1697: Three at Tyburn, multiply sinning

Add comment September 15th, 2018 Headsman

An account by the Ordinary of Newgate Samuel Smith … in fact,

A True Account of the Behaviour, Confessions, and last Dying Speeches of the Condemned Criminals, that were Executed at Tyburn on Wednesday the 15th of this Instant Sep. 1697.
On the Lords-Day, after the Condemnation of the Condemned Criminals, a Sermon was Preached on this Text, Reve. 2. 21. I gave her a Space for Repentance; yet she Repented not.

In these Words are three Observations

  1. THE Lord gives the worst of Sinners a suffficient Time for Repentance. I gave her, even Jesabel who seduced others to commit Spiritual Fornication, in grose Idoaitry.
  2. The Lord doth not only afford a sufficient Time for Repentance, but adds many advantageous Opportunities, and the assistance of his Spirit to compleat it.
  3. To Sin against all the advantageous Encouragements, which might promote Repentance, by persisting in Impenitency, deeply aggrevates the Sinners Condemnation.

The necessary Ingredients which constitute and compleat the nature of Repentance; without which it cannot be available to Salvation, in.

1st. A strict search into the frame of the Heart; to find out the mistery of Iniquity in our most secret and indulged Lusts. There must be a deep Humiliation for the universal Corruption of the Sinners nature, and the peculiar Sins of every Age of his Life.

2ly. An universal hatred of the least Sin, because it offends God, as contrary to his Holy Nature; and for Ingratitude against all the endearing Obligations of divine Mercies, which should soften the Sinners Heart; yet usually these extinguish all good resolutions of Amendment, and the flood of Afflictions more inflame and irritate Men’s Lusts.

3ly. Sincere Repentance includes not only an universal forsaking every evil Way, but also a watchful Circumspection and fixt Resolution to avoid all the occasions of Sinning.

4ly. A turning to God with the whole Heart, in the constant practice of all those Christian Duties which the Lord requires of us.

The second Query.

What are the fittest and most advantageous Opportunities, wherein to promote the work of Repentance?

1st. Whilst clear and strong Convictions are imprest upon the Conscience, before these be stifled or made ineffectual by the Sinners Corrupting or bribing the sentiments of right Reason; yet many Sinners strive to wear out the Convictions of their Consciences, so that they do no execution on their Lusts.

2ly. When the fond Love of the World is imbittered by sharp Afflictions, now turn the Stream of this Worldly sorrow into the Channel of Sincere Repentance: I affirm that a gracious Person prefers the sharpest and longest Afflictions Sanctify’d, in impressing the divine nature deeper on the Heart, than if the Lord should heap the confluence of worldly injoyments, which usually are abused to Pride, Wantonness, or Slothfulness in his Duty.

3ly. When by an Eye of Faith we behold our Redeemer Crucify’d a fresh in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, as a memorial of his dying Love, to make Sin more bitter to us; now let thine Heart be contrite with Godly sorrow, and pour out the blood of every Lust at the foot of the Altar, as an acceptable Sacrifice to the mortifying Spirit of Christ.

4ly. Comply with the Lord’s design, when he sets out other Sinners as the Monuments and Examples of his severity: The Lord will take this very ill when he writes our Duty in the blood and Destruction of other Sinners Less peccant. and yet such who are spared, have no Impression of an Holy Ingenuity to learn Righteousness in the amendment of their Lives.

5ly. When the Lord makes deep Wounds in thine own Conscience, do not presume to heal them by a few slight Formalities in Relenting, neither let the fountanel of Godly sorrow dry up, which should drain out the malignant Humors of thy defiled Heart.

6ly. When thou undertakest any great Service for God, attended with difficulties and discouragements, now is a Time to renew Godly Sorrow, for offending a gracious Lord who puts an eminent Honour on thee, in that he will employ thee in his Service.
Also when thou desirest success in entring upon any new state of Life, thou can’st not expect any blessing from God unless thou cleanse thy self from all filthiness of Flesh and Spirit, contracted before in any part of thy Conversation.

7ly. When thou observest the wickedness of other Men, mourn by a sad Reflection on thine own corrupt Nature: This is alike if the Lord had not renewed it by his Regenerating Spirit: Mourn that you have not been faithful in reproving Sinners; because hereby you have Adopted their Sins to become your own.

8ly. When good Resolutions are formed up within us in any Duty of Religion, let us step presently into the Pool of Repentance, for our former not Compliance with the blessed motions of God’s Spirit.

Here a Case may offer it self to be stated. It is thus.

Considering that God gives a fit space of time to the worst of Sinners, to accommodate their Repentance; What Time is requisit for the Magistrate to afford Condemned Criminals to prepare them for their Death?

This cannot be stated Absolutely, so as to limit the Power of the Magistrate in this Case. Neither ought any Minister to repine or grudg at the length of Time, as being sparing of his utmost endeavours to save Souls: Yet some think that a compleat Weeks time at least is fit to be granted, if Criminals do not abuse it by being ungovernable, in attempting to break Prison. But much longer Time may make Condemned Persons more secure in presuming that they shall be Pardoned: Hereupon the means of Grace work not so effectually upon them: For when they have no hopes of Respiting their Death, their Convictions are usually the more strengthned, their Prayers more fervent, and their Resolutions to Repent the more settled and confirmed. It is an honourable remark of Piety, and Clemency in the Magistrates of England, that they allow a convenient Time for Reconciling the Souls of Condemned Persons unto God. Yet how strange and deplorable is this, that tho’ a sufficient respiting the execution of the Sentence be indulged; Criminals draw on themselves deeper security in Sinning; a stroke far worse than Death, because not felt.

Hopes of Life, Dead praying, and Men’s promises of Improving the Space for Repentance, are blown away, when the fears of Death are abated. Impenitent Sinners abuse God’s sparing Mercy; and as I have observed, are not so fit to dye upon a long Reprieve: They are more Solicitous in employing their Friends to make intercession for their Pardon, than themselves are careful to set forward their Repentance thereby, to be Reconciled to God, by whose Smiles or Frownes Men’s Souls are disposed of in Happiness or Misery, throw all the Ages of Eternity.

The conclusion was thus Directed to the Condemned.

You have heard discrib’d unto you the fittest and most advantageous Opportunities to set Repentance on Work, that it may be compleated unto Salvation; also the dreadful pernicious Effects of willful Impenitency. Yet you have Presumptuously adventured to multiply Sinning, tho’ this hath sharpned stinging reflections in your guilty Consciences. Your Ears have been very attentive to the Councils of ungodly Associates: But you have out done the deaf Adder, in stoping your Ears against all God’s counter-charmings of your sensual Lusts, by the instructions of Heavenly Wisdom. Do not dare any longer to elude or frustrate the main design of God, in exhibiting the offers of Salvation. How durst any of you cast your Repentance into your last Accounts, which ought to have been the first and choicest Work of your whole Life.

Oh! That you would duly consider that all Supernatural Probationary Acts of Grace, such as Repentance, and the severity of mortifying your corrupt Nature, ought to be swiftest toward the end of your Lives, because it is not possible, and cannot be Available to renew them after Death in the rectifying, of any mistake. Consider that there is great difference ‘twixt a Conscience legally wounded for the dreadful Shameful Punishments of Sinning, and a Conscience Evangelically contrite, out of an Holy ingenuity for offending a gracious God, who hath long waited to overcome the Sinners Stubornness with his Clemency. Fear, least after some short Anguish in your Consciences, you should perish in your delay to compleat Repentance.

Consider the Spiritual benefits which sweeten the difficulties, and austerities of sincere Repentance: Tho’ sensual Sinners despise a contrite Heart, as effeminacy and baseness of Spirit; yet it is the best Demonstration of love to God, and a genuine fear of his long suffering; not to Sin against it by vile ingratitude. It doth not dispirit Men’s Courage in dying, but contemn Life when it cannot be prolonged with the safety of the the Souls integrity and loyalty to Christ’s Laws; it casts forth the oppressing load of sensual Surfeits, which defiled the Souls heavenly Purity. In the midst of National amazing Confusions, penitential Converts to God shall be as safe as Salvation it self can make them: Yet consider how difficult it will be to unravel the Web of Sinning, when Men never Communed with their own Hearts, to search out those Iniquities which are confirmed by a long Custom in Sinning. Familiarize therefore to your selves the severities of sincere Repentance: Justify God in his sharpest Corrections of you, to reduce you from wandring in the Bewildring devices of Sinning, and condemn your selves for the minutest Errors of your Lives. Be not slow and slight in so solemn a work; your whole Life ought to have been a continual exercise of Repentance, and of mortifying your Lusts, as a meet disposition for Eternal Life.

Take heed of dying in an obstinate contempt of God and Godliness, least the Lord harden his Heart against you, so that when you cry for Mercy, under the anguish of your Consciences, the least glance of it should be denied you.

I proceed to give an Account of the Behaviour and Confessions of the Condemned Criminals.

I. John Dewin, Condemned for Counterfeiting the Coin of this Kingdom: Aged thirty four Years. He was born in Norfolk: Was Prentice to a Shoemaker in the Northern parts. He kept Shop four or five Years; but left that Employment to deal in Cheese and Bacon at Waltham-Abby. He confest that tho’ he had not wronged any Man in his Trading; yet, that he had not led a Religious Life towards God: For he neglected the Duty of Praying to him; kept the Sabbath very slightly; that he was guilty of Swearing; but seldom Drunk in excess. He wept and said, That it now grieves him that he hath in many things sinned against the Holy Trinity: And yet that he doth not Repent as he ought, for his being so negligent of his Duty to God. But he begs of him earnestly to change his Heart, and not only to pardon his Sins; and hopes that if he might be spared he should never return to any Customary provoking his most holy Creator, but become a reformed Man.

II. Isaac Blount, Condemned for Stealing a Gelding: Aged twenty three Years. He was born in Gray’s-Inn-lane. He was an Hackny Coach-man , and drove as a Journy-man for some time, till he wrought for himself. He confest that he had many ways offended God, in prophaning the Lord’s Day; in omitting often the Duty of praying that he might be kept from bad Company; that he had kept Company with bad Women, but not lately; that he was not addicted to Swearing nor Drunkenness, yet had at times committed these Sins. He said, that he now is sensible of his evil Courses, and mourns for offending God by them, and hopes that he will so soften his Heart, that the Convictions which are in his Conscience may work to a thorough Repentance.

III. John Chamberlain, Condemned for Felony and Robbery: Aged twenty six Years: Born in Herefordshire. He was Journyman to a Butcher. He left that Employment about three Weeks since; but was joyned to bad Company before. He denied not the Crime. He confest that he did not performe the Duties of the Lord’s Sabbath, but walkt in the Fields with idle and vain Persons; that he was no much given to Swearing, and had somtimes been overcome with excessive drinking; yet he hopes that being now penitent for all his Sins, that God will pardon them. I stated for several days the nature of true and false sorrow for Sinning, also the nature of true saving Faith; wherein it differs from a presumptuous reliance on God’s Mercy and Christ’s Merits, and the danger of Sinning in hopes of future Repentance; so that they desired me to pray for them, that they might not deceive themselves with false hopes of Heaven.

IV. Mary Taylor, Condemned for a Burglary. She was born in Chancery-Lane. Was a Servant for eight Years to several Persons of Quality. She said, That altho’ she knew her Duty to God, yet she had Sinned against the Convictions of her Conscience; whereby she had much wounded it. She confest that she had not taken former warning, altho’ she had been punished for an evil practice, and that therefore God had justly inflicted this dreadful Scourge upon her, to bring her as she hoped to Repentance. She said, That now the chief trouble of her mind is for offending God her Creator and great Redeemer. She said, That she heartily desires that she may be cleansed with the Blood of Christ. O how merciful said she, is God! that he thus Corrects me, and moderates his Justice toward me, in this, that I am Respited from dying, for the space of six Months, till I am delivered of the Child I am quick with; hereby I have time to Repent of my Sins of Presumption, for I knew God’s Will, but obeyed it not; such deserve a more terrible Condemnation.

The other Women Condemned, were also found with Child, as the Jury of Women affirmed; therefore they are reserved for a longer time before they suffer. I am sorry that they make so ill an use of it, that they grow secure; yea, obstinate, in refusing to come on the last Lord’s Day, and at other times to receive Instruction, in order to bring them to a sensibleness of their evil Courses. Callow especially was obstinate, who is Condemned on two Indictments, for picking of Pockets.

On Wednesday the 15th of September, 1697. John Dewin, John Chamberlain, and Isaac Blunt, were convey’d to Tyburn; the first on a Sledge, and the other two in a Cart. But Flora alias Flower, he died in Prison the 12th of September. The Prisoners being brought to the Tree, were tied up. Dewin would not own his Crime, but desired all good People to take warning by him, how they led their Lives, least by their sinful Courses they should come to such untimely ends. Isaac Blunt would not own his Crime, but said, he had been guilty of divers such Crimes; he did not shew any outward appearance of Repentance. John Chamberlain said, That he was a great Sinner, and had been drawn in by evil Company to do the Fact for which he now suffers; he desired all good Christian People to pray for him, and to take warning by him, and eschew evil Company, and have regard to the Sabbath; he said, That he was bred a labouring Man, and one that did use to work hard for his living; but forgetting God and following Idleness brought him to this untimely end. The Ordinary prayed with them for some considerable Time, and sung a Penitential Psalme. And afterwards they were turned off.

This is all the Account that I can give of this Sessions.

Dated Sept. 15.

Sam. Smith, Ordinary .

LONDON, Printed for E. Mallet, in Nevil’s-Court in Fetter-lane, 1697

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1697: The Paisley Witches

1 comment June 10th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1697, the Paisley, Renfrewshire Gallow Green played stage for the strangling and burning of six “witches.” They’re known as the Paisley witches, the Renfrewshire witches, or the Bargarran witches, and are sometimes acclaimed the last mass-executed witches in western Europe.

This book posits a more than incidental resemblance between Salem and Renfrewshire, given that the “possessed child” figure was not a usual ornament for Scottish witchcraft cases.

In a setup bearing a disturbing similarity to the Salem witch trials,* an 11-year-old brat named Christian Shaw, the daughter of a local laird, got a tongue-lashing from the family servant and then turned around and accused her a sorceress.

The psychological mechanisms at play make interesting speculation in such cases. Was she merely a spiteful little monster, or did she believe in accordance with the superstitions of her time that the servant’s curses had effect, and suffer real afflictions that ensued upon this belief? Can we see her in the end as a creature necessarily produced by her nation in its troubled hour, unmoored as it was by the political and religious dislocations of the Glorious Revolution, gnawed by famine, and hurtling towards an unwilling union with England? (The bizarre execution of an Edinburgh university student for blasphemy also unfolded in 1696-1697.)

We leave such speculations to the reader as we plunge into the onset of supernatural doings in these environs almost a year before the consequent executions — via a 1698 pamphlet titled “A True Narrative of the Sufferings and Relief of a Young Girle Strangely Molested, by Evil Spirits and their Instruments, in the West”

August 22 [1696], the Child went to Bed in good health; but so soon as she fell asleep, began to struggle and cry, Help, Help: And then suddenly got up, and did fly over the top of a Resting-bed, where she was lying (her Father, Mother, and others being in the Room, and to their great Astonishment and Admiration) with such violence, that probably her Brains had been dasht out, if a Woman, providentially standing by, and supported by a Door at her back, had not broke the force of the Childs motion, who being laid in another Bed, remained stiff and insensible as if she had been dead, for the space of half an Hour; but for Fourty eight Hours thereafter could not sleep, crying out of violent Pains thorow her whole Body, and no sooner began to sleep or turn drowsie but seemed greatly affrighted, crying still Help, Help.

These frightening spasms continued for days, contorting her body and robbing her of speech; helpless doctors bled her to no effect.

Some dayes thereafter was an alteration in her Fitts, so far, that she got speaking, during the time of them; and while she was in the fits, fell a crying, that Katharine Campbel and Agnes Naismith were cutting her side, and other parts of her Body; Which parts were in that time violently Tormented. And when the fit was over she still averred, that she had seen the same Persons doing the same things which she complained of while under the fit (it being remarkable that in the intervals she was still as well and sensible as ever) and would not believe but that others present saw them as well as she!

Katharine Campbell was servant who had chewed her out. Agnes Naismith was an old lady with a witchy reputation. In time they would headline the execution that occasions this post.

We must here pause to remark that the decision of the adults around Christian Shaw to steer this crisis in the girl’s life towards a judicial witch hunt was by no means predetermined. While capital statutes against bewitchment remained on the books, they were fading in practice; according to the invaluable Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database, there had been only a single witchcraft prosecution in Scotland since 1683, and that one did not result in execution. The sudden eruption of a dormant and vanishing cosmology, with sufficient force to devour seven humans, shocks the eye.

Credit must go to Shaw for a rare commitment to the performance, as her symptoms continued intermittently for months, and accumulated a growing roster of accused supernatural tormentors. She was taken to Glasgow for treatment, and taken again; she went on regimens of prayer and fasting; at one point she began pulling debris out of mouth like a prestidigitator, in such number and variety that her doctor remarked that “Were it not for the hairs, hay, straw, and other things wholly contrary to human nature, I should not despair to reduce all the other symptoms to their proper classes in the catalogue of human diseases.”

Although modernity will doubt that they bewitched the child, the accused women, Agnes and Katharine, knew exactly what was up when they were brought to confront their accuser. They addressed their common peril with opposite strategems. Agnes, “did (tho not desired) pray for her, viz. that the Lord God of Heaven and Earth might send the Damsel her health,” which prayer cured Christian Shaw of continuing to accuse Agnes of muddling her (“upon the contrary, as she apprehended, defending her from the fury of the rest” of the witches) — whereas the saltier Katharine “could by no means be prevailed with to pray for the Damsel, but upon the contrary when desired by some, cursed them and all the Family of Bargarran, and in particular the Damsel and all that belonged to her, withal adding this grievous Imprecation; The Devil let her never grow better, nor any concern’d in her, be in a better condition than she was in, for what they had done to her.” I like this Katharine, but Laird Bargarran had the sheriff throw her forthwith into the dungeon; the reader may recall from our foreshadowing that Agnes’s more diplomatic approach did not ultimately serve her any better.

By January, five months after Christian’s first fits, the doctors and ministers had been defeated and the Privy Council appointed a tribunal to investigate the matter and shoo away the hags bothering Christian Shaw. The annals of their actions makes for repellent reading, even by the standards of judges. Readers with strong eyeglass prescriptions can enjoy the full pdf here, but most will probably prefer this lucid summary by Undine, a onetime Executed Today guest blogger. We also have a Victorian compilation of records related to the affair here.

The hunt swept up a 14-year-old boy and his 11-year-old brother, a 17-year-old girl who was made to furnish accusations that incriminated still more people besides. One can see in our credulous 1698 account the enspelled little shit begin to revel in her theatrics and the power she held over her neighbors.

February 12. Margaret Laing and her Daughter Martha Semple, being delated by the three Confessants, and accused by the Girl to have been active instruments in her Trouble, came of their own accord to Bargarran’s House, and before they came up Stairs the Girl said, she was now bound up, and could not accuse Margaret Laing to her face: And accordingly the Girl’s Mother having desired somer of those who were sitting by her to feel some parts of her Body, and they having done it, found her Body so stiff and inflexible, that there was no moving of it, and immediately again found some parts of her Body contracted and drawn hard togethe [sic], as if by Cords; after this Margaret Lang and her Daughter, having gone to the Chamber of the Girle, did in presence of the Ministers and others, desire the Damsel to come to her; for she would do her no Harm, and laying her Arms about her, spake very fairly to her, and question’d her if ever she had seen her other Daughter among her Tormentors, to which the Girle did positively reply, she had frequently seen her Daughter; but declined thorow fear to accuse herself, saying faintly No, after which Margaret and her Daughter returning into the Hall, and the Minister enquiring at her why she said No, seeing she had accus’d her before, she answered, take me contrar, upon which she was seiz’d with a grievous Fit; yet after her recovery being urg’d again by those present to tell her Mind freely, whether or not Margaret Lang was one of her Tormentors the Child thereupon Essaying to say Yes, and having half-pronounced the Word, was cast into unexpressible Anguishes; and again in the interval of the Fit, she Essay’d to express the same thing, and saying only the word Tint (that is soft) was on a sudden struck with another fit, and when the fit was over, and the Child returned to the Chamber, Margaret Lang who was sitting near the Hall door, spoke these words after her. The Lord bless thee, and ding (that is beat, or drive) the Devil out of thee. A little after which words, Margaret going down stairs, the Damsel came to the Hall and said, her Bonds were now loos’d, and that now she could accuse Margaret Lang to her Face, and declar’d the occasion of her being so Restrain’d and Bound up while Margaret was present, was her letting fall a parcel of Hair at the Hall door as she came in; being a Charm made by her for that end, which also had been the occasion of her uttering the word Tint in the former fit: And accordingly a parcel of Hair had been found at the Hall-door, after Margaret Lang had gone straight from the Hall to the Chamber, which immediately was cast into the Fire and burnt. And its remarkable, that it could be attested that there was no Hair, or any other thing else in that place before Margaret Lang came in, and the Girle being enquired, what way she knew Margaret Lang had laid the forementioned Charm upon her, replyed, something speaking distinctly to her as it were above her Head, had suggested that to her.

In the end — and posterity unfortunately lacks the original trial record — there were seven condemned to death and although their names in the surviving accounts “are not very distinctly stated” they appear to comprise our two original accused, Katharine Campbell and Agnes Naismith, the aforementioned Margaret Lang, the 14-year-old child James Lindsay and an apparent kinsman named John Lindsay, and also John Reid and Margaret Fulton. (Some accounts more mawkishly make it little James Lindsay with his 11-year-old brother Thomas, but that’s not indicated by the primary sources which repeatedly note that Thomas is “under the age of pupilarity.”)

John Reid managed to hang himself in prison and cheat the executioner. Katharine Campbell did him one better by fighting her persecutors all the way to the stake, and deservedly showering everyone in earshot with curses. The legend has it that Campbell’s malediction lurks behind any civic setback endured by Paisley down the years, such as the 1810 Paisley canal disaster. A horseshoe placed over the embittered sorceress’s grave to keep ill fortune at bay was lost in the 1960s; in 2008, a brass horseshoe plaque was installed in its place at the intersection of Maxwellton and St. George Streets — the memorial admitting the injustice done to all the Renfrewshire witches.


(cc) image by Paisley Scotland.

As for the witches’ accuser, Christian Shaw mirrored in her own life’s story the epochal shift that transformed witches from a legally recognized threat to a ridiculous superstition — as she grew up to become essentially the founder of Paisley’s distinctive (and still to this day important) thread industry by creating the “Bargarran Thread” .

* Coincidentally, the first execution of the Salem trials also occurred on June 10.

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1697: George Seager, deserter and burglar

Add comment January 27th, 2017 Headsman

This date in 1697 marked the end for a pathologically burglarious ex-soldier.

As heavily as we exploit it, the Newgate Calendar can be a bit shaky when it comes to the finer points of historicity. However, the very thoroughly researched capitalpunishmentuk.org does situate a half-dozen hangings at Tyburn on this same date — all names unknown. One of them, we think, was our friend George Seager.


GEORGE SEAGER

A Rogue of a Soldier, who deserted from Johnny Gibson’s Regiment and turned Burglar. Executed 27th of January, 1697

GEORGE SEAGER, aged twenty-six years at the time of his death, was born at Portsmouth, in Hampshire, where, his father and mother dying, his sister took care of him for a while; but she, not being able to support herself, left it to the parish to keep him, the overseers whereof placed him out to spin packthread. After two years he left that employment and went to a silk-throwster for a year and a half, when, running away from his master, he took to bad courses, being addicted to gaming, swearing, drunkenness and theft; but a gang of the Ruby man-of-war pressing him, he went on board that ship to sea, where, robbing the seamen’s chests, he was often whipped at the capstan, put in the bilboes, and once keel-hauled. Keel-hauling a man is tying a rope round his middle, to which two other ropes are so fastened that, carrying him to the end of the main-yardarm on the starboard-side of the ship, he is flung from thence into the water and hauled under the ship by a man standing on the main-yardarm on the larboard-side, where a gun is fired over the criminal’s head as he is drawn up.

However, as no punishment would deter him from pilfering, the captain of the ship, rather than be plagued with him, put him ashore at Plymouth, from whence he begged his way to Portsmouth, where he enlisted himself into Johnny Gibson’s Regiment, to whom he was a continual plague. The first time he mounted the guard, being put sentry on the ramparts and ordered by the corporal not to let the grand rounds pass without challenging, he said he would take care of them, imagining that if he challenged them he must fight them too. So the grand rounds going about at twelve at night, with Johnny Gibson at the head of them, Seager, who had got a whole hatful of stones by him, because he chose to fight at a distance, cries out: “Who comes there?” Being told they were the grand rounds — “Oh, d —-n ye!” quoth George, “the grand rounds, are ye? Have at you then; for I have waited for you this hour and above.” So pelting them with stones as fast as he could fling, the grand rounds could not pass any farther till they called out to the captain of Lamport Guard, who sent the corporal to relieve him, in order to his being examined; but Johnny Gibson finding him to be a raw soldier, who had never been on duty before, he escaped any punishment inflicted on offenders by martial law.

After this George also ran the gauntlet several times for robbing the soldiers’ barracks of victuals, linen or anything else that he could find; but no punishment deterring him from his pilfering tricks, he was in a draft sent over to Flanders, where, going one day into a great church in Brussels, he espied a Capuchin friar confessing a young woman in a very private place; and as soon as the good old Father had given absolution to his penitentiary, he made up to him, under pretence of confessing his sins, for, as it happened, the friar was an Englishman. But, instead of confessing his manifold crimes, his intention was to commit more; for, pulling a pistol out of his pocket and clapping it to his breast, quoth he: “Reverend Father, I perceived the young gentlewoman, whom you just now confessed, gave you something; but, let it be more or less, unless you surrender it to me, who have most need of it, I will shoot you through the heart, although I were sure to be hanged this very moment for it.”

The friar, being much surprised at these dangerous words, and deeming life sweet, gave him what he had got from his female penitentiary, which was two louis d’or; then binding him hand and foot, in a corner adjacent to his confession box, he went away; and that same day, deserting his regiment, he made the best of his way to England, where he committed several most notorious burglaries in the cities of London and Westminster, and the outparts thereof. But at last being apprehended, and sent to Newgate, for breaking open the house of the Lord Cutts and taking from thence plate and fine linen valued at two hundred and forty pounds, he was hanged at Tyburn, on Wednesday, the 27th day of January, in the year 1697.

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1697: Three duty stamp counterfeiters

Add comment November 3rd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1697, nine men hanged at Tyburn — all for property crimes.

Three were highway robbers. A fourth was a coiner. A fifth was a pickpocket. A sixth was a husbandman who stole a gelding.

The remaining three men, Thomas Houghton, Francis Cook and Francis Salisbury, operated a ring selling vellum paper bearing counterfeit sixpenny impressed duty stamps.

Their offense was against a 1694 levy titled “An act for granting to Their Majesties several duties on Vellum, Parchment and Paper for 10 years, towards carrying on the war against France”. This statute (full text here) imposed taxes of varying amounts for any number of a huge variety of officially-registered business. Routine commercial transactions now almost universally came with a rake for the taxman: “every skin or piece of vellum or parchment, or sheet of paper, upon which shall be ingrossed or written any indenture, lease, or deed-poll” had to be executed with a sixpenny stamp.

As a practical matter, such skins or pieces of vellum or parchment were sold pre-stamped, the stamp to be canceled by the parties in question when they signed on the line which is dotted. And it was this market that Houghton, Cook, and Salisbury exploited.

While counterfeiting the specie could be held to imperil the kingdom so dangerously to rate as treason, this trio’s “counterfeiting” was just everyday white-collar siphoning. By forging a bogus sixpenny stamp and applying it to sheafs of contract-ready vellum that they could sell at market rates, they got the revenue-agent’s cut — not the crown. (The scam is described in their Newgate Calendar entry, which inexplicably gives short shrift to Francis Cook.)

Though the “war against France” named by the stamp bill — the War of the League of Augsburg or the Nine Years’ War — had ended weeks before even the hangings we mark on this date, the lucrative levy long outlasted it. In the following century, England revived this type of tax often, notably in 1712 expanding it to encompass printed publications like newspapers and pamphlets. Hey, just require anything printed on paper to have a royal stamp on it — easy! This habit would eventually create the 1765 Stamp Act so obnoxious to North American colonists in the run-up to the American Revolution.

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

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1697: John Fenwick, bitter

2 comments January 28th, 2012 Headsman

The Franco-Dutch War of the 1670s lifted to power the young stadtholder William of Orange, and made him a couple of noteworthy lifelong enemies.

One was the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, whose decades-long rivalry with William tracked William’s interesting career all the way to the throne of England.

William III, equestrian. Consider yourself foreshadowed.

Another was Sir John Fenwick, an English nobleman whom William supposedly slagged* when they were fighting together in the Low Countries — and who likewise still carried the enmity when William had become his sovereign.

On this date in 1697, the latter rivalry came to a fatal end for John Fenwick on the headsman’s block. The funny thing was that the stroke turned out to cost King William III his own life as well.

You couldn’t say that Fenwick came late to the Jacobite cause; he’d been a strong adherent of the beleaguered Catholic-esque Stuart dynasty, and signed off on the 1685 execution of its previous Protestant challenger Monmouth.

But if it prosper, none dare call it treason. In 1688, the Low Countries prince with the low estimation of Baronet Fenwick hopped the channel and successfully overthrew the last Stuart monarchking James II.

With the Glorious Revolution, Fenwick’s personal and political were very conveniently aligned in loyalty to the exiled James … except that his formerly patriotic loyalty to James was now the traitorous cause of Jacobitism.

Fenwick kept up his Jacobiting in the 1690s, got arrested and released once, and then finally found himself implicated in a plot to murder William. Though his allies managed to spirit one of the potential witnesses against him away to the continent, Parliament passed — ever so narrowly — a bill of attainder to condemn Fenwick to death. (There’s a more detailed account of the legal and political maneuverings here and here.)

The State his Head did from his Body sever,
Because when living ’twas his chief Endeavour
To set the Nation and its Head together.

That’s politics. Even kings themselves are in mortal peril around here.

A failed assassin in life, Fenwick would blunder Gavrilo Princip-like into accidental success … but only after his own execution.

As a condemned traitor, Fenwick’s estate was seized by the crown, and the king personally claimed his prey’s equine ride (either a horse with a sorrel coat, or a horse named Sorrel, or both).** Not long after Fenwick’s death, this horse stumbled on a molehill, throwing its royal rider. William broke his collarbone in the accident, developed pneumonia, and died — leading Jacobite sympathizers to dote on the animals (both horse and mole) who had authored their enemy’s misfortune.

Illustrious steed, doubtless most worthy of the sky,
To whom the lion, bull, and bear would give place;
What happy meadows bore thee happily?
What happy mother gave you her nutritious teats?
Is it from the land of Erin you are come to oblige your country,
Or is it Glenco or the Fenwick race which produced you?
Whoever thou art, mayst thou prosper, I pray memorable one: and
May saddle never more press thy back, nor bit thy mouth.
Avenger of the human race, when the tyrant dies,
Mayst thou thyself enjoy the liberty thou wilt give to others.


A lovely sorrel enjoys the liberty of a happy meadow. (Nutritious teats not pictured.) (cc) image from SMALLORBIGOFMEN.

* During the Dutch campaign, William “had reflected very severely upon his [Fenwick’s] courage, which occasioned his making returns that provoked the Prince to say, that if he had been a private person he must have cut Sir John’s throat.” Just your basic primate poo-flinging.

** Leaving aside his ultimate fate, quite an understandable move by William: the Fenwicks were famous for their horse husbandry.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Netherlands,Nobility,Notable for their Victims,Power,Soldiers,Treason

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1697: Godfrey McCulloch, on the maiden

Add comment March 26th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1697, Godfrey McCulloch was beheaded for murder.

A lesser Scotch noble, McCulloch was heir to a family that had seen better times. His forebears had built and laid their [attached] heads at cozy Cardoness Castle, but hard times had seen the Gordon clan foreclose a bum McCulloch mortgage, and that put the families at pistols drawn.*

A minor confrontation between Godfrey McCulloch and Sir William Gordon saw McCulloch plant in Gordon’s leg a bullet wound that festered into a fatal infection.

McCulloch fled to the continent, but eventually — there’s no place like home — returned, and was recognized in Edinburgh.

One boring scaffold speech later, and that was that … unless you credit the legend that his headless body sprang up and ran 100 yards.

McCulloch was beheaded on the Maiden, a guillotine precursor that automated the chopping process.

He seems to have the distinction of being the last person so executed. (Update: Perhaps not.)

* McCulloch, who was also a member of the Scottish Parliament, held a sheriff’s commission in Wigton. Although anti-Covenanter, he washed his hands of the Wigtown martyrs case.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Maiden,Milestones,Murder,Nobility,Politicians,Public Executions,Scotland

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1697: Thomas Aikenhead

2 comments January 8th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1697, Scottish medical student Thomas Aikenhead was hanged on the road from Edinburgh to Leith for blasphemy, an already-archaic punishment inflicted for what reads like headstrong youthful atheism of a decidedly garden variety.

Aikenhead partook of the times’ emerging (albeit forbidden) store of humanist and skeptical literature, and chatted most unguardedly with University of Edinburgh “friends” who tattled to authorities to the extent that, not content with testifying against him, one published a pamphlet demanding the offender “atone with blood, the affronts of heaven’s offended throne.”

Said authorities scarcely elevated the dignity of the temporal throne in their own eagerness to swing a sledgehammer against a fly, trying the young hothead for his life under a Restoration law which by its own letter should not have lodged him in mortal peril until his third offense.

Thou Aikenhead, the indictment thundered in the second person:

shakeing off all fear of God and regaird to his majesties lawes, have now for more than a twelvemoneth by past…[vented] your wicked blasphemies against God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, and against the holy Scriptures, and all revealled religione…you said and affirmed, that divinity or the doctrine of theologie was a rapsidie of faigned and ill-invented nonsense, patched up partly of the morall doctrine of philosophers, and pairtly of poeticall fictions and extravagant chimeras

He called the Old Testament “Ezra’s fables”, Jesus the “Imposter Christ” (preferring Mahomet), and anticipated the extirpation of Christianity.

It was a bare two weeks from conviction to execution. Accounts of Aikenhead’s last days seem inconsistent; the prisoner recanted, possibly sincerely, but the Church — explicitly handed the power to at least reprieve him by its intervention — demanded hurried and “vigorous execution.”

Macaulay disgustedly pictured the scene:

The preachers who were the boy’s murderers crowded round him at the gallows, and, while he was struggling in the last agony, insulted Heaven with prayers more blasphemous than any thing that [Aikenhead] had ever uttered.

The singular punishment meted out this day — the last hanging for blasphemy throughout what was soon to become the United Kingdom — cast a long shadow into the coming century’s remarkable Scottish renaissance and lingers even today as a suggestion to some just how near the menace of theocracy might yet remain.

And Britain’s blasphemy laws? They’re only now facing repeal.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Hanged,Heresy,History,Milestones,Notable Jurisprudence,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Scotland

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