1800: The slave Abram, property of John Patterson

2 comments August 19th, 2019 Headsman

The hanging, and then posthumous beheading and head-spiking, of the Virginia slave Abram lacks any firmer primary date than the signature given this Richmond newspaper report that was later widely reprinted in the young United States. (Our text here hails from the Hartford, Conn. American Mercury, September 18, 1800.)


A HORRID MURDER.

Capt. John Patterson, Inspector at Horsley’s Warehouse in the town of Dinguidsville and county of Buckingham, was lately murdered in a cruel manner by Abram, a negro man slave, the property of the said Patterson.

The circumstances of this atrocious deed is in substance thus related by the wretch who perpetrated it; being his confession at the time he was apprehended — repeated immediately after his trial and condemnation, and on the morning of his execution.

Says he —

In consequence of some punishment inflicted on me by my master for some misdemeanor of which I was guilty, a considerable time prior to the fatal catastrophe, I ever after meditated his destruction: On the evening in which it was effected, my master directed me to set off home (about seven miles distant from the warehouse, where I generally attended) and carry a hoe which we used at the place, I sat [sic] off, and was determined to dispatch him that night, after proceeding some distance I concluded to way-lay him having the hoe in possession, accordingly, I lay on or behind a log, convenient to the road on which my master was to pass, and fell into a slumber; after waiting there a considerable time, I heard the trampling of horses’ feet; I concluded therefore my master was near; I got up and walked forwards; my master soon overtook me, and asked me [it being then dark] who I was; I answeredAbram; he said he thought I had been gone from town long enough to have been further advanced on the road; I said, I thought not, I spoke short to him, and did not care to irritate him; I walked on however; sometimes by the side of his horse, and sometimes before him.

In the course of our travelling an altercation ensued; I raised my hoe two different times to strike him; as the circumstances of thep laces suited my pupose, but was intimidated; when I came to the bridge (across a small stream) I thought that place favorable to my views, but seeing a light, and some people at a house a little distant from thence I resisted the impulse. When I came to the fatal spot, being most obscured by the loftiness of the trees, I turned to the side of the road; my master observed it, and stopped; I then turned suddenly round, lifted my hoe, and struck him across the breast: the stroke broke the handle of the hoe; he fel; I repeated my blows; the handle of the hoe broke a second time; I heard dogs bark, at a house which we passed, at a small distance; I was alarmed, and ran a little way, and stood behind a tree, ’till the barking ceased: in running, I stumbled and fell; I returned to finish the scene; I began, and on my way picked up a stone, which I hurl’d at his head, face, &c. again and again and again, until I thought he was certainly dead — and then I went home.

The body was found the next morning: the features so defaced, the body so mangled, that it was with difficulty his person could be recognized — a scene too shocking for human sight. Capt. Patterson was a man universally esteemed. He was a tender husband, an affectionate brother, a mild master, a kind neighbour, a faithful officer, in short, he possessed every quality that constitutes the good citizen, and an amiable member of society.

P.S. After the cruel monster, who sacrificed the life of so worthy a character to his revenge was hanged, his head was struck off and exhibited on a pole about 24 feet high, in view of the warehouse where he was usually employed.

Buckingham, 19th Aug. 1800.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,Uncertain Dates,USA,Virginia

Tags: ,

1800: William M’Ilnea, true to the cause

Add comment April 19th, 2019 Headsman

The Caledonian Mercury of Edinburgh reported on April 26, 1800 news from across the Inner Seas at Carrickfergus, north of Belfast. (Line breaks have been added to the trial report for readability.)

CARRICKFERGUS ASSIZES

At an Assizes held at Carrickfergus the 14th April inst. the following persons were tried: —

William M’Ilnea, for the murder of Alexander M’Kelvey at Ballygoland, to be hanged on Saturday the 19th April, inst. which sentence has been put in execution.

James Parks, gent. for sending a challenge to Edm. Alex. M’Naghten, Esq. to be imprisoned one year, and until he pays a fine of 50 marks, and gives security before the Mayor of Carrickfergus to be of the peace and good behaviour for seven years.

Henry Wray, Esq. for delivering the challenge wrote by Mr Parks, to Edm. A. M’Naghten, Esq. to be imprisoned a fortnight, and until he pays a fine of one mark and gives like security.

TRIAL OF WILLIAM M’ILNEA.

It appeared in evidence, that the prisoner was a blacksmith by trade, that a person of credit and respectability, walked in company with the deceased and M’Ilnea, a few perches along the road, as conveying him towards home; it was nine o’clock at night on the 29th of July last, of course nearly dark; the witness returned home, and left the deceased and M’Ilnea still walking together, but in a few minutes was alarmed with the hue and cry of Alex. M’Kelvey being killed; witness went immediately to the house where the deceased lay and found him languishing in extreme pain under his mortal wound.

A woman of credit deposed, that she was returning from milking, and near her own house saw the deceased and M’Ilnea as in a struggle together, and heard from the deceased a lamentable cry of “Oh Billy, Billy!”

Witness ran up to them, and laying her hands on M’Ilnea’s shoulders, exclaimed, “what the devil are you doing?”

On this she received no answer, but looking at the deceased, she found, “he had his bowels in his hands,” and he cried out to witness, “observe that man, Billy M’Ilnea, my murderer!”

Deceased then ran into witness’s house, where he languished in great torture till the next day, when he was visited by two surgeons and two magistrates, before whom he gave a clear and circumstantial account of the murder, by the hand of the prisoner, declaring upon his oath, that while M’Ilnea and he were walking in apparent friendship, and mutual confidence, the former, taking him by one hand under a friendly mask, with the other treacherously drew out a concealed instrument called a butridge, used by smiths in shoeing horses, and therewith ripped open his belly and stomach, so that his bowels instantly fell out:

The examinations of the deceased to this effect were produced in court, and verified by the magistrates who took them.

M’Kelvey died in 30 hours after he was wounded. It appeared there had been a former dispute between the parties, which probably might produce a wish in M’Ilnea to be the instrument of vengeance, but there arose strong grounds to believe that the deceased owed his fate to an ill-founded suspicion that he was an informer; but even this most honourable and religious pretence for massacring him in cold blood was unfounded.

The fact being thus fully proved home, upon M’Ilnea, to the most perfect satisfaction of the whole Court — the prisoner, vainly attempted a ridiculous defence, by producing some of his near relations, to traduce the character of the deceased, and to prove that the prisoner had no weapon in his custody at the time of the murder. It was treated with the contempt it deserved, and the Jury without hesitation, returned a verdict of Guilty — when the learned Judge, after a short, but most pointed and pathetic address, instantly pronounced the awful sentence of the law, viz. “Execution at the common gallows, on the next day but one (Saturday) and subsequent dissection at the county Infirmary.”

He was accordingly hanged on the day appointed.

Such was the delusion of this unhappy man: that after the most solemn and public appeals to God of his innocence, he was privately heard to say to a near relation, “do not on any account acknowledge that I killed the man, for I must die true to the cause.”

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , ,

1800: Kyra Frosini, Ioannina socialite

Add comment January 11th, 2019 Headsman

The Greek socialite Kyra Frosini was executed in Ioannina on this date in 1800 as an adulteress.

Euphrosyne Vasileiou, to use her proper name, was the niece of the Bishop of Ioannina who made use of the frequent business absences of her wealthy Greek husband to carry on a torrid affair with the son of the Ottoman governor. This set her up to be the most famous prey in a dragnet when that legendary governor, Ali Pasha, decided that a morality crackdown was in order.

She was arrested along with 17 other women on January 10, and the very next night all save one were drowned at Ali Pasha’s order in Lake Pamvotida. It’s not known for certain why Ali Pasha did this, although it’s generally presumed that Kyra Frosini was the primary target for reasons surely ultimately tracing in some fashion to the sensitivity of her liaison.

Her death incensed the Greek community and it adhered itself in legend more than fact to that country’s growing national aspirations. She’s been the subject of various artistic products ever since, from verse to opera to screen; you’ll need Greek for the dialogue in this 1959 Grigoris Grigoriou product but the closing plummeting-into-water scenes translate visually.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drowned,Execution,Greece,History,Mass Executions,Ottoman Empire,Sex,Women

Tags: , , , , , ,

1800: Three Canadian pirates in Philadelphia

Add comment May 9th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1800, French Canadiens Joseph Baker (anglicized from Joseph Boulanger), Peter Peterson (LeCroix), and Joseph Berouse hanged in Philadelphia for a murderous mutiny.

That trio had seized control of their schooner Eliza, slaying three men in the process. They had a view to selling off the cargo but none of the three knew how to navigate the vessel — so they were obliged to bargain with the deposed captain William Wheland to sail them to Spanish territory. Eventually Wheland was able to get the drop on his mutineers, locking up LaCroix and Berouse in the hold while Baker was at the helm, then surprising the Canadian ringleader to get his ship back.


Norwith Courier, July 30, 1800

Whelan turned the naughty help over to a U.S. Navy ship, and in the consequent trial back at Philadelphia “his narrative alone was sufficient to carry conviction with it. The facts were too strong to admit a doubt of the commitment of the horrid crime with which the prisoners stood charged, and the jury, with very little hesitation, gave in their verdict guilty.” (Maryland Herald, May 1, 1800.)

The men died, penitent, at an execution island in the city harbor, “in the view of an immense concourse of spectators, who crouded the wharfs and the shipping.” A sorrowful confession purportedly taken down from Baker himself survives and can be read in full online.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pennsylvania,Piracy,Public Executions,U.S. Federal,USA

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1800: Thomas Chalfont, postboy

2 comments November 12th, 2015 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1800,* a seventeen-year-old mail sorter named Thomas Chalfont was hanged at Newgate for theft.

Chalfont “feloniously did secrete a letter, or packet, directed to Messrs. Bedwells, St. John’s-street.” Said letter, or packet, had contained three £10 notes; it arrived to Messrs. Bedwells late and containing only two such notes. The accompanying letter had also been altered to correspond to the diminished enclosure.

The recipient complained to the post office, and Chalfont was found out.

He was the second post office employee to be executed for the same offense; almost a year earlier, John Williams had faced the hangman for taking money — it was even the same amount, £10 — out of a letter in his charge.

According to Susan Whyman, the royal mail was a frequent locus of property crime throughout the 18th century: “armed robbery, overcharging for postage, forging franks, wilful destruction of letters, and embezzlement of enclosed bills or money.” Chalfont’s variant here seems downright banal, but it was commonplace enough that one correspondent Whyman cites in 1787 defeated sticky-fingered mail sorters by tearing a £10 Bank of England note in half and mailing the two halves to his wife separately.

The Newgate Calendar sighed,

We greatly lament to find young men gratuitously placed in trust in the Post-office, frequently abusing the confidence reposed in them, disgracing their friends, who necessarily must have used much interest in obtaining such places for them, and then bringing themselves to an ignominious fate.

Four others died alongside Chalfont: Thomas Douglas, a horse-thief; John Price and John Robinson, burglars; and William Hatton, who took a shot at a watchman.

In the Derby Mercury edition (Nov. 13, 1800) reporting the quintuple execution, the very next news item underscored the post’s continuing security problems:

A singular attempt to intercept the passage of the letters into the Post Office, at Durham, was fortunately discovered on Sunday evening last, before any mischief had been effected by the stratagem. A piece of sheet iron, so modelled as to fit the entrance of the box, had been introduced, so as that it could be withdrawn with any letter that might be put into it.

* The Newgate Calendar supplies the date of November 11; this appears to be erroneous, as the period’s reporting confirms a Wednesday, Nov. 12 execution.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Theft

Tags: , , ,

1800: Suleiman al-Halabi, assassin of General Kleber

2 comments June 17th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1800 — which was the same date they buried his victim — the 23-year-old student Suleiman al-Halabi was put to death in Cairo for assassinating French General Jean Baptiste Kleber.

Casualty of the brief Napoleonic adventure in Egypt, Kleber had received supreme command of the expedition when Napoleon himself returned to France the previous year — a mission which involved running the English naval blockade that trapped the Armee d’Orient.

Kleber, a product of the French Revolution’s military meritocracy who had attained his rank capably suppressing the Vendee royalists, was certainly up to the martial tasks at hand. He routed a larger Ottoman-English-Mamluk force in March of 1800, and then smashed a revolt in Cairo.

But the Napoleonic invasion often figures as a periodization marker for this region: the germ of liberalism and nationalism that would tear apart the Ottoman Empire and set the scene for a recognizably modern Middle East. So it’s somewhat fitting that Kleber would be undone by a figure who could be lifted from the evening news,* the anti-occupation insurgent.

Suleiman al-Halabi (English Wikipedia entry | French) was a Syrian Kurd hailing from Aleppo. (“al-Halabi” means “of Aleppo”)

He had been in Cairo to study, but after a return visit home was induced by the Turks to attend himself to punishing the invader instead. He then made his way back to to Egypt where, disguising himself as a beggar, where he was able to approach the general innocuously and dagger him to death.

The French, of course, had just a few years before this point introduced its most distinctive execution device in place of the ghastly old methods, and employed it with egalite for commoner and king alike. Nor was France, as an imperial power, reluctant about exporting its invention to the every corner of earth.

But in this particular instance, the French decided to prioritize, er, cultural sensitivity.

The committee, after carrying through the trial with all due solemnity and process, thought it necessary to follow Egyptian customs in its application of punishment; it condemned the assassin to be impaled after having his right hand burned; and three of the guilty sheikhs to be beheaded and their bodies burned.

The “guilty sheikhs” in question were men to whom the killer had confided — not his plan, exactly, but the fact that he was on a jihad mission. Hey, close enough.

As for Suleiman al-Halabi himself,

The executioner Barthèlemy sat down on Suleiman’s belly, drew a knife from his pocket, and made a large incision to widen the rectum, then hammered the point of the stake into it with his mallet. Then he bound the patient’s arms and legs, raised the stake the air and mounted it in a prepared hole. Suleiman lived for four hours, and he had lived longer save that, during the absence of Barthèlemy, a soldier gave him a drink which caused his immediate death.

(Impaling victims could live for agonizing days, but the water caused Suleiman, mercifully, to quickly bleed out.)

Not content with going all Vlad the Impaler, the French then paid homage to the invasion’s scientific sub-theme** by shipping Suleiman’s remains back to France for use as an anthropological exhibit.† His skull still remains at the Musee de l’Homme to this day. What’s left in his homeland(s) is a martyr’s memory.

According to the scholar al-Jabarti, whose chronicle is one of the principal sources on this episode, the investigation indicated that Suleiman undertook his mission for no ideology save his family’s desperate need of the purse the Porte was willing to offer. But in the ensuing decades’ growth of nationalism and, eventually, anti-colonialism, the brave young Muslim dying on a spike to slay the French commander could not help but be viewed in an exalted light. (Notably, at the acme of Arab nationalism, the Egyptian writer Alfred Farag celebrated Suleiman as an avatar of resistance in a 1965 play. “I do not kill for revenge,” Farag’s Suleiman avers — and when pressed for the reason, he has a one-word reply: “Justice.”)

* Indeed, the name has been in the news: there’s a Suleiman al-Halabi neighborhood in Aleppo that has seen fighting during the ongoing Syrian civil war. Since it’s even a Kurdish neighborhood one can’t but suspect that it’s named for the man featured in this post; however, I haven’t been able to establish that with certainty. If any reader knows, a comment would be most welcome.

** Napoleon brought a corps of scientists and intellectuals along on his invasion, kicking off the modern Egyptology craze. His mission also uncovered the Rosetta Stone — although that artifact now resides in the British Museum because of the aforementioned naval blockade.

† According to Dark Trophies: Hunting and the Enemy Body in Modern War, phrenologists hailed Suleiman’s skull as an outstanding exemplar of criminality and fanaticism.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,France,History,Impaled,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Power,Syria,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1800: Roddy McCorley, at Toomebridge

1 comment February 28th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1800, Rodaí Mac Corlaí — with due apologies for the imperial encroachment, we’re going to roll with the Anglicized “Roddy McCorley” — was hanged “near the Bridge of Toome” in Ireland

McCorley‘s death date — it was reported in the Belfast Newsletter — seems to be one of the few reliably documented facts about the man.* (See this forum thread for debate on the various nth-hand oral tradition)

He’s remembered as a rebel of 1798.

The actual nature and extent of his involvement in that rebellion is totally undocumented, but that doesn’t mean it’s not celebrated in an oft-covered patriotic song.

Post-rebellion, the (probably) Presbyterian McCorley was part of the so-called “Archer Gang”, men whom that newspaper account of McCorley’s execution calls “nefarious wretches who have kept this neighbourhood in the greatest misery for some time past.” That’s a hostile witness, obviously; the band in question looks to be Irish rebels turned outlaws, for whom plunder on the roads and vengeance on the rebellion’s enemies neatly coincided.

That coterie was gradually rounded up; its leader Tam Archer would also hang. But the national cause ran in the McCorley blood: the hanged man’s great-grandson Roger McCorley was a Republican insurgent during the Irish War of Independence in the early 1920s.

Thanks to @elongreen for bringing Roddy McCorley to our attention.

* Although even the execution date has been blurred by a later, martyr-making tradition claiming that McCorley died on Good Friday. He did not.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Ireland,Occupation and Colonialism,Outlaws,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,Theft

Tags: , , , , ,

1800: Mario Cavaradossi, Tosca’s lover

1 comment June 18th, 2011 Headsman

It’s at dawn on this date in 1800 that the republican Mario Cavaradossi is shot at Castel Sant’Angelo in the climax of the Puccini opera Tosca.

This opera was adapted from the play La Tosca, by Victorien Sardou. That author does this site the considerable favor of exactly dating the action; a character at the end of Act 1, Scene 1 announces, “this evening, 17 June, a celebration at the Palazzo Farnese in honor of this victory.” The remaining story unfolds over that night and into the next morning.

En route to Marengo: Jacques-Louis David‘s heroic picture of Napoleon crossing the Alps comes from this campaign.

“This victory” worth the proposed palazzo party is the Austrian defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Marengo during Bonaparte’s 1800 invasion of Italy.

But there’s a minor problem. Said seesaw battle went not to Austria but (decisively) to Napoleon, after a late French rally.

The action of Tosca takes place in a Rome which has received an initial, incorrect notice of Austrian victory. This is of particular import in the Eternal City because it’s under the temporary receivership of the Hapsburg Queen Maria Carolina, a virulent foe of the French Republic as befits a sister of Marie Antoinette.

(France-supported Italian revolutionaries had already deposed Maria Carolina once; the Corsican’s reappearance on her peninsula gave her good cause to fear that it would happen again.*)

At any rate, “Queen Caroline” and her husband Ferdinand were not above spilling blood to hold down the republican elements in Rome. Harold Acton pegged their harvest at “8,000 political prisoners … 105 were condemned to death, six of whom were reprieved.”

Our date’s fictional principal would reckon among those.

We meet him as a painter with subversively liberal inclinations, in love with the titular heroine as she with him — but opposed by police chief Scarpia: his profession is to pursue revolutionaries; his passion, to pursue Tosca.

Scarpia captures, and tortures, Cavaradossi for aiding an escaped official of the recently destroyed Roman Republic, and forces Tosca to yield herself to him in exchange for her lover’s life.** This is Tosca’s aria lamenting her position:

One thing: because Scarpia doesn’t want to be implicated in the release of a dangerous radical, he insists on a mock-execution in which the prisoner will appear to be shot and feign death, the better to spirit Cavaradossi away and on to happily-ever-after.†

And because Scarpia is a villain, he arranges for his rival’s “mock” execution to be not so mock after all … to the suicidal horror of Tosca.

Aaaaaand curtain.

There are scads more Tosca excerpts on YouTube. Here’s an Italian-English libretto, and here a handy summary.

* It would, in fact, happen again.

** Okay, to agree to yield herself to him. Tosca stabs Scarpia to death when he rises to collect her promised virtue.

† “In the manner of Count Palmieri,” Scarpia instructs his subaltern. If this is a reference to a real case, we are not aware of it; there was a royalist Marquis Palmieri executed in Naples in 1807 by Napoleon’s brother, Joseph.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Austria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Fictional,Habsburg Realm,History,Italy,Mock Executions,Papal States,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Torture,Treason

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

1800: Prosser’s Gabriel, slave rebel

Add comment October 10th, 2010 Headsman

On this date* in 1800,** the Virginia slave Gabriel — sometimes remembered as Gabriel Prosser after his owner’s surname, although that wasn’t what his contemporaries called him — was hanged in Richmond, along with a number of his confederates in a planned slave rising.

Decades before Virginia’s more famed Nat Turner rebellion, Gabriel was plenty frightening for the growing little burg of Richmond in 1800. (The incident would result in a clampdown on education and mobility for slave and free blacks alike.)

Gabriel and company conceived a daring revolution to seize the city of Richmond, take hostage Governor (and future U.S. President) James Monroe, and rearrange the state’s power structure.

This scheme, in which the rebels actually stay in Virginia, depended on an optimistic assessment for the prospects of a multiracial alliance — with Richmond’s own poor whites, and also, according to testimony given by conspirators, with Indians and with the French in opposition to a pro-British American policy tilt.

But if ever the time might have been right for such a plot, it was in 1800. A bitter presidential contest adjudicating the Republic’s most fundamental issues was unfolding; there were rumors that the governing Federalists would not voluntarily relinquish power, and the matter might fall to civil war between by the factions.

Gabriel unabashedly attempted to leverage this division between whites; working as he and many other urban blacks did side-by-side with white Republican laborers — whose own interests vis-a-vis Federalist merchants were being so bitterly contested — he must have had a good vibe about the situation on the ground to gamble his life on it. Though the hope was that the white working class would join the revolt after it broke out, there were at least a few whites already initiated into the conspiracy beforehand.

Alas, what broke out was not rebellion but a storm: a downpour that rained out the first planned rising, washing out bridges and roads that the conspirators were counting on to assemble. Before the makeup date could be scheduled, some slaves taking a care for their own necks had betrayed it.

The public mind has been much involved in dangerous apprehensions, concerning an insurrection of the negroes in several of the adjacent counties. Such a thing has been in agitation among the blacks, principally instigated by an ambitious and insidious fellow, a slave, by the name of GABRIEL, the property of Mr. Thomas Prosser, of the county of Henrico. This villain, assuming to himself the appellation of General, through his artfulness, has caused some disturbance, having induced many poor, ignorant, and unfortunate creatures to share in his nefarious and horrid design.

The plot has been entirely exploded, which was shallow; and had the attempt even been made to carry it into execution, but little resistance would have been required, to render their scheme entirely abortive. Thirty or forty of the party have been arrested and confined in jail for trial. Yesterday a called court was held for that purpose, at the court house in this city when six of them were convicted and condemned to suffer death this day at 12 o’clock. It is said that the evidence which has been procured, will go to prove nearly this whole of them guilty. To-day the court will proceed to go thro’ with the rest of the trials.

[The Governor has issued his Proclamation, offering a reward of THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS† for the apprehension of the above “GENERAL,” who has thought proper to take himself off. Exclusive of this sum, he likewise promises “to any number not exceeding five of the said accomplices, who shall apprehend the said GABRIEL, and deliver him up so that he be brought to justice, a FULL PARDON for their offences.” ]

Columbian Mirror, Tuesday, Sep. 16, 1800, quoting “a Richmond paper”

It would be interesting counterfactual history to know the world in which the insurrection was actually launched — whether “but little resistance” would have sufficed to put it down. Gabriel might have reckoned naively on the prospective balance of forces,‡ but his read of the fractious alliance against him was spot-on. Maybe with a modern communications infrastructure, the affair could have become a full-blown October Surprise.

The Jeffersonian party, desperate not to give its plantation supporters cause to rethink its partisan alignment, took pains to downplay what was really quite a bold conspiracy. Not for the last time, wealthy merchants (here backing the Federalists) sought their own advantage pressing the racial wedge issue — for the slaves’ prospective lower-class white allies were also part of Jefferson’s coalition.

“If any thing will correct & bring to repentance old hardened sinners in Jacobinism, it must be an insurrection of their slaves,” editorialized the Boston Gazetteex cathedra, as it were, from 18th century America’s very temple of Mammon. (The quote comes from this tome.)

One thing all right-thinking whites could agree on was a heaping serving of scorn for “General” Gabriel.


Columbian Mirror, Saturday, October 4, 1800.

But then, that personal interview with Monroe also gives a lie to Gabriel’s insignificance. (Gabriel told Monroe nothing of any use to the latter; Monroe sent him away with orders to keep him nearly incommunicado from the sort of working stiffs who would figure to be his jailers.)

A few years later, an English visitor captured at second hand this indefatigable portrait of the doomed slave in his masters’ courts.

I passed by a field in which several poor slaves had lately been executed, on the charge of having an intention to rise against their masters. A lawyer who was present at their trials at Richmond, informed me that on one of them being asked, what he had to say to the court in his defence, he replied, in a manly tone of voice: “I have nothing more to offer than what General Washington would have had to offer, had he been taken by the British and put to trial by them. I have adventured my life in endeavouring to obtain the liberty of my countrymen, and am a willing sacrifice to their cause: and I beg, as a favour, that I may be immediately led to execution. I know that you have pre-determined to shed my blood, why then all this mockery of a trial?”

In 2007, James Monroe’s (distant) successor as governor of the Old Dominion (informally) posthumously pardoned Prosser’s Gabriel. Gov. Tim Kaine’s statement on the occasion validated Gabriel’s own defense of himself.

“Gabriel and his colleagues were freedom fighters and deserve their rightful place in history as women and men of integrity who fought for freedom.”

And the site of his martyrdom? Well, it’s … a good place to park.

* Some sources give Oct. 7 as the date of execution; this apparently was the initial sentence of the court but delayed a few days to hang the ringleader along with others in a variety of spots around town.


Virginia Argus, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 1800.

** A pregnant year in the history of slave rebellion: Denmark Vesey bought his freedom in 1800; Nat Turner and John Brown were both born in 1800. (Noted here.)

† It was a slave who eventually turned in Prosser’s Gabriel … but Virginia stiffed him on the reward, handing over only $50 instead of the promised $300.

‡ Or maybe that’s just hindsight talking. In 1800, the Haitian Revolution was underway — so who could blame slaves for thinking big?

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Notable Participants,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,Treason,USA,Virginia

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


Calendar

December 2019
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

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!