1769: Six at Tyburn, “most of them, sir, have never thought at all”

Add comment October 18th, 2019 Headsman

The sixfold Tyburn hanging on this date in 1769 — all six men condemned for non-homicide property crimes.*

The acquitted Giuseppe Baretti.

We notice them best for their proximity to an altogether more prominent trial: that of the Italian emigre and scholar Giuseppe (Joseph) Baretti, which would take place two days later, on Friday, October 20.** A society fixture whose gift to posterity was setting down (or inventing) that legendary murmur of the beaten-but-unbowed Galileo, “eppur si muove”, Baretti had lived in London for many years and was well-known to the local elites … but in these days he would fear for his stately neck on account of stabbing a man to death during an October 6 brawl in the Haymarket.

This street and the district to which it gave its name lay a quarter-mile to the west of Coventry Garden (op. cit.) and was part of the same vast zone of street prostitution and other underbelly delights. What the great linguist meant to get up to ’round “Hell Corner” will have to be guessed at but in the course of his business he smacked a woman — after, so Baretti said, “she clapped her hands with such violence about my private parts, that it gave me great pain.” Upon this outrage, several young toughs accosted him, and where the innocent reader might perceive chivalry, Baretti’s defenders asserted a common setup for calculated mayhem. “It is a common case there, I am sorry to say it,” a judge testified. “There is seldom a woman that attacks a man, but they have two or three men behind them, ready to pick your pocket, or to knock you down.” Baretti knifed one of this gaggle, mortally.

Joining the local magistracy in Baretti’s corner was fellow dictioneer Samuel Johnson, who presented himself at the Old Bailey to offer evidence on behalf of his colleague.

Doctor Johnson. I believe I began to be acquainted with Mr. Baretti about the year 53 or 54. I have been intimate with him. He is a man of literature, a very studious man, a man of great diligence. He gets his living by study. I have no reason to think he was ever disordered with liquor in his life. A man that I never knew to be otherwise than peaceable, and a man that I take to be rather timorous.

Q. Was he addicted to pick up women in the street?

Dr. Johnson. I never knew that he was.

Q. How is he as to his eye-sight?

Dr. Johnson, He does not see me now, nor I do not see him. [both men were nearsighted -ed.] I do not believe he could be capable of assaulting any body in the street, without great provocation.

Johnson, however, was sanguine about his timorous pal’s potential execution. The very eve the big trial — and the day after the hanging that provides the excuse for this post — Johnson plied his gallowsshadowing familiar James Boswell with this unsentimental appraisal of human fellow-feeling:

l mentioned to him that I had seen the execution of several convicts at Tyburn, two days before, and that none of them seemed to be under any concern. JOHNSON. “Most of them, sir, have never thought at all.” BOSWELL. “But is not the fear of death natural to man?” JOHNSON. “So much so, sir, that the whole of life is but keeping away the thoughts of it.” He then, in a low and earnest tone, talked of his meditating upon the awful hour of his own dissolution, and in what manner he should conduct himself upon that occasion: “I know not (said he), whether I should wish to have a friend by me, or have it all between GOD and myself.”

Talking of our feeling for the distresses of others; — JOHNSON. “Why, sir, there is much noise made about it, but it is greatly exaggerated. No, sir, we have a certain degree of feeling to prompt us to do good: more than that, Providence does not intend. It would be misery to no purpose.” BOSWELL. “But suppose now, sir, that one of your intimate friends was apprehended for an offence for which he might be hanged.” JOHNSON. “I should do what I could to bail him, and give him any other assistance; but if he were once fairly hanged, I should not suffer.” BOSWELL. “Would you eat your dinner that day, sir?” JOHNSON. “Yes, sir; and eat it as if he were eating with me. Why, there’s Baretti, who is to be tried for his life to-morrow, friends have risen up for him on every side; yet if he should be hanged none of them will eat a slice of plum-pudding the less. Sir, that sympathetick feeling goes a very little way in depressing the mind.”

I told him that I had dined lately at Foote’s, who showed me a letter which he had received from Tom Davies,† telling him that he had not been able to sleep from the concern he felt on account of “This sad afair of Baretti,” begging of him to try if he could suggest any thing that might be of service; and, at the same time, recommending to him an industrious young man who kept a pickle shop. JOHNSON. “Ay, sir, here you have a specimen of human sympathy; a friend hanged and a cucumber pickled. We know not whether Baretti or the pickle man has kept Davies from sleep: nor does he know himself. And as to his not sleeping, sir; Tom Davies is a very great man; Tom has been upon the stage, and knows how to do those things: I have not been upon the stage, and cannot do those things.” BOSWELL. “I have often blamed myself, sir, for not feeling for others as sensibly as many say they do.” JOHNSON. “Sir, don’t be duped by them any more. You will find these very feeling people are not very ready to do you good. They pay you by feeling.”

* One burglar, one forger, and four highway robbers.

** The Old Bailey Online web page puts the trial date on October 18, which is flatly erroneous; it appears to be an algorithm’s conflation for a package of various proceedings spanning “Wednesday the 18th, Thursday the 19th, Friday the 20th, Saturday the 21st, and Monday the 23d of October.”

† A Scottish bookseller, writer and actor, Tom Davies introduced Boswell and Johnson.

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1767: Elsjen Roelofs

Add comment September 9th, 2019 Headsman

Elsjen Roelofs was broken on the wheel at Assen on this date in 1767 — an unusual fate for a woman, inflicted for poisoning her husband. The sources about her, and the links in this post, are almost exclusively in Dutch.

A farmer’s daughter who made a property-driven arranged marriage to another farmer, Roelofs was seemingly (so a neighbor described) driven to her desperate act when the said Jan Alberts purposed to move away, which would have separated her from her own family.

This poignant story is speculatively novelized by Janne IJmker in Achtendertig Nachten (Thirty-Eight Nights, which was the distance of time between the pregnant Roelofs delivering her daughter in prison on August 2, and the execution of the sentence). (Here’s a review.)

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1766: Edmund Sheehy, James Buxton, and Buck Farrell, Whiteboys

Add comment May 3rd, 2019 Headsman

This account from the London Chronicle, June 5, 1766 refers to the disappearance and alleged murder of the informer John Bridge. We’ve visited this case previously, in the form of Father Nicholas Sheehy, who had also been drawn and quartered a few months previous for the Bridge affair; collectively, these cases are pretext for state reprisal against the Irish Whiteboys movement, which opposed large landholders’ moves to consolidate estates, expel tenants, and let people starve while the land that once fed them was shifted towards commercial agriculture.


The Trials of Mr. Edmund Sheehy, Mr. James Buxton, and Mr. John Farrell, at Clonmel Assizes in Ireland, for the Murder of John Bridge, on the Night of the 18th of October, 1764

Mr. Edmund Sheehy being put to the bar, the lawyers for the crown first called upon John Toohy, who declared, that the prisoner was within two or three yards of John Bridge, when he received the fatal blow from John Mechan.

Mary Brady swore that she came up immediately after the murder, and that the prisoner was present, together with the Rev. Mr. Sheehy, and Edmund Mechan, and that the latter held in his hand a bill hook all bloody, and that the Priest commended the action.

Mr. James Herbert, Farmer, declared, that on Sunday Oct. 28, 1764, he was called upon by Roger Sheehy, then on horseback, behind whom he rode to a meeting of twenty or thirty persons, on the lands of Shanbally, near Clogheen, where they were sworn by Father Sheehy to murder John Bridge, John Bagwell, Esq; William Bagnell, Esq; the Rev. Dr. Hewetson, and every other person who should oppose them; that they would be faithful to the French King, and conquer Ireland.

After having thus sworn, they came to the house of one English, on the lands of Shanbatly, where Bridge was; they took him to a field, where was another party of about a hundred and thirty; here they accused him of giving information against the White Boys, and insisted that he should by oath contradict whatever he had given information of, which he refused to do; hereupon one Byrne made a stroke at him with a turf-slane, which he kept off with his arm; then Edmond Meehan took a bill hook from under his coat, with which he struck Bridge on the back part of his head, which so cleft his scull, that he instantly expired; that the Priest was then within the distance of two yards, with a hook in his hands. After this (being first sworn not to divulge what had been done) they put the body in a blanket, which they conveyed to a ploughed field, where they buried it; but in about eight days after, lest the plough should turn up the body, it was taken up and carried to a church-yard about two miles off.

John Lenorgan swore, that being sent by his uncle, Guynan, to the house of English, where the Bridge had been, between ten and twelve at night, he heard the noise of a number of people; that not caring to be seen, he concealed himself in a ditch, where he was discovered by Thomas McGrath, who put him on horseback behind the Priest, with whom he rode some time, and on the way discovered the body of a dead man, wrapt up in a blanket, before a person on horseback, and through a hole in the blanket, saw the head bloody, and that there was a number of persons attending it, both on foot and horseback, of whom he knew Father Sheehy, Edmond Meehan, Buck Sheehy, Thomas McGrath, Bartholomew Kenneley, and John Toohy; and that when they came to the turn of the road, the Priest let him down, directing him the shortest way home, and gave him three half crowns, charging him not to mention to any one what he had seen; and that he understood the dead body was that of John Bridge.

Here was closed the evidence for the crown. James Prendergast, Esq, attempted to prove an alibi, by swearing that, on the 28th of October, 1764, he and the prisoner, with their wives, dined at the house of Mr. Joseph Tennison, near Ardfinan, in the county of Tipperary; where they continued until after supper, and that it was about eleven o’clock when he and the prisoner left the house of Mr. Tennison, and rode a considerable way together on their return to their respective homes, and that the prisoner had his wife behind him; that when they parted, he (Mr. Prendergast) rode directly home, where, on his arrival, he looked at the clock, and found it to be the hour of twelve exactly, and as to the day he was positive, the 29th being the fair day of Clogheen; that he had desired the prisoner to sell some bullocks for him at the fair, not being able to give his attendance; and that Paul Webber, of Cork, Butcher, was in treaty for the said bullocks with the prisoner, on the 29th.

Mr. Tennison declared he remembered the prisoner and Mr. Prendergast dining with him some time in the month of October, 1764, but was inclined to believe it was earlier in the month than the 28th, for that on the 29th he dined with the Corporation of Clonmell; that on the Wednesday following he dined with the prisoner and Mr. Prendergast, at the prisoner’s house, and that day he invited the prisoner and his wife, with Mr. Prendergast and his wife, to dine with him the Sunday following, and was positive that company did not dine with him on any other day in October.

Paul Webber, of Cork, Butcher, swore, that he was at the fair of Clogheen on the 29th of October, 1764, where he saw the prisoner, but was not in treaty with him for any bullocks belonging to Mr. Prendergast, but the prisoner told him, that Mr. Prendergast had some bullocks on his hands to dispose of, on which he sent a person to Mr. Prendergast’s house, who bought them for him.

Thomas Mason, Shepherd to the prisoner, swore to the night and hour of the prisoner’s return abovementioned, and that he took him from his master his horse, and turned him out to the field. The following persons were also produced to discredit the testimony of John Toohy: viz. Bartholomew Griffith, Surgeon, Daniel Griffith, and John Day, servants to Brooke Brasier, Esq.

The purport of the evidence given by Bartholomew Griffith was to confront Toohy, who, being asked by the prisoner, who gave him the new cloaths he then had on, answered they were given him by his uncle Bartholomew Griffith, who being examined, denied it. Daniel Griffith declared, that Toohy was, on the 28th and 29th of October, 1764, at his house at Cullen.

John Day swore, that Toohy lived for six weeks with his master Brooke Brasier, Esq, when he behaved very ill, and was a person of bad characer; but Mr. Brasier declared he did not know the said Toohy, but that a person was in his family, for that time, of a very bad character, but that he did not know him.

The evidence of James Herbert, for the Crown, was not attempted to be invalidated. Mr. Herbert came to the Assizes, in order to give evidence in favour of Father Sheehy; the Grand Jury, who before had found bills of high treason against him, sent for Toohy, who said he knew him very well, and would assist to take him; upon this William Bagnell, Esq, attended Toohy, with some of the light-horse, went and took him; when being told on what occasion he was secured, he said he would discover the rise and meeting of the White Boys, and their intentions; and acknowledged himself guilty of what he was accused.

Mr. James Buxton, commonly called Capt. Buxton, on account of the power he had over the people he commanded, was the next person put to the bar to be tried. The testimony, which has been already related, was in every particular supported by the additional evidence of Mr. Thomas Bier, who was an accomplice, and acknowledged being present when they all swore allegiance to the French King, and to murder John Bridge, &c. and that too in consequence of a letter he received from Father Sheehy. Mr. Bier declared, that, at the time Bridge was murdered, the Priest was within two or three yards of the unfortunate man, holding the book, on which he a little before pressed and exhorted him to swear for the purpose, as has been mentioned.

Mr. James Farrell, commonly called Buck Farrell, a young man of a genteel appearance, was the last convicted, and on the joint evidence of the prosecutors.

Tuesday, the 15th of April, they received sentence to be executed the 3d of May, at Clogheen.

The general characters of the prisoners, until this unfortunate affair, were very respectable. Their influence must have been considerable, otherwise they could not have brought after them, and inlisted, the number of people they did, who were subject to martial law, by which they were tried on misbehaviour. It was in resentment of a whipping, which was inflicted on John Bridge with remarkable severity, to which he was sentenced by one of the Court-martials, that he was led to give evidence against them, by which he lost his life.

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1768: Quamino (Dubois)

Add comment February 9th, 2019 Headsman

Entry from North Carolina’s colonial records:

Minutes of a Court of Magistrates and Freeholders in New Hanover County North Carolina.

Magistrates and Freeholders Court

February 08, 1768

At a Court of Magistrates and Freeholders held at the Court House in Wilmington on Monday February 8th 1768 on the Tryal of a Negro Man named Quamino belonging to the Estate of John DuBois Esqr Deceased, charged with robbing sundry Persons —

Present
Cornelius Harnett Esqr Justice
John Lyon Esqr Justice
Frederick Gregg Esqr Justice
John Burgwin Esqr Justice
and
William Campbell Esqr Justice

And
John Walker Freeholder and Owner of Slaves
Anthony Ward Freeholder and Owner of Slaves
John Campbell Freeholder and Owner of Slaves
William Wilkinson Freeholder and Owner of Slaves

The Court upon Examination of the Evidences relating to several Robberies committed by Quamino have found him guilty of the several Crimes charg’d against him, and Sentenced him to be hang’d by the Neck until he is dead to morrow morning between the hours of ten & twelve o’Clock and his head to be affixed up upon the Point near Wilmington —

The Court valued the said Negro Quamino at eighty Pounds proclamation money proof having been made that he had his full allowance of Corn pd agreeable to Act of Assembly

CORNs HARNETT Chn

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1769: Three Spitalfields weavers, well located

Add comment December 20th, 2018 Headsman

From Tyburn Tree: Its History and Annals:

The manufacture of silk fabrics was highly protected, but protection did not bring prosperity to the workers. The condition of the weavers of Bethnal Green and Spitalfields was deplorable, leading to constant disturbances. The destruction of looms, and the cutting of woven silk capital offences became frequent.

On December 20 three men were executed at Tyburn for destroying silk-looms. Their execution had been preceded on the 6th by that of two others, hanged at Bethnal Green for cutting woven silk. In connection with this execution at Bethnal Green a grave question arose. The sentence passed on the condemned men was that they should be taken from the prison to the usual place of execution, but the Recorder‘s warrant for the execution directed they should be hanged at the most convenient place near Bethnal Green church. The variation of place was directed by the King. A long correspondence ensued between the Sheriffs and the Secretary of State. The point raised was whether the King had power thus to vary the sentence. The condemned men were respited in order that the opinion of the judges might be taken. It was unanimous that the King had the power of fixing the place of execution, and the men were executed at Bethnal Green, as directed. There was great apprehension of tumult, and not without cause, for in the Gentleman’s Magazine we read: “The mob on this occasion behaved outrageously, insulted the Sheriffs, pulled up the gallows, broke the windows, destroyed the furniture, and committed other outrages in the house of Lewis Chauvette, Esq., in Spitalfields.” The mob dispersed only on being threatened with military execution.

It was observed that when the Recorder next passed sentence of death, he omitted direction as to the place of execution.

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1766: John Clark and James Felton

Add comment November 26th, 2018 Headsman

We resort to a footnote in a Newgate Calendar edition for today’s interesting anecdote:

John Clarke was a watch-case maker, of good repute, in London. He had long been in the habit of occasionally working by himself in a closet; and his apprentice, jealous of the master’s being there employed on some work in which he would not instruct him, secretly bored a hole in the wainscot, through which he saw him filling guineas. He gave information, convicted, and brought his master to the gallows.

Clarke, for this offence, suffered at Tyburn, along with James Felton, an apprentice, on the 26th of November, 1766, who was the first offender convicted on the act which makes stealing bank-notes, &c. out of letters, a felony. It was proved that he stole a bank post-bill out of a letter at Mr. Eaton’s receiving-house, in Chancery Lane.

(There is no Ordinary’s Account for this date: installments of this venerable series were very sparse during the term of Joseph Moore, in the late 1760s. -ed.)

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1763: Charles Brown, security consultant

Add comment November 23rd, 2018 Headsman

This primer appeared in Lloyd’s Evening Post (Dec. 21, 1763) and is also to be found in a 1764 compendium called The polite miscellany: containing variety of food for the mind ; being an elegant collection of moral, humourous, and improving essays, &c. both in prose and verse:

Some Hints, by way of Caution to the Public, to prevent or detect the designs of Thieves and Sharpers.

Left in a manuscript, by Charles Speckman, alias Brown, executed at Tyburn the 23rd of November, for robbing Mrs. Dixon, in Broad-street, Carnaby-market, in September last, of some lace.

  1. Never place many different articles on the counter at one time; nor turn your back on the customers, but let some other person put the different articles up, whilst you are intent upon the business before you.
  2. It is in general to be suspected if a person pulls out a handkerchief, lays it down, and takes it up often, that some ill is intended. This was my constant practice with Milliners and others, with regard to what lay in a small compass. It never failed of success. The following is one instance of my manner of using it: At Reading, in Berkshire, I went to a Milliner’s shop, under pretence of buying some lace, to go round a cap and handkerchief, for my sister. The Milliner asked if I was not too young a man to be a judge of lace? I replied, being young, I should hope for better usage, and left it entirely to her generosity to serve me of that which was best of the kind. At this moment I fixed my eye on a particular piece. Pretending to have a bad cold, I took my handkerchief out to wipe my nose, laid it down on this piece of lace, which repeating again, I took the lace up with my handkerchief, and put it in my pocket, and then told the Milliner I would stay till I was grown older; though it is clear I was too old for her now. I took my leave, and marched gravely off, without the least suspicion; and went directly to the Crown Inn, hired a horse for Maidenhead, but pushed on for London.
  3. The shopkeeper, on seeing such methods as this made use of, should remove the handkerchief from off the goods; which will make the Sharper suspect his design is seen through.
  4. It is common at Haberdashers and other shops, which deal in small articles, that for every article which is wanted to be paid for, the Tradesman applies to his till for change; his eyes being fixed thereon, then is the time something the nearest at hand on the counter is moved off.
  5. Watchmakers and Silversmiths are imposed on principally thus: In a morning or evening the Sharper, well dressed, as a Sea-officer, will go to their shops, look at watches, buckles, rings, &c. when a variety of these are laid on the counter, if opportunity offers, the handkerchief is made use of; should this fail, then the goods are ordered to a tavern, coffee-house, or private house, as best suits for elegance or honesty; then the person is instantly sent back for something omitted, whilst the prize is secured, and the Sharper moved off another way. Though this is an old and stale trick, it is amazing how successful the Practitioners in it still are.

The following is part of the affecting account which this unhappy young man gives of himself:

“During my long course in wickendess, I never was addicted to common or profane swearing, to excess in eating, or to drunkenness, and but little to women. I never was fond of even conversing with thieves and robbers, tho’ at accidental meetings I have met with several, who, guessing I was of their profession, would set forth the advantages of associates, or appearing in company to rob and plunder the honest and unwary. Pallister and Duplex, lately executed at Coventry, who called themselves the heads of a great gang, pressed me to go on the highway with them and their companions, but all they could say was in vain. I never would make use of, or indeed knew, the flash or cant language, in which these two men were very expert. My father, who lived in good reputation in London, where I was born, put me to a boarding-school, and bestowed more money on my education than on all the rest of my brothers and sisters (I was the eldest of 18) for all which I never made any grateful return, which gives me now great affliction, and the most pungent remorse. The misfortunes I have undergone have been, I am certain, entirely owing to the continual state of rebellion that I lived in with my parents; and God, for such unnatural practices, has been pleased to bring me to the most just and deserved punishment I am now shortly to suffer. If children did but properly consider, the very fear of bringing their innocent parents to disgrace and shame, would prevent them from pursuing those wicked practices which end in being publickly exposed to a censorious world, and suffering an ignominious death.”

This youth finished his career at the age of 29: he was about five feet nine inches high, thin and genteel in his person, and affable in his behaviour, with much seeming innocence in his countenance.

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1762: James Collins, James Whem, and John Kello

Add comment October 13th, 2018 Headsman

Three men hanged at Tyburn on this date in 1762.

Although in these pages we most typically notice the details of the crime, our surviving account from Newgate Prison’s Ordinary draws our attention instead to the spiritual struggle of the condemned … or perhaps better to say, of the condemned’s minister.

James Collins and James Whem were two of the hanged men: they were off-duty soldiers caught red-handed after committing a violent mugging in a field near King’s Road.

Sarah West was knocked down by COLLINS with his fist while he held a drawn sword in the other hand, with which he threatened her life if she made a noise; mean time another of them robbed Mr Sykes, and a third [Collins and Whem had a third accomplice who was not captured -ed.] robbed Mr. Halm, of their money and watches; the former being knocked down, was dangerously wounded with a sword, in the forehead, and the latter was also knocked down.

When the Ordinary went to minister to them he found them amenable to his approaches: “Collins lamented that he could not read; Whem said he was a presbyterian; we had some conversation on the principles common to christians, to which he agreed; after which he never refused to join with us, but came constantly to chapel, which was made ready in some sort by next day, where by the help of some directions and daily instructions, each of them behaved tollerably well.”

John Kello,* by contrast, was condemned for forging a thousand-quid note. He scrupulously fought the charge, to no avail; in his turn, he would also fight the Ordinary’s scruples.

Unlike his ruffian brethren in the condemned hold, the mannered and educated Kello felt himself too good for the Ordinary’s devices.

After conviction, when he was applied to, as he lay in bed in his cell, with some words of condolence and exhortation, he answered coldly: “Your advice is very good, and becoming your office to give, but I have some particular opinions of my own” to which it was replied, you will I hope attend the chapel, and give me an opportunity of conferring with you on those opinions, perhaps we may be able to remove and change them for the better: he answered, with an air of superior knowledge and resolution, that “his opinions were not to be changed.” But if they have misled you into your present sad situation, is not this a proof of the unsoundness of them; and that it is high time to quit and renounce them, and take up such as may relieve and support you in this hour of distress and anguish?

he answered, “he never should quit his present sentiments either in this life or after it.” But how if they prove contrary to the received and well-tried opinions of wise and good men? This he denied they were. Being asked if he would permit me to pray with him and the other convicts in his cell, he desired to be excused. He was again asked whether he would come to chapel when called upon at any time hereafter? this he also refused and kept to his resolution next morning and so forward, till a message from Mr. A—n (without any application of mine) by some of the runners made him think proper to attend. Before this visit ended, it was added, I came to offer you the best assistance in my power, if you refuse it, the blame and consequence will fall on your own head. He answered in some slighting manner, as if he set light by this and all such threats, as a mere bugbear, and engine of my office.

The Ordinary found this attitude in a 26-year-old condemned felon quite unsuitable and did not shy from complaining about the haughty youth to his audience.

his behaviour and language was that of a stranger to the oracles of God, and a despiser of them — of a diligent dabler in those dear-bought books which scatter the seeds of scepticism and immorality, of doubt and misbelief, in those weed-bearing soils that are prepared for, and most susceptible of them; which God in his anger suffers to take root and grow in the soul of the sluggard, who is indisposed either to seek, to find, or to follow the ways of found wisdom and instruction. This reminded me of an observation and precept of a celebrated poet.

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the pierian spring.
For shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
But drinking deeply sobers us again.

Take that, you brat.

The Headsman is not clergy but might have conceived from the pews that as the reverend was the character proffering wisdom, experience, and perspective, and moreover was the one who was not slated for hanging, it did not well become him to confide to typeface every distinct shade of his scorn for the other man’s resistance.

John Kello consented to come up to chapel, and by way of apology for his past behaviour, said he was bred a dissenter. A Dissenter in deed! But don’t you believe the Bible to be of divine authority? to this he would give no answer, but pretended to be acquainted with all Religions, as well if he had studied the dictionary on that subject; and yet when asked a few questions, seemed quite ignorant of the first principles both of natural and revealed religion. His notions of the obligations to truth and justice, were so imperfect and loose, that he still boldly declared himself innocent of the crime he stood convicted of, and that if he were to die this day he was prepared to answer before his great judge, to whom he referred himself for the truth of his plea.

AND WOULD YOU BELIEVE THIS, GENTLE READER?

For the present, concerning the duty of confession of sins; to whom? and in what cases to be made, the introductory sentences of holy writ prefixed to the daily service of the church, with the confession and absolution founded thereon, were explained to him; together with a general scheme of the tenour, meaning and rationality of the other parts of the service of the church England. These he was warned not to come to hear, as a spy or a scoffer, but rather, as best befitted his circumstances, as an humble penitent. Notwithstanding this, he rather heard the service, than joined in it, for he refused to make responses, or kneel, being in his opinion a matter of indifference, and no reason or authority could convince him to the contrary. This was the less excuseable in him, as he boasted himself free from the errors of education. When after prayers I offered him the use of some good tracts, among which was that excellent, clear and rational view of the sum and substance of Christian faith and practice, the late Bishop of Sodor and Man’s Instruction for the Indians, he first objected to it, as being merely practical; he then said he had met with it abroad in Virginia, and had seen that subject treated in a more masterly manner. He was answered, that the clearness, ease, and condescension of the stile to every capacity, as well as the practical manner in which it is handled, are proofs of the masterly performance. He then said he was a sufficient guide to himself, from what he had within him, and would accept of none of my books.

And on top of everything, he continued to insist upon his innocence, to the fury (and verbose rebuttal) of the tilted vicar.

Our man kept at it, picking out choice Biblical passages for obstinacy, and diligently logging for posterity their (usually ineffectual) impressions. Kello even blew off the help of an outside minister who hewed more to his “dissenting” milieu.

Kello never did submit so far as to favor the Ordinary with a confession, nor did he ever fully participate in a Church of England service. But on the fatal morning, they came to some sort of accord, or at least a sense of mutual exhaustion. Having got Kello to affirm that he was indeed a Christian, and not one of those horrid deists, the Ordinary “contented myself with advising him at least to join in the Litany and other prayers, and to be present at the administration; to this he complied, and behaved himself with attention (and perhaps mental devotion also) while the other prisoners prayed and communicated with some other serious persons who joined with us.” And they found a way to comport themselves to each other’s satisfaction at the gallows.

They were all three carried out in one cart about nine, and brought to the place of execution about ten; where a numerous mixt multitude were met to see them suffer. Being tied up they were again applied to, to declare if they had any thing to confess. Mr. Kello now at last declared his sorrow for all his offences against God: he was reminded to add, for every injury done to his neighbour, which he assented to. The two others continued to say they had nothing more to confess; nor did any of them think proper to speak a word of warning to others, against the fatal steps which brought them to this sad lot; but they desired the people to join in prayers for them, which they did. At a proper pause, Kello was asked whether he would join in confessing and repeating the creed? to this he agreed; but as he did not speak out, either in this or in the prayers, his joining could only be internal. He was further asked whether he was not grieved for not being admitted to the holy communion? he answered, that he had joined with us in his heart, and spirit, as far as he could. This gave me good hope of some better dispositions within him, now at last, than we could hitherto discover by his outward behaviour. He was again desired to declare he forgave his brother; he answered, that his brother knew his sentiments in that respect, by his behaviour and conduct towards him, refering to some secrets between themselves. He added, “As far as humanity can, I forgive him;” to which I subjoined, “may the grace of God help all your human infirmities;” he thanked me for this, and other offices of the like kind. About this time, finding his hands loose, he called to the executioner to tie them; but first he took out of his pocket four small letters folded but not sealed, which he humbly desired I would forward, giving me a direction to one gentleman to whom three of them were to be inclosed and sent by the pennypost. As these letters were a deposit, and have no connection with the crime for which he suffered, nor can give any satisfaction as to his guilt or repentance, the publick, it is hoped, will not desire nor expect to see them.

But in deference to the publick, this much may be said, That they speak the language and thoughts of a man anxious in his last hours to do particular acts of justice and good offices, where due, to the utmost of his power; and that expressed in a stile and turn of sentiments, such as would make one heartily wish the writer had deserved a better fate.

The two soldiers, we hope, enjoyed a compensation in the hereafter for their pious submission that they did not receive in the form of column-inches. Nevertheless, the Ordinary leaves the last word to their case, a noble principle that in truth is but rarely observed in the breach.

Collins having a small book of devotions in his hand desired it to be given to one of his brother Soldiers, whom he call’d by name out of the croud, and who came and received it: a considerable number of the foot-guards being present, behaved decently, were much affected, and some wept. May these examples of justice be a warning to them all to avoid every act and degree of violence to his Majesty’s subjects, whom it is their duty to protect and defend against injuries of every kind. May they ever remember that they are paid and maintained for that purpose; and therefore, that injuries offer’d by their hands are highly aggravated, and can rarely, if ever, hope for, or admit of mercy from the sovereign protector of his people.

* Our white collar whippersnapper is not to be confused with a more renowned denizen of the executioners annals, John Kello, the Parson of Spott

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1765: Andrew Oliver lynched in effigy to the Liberty Tree

Add comment August 14th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1765, Boston patriots lynched the merchant designated as the imperial taxman. They only did so in effigy, but the “execution” scared him permanently off the job while also making a gallows-tree into one of the earliest symbols of American independence.

One of the key pre-revolution irritants for the future United States, the 1765 Stamp Act imposed taxes in the form of stamp duties on a variety of printed products, for the purpose of funding the British army deployed to North America. It was a levy long familiar to London lawmakers but it sent the colonies right around the bend, and since the colonies sat no Member of Parliament who could flip an official wig it also popularized the classic revolutionary slogan about “taxation without representation.”*

Enacted in the spring of 1765 and due to take effect in November, the Stamp Act drew immediate outrage in the colonies and especially in that hotbed of subversion, Boston.

There, Andrew Oliver, scion of a shipping magnate clan, was tapped to collect the levy. It figured to be just the latest in a series of lucrative state appointments. How was he to know in advance that this particular legislation would unleash the crazies? Perhaps he should have given more heed to the publication of ominous warnings over the roster of tax collector names.


Boston Post-Boy, August 5, 1765

On the morning of Wednesday, August 14, a crowd of irate Bostonians mobbed the corner of Essex Street and Orange Street (present-day Washington Street) and upon a large elm tree strung up an effigy of Oliver alongside a boot — the footwear comprising a second, punny, effigy of the Stamp Act’s sponsor the Earl of Bute.

“What greater Joy can NEW-ENGLAND see,” ran the menacing note pinned to the mannequin, “Than STAMPMEN hanging on a Tree!” As is clear from the following newspaper account, versions of which circulated widely in New England, these were no mere theatrics but a very proximate physical threat; even the elm’s property owner dared not take down the provocative display for fear that the crowd would pull down his house. Likewise taking the better part of valor, Oliver pledged to anti-tax colonists that he would not take the office, and he kept his word.**


Providence Gazette, August 24, 1765

After this triumphant debut, the elm in question became a common rallying-point for the hotheaded set, a frequent stage for speechifying, rabble-rousing, and fresh instances of popular justice all further to the patriot cause until, as Nathaniel Hawthorne put it, “after a while, it seemed as if the liberty of the country was connected with Liberty Tree.” Of course, it’s all a question of whose liberty; a Tory gloss on this deciduous republican made it “an Idol for the Mob to Worship; it was properly the Tree ordeal, where those, whom the Rioters pitched upon as State delinquents, were carried to for Trial, or brought to as the Test of political Orthodoxy.” When besieged in Boston in 1775-1776, British Tories cut the damned thing down, so for subsequent generations it was only the Liberty Stump.


“The Colonists Under Liberty Tree,” illustration from Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, Volume 5, page 109 (1865)

The Liberty Tree is commemorated today at its former site, and forever in verse by revolutionary firebrand Thomas Paine.

In a chariot of light from the regions of day,
The Goddess of Liberty came;
Ten thousand celestials directed the way,
And hither conducted the dame.

A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
And the plant she named Liberty Tree.

The celestial exotic struck deep in the ground,
Like a native it flourished and bore;
The fame of its fruit drew the nations around,
To seek out this peaceable shore.

Unmindful of names or distinctions they came,
For freemen like brothers agree;
With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued,
And their temple was Liberty Tree.

Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,
Their bread in contentment they ate
Unvexed with the troubles of silver and gold,
The cares of the grand and the great.

With timber and tar they Old England supplied,
And supported her power on the sea;
Her battles they fought, without getting a groat,
For the honor of Liberty Tree.

But hear, O ye swains, ’tis a tale most profane,
How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons and Lords, are uniting amain,
To cut down this guardian of ours;

From the east to the west blow the trumpet to arms,
Through the land let the sound of it flee,
Let the far and the near, all unite with a cheer,
In defence of our Liberty Tree.

* Visitors to the U.S. capital of Washington D.C., whose 700,000 residents cast no votes in the Congress they live cheek by jowl with, can find this familiar grievance right on the city’s license plates.

** How far this surly bunch was prepared to go on August 14, 1765, one can only guess at; however, in later years, there would be several instances of Bostonians tarring and feathering various tax collectors. These guys did not do civility politics.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,England,Executed in Effigy,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Massachusetts,No Formal Charge,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions,USA

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1766: Don Francis de Sallesar y Corvetto

Add comment June 27th, 2018 Headsman

A letter from Aranjuez, dated June 30, says,

Don Francis de Sallesar y Corvetto, a native of Murcia, where his father was regidor, was on Friday publicly degraded at Madrid from the rank of nobility, had his tongue and his right hand cut off, and afterwards was hanged. His crime was assassinating some persons, and having formed the horrid design of laying his sacrilegious hands upon the king and the royal family.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Nobility,Public Executions,Spain,Torture

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