1704: Roland Laporte, posthumously, and five aides, humously

1 comment August 16th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1704, the great Camisard commander Pierre Laporte was publicly burned. He was already two days dead, but the same could not be said by five comrades-in-rebellion who were quite alive as they were broken on the wheel.

Familiarly known by the nom de guerre “Roland”, Laporte (English Wikipedia entry | the far more detailed French) was a whelp of 22 when entrusted with command of about 400 Protestant guerrillas operating around Lassalle, and his native Mialet.

These were rebels in a very dirty regional civil war in France’s heavily Protestant southeast, following the crown’s revocation of tolerance for the heretics. Roland proved himself one of its ablest prosecutors, putting Catholics to fire and sword be they enemy troops or wrongthinking neighbors.

By 1704 the insurgency was circling the drain as Camisard officers were either killed off or bought off. Our self-proclaimed “general of the children of god” was not the type to be had for 30 pieces of silver plus an army commission,* and so only violence would do for him. On August 14, betrayed by an informer who was amenable to purchase, Roland was slain in a Catholic ambush at Castelnau-les-Valence. Five officers escorting him opted not to go down fighting and surrendered instead, which proved a regrettable decision.

But even death could not slake the vengeance of his foes. “On the 16th August, 1704, the body of Roland Laporte, general of the Camisards … was dragged into Nimes at the tail of a cart and burnt, while 5 of his companions were broken on the wheel around his funeral pyre.”

For the unusually interested reader, there’s a 1954 French biography by Henri Bosc — who also authored a multi-volume history of the Camisard war — titled Un Grand Chef Camisard Pierre Laporte dit Roland, 1680-1704. It’s long out of print and appears to be difficult to come by.

* Not long before Roland’s defeat, just such a deal had shockingly induced fellow Camisard commander Jean Cavalier to turn coat.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,God,Gruesome Methods,Guerrillas,History,Mass Executions,Posthumous Executions,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Terrorists,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1704: “French Peter”

Add comment October 25th, 2017 Headsman

A thief named Peter Bennet was hanged at Tyburn on this date in 1704 — alone since “Two Men and Seven Women were try’d for several Felonies and Burglaries; and being found Guilty, they did all of them receive Sentence of Death accordingly. But Four of the Women, who were found with Quick Child, and the other Three, with one of the Men, through the QUEEN’s especial Mercy being Reprieved; One only, viz. Peter Bennet, is now order’d for Execution.”

That’s from the hang-day tract by Newgate Ordinary Paul Lorrain, who having leave to focus both his ministrations and his column-inches on the one soul and exulted at some length in one of his celebrated (albeit not uncontroversial) conversions.

While the patchy Old Bailey documentation of this early date doesn’t appear from a search of oldbaileyonline.org to preserve the record of Bennet’s trial, there’s a man of the same name and nickname (“French Peter”) sentenced to branding in 1698 — and although Lorrain does not comment on any such mark, it would seem to corroborate our fellow’s confession to a life of viciousness.

Peter Bennet, alias French Peter, alias Peter Flower, the only Person now order’d for Execution, said that he was about 25 Years of Age, born of honest Parents at Niort in the Province of Poictou in France, and brought up in England, whereinto he came very young;* and that his first Employment was the Silk-Weavers Trade, of which he work’d about two Years in Spittlefields, and then went into the late King William‘s Service; in which, and in Her present Majesty’s, he had been (both at Sea and Land) for these several Years past, and was actually in the Second Regiment of Foot-Guards, under the Command of Lieutenant Colonel Bradocke,** when he was apprehended. He own’d himself to have been a very ill Liver, and formerly one of Moll Raby‘s Gang; and he did (with bitter Reflection upon his vicious Conversation, almost through the whole Course of his past Life) freely declare, that he had committed all manner of Sins that cou’d be nam’d or thought on, Murther only excepted; and said that though he earnestly desired to live, that he might lead a new Life, and give sensible Tokens of his Change and Reformation to the World; yet he was willing to submit to the Will of God, and the Stroke of Justice, by which he was appointed to be cut off from the Land of the Living: wherein he had done so little Good, but so much Harm. He confess’d, that he was justly brought to this Condemnation, who had no better improved the Mercy he receiv’d before, when under such another; and that he was guilty not only of the two Facts lately proved, but of all the Seven Indictments then preferr’d against him in the Old-Baily: And 1st, That he, together with Thomas Hunter, (who not long since was executed at Tyburn) and another, whom I shall forbear to name here (because I desire not his Confusion, but his Conversion) broke open, and robb’d the House of Mr. Annis, on the 19th of April last, taking thence 60 Yards of Crape, 90 Yards of Serge, 66 Yards of Holland, and 12 pair of Stockings; which Holland and Stockings they divided among them three; and as to the Crape and Serge, his Companions dispos’d thereof, he does not well know to whom; but he remembers, they had Nine pound for them, and he Three pounds for his Share out of that Nine pound. 2dly, That he, with the other two beforemention’d, and one Sebastian Reis, a German, that was hang’d with Hunter in June last, did likewise in the said month of April, break the House of Thomas Abbot, a Quaker, and took from thence 25 Dozen of Handkerchiefs, and an old Scarf, which they sold for Four Pounds to a Woman that keeps a Brokers Shop at the Golden Ball in High Holbourn: but as for the Guinea mention’d in that Indictment, to have been at the same time with the other Goods, taken out of the forenamed Abbot’s House, he said, he knew nothing of it. 3dly, That they did, in May last, break the House of Mrs. Margaret Christian, and take thence a Cheshire-Cheese, about two or three Quarts of Brandy, and some Sugar Cakes; which Cakes and Brandy, they did eat and drink among them; and for the Cheese, himself, who was carrying it away, when pursu’d, threw it down, and left it to whomsoever would take it. 4thly, That they in April last, broke another House, which he supposes might be Mr. Sapford’s, mention’d in the fourth Indictment, but had not an Opportunity of carrying any thing out of it, being prevented therein by the Watchman that was then going the Rounds, 5thly, That in the same Month of April, they broke the House of Mr. Palmer, and took from thence four Silver-Spoons, a Napkin, an Old-Sword, and a Spice-Box, with a small Silver-Spoon in it, & some other things, of little or no Value. The 4 Silver-Spoons, he said, Mr. Palmer had again; the Napkin he took to himself, and the Box they left in the Fields; but what was in it, and the Sword with the small spoon, he can’t well tell what his two Companions did therewith. 6thly, That towards the end of the said Month of April, he, and the other two first mention’d, broke the House of Mr. Gibbs, and took from thence 8 India-Curtains, 4 Vallance, a Squob, and a pair of Sheets; which Sheets he kept for himself, and one of them took the Curtains, Vallance, and Squob to his own Use, and gave him three half Crowns in Consideration thereof, and their other Companion had also some Money given him upon that account, by him that kept those Curtains, Vallance, and Squob. 7thly, and lastly, That they three went and broke open the House of Mr. Bird, and took thence a Ham of Bacon, (which the Owner had again) and 5 Bottles of Cyder, and two Papers of Tobacco, which they spent among themselves. He added, that he (as he does in general remember, but has forgot the Particulars) had committed several other Robberies and Burglaries, in company with the forenamed Tho. Hunter, and Sebastian Reis, and the other Person whose Name (as I said before) I will now spare; and that this last, in particular, did with him one Night (he can’t well tell how long since) break and enter by the Backside, into a certain House in a pav’d Court in Fetter-Lane, and robb’d it, taking thence 24 or 25 Guinea’s, about 5l- in Money, a Silver-hilted Sword, a Long-Perriwig, a Silver-Salt Seller, with some Silver-Spoons and Forks, and a Hat; which Hat, he said, he wore now, and was not worth restoring. As for the Sword, they flung it into a Cellar, in Fee-Lane, and for the Plate and Perriwig, his Companion sold them to one William Buxton (an Harbourer of ill People, and a Buyer of stoln Goods) living in Church-Lane between White-Chappel and Gravel-lane. This is the ample Confession he made to me, and declared, that (to his Grief) he was not able to make any Restitution or other Reparation to the Persons he had thus wrong’d; but heartily pray’d that God would bless them, and they would forgive him. He freely acknowledg’d himself a grievous Offender, and repeated again, that he had committed all manner of Wickedness, but Murther; that he was the vilest and the worst of Sinners, and had exceeded in Sin, even those that had first brought him into it: some whereof, he said, had deservedly suffer’d a shameful Death, and others are still living; and these he earnestly intreats to be wiser than himself had been, and take due Warning by him, who now finds his Folly in not having done so by others, that is, by the Punishment of those that went this way out of the World before him. He seem’d to be very sensible that his Neglect of God’s Service, prophaning the Lord’s Day and Name, Swearing, Drinking, Gaming, Whoring, &c. were the great Causes of his Ruine; and therefore out of that Charity which he owes, and now has for all Mankind, he (in the Words of a Dying Man, that has done with the World, and now speaks without Disguise, by his own woful Experience) admonishes all to avoid those, and all other Vices; that they may prevent their own Destruction both of Body and Soul. Thus he appear’d as one who had great Reason to abhor Sin, and who wou’d fain perswade others to abhor it too.

The Day of his Execution being come, he was carry’d in a Cart to Tyburn, where I assisted him to the last; earnestly exhorting him to clear his Conscience by a further Confession, if he had any thing more to say, and stir up his Heart and all the Affections of his Soul to God. Upon which he said, he had nothing more to discover, but heartily pray’d God to forgive him his Sins, and be merciful to him for Christ’s sake. Then I pray’d and sung a penetential Psalm with him; and afterwards he spoke to the People to this Effect, I suppose there are some here that have been engag’d in ill things. I know there are. I beseech them to amend their Lives, and I beg that all that see me here, would take Warning by me. I am a very young Man, but a Lad, not above 24 or 25 Years of Age, but a grievous Sinner, and I am now to die for my wicked Life. Pray Gentlemen, take Warning by me, and pray for me, that God would have Mercy upon my poor Soul. And the Lord bless you all and prosper you. Then he lifted up his Eyes to Heaven, and said, Lord have Mercy upon a miserable Sinner. O call me not to mine account. I am not capable of answering thee. Sweet Jesus have Mercy upon me! Lord, open me thy Gates, and let me enter in! When he had done speaking, I discours’d him again, and made him rehearse the Articles of our Christian Faith, and I pray’d again, and sung another Psalm; and having commended his Soul to God, I left him to his private Devotions, for which he had some time allotted him. Then the Cart drew away, and he was turn’d off, whilst he was calling upon God in these and the like Ejaculations, Lord forgive me all my Sins! O God, I come, I come: Reject me not. O do not abhor my Soul! Lord, save me, Lord Jesus receive my Spirit.

* French Huguenots escaping a religious crackdown in the late 17th and early 18th centuries bolstered London’s emerging Spitalfields weaving industry.

** Bennet/Lorrain appears to refer here to the Coldstream Guards; if so, his c.o. “Bradocke” was the father of General Edward Braddock, notable for his New World command (and death) during the French and Indian War. That later Gen. Braddock’s aide, 23-year-old colonel and future American Revolution leader George Washington, made some fame for himself during the disastrous engagement that killed Braddock as the “Hero of Monongahela“, for helping to orchestrate the retreat.

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

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1704: John Smith, peruke-maker and highwayman for a week

5 comments December 20th, 2012 Headsman

On his date in 1704, John Smith was hanged for a career in highway robbery that lasted all of one week and markedly wanted for subtlety.

Smith was talked into stealing a mare with a buddy. (In this enterprise, Smith leaned up against the actual Tyburn gallows while lying in wait. He was almost spooked straight by its tactile morbidity, until his friend prodded him, “What matters, it, Jack? It is but hanging, if thou shouldst come to that.”)

Once Jack crossed the line, he couldn’t get enough.

The very next day he took the hot mare out for a spin and boosted three stagecoaches, and then hit three more stages the day after that. In all, in his short career, he raided nine stage-coaches, a hackney-cab, and the carriage of one Thomas Woodcock.

This last gentleman took his servant and stalked Smith to a forest hideout, where the inexperienced robber surrendered meekly, many of the proceeds of his spree being found still upon him.


Jack Smith’s impetuous turn to the road was still the more questionable given that he wasn’t a fringe-of-society type. The executioner who turned him off this date thinned the ranks of the artisans who crafted London society’s wigs … and just at the moment this industry was really taking off.

A fashion trend that jumped that channel from France — as did the sobriquet “peruke” for the most cumbersomely outlandish of the genre — wigs went wild under William and Mary and Queen Anne.

They multiplied for every rank, profession, and occasion, differentiated by a bewildering proliferation of colorful names. There’s the Allonge and the Grecian fly wig, the Rhinoceros and She-Dragon, the riding wig and the nightcap wig, the Jansenist, the Gregorian, the Adonis, the Corded Wolf’s-Paw, and even one called the Tyburn Scratch; wigs with long braided tails and others with practical bobbed cuts; modest affairs for scrappy apprentices on the come and ludicrous gigantic heaps of bedizened white curls for the louche nobility’s opera-box peacocking and the long plaited-tail “Ramillies” named after the battle the Duke of Marlborough won with this model on his dome. Even a proper thief needed a wig, and certainly the artifacts’ value was sufficient to endear them as a frequent object of hanging crimes.

FASHION in ev’ry thing bears sov’reign sway,
And Words and Perriwigs have both their day.
Each have their purlieus too, are modish each
In stated districts, Wigs as well as Speech.
The Tyburn Scratch, thick Club, and Temple Tye,
The Parson’s Feather-top, frizz’d broad and high!
The Coachman’s Cauliflow’r, built tiers on tiers!
Differ not more from Bags and Brigadiers,
Than great St. George’s, or St. James’s stiles,
From the broad dialect of Broad St. Giles.

The most recognizable legacy of the wig-craze is, of course, the ceremonial coiffure donned by judges and barristers in British courtrooms for centuries thereafter.

It was, indeed, right around the time of Smith’s hanging (circa 1705) that the preference of the rich and powerful for wig-wearing ensconced the accessory in the realm’s courtrooms, where they soon became utterly iconic. If John Smith could have just laid off the stickups, he might have met his judges as clients instead.

“Has not your Red hanging-individual a horsehair wig, squirrel-skins, and a plush-gown; whereby all mortals know that he is a JUDGE?” Carlyle remarked in the 1830s — by which time wigs were already passe outside the courtroom.

But as tradition sanctified their place at the bar, the judicial wig long outlived its parent trend and is only now, and only gradually and grudgingly, giving way.

On this day..

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

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1704: John Quelch, pirate

3 comments June 30th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1704, John Quelch was hanged on a Boston wharf for piracy.

Quelch had re-appeared in New England less than a year after hastily absconding with a new privateering vessel while the owners tried to sort out the captain’s sickness.

(The captain suspected his crew were up to no good, but the mutineers locked him in his cabin and set sail before the investors could act on the information. The ill captain died at sea and was pitched overboard — in what order, no one can say.)

The privateer Charles had been tricked out and licensed to raid French shipping off Newfoundland, but the avaricious mutineers saw much better buccaneering prospects preying on the gold-laden Portuguese possessions in South America.

One small problem: Portugal had formed an alliance with England.

So when the Charles re-appeared, heavy with the sort of mineral wealth not to be found in North America, authorities could not fail to notice that its crew

Have lately Imported a considerable Quantity of Gold dust, and some Bar and coin’d Gold, which they are Violently Suspected to have gotten & obtained by Felony and Piracy, from some of Her Majesties Friends and Allies …*

This all looks very neat on the legal docket (and it certainly did to the jury-less Admiralty court, the first time this instrument had been used outside of England), except that pirates and piracy were far more integrated into the fabric of the colonial frontiers than their desperado reputation might suggest. Pirates shifted in and out of their outlaw careers; even the strictly law-abiding colonists traded knowingly with these freebooters. Certainly some momentary mutual convenience between London and Lisbon for reasons of continental politics was very far from most colonists’ scope of care.

John Quelch seems to be among those operating in the grey economy, and in this case bringing “gold and silver to specie-starved colonial economies.”**

Hunger for hard currency in an environment of wartime depreciation of various sketchy paper notes helps explain why Quelch’s trial raised hackles in New England. Here were men who had by dint of enterprise and adventure plucked nearly 1,000 pounds of gold from faraway Brazil and hauled it back home to New England, honestly paid out the shares to the crew and gone to settle up with the privateering syndicate’s financiers.

And the high-handed English governor Joseph Dudley responded by clapping them in irons and trying them for their lives, using a dubiously legal and heretofore unprecedent drumhead military tribunal at which Dudley himself presided while his son† prosecuted.

It’s a nice setup for winning convictions, which is exactly what happened.

In the process, Dudley blew through a good portion of the pirates’ confiscated booty, making it rain for “Stephen North, who kept the Star Tavern in which the trial was held, for entertainment of the Commissioners during the sitting of the Court of Admiralty” and that sort of thing. If a later denunciation circulated by Cotton Mather is to be believed, the Dudleys did not scruple to wet their own beaks, either.

There have been odd Collusions with the Pyrates of Quelch’s Company, of which one instance is, That there was extorted the sum of about Thirty Pounds from some of the crew for liberty to walk at certain times in the prison yard. And this liberty having been allowed for two or three days unto them, they, were again confined to their former wretched circumstances.

(The rest of the cash went neither to the privateer’s investors nor back to the aggrieved Portuguese, but was shipped to English mints under the capable administration of Isaac Newton.)

Little wonder at the unrepentant Quelch’s parting shot on this date.

Sarcastically interrupting one of his five fellow-sufferers’ bog-standard scaffold injunction against running with a bad crowd, Quelch urged the throng of onlookers to better “take care how they brought Money into New-England, to be Hanged for it!”

Their bodies remained gibbeted in the harbor.

In Quelch’s Gold: Piracy, Greed, and Betrayal in Colonial New England, Clifford Beal argues that Quelch’s trial marked the onset of an official crackdown on pirates that would drive these formerly semi-legitimate operators further underground and therefore into greater violence. He even suggests, at a bit more of a stretch, that Quelch’s case presaged the colonial resistance to the mother country’s political and economic dictates that would later blossom into the American Revolution.

As for the gold, much of it was not recovered in 1704. Legends to the effect that it remains stashed on New Hampshire’s Star Island continue to attract treasure hunters.

* From the proclamation of Quelch and his crew‘s arrest, quoted in Pirates of the New England Coast, 1630-1730.

** Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age, by Marcus Rediker.

† That son, Paul Dudley, later endowed a still-extant lecture series at Harvard University — the oldest endowed lectureship, even though (or rather because) the donor’s intention that it be directed “for the purpose of detecting and convicting and exposing the Idolatry of the Romish church” was eventually neglected.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Massachusetts,Milestones,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions,USA

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