1790: Joseph Mountain, Atlantic picaro

Add comment October 20th, 2018 Headsman

The remarkable-if-true criminal autobiography of Joseph Mountain, executed on this date in 1790 in New Haven, Connecticut, is transcribed here from the Dec. 14 and 21, 1790 issues of Spooners Vermont Journal, which has repurposed them from the American Mercury.

From the AMERICAN MERCURY.

Sketches of the life of JOSEPH MOUNTAIN, a Negro, who was executed at Newhaven, on the 20th day of October, 1y790, for a Rape, committed on the 26th day of May last.

I, Joseph Mountain, was born on the 7th day of July, A.D. 1758, in the house of Samuel Mifflin, Esq., of Philadelphia, father of the present Governor of Pennsylvania. My father, Fling Mountain, is a Mulatto, and now lives at Philadelphia. My mother is a Negro and was a slave until she was twenty one years of age. She now lives at Reading in Pennsylvania.

The first seventeen years of my life were spent in Mr. Mifflin’s family. As a servant in the house I acquired the reputation of unusual uprightness and activity. My master was industrious to instruct me in the Presbyterian religion which he professed, teach me to read and write, and impress my mind with sentiments of virtue. How grossly these opportunities have been neglected, the following story will too fully evince.

In the 17th year of my age, on the 17th of March 1775, with my master’s consent, I entered on board the ship Chalkley, commanded by Joseph Spain, and owned by Messirs. James and Drinker of Philadelphia, and on the 20th of May following we arrived in the Downs. I soon quitted the vessel, and in four days was strolling the streets of London in quest of amusements. In this situation, the public will easily conceive, I could not long remain an idle spectator. It will not be surprising to find me speedily initiated in practices disgraceful to human nature, and destructive of every moral virtue. Unfortunately for me, a scene began to open which will close only in the shadow of death.

One day, at an alehouse in London, I accidentally became acquainted with one Francis Hyde, originally from Middlesex, and one Thomas Wilson, of Staffordshire in England. They were travelling the country, with a hand organ and various other musical instruments, pretending to great art in numerous performances, and really professing surprising knowledge in every species of juggling. This was their employment in the day time, for the purpose of executing more effectually the principal business of their lives, viz. highway robbery. [Here a footnote in the original text clarifies that “the reader will note, that when we use the term footpad we mean him who robs on foot only; highwayman intends one who robs on horseback.” -ed.] They soon found me susceptible of almost any impression, and neither incapable of, nor averse to, becoming a companion in their iniquity. We all set out from London about 8 o’clock in the evening after I had joined them, each armed with a hanger and a brace of pistols. We had also suitable dresses and a dark lanthorn. Our landlord, who kept tavern at the sign of the Black horse, in Charingcross, furnished us with every requisite for the expedition. His name was William Humphrys. The plan this evening was to attack the mail coach, which would start at 12 o’clock at night, from the ship tavern, between Woolwich and Gravesend, about 9 miles from London.

We were on the spot at the hour agreed upon, and dignified ourselves for the adventure. Hyde and Wilson were dressed in white frocks and boots, with their faces painted yellow to resemble Mulattoes. Mountain was dressed in the same manner, with the addition of a large tail wig, white gloves, and a black mask over his face. When the stage arrived, I started, and caught the leading horses by their bridles, while Hyde and Wilson each presented a brace of pistols in at the coach window, and demanded of the passengers their money. There were four gentlemen and one lady in the coach. They denied having any money. Wilson said, “Deliver, or death.” They then gave us a bank note of 50 l. one other of 20 l. and about 60 guineas in cash. We then retired to an unfrequented place, shifted [?] our dresses, and prepared to prosecute our journey to Chathaw in the County of Kent.

In the day time, Hyde and Wilson commonly played upon their instruments, and preformed [sic] various feats of slight of hand, as though that was their sole occupation. We were also very particular in making observations upon all travellers, to learn if they might be touched (For that was our word for robbed).

In four days after the former robbery, we met a Capt. Hill, at the foot of Rochester bridge near Chatham — He was a captain of the marines, and we had seen him in the day time at Brumpton Barracks, about half a mile from the bridge. We walked directly before his horse. Wison asked him the time of night. He made no reply. Hyde then caught the bridle; I, his left hand, and Wilson presented a pistol to his breast, and said, “Deliver, or death.” He assured us that he had no money worth taking. Wilson said, “then give us your watch,” which he did. The watch was gold, and valued at 50 guineas. We then walked off about 300 rods towards Gravesend, and immediately tacked for Rochester, where we lodged at the mariner’s inn. There was a great hue and cry for us; but the pursuers, supposing from Capt. Hill’s information, we had gone for Gravesend, entirely mistook our rout. The next morning we took postchaise for London, where we arrived about 6 o’clock in the evening. Our booty was delivered to a broker whom we constantly employed. He was a Jew, and lived in St. Katherine’s Row, near Tower-hill, and his name was William Moses. There were also other brokers in different parts of England, with whom we had constant communication, and who were perfectly acquainted with our modes of acquiring property. After such a jaunt we thought it adviseable to recruit ourselves by rioting on our spoils.

In a few days, it was concluded that I should go alone, and attempt to “touch” some gentlemen who frequented the play at Covent Garden: this, considering my age and inexperience, was thought rather a bold stroke. Being villain enough to attempt any thing, I did not hesitate; but posted myself agreeably to direction. My efforts were wholly unsuccessful and I returned empty. The next night I was placed at London bridge, while Hyde stood at Blackfriars, and Wilson at Westminster. At half-past 11 o’clock I met a Captain Duffield, and asked him the time of night. He told me. I said, “You know my profession; deliver or death.” He stepped back to strike me with his cane; I cocked my pistol, and told him to deliver instantly, or death should be his portion. He then threw me his purse, which contained about 10 guineas and a silver watch, which was valued by our broker at 6 l. Hide, the same night, obtained about 40 guineas of Sir John Griffing, Wilson about 30 of a Mr. Burke; and each a watch, one gold, the other pinchbeck. The next day we saw advertisements describing the robberies, and offering rewards for the perpetrators.

The next night, with little difficulty, I robbed Hugh Lindsly of 16 guineas, and a gold ring. Hyde, on the same evening, took from Lord John Cavendish about 20 guineas, and Wilson robbed William Burke of 11 guineas.

We now concluded to remain in London for a while, gentlemen of pleasure. the repeated robberies had furnished us with cash in abundance, and we indulged in every species of debauchery. We gambled very deeply at dice, cards and billiards. Hyde and Wilson were very expert at this business, and wou’d almost invariably swindle, a stranger out of his money.

In March 1776 we went to the city of York, about 200 miles from London. Here we continued several weeks, waiting some favorable opportunities to rob at the plays; but none presented. We went from York to Newmarket, to attend the famous races which took place about the first of June. There we found Lord Gore of Richmond, and Lord Tufton of Sheffield in Yorkshire: We were much perplexed to invent the most advantageous mode of “touching” them. It was at length concluded to attack them at their lodgings, which were at an inn very large and greatly frequented by various classes of people. About 7 o’clock in the evening, while the attendants of those gentlemen were in the kitchens and stables, we entered the front door, and having bribed the porter with a few guineas, were immediately let into the room. Lords Tore and Tufton were sitting over a table at a dish of coffee, and reading newspapers. We instantly presented our pistols and demanded their money. Lord Tufton delivered us one bank note of 100 l. and three others of 50 l. each. Lord Gore delivered us about 100 guineas and two gold mourning rings. We quitted Newmarket next morning, and went in the flags to York, where Wilson presented his bills for payment. Unfortunately for us, Lord Tufton immediately after the robbery dispatched his servant to the bank, with orders to stop those bills if offered. The bills were accordingly stopped, and Wilson arrested and sent to Newmarket to be examined before a justice of the peace. Upon his examination he pressed Hyde to swear that he was riding from Newmarket to York with Wilson, and that he saw him pick up a pocket book containing those bills. The coachman, having been previously bribed, swore to the same fact. Upon this testimony, Wilson was acquitted. I was not sent for as a witness at this examination, as I understood Lord Robert Manners was then in Newmarket, and would probably attend the trial. The reason why I did not wish to meet his Lordship’s eye was, that on the night before we left London, I made a most daring attack upon him. He was walking unarmed, near Hounslow Heath, attended by his footman. I met him, presented my pistol, and he gave me 75 guineas, two gold watches, and two gold rings. Hyde and Wilson were near at hand; but they did not discover themselves, leaving me “to play the hero alone.”

In the latter end of June we again met at the old rendezvous in London and divided our plunder. The property which I then had on hand enabled me to live very freely for some months. My time was spent in that round of dissipation which was the necessary attendant upon so vicious a character, and which was tolerably well supported by the stock of cash in my own possession, and that of my broker.

I now resolved to quit this course of life which I had hitherto pursued with so much success. Accordingly I entered on board the brig Sally [?], as cook, and made two voyages in her to Lisbon. Upon my return, after exhausting my pay, I made another voyage in the Fanny, Capt. Sinclair, to Kingston in Jamaica: Which being finished in nine months, I again visited London, and concluded to relinquish the seafaring business for the present. At the old place of resort I became acquainted with one Haynes and Jones, both of Yorkshire. They were partially initiated in the science of footpads. They soon proposed that I should resume my profession, and join them. My former mode of life, though singularly vicious, yet possessed many charms in my view. I therefore complied with their request; at the same time doubting, if they were possessed of sufficient courage and skill for companions to one who had served under experienced makers, and who considered himself at the head of the profession. Our first object was to assail the Newcastle stage, which would be in Tottenham Court road at 8 o’clock in the evening. We were on the spot in season, and Mountain addressed them thus: “My lads, it is a hazardous attempt — for God’s sake make a bold stroke.” Upon the arrival of the coach at half past 7 o’clock, four miles from London, I seized the bridles of the two foremost horses. Jones and Jaynes went to the coach door, and said, “Deliver, or death.” Lord Garnick and several others were passengers: His Lordship said, “Yes, yes, I’ll deliver,” and instantly discharged a pistol at Jones, the contents of which entered his left shoulder: Upon which he and Haynes made their escape. The coachmen was then directed to drive on. He replied, “There is a man who yet holds the leading horses.” Lord Garnick then fired at me, but without damage; upon which I discharged my pistol at the coach, but without effect. Jones was so badly wounded, that Hyanes and I were obliged to carry him into London upon our shoulders. We were soon overtaken by two highwaymen, who had assaulted Lord Garnick about 15 minutes before our engagement, one of whom was badly wounded. The next day we saw an advertisement offering a reward of 60 guineas for the detection of the robbers, and informing, that it was supposing three were killed. This specimen of the enterprize of my new associates convinced me, that they were not adepts in their occupation, and induced me to quit their society.

The business which now seemed most alluring to me, was that of highwayman. Considering myself at the head of footpads, I aspired for a more honorable employment, and therefore determined to join myself to the gang of highwaymen, whose rendezvous were at Broad St. Giles’s, up Holborne, at the sing of the Hampshire hog, and kept by a William Harrison, a native of the Isle of Man. Harrison was the support, the protector and the landlord of this whole company. The horses and accoutrements were kept and furnished by him, and occasionally supplied to adventurers. He inquired my name, and finding that I was Mountain, who was confederate with Hyde and Wilson, he readily admitted me to the fratnerity. He asked if I dared to take a jaunt alone; and finding me willing for any thing, he quickly furnished me with equipments proper for the expedition. Mounted on a very fleet horse, and prepared with proper changes of dress, I set out for Coventry, about 90 miles from London. I made great dispatch in travelling, and about 10 o’clock the night after my departure, I met Richard Watts coming out of a lane about two miles from Coventry. I rode up to him, and inquired if he was afraid of highwaymen. He replied, “No, I have no property of value about me.” I then told him that I was a man of the profession, and that he must deliver or abide the consequences. Upon this he gave me his gold watch: I insisted on his money, and cocked my pistol, threatening him with instant death. He perceived that resistance and persuasion were equally unavailable, and threw me his purse, containing 13 half guineas and some pocket pieces. The gold watch was valued at 40 guinea. I then ordered him back down the lane, accompanied him thither, and fled with the greatest haste into an adjacent wood: Here I shifted my own and horse’s dress, leaving them in a bye place, rode directly to a neighboring town, and there put up for the night: Thence I took my course for Newcastle in Devonshire, about 270 miles north of London, and thence to Warrington in Lancastershire. Here about 7 o’clock in the evening I met with a gentleman who drew his watch, and told me the hour. I observed, “You have a very fine watch.” He answered, “Fine enough.” “Sir, ’tis too fine for you — you know my profession — deliver.” He drew back, I caught his bridle, with one hand, presented a pistol with the other, and said, “Deliver, or I’ll cool your porridge:” He handed me his purse of 8 guineas, and a gold watch valued at 30 l. sterling. To complete the iniquity, and exhibit the extent of my villany [sic], I then took a prayerbook from my pocket, and ordered him to swear upon this solemnity of God’s word, that he would make no discovery in twelve hours: He took the oath: I quitted him, and heard nothing of the matter until the next morning about 10 o’clock, when I saw a particular detail of the transaction in the newspapers.

Liverpool was my next stage. Here I tarried two days making observations for evening adventures. On the night of the second day I robbed Thomas Reave of 6 guineas, and a gold watch worth 30 l. sterling. To insult him in his distress, after committing the act, I pulled off my hat, made a low bow, wished him good night, and set out for Lancaster in company with the stage. It occurred to me, that riding as a guard to the stage would secure me against suspicion. Accordingly, I accompanied it to Lancaster, and there put up at the “swan and two necks.” Here I continued three days, waiting a favorable opportunity to exercise my profession. On the third evening at eight o’clock, I stopped a Col. Pritchard, took from him a gold watch valued at 44 guineas, a purse of 30 guineas, 3 gold rings, and a pair of gold kneebuckles worth 6 l. The kneebuckles appeared so tempting, I told Pritchard, I could not avoid taking them. At 11 o’clock I left Lancaster, and having rode about one mile from town, I stopped, pulled off my hat, and bid them “good bye.”

My course was now for Manchester, where I put up for about 24 hours at the “bull’s head.” The evening following I touched a Quaker. It was nearly 9 o’clock when I met him. I inquired if he was not afraid to ride alone. He answered, No. I asked him his religion; he replied, “I am a Friend.” I observed, “You are the very man I was looking for — you must deliver your money.” He seemed very unwilling, and said, “Thou art very hard with me.” I replied, “You must not thou me.” He then gave me his plain gold watch, 6 guineas, and 4 bank notes of 20 l. each. I then presented a prayer book, and demanded an oath that he would make no discovery in 3 hours: He refused an oath, alledging that it was contrary to his religion, but gave his word that my request should be complied with. I then dismissed him, returning the bank notes and took a circuitous rout for London. The guineas which I had obtained in this jaunt, I concealed and carried in the soles of my boots, which were calculated for that purpose, and effectually answered it. The mare which I rode was trained for the business. She would put her head in at a coach window with the utmost ease, and stand like a stock against any thing. She would travel also with surprising speed. Upon my arrival at Harrison’s (having been gone eleven days) I gave a faithful narrative of my transactions, and produced the plunder as undeniable proof. I never shall forget with what joy I was received. The house rung with the praises of Mountain. An elegant supper was provided, and he placed at the head of the table. Notwithstanding the darkness of his complexion, he was complimented as the first of his profession, and qualified for the most daring enterprizes.

Fatigued with such a jaunt, and fearing lest too frequent adventures might expose me, I determined on tarrying a while at home. My horse was given to another, and he directed to seek for prey.

After one month’s absence he returned with only 16 guineas, and was treated accordingly by the gang. He was inadequate to the business, and was therefore ordered to tarry at home, just to visit the playhouses and sharp it among people who might easily be [choufed?] of their property. Each took his tour of duty in course; some succeeded; others, from misfortune or want of spirit, was [sic] disgraced. One young fellow of the party was about this time detected at Guilford in Surry, tried, condemned and executed. He made no discovery, though we all trembled. A plan was now in agitation to dispatch two or three of the gang to Portsmouth, to attack some of the navy officers: It was finally adopted, and one Billy Coats, a Londoner, and Mountain were selected as the most suitable for the expedition. We mounted our horses on the next morning, and reached Portsmouth that day, a distance of more than 70 miles. We took lodgings at an inn kept by a rich old miser. We were soon convinced that he had cash in plenty, and that it “was our duty to get it;” but the difficulty was what plan should be concerted. At length, by a stratagem which was deeply laid, and faithfully executed, we plundered the old man’s hosue of 300 guineas, and 50 l. sterling in shillings and sixpences. There was a very great clamor raised the next morning. The house was surrounded with the populace. The old fellow was raving at a great rate for the loss of his money. I was a spectator of this chagrin of the old man and his wife. We remained at Portsmouth two days, and then returned to London richly laden, and received the applause of our companions. The three following months I spent in frequently ale-houses, defrauding and cheating, with false dice, and practicing every species of imposition which ingenuity could invent, or the most depraved heart execute.

In the beginning of June 1780, I joined the mob headed by Lord George Gordon. This mob was the result of a dispute between the Papists and the Protestants. It was a matter of the most sovereign indifference to me, whether the rebellion was just or unjust: I eagerly joined the sport, rejoicing that an opportunity presented whereby I might obtain considerable plunder in the general confusion. Lord Gordon represented to us in a speech of some length, the open attempts upon the Protestant religion, and the manner in which the petitions of the injured had been treated by parliament. He exhorted us all to follow him to the house of commons, and protect him while he should present, with his own hand, the parchment roll, containing the names of those who had signed the petition, to the amount of about 120,000 protestants. His speech was answered with loud huzzas, and repeated assurances of our zeal to support him and his cause. The whole body of us, in number about 50,000, left St. George’s fields, and marched directly for the parliament house: We were in four separate divisions. A most tremendous shout was heard from all quarters, upon our arrival before both houses. Lord Gordon moved that he might introduce the petition; but the house would not consent that it should be then taken up. The mob became greatly inflamed; they insulted several members of the house of lords, who narrowly escaped with their lives. Several gentlemen of parliament reprobated the conduct of Lord George in the severest terms; and Col. Gordon, a relation of his Lordship, threatened him with instant death the moment any of the rioters should enter the house. At length, when the question was put in the house of commons, in defiance of the menaces of the mob, only six out of two hundred voted for the petition. The rioters now disposed themselves into various parts of the city, destroying and burning the chapels of the Roman Catholics and their houses. The five succeeding days were employed in demolishing the houses of Sir George Saville, in burning Newgate, and relieving about 300 persons confined in it, (some under sentence of death) in setting fire to King’s Bench and Fleetprisons, and in innumerable other acts of violence and outrage towards those who wer ein the opposition. The bank was twice assailed, but was two [sic] well guarded for our attempts. On the 7th day we were overpowered by superior force, and obliged to disperse. During this confusion, I provided for myself, by plundering, at various times, about 500 l. sterling.

(To be concluded in our next.)

(The narrative continues in the Dec. 21 issue)

After leading a live of such dissipation, for five or six years, an incident occurred which caused me, for some time, to abandon my former pursuit and settle down in tolerable regularity. I became acquainted with a Miss Nancy Allingame, a white girl of about 18 years of age. She was possessed of about 500 l. in personal property, and a house at Islington. It may appear singular to many, that a woman of this description should be in the least interested in my favor; yet such was the fact, and she not only endured my society, but actually married me in about six months after our first acquaintance. Her father and friends remonstrated against this connexion; but she quitted them all, and united herself to me. My whole residence with her was about three years, during which time I exhausted all the property which came into my possession by the marriage. We then separated, and she was received by her father.

In June 1782, having joined Hyde and Wilson, we determined to quit England and see if the French gentlemen could bear “touching.” We accordingly crossed at Dover, and at Dunkirk about 7 o’clock in the evening robbed a gentlemen of about 200 French crowns. We then proceeded to Paris by way of Brest. On the second evening after our arrival in this city, we robbed Count Dillon, on his return from the plays, of a gold watch and 12 French guineas. The next day, about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, we attacked Governor Du Boyer, at his country seat, about four miles from Paris, and took from him about 200 l. in bank bills. Hyde and Wilson performed this, while I lay about 250 yards distant.

Dispatch in travelling, after such bold adventures, became very necessary. We immediately quitted Paris, and rode all night for Havre de Grace, where we arrived the evening of the next day. Here we found an advertisement, which prevented our changing the notes and induced us to burn them.

Bayonne was the next object of our pursuit. At this place Hyde robbed two gentlemen in one night, Willson one, and Mountain one — the whole of that evening’s plunder amounted to about 500 l. sterling. France now became dangerous, and therefore we pushed with all possible expedition for Spain, and arrived at Madrid, the capital, in a few days. The regulations of this city were such, that we were obliged to quit the object of our pursuit. The city was strongly walled in, and most scrupulously guarded. The gates were shut every evening at 8 o’clock, and every man compelled to be in his own habitation. After spending several months in rioting on our booty, we went to Gibraltar. We bribed the Spanish centinel, and entered the British lines. We appeared before the English commander, General Elliot, and informed him we were Englishmen, and mechanicks by profession. The fleet commanded by Lord How, arrived there on the fourth day after us. General Elliot consented that we should enter on board the fleet as seamen. Accordingly I joined myself to the Magnificent of 74 guns, commanded by Capt. John Elverston; Hyde entered the Victory, Lord Hose; and Wilson a 74 gun ship, whose name I do not recollect. This was in the fall of 1782. I never saw Hyde and Wilson again until since the peace took place between England and the United States. I tarried on board the Magnificent about three months, during which time we had an engagement with the French and Spanish fleets. We drove them out of the Straits, sunk their junk ships with hot shot, and captured the St. Michael, a Spanish ship of 74 guns. The Magnificent sailed with the fleet for Spithead, where, directly after my arrival, I made my escape from her by bribing the centinel with 5 guineas, and swimming three quarters of a mile to the Isle of Wight. From this place I went to London by way of Plymouth. The landlord at the old place of resort received me very cordially.

The business of robbing again solicited my attention, and in the fall of the year 1783, as I was walking in Wapping in quest of plunder, I accidentally fell in company with my old companions, Hyde and Wilson. They had remained in the sea service ever since we left Gibralttar. We concluded it adviseable to join ourselves to the gang at Harrison’s, and resume our occupation. Holland now appeared an object worth attention. In November 1783, we went to Ostend, and thence to Amsterdam. On the road through Holland, we knocked an old Dutchman down, and took from him 1100 guilders. The next day about 4 [o’]clock in the morning, Hyde attacked a merchant, and obtained about 100 guilders; and the evening following, we robbed four gentlemen of about 150 l. sterling, and three silver watches of small value. We continued living very freely at Amsterdam 4 weeks, without effecting any thing: During which period we were preparing to assail a bank. At length, by the help of various instruments, we entered it about 1 o’clock at night. We found an iron chest which we could not open. We brought a way two bags of gold, containing about 1100 l. sterling. We buried them about 2 miles distant, and suffered them to remain there two months. The noise, relative to the robbery having by this time subsided, we took our money, entered on board a vessel bound for England, and were safely back in London in the spring of the year 1784. To invest our cash, &c. in real property and quit a course of life attended with so much fatigue and hazard, was thought the most eligible plan. In pursuance of this idea, Hyde bought him an house and lot about four miles from London. My share was joined with Hyde’s. Wilson purchased him a situation at Cherry gardenstairs. Each kept an house for the reception of gamblers, swindlers and footpads.

The rioters who were concerned in Lord Gordon’s rebellion were now daily arrested, tried and executed. Knowing myself deeply concerned in this mob, and supposing it probable that Mountain’s turn might come next, I quitted London, went on board an European vessel, and made a voyage to Grenada. From this period until August 1789, I was employed as a sailor, during which time I made two voyages to the coast of Guinea, and brought cargoes of negroes to Jamaica; one voyage to Greenland; one to Leghorn and Venice; three to Philadelphia, and one to St. Kitts. Upon my return from voyages, I frequently went from Liverpool to London, and put up at Hyde’s or Wilson’s. In October 1786, we committed a burglary upon the house of General Arnold, who then resided in London. We entered his house about 2 o’clock at night, with a dark lantern, and, from a bureau in the room where the General and Lady were asleep, we stole about 150 l. sterling, in cash, and a pair of stone shoe buckles.

In the month of August 1789, I left Newyork in the Briton, with a cargo of bread and flour owned by Mr. John Murray, jun. of New york, and went to Bilboa in Spain. The vessel proved leaky, and was sold. Being discharged, I entered on board the brig Aunt, commanded by Captain Thomas Mosely, and owned by William Gray, of Boston, sailed from Bilboa the 7th day of March, and arrived in Boston the 2d of May last. On the 14th of the same month I quitted Boston on foot for Newyork. On my journey, at Easthartford, I stole five dollars from the cabin of a sloop lying in Connecticut river. I was immediately apprehended, carried before George Pitkin, Esq. and adjudged to be whipped ten stripes. The sentence was executed forthwith, and I dismissed. This was the first time I was ever arraigned before any court. No event in my antecedent life produced such mortification as this; that a highwayman of the first eminence, who had robbed in most of the cities in Europe, who had attacked gentlemen of the first distinction with success; who had escaped King’s bench prison and Old Bailey, that he should be punished for such a petty offence, in such an obscure part of the country, was truly humiliating. On the Saturday evening following, I arrived at Newhaven. The Wednesday following, being the 26th of May, about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, I set out for Newyork: At the distance of one mile, I met the unhappy girl whom I have so wantonly injured. She was in company with an older [friend?], going into Newhaven. I began a conversation with them, and attempted, by persuasion, to effect my purpose. They were terrified at my conduct, and endeavored to avoid me. Upon this I seized the eldest girl; she, however, struggled from me. I then caught the younger, and threw her on the ground. I have uniformly thought that the witnesses were mistaken in swearing to the commission of a Rape: That I abused her in a most brutal and savage manner; that her tender years and pitiable shrieks were unavailable; and that no exertion was wanting to ruin her, I frankly confess. However I may attempt to palliate this transaction, there can be no excuse given for me, unless intoxication may be pleaded in mitigation of an offence. It was a most cruel attack upon an innocent girl, whose years, whose intreaties must have softened an heart not callous to every tender feeling. When her cries had brought to her assistance some neighboring people, I continued my barbarity, by insulting her in her distress, boasting of the fact, and glorying in my iniquity. Upon reflection, I am often surprised that I did not attempt my escape; opportunity to effect it frequently presented before I was apprehended. Yet, by some unaccountable fatality, I loitered unconcerned, as though my conduct would bear the strictest scrutiny. The counsel of heaven determined that such a prodigy in vice should no longer infest society. At four o’clock I was brought before Mr. Justice Daggert for examination. The testimony was so pointed, that I was ordered into immediate confinement, to await the approaching session of the Superiour Court.

On the 5th of August last, I was arraigned before the Bar of the Superiour Court. My trial was far more favorable than I expected. There was every indulgence granted me which I could have wished; and the court, jurors and spectators appeared very differently from those I have seen at Old Bailey. The jury had little hesitation; indeed the most compassionate hearer of this cause could have only pronounced me Guilty. I beheld with astonishment the lenity of the court, and am sure, that in a country where such a sacred regard is had to the liberty of the subject, no man’s life can be unjustly taken from him. On the Tuesday following, the Chief Justice pronounced Sentence of Death against me. I thought myself less moved with this pathetic address than either of the court, or any spectator, and yet, I confess, I was more affected by it, than by any thing which had previously happened in my life. On the next sabbath I attended meeting. The address of the Rev. Dr. Dana on that day, and the subsequent advice and admonitions which I have received from the Clergy of this and other places, were calculated to awaken every feeling of my heart. Much gratitude is due to those gentlemen who have exhibited such a tender concern for my immortal interest.

It now remains that I die a death justly merited by my crimes, “The crimes of injured innocence have entered the ears of the Lord of Sabbath, and called for vengeance.” If the reader of this story can acquiesce in my fate, and view me “stumbling on the dark mountain of the shadow of death,” with composure, he will yet compassionate a soul stained with the [strongest?] crimes, just about to appear unembodied before a God of infinite purity.

JOSEPH MOUNTAIN.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

Tags: , , , ,

1790: Thomas Bird, the first federal execution under the U.S. constitution

3 comments June 25th, 2011 Headsman

This date in 1790 saw the first federal execution under the auspices of the recently ratified U.S. Constitution, when English mariner Thomas Bird hanged in Portland, Maine. (At the time, still part of Massachusetts.)

This book is also available here, and via the author’s Portland, Me., History Blog, or on order from any bookstore.

Today, we’re pleased to interview author Jerry Genesio, whose Portland Neck: The Hanging of Thomas Bird compellingly reconstructs this once-forgotten story — a small British slave ship making landfall in a North American city only recently torched by the British, where it is found that its violent captain has been murdered at sea in unclear circumstances.

In the aftermath of the American Revolution, the one man to pay life for John Connor’s life was the one British sailor aboard the ship.

Besides a captivating account of an 18th century American capital trial, Portland Neck features biographies of all the principal characters. Portlanders will also especially enjoy a 25-page appendix on the topography of the town at the dawn of the American Republic.

This was a British subject who killed a British victim on a British ship in international waters. Was there any question of whether a U.S. court had jurisdiction?

The people who were on the vessel when it was captured — one was British, one was Norwegian, one was American, and there was a 12- or 14-year-old African boy named Cuffey.

They came under U.S. jurisdiction because in the constitutional convention (article 3, section 2), the federal courts were given jurisdiction of admiralty and maritime cases.

The Supreme judicial court in Massachusetts — Maine was part of Massachusetts then — apparently considered bringing the case before its judges, but then the constitution overruled that when it was ratified.

And then they had to wait for the federal courts to be organized, because they didn’t exist yet. They languished in jail for almost a year while the courts were being organized.

In Chapter II, you describe Thomas Bird’s ship, the Mary, operating on the Guinea coast. It’s a small ship basically working the coast and rivers, making small sales of one or two slaves to the large slavers waiting to cross the Atlantic. There must have been whole niches of the slavery industry occupied by these sorts of small-timers.

Oh, yes. The large slave ships that carried several hundred, three, four hundred in their hold — they were too large to get too close to the coast of Africa. So they would anchor perhaps a mile offshore, and they would wait for these smaller ships, like the sloop Mary — Captain Connor was in business with people in London who sent him down there just to go up the rivers to various villages where they knew there were wars going on, and when there were wars, the captives would be sold to slavers. (They also traded ivory and gold.)

When they got slaves, crews like the Mary‘s would go to the ships who had been there the longest, because they knew they would get the best price. They were known to have been there as long as a year trying to fill their cargo, and the slaves they held were liable to die while they waited. Slave ships couldn’t even allow the slaves topside because they would jump overboard if they could and try to swim for shore.

Incidentally, the Google book project has many slave captain logs online. I was able to read about the ports that Captain Connor and Thomas Bird actually visited, and it gave me such a wealth of information, and I could practically see where they were.

Ed. note: here are a few from Genesio’s bibliography, all free at Google books:

You’ve compiled this book despite a paucity of primary trial data, and there are some spots where you’re clearly reading between the lines. How difficult was the historiography on Portland Neck?

There’s not a complete trial record. Even the examination before the court — the scribe tried, apparently, to write down all of their answers, but he did not write down the questions.

My concern is more around the scribe. Was the scribe hearing these answers properly? Was the scribe hard of hearing? One of them was replaced in the process. Was the scribe able to keep up? He was writing with a quill pen, after all.

And then, on top of all of that, they did not indicate on the court record who was the scribe, who did the questioning, and who wrote the answers down. And the prisoner never signed it!

And you felt that at some level, they targeted the Englishman out of this multinational crew.

I believe that people are so influenced by the events of their times — look at World War II and how we viewed the Japanese and the Germans, or the people involved in the war in Vietnam.

These people on the jury, the foreman on the grand jury, many of them were Portland residents whose homes had been burned by the British just 14 years earlier. The war had just ended seven years earlier.

Every one of the court officials on the prosecutors’ side were all officers in the Revolutionary War. [Notably, the U.S. marshal who actually carried out Bird’s hanging, Henry Dearborn. He took part in the decisive Battle of Yorktown and would go on to become Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of War, as well as the namesake of the city of Dearborn, Michigan. -ed.]

All of these things influence what was going on. And the fact that they acquitted the Norwegian kid and executed the Englishman makes me feel, certainly, that there was a strong influence there that was hostile to Thomas Bird. But what actually happened and how people felt, we’re just too far away — but I suspect that played a role.

Thomas Bird claimed in his dying statement, knowing that he was to be hung in a couple of hours, that he did not kill John Connor. The lawyers desperately tried to get then-President Washington to give him a commutation, and Washington refused to do it.


Information wants to be free, y’all. The newspaper editor tried to sell a broadside with the condemned man’s final narrative, but public pressure eventually forced him to put it in the July 26, 1790 Cumberland Gazette.

How did you come by this story?

When I was working at Portland Public Library and I ran into a couple of lines referring to a Thomas Bird in books by William Willis and William Goold.

In Goold’s book, Portland in the Past, he actually interviewed a fellow named Charles Motley who was in his 90s, and this interview took place in the 1880s. Motley was the youngest child of the jailer who held Thomas Bird, and Charles Motley, and he describes being five years old and being allowed into the cell where Thomas Bird would carve them little toy boats. With a knife! Then when Thomas Bird was executed, there was a note about the jailer’s wife, Emma Motley, taking all seven children away, to the other side of the land from Portland, so that they wouldn’t know what was going on. They were probably playing with Thomas’s boats as he was being hanged. So it was obvious that the Motley family held this Thomas Bird in high regard, and I got to thinking, I want to know more about this guy.

He (Motley) was five years old at the time, and, with his older brother Edward, at the request of Bird, was often admitted by his father to the cell and spent much time there. The prisoner made them toy ships and boats … At the time of the execution, Mrs. Motley, the mother of the boys, took them over back of the Neck to be out of sight of the gallows, as the whole family had become interested in the fate of Bird.

Goold

For a couple of years, I couldn’t find much of anything. Finally, I took the time to go down to the federal archives in Waltham, Mass., I found a little manila folder that was like a bar of gold. It had 12 little sheets written in quill, and it’s as much of a record of the trial as exists.

The other question in my mind is, why has nobody written about this before? I think maybe it’s because it’s something of an embarrassment, which reinforces my belief that maybe this hanging should not have taken place.

Thomas Bird, if they really suspected he was a participant, should have been punished, but probably shouldn’t have been hung. Unfortunately in those days, captains were like gods on their little wooden worlds. Even though, based on the testimony, [the victim] John Connor was a brutal drunk who beat his men mercilessly. Connor murdered his first mate on that voyage.

It’s sad because Bird probably saw America as some sort of refuge — he probably didn’t expect that he might be hanged for this crime. He’d been at sea since age eight, and all through the [American] Revolution he had been on both American and British ships. The British navy kept impressing him and making him serve on British warships, and he kept deserting and signing up for American ships instead.

One other interesting aspect of this story is that when Thomas Bird was looking for a ship to sign on with and signed on with the Mary, he might just have signed up on the HMS Bounty, because the Bounty was tied up at Wapping before its voyage to Tahiti. Had he signed on with the Bounty, he wouldn’t have fallen into American hands, but he might not have fared any better.

How thick on the ground were slaves and slavers in New England at this time?

There were a lot of slave captains, a lot of owners. Their home ports were in Boston or in Portland. Normally, when they came back to their home port, the product they were carrying was rum and molasses. Slaves would be delivered in the South or in the West Indies, separate legs in the triangle trade.

What’s your next project?

I’m working on a family genealogy.

After that, maybe something about Captain John Lovewell. He was a bounty hunter who went hunting for Indian scalps. In 1725 he was living in Massachusetts, and he got the court to authorize 10 pounds per scalp, and he recruited a small army and took off looking for Indians and found the Pequawket here in Fryeburg, Maine. They were not warriors, they were farmers.

Lovewell and a Scaticook named Paugus ended up killing each other at a battle at a pond now called Lovewell’s Pond.

Lovewell is the namesake of the town of Lovell. A couple of people have written Lovewell’s story, but I wanted to write it from the perspective of the Indians. And not only the Indians, but the true perspective — because John Lovewell was a bounty hunter, not a hero. He was willing to kill farmers who hadn’t killed anyone for their scalps.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Interviews,Maine,Massachusetts,Milestones,Murder,Mutiny,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Other Voices,Public Executions,U.S. Federal,USA

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1790: Thomas de Mahy, Marquis de Favras

Add comment February 19th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1790, Thomas de Mahy, Marquis de Favras, became a penal milestone: the first French noble executed without class distinction from commoners.

At least he made history.

The scion of an ancient and penurious noble line, Favras was trying to make a different kind of history: he’d hitched onto a plot of the future Louis XVIII to reverse the still-infant French Revolution and rescue the king and queen from captivity in the Tuileries.

The royal couple were ultimately destined to escape this palatial dungeon only to the guillotine.

But in Mahy’s day, it was possible to dream of counterrevolution. And that terrifying machine of the revolution hadn’t even been invented.

For that matter, the machinery of revolutionary justice had also not been born; this was Lafayette‘s year, the revolution in its moderate phase.

It was ancien regime jurists of the Chatelet who were here appointed to judge the enemies of the nation. Having just acquitted the guy who commanded monarchist forces in Paris on Bastille Day, these establishment magistrates proceeded to throw the revolutionary left a bone by condemning Favras to the democratic capital expiration of … hanging. (Back in the good old days, he would have had the right to a beheading. Plus ça change.)

The crowd was said to be quite enthusiastic.


“Thomas de Mahy, Marquis of Favras Making Honourable Amends before Notre-Dame,” engraving by Pierre-Gabriel Berthault (French link).

Little less interested in Favras’s elimination — he was executed the day after sentence — were his fellow conspirators and other sympathetic members of the royalist party. (Future-Louis XVIII hurriedly washed his hands of the scheme.) These were quite pleased to suppress any wider exploration of

the project that this lost child of royalist enthusiasm had formed in the interest of the royal family. Among those participating in this project, but with a cowardice that is well known, were persons that an important consideration prevented from naming at the time.*

You’ve got to look forward, not back.

Despite the mob scene surrounding him as he carried his damning information to the grave, Favras had the sang-froid to remark upon being handed a copy of the order for his execution, “I see that you have made three spelling mistakes.”

“It can be said,” wrote Camille Desmoulins, “that all the aristocrats have been hung through him.”

And since they did such a metaphorically comprehensive job through this single unfortunate, it’s no wonder that Favras was the only aristocrat executed for counterrevolutionary activity during the entire first three years of the Revolution.*

* Barry Shapiro, “Revolutionary Justice in 1789-1790: The Comité des Recherches, the Châtelet, and the Fayettist Coalition,” French Historical Studies, Spring 1992.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,France,Gallows Humor,Hanged,History,Milestones,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1790: Johan Henrik Hästesko, Anjalaman

Add comment September 8th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1790, Scandinavian aristocrat Johan Henrik Hästesko had his head lopped off in Stockholm for his part in the Anjala mutiny.

Named for the town in southern Finland where the conspiracy was cemented, the Anjala mutiny was a bid by disgruntled officers to roll back Swedish King Gustav III‘s ill-conceived* Russian War.

Dissatisfaction worked on multiple planes: nobles were angry at Gustav’s circumventing aristocratic prerogatives (both to launch this war, and elsewhere); those with Finnish estates were especially piqued at the prospect of bearing the burdens of a war and a possible Russian occupation.

The Anjala conspirators pitched Russian Empress Catherine the Great on the prospect of making peace on their authority and withdrawing Finland from Gustav’s control. Catherine demurred, and enough of the army stayed loyal to the crown that the conspiracy collapsed.

While other principals blew town, Hastesko (sketchy Swedish Wikipedia entry | much more detailed English bio on The Sword & The Sea) stuck around to face the music.

Product of an old Swedish-Finnish noble lineage, he might well have expected leniency: for all his executive overreach, Gustav III wasn’t the wholesale-execution type. And indeed, Hastesko was the only conspirator to visit the scaffold.

Cold comfort both to the condemned and to his widow Beata, the latter of whom wore mourning clothes for the remaining 51 years of her life. But she would see in her time the wheel of fortune turn for her late husband’s defeated project quite dramatically.

This particular Russo-Swedish War ultimately amounted to a tempest in a teapot, but not long after it blew over, another tetchy noble assassinated Gustav III.

In 1809, another war between Sweden and Russia did in fact result in Finnish quasi-independence.

* Completely engineered by the Swedish side, the war began with a false flag operation consisting of a staged “attack” by Swedes in Russian uniforms.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Finland,History,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Soldiers,Sweden,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Calendar

May 2019
M T W T F S S
« Apr    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!