1677: John S., William Fletcher, and Robert Perkins

Add comment October 17th, 2015 Headsman

The Confession and Execution of the Three Prisoners suffering at Tyburn on Wednesday the 17th of October, 1677

At the Sessions of Oyer and Terminer for London, and Gaole-delivery of Newgate begun at Justice-Hall in the Old Bayly, 10 Octob. and ending on the 12 of the same Month, there were in all (as by a Printed Narrative you may already have heard) Five persons, who being Convicted on fair Tryals (per Patriam) of several capital Crimes, received Sentence of Death: But Two of them, whose Crime was stealing of two horses, appearing to be objects of mercy, as having never been concern’d in any such offences before, and seeming now extremely penitent for the same, obtained a Gracious Reprieve. The other Three were this present Wednesday 17 Octob. carryed to the place of execution, and by a shameful death surrendered their unhappie lives as Victims duely forfeited to the Justice of the Law.

These were all three old notorious offenders; two of them (taken in Gardiners-lane, Westminster) had long followed the Padd, as they called it, that is, Robbed upon the Highway: The other had made it his trade to break open houses, and pilfer away peoples Goods, being burnt in the hand but two Sessions ago: So that if such Malefactors should have longer been endured, honest Subjects would not be able either to sleep securely in their Dwellings, or travel abroad with safety on their lawful occasions; but both within doors and without, been liable to the spoils and outrages of these barbarous Savages.

To assist these poor wretches for the good of their Souls after the time of their Condemnation, the Sheriffs not onely manifested their pious Charity in sending them able Divines to instruct them, and especially Mr. Ordinary, who very laboriously discharges his weighty office on such occasions, but likewise several godly Ministers of their own accord, in Christian-compassion to their perishing condition, were pleased to visit them. Who laid before them the miserable state they were in; That now their days we [sic] numbered, nay their very hours and minutes which they had to live in this world; and yet these few minutes were all the time and opportunity they had to provide for eternity. That they were doom’d by Justice to a certain death; and though ’twas vain for them to flatter themselves with hopes of longer life in this world, yet there was means left, by a speedy, thorow, sincere and hearty repentance of their sins, and fleeing to Christ for mercy and forgiveness, to secure themselves, by vertue of his merits and righteousness, of a most happy and everlasting life in the world to come. That to such vile and sinful wretches as they had been, it was unspeakable mercy that they had yet a little space left, wherein to make peace with their God: for they might have gone on still in riot and wickedness, and been suddenly snatcht away in the very acts of their impiety Etc. These and many other pressing exhortations, together with severe threatnings to affright them and sweet promises to allure them, taken from the Word of God, were made use of, to bring them to a due sense of their sins, and to cry mightily to God for salvation. But the deaf adder refuses the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely All this good seed could take no root, or produce very little visible fruit on the stony ground of two of these Prisoners obdurate hearts; they not seeming (to outward appearance at least) to take that due and sensible notice of this most important counsel, as might be expected from persons in their condition. But the Spirit bloweth where it listeth. The third seemed much affected with this pious advice, and was very earnest and frequent in bewailing his sins, and condemning himself bitterly for having so wickedly mis-spent his precious time heretoforr. He acknowledged to some, that he had several years been a Thief, but not till of late upon the High-way: that at fust his Conscience would after every fact severely check him; but since custom of sinning taking away the sense, he had run on from one degree of wickedness to a greater without controul. He was very frequent in Prayer, wherein he has been heard to express himself to this effect.

Most dreadful and glorious God, though then hatest all the workers of iniquity, yet through the Mediation of they blessed son, with pity behold me a miserable sinner. Had I lived according to thy Commandments, or submitted to the Gospel of thy son, I might approach thee with the confidence of a childe: but I have been a Rebel against thee from my youth up, forgetting the God that made me, and the saviour that redeemed me, quenching and grieving the holy spirit, and slighting the endless Glory which thou hast prepared for me. Oh the precious time which I have lost, which all the world cannot call back; the wonderful love which I unthankfully rejected! How have I lived in continual acts of all kinde of Profaneness, all kind of Debanchery, whoring, swearing, Drunkenness, and especially Theft, which now has brought me to this woful, forlorn, condemned case wherein I am a shame to my friends, and burden to my self; and thou, O God, art my Terrour, who shouldot be my onely Hope and Comfort. Lord, thou knowest my secret sins, which yet are unknown to men, and all their Aggravations. Mine iniquities, Lord, have found me out; my fears and sorrows overwhelm me: a shameful death expects me in this world, and endless torments are ready to receive me in the other. But, Lord! thy Goodness is equal to thy Greatness, thy Mercy over all thy works. Good God, be merciful therefore unto me, the vilest of sinners: save me for thy abundant mercy, for the merit of thy Son, and for the promise of forgiveness which thou hast made through him; for in these alone is all my trust. Thou who didst patiently endure me when I despised thee, Oh do not refuse me now I seek unto thee, and in the dust implore thy mercy. Lord, I ask not for longer life in this world, but for life eternal; not for liberty to sin again, but for deliverance from this sinning nature, and that body of death which overwhelms me. To this purpose Lord give me thy grace to improve these few minutes, and prepare me for death and Judgement; that when I leave this world with Shame, I may be received into glory, and yeeld my departing soul with joy into the faithful hands of my Redeemer. Amen.

He behaved himself very penitently in the Cart, Prayed a considerable time by himself privately at the place of Execution; desired all people to take warning by him to avoid Idleness and Ill Company, which brought him to this Ignominious End. The other joyned in the publick Prayers, but said very little that could be heard. But all of them together suffered very patiently, and with submissive acknowledgements of the Justice of the Sentence.

(Via the invaluable Old Bailey Online)

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1677: Thomas Sadler and William Johnson, mace thieves

2 comments March 16th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1677, Thomas Sadler and William Johnson were hanged at Tyburn for one of the most impudent burglaries in English history.

Thomas Sadler alias Clarke, William Johnson alias Trueman and Thomas Reneger … broke burglariously into the dwelling house of Heneage Lord Finch the Lord Chancellor of the said Lord the King and then and there stole and carried off a silver mace gilt gold worth one hundred pounds and two velvet purses imbroydered with gold and and silver and sett with pearles, worth forty pounds, of the goods and chattels of the said Lord the King.”

That’s right. They robbed the Lord Chancellor of his ceremonial mace while he slept, and a couple of embroidered ceremonial purses. (Representative pictures here.) The only reason they didn’t make off with the Great Seal of the Realm too was that the Chancellor had it under his pillow while he slept, for safekeeping. That’s some security.

The robbers, to their misfortune, were little better conscious of this crucial precaution.

They paraded through the darkened streets with mace poised on shoulder, a glorious revelry of knaves celebrating what they surely anticipated was the signal achievement of their lives — and the knell of their deaths.

Upon return to their lodging-house, and having no particular place to stash this hottest of loot, they just stuck it in a cabinet. There, the landlady ran across it while cleaning, and raised the alarum.

So Sadler and Johnson died for the astounding crime — Reneger, who didn’t, hadn’t been involved in a previous robbery that Sadler and Johnson committed, which might have helped mitigate his guilt — along with three distinctly undercard common criminals whom even the Newgate Ordinary scarcely noticed.

Johnson left a mournful little self-eulogy, many centuries since lost but preserved for us in that Ordinary’s evocative text.

Before his Tryal, having an excellent fancie, and a hand no less happy at Limning, he had drawn most lively on the wall of his Chamber in Newgate, a pair of Scales, and in one balance the Mace, and in the other Tyburn; the last much over weighing the first: But since his Condemnation, he drew in one Scale the Gallows, in the other a Crucifix; the first mounted up by the greater weight of the last, and these lines under-written, as I have been informed.

My Precious Lord, from all Transgressions free, Was pleas’d, in tender pity unto me, To undergo the Ignominious Tree.

I Suffer justly; but his Sacrifice, I trust, shall make my groveling Spirit rise, And from the Gibbet mount the glorious Skies.

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1677: Five witches at the Gallowgreen of Paisley

Add comment February 20th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1677, Janet Mathie, Bessie Weir, Margaret Jackson, John Stewart, and Marjory Craig were hanged for having bewitched a Sir George Maxwell of Pollok.

These unfortunates were “sacrificed on the altar of popular superstition”, in the words of a later broadside — one element of that superstition being the belief in the superordinary insight of the deaf-dumb.

God hath taken away the tongue and ear of the dumb, and hath given them a rich gift of knowledge in the room of it; and by this would teach all of us his goodness to his creatures, and that we should study humility and sobriety of mind.

This is a culture working with some embarrassingly primitive forensics to begin with.

So, when the Pollok lord started ailing, the indications by “a young deaf and dumb girl, of unknown origin,” to the effect that a local family was doing him mischief by stabbing a wax effigy, well, that was enough to open a case. When they found a wax effigy right where the girl pointed, “The prosecution wanted no stronger proof.”

So they got the 14-year-old daughter (she was spared execution this date) to confess, and tortured her brother into agreeing that the devil appeared as a cloven-hooved Negro, and our unnamed detective-girl miraculously found not one, not two, but three different effigies all attributed to the diabolical voodoo parties to cinch the condemnation.

It’s rather embarrassing what tripe did then and can still now pass for persuasive indicia of guilt among parties already committed to convicting someone. Like show trial victims, even the condemned were swept into the act of auto-denunciation — one final tenuous strand to link an outcast to her community, even from the stake. At least, some of them were.

John and Annabel exhorted their mother to confess, reminding her of all the meetings which she had had with the devil in her own house, and that “a summer’s day would not be sufficient to relate what passages had been between the devil and her.” But Jennet Mathie was a stern, brave, high-hearted Scotch woman, and would not seal her sorrow with a lie. “Nothing could prevail with her obdured and hardened heart,” so she and all, save young Annabel, were burnt; and when she was bound to the stake, the spectators saw after a while a black, pitchy ball foam out of her mouth, which, after the fire was kindled, grew to the size of a walnut, and flew out into sparks like squibs. This was the devil leaving her. As for Bessie Weir … the devil left her when she was executed, in the form of a raven; for so he owned and dishonoured his chosen ones.

“The dumbe girl, Jennet Douglas, now speaks well, and knows Latine, which she never learned, and discovers things past!” says Sinclair. But she still followed her old trade. She had mesmeric visions, and was evidently a “sensitive;” and some of the people believed in her, as inspired and divine, and some came, perhaps mockingly, to test her. (From E.L. Linton)

Sometimes, at least, these malevolent professional accusers get their comeuppance.

The dumb girl herself was afterwards carried before the great council at Edinburgh, imprisoned, scourged through the town, and then banished to “some forraigne Plantation,” whence she reappears no more to vex her generation. God forgive her! She has passed long years ago to her account, and may her guilty soul be saved, and all its burning blood-stains cleansed and assoilzed!

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1677: Seven at Tyburn

3 comments May 4th, 2010 Headsman

Many an hour can be spent enjoying the Old Bailey Online site for the forgotten criminals of a bygone age.

May 4, 1677 takes us to Restoration England for a routine hanging of seven at Tyburn, who all but come to life with just the few words of the Ordinary’s account.

One of the other Four [Margaret Spicer] was Condemned for murthering her Bastard-Childe, which she most unnaturally kill’d and hid in her bed for some days, till the same was discovered by one that came to visit her. As she denied her murthering of it at the Bar, so she persisted in that negative to Master Ordinary and other Ministers since she received Sentence, alleadging that it was Stillborn; or at least, contracted its death as soon as ever it saluted the light, by an accidental fall; However, the Law, to prevent such presences which in all Cases of that kind might be made, obliging the woman immediately after to Cry out, and she failing therein, and as ’tis shrewdly apparent by Circumstance, was the principal Author of its destruction, she was condemned to die, and this day executed at Tyburn according to Sentence.

If you didn’t report your pregnancy, the infanticide presumption went against you. We’ve seen this elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Dine siblings of Enfield got it in the neck for mutilating a girl who had spurned one of them, quite the spiteful little affair down in the servant-quarters.

Three others, as the Crime they suffered for was the first they were known to have committed; so was it so strange and heinous, as searce ever to have been done by any body but themselves: So that we may say, They died Presidents of Punishment, for a Crime unpresidented. These were the two Brothers and Sister of Enfield, who so barbarously mangled Jane King, to whom Robert, one of the Brothers, pretended Love; but after a long acquaintance, being Fellow-Servants together, she refused to have him: whereupon his treacherous Love turned to Hatred and Malice, instigated (as ’tis supposed) chiefly thereunto by this unhappy Sister, with whom and his Brother he lays a Plot to disfigure her; maliciously and enviously designing, that because she would not accept of him, they would render her so deformed, that she her self should not be acceptable to any other person. In pursuance whereof, on the 20 February last about 8 of the clock in the evening, Robert and Jane being only up, and their aged Master in bed, somealls Robert by his name at the back-door, whimmediatley opens; and then comes in the Sister and Brother, the later of whom seizes upon Jane and holds her, while the former barbarous Furcy cuts her Eye so lamentably that she has utterly lost the use of it; mangles her Nose in a dismal manner, insomuch that two bones were taken out of it; her Tongue she flit, and almost cut off both her Lips; and also gave her a wound and two slabs in the Neck, and several slashes on the Arm, Etc. And having dispatch’d this unheard of Cruelty, left her for dead, and went home; who being gone, Robert cries cut Murther and Thieves; and Neighbours coming in, presends to be knock’s down, Etc. but in pleas’d God Jane, after three or four days, recovered herand then declared who had abused her, andully proved the same at the Sessions; whereupon they were all Condemned according to the Statute in that Case made and provided.

Yet did they all persist in the denial of the Fact, after their Condemnation, even to the day of their Death: nor would all Perswasions or Admonitions of several Ministers that came to visit them, get any acknowledgement that they had any hand in it. Though on the Sunday they carried themselves very attentively in the Chappel, and a great part of the Sermon was to perswade the necessity of Confession in order to their Souls health, yet they could not be prevailed upon; only on the Munday Margaret seemed a little unusually troubled, and delared, That she had something lay upon her Conscience, and desired she might speak with a Minister in private; whereupon a Minister was sent for, who took her aside, and hoping then she would have made an ingenuous Discovery, press’d her with all imaginable Arguments, but to no purpose: For she told him, she knew nothing of it; whereupon he as’d her, What it was she said troubled her, and lay upon her Conscience, for which she defired to speak with a Minister by her self: To which,all the answer that he could get was, That she had, when she said so, something in her head, but now she had forgot it.

[Note: lacking access to an original, I’ve erred on the side of caution in tidying up this text from the obviously squirrelly copy at the Old Bailey Online. Hopefully it’s still readable despite dicey scanning and 17th century language.]

This is an interesting case, seemingly prosecuted under the Coventry Act* against deliberate maiming — contra the claim elsewhere in these pages that this legislation did not claim a juridical victim until 1722.

* “It was the first President of Punishment on that most necessary Statute against cutting off Noses, disfiguring and maiming his Majesties Subjects … it was a premeditated act of Malice to render her deform’d and unfit for any bodies.”

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1677: William Drummond, for Bacon’s Rebellion

3 comments January 20th, 2010 Headsman

“Mr. Drummond, I am more glad to see you than any man in Virginia; you shall hang in half an hour.”

Virginia Governor William Berkeley didn’t deliver gallows justice as rapidly as promised, but the outcome was just as certain.

Scotsman William Drummond, the former colonial governor of Abermarle and therefore the first governor of North Carolina,

was made to walk to Middle Plantation, about eight miles distant, and tried before a drum-head court-martial, the next day, at the house of James Bray, Esq., under circumstances of great brutality. He was not permitted to answer for himself; his wife’s ring was torn from his finger; he was stripped before conviction, was sentenced at one o’clock and hanged at four. (Source)

There’s nothing worse than a poor winner.

Drummond caught Berkeley’s considerable wrath for associating himself with Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion of frontier settlers demanding lower taxes and more energetic genocide against their Indian neighbors. When Berkeley balked, the movement metastasized into a republican revolution which declared the agent of royal authority in Virginia to have abdicated and proposed to reconstitute it by popular convocation.

It was very much short of an actual attempt to separate from England, but in its form and complaints one easily perceives the germ of the American Revolution a century hence. Sarah Drummond was reported to have been at least as vehement as her hanged spouse, and she is credited with prophesying “the child that is unborn shall have cause to rejoice for the good that will come by the rising of the country.”

Armed struggle between two desperate factions was truncated by the fatal case of dysentery* contracted by the namesake insurrectionary. His unpleasant and untimely demise crippled the rising rising, and left Drummond as about the most prominent target available for the victorious Berkeley’s fury.

Not that there wasn’t much more to go around — even when the British navy finally landed in late January with reinforcements too late to do any good, a general amnesty Berkeley had not clemency enough to use, and a successor to Berkeley the aging governor did not like one bit. Nineteenth-century historian George Bancroft in his History of the Colonization of the United States writes of the crackdown,

In defiance of remonstrances, executions continued till twenty-two had been hanged.** Three others had died of cruelty in prison; three more had fled before trial; two had escaped after conviction. More blood was shed than, on the action of our present system [i.e., the constitutional government of the United States], would be shed for political offences in a thousand years. Nor is it certain when the carnage would have ended, had not the assembly convened in February, 1677, voted an address “that the governor would spill no more blood.”

Finally the new guy managed to get Drummond on a boat back to the mother country with an unflattering report of his conduct. The crotchety septuagenarian, who had been a spry mid-30’s courtier when first appointed Virginia governor by Charles I, was coldly received by Charles II. “The old fool,” remarked the sovereign, “has taken more lives in that naked country than I have taken for the murder of my father.”

* “The bloodie flux” was an unsatisfying avenger for his foes, as indicated by the doggerel

“Bacon is Dead, I am sorry at my hart
That lice and flux should take the hangman’s part”

** Some sources put the total number executed at 23, not 22; I have been unable to locate the source of this discrepancy.

Part of the Themed Set: Resistance and Rebellion in the Restoration.

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