1811: Arthur William Hodge, brutal slaveowner

Add comment May 8th, 2020 Headsman

West Indies planter Arthur William Hodge hanged on this date in 1811 — a distinctive punishment, for the crime imputed was the murder of his own property, a slave named Prosper.

The Oxford-educated gentleman ruled an estate upon Tortola called Bellevue, aptly called* for Hodge gives every symptom of laboring under some sort of madness, even beyond that madness which might be inherent to a slaveholding society. Famous among other planters for his cruelty long before he came to his own grief, Hodge had allegedly reduced through sheer barbarity his own farm’s slave roster from 140 in 1803 to 35 by the time of his death. (This allegation seems to be contradicted by a post-execution advertisement for the sale of his estate enumerating 160 slaves.)

Documents published in 1811 as a Report on the Trial of Arthur Hodge, Esquire — available here and here — are thick with blood-curdling reports of Hodge’s “repeated and excessive acts of cruelty towards his slaves,” e.g.

That a slave, called “Tom Boiler,” between three and four years ago [i.e., circa 1807-1808 -ed.], was by order of the said Hodge, laid down and cart-whipped without intermission for at least an hour; that the said Arthur Hodge stood by and saw it done … that when the said negro slave “Tom Boiler,” after the infliction of said punishment attempted to rise, he could not stand, but was taken up and carried to the sick-house, from whence he never came out, but died in about a week …

That this deponent hath known the said Hodge to order, at different times, kettles of boiling water, prepared for the purpose of pouring said water down the throats of his negroes, who had offended him.

That Margaret, the cook, and Else, a washer, were served so; that said Hodge said they were going to poison Mrs. Hodge and the children, and he would put an end to them — that this deponent did not see the boiling water poured down their throats, because she had not the heart to be present; but heard the screams of Margaret, and saw both Margaret and Else running afterwards with scalded mouths, &c. …

That this deponent in passing the sick-house saw a child, about ten years of age, named Sampson, with the skin all off … that this deponent made enquiry concerning said child, and learnt by general report on the estate, from the negroes, that said child had been by order of said Hodge, dipped into a copper of boiling liquor.

-Deposition of a free black woman named Perreen Georges who was intermittently employed at Bellevue

Another negro slave, about nineteen years of age, was by order of said Hodge very severely cart-whipped and put in heavy irons, crook puddings, &c. and allowed little or nothing to eat. That he was burnt in the mouth with an hot iron, and that he, this deponent, saw him in consequence thereof, with his mouth all raw, and that he shortly after died …

That a free man, named Peter, was hired by said Hodge … to work as a cooper, on said Hodge’s estate. And that he, this deponent, has seen said Hodge in his presence, cart-whipping said Peter repeatedly, at short quarters,** and every other way, and put chains upon him, and had him worked upon his estate with the field negroes; that Peter died as this deponent believes, in consequence of the ill treatment of said Hodge …

That Bella, a small mulatto child, reputed to be the natural child of said Hodge, by his female slave Peggy, (then about eight years of age, as this deponent believes) was repeatedly cart-whipped by order of said Hodge; and this deponent further saith, he hath more than once seen the said Hodge strike said child with a stick, upon her head, and break her head; and hath repeatedly seen him kick her so violently in the lower part of her belly, as to send her several feet on the ground, from whence, he, this deponent, thought she never again would rise.

-Deposition of Stephen M’Keough, a former overseer on Hodges’s Bellevue estate

It’s a matter of speculation just why it was that Hodge’s excesses were judged by his peers sufficiently outrageous to merit what appears to be the first and only execution doled out in the British empire to a slaveholder for mistreating his chattel. Was it fear in the wake of the Haitian Revolution that his behavior invited a jacquerie on this sugar colony where the slave population outnumbered the white landowners 7:1? A stirring of the advancing abolitionist spirit that had barred the slave trade in 1807? Notably, this prosecution in 1811 for a three-year-old crime took place only with the advent of a new anti-slavery governor.

That crime, however dated when finally brought to bar, was every bit as dreadful as the sampling above from Perreen Georges and Stephen M’Keough — and Virgin Island elites gave short shrift to the planter’s defense “that a Negro, being property, ‘it was no greater offense in law for his owner to kill him, than it would be to kill his dog.'” “My God! Are we patiently to hear such a declaration?” the Crown prosecutor answered in horror. “If we one instant even tacitly acquiesced we could expect nothing short of the vengeance of heaven to overtake us and the judgments of an offended Deity, with plague, pestilence and famine to be our merited punishments.”

Prosper caught Hodge’s fury on account of losing a mango and when he was unable to produce payment for the fruit he was flogged 100 times on consecutive days, until he was too weak even to cry out. Carried to a sick-house and abandoned there without rations, he was “found there dead, and in a state of putrefaction, some days afterwards; that crawlers were found in his wounds, and not a piece of black flesh was to be seen on the hinder part of his body where he had been flogged.” With the colony in a state of outrage at these charges — “I am sensible that the country thirsts for my blood,” Hodge said in his unsuccessful closing statement to his jurors — the court defied all precedent to condemn him. In the few days before the sentence was executed, Tortola was heavily locked down to preempt possible disturbances around the public hanging, which went off without incident.

However anomalous the execution of a slaveowner, Hodge’s tyranny would be invoked again and again in a project to reform judicial administration of the West Indies that stretched into the 1830s. The concern, as Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford describe in Rage for Order, was that these reservoirs of local and private power, barely checked in a distant colony where the justices deciding cases were hopelessly compromised by their membership in the same social circles and economic engines as their fellows, corrupted the law, bringing Britain herself into disrepute. “The flywheel of this project,” Benton and Ford note, “was the subordination of masters to imperial authority, not the championing of the rights of slaves.”

* The New York asylum by which the innocent name Bellevue attains its association with psychiatric disorders did not open until 1879.

** M’Keough’s testimony digresses to define close or short quarters as Hodge’s own term, meaning “the most cruel and severe mode of cart-whipping, as the whip is shortened and goes all round the body, cutting every part, particularly the stomach and belly, making no noise, which he believes to have been an inducement with said Hodge to practice it.” While we’re dallying with definitions, a cart-whip is described as “a certain instrument of punishment … made of wood and rope of the value of one shilling” used to flog and beat slaves.

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1817: Ann Statham, infanticide

Add comment March 21st, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Ann Statham was an unmarried twenty eight year old woman who had lived with her mother near Wichnor (nowadays spelt Wychnor) between Lichfield and Burton on Trent in Staffordshire. Thomas Webster drove the Mail Coach between Birmingham and Derby and had got to know Ann who lived just a few yards from the main road that he traversed each journey. They formed a relationship and she moved to Birmingham to be with him. They had been living together for some ten months at the time of the crime and Ann had quickly become pregnant by him. Unlike some men of the time it seems that Thomas was happy to support Ann and the baby.

In June 1816, the now heavily pregnant Ann moved to Derby where her baby boy was born. She returned to Wichnor aboard Thomas’ coach on the 23rd of July, when the baby was five weeks old. She stopped off at nearby Burton on Trent on the way back and went to visit John Mason who was a constable in the town. John saw that Ann had a baby with her and heard it cry although he was later to tell her trial that he could not identify the baby as he did not see its face which was covered by a shawl. On the following Saturday John took Ann to the Three Tuns public house in Wichnor and noticed that she did not have the baby with her. He enquired after it and was told by Ann that it had died suddenly, she thought from a fit. She said that she was going to bury the baby at Walton and John offered her money to help with the funeral expenses which she told him she didn’t need.

On the evening of Tuesday the 29th of July, Ann was walking along the tow path of the Trent and Mersey canal and was seen with the baby by a bargeman named John Deakin. He testified at her trial that the bank was in poor condition and very muddy.

The wife of the landlord of the Three Tuns, Mrs. Thompson had spoken to Ann on the Tuesday evening and she had told her that she had suffered a fit whilst walking along the tow path and dropped the baby who had fallen into the canal. This surprised Mrs. Thompson, as she had known Ann for some years and had never known her have a fit.

The body was recovered by a another bargeman, Thomas Wooton, on Sunday the 28th of July who spotted a small bundle in a white bed gown and cap floating in the water. He took it to the Three Tuns where it was placed in the store room. First thing on the Sunday morning the body of a baby was viewed by John Mason and it seemed to be about the same age as Ann’s baby. John sent for Charles Nicholls, another constable from Burton and he went to Ann’s mother’s house where she was eating breakfast with her mother and questioned her. When he asked her where her baby was she became agitated and she told him that it was in Derby. He persisted with the questioning, reminding her that she had been seen with the baby near the Three Tuns on the Tuesday evening. Ann simply repeated that the baby was in Derby, an answer that in no way satisfied constable Nicholls who arrested her.

William Challinor, a butcher from Burton, had also seen Ann with the baby when she had visited the town a few days earlier and had been able to see its face so was able to positively identify the dead baby as hers.

Mr. Enoch Hand, the Coroner, who performed the inquest on the corpse, asked Ann if the child had been christened and she told him that it had, as William Statham. Death was found to be due to drowning and it was recorded that there were no marks of violence on the body.

She was taken to Burton and was committed by the magistrates to stand trial at Stafford Assizes, charged with the baby’s murder. Charles Nicholls was in charge of Ann for the journey to Stafford Gaol on Tuesday the 8th of August and told the court that she had said to him “Do you think I shall be hung? … They cannot hang me for nobody saw me.”

Ann had to wait nearly nine months until the Staffordshire Lent Assizes of 1817 for her trial which took place on the Wednesday the 19th of March of that year, before Mr. Justice Park. The prosecution was led by a Mr. Dauncey and the various people mentioned above gave evidence against her. Mr. Justice Park pointed out to the all male jury the various contradictions in Ann’s story and they returned a verdict of guilty.

Before passing sentence the judge told Ann that the crime of murder of an infant was a particularly heinous one, especially as at one moment it appeared that she had been breast feeding the little boy and the next she had had dropped him into the canal and left him to drown. There was no apparent motive for the crime. Thomas Webster, the father, was happy to support them both and all her friends knew about the pregnancy and birth.

He then passed sentence on her, telling her that “she was to be taken to the place from whence she came and that on Friday next she was to be taken from there to the place of execution where she was to be hanged by the neck until she was dead” and that afterwards her body was to be delivered to the surgeons for dissection. Ann would become the first woman to be executed outside Stafford Gaol.

Ann had now just two days left to live in accordance with the provisions of the 1752 Murder Act.

As was customary at many prisons at this time, the gallows was set up over the imposing main entrance of the gaol on the flat roof of the gatehouse, as this location was much easier to guard and afforded the many spectators a good view of the proceedings. In the condemned cell Ann seemed resigned to her fate and had confessed her guilt to the chaplain. The execution was set to take place between eleven o’clock in the morning and noon and a large crowd had assembled in Gaol Square. Soon after eleven o’clock Ann was duly led up onto the gatehouse roof in a procession with the under sheriff, the chaplain and several turnkeys. She ascended the few steps onto the platform of the New Drop style gallows and knelt in prayer with the chaplain. It is reported that the structure collapsed at this point, sending Ann, the chaplain, the hangman and the turnkeys into a heap on the roof below. The gallows was quickly repaired enabling the execution to take place an hour or so later. By this time Ann was, unsurprisingly, in a great state of agitation and had to be supported on the drop by two turnkeys whilst the preparations were made. The bolt was released by the unidentified executioner and Ann paid the ultimate price for her crime. Her body was left to hang for the normal hour, before being taken back into the Gaol. It seems that she was not actually dissected but that her body was symbolically cut several times before it was returned to her friends for burial.

If one accepts the evidence against Ann, which is difficult to question nearly two centuries later, it is clear that there was no recognition of the possibility that she was suffering from post natal depression at the time. Could this explain her actions? As stated earlier it appears that the father was willing to support Ann and the baby and that she was not stigmatised by her friends or in danger of loosing her job as the result of her pregnancy and William’s subsequent birth. In 1817 she was simply seen as evil and a murderess, now she would be viewed quite differently and be examined by psychologists to determine her motives and her responsibility for her actions.

Strangely the Staffordshire Advertiser newspaper makes no mention of the gallows collapse nor does it give any real details of her execution. However Ann was the last prisoner to be hanged on top of the gatehouse Lodge at Stafford. From here on executions were performed on a portable gallows, similar in pattern to the one used at Newgate, drawn out in front of the gatehouse. This arrangement was used for the execution of Edward Campbell for uttering forgery on the 16th of August 1817, who was the only other person was hanged in the county that year. Ann was one of seventeen prisoners condemned at the Lent Assizes but the only one to be executed. Only three more women were executed at Stafford. They were twenty four year old Mary Smith for the murder of her bastard child at Bloxwich, who was hanged on Wednesday the 19th of March 1834, Ann Wycherley, for child murder on the 5th of May 1838 and finally Sarah Westwood for poisoning her husband with arsenic who was executed on Saturday the 13th of January 1844. Male executions continued to be carried out at Stafford until 1914 when part of the prison was turned over to the military during World War I. After which Staffordshire executions took place at Winson Green prison in Birmingham.

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1819: Pierre Charles Rodolphe Foulard, Henry-Clement Sanson’s first execution

Add comment February 17th, 2020 Henry-Clement Sanson

(Thanks to Henry-Clement Sanson for the guest post. The former executioner — the last of his illustrious dynasty comprising six generations of bourreaux — was the grandson of that dread figure of the Paris Terror, Charles Henri Sanson. Henry-Clement’s Memoirs of the Sansons: From Private Notes and Documents (1688-1847) describes some famous or infamous executions from the family annals. We have observed in previous Sanson “guest posts” that his annals merit caution as pertains to the adventures of his forefathers; in this instance, however, he communicates — albeit in dramatized form, through an interlocutor ghost-writer — his firsthand recollection of his own debut. -ed.)

MY FIRST EXECUTION.

The first year of my marriage was calm and peaceable. I had every reason to be happy. Thanks to the cares of my good mother, we had very little to think of beyond our pleasures and comforts. My young wife was as cheerful and kind as she was pretty, and our union promised to be one of undisturbed harmony.

My father made no allusion to my promise to take his office;* but that promise was constantly in my mind; it was the only thought that clouded my happiness. Sometimes I looked with sadness at my young partner, thinking that a time should come for her to assume in her turn the title of Madame de Paris. The fulfilment of my pledge was even nearer at hand than I expected. My father was taken ill in the middle of the winter of 1819, and he was laid up for two months. His constant preoccupation during his illness was a sentence of death passed by the assize court of the Seine on a soldier of the Royal Guard, Pierre Charles Rodolphe Foulard, who had murdered two unfortunate women, to steal a watch and a pair of earrings. Foulard was barely twenty years of age, but his crime was so atrocious that there was no hope of a reprieve for him. Foulard’s case, however, had still to pass before the Court of Revision; but my father felt that his health would not permit him to superintend the execution. He was thinking of appealing to one of his provincial colleagues. This was rather awkward, as it was well known that I was to be my father’s successor, and the judicial authorities might well inquire why I did not act as his substitute. Since my marriage I had made a point of following my father in the few executions that had occurred, but I had taken no active part in them. I may add that my father’s part was hardly more active than mine; he had said the truth when he told me that almost everything was done by the assistants, and that the executioner only superintended what his servants did.

The time came for Foulard’s execution; it came sooner than my father expected, so that he was unable to secure some one else’s services. He was much better, but certainly not well enough to resume his duties; and my conscience smote me when he expressed his determination to risk his health, perhaps his life, and execute Foulard. I said to myself that, since I must begin, I had better begin at once, and I proposed to my father to take his place.

He gladly acquiesced, and gave me all the necessary instructions; he also pointed out two assistants on whose zeal I could especially rely; and finally I was assured that my attendance at the execution was little more than a formality. The assistants entered my father’s room just as I was leaving it, and he made them a short speech in which he urged them to afford me their best help and protection.

I was very nervous and frightened; nevertheless, I strictly acted upon the instructions furnished to me, and I gave the necessary directions to the carpenters. As night came on, my discomfort increased. I could scarcely eat any dinner. Fortunately my father was in his room, otherwise he might have insisted on doing the work himself My mother and my wife were as uneasy as I was, but they abstained from making any observation on the matter. After dinner I retired to my room, and passed one of the worst nights of my life. When I got up next morning I was feverish and tired. The assistants were waiting for me in the courtyard. My father had ordered out his carriage for me, and with my new servants I silently proceeded to the Conciergerie. The horses went slowly enough, yet the journey seemed to me fearfully short.

It was yet dark when we entered that dismal prison. My assistants followed me at a short distance. I thought I saw an expression of disdain on the faces of the turnkeys and prison officials. I was in no humour to brook the contempt of men whose position, after all, did not much differ from mine. I assumed a sharp and imperative tone calculated to make them understand that I was not to be imposed upon, and ordered the head gaoler to hand us over the culprit. He led us into a low-ceilinged hall, where Foulard shortly after appeared, accompanied by the worthy Abbe Montes, a priest whose friendship I afterwards acquired. Foulard’s consternation struck me. The unfortunate boy was under age;** had his father left him the smallest sum of money he could not have touched it; nevertheless he was considered responsible. This appeared to me iniquitous, the more so as I was only a year older than he. Foulard was a tall and handsome fellow, and his face betrayed no signs of the perversity he had shown in the perpetration of his horrible deed.

Fauconnier, my chief assistant, saw I was flurried; he came forward and told Foulard to sit down. When the young man’s hair was cut, we got into the cart: the Abbe Montes and Foulard were behind us, and I stood in front with my two assistants.† The almoner of the Conciergerie doubtless perceived that I required encouragement and support as well as the man whose life I was going to take, for he spoke to me with much kindness: “I see, sir, that you are now attending to your father’s duties. Such missions as yours demand no small amount of courage. We are invested with duties which in some degree are akin: you represent the justice of men, I represent the mercy of God. You may be assured of my good disposition towards you, and of my readiness to assist you whenever it is in my power.”

I could not find a single word to answer, although I felt intensely grateful to the Abbe Montes for his kindness. Foulard was taciturn, but when we reached the quay he became very excited, and cried out in a loud voice:

Fathers and mothers! behold the consequences of neglect of one’s children! I am guilty, but my parents are responsible for my crime, for they gave me neither advice nor education.

We reached the Place de Greve. The guillotine raised her two red arms, and the pale rays of a winter sun were reflected by the polished steel of the knife. A great many people were looking on. Foulard embraced the priest, and looked round before ascending the steps. In the first rank of the soldiers who surrounded the guillotine he saw a sergeant of his company. “Come to me, my old comrade,” he cried to him, “and let me bid you farewell.” The old soldier did not hesitate; he came forward and embraced the dying man. Foulard was very excited. He suddenly turned to me: “Let me embrace you too,” he said, “if only to show that I forgive everybody.” This, I confess, gave me a fearful blow. I stepped back. I really think that if the unfortunate man had embraced me I could not have given the signal for his death.

But even in this I am mistaken; this signal I did not give. My assistants saw my movement of retreat and understood the peril. They pushed Foulard up the steps. In less time than I take to write it he was strapped down and his head fell. I looked stupidly at the bloody scene. I saw one of the assistants pushing the headless trunk into a basket, while another was sponging the blood which had spurted on the scaffold.

I was seized with irresistible terror, and I ran away as fast as my legs could carry me. I wandered about town hardly knowing what I was about. I thought people were following and hooting me. It was only when I found myself at Neuilly that I recovered, and even then my conscience smote me bitterly. At last I made up my mind. I had crossed the line, there was no help for it; I had, as it were, passed my examination of executioner, and I could not return on my steps. I went home subdued, if not comforted, and I found some relief in the thought that the first step was made, and the first bitterness had passed.


Shinichi Sakamoto: The Sansons in tragic manga.

* Narrated by the author in the preceding chapter, in which he solicits an interview with his father for the twofold purpose of announcing that “I have thought the matter over for the last two years, and I have now to express my resolve to select no other profession than yours” and also soliciting the old fella’s permission to marry his sweetheart. (Dad approved both of these questionable decisions.)

** The age of majority was 21; it had been lowered during the Revolution from its ancien regime threshold of 25 — a blow against the prolonged authority of a family’s patriarch. (See Suzann Desan, The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France.) This is distinct from marriageable age, which had been increased by revolutionaries from 12 or 14 (for girls or boys, respectively) to 15 or 18. In today’s France all these ages — full legal adulthood, and marriageability — have converged at 18, regardless of gender.

† Sanson himself has a footnote here, noting a deviation from the traditional arrangement of passengers on the fatal cart with a defensiveness that suggests he got some stick about it: “Until then my father and grandfather had occupied a back seat beside the priest, and assigned a front place to the culprit. I was the first to alter this custom. My object was to leave the culprit with his last friend, the priest. I hope this does not appear childish. I acted with the best intention, and I believe I acted rightly.”

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1816: Marci Zöld, Hungarian outlaw

Add comment December 6th, 2019 Headsman

Legendary Hungarian outlaw Marci Zöld was executed on this date in 1816.

Zöld — Hungarian link, as are most in this post; we’ve inverted the Hungarian surname-first naming convention for ease — followed his father’s footsteps into outlawry; his heyday comprised the months following a Christmas 1815 escape from a previous imprisonment after which he and a confederate “kidnapped and plundered for several months in Sárrét, and in Bihar, Szabolcs, Heves and Szolnok counties.” (Heves was his native soil, so he’s also known as Marci Hevesen.)

By summer he had teamed up with another bandit named Pista Palatinszky and formed a gang that raided promiscuously throughout Transdanubia, escaping justice until he didn’t.

The allure of the road — moreso than any evident virtue distinguishing the brigand’s actual conduct — qualified him to be taken up by poets of the emerging Romantic age, like Sandor Petofi‘s poem which inaccurately portrays Marci doing Robin Hood wealth redistribution. Mor Jokai, Jozsef Gaal, and Lajos Kormendi are among the many other authors who have paid him tribute.

To some extent, his defiance of the Austro-Hungarian empire expressed an inchoate longing for rebellion, like the Balkan hajduks. Even moreso, it was a matter of good timing — for the 18th-19th century pivot was a peak era for romanticizing highwaymen, now that the species was disappearing into the crucible of modernity. This is the same period for the likes of Schinderhannes and Diego Corrientes Mateos; equally, it’s the moment when artists of various nationalities elevated into the cultural canon decades-dead outlaws like Dick Turpin (England) or Juraj Janosik (Slovakia).

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1810: Metta Fock, embroiderer

Add comment November 7th, 2019 Headsman

Metta Fock was beheaded in Sweden on this date in 1810.

Fock (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish), daughter to the just-hanging-on lesser nobility, got her surname from an impecunious dullard of a sergeant with whom she shared a small farm in Västergötland. At least, she did until Johan Fock and two of her four children suddenly got violently ill and died within days of one another in 1802.

Well might one imagine the rumors that swirled around the widow Fock in these days; she was already suspected of having a lover, so the inference of a libidinous deployment of arsenic was nigh irresistible. She said her family had been stricken by a measles outbreak.

Her contemporaries were as uncertain of the conclusion as is posterity; she was thrown in Carlsten Fortress but spared a death verdict absent a confession — an unusual legal artifact at the time that might have permitted her to live out decades in a dungeon with sufficient obstinacy.

Although she finally buckled and made that confession — under who knows what extremes of misery and resignation; she vainly attempted to retract it later — the most evocative judgment has always been the manifesto of innocence that she embroidered onto 27 strips of linen in 1805, complaining of her unfair treatment. (More conventional writing instruments were being withheld from her.) It’s given Metta Fock a permanent purchase on later sympathies.

There’s a recent historical novel by Ann Rosman, Mercurium, which also casts Fock as a railroaded innocent.

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1814: Juan Antonio Caro de Boesi

Add comment October 16th, 2019 Headsman

Above: Cristus Factus Est, composed by the black Venezuelan musician Juan Antonio Caro de Boesi. He was shot on this date in 1814 by the notoriously brutal royalist caudillo Jose Tomas Boves, for his support of independence.

There are oddly conflicting claims that he shared an orchestral martyrdom with Juan Jose Landaeta, the composer of Venezuela’s national anthem; however, most sources date this man’s death to as early as 1812, not in connection with a firing squad but an earthquake. This might be an instance where the unreliable narrator that is Clio has conflated the biographies of two similar figures.

For both of these and others besides from that generation of strife and birth, we submit Caro de Boesi’s Misa de Difuntos (Mass of the Dead).

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1819: Nathan Foster, wife-killer and patriot-killer

Add comment August 6th, 2019 Headsman

Two hundred years ago today, Nathan Foster hanged in Masonville, New York.

The crime on his charge sheet was poisoning his wife, Eleanor, to get with the pretty young maid she hired.

But little less damning in the eyes of his neighbors was the belief that he had taken the life of a patriot while fighting the pro-British side during the American Revolution.

Foster was a tory during the Revolution, and is reported to have been the identical person who inhumanly murdered Col. Alden, at the massacre of Cherry Valley, in 1777. Priest, in his narrative of the capture of David Ogden, who died a short time since in Franklin, Delaware County, thus refers: “This act of barbarity was perpetrated by a man named Foster, a tory at that time, and the same, who a few years since (1819) was hanged for the murder of his wife, by poison, in Delaware County, N.Y. at Delhi. That the same Foster did murder Colonel Alden, was ascertained by a certain James Campbell, another tory, who stated to David Ogden, that he had heard this Foster boast of the act, while they were both with the British at Niagara. He was at length overtaken by justice, and ended his miserable life on the gallows, although at the advanced age of __ years. He died without a confession of his guilt.

Foster’s prosecution had the aid at the very bar of New York’s Attorney General — the future United States President Martin Van Buren. There’s a #longreads piece on the man and the case available from New York History Review.

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1819: Robert Watkins, Hang Day Fayre

Add comment July 30th, 2019 Headsman

Today is the bicentennial of the day in the national limelight for the Wiltshire village of Purton Stoke: the July 30, 1819 execution of Robert Watkins for an infamous robbery-murder.

Watkins, an impecunious bare-knuckle pugilist, murdered coal merchant Stephen Rodway to steal his boodle only to find that the diligent bourgeois had marked his banknotes as a failsafe making it possible to trace their subsequent circulation back to Watkins’s red hands.

So notorious was the crime in its day that ten to fifteen thousand people crowded into the small settlement to see the man pay his penalty, and on minimal notice: it occurred only two sleeps after Watkins’s conviction.

At an early hour of the morning, and at the time of the execution, the number of persons in the road and neighbouring fields was immense. That which was not seen in the prisoner, was evident in most of them — a fearful and breathless anxiety, a solemn stillness, and a deep expression of melancholy thought. There was in him a composure and resignation worthy of a better cause; and were not the proofs of his guilt striking, almost beyond example, his firmness of soul must have extorted compassion in all, and a conviction of his innocence. He was earnestly and feelingly entreated by the chaplain, and by some who were deemed likely to make an impression on him, to disburden his soul of part of its guilt by confession; but he was decisive in his denials of any participation in the deed, and only allowed that he was close to the spot where the murder was committed; in every other respect than that of confession, his behaviour was proper and becoming. Near to the fatal spot, the cart passed his wretched mother; he looked steadfastly at her for some moments, and with a gentle inclination of head and great expression of feature, seemed to take an external farewell of her; but soon after, on the cart stopping from some obstruction, she came up again, and he shook hands with her without losing any of his composure. On the scaffold he joined in earnest prayer with the same unsubdued firmness, and at his own desire, read aloud the 108th Psalm, “O God, my heart is ready;” and afterwards said to the crowd. — “God bless you all.” On the hangman’s adjusting the rope, he observed, that it could only “kill the body;” the action of his lips and hands showed that he was absorbed in prayer till the moment of his death. He was launched into eternity exactly at a quarter past 2 o’clock, and he died without a struggle. Almost at that instant of time, and before the last convulsions were over, a loud clap of thunder burst over the spot where the innumerable multitude had collected, and for half an hour afterwards, redoubled peals reverberated awfully through the heavens. The crowd, who behaved throughout with great propriety, then quietly dispersed.

London Times, Aug. 1, 1819

From the lordly vantage of some idiot execution blogger, this all seems like a pretty mundane crime two centuries later. But it’s still a lively enough memory in Purton Stoke, where the former site of the gallows is still known as Watkins Corner, that the town held a commemorative Hang Day Fayre in 2007, complete with a Watkins execution re-enactment.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Entertainers,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft

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1819: Antonia Santos, Bolivarian revolutionary

Add comment July 28th, 2019 Headsman

Today is the bicentennial of the July 28, 1819 execution by firing squad of Bolivarian independence heroine Maria Antonia Santos Plata.

Monument to Antonia Santos in Socorro, Colombia.

This New Grenada peasant (English Wikipedia entry | the more extensive Spanish) led Bolivar-aligned guerrillas resisting the Spanish reconquest in her home Province of Socorro.

She was captured during the last months of Spanish hegemony, but even as she awaited execution of her sentence her comrades in arms continuing in the field played a part in the crucial Bolivarian victory at the Battle of Pantano de Vargas.

She was shot at 10:30 in the morning on the main square of Socorro, along with Pascual Becerra and Isidro Bravo.

A battalion of the Colombian army’s Seventh Brigade is named for Antonia Santos.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions,Women

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1812: David Thompson Myers, “Lord, remember me!”

Add comment May 4th, 2019 Headsman

The excellent “Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England” sourcebook maintained by Rictor Norton brings us the tear-jerking May 4, 1812 hanging of David Thompson Myers “for an unnatural offence” — i.e., sodomy.

Myers was accused by his lover, a Stamford tailor’s apprentice named Thomas Crow who “had the general character of a common liar” according to several character testimonials in court. Due to this, Myers was acquitted in the Lincolnshire assizes on three indictments stemming from Crow’s charges of same-sex congress; however, a fourth indictment arose from an assignation in Burghley Park, outside of Stamford and in the jurisdiction of the Peterborough (Cambridgeshire) sessions — where it was also witnessed by several more credible accusers besides Crow.

Here’s the report of his hanging in the Stamford Mercury of May 8, 1812, again via Norton’s site.

The miserable man who was under condemnation at Peterborough for an unnatural offence, paid the debt of hs life to the world and to his Maker on Monday. — He saw his afflicted wife for the last time on Thursday! — On Friday morning, the Rev. Mr. Pratt (the Vicar of Peterborough), and the Rev. Mr. Courtney, of Orton, both of whom had been unceasing in their endeavours to prepare the convict for eternity, administered to him the Sacrament; and next day a most affecting parting took place between him and the former reverend gentleman, who, being under the necessity of going a journey, bid him a last farewell. The prisoner expressed his gratitude in the most lively terms to Mr. Pratt, for having, as he declared, been instrument, through Divine Providence, “in forcing him to repent, and preparing his soul for another and a better world.” — He was attended until late on Sunday night by the Rev. Joseph Pratt, Rector of Paston, and the Rev. Mr. Hinde; and on Monday morning partook of the Sacrament again, with them and the Rev. Mr. Courtney. He continued in a most happy state of mind for his melancholy situation; and on being brought out of the prison, at a quarter past elevent o’clock, to be put into a post-chaise and conveyed to the place of execution, he declared that that was the happiest moment he had experienced for 14 years! The Rev. Mr. Hinde accompanied the prisoner in the chaise, which was preceded in the procession by a hearse and coffin, and moved slowly amidst a concourse of 5 or 6000 spectators to the usual place of execution on Peterborough common, where a new drop had been erected under the gallows for the occasion. — On this platform the convict joined the accompanying clergyman in a most admirable prayer, composed by that reverend gentleman, with whom the wretched man parted in a way that drew tears from the eyes of every beholder. He shook hands with a person of St. Martin’s whom he recognised near him, and briefly exhorting the surrounding multitude to “take warning by his example,” he intimated to the executioner that he was ready; and whilst the officer drew the cap over his eyes, he was heard fervently to repeat the last line of a hymn which had been composed for him, and which he had taken great delight in singing — “Lord, remember me!” The fall of the drop in a few moments after, placed him beyond the bounds of mortality: he seemed to be dead in almost the instant after the descent of the scaffold.

Although Myers did not attend public worship on Sunday, as it had been intimated he would not, most excellent and appropriate sermons were preached to very crowded congregations: at the cathedral, in the morning, by the Rev. Wm. Head, one of the Minor Canons, and Rector of Northborough, from the 3d chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 13 v. — “Exhort one another daily, whilst it is called today; lest any of you be hardened though the deceitfulness of sin;” — and at the parish church, in the afternoon, by the Rev. John Hinde, Curate of Peterborough, from Acts, c. 24, v. 25 — “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee.” The public mind seemed brought into an excellent state for the instruction which was to be given; and the most judicious and happy advantage was taken of it by the preachers.

We need not dwell upon the state of wretchedness to which the excellent wife and innocent children of Myers have been reduced by the ignominious death of their husband and father: they, it is to be hoped, will find many friends. The public indignation is appeased with the public justice which has been rendered, and that man will ill deserve the name of one, who shall ever unfeelingly refer to the events which have passed, with a view to wound the innocent connexions of a guilty man. In the last sad interview of Myers and his wife, she is said with almost frantic vehemence to have entreated on her knees, that he would bring no wife, no mother, into the depth of misery which she endured, by disclosing the names of those who had been associates in his horrid crime. Whether Myers attended to this injunction is not publicly known.

Copy of a PAPER written by D. T. MYERS, two days previously to his Execution, and left by him with a request that the same might be made public after death.

As I believe that persons in my unhappy situation are expected to say something at the place of execution, and feeling that I shall not be able to do it, I wish these my dying words to be inserted in the Stamford Papers, and to be made as public as possible. I confess that I am guilty of the crime for which I am about to suffer; and for these and all my sins, I desire to repent before God with a broken and contrite heart. I forgive, from the bottom of my soul, every one who has wronged me; and I earnestly pray to Almighty God that my untimely end may be a warning to others, who are walking in the same path. Oh! may my shameful death put a stop to that dreadful crime! may those who have been partakers with me in my crimes be brought to true repentance!! I am a miserable sinner in the sight of God, and I am deservedly degraded in the sight of man. But I commit my guilty polluted soul into the hands of my blessed Saviour, to be pardoned and cleansed by him. And though I deserve nothing but punishment for my sins, I trust, thro’ the merits of my Redeemer, when I leave this wicked and miserable world, to be received into a World of Purity and Peace.

As my example has led many into sin, I hope these, my Dying Words, may lead many to repentance.

D. T. MYERS.
Signed in Peterborough Gaol, 2d of May, 1812, in the presence of J. S. Pratt, Vicar of Peterborough; John Atkinson, Clerk of the Peace; Thomas Atkinson, Attorney, Peterborough.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Homosexuals,Public Executions,Sex

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