1668: Walter P(e)ake

Add comment December 17th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1668, Walter Peake or Pake was hanged in front of his own inn, for the drunken murder of his friend (and his occasional lawyer).

Our narrative below comes from an 1855 volume determined to establish the ancient presence (if not perhaps the consistently laudable behavior) of Catholics in Maryland. The distractingly jagged interposition of microquotes is original to the piece; these all allude to the record of the trial preserved in the Archives of Maryland, Volume 57. The indictment appears on p. 352 and after a couple of additional interceding indictments touching unrelated cases, the record of Peake/Pake’s trial unfolds from p. 354-356.

A genealogist’s take on this dangling ancestor is also available here.


It still remains for us, to notice the life of another Assembly-man of 1649; but one upon whose memory, is cast the shade of sin and shame; whose fate it was, under the stern laws of that period, to look forward, as the consequence of his own deed, to the forfeiture of all his lands, and to the beggary of his children; and, about the sixtieth year of his age, to suffer a felon’s death. The time of his arrival is not exactly known; but it is probable, he came in 1646; and that, in 1648 and 1649 (when he sat in the Assembly, apparently one of the most respectable members), he resided in Newtown hundred; as he certainly did soon afterwards, and for a period of many years later. From his association with Governor Calvert, we cannot doubt the sincerity of his attachment to the proprietary’s government. There is also further evidence of his faith in the Roman church, derived from the fact, that he did not sign the Protestant Declaration; from the composition of the jury, which tried his painful case; from his intimacy with many of the noted members of the Roman church, from more than one of whom did his children, at different times, receive those gifts, which it was so much the practice of the early colonial god-fathers to present; from the well-known Roman Catholic family of Peake, living in St. Mary’s, as late as the American Revolution, whose ascent indeed cannot be clearly traced (such has been the destruction of our records), but who, we have but little ground to doubt, were either his lineal or his collateral descendants; from the names given to his children; and from the marks borne by the tracts, he had taken up. His eldest daughter was named after the Virgin Mother; his son, in remembrance of him who is regarded as the chief of the Apostles, and the founder of the universal primacy of the Roman see. The names of his wife, of a second daughter, of a third member of his family, and of a friend, were, each of them, given to corresponding tracts, all of which had the prefix of St. More estates were surveyed for him, with the Roman Catholic mark, than for Governor Calvert, for Capt. Cornwallis, for Mr. Lewger, for Doctor Gerrard, or for any other Roman Catholic colonist in the whole province of Maryland. The evidence is conclusive.

At St. Mary’s city, in the month of December, during the year 1668, sat the high Provincial Court of the Right Honorable Cecilius, the lord proprietary. Charles Calvert, the governor, subsequently the third baron of Baltimore, was the chief justice. Before the bar of this tribunal, appeared this Assembly-man, indicted for the murder of William Price, by piercing him, with a “sword,” “on the left,” “through, to his right side, under the shoulder;” and then cutting his “throat,” to “the depth of three inches.” His plea (the usual one in such cases) was Not Guilty. Thomas Sprigg was the chief member of the grand jury; and Christopher Rowsby (destined, himself, many years afterwards, to die by the hand of violence*), the foreman of the panel summoned to try the case. No technical objection is made to the indictment; no attorney appears on the prisoner’s behalf; no testimony is offered in his defence; no witness for the proprietary, in any way, crossexamined.” The jury retire; but soon return with their verdict. Asking the court to say, whether the deed was manslaughter, or murder; they find he “is guilty of the death,” but “was drunk” at the time, and knew not “what he did.” He addresses no appeal to the sympathy of the judges; he submits no objection to the form of the verdict; but still remains in silence. “The whole bench, then,” decide, he is guilty of “murder.” But neither against the decision of the court, nor the impending sentence of death, does he utter a word. Once, and once only, did he open his mouth. It was the moment after the sentence. Then, he “desired,” as a favor (and the request was not denied), that “he” might “suffer death before his own house, where he” had “committed the fact.” Thus perished and passed away, upon the gallows, in the spirit of a Catholic penitent, after a life of toilsome, heroic sacrifice in the wilderness, one of the men so honorably connected with the most sublime and magnificent conception of the seventeenth century! Pope Alney was the name of his executioner — the only fact, which gives him a claim to any place upon the page of our country’s history.

* Rowsby (alternatively, Rousby) was fatally stabbed by George Talbot, a nephew of Lord Baltimore. (There’s a Talbot County, Maryland, which isn’t named for him personally but whose existence testifies to his family’s pull.) Talbot hid out in a cave that still bears his name on Garrett Island (aka Watson’s Island) — diligently fed by falcons, per local legend — before surrendering himself to judgment and the pardon of his kinsman, the governor. -ed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Maryland,Murder,Public Executions,USA

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1668: Two men and a woman, too early for Samuel Pepys

1 comment October 23rd, 2015 Headsman

The L.P. Hartley saw about the past as a foreign country might roll a few eyes at the neighborhood history department, but one cannot dispute that the march of time has fundamentally altered many particulars of our everyday life.

Public executions are among the phenomena that ancestor generations once reckoned a routine fixture of the world, but for most of us are little but the stuff of fantastic nightmares. It requires an act of conscious imagination to project oneself into a world where expiring convicts propped up on breaking-wheels are just a part of the scenery — as in this absurd episode from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

This date’s entry arrives courtesy of the pen of intrepid 17th century English diarist Samuel Pepys, whose faithful daily journals frequently record the public deaths occurring here and there like so many matinees.** Pepys at one level is a very accessible figure as he hustles through bourgeois banalities; that people are strung up and butchered around him and the fact rates nothing but a stray subordinate clause rudely injects that foreign past into his narrative.

On October 23, 1668, Pepys worked the day’s hanging right into an industrious calendar of business and social calls. (He attended Tyburn in the company of a surgeon, which made it a possible business trip for his companion.) Like the rest of us, Pepys wound up so pinched for time that he ran late and ended up missing the execution full stop, but he didn’t let the snafu perturb his day one bit.

Up, and plasterers at work and painters about my house. Commissioner Middleton and I to St. James’s, where with the rest of our company we attended on our usual business the Duke of York. Thence I to White Hall, to my Lord Sandwich’s, where I find my Lord within, but busy, private; and so I staid a little talking with the young gentlemen: and so away with Mr. Pierce, the surgeon, towards Tyburne, to see the people executed; but come too late, it being done; two men and a woman hanged, and so back again and to my coachmaker’s, and there did come a little nearer agreement for the coach, and so to Duck Lane, and there my bookseller’s, and saw his moher, but elle is so big-bellied that elle is not worth seeing. So home, and there all alone to dinner, my wife and W. Hewer being gone to Deptford to see her mother, and so I to the office all the afternoon.

After which Pepys turns as if to the our guilty-pleasure TMZ bookmark, and begins gossiping about the bawdy shenanigans of the royal court.

* Of course, the question depends on place as well as time; public executions are still routine in a few locales today — such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

** Viz., the regicides as a successful sequel to the Charles I show:

I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-General Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition … Thus it was my chance to see the King beheaded at White Hall, and to see the first blood shed in revenge for the blood of the King at Charing Cross.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Women

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1668: A Dutch suicide, posthumously gibbeted

2 comments June 26th, 2013 Headsman

A man … who was in the habit of asking his wife for money to buy brandy, would on her refusal say that he would go hang himself. When on 23 June 1668 he again asked for two pennies to buy brandy, his wife said she had no money, whereupon he replied, “I will hang myself or may the devil take me.” His wife replied, “Do whatever you like, you always say that,” and went back to her cleaning. Shortly thereafter, she found that her husband had hanged himself in their home. She then called for the neighbors, who have all made declarations and given evidence. On a charge by the bailiff, his corpse has been taken to the Volewijk on 26 June 1668 and hanged on a gibbet.

This excerpt, via Machiel Bosman’s chapter “The Judicial Treatment of Suicide in Amsterdam” in From Sin to Insanity: Suicide in Early Modern Europe, represents the last documented case of the Dutch posthumously punishing a suicide.

Well … a certain class of suicide.

It seems that Dutch law from about the 16th century, and certainly in the 17th century, began drawing a categorical distinction between suicides driven by madness or despair, and those ob conscientiam criminis — criminals who took their life to cheat the law.

Posthumous execution was inflicted upon the latter all the way up until the French Revolution reached the Low Countries in 1795. Bosman, for example, notes the case of a thief gibbeted in Amsterdam in 1792 after he hanged himself in jail. For non-criminal suicides, “punishment” was more typically a silent night-time burial, perhaps in unconsecrated ground: a meaningful deterrent for at least some of the living, but very distinct from judicial infamy. The widower of a 1532 suicide had even successfully appealed Amsterdam’s attempt to levy a punitive fine on the estate.

Hans Bontemantel, one of Amsterdam’s sheriffs, was incensed by the archaic sentence executed in 1668: “I am not responsible for this,” he noted in the margin of his summary. “And it is against the law.”

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Netherlands,Posthumous Exonerations,Public Executions

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