1720: Antoine-Joseph de Horn, humanity from an executioner

Add comment March 26th, 2018 Henry-Clement Sanson

(Thanks to Henry-Clement Sanson for the guest post. The former executioner — the last of his illustrious dynasty comprising six generations of bourreaux — was the grandson of that dread figure of the Paris Terror, Charles Henri Sanson. Henry-Clement’s Memoirs of the Sansons: From Private Notes and Documents (1688-1847) describes some famous or infamous executions from the family annals. “If it had for purpose to furnish food for the unhealthy curiosity of people who would seek emotions in a kind of written photograph of the scenes that take place on the scaffold, it should be received with loathsomeness,” our guest author disingenuously explains of his motivations after debts resulted in his dismissal from the family post. Rather, “I have been actuated in the course of my work by an abhorrence for the punishment denounced by so many eloquent voices, the punishment of which I have had the misfortune to be the living impersonation.” Although this document appears to draw from some manner of family records, it deserves a cautious reading as pertains the intimate conversations and beneficent motivations of his kinsmen. -ed.)

Count Antoine-Joseph De Horn was the scion of a princely race; and he was connected with the highest nobility of Europe. At the time when speculation, under Law‘s auspices, was raging in Paris, and the temptation of gain was leading astray many persons of position and family, Count de Horn was living in the capital the life of a young lord of fashion and fortune. The sensation which was produced may easily be imagined when it was heard that he had been arrested and put under lock and key under the twofold charge of having murdered, in company with a Piedmontese, called the Chevalier de Milhe, and a third unknown person, a Jew who speculated in the shares of the Royal Bank, in order to rob him of a pocket-book which contained a sum of 100,000 livres.

The murder was perpetrated in a tavern of the Rue Quincampoix, where, it was alleged, Count de Horn and his accomplices had made an appointment with the Jew, under pretence of purchasing the shares he had in his pocket, but in reality to steal them from him.

The greatest agitation prevailed at Court in consequence of this affair, owing to the illustrious rank or the accused, and of his connection with the loftiest aristocracy of the land. De Horn’s trial was pursued with unprecedented rapidity, and it seems as if the numerous steps taken to save the young man’s life only hurried his fate. When his parents heard of his incarceration, they lost no time in moving heaven and earth on his behalf. On the eve of the trial, a large number of his kinsmen assembled in the Palais de Justice, and waited for the members of the court, to bow to them as they passed, by way of commending the accused to their indulgence. This imposing manifestation, undertaken by the first seigneurs of France, produced no effect: the court of La Tournelle sentenced Count de Horn and the Chevalier de Milhe to be broken on the wheel, and left there until death should follow.

This sentence filled the young man’s friends and parents with terror and surprise. They sent to the Regent a petition in which it was represented that Count de Horn’s father was mad, that his kinsman Prince Ferdinand de Ligne was in a similar condition, that lunacy was a common ailing in his family, and that the young man must have committed the crime when of unsound mind. Among those who signed the petition were Prince Claude de Ligne, Marquis d’Harcourt, the Earl of Egmont, the Duke de la Tremouille, the Duke de la Force, the Archbishop of Cambray, Prince de Soubise, the Princess de Gonzague, and many others of the same rank. All the facts adduced in this petition were certainly authentic. The great race of the Princes de Horn and Overisque had given many examples of mental aberration. All the subscribers of the petition went in a body to the Palais Royal; but the Regent only consented to receive a deputation. He was inflexible with regard to a reprieve; and it was with much difficulty that he consented to a commutation of the sentence into decapitation. He could only be moved by being reminded that he was himself related to the culprit through his mother the Princess Palatine. How he kept his promise will be seen hereafter.

This obstinacy on the part of the Regent was much commented upon. Personal animosity was said to be the cause. M. de Horn, being young, handsome, and captivating, had been something of a lady-killer. Now, morality was not the distinguishing feature of Philip d’Orleans’ court, and it was said that several beauties in fashion had regarded the foreign young lord with more than ordinary favour. Mdme. de Parabere‘s name was particularly mentioned; and it was related that the Regent had once surprised M. de Horn in conversation with the beautiful marchioness. In his fury the prince showed him the door, saying, ‘Sortez’ —to which the Count made the proud and appropriate answer: ‘Monseigneur, nos ancetres auraient dit, sortons.’ To this adventure, whether real or invented, was attributed the Regent’s hatred for Count de Horn, whose life he had sworn to sacrifice. It is not my business to discuss this question. What was most certain was that Law, the minister of finance, and Dubois, the prime minister, showed themselves the bitterest foes of Count de Horn. The influence of the shares of the Royal Bank and of the Mississippi was diminishing; and they were in hopes that this might be mended by a display of unparalleled severity for the punishment of a murder committed with the object of taking possession of some of these shares.

Shortly afterwards, Charles Sanson received a visit from the Marquis de Creqy, the nobleman who had been the instigator and leader of all the attempts made to save the unfortunate youth. He seemed convinced that the Regent would keep his word, and showed him a letter in which the Duke de Saint-Simon expressed his conviction that Count de Horn would be decapitated. The Marquis added that his royal highness had also promised that the execution should take place in the court of the Conciergerie, to spare the culprit the shame of being led through the crowd. The only thing was to spare the unhappy young man as many sufferings as possible. M. de Creqy expressed a wish to see the sword which was to be used for his execution; he turned pale when my ancestor produced the broad double-edged blade, sharp and flashing, which could hardly be styled a weapon. On one side was engraved the word Justitia; on the other a wheel, emblem of torture. It was the sword with which the Chevalier de Rohan had been decapitated.

M. de Creqy could hardly refrain from weeping when he begged Charles Sanson to be as lenient as possible in the execution of his fearful mission, to uncover only the neck of the victim, and to wait until he received the priest’s absolution before giving him the fatal blow.

The conversation then turned to the measures to be taken for the remittance of the body, which M. de Creqy claimed in the name of the family. He requested my ancestor to procure a padded coffin wherein to place the remains of De Horn, which were then to be taken away in a carriage sent expressly for the purpose. Charles Sanson promised to see to the accomplishment of these lugubrious details.

When he left, M. de Creqy, wishing to reward my ancestor for the services he asked, presented him with 100 louis, and insisted on his accepting the gift. But Charles Sanson firmly refused. M. de Creqy appeared moved, and retired. I may be forgiven for dwelling with some complacency on this trait of disinterestedness on the part of one of those who preceded me in the office I held for many years; it may be considered as an answer to the charge of cupidity which has been launched at a profession which did not appear sufficiently soiled by blood.

Only a few hours had elapsed since the visit of the Marquis de Creqy, when Charles Sanson received the order to take, on the next morning at six o’clock, from the Conciergerie, Count Antoine de Horn; to convey him to the Place de Greve, after passing through the torture-chamber, and carry out the sentence of Parliament in its cruel tenour. My ancestor’s expectation was justified; the Regent did not keep his word; Law and Dubois had won the day against the Duke de Saint-Simon and the nobility.

To my ancestor’s extreme surprise, the sentence did not even contain the secret restriction of a retentum, which spared horrible sufferings to the accused, by ordering the executioner to strangle him before breaking his limbs. How could he now keep the promise he had made to the Marquis de Creqy? Charles Sanson passed the night in anything but pleasant reflections.

It was broad daylight when my ancestor arrived at the Conciergerie with his sinister cortege. He immediately entered the prison, and was conducted to a lower room in which were the Count de Horn and M. de Milhe, who-had just been tortured. Both were horribly mangled, for they had supported the boot to the eighth spike. The Count was extremely pale. He cast a haggard look around him, and kept speaking to his companion, who seemed much more resigned and listened with religious attention to the priest who was consoling him. As to M. de Horn, instead of being plunged in the state of prostration which usually followed the abominable sufferings he had just borne, he gesticulated with feverish animation and pronounced incoherent words which almost seemed to justify what had been alleged in his defence concerning the unsoundness of his mind. He violently repulsed the priest, who was dividing his attention between the two sufferers, and repeatedly asked for Monsignor Francois de Lorraine, Bishop of Bayeux, from whom he had received the communion the day before.

The fatal moment came. The culprits were carried to the executioner’s cart. Charles Sanson sat down next to the Count, while the priest continued speaking to the Piedmontese. Seeing the unhappy young man’s extreme agitation, my ancestor thought he might quiet him by giving him some hope, even were that hope to remain unrealised.

‘My lord,’ he said, ‘there is perhaps some hope. Your relations are powerful.’

The prisoner violently interrupted him. ‘They have abandoned me,’ he exclaimed; ‘the Bishop — where is the Bishop? He promised to return.’

‘Who knows?’ my ancestor ventured to say; ‘reprieve may yet come.’

The young man’s lips turned up contemptuously. ‘If they wanted to spare my life, they would not have crippled me in this fashion,’ he replied, bitterly, casting a look at his lacerated legs and feet.

Charles Sanson says in his notes that he really hoped and expected that some attempt would be made to save De Horn. But nothing occurred. The Pont-au-Change was passed, and in another minute the cortege reached the Place de Greve. The Count looked at Sanson reproachfully as if upbraiding him for what he had said; but he was now quite collected and the fear of death had left him.

At length the cart stopped at the foot of the scaffold. The culprits, owing to the torture they had undergone, could not move unaided. Charles Sanson therefore took Count de Horn in his arms and carried him up the steps. At the same time he whispered in his ear the advice that he should ask permission to make revelations, as a means of gaining time; but the unfortunate young man had again lost his self-possession and gave vent to incoherent exclamations. ‘I knew they would not allow the Bishop to come,’ he said; … ‘they have arrested him because he had shares also. But I shall sell my life dearly; only give me arms! … they cannot refuse to give me arms!’ … While he was thus expressing himself, Charles Sanson stepped back, motioning to his assistants to begin their work which consisted in tying him to the plank on which he was to be broken. When this was done, the priest, who had just left the Piedmontese, approached De Horn: ‘My son,’ he said, ‘renounce the sentiments of anger and revenge which trouble your last moments. Only think of God: He is the sovereign author of all justice, if you appear before Him with a contrite and humbled heart.’

The Count at length seemed moved, and he joined in the priest’s prayer. As to my ancestor, he remembered M. de Creqy’s request as to priestly absolution, and in this respect his conscience was firm; but he had also promised not to make the young man suffer. In an instant he decided on the course he should adopt. Simulating sudden illness, he passed his iron bar to Nicolas Gros, his oldest assistant, took the thin rope used for the secret executions of the retentum, passed it round the Count’s neck, and before Gros had raised the heavy bar wherewith he was about to break the culprit’s limbs, he pulled the rope, and thus spared him the most atrocious sufferings ever devised by human cruelty.

On the other hand, the Chevalier de Milhe, who was being broken, uttered wild shrieks. In vain did the priest wipe the perspiration from his brow, and pour a few drops of water into his mouth. Charles Sanson was struck with the inequality of the sufferings of the two men, and told Gros to give him the coup de grace — the blow which broke the chest.

Gros obeyed, but not without casting an uneasy look at the commissaire, who was viewing the execution from the balcony of the Hotel-de-ville. No doubt the latter cared little for executions of this kind, of which, perhaps, he had seen but too many, for he perceived nothing. At this moment the priest, surprised not to hear the cries of Count de Horn, returned to exhort him to repentance: he saw that death had forestalled him. The rope was still hanging from the young man’s neck, and my ancestor hastened to conceal it while the ecclesiastic was standing between the Hotel-de-ville and himself; then, placing a finger on his lips, he solicited the priest’s discretion.

Both passed the remainder of the day beside the mangled remains. Shortly after the execution, a carriage drawn by six horses, preceded by a mounted servant, and followed by six servants in gorgeous livery, entered the Place de Greve. It was the Duke de Croy d’Havre, whose arms could be descried on the panels of his carriage through the black crape which covered it. He was soon followed by three other carriages, which stopped on the north sideof the square. They were all in deep mourning, as also the harness of the horses and the liveries of the servants. The blinds were closed, as much to avoid public curiosity as to conceal the cruel sight of the scaffold. But it was whispered in the crowd that the last comers were the Prince de Ligne, the Duke de Rohan, and a Crouiy, the last scion of the illustrious race of Arpad, which traced its origin to Attila, and put forth more legitimate rights to the crown of Hungary than the house of Hapsburg.

My ancestor was surprised not to see the Marquis de Creqy. But his astonishment was short-lived, for a rumour at the other end of the Place announced the arrival of two other carriages, in an apparel still more pompous. They drove up to the other carriages and took up a position in the same line. The Marquis de Creqy stepped out, and advanced on to the square clad in the uniform of a colonel-general and general inspector of the King’s armies, and wearing the insignias of the Golden Fleece, the grand crosses of Saint-Louis and Saint-Jean of Jerusalem. His countenance bore the traces of profound grief. He traversed the Greve with a firm step; the crowd stepped back respectfully before this great personage, who was one of Louis XIV’s godsons.

As soon as the commissaire saw M. de Creqy, he retired from the balcony of the Hotel-de-ville, as if only waiting for this final protest to bring the scene to a conclusion. This meant that justice was satisfied. The Marquis walked straight up to my ancestor with a severe face, and looking at him almost threateningly:

‘Well, sir,’ said he, in a stern voice, ‘what of your promise?’

‘Monseigneur,’ answered Charles Sanson, ‘at eight o’clock this morning M. le Comte de Horn was dead, and the bar of my assistant struck a dead body.’

The priest confirmed my ancestor’s words.

‘Well,’ said M. de Creqy, in a milder tone, ‘our house shall remember that if it could obtain nothing from the clemency of the Regent and from the justice of Parliament, it is at least indebted to the humanity of the executioner.’

The Count’s body was then untied and taken to one of the carriages. It was so mutilated that the limbs seemed ready to separate from the trunk. As a protest against the cruelty of the sentence, M. de Creqy insisted on holding one of the legs, which only adhered to the corpse by the skin. When this was done the carriages moved away in a file, and stopped before the house of the Countess de Montmorency-Lagny, nee De Horn, where the Count’s remains were placed in a bier and deposited in a chapel. It remained there for two days, surrounded by a numerous clergy who sang the mass of the dead. Meanwhile Prince Francois de Lorraine, Bishop of Bayeux, had returned to Paris. He expressed much grief at having been unable to attend his unfortunate kinsman to the scaffold, thinking that the execution was to take place at a later date. He nevertheless arrived in time to join his prayers to those of the clergy, and, in company with MM. de Creqy and de Plessis-Belliere, he escorted the body to the Castle of Baussigny, in the Netherlands, where the Prince de Horn, eldest brother of the defunct, and head of the family, usually resided.

This extraordinary affair greatly irritated the highest personages of the State against the Regent and his favourites: it proved of no assistance to Law, whose fall was unavoidable. On his return from his country-seat the Duke de Saint-Simon hastened to write to the Duke d’Havre to express his regret at what had occurred, and to say how he himself had been deceived by the false promises of the Duke d’Orleans.

I quote here the Duke d’Havre’s answer, because it not only expressed the sentiments of all the French nobility, but it corroborates what I have said concerning Charles Sanson’s conduct:

My dear Duke, — I accept with gratitude, and I understand quite well, the regret you are kind enough to express. I do not know whether the Marquis de Parabere or the Marquis de Creqy obtained of the executioner of Paris the charity which is attributed to him; but what I do know is that the death of Count de Horn is the result of a false policy, of the financial operations of the Government, and, perhaps, also of the policy of the Duke d’Orleans. You know my sentiments of consideration for you.

CROY D’HAVRE

Was Count de Horn really innocent? We have no right to judge the merits of those it was our mission to put to death. Nevertheless I have taken the liberty to allude to the rumours which were current at the time of De Horn’s arrest, and which made him out to be the victim of the Regent’s personal animosity. Another version tended to establish his innocence, or, at least, so to diminish his responsibility in the Jew’s murder, that, were the version correct, the sentence he suffered could only be regarded as a monstrous iniquity. It was said that M. de Horn and the Chevalier de Milhe had not made an appointment with the Jew with the intention of murdering and robbing him, but merely with the object of obtaining from him a large sum in shares of the Bank which the Count had really entrusted to him; that not only did the Jew deny the deposit, but that he went so far as to strike Antoine de Horn in the face. Upon this the young man, who was hot-blooded and passionate, seized a knife that lay on the table and wounded the Jew in the shoulder. It was De Milhe who finished him and took the pocket-book, of which the Count refused to have a share. If the affair occurred in this way, it must be acknowledged that the Regent, and the magistrates who served his hatred, had a heavy reckoning to answer for.

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1720: Matthew Tompkins, Daniel Lazenby, and Maurice Fitzgerald

Add comment August 15th, 2017 Headsman

THE Ordinary of NEWGATE

HIS ACCOUNT OF The Behaviours, Confessions, and Last Dying Words of the Malefactors that were Executed at Tyburn on Monday the 15th of August, 1720.

The Sunday preceeding the Execution of the Prisoners, I preached to them from the following Words.

Bloody and Deceitful Men shall not live out half their Days. (Psalm 55th, part of the 23d Verse.)

We first observed that the Psalmist every where speaks of Murder with conscious Sense of Shame; The Prophet Nathan’s Parable had pierced his Bosom, and cut deep into his Heart. Well knew he, that Uriah was the poor Man with an only Lamb, that was tender to him, and lay every Night in his Bosom: His Conscience started at his Guilt; and the prospect of Love that was pleasing late, is shocking now: The Beautiful Bathsheba, and the Blood-stain’d Uriah rise up at once to his View; and in the bitterness of Soul he cries out, Deliver Me from Bloodguiltiness O God, Thou God of my Salvation! (ver. 14.)

But deep and hearty was David’s Repentance; and for every Pleasure he paid a thousand Tears. Therefore, notwithstanding his Guilt, he hopes God will save him from his Enemies. That Confidence as he often expresses, so particularly in my Text, Thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the Pit of Destruction; Bloody and Deceitful Men shall not live out half their Days.

From the Words we observed the following Things.

First, We consider’d the Nature of Bloodguiltiness: According to, 1st, the Natural; 2d, the Jewish; 3d, the Christian Law.

Secondly, We consider’d Who were meant by Deceitful Men.

Thirdly, Very briefly advis’d all to a serious Reflection on the Doctrine; because, Bloody and Deceitful Men do not live out half their Days.

First, We consider’d Bloodguiltiness according to the Law of Nature.

This is a tacit Law, engraven on the Heart, that plainly exclaims against Murder. For ’tis not agreeable to Natural Reason to suppose that I and another Rational Creature, being both of Us the Right and Property of some Superiour Being that caused us to be, can have a Right to rob that superior Being of that his other Creature by Murder. That other Creature also has a Natural Right lodg’d in him, by the Creator, to enjoy the Light of the Sun; to sleep, and feed, and whatever else the Creator has thought fit to make him capable of enjoying. As therefore, I did not give him this Capacity of Enjoyment, ’tis plain, I can have no Right to take it from him; Unless indeed where I have a particular Commission from God to do it; which is the Case of the Brutes we devour.

This is according to the Light of Nature: And even the Heathens of Popayan and Paraguay, Tho’ they used to fat up their Captive Foes, to feast upon their Flesh, yet had so much Glimmering of the Dictates of Reason, as to detest, and severely Punish the Murder of their own People; Looking upon no Crimes as Capital but Incest and Murder; But to show their Abhorrence of Them, The Prince with a Dart pursued the Offender and with his own Hands destroyed him.

2d, We consider’d Bloodguiltiness according to the Mosaic Law.

This Law, agreeable to that of Nature, is very express against Murder. Whosoe sheddeth Man’s Blood, by Man shall his Blood be shed.

Under this Head, I took Notice of what I have sometimes thought remarkable, viz. That the very Giver of this Law, Moses, should slay a Man, without any Accusation laid against him. This a Hebrew, who had heard of it, thought a Crime; and accusingly said, Intendest thou to kill Me as thou didst the Egyptian Yesterday? It also made a great Noise in the Land, so that Pharoah was acquainted with it: But Moses fled from the Face of Pharoah, and dwelt in the Land of Midian. (Exod. 2. 15.) The Manner of his Slaying Him, was thus; And he spy’d an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his Brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no Man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the Sand. (Exod. 2. 11, 12.)

The usual way of Answering this Difficulty, is, either by supposing it a wicked Action, tho’ not noted as such in Scripture; Or else, by saying, that Moses had a particular Commission from God to perform this Murder. But certainly that would be an Omission in the Sacred Writ (which far be it from any one to conceive) to leave out such a material Information; because the Murder is committed by a Person who is represented to Us as the Reverse of such a Doer. All Evil-Actions mention’d in Scripture, are mention’d for a Good End; and serve either to deter Us from the same Sins, by the Punishment annex’d to them; Or, to prevent our Despair, by the Sight of God’s Forgiveness: But it can serve to neither, of these Ends, to show Us a Virtuous Man Sinning, without noting him as disagreeing from himself.

This Answer therefore, seems to Me not to come up to the Difficulty. I would rather, with Submission, answer it thus. We must suppose it to be a Lawful Action; and who can assert the Contrary; unless he knew the Nature of the Skirmish between the Egyptian and the Hebrew? For it might be a justifiable Murder, if we suppose the Egyptian to be so beating the Hebrew, as resolving to have his Life; and to be so violent and furious therein, as that the Interposer Moses could not save the Life of the Servant of God, but by taking away That of the Barbarian; I think, with Submission, in that Case, it might be lawful for Moses to do it. The Egyptian was in the nature of an Assaulter, or Robber; and Grotius with the other Ethick Writers, determine, that I and my Friend may defend my own Life at the Expence of a Robber’s Blood. And this especially before the Christian Dispensation.

To this it may be objected, that Moses need not have looked this Way and that Way, to see if any was near, had he had this Cause for slaying the Egyptian. To this I answer, that tho’ this justified the Action in the sight of God, yet Moses knew it would not in the Eyes of Pharoah; who, we may suppose, had rather ten Hebrews should dye, than one Egyptian; As appears from his ordering all the Male Hebrew Children to be slain, only lest the Hebrews should grow too strong.

To confirm this Explication, we may observe, that the rescued Hebrew would not, in all probability, have discover’d his Brother and Deliverer, unless he had conceiv’d an Opinion (without thinking so far as Pharoah’s Partiality towards the Hebrews) that it was not a Criminal Action, on Account of the Murderous Intent of the Egyptian: And He must be the Discoverer, because we read, There was no one present. (ver. 12.)

3dly, The Christian-Law is much more express against Bloodguiltiness, than either the Natural or the Jewish; insomuch, that, Whosoe hateth his Brother is a Murderer. And agen, Whosoe sayeth to his Brother, Thou Fool, is in Danger of Hell-Fire. So far must Christians be from Murder, that Christ says, Resist not Evil; but whosoever smiteth thee on one Cheek, turn to him the Other also. (Mat. 5. 39.) Contrary to the Jewish Law, which said, An Eye for an Eye, and a Tooth for a Tooth.

Secondly, Under the Second general Head we consider’d, who are meant by Deceitful Men, – Bloody, and Deceitful Men.

  • 1st.) By Deceitful Men, may be meant False-Friends. This certainly is very sinful. ‘Tis also imprudent, We should well consider before we take a Friend to our Bosom; and better consider before we throw him thence agen.
  • 2dly.) By Deceitful Men, may be meant Thieves. As the Psalmist says, He sitteth lurking in the thievish Corners of the Streets. Psal. 10. 8.

    It is become usual for Us to see Robbings in the publick Streets; How different are you from the Example of our Saviour; He went about Doing Good, But you Doing Ill: He preach’d Peace thro’ the Streets, But you denounce Slaughter and Rapine. Little then would one think, ye had renounced the World at your Baptism, and profest your selves Followers, Pupils, Imitators of Christ.

    Some in your Conditions have seem’d to value themselves upon their bearing their Misfortunes as becomes Men: But can ye take a sort of Pride in dying Couragiously like a Man, and not be ashamed of having liv’d like Brutes? Was their not something Mean and Base (for that ye will most regard) in inhabiting the Night, and flying the Face of Day, which Man was form’d with an Aspect erect to gaze at? The Apostle says, We are not of the Night, but of the Day; and let us who are of the Day be Sober; putting on the Breast-plate of Faith and Love, and for an Helmet, the Hope of Salvation. 1 Thess. 5. 8.

  • 3dly.) By Deceitful Men may be meant Defamers and Backbiters. This is a Deceit, perhaps as pernicious as the Thief’s, tho’ not equally liable to Punishment: The Robber despoils Us of our Goods, the Defamer, of our Reputations; One injures Us Clandestinely, The other to our Face. But Christ said, Let him who is without Sin among you, first throw a Stone at Her.

Thirdly. The Third General Head was, to perswade All to the Consideration of the Doctrine, for the Reason in the Text, Bloody and Deceitful Men shall not live out half their Days.
Under this Head we consider’d the Misery of being cut off in the Pride and Prime of Youth, while the Face of Nature was delightful, and joyous the Light of the Sun: And that this Misery was but the Natural Consequence of Sin, especially of Bloodguiltiness, agreeable to the Text.

I lastly conjured them, to compensate for their former evil Lives, by the uncommon Earnestness of their Repentance; Never to leave Assaulting the Throne of Grace, till they had some dawning Assurances of Salvation; But so to expend their few remaining Hours, that they might launch forth from Sorrow to Joy; from Pain to Satisfaction; and from a World of Care into Realms of never fading Pleasures.

1. Matthew Tomkins, was Convicted of robbing John Wickers, on the High-way, of 4 Guineas and 16 s. 6 d.

The Account he gave me of himself was as follows.

He said he was 22 Years of Age; a single Man; born at Tunbridge, where he has now a Father and Mother residing in good Credit and Reputation. He said, they brought him up with the utmost Tenderness, and gave him a considerable share of Learning. He never was Apprentice to any Trade; but was in Quality of a Book-keeper for some time, at a great China Shop in London, where nothing was objected against his Behaviour.

He said, he was lately Master of about 400 l. That he then gave himself up too much to Pleasure: He was often advis’d by his Friends to purchase a Place for Life, but never was so happy as to follow their good Counsel; He added, that he liv’d in a very jovial Manner, upon the principal Money, pursuing his Pleasures, and denying himself nothing that might tend to the Gratifying his Inclinations.

Upon a Day (as he told me) he took a Ride to Ware in Hartfordshire, alone by himself; but he there got into some Company, they proposed a Game at Cards, which they said they did not well Understand, ’twas a new Game, but they were told ’twas very Diverting. Mr. Tompkins soon undertook to play with them. When he had lost all his Money, he call’d for his Horse, in order to return to London.

Upon the Road, he said, he met a Man, of a sober Aspect; whose Occupation he should little have suspected from his Appearance. With this Person he fell into Discourse, and was complaining of the Tricks and Deceits of Cards, and related how he had been served at Ware, where he had been bubbled out of all his Money. The Stranger told him, he need not be necessitated for Money, so long as he was upon an open Road; and in short, gave him a Pistol. The next Gentleman they met, they rob’d of four Guineas and some Silver, half of which he had; and parting with his Instructor at London, never saw him after.

This is the Account he gave me of his committing this wicked Action. He also told me, That he had let his Parents know his Misfortunes he was under, but had, at the same time requested of them, not to come to London on that Account, for it was not in their Power to be any way Serviceable to him in that Condition; but that the Sight of them, who had always used him with so great Tenderness and Affection, would greatly aggravate and encrease his Sorrow.

He shou’d me a Book, which a Clergyman sent him, which he said had been the occasion of his passing the sad and Melancholly Hours of Confinement, not only with Patience but with some Satisfaction and Delight.

The Saturday before his Execution, He told me he had then entirely laid aside all Thoughts of the World, and that the Sight of his Acquaintance was become Painful to him; for he had in some measure habituated Himself to think of Heaven, till it was become Grateful to him in the Consideration.

2. David Lazenby, was Convicted of breaking open the Chambers of Charles Wood, Esq; in the Night-time, and stealing thence, some Holland Shirts, Cravats, a Beaver Hat, Sheets, a Cloath Coat and Wast-coat, Worsted Stockings, &c. The Account he gave me of himself was as follows.

He said, He was 26 Years of Age; Born at Market-Weston in Suffolk, of honest and reputable Parents. He was put Prentice to a Weaver; to which Trade he served his 7 Years out. But this Employment not being sufficient to maintain him, he said, he went into the Country; Being there at a loss how to employ his time, and procure a comfortable Subsistance, he at last determin’d to set up a Publick House, which he accordingly did; but soon growing weary of that noisy and quarrelsome Life, he returned again to London, where he met with tolerable Encouragement in his own Trade.

He said, that at the Time he was Apprehended on Suspicion, he liv’d at Hoxton, where he Employ’d 5 Journeymen under him at the Weaving Business .

He told me, that during my Sickness, a Great Distiller in Fore-street had desired to speak with me concerning him; that I would put the Question to him, whether he was not concern’d in robbing his Dining-Room, of several peices of Plate, some marked with his Coat of Arms, and some Plain. When the Prisoner had told me this, I accordingly taxed him, as he was a Dying Man, and had I hoped a value for his Soul, whether he knew any thing of the aforesaid Robbery? But he solemnly protested that he was entirely ignorant of it.

Another Gentleman also in Hoxton-Square, apply’d to me, to desire I would put the Question to him, whither he was not concern’d in the Breaking open his House; he having suspected him on Account of some Tickets for an Entertainment, dropt near his House, with David Lazenby’s Name thereto. But the Prisoner said, the Tickets were accidentally dropt by that House, and were for him and some Friends to make merry innocently together. I hope he was sincere in his Declarations.

3. Maurice Fitzgerald, was condemned for the Murder of a Watchman in the Strand.

He was about 20 Years of Age; born in Ireland; his Education was Liberal and Genteel. As to his Behaviour during his Confinement, after the Sentence pass’d upon him, it was Sober and Grave; he constantly frequented the publick Service in the Chappel, where he appear’d not without Devotion and a sense of Religion, making the Responces very duely, and reading the Psalms alternately after me. Notwithstanding this, It has been thought that he did not dye in the Communion of the Church of England; But this I think he would not have dissembled, had it been so; for I put the Question to him, and he told me that he dyed a Member of the English Church. I frequently talk’d with him about the Nature of his former Course of Life, and his Stabbing a Man sometime ago with a Penknife; he seem’d to acknowledge that among all Courses of Life, the Sober and Serene Man bids the fairest for Happiness even here; and that no Satisfaction really consists in having the Spirits always in a Hurry and a Flutter, and in flying about from one House of Obscenity to another.

The Account of them at the Place of Execution.

Maurice Fitzgerald. At the Tree he spoke to the People present; signifying that he had reason to accuse some Persons as to his being Executed, whom he Named. He then declared, that he dyed in Charity towards all Men; and desired the Spectators Prayers for his departing Soul; adding, that he was pleas’d and easy at his leaving Care and Anxiety. He then gave me a Letter for his Brother; and ask’d me if I had retain’d the Paper he gave me at the Sacrament. He had been Scandaliz’d for Living with a Lady in a vicious Manner, to wit, Mrs. Witworth; That Paper relates to this, and is as follows.

SIR,

I Beg you will satisfy the World, that I was lawfully Married to Mrs. Witfield, according to the Rights and Ceremonies of the Church of England, as I shall answer before the Great and Good God one Day, and to her. Witness my Hand, this 14th of August, 1720. M. Fitzgerald.

David Lazenby. At the Tree, he deliver’d me a Paper, which he desired I would by all means Publish; and was as follows.

WHEN under Sentence of Death, one Mrs. Flowers came to me, concerning a Robbery, which one John Young swore her into: Now, I David Lazenby do solemnly declare upon the Holy Sacrament, which I take this 15th day of August, that the said Robbery (at the Quaker’s next Door to the Nagg’s Head in Islington) was committed by two other Persons, whose Names are John Brush, and Joseph Smith. Neither was Mrs. Flowers any way concern’d in purchasing the Goods.

THO. PURNEY, Ordinary and Chaplain.

LONDON: Printed and Sold by JOHN APPLEBEE, a little below Bridewel-Bridge, Black-Fryers.

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

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1721: Christiana Bell

Add comment November 21st, 2014 Meaghan

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

The story of Christiana Bell’s execution in Gloucester County in modern-day New Jersey on or shortly before November 21, 1721, begins in 1703. That was the first time she was accused of infanticide: they had found a dead baby and Christiana, a domestic servant who was probably only in her teens at the time, came under suspicion because she had been pregnant out of wedlock and was suddenly not pregnant but with no infant to show for it.

Her trial in 1703 was presided over by Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, 3rd Earl of Clarendon, governor of the New York and New Jersey colonies. She was convicted and sentenced to death. However, Lord Cornbury took pity on her — perhaps because of her youth, or maybe there were doubts about her guilt — and first commuted the death sentence, then issued a full pardon. Christiana returned home, having spent fourteen months behind bars but not stretched her neck.

She didn’t learn the lesson Lord Cornbury might have wanted her to learn from her fortuitous escape.

In 1720, she was rearrested for the exact same crime: she’d gotten pregnant out of wedlock again, delivered a live baby and did away with it.

Christiana very nearly got lucky again: her death sentence was suspended and she got a chance to plead her case before New Jersey Supreme Court on May 2, 1721. Today, appeals in capital cases are automatic; in Christiana’s time, this was an unusual and perhaps unprecedented legal maneuver.

Unfortunately, it backfired on her: the prosecution was ready with witnesses who testified about Christiana Bell’s notorious past and her prior conviction and death sentence. This time there would be no reprieve.

The exact date of her execution is not known for certain, but on November 21, 1721, the Gloucester County Board of Freeholders approved funds to reimburse the sheriff for expenses he’d incurred in hanging her.

See Legal Executions in New Jersey: A Comprehensive Registry, 1691-1963.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,New Jersey,Other Voices,Public Executions,Uncertain Dates,USA,Women

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1720: Edward Hunt, the first counterfeiter executed in colonial Pennsylvania

Add comment November 19th, 2013 Headsman

On November 19, 1720, Edward Hunt was hanged in Philadelphia. He was the only Pennsylvanian executed for treason prior to the American Revolution — that treason being not the betrayal of the state (in the sense we might think of it today), but counterfeiting.

In the bitterness of his scaffold speech, which disdains the customary acknowledge-my-guilt, pray-for-my-soul form of the genre to complain about his case, Hunt made plain that he was not reconciled to the justice men had rendered him.

The American Weekly Mercury of Thursday, November 24 published “this extraordinary Piece” only with a preface complaining that “it is evident, that the following Speech was intended to misrepresent the Administration and Justice of this Government, as well as to infuse both ill Principles and Practices into the Minds of the People.”

The Dying Speech of Edward Hunt, formerly taken in Rebellion at Preston, and transported a bound Servant to the Island of Antigua, before his Execution upon the 19th Instant, at Philadelphia, where he had been legally convicted of High Treason, and most justly condemn’d for his Counterfeiting Spanish Silver Coin, made current* by Act of Parliament within all his Majesties Colonies in America.

It may be expected, that I should say some thing now concerning my Life and Conversation, which i must with Sorrow own to God and the Word has not been according to the Precepts and Principles of the Church, in which I was bred and educated: But with a sincere repentance and hearty Sorrow I do lament all the Errors of my past Life, firmly believing in my Saviour Jesus Christ, in whose Merits and ever flowing Mercy I do only trust for Salvation and Pardon, who has promised Eternal Life on no other Terms to the most Righteous upon Earth.

As to the Crime that now I suffer for in particular, I must own it is an Offence against the Laws, which I hope God will pardon me since he knows that I did not do it with any Design to cheat or defraud any one, or to make a Practice of Coining; but being ignorant of the Breach of any Laws of God or Man, I thought I might cut those Impressions as innocently as any other, or the Stamps that the Gentlemen of this place imploy’d me about, to make Farthings.** I am an English Subject, and desired to have the Privilege of the Laws of England, but it was not granted in any Point, except in Condemning me.

I am the first unhappy Instance of this kind that ever suffered in the King’s Dominions, pray God it may be a Warning to all, not to offend wilfully in the same that I did through Ignorance: For if I had known it, I would not have taken all the World to have done it. God give me a patient Resignation to submit to his blessed Will, in whatsoever he please.

I do heartily ask Forgiveness of all that I have offended in any manner of way, and do sincerely forgive all that have injured or offended me; particularly Mr. John Moore and Morris Birchfield, and the Evidence that swore against me in that Tryal. I do solemnly declare, That I know not any thing, or have been guilty of any one thing laid to my Charge in that Matter, or any of the other things laid to my Charge, by John Butler, either in England or Ireland.

I did petition the Honourable Governor for a Reprieve, until the King’s Pleasure was known concerning me, being I could not be tried by the Laws of England in all Points, as a Church of England Man ought to be: But it was a Privilege too great for me to obtain. Pray God to forgive them all, and every one that has a hand in taking away my Life any manner of way, and that my Blood be not required at their Hands, for they know not what they do. I am on Earth judged and condemned to die for the Breach of a Law of Man that was not duly published, which for that Reason I transgress’d it ignorantly, though the first that suffers for the Transgression of unknown Laws, or that was sentenced according to the Laws of England, without the Privilege of a Subject, which I desired of the Judge, which I know was not qualified by the same Laws to try me.

I do not know what Advantage there can be to any in my Death, and that I could not appeal to my King, neither before nor after my Tryal. I do not speak this because I am not in Charity with all the World, I do, from the Bottom of my Heart, forgive all in Obedience to my Saviour’s Command and Example, who suffered more for me, being innocent, and had not only done no Harm, but Good, and pray’d even for is cruel Persecutors and Murderers, and promised, That those that follow his Examples in this World by patiently enduring the Cross, shall reign with him to all Eternity: To Him therefore I commit all, an my poor Wife, beseeching him to help her, and be her Support and Comfort, and preserve her poor Soul free from the Polutions [sic] of the World, that through his precious Merits we may meet where we shall be both happy to all Eternity, in the merciful Arms of our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus, who I do beseech to receive my poor Soul.

According to Kenneth Scott’s Counterfeiting in Colonial America, Edward Hunt’s wife, Martha, got a £500 fine and a lifetime prison sentence for misprision of treason. (If that book is up your alley, Scott has an even more specific Counterfeiting in Colonial Pennsylvania.)

* Early colonial American commerce was severely hampered by a shortage of English/British currency. As a result, coins minted in Spain’s lucrative southern territories served as the colonies’ primary currency in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly the iconic eight-real silver “pieces of eight”.

This is the reason why the currency of the present-day U.S. isn’t an “American pound sterling” but the almighty dollar: Dutch colonists had brought a coin called the leeuwendaalder to their former New Amsterdam (New York) province, the name deriving from the German thaler. As the pieces of eight corresponded to the thaler/daalder, it inherited the same name. Indeed, the “Spanish Dollar” remained legal tender in the post-colonial United States until 1857.

This is also the reason for reckoning of the eight constituent bits that comprised the dollar, and hence of the American colloquialism “two bits” to denote $0.25 … and, later, the adjective “two-bit” to man something cheap, mean, or small-time.

** They may have been Spain’s coins, but it’s wildly implausible that any Englishman could think he could counterfeit “innocently.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Pennsylvania,Public Executions,Treason,USA

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1720: A deserter, by fellow-deserters

Add comment May 5th, 2011 Headsman

The sentence of death was often pronounced by courts-martial and not unfrequently carried out, a deserter convicted for the third time rarely escaping with his life. Many a man was shot in Hyde Park during the twenty years of peace, and no opportunity was lost to enhance the terror of the penalty, the firing party sometimes consisting solely of fellow-deserters, who were spared in consideration of the warning given by the ghastly body which their own bullets had pierced

John Fortescue, A History of the British Army, vol. 2

Fortescue’s notes on this passage draw attention to the following account in the May 7, 1720 Weekly Journal.

On Thursday Morning the four Men, sentenced by a Court-Martial for Desertion, were brought hand-cuff’d to the Tilt-Yard Guard, from whence they marched with the Grenadiers at the Head of the Detachment to Hyde-Park; at the Place of Execution they were met by the Chaplain of the second Regiment of Guards, who prayed with them for a while; then three of the Prisoners, having before received the King’s Pardon, were restored to the Regiment, and ordered immediately to load their Pieces, and fire at their Comrade, which they obey’d; the Man was observed to give a little Spring after the Discharge of their Pieces, and a Corporal, who was kept, as usual, in Reserve, shot him through the Head; the other three Shot were lodged in his Breast. This is the third Time of his deserting.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,England,Execution,History,Known But To God,Last Minute Reprieve,Military Crimes,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers

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1720: Captain John “Calico Jack” Rackham

7 comments November 17th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1720Nov. 18, 1720, the pirate captain “Calico Jack” Rackham was hanged together with his crew by the British governor of Jamaica.

Nicknamed for his flamboyant clothing, the Bristol-born buccaneer plundered the West Indies during the “Golden Age of Piracy”, having ousted his former captain Charles Vane. Rackham is chiefly remembered to history for two who were not hanged with the rest of his crew: Anne Bonny and Mary Read, rare female pirates who served aboard Rackham’s ship.

Immortalized by Daniel Defoe in his pseudonymous A General History of the Pyrates, Bonny and Read came to piracy by different paths but were both every bit the part and leaders aboard their ship — “very profligate, cursing, and swearing much, and very ready and willing to do any Thing on board.” Bonny, at least, was Rackham’s lover — having eloped with him from her husband.

Upon capture, both women “pleaded their bellies” to escape the gallows, and though it’s unclear whether either really was pregnant, it seems the gambit spared both from execution.

Read died in prison shortly after, while Bonny vanished from history — prompting speculation that she had escaped, secured a pardon, been ransomed by her wealthy father, and/or returned again to piracy under a different guise. Reportedly, she castigated Rackham at their last meeting in prison for lying drunk below decks while only the women resisted the capture of their ship: “I am sorry to see you here Jack, but if you had fought like a man, you need not be hanged like a dog.”

As the world’s best-known women pirates, Bonny and Read are recalled as anything from sexualized historical curios to action heroines to proto-feminists.

They feature in Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride, the Witchblade comic book series, utopian theorizing, popular history … and the occasional action figure.

Update: A much more detailed foray into the lives of these daring women is at Scandalous Women.

Also, I posted this under the wrong date: it should be Nov. 18. Balls.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,England,Famous,Gibbeted,Hanged,Jamaica,Mass Executions,Not Executed,Notably Survived By,Piracy,Pirates,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Women

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