1678: Thomas Hellier, “Groans and Sighs”

1 comment August 5th, 2019 Headsman

Thomas Hellier, a miserable New World indentured servant who murdered his master and mistress along with another servant to escape his Virginia plantation, was hanged on this date in 1678.

Desperate in London after frittering away the £12 he stole from his parents without successfully getting his barbering/surgeon business off the ground, Hellier was talked into signing into an indenture. To his recruiter, the skeptical Hellier remembered (in his gallows confession),

I replied, I had heard so bad a character of that Country, that I dreaded going thither, in regard I abhorred the Ax and the Haw. He told me, he would promise I should be onely employ’d in Merchants Accompts, and such Employments to which I had been bred, if they were here used.

Just get them to sign on the line which is dotted. Promises to the contrary, Hellier upon arrival got sold straightaway to a farm that calloused his surgeon’s hands with all the abhorrent tools. The place was literally named the Hard Labour Plantation.

Friend of the site Anthony Vaver (author of Bound with an Iron Chain and Early American Criminals) has a nice profile of this small bit of chum for the emerging Atlantic economy on his site Early American Crime.

It seems that after trying and failing to escape his farm once, Hellier loosed himself by busting into the master’s bedchamber with an axe and bashing to death Mr. Cutbeard Williamson — right hand to God, that’s the name — and his wife, plus the maid who also resided in the house. Although he fled the grounds, neighbors suspicious of his close-cropped hair — a scarlet letter imposed after his previous escape to mark him as a runaway — detained him and the law soon caught up.

Hellier took the opportunity of his execution to sting the Virginia planter class for its abuse of employees, although to some readers eyes it might equally appear a manifesto for laziness.

How much more consonant and agreeable were it to common Policy, Self-interest, as well as true Christian Charity, for all Masters in Virginia, Planters as well as others, to consider first their own Ability, and the Capacity of the Servants whom they designe to purchase, before they deal for them; sincerely at the same time imparting to them, What their Work must be, and what their Usage? And if, by enquiry into their former Condition, they discover them improper persons for their purpose; How much a wiser course were it, that such should seasonably pitch their choice on some others, more useful for them? Or if they will chuse no others, Conscience and Christianity sure ought to oblige them to use such Servants as their Christian Brethren, with Gentleness and Courtesie, content with their honest endeavours, not Tyrannizing over Christians, as Turks do over Galley-slaves, compelling them unmercifully beyond their strength.

For though Masters justly do expect and require Fidelity and painful Industry from their Christian Servants, and such Servants ought to put themselves forth to their utmost power for their Masters Benefit: Yet, the merciful Man exerciseth Mercy towards his Beast, much more toward a Christian Servant. And let cruel, tyrannical, Egyptian Task-masters know, that their Master is also in Heaven, whose Omniscience beholds and knows all persons dealings, and will judge according to Equity, without respect of persons, in his own due time, and listen to the Groans and Sighs of poor oppressed Wretches, vindicating the cause of injur’d Innocents, retributing crosses, vexations and troubles to all Wrong-doers.

And whereas this poor Penitent Wretch declar’d, That the bitterness of his ill-tongued Mistress was the main immediate provocation prompting and exciting him to give way to Satan’s suggestions, while he tempted him to perpetrate this horrid, execrable Outrage: I suppose, all will grant, that Bitterness in any case (especially to morigerous Servants of a gentle Temper, obediently willing to do their endeavours) is no way Christian-like nor commendable, but rather Patience and kinde usage … Also you that are Masters of Servants in this Country, have respect to them, to let them have that which is necessary for them, with good words, and not (Dam you dog, do such a thing, or such a thing.) They are not Dogs, who are professed Christians, and bear God’s Image; happily they are as good Christians as your selves, and as well bred and educated, though through Poverty they are forced to seek Christianity under thy roof; where they usually find nothing but Tyranny. Be good to your Servants, as you would have God be good to you. Servants, in all things obey your Masters according to the flesh, not with eye-service as man-pleasers, but with singleness of heart, fearing God. Masters, give to your Servants what is right and equal; know that you also have a Master in Heaven.

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1678: Five at Tyburn

Add comment September 6th, 2018 Headsman

Three men and two women hanged at Tyburn on this date in 1678.

Our text here is one of the earliest of the Ordinary’s Accounts, a far shorter and less ostentatious affair than examples of the genre even a few years later from the hand of a clergyman who has scarcely begun to grasp his true calling, moving copy.


THE CONFESSION AND EXECUTION Of the Five PRISONERS That suffered on the New Gallows at TYBURN On Friday the 6th of September 1678.

At which time were Executed

Daniel Massey. John Johnson. Sarah Brampfield. Hannah Smith, otherwise call'd Hebshebeth Cobb. Anne Davis, alias Smalman.

With Brief Notes of Two SERMONS Preached before them after Condemnation, their Carriage in Prison, and last Speeches at the place of Execution.
The Confession & Execution of the several Prisoners that suffered on the New Gallows at Tyburn, on Friday the 6th of September 1678.

AT the last Sessions there were in all Ten persons Condemned to die; Four menf or Robberies on the Highway, and Six women for Felonies here in Town, either Lifting (as they call it) of Goods out of Shops, or else Robbing those whom they pretended to serve: both which wicked Practises are become so common, and more than once followed by these incorrigible Prisoners, that it was highly necessary to make them Exemplary. Two of the before-mentioned men, viz. those concerned in that barbarous Assault and Robbery, whereof a particular Narrative hath been made publick by the unexpected Mediation of some generous Friends; and the women whose Crimes had not been so great and obstinately continued in as the others, obtained his Majesties gracious Reprieve: and another woman, immediately after she stood attainted, was reprieved by the Court, in reguard she was found by a Female Jury to be quick with Childe.

The Rest came this day to suffer, being charitably indulged in pity to their Souls, so long time to sit and prepare themselves for their great and terrible Change. In order to which, on the Lords-day before, there were two Sermons on most suitable Texts preached before them in the Chappel of Newgate. That in the Forenoon on the fifth verse of the 38 Psalm — My wounds stink and are corrupt, because of my foolishness: Wherein the Minister very pathetically laid open the deplorable Condition such sinners are in by Nature, wallowing not onely in their original Depravity and Corruption, but in continued actual Transgressions against the holy Laws of God; whereby they become abominable, and as a loathsome stench in the Nostrils of that pure Majesty and all good men; and all this occasioned by their own foolishness, that is, their wilful rebellion and obstinacy against all the dictates of Reason, offers of Grace, and impulses of the Holy Spirit upon their Consciences. Which having, like a true Bonaerges, hereby endeavoured to awaken, and put them into a serious sense and apprehension of their lost, undone, and perishing Estate, without speedy and sincere Repentance.

In the Afternoon, as a Son of Consolation, from the 147 Psalm, vers. 3. He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds, he came to shew them the infinite Mercies of God, and Love of Jesus Christ, if they would come in and accept of Pardon and Salvation upon Gospel-terms. That although they had made their wounds to fester and rankle by their foolishness, and had Souls all over bespread with a filthy Leprosie, yet there was Balm in Gilead, an Almighty Physician, both able and willing to heal them, if they would submit to his Prescriptions. In order to which, he gave them divers most necessary and excellent Directions; Not to deceive themselves with a false and palliated Cure, but to close with Christ on his own Terms, and in all his Offices, as their King to Rule them, and their Prophet to Guide them, as well as their Priest to Intercede and make Atonement for them. To hate Sin more, because it was displeasing to God, than because it brought upon them temporal or eternal Punishments. To be as desirous to be Holy as to be Happy; because none can be justified until they are sanctified, Etc.

During the whole time of Religious Worship, and the Sermons, they behaved themselves very Reverently and Attentively; nor was the Minister wanting afterwards, daily to visit them, with pressing Exhortations, and necessary directions to sit them for their last end; especially charging them to disburthen their Consciences, and give glory to God by a free and hearty Confession of their Sins; which had so good an effect, as to bring them to an Acknowledgment; not only in general term, but particularly bewailing the Ill Courses of their past Lives; in neglect of the publick Divine Worship, Violation of the Lords day, Drunkenness, Swearing, and continual practises of Lascivious Debauchery; Two of them above the rest abounding in expressions of Penitence, and endeavouring to improve those few moments of their Lives, to work out their Salvation, and make their peace with God; begging heartily forgiveness from his most holy Majesty, for their Rebellion against his Precepts, and of all those whom they had wronged, by violent taking away their Temporal Goods.

Some of the Women had been Condemned before, and would often bewail the wickedness of their Hearts, that would take no warning thereby: the Men alleadged, they were ignorantly drawn in to that ill Fact, for which they suffer’d, being their first of that kind, and rather by the unhappy operation of too much Drink, than any premeditated design; yet confessed, they had more than once deserved to Dye, and freely acknowledged the justice of the punishment they were to suffer.

At the place of Execution they said little, besides those common, but too much neglected Exhortations, desiring all present to take Warning by them, and remember their Creator in the days of their youth; Not to suffer themselves to be seduced by Ill Company, or sensual pleasures, which had been the means of their destruction, and would be so of all, that did not continually keep a reverent fear of God, and his Worship and Laws in their Hearts.

Thus heartily praying to God for Forgiveness, and to receive their Souls for the alone Merits of his blessed Son; and desiring all good people to joyn with them and for them in those Supplications, they submitted to the Sentence, and taking their leave of all things in this world, were wasted into the unfathomable Regions of Eternity.

FINIS.

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1678: Edward Colman, Popish Plot victim

Add comment December 3rd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1678, Catholic courtier Edward Col(e)man was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn — the second victim of Titus Oates’s “Popish Plot” concotion.

Colman was a Catholic convert whose zeal for the old faith led him into a variety of treacherous intrigues with the French court — although Colman’s eager and fruitless offices more annoyed than profited his allies.

His behavior was sufficiently indiscreet that fabulist Titus Oates had Colman queued up by name* as a Catholic plotter in the first round of 1678 Catholic terrorism allegations that would roil the realm for the next three years.

That indiscretion was very real, however, and extended to a careless presumption of his own safety. He seems to have been tipped to his danger by the judge who first took Oates’s evidence, a friend named Sir Edmund Godfrey, but he failed to use this advance intelligence to destroy his own correspondence. Godfrey in his own turn went on to a starring role in the Popish Plot debacle when he turned up murdered in October of 1678, a crime whose immediate attribution to the Catholic conspiracy that Oates had unfolded for him sent England clear round the bend.**

Colman’s case had already begun and half-fizzled by that point but with the apparent assassination of the judge a cry for his own blood now shook Parliament — “Colman’s letters!” alluding to that correspondence he surely wished he had burned: its volumes unfolded intelligence leaks, offers to exert French influence in the government even so far as dissolving Parliament, and applications for King Louis’s gold.

There are some incriminating examples in the trial transcript that, Lord Chief Justice William Scroggs charged, show “That your Design was to bring in Popery into England, and to promote the interest of the French King in this place, for which you hoped to have a Pension.” While Oates was a legendary perjurer and his fables destined to take the lives of 20-odd innocent souls in the months to come, the fact was that Colman really was caught out. His scheming ought not have merited such spectacular punishment under less extraordinary circumstances, but the things Colman really did do made it easy for Oates to position him as a paymaster in the fictitious regicidal conspiracy. “Mr. Colman, your own papers are enough to condemn you,” Scroggs said when his prisoner asserted innocence.

Nor could he protect himself with position. (Men even higher than Colman would succumb to the panic in time.) As detestably elevated as Colman looked to the average commoner, he was not himself a lord and was already (pre-Oates) regarded by King Charles II and many members of the court as a loose cannon. Everything pointed to sacrificing him … and they did. But as events would prove, the popular rage was not quenched on Colman’s bones alone.

The always-recommended BBC In Our Time podcast covers the Popish Plot in its May 12, 2016 episode.

* By name — not by face: Oates would be embarrassed at Colman’s eventual trial by the prisoner pointing out that Oates, who now claimed to have been personally paid out by Colman for various seditious errands, had utterly failed to recognize his “conspirator” when Oates appeared before the Privy Council to lay his charges in September.

** Godfrey’s murder has never been satisfactorily explained. There’s a good chance that it was a wholly unrelated affair with amazing bad timing; the revenge of the truculent Earl of Pembroke, whom Godfrey had prosecuted for murder a few months previous, is one leading possibility.

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1678: James Mitchell, Covenanter assassin

Add comment January 18th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1678, Covenanter radical James Mitchell was hanged at Edinburgh for attempting to murder the Archbishop of St. Andrews.

Mitchell’s intended victim, James Sharp by name, is one of Scottish history’s great villains — tasked as he was to cheat Presbyterians of the religious reform they had spent a generation seeking. After Cromwell had King Charles I beheaded, his heir Charles II was nothing but an exile pretending to the throne his father had been deposed from.

Desperate for allies, he made a reluctant pact with Scottish allies to promulgate Presbyterianism throughout the realm should he regain the kingdom: this meant, in practice, bottom-up church governance as against the top-down authority of bishops characterizing Episcopacy. For a king, this would entail ceding considerable power over religious matters.

Such a promise was more readily given than honored. When Charles II regained the English throne in 1660, he instead restored Episcopacy in the north and everywhere else — selecting our man James Sharp, up until then a Presbyterian minister of the moderate faction, to boss Scotland’s most exalted ecclesiastical post. “The great stain will always remain, that Sharp deserted and probably betrayed a cause which his brethren intrusted to him,” Walter Scott wrote.

From this position, whose very existence was obnoxious to his former friends, our Judas* was Charles’s point man for reintroducing and enforcing all those ecclesiastical prerogatives of the monarchy that the Presbyterians had been so desperate to abolish.

He drove from the church irreconcilable Covenanter ministers — so named for their adherence to the objectives of those discarded covenants. That faction despised Sharp, and he returned the sentiment. On one occasion, he had to call for the militia to disperse an angry mob, only to be told that the militia’s members had joined the mob too. After a Covenanter rising was put down at the Battle of Rullion Green, Sharp okayed the withdrawal of quarter for surrendered foes with the taunt “You were pardoned as soldiers, but you are not acquitted as subjects” — putting his episcopal imprimatur on numerous ensuing hangings.

It was only a matter of time before someone tried to murder him.

On the 11th of July in 1668, James Mitchell — a zealous but unordained freelance preacher and dyed-in-the-wool Covenanter — stepped to a carriage the archbishop was embarking and took a shot at him. Mitchell missed, and pinged one of the prelate’s companions in the wrist, crippling the hand.

Mitchell managed to escape and live for several years with sizable sum on his head and nobody interested in claiming it** before Sharp’s own brother finally captured him in 1674. The proceedings against him are surprisingly protracted considering the famous vindictiveness of his target, and resolved by (as Mitchell said at his hanging) “an extrajudicial confession, and the promise of life given to me thereupon by the chancellor, upon his own and the public faith of the kingdom.” Given his party, he ought not have been surprised that the promise was not kept; as an added bonus, his retraction of the confession — which was the only evidence against him — resulted in his torture by the boot.

In 1679, a different bunch of Covenanters finally succeeded in assassinating the hated Archbishop Sharp.


The Murder of Archbishop Sharpe on Magus Muir near St. Andrews, 1679, by William Allen (c. 1840).

There’s a public domain biography friendly to Sharp (and perforce extremely hostile to the Covenanters) here.

* Cromwell met Sharp — still a Presbyterian minister at that time — in a negotiation during the Protectorate and allegedly rated him “ane Atheist, and of noe principles at all.”

** At one point Mitchell resided in Edinburgh with another man bound for the scaffold, Major Weir

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1678: Stephen Arrowsmith

4 comments December 16th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1678, one Stephen or Steven Arrowsmith was executed at Tyburn for the rape of a little girl the previous summer.

He was one of six people sentenced to hang that day, but four of them got reprieved. Arrowsmith and Nathaniel Russel, a convicted murderer, were the ones who had to swing.

The victim in Arrowsmith’s case, eight-year-old Elizabeth Hopkins, testified against her rapist in court, as did the child who walked in and saw Arrowsmith abusing the victim on July 7 of that year. Neither witness was properly sworn in. From the Old Bailey records:

The Girl that was ravished, being between 8 and 9, testified that he had had to do with her for half a year together every sunday, that she was hindred from crying the first time, by his stopping her mouth, and that he gave her money afterwards; and she never discovered it, till some of her friends observing her to go as if she were very sore, examined her, and by telling her she would be in danger of hanging in Hell, got her to confess, that the Prisoner was her fathers Prentice.

One Mrs. Cowel did testifie that upon observing her going, and other Circumstances, she did resolve to examine her, and made her confess, which she did, and being searched, was found shamefully abused, and sent to the Doctors to cure.

The like was attested by one Mrs. Sherwin, and by a Midwife, who said, she had got a very foul disease by it.

Arrowsmith’s defense was two-pronged:

  1. he hadn’t done it
  2. but if he had done it, Elizabeth had consented

The maid of the doctor who examined Elizabeth testified for the defense, saying she’d asked the victim why she hadn’t told anyone about the abuse, and Elizabeth answered that she took pleasure in it.

The jury was very reluctant to convict and, in fact, initially brought back a verdict of not guilty. And here the judge, a fellow with the Dickensian name Lord Chief Justice Scroggs,* decided to become the prosecutor.

He had had already expressed his own “great Detestation and abhorrence of so Horrid and Vile an offense,” and demanded to know why the jury had acquitted Arrowsmith.

One of the jurors, an apothecary, ventured that he personally believed Elizabeth had consented to intercourse. Scroggs reminded this person that she was under age and so the issue of her consent was irrelevant.

Other jury members said they were bothered by the fact that almost all the evidence was hearsay and the only direct witnesses, Elizabeth and her friend, had not been sworn. Testily, the judge replied that a rapist was not going to commit his crime in crowd of eyewitnesses, and the only reason the two girls had not been sworn was because of their youth, but if the jury wanted them sworn in he was prepared to do that. Then he sent them back to re-think their verdict.

To further complicate matters, during the second round of deliberations a thoughtless officer of the court, charged with looking after the two child witnesses, brought both girls to the jury to talk to them in private. When Scroggs found out he quickly put a stop to this and had the bailiff thrown in jail, and the jury (who swore that this hadn’t been their idea) was allowed to continue its deliberations. Jurors later said the unauthorized meeting had convinced them of the girls’ honesty, and they returned with a verdict of guilty.

Kind of like Twelve Angry Men in reverse.

“The Criminal Trial Before the Lawyers,” (pdf) a paper published in the University of Chicago Law Review in 1978, referenced the Arrowsmith case and Scroggs’s behavior. The paper’s author, John H. Langbein, tried to explain and defend the “judicial dominance” which might lead a modern reader to look askance at the fairness of the proceeding:

Hale’s treatise confirms this practice. “If the jurors by mistake or partiality give their verdict in court, yet they may rectify their verdict before it is recorded, or by advice of the court go together again and consider better of it, and alter what they have been delivered.” The tradition that the jury would lightly disclose the reasoning for a verdict became especially important in this situation, because it enabled the court to probe the basis of the profferred verdict, hence to identify the jury’s “mistake” and correct it. Thus, in the Arrowsmith case, the court discovered that the chemist’s opinion that an eight-year-old “could not be Ravished” had been influential, and the court refuted it…

Indeed, to this day in many countries, including the UK and the USA, a judge still has the right to overturn a jury’s decision if he or she feels the evidence did not support the verdict. This privilege is but rarely exercised.

At the gallows, just before his death, Arrowsmith wept and finally owned up to what he had done, saying he’d been a good person all his life until “Satan seduced him to this abominable wickedness.”

* Seen here in a more everyday juridical situation, Scroggs was also a figure in the “Popish Plot” anti-Catholic trials breaking out at this period.

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1678: William Staley, “the prologue to the bloody tragedy”

1 comment November 26th, 2012 Headsman

David’s mildness managed it so well,
The bad found no occasion to rebel.
But when to sin our biassed nature leans,
The careful devil is still at hand with means, [80]
And providently pimps for ill desires;
The good old cause, revived, a plot requires.
Plots, true or false, are necessary things,
To raise up commonwealths, and ruin kings.

-John Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel, a Biblical allegory of the English political/religious scene in which the Popish Plot (“plots, true or false”) took place

On this date in 1678, a Catholic goldsmith was hanged and quartered for treason … a preposterous case that would preview the tragic main acts of the “Popish Plot”.

This 17th century anti-Catholic witch hunt traced to weird and unprincipled Anglican divine Titus Oates.

With his friend Israel Tonge, Oates in 1678 ginned up a fantastical Jesuit plot against the life of Charles II — which supposed conspiracy played insidiously to the realm’s age-old religious divisions, in a moment when a Catholic royal sibling stood next in line to the throne.

Indeed, Oates’s “revelations” would trigger the Exclusion Crisis, an unsuccessful parliamentary bid to balk the heir presumptive James (eventually James II) of his throne. Parliament, argued Henry Capell, “must quiet the minds of the people, as to their fears of Popery and the Succession.”

In Queen Elizabeth’s time there were conspiracies against her, when Mary Queen of Scots was taken off. In King James’s time, the Gunpowder-Treason. In the last King’s time, a horrid Rebellion, that ended in his murder; but here the Crown is under such a character as is more dangerous than all those; and from Popery came the notion of a standing Army and arbitrary power.

Oh, and London had just burned down within everyone’s living memory, an event popularly ascribed to a French Catholic conspiracy even into the 19th century.

There was an awful lot of latent (and not-so-latent) anti-Popery around for Oates to stir up, and he proved to have a gift for this demagoguery. (pdf) In late 1678, a magistrate investigating Oates’s claims, Edmund Berry Godfrey, was mysteriously murdered, and all hell broke loose: a political assassination could now be hung on the alleged Catholic conspiracy. In short order, alleged Catholic conspirators would themselves hang for it.

It was a full 9/12 mentality: people going about armed, loyalty oaths, rumors of French invasion or Guy Fawkes tunneling.

Oates, when feeling his, would have the juice to put peers of the realm on the scaffold … so what chance did poor William Staley have?

This patsy, no great ornament of the “plot”, was more an incidental (and expedient) casualty of the swelling paranoia. Overheard at a tavern chatting about the Protestant freak-out, in French (quelle horreur!), a couple of unscrupulous eavesdroppers shopped for treason when they couldn’t blackmail him.

The sovereign was supposed to have been characterized in this chat as “a great Persecutor or Tormentor of the people of God … And ([Staley] stretching forth his Arm, and then clapping his Hand on his Breast), speaking of His Sacred Majesty, said, I my self will kill him.” (Source) Whether a frustrated Catholic into his cups incautiously popping off, an innocent naif set up by reprobates, or a case of lost in translation, it seems safe to say that William Staley was no danger to the monarchy.

Staley, at any rate, denied having said anything of the sort all the few hours that remained to draw breath, which wasn’t many. It was a mere 12 days from the “treasonable” conversation on Nov. 14 to Staley’s execution.


Image from William Faithorne‘s 1681 (misdated) engraving depicting William Staley being drawn to execution.

With this hanging, and another (that of Edward Coleman) a week later, the Popish Plot persecutions were into full swing … three years of Stuart England McCarthyism that would claim at least 15 lives and end with Titus Oates imprisoned, whipped, and pilloried.

After the Orange Revolution chased the Catholic monarch out of England, Oates was released and pensioned: the incident long remained an ideological litmus test between proto-Whigs (pro-Oates, as he was a club wielded against the absolutist aspirations of Charles II and James II) and Tories (anti-Oates, for the same reason). Centuries later, one commenter could still remark, “There are three events in our history that may be regarded as the touchstone of party men: an English whig who asserts the reality of the Popish plot, an Irish Catholic who denies the massacre of 1641, a Scotch Jacobite who maintains the innocence of Queen Mary, must be considered as men beyond the reach of argument or reason.”

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