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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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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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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1813: Adriana Bouwman, guillotined at The Hague

Add comment May 1st, 2019 Headsman

The young maid Adriana Bouwman was guillotined on this date in 1813 for theft and arson; it was the second and last use of that notorious machine in The Hague, during the three years that the Netherlands was directly incorporated into Napoleon’s First Empire.

Arijaantje Apersdr Bouman was condemned for robbing and torching a farmhouse where she worked as a domestic. She was four months shy of her 20th birthday when beheaded.

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1818: Josiah Francis and Homathlemico, false flagged

1 comment April 8th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1818, Andrew Jackson had two Creek leaders summarily hanged in Florida.

The Creek in the American Southeast were a longtime thorn in the side of the young United States, and Andrew Jackson personally; Old Hickory was one of the chief American commanders in the Creek War several years before, a sort of subplot of the War of 1812 with Creek throughout the Gulf Coast aligning themselves with the British against American colonists.

One source of inspiration: the mighty Tecumseh, who assembled an ambitious native Confederacy to check Europeans’ advance. Although centered in the Great Lakes area, Tecumseh’s defeated vision was very broad, and he made a diplomatic visit to the American South seeking to bring the major tribes of that region into his alliance. Some Creeks saw a lot to like about Tecumseh’s line; they would become known as Red Sticks, for they raised the symbolic “red stick of war” against the whites, and announced it by massacring the entire population (about 500 souls) of Fort Mims, in Alabama.

Further south, in Florida, the Creek prophet Josiah Francis* was likewise stirred by Tecumseh; two days after Fort Mims, he led an attack on Fort Sinquefield that saw a dozen women and children killed and scalped. General Jackson suppressed that rising, forcing upon the Creek a victor’s peace that pushed that nation off 23 million acres in an L-shaped swath comprising much of Alabama and southern Georgia.** Jackson earned his nickname “Old Hickory” in this campaign, by conquering the Creek Hickory Ground.

Josiah Francis was among the many Red Sticks who took refuge in Spanish Florida after this defeat, but they could read a map like anyone else and understood that their respite from settlers would not last long here. Francis made a fascinating sojourn to England in 1815 where he vainly sought crown recognition of the Creek as British subjects, as a deterrent against Yankee aggression. Unsuccessful in his primary objective, Red Sticks returned carrying a ceremonial commission as a brigadier general. (The British Museum still has some of his kit in its possession to this day.) He did not have long to wait before tensions between whites and Creeks ignited the First Seminole War.†

As the clinching maneuver of this conflict — an act that would ultimately force Spain to cede Florida to the United States — the future U.S. president grossly exceeded the authority granted him by Washington to up and invade the Florida Panhandle with 3,000 men. They arrived at Fort St. Mark’s on April 6, there capturing two British subjects whom Jackson designated for an illegal court martial that would eventually hang them. But even this much due process was more than Creeks could expect.

An American warship had sauntered up to St. Mark’s ahead of its conflict, disguising its purpose by flying the British Union Jack and successfully extending the bluff to a Spanish officer who rowed out to greet them. Josiah Francis and another chieftain named Homathlemico or Homollimico, lurking in the bush nearby the conquered settlement, grabbed a canoe and rowed themselves out to these fortuitous allies only to find himself instantly made a prisoner. Jackson exulted in the duplicitous capture in an April 8 note to his wife: “Capt McKeever who coperated [sic] with me, was fortunate enough to capture on board his flotilla, the noted Francis the prophet, and Homollimicko, who visited him from St marks as a British vessell [sic] the Capt having the British colours flying, they supposed him part of Woodbines Fleet from new providence coming to their aid, these were hung this morning.”


An 1818 print depicts the captured natives.

* As he was known to whites. Hillis Hadjo (“crazy-brave medicine”) was his Creek name.

** And freeing Jackson to pivot to the defense of New Orleans.

† During this war, Josiah Francis’s daughter, Milly Francis, became famous throughout the continent as the “Creek Pocahontas” — literally doing what Pocahontas had done, talking her people off executing a captured white man named Duncan McCrimmon. Francis declined McCrimmon’s grateful offer of marriage, but let it not be said that an American soldier does not know how to return a boon: it was McCrimmon who set up the pivotal events of this post by tipping General Jackson to the presence somewhere nearby of his benefactress’s father. Milly presumably witnessed her father’s execution; she wound up deported to Oklahoma like much of the region’s Native American populace.

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1819: John Van Alstine

Add comment March 19th, 2019 Headsman

John Van Alstine was (incompetently) hanged two hundred years ago today for murdering Schoharie County, N.Y., deputy sheriff William Huddleston — whom he bludgeoned to death in a rage when Huddleston turned up to execute a civil judgment forcing the sale of Van Alstine’s property to service a debt. The man acknowledged having a ferocious temper.

“It is not a year since I stated in Judge Beekman’s presence, (and, I stated it as the firm conviction of my mind), that there were two things I should never come to — the state’s prison and the gallows,” the confessed murderer mused in his public reflections, below. “How often have these words occurred to me since the regretted 9th, and taught me the vanity of human boasting, and the weakness of human resolution, when opposed to long indulged passions.”


This document has also been transcribed here.

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1816: Joaquim Camacho

Add comment August 31st, 2018 Headsman

On the last of August in 1816, the Colombian statesman Joaquin Camacho was executed as a traitor to Spain.

Blind and paralyzed, he had to be carried to his firing squad in his chair, this lawyer-turned-journalist decorated the 1810-1816 “Foolish Fatherland” era of present-day Colombia, when New Granada declared independence from a Spain bogged down by the Napoleonic Wars.

In fact, multiple regions and municipalities within New Grenada each began declaring their own sovereignty in 1810. The July 20, 1810, declaration by Bogota — then and now the capital city — is still commemorated as Colombia’s Independence Day.

And Camacho (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) was right in the middle of it.

On the morning of July 20, in a maneuver intentionally staged to coax the Spanish authorities into showing their backsides to New Granada’s patriots, Camacho presented himself to the viceroy to request the calling of a council in Bogota — a request he would (and did) certainly refuse. Elsewhere in the iconic “Flower Vase Incident,” Camacho’s comrades solicited of a wealthy royalist merchant the use of his ornamental flower vase to welcome the arrival of a noted fellow-traveler. They too were predictably refused, and escalated the expected affront into a fistfight and thence to a riot in the market. The backlash against these indignities gave cover to proclaim the independence of Bogota — with Camacho among the signatories of the declaration at a public meeting that evening.

During the exciting years that followed, Camacho served in the Congress of the United Provinces of New Granada and for a few months in 1814-1815 as one of a triumvirate collectively exercising the office of president.

All such offices were swept away by the Spanish reconquest of New Granada under Pablo Morillo, who lived up to his chilling nickname “El Pacificador”. Camacho was among numerous separatist and revolutionary leaders put to death to control New Granada, several of whom we have already encountered in these annals. It worked … for all of three years, until Simon Bolivar accomplished permanently what Camacho et al and died in seeking.

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1813: A Nez Perce thief, by the Pacific Fur Company

Add comment June 1st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1813, Anglo-American fur trader John Clarke had an indigenous Nez Perce summarily hanged for stealing a goblet … dangerously poisoning relations between the respective communities in the Pacific Northwest.

We lay our day’s scene in the Oregon Territory, far frontier of then-only-prospective American continental expansion, beyond even the fathomless reaches of the Louisiana Purchase. The Stars and Stripes had penetrated there courtesy of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but British, Spanish, and Russian expeditions had planted their own flags too, to say nothing of the claims of its native inhabitants.

And all these claimants had one common desire: the pelts of the beavers swarming that verdant sector.

The New York businessman John Jacob Astor bought a stake in the fur trade in the form of the Pacific Fur Company, and set down the outpost of Astoria, Oregon. (Astor was destined to become one of the republic’s early homegrown plutocrats, a fact which is merely incidental for our purposes. It was the fur business that propelled him to wealth.)

One agent of the P.F.C. was a singularly undiplomatic trader aged about 31 summers, John Clarke. Calling on a mixed Nez Perce-Palouse village to trade his canoes for horses to make an overland journey, Clarke was irritated to find that prices weren’t to his liking and the locals enjoyed pilfering his baubles.

American scribbler Washington Irving recorded the ensuing events:

[Clarke] was a tall, good-looking man, and somewhat given to pomp and circumstance, which made him an object of note in the eyes of the wondering savages. He was stately, too, in his appointments, and had a silver goblet or drinking cup, out of which he would drink with a magnificent air, and then lock it up in a large gardevin, which accompanied him in his travels, and stood in his tent. This goblet had originally been sent as a present from Mr. Astor to Mr. M’Kay, the partner who had unfortunately been blown up in the Tonquin. As it reached Astoria after the departure of that gentleman, it had remained in the possession of Mr. Clarke.

A silver goblet was too glittering a prize not to catch the eye of a Pierced-nose. It was like the shining tin case of John Reed. Such a wonder had never been seen in the land before. The Indians talked about it to one another. They marked the care with which it was deposited in the gardevin, like a relic in its shrine, and concluded that it must be a “great medicine.” That night Mr. Clarke neglected to lock up his treasure; in the morning the sacred casket was open—the precious relic gone!

Clarke was now outrageous. All the past vexations that he had suffered from this pilfering community rose to mind, and he threatened that, unless the goblet was promptly returned, he would hang the thief should he eventually discover him. The day [May 31st, 1813] gassed away, however, without the restoration of the cup. At night sentinels were secretly posted about the camp. With all their vigilance a Pierced-nose contrived to get into the camp unperceived, and to load himself with booty; it was only on his retreat that he was discovered and taken. At daybreak the culprit was brought to trial, and promptly convicted. He stood responsible for all the spoliations of the camp, the precious goblet among the number, and Mr. Clarke passed sentence of death upon him.

A gibbet was accordingly constructed of oars; the chief of the village and his people were assembled and the culprit was produced, with his legs and arms pinioned. Clarke then made a harangue. He reminded the tribe of the benefits he had bestowed upon them during his former visits, and the many thefts an other misdeeds which he had overlooked. The prisoner especially had always been peculiarly well treated by the white men, but had repeatedly been guilty of pilfering. He was to be punished for his own misdeeds, and as a warning to is tribe.

The Indians now gathered round Mr. Clarke and interceded for the culprit, They were willing he should be punished severely, but implored that his life might be spared. The companions, too, of Mr. Clarke, considered the sentence too severe, and advised him to mitigate it; but he was inexorable. He was not naturally a stern or cruel man; but from his boyhood he had lived in the Indian country among lndian traders, and held the life of a savage extremely cheap. He was, moreover, a firm believer in the doctrine of intimidation.

Farnham, a clerk, a tall “Green Mountain boy” from Vermont, who had been robbed of a pistol, acted as executioner. The signal was given, and the poor Pierced-nose, resisting, struggling, and screaming, in the most frightful manner, was launched into eternity. The Indians stood round gazing in silence and mute awe, but made no attempt to oppose the execution, nor testified any emotion when it was over. They locked up their feelings within their bosoms until an opportunity should arrive to gratify them with — a bloody act of vengeance.

Having made his grand gesture, Clarke quickly realized that he had enacted it while his small party was alone in an Indian village where they were at the mercy of their far more numerous hosts. Fearing a backlash, the white traders accordingly hightailed it back to Astoria, and then evacuated Astoria itself.

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1818: Five from the Lancaster Assizes, “most dangerous to society”

Add comment April 18th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1818, four hanged at Lancaster Castle for uttering forged notes, along with a fifth hanged for burglary and horse theft — all casualties of the latest Lancaster Assizes. For the account, we excerpt Jackson’s Oxford Journal of May 9, 1818; the footnotes are from that source as well.

LANCASTER ASSIZES, April 13.

Address of Chief Baron Richards, on passing sentence of Death upon the prisoners capitally convicted of forgery, and of uttering forged Bank of England notes.

Wm. Oxenham*, convicted of uttering a forged Bill of Exchange, was first placed at the bar.

Chief Baron — “William Oxenham, you have been convicted of uttering a forged Bill of Exchange, well knowing at the time you uttered it that it was forged. The crime of which you have been convicted, on the most satisfactory evidence, by a most intelligent Jury, is a crime the most dangerous to society, and which loudly calls for the highest punishment the law can inflict; for no man, in a commercial country like this, can, by any care, effectually protect himself from such attempts. If there should be any disposition at the foot of the Throne to extend its mercy towards you, I shall rejoice: but of this I can offer no assurance; and if there should be any mitigation of your sentence, it will only be on condition of your being forever removed from this country.” — His Lordship then passed upon him the last sentence of the law in the usual terms.

The following prisoners were then placed at the bar: — Wm. Steward†, Thomas Curry†, Margaret M’Dowd†, R. Wardlaw†, R. Moss, Hannah Mayor, and J. Vaughan, convicted of uttering forged Bank of England notes; and G. Heskett†, convicted of burglary and horse-stealing.

The Chief Baron, addressing by name the first seven prisoners, thus proceeded, —

You have been severally convicted of uttering forged Bank of England notes, knowing them to be forged: the law has affixed to this crime the punishment of death, and it is an offence which, on account of its injurious consequences to society at large, requires the infliction of the highest punishment.

It is a practice which must be repressed; and if this cannot be effected by other means, it must be done by visiting it with the utmost severity of the law; for the negotiation of forged notes is the strongest and most extensive mode of plundering the public which can be resorted to, and it is one against which no care or prudence can be an effectual protection. I had, the last Assizes, the very melancholy duty, in this place, of passing the sentence I am now about to pass upon you, upon a number of persons convicted of this offence, and which sentence was carried into effect with respect to most of them: but I do not perceive that this sad example has been attended with any advantage, or that it has produced any diminution in the number of offenders of this description; you have not taken warning from it; for I observe that your offences are all subsequent to the last Assizes. It is, therefore, necessary that examples should still continue to be made; and it is my duty to tell you that some of you, nay, that most of you, beyond all question, must suffer the full sentence of the law.


* This prisoner was so unwell, that he was obliged to be supported into Court, and placed in a chair, until sentence was passed upon him.

† The prisoners thus marked were left for execution, and suffered the sentence of the law on Saturday se’nnight [i.e., Saturday, 18 April 1818], at Lancaster.

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