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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1735: Alice Riley, Savannah ghost

Add comment January 19th, 2017 Headsman

Savannah’s Wright Square got its haunt (and concomitant reputation as “the hanging square”) on this date in 1735 when domestic servant Alice Riley was executed for murdering her vicious master William Wise.

Illustration from the vignette in Historic Haunts of Savannah

The Irish import with a truly misfortunate indenture to a tyrannical farmer with a predilection for using his fists, Riley and a fellow-servant named Richard White snapped at the abuse one day the previous March and stuffed Wise’s head in a bucket of water until he drowned.

As best this writer can discern, much of what else is said on various Riley biographies appears to be embroidery and conjecture; the circumstances invite the most lurid of inferences but we don’t really know much about the relationships among the two killers and their victim.

Whatever the case, other Savannah grandees thought little enough of Wise — but they also all had help of their own who ought not get any funny ideas from the example. The couple was tracked down and prosecuted, although Alice extended her lease on life by pleading her belly. A few weeks after delivering a little boy whom she named James, Alice Riley was hauled to Wright Square (then known as Percival Square) and publicly hanged as she protested her innocence and begged to see her child. The gibbet brandished her remains at passing servants there for three full days.

Although they finally took down the corpse, her spirit has never been at peace. Riley’s specter allegedly still appears around Wright Square as a frantic woman who accosts passersby about her lost child.

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1735: Nicholas Bighelini, Mantua betrayer

Add comment August 8th, 2016 Headsman

Mantua, August 10

A Dangerous Conspiracy was happily discovered here; the Author of it M. Nicholas Bighelini, took a Plan of the weakest Parts of this City, and communicated the same, by means of his Father who lives at Verona, to the Generals of the Allies. He was hang’d the 8th Instant, and the Effigies of his Father and a Nephew were hanged; the Nephew was here, but found means to make his Escape. Another named Nicholazzo was concern’d, but having impeach’d his Confederates has been pardon’d.

-London General Evening Post, Aug. 19, 1735

This vanished conspiracy occurred in the northern Italian theater of the 1733-1738 War of Polish Succession, a dynastic war whose best-remembered consequence was the delivery during the postwar settlement of the former Habsburg territory of Lorraine into what turned out to be permanent French control that still continues to this day.

This seems an apt outcome for a conflict over the Polish throne that we notice by way of Italy. Like the War of Spanish Succession thirty years before, a contested throne became the pretext for a continental imbroglio between those rivals, Austria and France.

Up and down Europe these powers and their allies and proxies tangled.*

In the “down” part, Italy was then still a warren of small principalities, which though independent stood generally in the thrall of Austria. While France did rather well besieging Sicily and the south, in the north of the peninsula things ground to a stalemate after France’s initial push gobbled up Milan.**

The city of Mantua, capital of a a duchy of the same name in the middle of the north, came under the siege of France and her allies in 1734. The “allies” part really started to matter: Spain was one of those allies, and still laid its own claim to Mantua from its bygone days of imperial glory; Savoy was another ally and did not want to see Spain resume dominance in Italy. The siege was not energetically maintains, and one starts to wonder whether the Duke of Savoy himself might not have quietly arranged the betrayal of poor Nicholas Bighelini.

In any event, Mantua or no neither France nor Austria had much offensive potential left in Italy and by this late date they were doing little but marking time until that autumn’s ceasefire arrangements. The French would then lift the siege and even withdraw from Milan, allowing Austria to re-establish its hegemony unopposed.

Nicholas Bighelini, poor fool, is justly forgotten: he gave his life for nothing.

* In contrast to its behavior in the War of Spanish Succession, Great Britain stayed out of this fight, eventually mediating the peace that settled things. Still, this war has an ancillary part in England’s own gallows history, since it was under French colors that the young English pretender Charles Edward Stuart first cut his teeth in combat — enjoying better fortune than when he tried to seize the British crown in 1745.

** The Duc de Noailles took over French forces in northern Italy in 1735, after distinguishing himself in the Rhineland at the outset of the war. His great-granddaughter wed Lafayette, a family alliance that helped doom many Noailles descendants to the guillotine.

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1735: Patience Boston, converted

Add comment July 24th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1735, a truculent indentured servant with a name like a primetime drama was hanged in York, Maine (at that time part of the Massachusetts colony), for killing her master’s grandson.

Patience Boston had cut a hard-partying, hard-drinking swath from her teen years to her execution at age 23, leading a succession of masters to dump her contract on whomever would take it. Early American Crime tracks her rowdy career, “mad and furious in my Drink, speaking dreadful Words, and wishing bad Wishes to my self and others” through a succession of fights, adulteries, dead infants (which she didn’t kill), a nonexistent infant (which she claimed to have killed).

All this draws upon a lengthy “Faithful Narrative of the Wicked Life and Remarkable Conversion of Patience Boston alias Samson” published three years after the woman’s death by her ministers Samuel and Joseph Moody (more on them in a bit). In it, “Patience” relates in a first-person voice* the real murder she finally did commit.

From some groundless Prejudice which I had taken against my Master, to whom I was sold by Mr. Bailey, I did last Fall bind my self by a wicked Oath that I would kill that Child, though I seem’d to love him, and he me; which is an Aggravation of my bloody Cruelty to him. Having solemnly sworn that I would be the Death of the Child, I was so far from repenting of it, that I thought I was obliged to fulfil it. And I often renewed my Resolution when I had been in Drink, and made my Master angry, that to be revenged on him, I might Murder his Grand-Child, of which I thought he was very fond, having bro’t him up from his Infancy. I would have killed my Master himself, if I could have done it; and had Thoughts of putting Poison into his Victuals, if I could have got any. But when the Time came for me to be left under the prevailing Power of Satan’s Temptations; I took the Opportunity of my Master and Mistress being from Home, and both his Sons also abroad; that the Child and I were left alone. The Evening before I had been contriving to burn the Barn, but was prevented: I had also once before drawn the Child into the Woods with me, designing to knock him on the Head, and got a great Stick for the same Purpose; but as I was going to lift it up, I fell a trembling, from a sense of God’s Eye upon me; so that I had not Power to strike. — But now, as I was going to say, when the Time was come to fill up the Measure of my Iniquity; I went to the Well and threw the Pole in, that I might have an Excuse to draw the Boy to the Well, which having done, I asked his Help to get up the Pole, that I might push him in, which having done, I took a longer Pole, and thrust him down under the Water, till he was drowned. When I saw he was dead, I lifted up my Hands with my Eyes towards Heaven, speaking after this Manner, Now am I guilty of Murder indeed; though formerly I accused my self falsly, yet now has God left me &c. And it seemed as if the Ground where I went was cursed for my sake, and I thought God would not suffer me to escape his righteous Vengeance. I went forthwith, and informed the Authority, and when the jury sat on the Body, I was ordered to touch it: This terrified me, lest the Blood should come forth, to be a Witness against me; and I then resolved in my Heart, that I would be a Witness against my self, and never deny my Guilt; so I tho’t God would not suffer the Child to bleed; then I laid my Hand on it’s Face, but no Blood appeared. Yet after this, I would fain have covered my Sin in Part, as if the Child had of himself fallen into the Well, and I was tempted to thrust him down under the Water. After the Jury had bro’t in wilful Murder, I was sent to Prison, but got Drunk by the Way, having little Sense of my dreadful Case; yet my Temptation in Part was to drink that I might forget my Sorrow.

Patience would need her namesake virtue, since she had the best part of a year to wait before the Supreme Court could gavel in a session to hear her case — a case where she would plead guilty and embrace the certain sentence.

In the meantime, we get to the real meat of the Moody pamphlet: our murderess’ conversion.

Allowing even for the interlocution of her reverend ministers, it presents a moving portrait of a genuine spiritual experience during the “Great Awakening” of religious revival. The narrative’s latter half tracks the doomed woman’s refinements of conscience, of fear, of religious comfort and joy in God — all as she grapples with her conduct and her fate.** “How are we condemned by the Covenant of Works,” Patience remarks, “and relieved by the Covenant of Grace.”


Now … as for this clan Moody that supplies our day’s post.

Samuel Moody, the father, had nudged young Joseph into the ministry business in York. Both men appear to have ministered to Patience Boston.

In 1738, the same time they were readying all this text about “rejoyc[ing], though with trembling” the younger Moody began a bizarre practice: he took to shrouding his face with a handkerchief.

In boring reality, this seems to have been occasioned by a breakdown caused by the sudden death of his wife in childbirth, a breakdown from which Moody recovered over the succeeding months.

In the much spicier legendary embellishment that developed, however, Moody was thought to have kept this veil for the balance of his life: he would present himself in this state, it is said, to his own congregation, turning his back on the multitude so that he could lift the veil to read a sermon, and likewise sitting face to corner when he should eat in public.

In this version, Moody is supposed to have confessed on his deathbed to having shrunk from men in his own spiritual torment over having accidentally killed a childhood friend while hunting, a killing that had been popularly ascribed to Indians and therefore unpunished save by the scourge of conscience. Nathaniel Hawthorne mined this irresistible New England folklore for his short story “The Minister’s Veil”.

“Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!”

-Hawthorne’s “Reverend Hooper”

* “It must be confessed,” the Moodies gamely preface their text, “that it could not be exactly taken in her own Way of expressing her self” so long after her death. But they gave it their best shot, and “here is nothing false or feigned.”

** The Faithful Narrative takes special note of the impression made on our subject by “the Case of the Prisoners at Boston, especially when the Day came for their Execution”. Although the text here refers to “three Malefactors”, there’s no 1734-1735 triple execution recorded in the Espy files; I believe the event intended here is the October 1734 double hanging of Matthew Cushing and John Ormsby.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Maine,Massachusetts,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Women

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