen thefts absent the subsequent security panic.

Part of the set Corpses Strewn: New York’s Slave Conspiracy of 1741.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arson,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,New York,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,Terrorists,Theft,Treason,USA

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1803: Michael Ely, personator

Add comment April 27th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1803, Michael Ely hanged at Newgate Prison for feigning a bit of glory in the ongoing Napoleonic Wars.

The crime was no stolen valor stuff, but “personation” — fraudulently presenting oneself as a different person, in this case with a plain pecuniary objective.

After the HMS Audacious returned from campaigning against Napoleon in the Mediterranean, where she had the honor to capture the 74-gun French man-of-war Genereux near Malta, Audacious crew members were entitled to shares of a royal prize bounty for their acquisition. (Genereux thereafter flew the Union Jack until the ship was broken up in 1816.)

Ely presented himself to the crown’s prize agent as the Audacious seaman Murty Ryan to collect Ryan’s jackpot of one pound, 12 shillings.

One problem: Francis Sawyer was actually acquainted with the crook personally and (so he testified later) “I told him I knew his name was not Murty Ryan.” Ely countered by alleging that he had changed his name to avoid punishment after deserting a previous impressment — a phenomenon that Sawyer agreed was “quite common” and a good enough excuse that Sawyer paid him out, albeit suspiciously. But once the real Murty Ryan showed up looking for his share, Audacious crew members were able to verify that whatever his name might be, that first guy had never been aboard their ship.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Soldiers,Theft,Wartime Executions

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1952: Lloyd Edison Sampsell, the Yacht Bandit

Add comment April 25th, 2016 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

Thanks for a million things. Thanks for a million things. I’ve got a son, six foot three inches, one hundred and seventy pounds. He’s married, got two kids. He’s in the service overseas right now. … So I’ve left something good—one decent thing out of a dirty life …

— Lloyd Edison Sampsell (aka “the Yacht Bandit”), convicted of robbery and murder, gas chamber, California.
Executed April 25, 1952

Sampsell and an accomplice plundered Pacific Coast banks before stealing away in his yacht. He pilfered a total of $200,000 in his career but died with only $5.27 to his name. Sampsell, age fifty-two, was convicted of killing Arthur W. Smith in a San Diego finance company robbery.

Before the gas took its effect, he turned to the nearly one hundred witnesses gathered and winked.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Guest Writers,History,Murder,Other Voices,Pelf,Theft,USA

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1785: Alexander Stewart, the first to hang at the Tolbooth

Add comment April 20th, 2016 Headsman

We’ve recently featured in these pages the very last hanging at Edinburgh’s old Grassmarket, scene of innumerable executions potent in Scottish history.

Beginning in 1785, public hangings were relocated to the Tolbooth, a medieval civic building that had been converted into a notorious prison — an era that was officially christened on this date in 1785 with the sacrifice of a juvenile delinquent.

the first person executed at the west end of the old city gaol, was Alexander Stewart, a youth of only fifteen, who had committed many depredations, and at last had been convicted of breaking into the house of Captain Hugh Dalrymple, of Fordell in the Potterrow, and Neidpath Castle, the seat of the Duke of Queensberry, from which he carried off many articles of value. It was expressly mentioned by the judge in his sentence that he was to be hanged in the Grassmarket, “or any other place the magistrates might appoint,” thus indicating that a change was in contemplation; and accordingly, the west end of the old Tolbooth was fitted up for his execution, which took place on the 20th of April, 1785.

Demolished in 1817, the Tolbooth survives today as a much-spat-upon heart design in the cobblestones marking the gaol’s former location.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Public Executions,Scotland,Theft

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