1787: Three robbers, “very penitent”

Add comment December 27th, 2018 Headsman

On the morning of the 27th December the following malefactors were executed in the Old Bailey, viz., Richard Carrol, a blind man, for breaking open the house of John Short, in the parish of St. Botolph, Aldgate and, and stealing a quantity of wearing apparel, &c.; George Roberts, for assaulting Benjamin Morgan on the highway near Finchley, and robbing him of one guinea and some silver; and Thomas Kennedy, for stealing a quantity of silver buckles, plate, jewels, and other goods, to the amount of 100 l. in the dwelling-house of Richard King, where he was shop man. They all behaved very penitent. There have been 105 persons executed from the 12th December, 1786, to the 11th December, 1787, only 24 of which number have been reported to be buried as such within the Bills of Mortality.

Clipping found in the prison journal of 19th century Newgate Ordinary Horace Cotton — beside the handwritten notation, “105 executed in one year”.

The Old Bailey was in use at this time as a venue for conducting executions as well as pronouncing them, following the end of the Tyburn tree in 1783. A temporary gallows in the central courtyard of the Old Bailey served the purpose, with the hanging conducted using the classic “turn the man off the cart and let him strangle” technique.


London Morning Herald, Jan. 1, 1788. The blind(?) man was also reputed to be oddly adept at playing cards.

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1787: John Bly and Charles Rose, Shaysites

Add comment December 6th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1787, the only two men to hang for the infant American republic’s seminal post-independence rebellion went to the gallows at Lenox, Massachusetts.

The newborn United States emerged from the American Revolution (1776-1783) in a parlous financial condition. Forever short of gold and credit, it had paid George Washington’s Continental Army in worthless scrip* and promises of goodwill. Instead, many a Cincinnatus returned from Yorktown to discover his debtor farm dunned by creditors and taxmen, as desperate as he for hard currency.

Come 1786, protests against unpayable taxes verged into an outright rural insurrection in western Massachusetts. Known for one of its principals, Daniel Shays — who like so many of his fellows was a Continental Army veteran turned penniless farmer — this rebellion continued for several months and took earnest aim at the hated Massachusetts merchant elites. Some 4,000 “Shaysites” would eventually admit to** taking the field as rebel guerrillas. They mounted an attack on a federal armory, and seized weapons where they could for their own use.

A few books about Shays’s Rebellion

It was this last act which occasions our men’s hangings.

The new American authorities, who had not so many years ago been beckoning this same populace to take up their muskets in revolution, exercised in this moment a brittle authority and they would calculate that the proper balance of due regard for their power without unnecessary resentment entailed only a circumscribed approach.

Instead of charging Shaysites wholesale, most were waved away with a free pardon. And instead of charging treason, the Bay State made its demonstration cases with regular criminal offenses — for burglary when our men John Bly and Charles Rose followed some Shaysite militiaman’s order to confiscate guns and powder from nearby houses. In 1787, that was still a potential hanging offense.

Of course, everyone understood well enough the real offense. On the eve of their executions, someone got the condemned men to sign onto a “Last Words & Dying Speeches” broadsheet with a lesson addressed “To the good People of Massachusetts, more especially to Daniel Shays, and other Officers of the Militia, and the Select men of Towns who have been instrumental in raising the Opposition to the Government of this Commonwealth:”

Our fate is a loud and solemn lesson to you who have excited the people to rise against the Government … Advert to those things — live peaceably with all men — be not too jealous of your Rulers — remember that Government is absolutely necessary to restrain the corrupt passions of men — obey your Honest Governors — be not allured by designing men — pay your honest debts and your reasonable taxes — use your utmost endeavours to give peace to your divided, distracted country …

There was another legacy: the outbreak of Shays’s Rebellion — and the federal government’s impotence to respond to it (it was haltingly suppressed by state militia, with the insurgents at points escaping into New York for breathing room) — helped catalyze the Constitutional Convention from May to September of 1787, and informed its creation of a stronger federal state and of the system of checks upon democratic action that a rebellious populace might wish to undertake.

There’s a podcast episode about Shays’s Rebellion here.

* So widely shunned was the depreciated paper Continental currency issued during the Revolution that the phrase “not worth a Continental” entered the parlance of the times; it was these notes that had been given to revolutionary soldiers by way of aspirational salary like so many stock options from a foundering Silicon Valley startup. In 1791, these Continentals were bought out by the new federal government at one cent on the dollar.

** This census arrives via applications for the free amnesty eventually offered to the Shaysite rank and file.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Milestones,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Theft,Treason,USA

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1787: Margaret Savage, repeat offender

Add comment November 17th, 2017 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1787, Margaret Savage was publicly hanged in front of Newgate Prison in Dublin, Ireland for armed robbery.

Savage’s first brush with the law came in 1781, when she was convicted of stealing 18 yards of black calico, the value of which was £2. Three years in prison seems a harsh punishment for what was essentially shoplifting, but Savage was lucky — in those days, even minor thefts were capital offenses.

In August 1782, Savage and 31 other prisoners petitioned George Nugent-Temple Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham, the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, for clemency. The petitioners, 29 of them female and most of them convicted of theft, pointed to their “signs of reformation and contrition,” successfully: the Lord Lieutenant pardoned Savage and released her from custody, less than a year into her sentence. She had been doubly fortunate.

Five years later, however, Savage got into trouble again after she and a fifteen-year-old male accomplice were convicted of robbing a woman at gunpoint, stealing 18 shillings. Aware of her previous record, this time the Dublin Recorder sentenced her to death.

Brian Henry notes in his book Dublin Hanged: Crime, Law Enforcement and Punishment in Late Eighteenth-Century Dublin,

Her hanging conflicted with the state funeral procession of the Duke of Rutland [another Lord Lieutenant of Ireland]. This prompted the Hibernian Journal to report that Savage’s “wretched situation seemed to have less effect upon her than the neglect of the populace, in not gracing her exit with their appearance on so deplorable an occasion.”

The fate of Savage’s young accomplice was not recorded.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Ireland,Other Voices,Public Executions,Theft,Women

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1787: Jacob “Hannikel” Reinhard

Add comment July 17th, 2015 Headsman

Robber Jakob Reinhard, better known as Hannikel, was hanged on this date in 1787 in Sulz am Neckar in Wurttemberg.

The captain of a brigand company stalking the Black Forest, Hannikel (English Wikipedia entry | German) kept one step ahead of pursuers for many years simply by exploiting the fragmented map of southern Germany: the next lord’s border was never more than a few strides away. Like his near-contemporary Schinderhannes, the bandit prince earned the affection due charismatic rogues for the usual reasons, viz., turning the wheel of fortune against the great and the good whom they made to stand and deliver.

Hannikel elevated his crew’s outlawry level from nuisance to anathema in 1786 by killing a guy in the course of a home invasion, which featured the less romantic part of the robber’s job: dripping burning resin on the lady of the house until she yielded up the concealed ducats. This incurred the wrath of the Duke of Wurttemberg, and the great bailiff (and early criminologist) Jacob Georg Schaeffer damned the borders and pursued the marauders all the way to Switzerland before he finally had them all rounded up.

Hannikel hanged along with three others of his gang; other members received lengthy prison sentences at hard labor.


1788 illustration of Hannikel imprisoned in the Schloss Sargans. Via this German-language summary (pdf) of Hannikel’s career.

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

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