1730: Cathrine M’Canna, mother’s daughter

Add comment September 23rd, 2018 Headsman

Original Dublin broadsheet via James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches: From Eighteenth-Century Ireland:


THE LAST SPEECH, CONFESSION AND DYEING WORDS OF

CATHRINE M’CANNA

who is to be Executed near St. Stephens Green, this present Wednesday being the 23d of this Instant September 1730. She being Guilty of several Robberies, in and about the City of Dublin.

Good People,

Since the just Hand of Almighty God has at length over reach’d me, and that I must be cut off in the midst of my Transgressions, I shall in a few Words give you a short Narrative of my base and vicious Life, which is as follows, viz.

I drew my first Breath in this City, and descended of very honest Parents, but I wicked wretch about ten Years ago committed a Robbery, and the said Robbery being found with me, I Swore it was my poor Mother gave it me, upon the same she was Hanged, tho’ Innocent of the fact; and had I never been Guilty of no other offence but that, I doubt were I to live a thousand Years, I should not be able to make Restitution for that one Crime; and if so, Oh my God! what shall become of me, who have spent my time in Whoring and Thieving since I came to the Knowledge of committing either, yet my God will I not Despair in thy Mercies, tho’ I must Confess thou have been over and above good to me, in saving my Life when I was to be Hang’d at Killmainham not long since, that thy saying might be fulfilled, who desireth not the Death of a Sinner, but that he should live and save his Soul alive. But it was not so with me, for I no sooner got my Liberty, but (Dog like return’d to his Vomit,) I follow’d my old Trade again, spearing neither Rich nor Poor. Thus I ran on till about the beginning of August last, I went to the Pyde Bull in St. Thomas Street, and Stole thereout the vallue of five Pounds in Linnen and other things, belonging to one Mr. Murphy in said House, but I was soon taken and committed to Newgate, but when I was Try’d and lawfully convicted for the same, I began to plead my Belly, thinking to save my life but all was in vain, for my Jury of Mattrons would not forswear them selves for me, so I must Dye this Day.

Having no more to say, but beg of all Children to be more Dutiful to their Parents than I have been, I also beg the Prayers of all good Christian, [sic] I dye a Roman Catholick, in the 38th Year of my Age, and the Lord Receive my Soul. Amen.

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1731: Captain Daniel McGuire, griller

Add comment July 28th, 2018 Headsman

We return today as we have done several times previously to James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches From Eighteenth-Century Ireland. The crime in question recalls similar tactics being employed around the same time by McGuire’s far more famous English contemporary, Dick Turpin.

The Whole Declaration and Last Speech, Confession and Dying Words of Capt. Daniel M’Guire

who is to be Executed near St. Stevens Green of Thomas Bryan in Fingal, and puting [sic] him on a hot Griddle to make him Confess his Money, the 18th of November last.

Good Christians,

Whereas the World may expect, as tis usual to those in my Condition; to give the Publick some satisfaction, for the many wrongs done to them; so may they now expect the same from me, who have not been, I acknowledge in the presence of God, and as I am a Dying Man, less Criminal then a great many who came to this shameful End; but why shou’d I thus speak, whereas no Death (tho’ never so Ignominious) ought to be regarded by me as shameful, for was I to Suffer a thousand times more, its what my Sins justly deserves; but my great hope is that these my Sufferings may in some measure appease the angry Frowns of an injured God, before whom I expect in some few Minutes to appear, and as I am a dying Man unworthy to approach so good a God, I shall give the World a true and brief account of my mis-spent Life, and do beg of the Same God, that these my words may mollify the Hearts of these who have been misled as I have been.

I was Born in the County of Farmanagh, where I lived till I came to the Years of Twenty, and acquired honest and credible Bread, by going to Fairs and other publick Places, my Employ was selling Merchandize, (but alas! as the unbridled conduct of Youth when they have not the Love and fear of God before their Eyes, are liable to several Misfortunes, such was my unfortunate state to my great Grief, not so much regarding my present state and Misfortune, as the offence I committed against my God, the severity of whose Judgment makes me tremble, but confiding in his infinite Mercy, I now reassume new Courage,) and thus did I continue in my lawfull Employ, till about two Years ago falling into the Company of one who never feared God lead me astray, and I must acknowledge tho’ I’ve been Guilty of several Enormous Crimes ever since, there is not any one of them gives me so great a concern, or loads my Soul with so much Grief, as the misfortune I had to accuse falsely honest Men, which I believe is a Crime of the blackest dye; (but my God whose Mercy surpasses all other thy Attributes, I hope you’ll Pardon all these my offences,) and which ought to be deeply considered by all our Gentlemen, before they wou’d Encourage me or any other of my kind to take away the Lives of honest Men; as I am a dying Man, and as I am to appear before the Tribunal of an unbyassed God, I never wou’d Accuse the undernamed honest Men, was I not encouraged by a certain Gentleman who promised me my Life for the said Discovery, (whose Name for a certain reason I do omit) I own in the sight and presence of God, and as I expect in some few Minutes to surpass the severity of his Judgment, I falsely Accused Dennis Kelly of Garishtown in the County of Dublin, Adam Ward, John Tyers, and his Wife of the said Town: I also declare as before, Michael Burk had no share nor knew nothing of the Robbery of Mr. Fottrel near Killsholachan, or of Councelor Smith’s Cloaths. I also falsely Accused James Murphy in the County of Caterlough, and Edward Hoy of the Parish of Crickstown in the County of Meath. But alas! as I am now going to appear before the Face of my God, I hope they will forgive me, as to the Fact I Dye for, the Evidence as it appeared were Injured, but I Dye in Peace with them and all the World, begging that all my Spectators may Pray for me, I prostrate myself at the Feet of my God, begging Pardon for my Sins, I Dye a Roman Catholick, in the 24th Year of my Age.

Daniel M’Guire.

N.B. The above is my true Speech delivered to the Printer hereof, in the Presence of the Reverend Father Andoe.

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1736: James Matthews and Elizabeth Greenley

Add comment November 26th, 2017 Headsman

Little primary documentation about these hangings appears to be conveniently available absent a visit to Williamsburg’s archives, but the bare outline of murder in the colonial servants’ quarters lifts the eyebrow. Was our Bess’s crime connected to the horse thief’s, leaving the shades of two star-crossed lovers in death like Bess and her highwayman of verse?

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
   Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
   Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.


Virginia Gazette, Nov. 5, 1736.


Virginia Gazette, Nov. 26, 1736.

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1735: Elizabeth Armstrong, oyster knifer

Add comment November 10th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1735, Elizabeth Armstrong* was executed at Tyburn for winning a drunken brawl.

The account of the events that brought Armstrong to the gallows underscore 18th century Londoners’ everyday proximity to casual violence — where “tempers flared quickly and … it was not unusual for men to think of using physical force to get their way.”

In this case, the man would get the worst of the flaring.

In a brandy shop on Petticoat Lane, Patrick Darling — he’s our victim — and Mary Price fell into an argument that in the trial record reads almost comically for the sudden resort to fisticuffs.

the Deceased was a mighty joaking Man, and he told her she curried a clean Heel, G – D – ye, says she, what is that like? Why, says he, It is like an Irish Leg, as thick at bottom as it is at top. With that she up with her Leg and kicked him on the Parts, and he hit her a Box on the Ear. She reel’d against the Door

Price cried out for her niece, Elizabeth Armstrong, who was next door swilling gin, and the latter dashed over with an oyster knife to put everything to order: she “swore she’d cut his Nose off. He laughed, and said, sure you won’t serve me so? She swore yes but she would, and called him an Irish thief.”

This is the point where everyone can decide they don’t want any more trouble and stagger off to points unknown to nurse their various injuries. Not Patrick Darling.

When Elizabeth Armstrong left the brandy shop, he followed her out, closely enough that Armstrong tried to push him away. Darling snatched her wrist, but his would-be victim was strong — “stronger than he,” according to one witness — and she wrenched her hand free and stuck the little blade into Darling’s chest, drawing blood but doing no real damage. Now enraged, Darling tackled her into a kennel where they grappled, Armstrong slicing again into Darling’s right calf** while Darling “twice put his Hands up my Coats” — the fight ending when

A Sailor coming by, said to him, D – ye! what Son of a B – are you, to beat a Woman? Upon which, the Deceased quitted the Woman, and two or three Blows past between him and the Sailor, but it was over in a Minute, for I called out and said, For God’s sake do not let him beat a wounded Man.

Covered in muck, Armstrong went right back to drinking, little thinking that she had committed a murder.

Bloodied and trounced, Darling was eventually ushered by a friend to a surgeon who dressed his injuries and would testify — maybe protesting a little too much? — that “they were both trivial, but for want of due care, the Hemorrhage of Blood from the Calf of his Leg contributed to his Death, for he was harassed about for two or three Hours, and no body would take him in. And his Animal Spirits being exhausted, he might be suffocated for want of having his Head laid in a proper position. Besides, I heard that after he was wounded he fought with a Sailor, which might hasten his Death.”

Both of the women involved were tried for murder, but Price’s contribution to the fight having extended only to inciting her kinswoman (“her Aunt Price called out, Kill him Betty, kill him”), she was acquitted. Elizabeth Armstrong was not so lucky.

She hanged alongside a 40-year-old crook William Blackwell who had been in the game long enough to garner a nickname (“Long Will”) and a reward for his capture (£40). Blackwell had been part of a gang that committed a harrowing all-night home invasion robbery in Paddington two years prior — and, although it’s practically a footnote in the trial, raping the home’s young maid. One of Blackwell’s confederates who saved his own life by giving evidence against him described

Coming into the Entry, we saw the Maid lying with her Coats up, and the Prisoner on his Knees putting up his Breeches. D – ye you Rogue, says I, You ought to think of other things at such a time as this. And turning to the Maid, I said, my Dear, has he hurt ye? She made no answer, but cryed.

Unfortunately the Ordinary’s Account for this hanging is partially lost, although the fragment surviving does intimate that both Armstrong and Blackwell did the usual sincere-repentance thing that the clergyman was pushing.

* This little girl has nothing to do with the case at hand but having accidentally found the case in the course of ransacking the invaluable Old Bailey Online database I would be remiss not to relay the fate of a different Elizabeth Armstrong a few years prior … sentenced to convict transportation at the age of 9 or 10 because she climbed in an open window and snatched a couple of silver spoon. Here’s the trial record in its entirety:

Elizabeth Armstrong, alias Little Bess, of St. Michael’s Cornhill , was indicted for feloniously stealing two Silver Spoons, the Property of Rose Merriweather , the 3d of this Instant July .
It appear’d by the Evidence, That the Prisoner (who was a little Girl of about 9 or 10 Years of Age) having gotten in at the Prosecutor’s Kitchen Window, which had been opened, and left so till about Six o’Clock in the Morning, had handed out two Spoons to her Accomplices, and was surprized by the Apprentice coming out at the Window. The Fact being fully proved, the Jury found her Guilty to the Value of 10 d.

Transportation.

** An apt injury, considering the insult that started the fracas.

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1737: Five Johns

Add comment October 5th, 2017 Headsman

October 5 was a hanging-date at Tyburn in 1737.

The most self-evident oddity of this routine bulk execution was that five of the six men executed upon the occasion bore the same Christian name to the gallows, which is an even better hit rate than the classic middle name: wife-murderer John Totterdale, thief John Cotton, highway robber John Goswel, highway robber John Richardson (“indicted with John Lovell, not taken”), and highway robber John Purdey.* The sole exception was Goswel’s accomplice Robert Barrow, who “was miserably Poor and naked, and was in so very pitiful a Condition, that he declar’d he was willing rather to die than live.”

The name John dominated English christenings for centuries in a way that your latter-day Olivers, Noahs, and (quelle horreur!) Muhammads could never dare to dream. For the best part of a millennium, the post-Norman tongue thrilled to curl around this solid monosyllable by which Christ himself had flanked his movement via a beheaded forerunner and an apocalyptic evangel.

Overall, the pool of names in common usage on Blighty in centuries past was smaller and more static than today’s faddish kaleidoscope; according to Chris Laning in the 16th century “there were only about 30 to 40 common names in circulation for each gender, with perhaps another 100 or so that you would run across from time to time.” And among boys and men, the name “John” towered above all others.

A study of funerary brasses from 1107 to 1600 suggests that something like a staggering 30% of males might have carried this name; a study from the Agincourt Honor Roll agrees, its list concentrated to about one-third for Johns, a second third for Williams and Thomases, and the remaining third for all other names.** While this data is well before the hanging we feature in this post, John reigned supreme from Plantagenet through to Windsor … until just a few decades ago, in fact, when it began a precipitous and continuing tumble.†


Source: Office for National Statistics

But in the 18th century, the ubiquitous John rode tall in the saddle, often robbing the other travelers as it would seem. A search of Executed Today‘s data based on the British hanging rolls kept at capitalpunishmentuk.org gives the name a better than 20% market share of the 18th century gallows. If anyone remarked all the Johns gone to Tyburn this October 5, it was a statistical certainty that they also had in mind a few kinfolk and buddies with the same moniker who would soon come in for a grim spot of ribbing.

Not so contemporary readers, particularly among the younger generation; unthinkably, the once-invincible John has in the present bleakness plummeted all the way outside the top 100 boys’ names.

* The roads were a dangerous adventure in these Bloody Code days; we have formerly noticed the lament of Horace Walpole that “one is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one was going to battle.”

** Curious that for all the bargemen, beggars, ploughmen, pages, shepherds, shopkeeps, scriveners, tinkers, archers, chandlers, M.P.s, hatters, mariners, grenadiers, bakers, day-traders, coal-heavers, fox hunters, yeoman warders, and, yes, doomed criminals to claim the name … there has been only the one King John.

† The name John has taken a similar plunge in the United States.

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1738: Baruch Leibov and Alexander Voznitsyn, Jew and convert

Add comment July 15th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1738, the Jewish proselytizer Baruch Leibov was publicly burned in St. Petersburg along with a convert, retired Russian naval officer Alexander Voznitsyn. Most of the linked pages in this post are in Russian.

The nobleman Voznitsyn met the Smolensk merchant Leibov in Moscow and the two became friends and spiritual interlocutors. In 1737, Voznitsyn’s wife denounced him for Judaizing as she began to notice that he’d stopped wearing a cross, would pray facing the wall instead of Orthodox icons, and avoided eating certain foods. It emerged too that his Christian confessor had not heard from him in a very long time, and that he had ordered peasants on his estate to destroy some icons.

Both men denied the charges at first, but Voznitsyn’s genitalia confessed his apostasy and after an application of torture, so did Voznitsyn’s mouth.

The subsequent punishment was remarkably harsh even in contemporaries’ eyes — via the curious insistence of the Empress Anna upon severity.

A rarely-used edict from the pre-Petrine 17th century was invoked against Voznitsyn for blaspheming; in the case of Leibov, it was necessary in order to fit him into the statute to construe his having “seduced” Voznitsyn into the Abrahamic faith during the two men’s religious bull sessions. Since Voznitsyn was a seasoned and educated man with a known predilection for spiritual seeking, this finding negated the entire qualifier; if Voznitsyn was “lured” or “deceived” into Judaizing then it was officially impossible for anyone to Judaize absent deception.

But in practice, it was likely the convert’s exceptional qualities that attracted such a demonstrative punishment — “so that such ungodly deeds are discontinued, and such a blasphemer as Voznitsyn and converter to Judaism as Boruch do not dare to deceive others: for the sake of such blasphemous guilt … both to be executed and burned.”

They died together before a vast concourse of gawkers near St. Petersburg’s Admiralty building.

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1733: Champion and Valentine, slaves

Add comment June 27th, 2017 Headsman

Today’s tale from colonial Virginia’s slave power arrives via A Documentary History of Slavery in North America.

The Espy file gives June 29 for these executions, but the Wednesday of that week in 1733 (as designated in the court sentence) was June 27.


At a Court called for Goochland County the twenty-fifth day of June MDCCXXXIII, for the tryall of Champion a Negro man slave, Lucy, a Negro woman slave, both belonging to Hutchins Burton, Sampson, Harry, & George, three Negro men slaves belonging to William Randolph, Esq’r, & Valentine, a negro man slave belonging to Bowler Cocke gent.

A commission from the Hon’ble William Gooch Esq’r His Majesty’s Lieut Governor & Commander in chief of this Dominion to John Fleming, Tarlton Fleming, Allen Howard, Edward Scott, George Payne, William Cabbell, James Holman, Ishman Randolph, James Skelton, George Raine, & Anthony Hoggatt, gent to be Justices of Oyer and Terminer for the tryall of Champion a Negro man slave, Lucy a Negro woman slave both belonging to Hutchins Burgon, Sampson, Harry, & George, three Negro men slaves belonging to William Randolph Esq’e & Valentine a Negro man slave belonging to Bowler Cocke gent. being read as also the Dedimus for administering the Oaths & Test therein mentioned George Payne & Anthony Hoggatt gent. administer the oaths appointed by Act of Parliament to be taken instead of the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy the Oath appointed to be taken by an Act of Parliament made in the first year of the reign of his late Majesty King George the first Entitled An Act for the further security of his Majesty’s person and Government and the Succession of the Crown in the Heirs of the late Princess Sophia being Protestants and for extinguishing the hopes of the pretended Prince of Wales and his open & secret abettors, unto John Fleming & Daniel Stoner, gent. who Subscribe the Test take the Oath for duly executing the Office of a Commissioner of Oyer and Terminer, and then administer the said Oaths & Test unto Tarlton Fleming, George Payne, James Skelton & Anthony Hoggatt, gent.

Champion being brought to the Barr an Indictment against him for feloniously murdering Robert Allen of this County is read the prisoner confesses himself guilty of the said murder and it is thereupon considered by the court that he return to the place from whence he came and from thence to the place of Execution there to be hanged by the neck on Wednesday next between the hours of eleven and two till he be dead. The Court value the said Negro at thirty pounds Curr’t money.

George, Sampson & Harry, being brought to the Barr several Indictments against them for feloniously murdering Robert Allen of this County are read the prisoners plead not guilty whereupon the Witnesses & the prisoners defence being heard it is the opinion of the Court that they are not guilty and they are thereupon acquitted.

Valentine being brought to the Barr an Indictment against him for feloniously murdering Robert Allen of this County is read the prisoner pleads not guilty whereupon the Witnesses & the prisoners defence being heard it is the opinion of the Court that he is guilty and it is considered that he return to the place from whence he came and from thence to the place of Execution there to be hanged by the neck on Wednesday next between the hours of eleven & two till he be dead. The Court value the said Negro at forty pounds Curr’t money.

Lucy being brought to the Barr an Indictment against her for feloniously murdering Robert Allen of this County is read the prisoner pleads not guilty and whereupon the Witnesses and the prisoners defence being heard it is the opinion of the Court that she is not guilty of the murder but upon Consideration that she is supposed to have known of the murder after it was committed & did not discover the same it is Ordered that she receive on her bare back twenty one lashes well laid on at the Com[m]on whipping post & that she be then discharged.


It was then “Ordered that the heads & quarters of Champion & Valentine be set up in severall parts of this County.”

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1730: Sally Bassett, Bermuda slave

Add comment June 6th, 2017 Meaghan

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

Perhaps on this day in 1730,* an elderly mulatto slave named Sarah or Sally Bassett was burned at the stake for attempted murder in the British Caribbean colony of Bermuda.

Sally was the property of Thomas Forster, as was her granddaughter, Beck. (Thomas Forster was the grandson of Josias Forster, who was governor of Bermuda from 1642 to 1643.) The Forster family lived in Sandys Parish.

Being so old, Sally wasn’t worth much: her value was appraised at one pound, four shillings and sixpence, or about $160 in modern U.S. currency. She also had the reputation of a troublemaker: in 1713, for example, she was whipped the length of Southampton Parish after being accused of threats, property damage and killing livestock.

On December 18, 1729, Sally allegedly gave two bags of poison, said to be “white toade”** and “manchineel root”, to her granddaughter, Beck, and told her to poison Thomas, his wife Sarah, and Nancey, another slave in the Forster household.

Beck slipped a dose into the master and mistress’s food, “where if her Mistress did but smell on’t twould poison her.” She put the rest of the poison in the kitchen door, where Nancey found it and “by only looking at it ye said. Nancey was poyson’d.” (Quotes are as cited in Slaves and Slaveholders in Bermuda, 1616-1782.)

Sally was not arrested and charged with the crime until June 2, nearly six months later. The victims were all still “sick and Lye in a very Languishing and dangerous Condition,” but Sarah Forster was at least well enough to drag herself out of her sickbed and testify against her slaves.

Beck was acquitted but Sally, “not having the fear of God before her Eyes, Butt being moved and seduced by ye Instigation of the Devil,” was convicted of petit treason for her attempt on her master and mistress’s lives.

Although she maintained her innocence, she was sentenced to death.

Barefoot, wearing only pants and a loose blouse, on the way to the place of execution Sally is said to have looked at the crowds rushing to see the show and quipped, “No use you hurrying folks, there’ll be no fun ’til I get there!” When she looked at the logs waiting to fuel the fire she supposedly said, “Ain’t they darlin’?”

She was burned alive on an unusually hot day, in public, either on an island off Southampton Parish or at Crow Lane at the east end of Hamilton Harbor. After her death a purple Bermudiana, Bermuda’s official flower, is reputed to have grown in the ashes. Days later, Bermuda enacted new laws to tighten control of the “many heinous and grievous Crimes as of that Secret and barbarous way of Murdering by Poison and other Murders … many times Committed by negroes and other Slaves and many times malitiously attempted by them.”

Sally’s death has passed on into legend and is considered part of Bermuda’s cultural heritage. Even today, nearly three hundred years later, a very hot day in Bermuda is sometimes called a Sally Basset day. In 2009, a ten-foot statue of Sally was dedicated at the Cabinet Office grounds in Hamilton, the first time in Bermuda that a slave was so memorialized.

* There are some shouts for June 21, 1730. If there is an authoritative primary document establishing the execution date with certainty, we have not been able to unearth it.

** The involvement of white toad, as historian Justin Pope observes, points — alarmingly for 18th century white Bermudians; intriguingly for posterity — to transatlantic black (in multiple senses) economies.

There were no indigenous white toads in Bermuda. However, as noted by the Bermudian historian Clarence Maxwell, poisonous toads were used in ceremonies among Akan speaking peoples in the tropical forests of West Africa and carried into the voudou traditions of San Domingue.

… If there really was a white toad used in the Bermuda poisoning conspiracy, then it was almost certainly brought to the colony by a slave mariner who believed he was arming a spiritual practitioner against her enemies. It was not something that Sarah Bassett could have asked for lightly. The person who purchased the item would have easily been able to discover, or at least suspect, its usage. Whoever carried it had to be trusted. The toad would have had to been captured or cultivated in the tropical forests of West Africa or northern South America, purchased in the slave markets of towns like Paramaraibo, on the Surinam River of Dutch Guyana, or in the markets of Elmina, on the southern coast of West Africa. We can only surmise the origins of the poisonous toad, yet its very presence on the island of Bermuda suggests a trade in poisons, betweens slave societies and through the hands of black mariners.

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1732: Petrus Vuyst, governor of Dutch Ceylon

Add comment May 19th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1732, the deposed Dutch governor of Ceylon was executed by throat-slashing in Batavia (present-day Jakarta, Indonesia) for abuse of power.

Petrus Vuyst (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) was a Batavia-born son of a Dutch mercantile empire already its decline phase.

Following a loop back to the mother country for espousing and legal training, Vuyst returned to the East Indies and soon advanced in the colonial bureaucracy — governing Dutch Bengal before being appointed the Low Countries’ proconsul in Dutch Ceylon.

The scant information about Vuyst is mostly in Dutch; this public domain document details the proceeding slating him with corruption and wholesale cruelty.

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1730: A Natchez woman tortured to death at New Orleans

Add comment April 11th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1730, French-allied Tunica Indians put a captured Natchez woman to grisly public death under the walls of New Orleans.

This is the English translation of Marc-Antoine Caillot’s Relation du voyage de la Louisianne ou Nouvelle France fait par le Sr. Caillot en l’année 1730, a key firsthand source for the incident in this post.

Months earlier the Natchez had risen in rebellion against the colonists in Louisiana — a bloody settling of accounts the that answered a French push to colonize more land with an attack meant to drive them out of Louisiana altogether. The initial, surprise attacks slew 237 French subjects, many in stomach-turning fashion. Friend of the site Dr. Beachcombing details a particularly atrocious murder in his post on the affair at Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog.

So the French were in a state of rage and fright on April 10 — the day after Easter — when an allied tribe, the Tunica, showed up at the Big Easy with six Natchez captives in tow, three women and three children. Chief among them was a woman readily recognized by the French as the wife of a once-friendly Natchez chief now “known for being an enemy of the French.” Indeed, escapees from Natchez captivity slated her with having given the go-ahead for the torture-murder of three of their countrymen.

And this hated foe the Tunica proceeded to offer to the French, as a gesture of goodwill.

As Sophie White explains in her “Massacre, Mardi Gras, and Torture in Early New Orleans” (The William and Mary Quarterly, July 2013),* Louisiana territory governor Etienne Perier in slyly declining the prisoner intentionally condemned her to a speedy and spectacular death. Rather than taking her into official custody for disposal by the French judiciary or diplomatic organs, Perier put her up for a night in the French jail while her captors prepared a performance for the morrow calculated to slake the bloodlust of French and native alike.

White’s narrative is worth excerpting at length here; all the parentheticals come from White’s original text.

Officially, Governor Perier could claim that he had maintained French notions of justice by rejecting the Tunica offer of the prisoner of war (even though at a later date he would openly write of another four male and two female Natchez having “been burnt here”). Yet he allotted a space for the Tunica to torture her and arranged for her to be kept in jail overnight while the Tunica danced the black “calumet of death” in preparation for her execution. In the morning, after gathering firewood, erecting a frame, and painting their faces and bodies, the Tunica “began to run as if possessed by the devil and, while yelling (it is their custom), they ran to the jail where she was in chains”; she was engaged in a final assertion of sartorial self-preservation, “fixing a ribbon to her braided hair,” hair that she knew would soon be scalped.

Like Perier, the colonial populace also became involved in exacting revenge on this member of the Natchez nation. Not only were “all the Sauvages who were in New Orleans” present at the torture ritual but colonists also attended the performance as spectators, as they might in France attend a public execution. They watched as the Tunica tied her to a frame and as a Natchez man who had abandoned his kin and been adopted by the Tunica stepped forward to burn her, starting with “the hair [poil, or body hair] of her … then one breast, then the buttocks, then the left breast” (the ellipses represent a deliberate authorial omission on the part of Caillot). Commentators described the methodical burning of torture victims as a form of slow-cooking (“a petit feu”). For Caillot, the ritual burning of the victim’s genitals, breasts, and buttocks was marked by the carefully observed but gruesome sight of “the abundance of grease mixed with blood that ran onto the ground.” His description evoked the cooking of meat basted in fat, with the frame simulating a spit on which the victim was roasted; if this frame/spit did not physically turn its meat, the torturers made sure that she was evenly roasted on all sides by their methodical movement across her body. This food preparation imagery was followed by other cooking analogies. As they were about to kill her (in contrast to the procedure in France, where spectators waited for the execution to be complete before grabbing souvenir pieces of the criminal’s body), “the French women who had suffered at her hands at the Natchez [settlement] each took a sharpened cane and larded her,” just as French culinary techniques called for piercing meat with a sharp stick prior to the insertion of thin strips of lard.

The Natchez woman was not impressed, but “during that long and cruel torture never shed a tear. On the contrary, she seemed to deride the unskilfulness of her tormenters, insulting them, and threatening that her death would soon be avenged by her tribe.”


Detail view (click for the full image) of a generic depiction of the torture frame, from Jean-Francois-Benjamin Dumont de Montigny’s memoir. Sophie White notes that this figure is identifiably female based on her genitalia and the long scalped hair mounted on the adjacent pole.

Over the next several years, the French not only turned back the attack but largely shattered and Natchez peoples, dispersing their remnants to fragmented communities throughout the U.S. South. Today only a few thousand Natchez souls remain, and their interesting language has died out entirely.

* Though it’s a bit tangential to the subject of this post, readers interested in this milieu might cotton to White’s Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Flayed,France,Gruesome Methods,History,Louisiana,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Torture,USA,Wartime Executions,Women

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