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.

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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

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1804: Hans Jakob Willi, Bockenkrieger

Add comment April 25th, 2019 Headsman


(cc) image by Paebi

“We are free Swiss, completely equal citizens. That government that will not hear the voice of the people is a tyranny.”
Hans Jakob Willi, leader of the Bockenkrieg, who was executed on 25 April 1804.

The defeat of the Old Swiss Confederacy by Napoleon had shaken up political arrangements in Switzerland, creating the successor Helvetic Republic. As Napoleonic revolutions were wont to do, this new state aimed to centralize, universalize, and rationalize, having done with archaic redoubts of canton authority and ancient feudal privileges.

This new Republic was a short-lived affair, held up only by French bayonets; upon their withdrawal in 1802, it succumbed quickly to civil strife which necessitated the Corsican’s mediation — and a new political order which restored some powers of the prostrated cantons.

It was the consequent flex of Zurich upon its former provincial domains that brought about the Bockenkrieg insurgency — a rural rebellion near Horgen requiring Zurich to impose its will by means of a very picturesque suppression.


The Bocken estate after the battle for the manor during the Bockenkrieg, 28 March 1804 by Johann Jakob Aschmann (c. 1804)

Hans Jakob Willi, a cobbler turned soldier who gave the insurgency a veteran military man at its fore, was injured in battle, resulting in the speedy collapse of the rising. A court martial declared his death, despite Napoleon’s attempted intercession on Willi’s behalf.

German speakers might enjoy this public domain history on the rebellion.

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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.”

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1802: John Beatson and William Whalley, mail robbers

Add comment April 17th, 2019 Headsman

From the Hampshire/Portsmouth Telegraph (Leeds, England), Monday, April 26, 1802:

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1802: Robert Snooks, “They can’t start the fun until I get there!”

Add comment March 11th, 2019 Headsman

James Snook(s), who is remembered as Robert Snooks — a possible corruption of “Robber Snook” — was a career robber with a record. He hanged on this date in 1802 for mugging the Tring Mail postboy, an adventure that grossed 80 quid worth of notes ransacked from correspondence he left strewn on Boxmoor.

His decision to discard a distinctive saddle with a broken strap cracked the case for authorities and a reward for his capture went abroad — a reward claimed by “William Salt, a postboy of Hungerford, in Berkshire” who “was born in the same town as the prisoner, where they were play-fellows” and so recognized him immediately on Saturday night driving his chaise through Marlborough Forest and chased down and overpowered Snook whose resistance to his old chum did not extend to use of the “two loaded pistols … in his coat pocket.” (all quotes from the London Morning Chronicle of December 9, 1801)

Tried at the Hertford assizes, he was found to have spent notes known to be in the Tring Mail and on that basis* condemned on a Tuesday … to be dispatched with dispatch that Thursday morning on Boxmoor, near the site of the robbery. “It’s no good hurrying,” he allegedly quipped to gawkers while enjoying a last drink at a nearby pub. “They can’t start the fun until I get there!”

A weathered stone erected a century later marks the supposed place of his burial, and can be visited at Hemel Hempstead. For reasons that elude my understanding, a number of sites including Wikipedia as of this writing claim that this gentleman was the last person executed in England for highway robbery. That’s not even close to accurate.

* The postboy he attacked could not identify him positively, since the crime occurred at night.

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1803: Jillis Bruggeman, the last executed for sodomy in the Netherlands

Add comment March 9th, 2019 Headsman

The last person executed in the Netherlands for homosexuality was Jillis Bruggeman, on March 9, 1803.

Bruggeman ‘s long career in “the horrible sin of sodomy” — for which he had been paying blackmail to one former partner for many years before a different confidante betrayed him — so shocked the court that the evidence of his activities was sequestered in a special pouch. He was flogged and hanged at the grand market of the southern city Schiedam.

There’s an annual Jillis Bruggeman Medal awarded to a someone who has made a signal contribution to defending LGBTQ people.

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1803: Antonio Lavagnini, impiccato e squartato

Add comment February 5th, 2019 Headsman

Antonio Lavagnini, impiccato e squartato in Zagarola li 5 febbraio 1803, per aver grassato un uomo avendogli levato 27 paoli.

Antonio Lavagnini hanged and quartered in Zagarola February 5, 1803, for having robbed a man of 27 paoli.

-From the journal of prolific Italian executioner Mastro Titta.

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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.

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

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1807: Henry Niles

Add comment November 4th, 2018 Headsman

From the Greenfield (Massachusetts) Gazette, November 30, 1807:

NEW LONDON, (Con.) Nov. 11.

On Wednesday last, Henry Niles, an Indian, was executed in this city, for the murder of his wife, pursuant to the sentence of the Supreme Court.

The day before his execution the prisoner attempted to anticipate his sentence, and with a piece of the blade of a knife opened a vein in his thigh, from which a large quantity of blood issued before his purpose was prevented.

On the day of execution, he was taken from prison by the Sheriff and his Deputies, (the Independent Company acting as guards) and carried to the Presbyterian meeting house, where a sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. [Abel] M’Ewen.

At the place of execution the prisoner made a short speech to the spectators, and was then launched into eternity.

It is 21 years since the execution of a criminal in this city, and the spectacle of the public death of a human being, though “a poor Indian,” drew together a large concourse of people; the number has, by many observers, been computed at 6, 8, and 10 thousand. The prisoner behaved with much calmness, and when passing from prison thro’ the crowd, his countenance bespoke the magnanimity of the American savage.

The death of his wife was occasioned by a quarrel produced by intoxication, the effects of which are known to be peculiarly mischievous among the aborigines of America.

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1806: Dominic Daley and James Halligan, hated foreigners

Add comment June 5th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1806, immigrants Dominic Daley and James Halligan were hanged at Northampton, Massachusetts. In the words of one widely reproduced report, “They persisted in their innocence to the last moment, although there were perhaps not a single one of the numerous spectators present, which was presumed to amount to nearly 15,000, who entertained a doubt of their guilt.”

Today, nearly everyone thinks them innocent.

The case began, as many wrongful convictions do, with a particularly outrageous crime — a young farmer, Marcus Lyon, found dead in a Massachusetts creek en route to his home in Connecticut. He’d been shot through the chest and his brains battered out of his skull. The motive: robbery.

In the absence of substantive evidence, some witnesses with vague reports of strangers on the fatal turnpike furnished tissue for an entire theory of the case, and through the misapprehended focus of tunnel vision the strangers became Irishmen, and the Irishmen became Dominic Haley and James Halligan.

In the close aftermath of American independence, New England was still overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. Most of the Irish people about at this moment were also Protestants: large-scale Irish Catholic immigration into the region only began in the 1820s and it panicked the normies when it came, with preachers and politicians railing against the insidious incursions of idolatrous papists.

So in 1805, when the hunt for strangers settled on two Irish-born Catholic immigrants … well, what was left to know? Just days later, a North Wilbraham Congregationalist minister thundered from the pulpit,

We see the evil attending a continued influx of vicious and polluted foreigners in this country. Many of the outrages we suffer proceed from this source. Who break open our homes in the unsuspecting hours of sleep? Who set fire to our large cities and towns for the sake of plunder? And who rob and commit murder on our highways? We are far from exculpating all of our own native citizens; we regret, indeed, that so many of them disgrace themselves and injure society by evil deeds. But these things notwithstanding, we are doubtless justified in saying, that a great proportion of the crimes above mentioned, together with many others which might be named, are committed by foreigners. And that atrocious deed which has so recently congealed all our blood with horror, in this place, is supposed to have been perpetrated by foreigners. Look at the annual reports of the overseers of the prisons and you will find them be principally occupied by foreigners

The first planters of this country were, generally speaking, men of pure lives and good morals and they were induced to come here for the sake of religion. And, for a long time, they maintained a wholesome and orderly state of society. But since the rapid increase of our commerce with other nations, and the great ingress of foreigners, many of whom are said to come here for the sake of escaping the retribution of justice in their own country; we have ripened apace in all the arts of vice and depravity. Some, who come among us from abroad, we readily acknowledge to be worthy and good men, and we cordially welcome their approach. But the number of these is comparatively small. The best and most useful citizens are cautiously retained, while the worst are readily parted with. Hence the rapid influx upon us, of late, of the most violent and abandoned of the human race. The late and present disturbances in foreign countries have greatly increased the calamity. The prisons of Europe and the West Indies are now disgorging themselves upon our shores; and this country is thus becoming the general asylum of convicts. This is a sore evil, and will furnish an increasing number of inhabitants for our prisons and victims for the halter.

The case in court would comprise 24 witnesses not one of whom had witnessed the crime; at most they could suggest that two strangers had taken the same well-trafficked public road on the same day as the victim, who was also a stranger in these parts. Even this much was not certain among the witnesses; their renderings were vague, tentative, contradictory — but witness recollections and prejudicial readings of circumstance soon shaped themselves around the shared understanding of events, and from so much smoke they wove the hemp.

The friendless immigrants’ court-appointed attorney, Francis Blake, who had been tasked with this first capital case of his life a bare 48 hours before the trial opened, made a vehement, eloquent, and futile address to the jury against “this illiberal, this inhuman prejudice” closing around the throats of his clients.

That the prisoners have, however, been tried, convicted, and condemned, in almost every bar-room, and barber’s-shop, and in every other place of public resort in the county, is a fact which will not be contested. That the sentence of the law has not been anticipated, and that they have not already suffered the penalty of death, may be ascribed rather to defect of power, than to lenity of disposition, in many of their accusers …

There is yet another species of prejudice, against the influence of which it is my duty to warn you. I allude to the inveterate hostility against the people of that wretched country, from which the Prisoners have emigrated, for which the people of New-England are peculiarly distinguished …

Pronounce then a verdict against them! Condemn them to the gibbet! Hold out an awful warning to the wretched fugitives from that oppressed and persecuted nation! Tell them that although they are driven into the ocean, by the tempest which sweeps over their land, which lays waste their dwellings, and deluges their fields with blood; — though they float on its billows upon the broken fragments, of their liberty and independence; — yet our inhospitable coast presents no Ararat upon which they can rest in safety; that although we are not cannibals, and do not feast upon human flesh, yet with all our boasted philanthropy, which embraces every circle on the habitable globe, we have yet no mercy for a wandering and expatriated fugitive from Ireland. That the name of an Irishman is, among us, but another name, for a robber and an assassin; that every man’s hand is lifted against him; that when a crime of unexampled atrocity is perpetrated among us, we look around for an Irishman; that because he is an outlaw, with him the benevolent maxim of our law is reversed, and that the moment he is accused, he is presumed to be guilty, until his innocence appears! …

The lives of the prisoners are now consigned to your disposal. Before you proceed to the performance of this awful duty, let me borrow the language of one of their countrymen, not degraded by the ignominious reproaches against his nation, but elevated to the highest rank among the orators of the elder world by the most splendid talents, the purest patriotism, and the most unsullied integrity. Let me beseech you to “remember that there is another than a human tribunal, where the best of us, will, on one day, have occasion to look back on the little good we may have done. In that solemn trial may your verdict on this day give assurance to your bones and afford you strength and consolation in the awful presence of an adjudging God!”

The words fell on deaf ears.

Daley and Halligan maintained their innocence from arrest to execution, but in the end they would require the offices of another foreign refugee, Father Jean-Louis de Cheverus, a French-born priest in Boston, who had fled the anti-clerical paroxysms of his own homeland. (Later, he would become the first Catholic Bishop of Boston.) It’s said that he stayed in jail with his charges, as no one in Northampton would suffer the papist priest to sleep under their own roof — and that his ministrations to them included the first Catholic mass said in that city.

Folklore cropped up around the 1830s to the effect that a local man had given a deathbed confession exonerating the hanged Irishmen … and that this murderer was the kinsman of one of the witnesses against Daley and Halligan. I cannot establish that this is any more than a just-so story, a fable, but even so it speaks to the continuing injury done by this execution to the now-growing Irish Catholic community. In time that demographic’s maturing numbers and political muscle flipped the story of Daley and Halligan from one of foreigners ripened in depravity to a sobering caution against bigotry and rush to judgment.

We have no real way, now, to access a definitive assessment of guilt or innocence; we can certainly say with confidence that the evidence was appallingly flimsy to hang a man even for the time. Both Daley and Halligan were posthumously exonerated by a writ of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1984. Dukakis discussed that action, and history’s view of the Daley-Halligan railroading, in a 2011 panel available in podcast form here.

For additional resources, check this Historic Northampton page (already linked several times within this post). Below, you can read the entirety of an 1806 publication reporting the trial, from which the defense lawyer’s remarks have been drawn.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA,Wrongful Executions

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