1811: The slaves of the German Coast Uprising

Add comment January 15th, 2018 Headsman

Villainous blacks, and MORE VILLAINOUS WHITES who have reduced to the level of the beasts of the field these unhappy Africans — and are now obliged to sacrifice them like wild beasts in self preservation! The day of vengeance is coming!

-Marietta, Ohio Western Spectator, March 5, 1811

On this date in 1811, Louisiana planters commenced their executions of rebel slaves involved in the German Coast Uprising.

Also known as the Deslondes rebellion after the surname of its mulatto commander, this was a larger insurrection than the better-known Nat Turner rebellion: in fact, it was the largest slave rebellion in U.S. history. Louisiana at this point was still new to the Union courtesy of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase; Congress in 1811 would take up the question of statehood for the former French colony and its liability to slave rebellions stoked by Gallic sugar magnates offered no small store of vehemence for the Republic’s orators. (Louisiana was admitted as a state in 1812.)

On January 8 of that same year of 1811, some 60 to 125 black men and women — slaves of Louisiana’s brutal sugarcane economy, as well as runaways and maroons lurking in nearby river swamps — rebelled at Col. Manuel Andry’s plantation 36 miles from New Orleans. Andry was wounded but miraculously escaped, leaving behind a son whom his slaves were energetically stabbing and axing past death.


(Via)

Under the improbable leadership of Charles Deslondes, who had enjoyed so much trust as to be a Andry’s slave overseer, the slaves stripped the plantation of gunpowder, weapons, horses, liquor, and the like, and began following the Mississippi along River Road — drumming, chanting, exulting with cries of “On to Orleans!”

American Uprising Book CoverWhether they knew it or not, they had selected an auspicious moment for their uprising: New Orleans lay practically defenseless, its regular garrison off augmenting the realm via the conquest of adjacent West Florida.* The rebels multiplied several times over as they marched, swelling to perhaps 500 strong over two days as they rolled through plantations — each one a sea of servile labor vastly outnumbering its white household. Yet only one more white man besides Col. Andry’s son died during the German Coast Uprising as, forewarned, planters’ families were able to flee ahead of the Jacquerie.

The Louisiana territory skirted the volcano’s mouth in this moment and everyone realized it: New Orleans, the slaves’ avowed target, was itself two-thirds black. Had the rebels reached it, something cataclysmic might have begun.† “Had not the most prompt and energetic measures been taken, the whole coast would have exhibited one general scene of devastation,” Navy Commodore John Shaw wrote to Washington, having dispatched a company of marines to shore up New Orleans’s defenses. “Every description of property would have been consumed, and the country laid waste by the Revolters.”

Instead, and as was always eventually the case, the volcano swallowed the slaves instead. Sixteen miles from the Big Easy, a scrambled militia of New Orleans volunteers and some federal dragoons and infantry pulled from Baton Rouge managed

to meet the brigands, who were in the neighbourhood of the plantation of Mr. Bernoudi [present-day Norco -ed.], colors displayed and full of arrogance. As soon as we perceived them we rushed upon their troops, of whom we made considerable slaughter.

Not a single white person lost his life in the fray but scores of slaves were either killed in fighting, were summarily executed upon capture, or, fleeing from the carnage, were hunted to their deaths in the following days. The exact butcher’s bill is unknown; Louisiana officials counted 66 dead slaves in the immediate aftermath of action, including those executed, but this certainly understates the figure.

Where principal rebels were known, the revenge was exemplary. Pierre Griffe and Hans Wenprender, who were said to have personally imbrued their hands with the blood of the two dead white planters at the outset of the rebellion, were killed on the spot, mutilated, and their heads cut off as trophies for Colonel Andry.

Decapitation and worse was also the fate awaiting captives, at least 21 of whom were ordered for immediate death on January 15 by a tribunal of planters hastily assembled for the task. “By the end of January, around 100 dismembered bodies decorated the levee from the Place d’Armes [Jackson Square -ed.] in the center of New Orleans forty miles along the River Road into the heart of the plantation district,” in the words of a recent book about the affair. Such decor cost the territory $300 per piked head in compensation to the dead slaves’ former owners.

We excerpt the sentence from the tribunal’s own hand, as published in Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Autumn 1977.

The Tribunal assembled on the 14th and called before it the Negroes: Jean and Thomas, belonging to Mr. Arnauld; Hypolite, belonging to Mr. Etienne Trepagnier; Koock, belonging to Mr. James Brown; Eugene and Charles, belonging to the Labranche brothers; Quamana and Robaine, belonging to Mr. James Brown; Etienne, belonging to Mr. Strax; Louis and Joseph, belonging to Mr. Etienne Trepagnier; the mulatto Guiau, belonging to Messrs. Kenner and Henderson; Acara, belonging to Mr. Delhomme; Nede, belonging to Mr. Strax; and Amar, belonging to Widow Charbonnet; all of whom confessed and declared that they took a major part in the insurrection which burst upon the scene on the 9th of this month.

These rebels testified against one another, charging one another with capital crimes such as rebellion, assassination, arson, pillaging, etc., etc., etc. Upon which the Tribunal, acting in accordance with the authority conferred upon it by the law, and acting upon a desire to satisfy the wishes of the citizenry, does CONDEMN TO DEATH, without qualifications, the 18 individuals named above. This judgment is sustained today, the 15th of January, and shall be executed as soon as possible by a detachment of militia which shall take the condemned to the plantation of their owners and there the condemned shall be shot to death. The tribunal decrees that the sentence of death shall be carried out without any preceding torture.

It further decrees that the heads of the executed shall be cut off and placed atop a pole on the spot where all can see the punishment meted out for such crimes, also as a terrible example to all who would disturb the public tranquility in the future.

Done at the County of the Germans, St. Charles Parish, Mr. Destrehan’s plantation, January 15, 1811, at 10 o’clock in the morning.

Signed,
Cabaret
Destrehan
Edmond Fortier
Aud. Fortier
A. Labranche
P.B. St. Martin

We know for sure that the militia effected these grisly sentences with dispatch because this same body condemned three more slaves to the same fate later that same day, ordering that “their heads shall be placed on the ends of poles, as those of their infamous accomplices, who have already been executed.” Yet even this was better due process than a number of other prisoners enjoyed at the hands of angry white men; the Maryland-born naval officer Samuel Hambleton recorded the “characteristic barbarity” of the French oligarchy with disgust:

Several [slaves] were wrested from the Guards & butchered on the spot. Charles [Deslondes] had his Hands chopped off then shot in one thigh & then the other until they were both broken — then shot in the Body and before he had expired was put in a bundle of straw and roasted!”‡

The shock prompted an immediate tightening of security, and not only in Louisiana — where militia conscription became enforced more rigorously, both slaves and free blacks were encumbered with new restrictions on their movements, and a larger federal military presence was deployed at Louisiana’s own request. The legislatures of Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Mississippi territory — Mississippi wasn’t admitted to statehood until 1817 — all likewise buffed up their militias in the wake of German Coast.§

* Latterly Spanish, West Florida is no part of the present-day U.S. state of Florida; rather, Florida’s former littoral extrusion towards the Mississippi was annexed by Louisiana itself.

** When the U.S. went to war with Great Britain in 1812, Louisiana’s huge servile population made it an obvious vulnerability if the British were to land and arm the slaves. Summoning him from his Alabama stomping-grounds to his date with American folklore, Edward Livingston wrote to Andrew Jackson on behalf of the New Orleans Committee of Safety on September 18, 1814, imploring him to aid the outnumbered sugar planters:

This Country is strong by Nature, but extremely weak from the nature of its population, from the La Fourche downwards on both sides the River, that population consists (with inconsiderable exceptions) of Sugar Planters on whose large Estates there are on an average 25 slave to one White Inhabitant the maintenance of domestic tranquility in this part of the state obviously forbids a call on any of the White Inhabitants to the defense of the frontier, and even requires a strong additional force, attempts have already it is said been detected, to excite insurrection, and the character of our Enemy leaves us no doubt that this flagitious mode of warfare will be resorted to, at any rate the evil is so great that no precautions against it can be deem’d superfluous.

† The rising’s Spartacus, Charles Deslondes, was himself an import from the insurrectionary Caribbean Santo Domingo colony, which suggests a probable link by inspiration to the Haitian Revolution. Santo Domingo slaves were thought so seditious that their importation was periodically banned. However, and perhaps this is no accident, no documentation survives to elucidate the rebel slaves’ ideology, or what triggered them to rise at this particular moment.

‡ Letter to David Porter, January 25, 1811 as quoted by Robert L. Paquette in “‘A Horde of Brigands?’ The Great Louisiana Slave Revolt of 1811 Reconsidered,” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques, Spring 2009. Deslondes was captured on January 11th but as far as I can ascertain, we don’t have a precise date on record for his savage extrajudicial execution/murder. It obviously falls within this same short mid-January span.

§ See Thomas Marshall Thompson, “National Newspaper and Legislative Reactions to Louisiana’s Deslondes Slave Revolt of 1811,” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Winter, 1992. Thompson notices that “the Tennessee law specified, as had the one in the Orleans Territory, that blacks, mulattoes, and Indians could not be members of the militia.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gibbeted,History,Louisiana,Mass Executions,Murder,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Shot,Slaves,Summary Executions,Torture,Treason,USA

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1812: George Hart, Gotham batterer

Add comment January 3rd, 2018 Headsman

From the Essex Register, Jan. 1, 1812.

TRIAL FOR MURDER.

From the New York Morning Post.

Court of Oyer and Terminer, Thursday, 28th November, 1811 — Present, the Hon. Judge Van Ness, Alderman Fell, and Alderman Buckmaster.

The People vs. George Hart — MURDER.

When the Jury were sworn in, the prisoner challenged three; the reasons were not given. Mr. Macomb, the Clerk of the Court, informed the Jury, that the prisoner stood indicted for the murder of MARY VAN HOUSEN, that upon his arraignment he plead not guilty — that he had now put himself upon his country, which country they were, and that they had to determine from the evidence which would be produced to them, whether the prisoner was innocent or guilty of the felony, with which he stood charged.

Mr. Riker then addressed the Jury, and after defining in a clear and satisfactory manner, the nature of the crime, for the commission of which, the prisoner stood before them, briefly related the prominent features of the testimony that would be brought forward on the part of the prosecution against the prisoner. He stated, that if they found him guilty, the prisoner would have to suffer death, that he was convinced that they would maturely, and with carefulness, weigh well the testimony and if there was a doubt in their minds, they ought to acquit; but if none should appear, he felt assured they would not shrink from their duty, but with firmness would pronounce him guilty.

The first witness produced, was Charles Campbell, in the cellar of whose house the prisoner lived. He stated, that on the 25th June, 1811, about 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning, he heard a cry of murder issue from the cellar, that he went down into it, and found the deceased laying upon her side upon the floor, with her face bruised and bloody — her arm appeared as if it had been severely stamped upon, and very much hurt by his blows — that he asked the prisoner, “what are you doing this for.” The prisoner said “she has stole four shillings from my pocket, and I will serve any d—d w—e so, who robs me of money.” That he then tore all her clothes off, except her stockings, and appeared more like a madman that any thing else; insomuch, that the witness was alarmed for his own personal safety — that he went and procured the competent authority with all possible despatch, and had the prisoner committed to Bridewell. In his cross examination, he repeated that he was afraid to interfere, lest Hart would injure him — that the prisoner was by no means a weak man, and after he was in custody, he declared “he would sit on a chest and fight any man.”

Nancy Campbell — After her husband had gone for the officer, witness heard the sound of from twenty to thirty blows, and the deceased exclaim, “My dear George, do not murder me!” The noise ceasing, witness apprehended that the prisoner had killed his wife, asked Mrs. Clark to go down with her and see if it was the case: Mrs. Clark was afraid to go; but witness went down, and saw Hart strike the deceased, who was naked, with the large end of an oak broom stick; Witness asked him what he was doing? He said “I will kill one half of the d—d w—s in town.” What has she done to you? He replied “she has taken four shillings from my pocket.” He then kicked her twice on the side — witness pushed him back, and he told her not to be alarmed, for he would not hurt her — that the deceased was speechless when witness entered the cellar, and she did not speak while witness remained there. In her cross examination, witness in answer to the questions put up by the counsel for the prisoner, said, that he must have been out of his senses to have acted so — that she saw the blood run from the ear and cheek of the deceased, that she thought her dead, that the prisoner struck her with the largest end of the broom stick, that he had no mark of violence upon him, and that he did not appear to be in the least sorry for what he had done, but was perfectly indifferent at the situation of the deceased. That Mr. Campbell was about half an hour in going for the officers.

Katharine Keech, went with Mrs. Campbell into the cellar, and told the prisoner it was a shame to behave to any one in so cruel a manner — He replied “damn you, you bitch, I’ll serve you the same sauce,” and then kicked the deceased, wounded as she was, twice on the head with great violence — that witness then said “it is a pity some constable would not come and take you away.” That he again replied “he would serve her in the same way if she said any thing, and any d—d w—e that would rob him of his money,” that she saw the blood issue from the eye and ear of the deceased.

During the cross examination, witness said, that the deceased was bloody both at the time when she entered the cellar, and after the kicks. Here Mr. Justice Van Ness asked witness to explain in what manner the prisoner kicked the deceased? She answered that “he kicked her thus, (stamping her foot down) and with all his might — that she lay on her right side — and that she at one time asked for a drink of water.”

William Willis, Coroner, stated that a woman had been murdered, and the corpse lay at the Hospital — that he held an inquest over the body — that the prisoner at his request was bro’t to the Hospital who there acknowledged he was the person who had beaten her, and that he had done it because she had stolen 2s 6d out of his pocket, and shewed whilst looking at the body no visible concern. — Witness further stated that her right arm was broken, and one of her hands horribly disfigured, and that her head and body presented a shocking spectacle.

Cross examination. The counsel for the prisoner asked Mr. Willis if the prisoner did not evince symptoms of insanity — witness answered that he appeared to be very indifferent, but did not discover any thing like insanity or derangement.

Thomas Hazard testified that he had known the prisoner two or three years, but had never supposed him to be deranged.

Dr. Post stated that the deceased was brought to the Hospital about 12 o’clock — that there was a severe cut on the left side of her head — that a considerable quantity of blood had come from her ear — that her arm was broken, and her hand very much bruised which appeared to have been occasioned by a glancing blow — that she made some unintelligible reply to one of the attendants — that she appeared in great distress by the convulsive writhings of her body — and that after he had given directions to have her washed, and ordered the proper remedies to be used, he departed — that in about half an hour after his absence, as he understood, she expired — that he had no doubt her death was occasioned by the wounds she received. The counsel for the prisoner then asked witness, “Have you ever known instances of mental derangement occasioned by a paralysis?” Witness answered that such instances he believed had occurred, but they were very rare.

Henry C. Southwick, was produced on the part of the prisoner, and stated that he had never discovered in him any signs of insanity — that his intellects were none of the brightest, as he was not sharp in making a bargain.

After the district Attorney had read several authorities, and pointed out to the jury, the legal meaning of murder, J.A. Graham, of counsel for the prisoner, arose and addressed the Court and Jury, as follows: —

May it please the Court and you Gentlemen of the Jury,

The crime of wilful and deliberate Murder is a crime at which human nature shudders — a crime which harrows up every fibre of the soul — and is punished almost universally throughout the world with Death. This crime is defined to be ‘The wilful and felonious killing of any person with malice aforethought, either express or implied, so as the party wounded or hurt, die within a year and a day after the fact.’ Malice, therefore, (either express or implied) makes the gist of this indictment. To prove express malice, it ought to appear evident that there was some ill will, and the killing was with a sedate mind, & also a formed design of doing it. Implied malice is, when one kills another suddenly, having nothing to defend himself, as going over a stile or the like, Hale’s P.C. 47. If a person on any provocation beat another so that it might pla[i]nly appear he meant not to kill, but only to chastise him, or if he restrains himself, till the other hath put himself on his guard, and then, in fighting with him, killeth him, he will not be guilty of Murder, but Manslaughter. I. Hawkins P.C. 82. Judge Blackstone in his commentaries on the laws of England, vol. 4. p. 190, says, that the degrees of Guilt which divide the offence into Manslaughter and Murder, consist in this — Manslaughter arises from the sudden heat of the passions; Murder from the wickedness of the Heart. I contend that the prisoner was not guilty of wilful and deliberate Murder. It is true, his conduct was in the extreme, most diabolical, still I do contend that his crime is not Murder, but Manslaughter. The deceased had been guilty of felony; she had stolen four shillings in money from him, she lived with him as a concubine, and he undertook to chastise her for the felony; therefore, he had no premeditated design in killing her. This had been apparent from all the testimony, particularly as respects his after conduct, that he shewed little or no concern at what had taken place. Now, I would ask, is it among the number of possibilities that any person, wilfully guilty of committing so horrible a crime, being in their right mind, without having manifested on the occasion some compunction of conscience, or perturbation of mind? The prisoner went with the Coroner to see the corpse, and Mr. Willis informs us, he shewed no concern whatever. Gentlemen, I shall not go minutely into the testimony, it is apparent that the deceased came to her death by the chastisement given by the prisoner, as is stated by the examination of Surgeon Post, whom we all agree, is one of the first surgeons in America. But I do contend, that the Prisoner is guilty of Manslaughter, not Murder. — There had been no previous quarrel, he had taken this woman to his bosom, she fed at his table, and he had passed her as his wife. I cannot for myself, believe, that there is scarcely any man, in his right mind, capable of being so great a monster, as, in cold blood to commit murder on a person living, as was the deceased, with the prisoner. Gentleen — I know you possess all the reason light & understanding which the importance of your situation demands, in deciding between the prisoner and the public. But I charge you, that while in your inquiries, which you are about to make in discharge of the duty you owe the public, remember that you owe a debt of the greatest magnitude to the prisoner, which I hope and trust you will conscientiously discharge. When I look at the prisoner, I feel a crust of icy coldness gathering round me. The wild and awful scene of Gallows-hill presents itself, with all its horrors to my view. Then, I cast my eye towards the Hon. Attorney General, when the vision in part dissolves: looking farther up to the learned Judge, the dawn of day, in favor of the prisoner, begins to brighte, and the Judgment Seat appears to have the effect of enchantment.

(To be continued.)


From the Essex Register, Jan. 4, 1812.

TRIAL FOR MURDER.

From the New York Morning Post.

LAW INTELLIGENCE
Court of Oyer and Terminer, Thursday, 28th November, 1811 — Present, the Hon. Judge Van Ness, Alderman Fell, and Alderman Buckmaster.

The People vs. George Hart. — MURDER
(concluded)

Mr. Riker summed up on the part of the prosecution, and acknowledged with great sensibility, the disagreeable task which his official station had imposed upon him. But as it was a duty he owed the community, he would not shrink from the performance of it. After disclaiming all prejudice against the prisoner, he thought it the plainest case of murder, according to the established principles of law, which had ever been presented to the consideration of Court or Jury; and in a solemn and impressive manner, dwelt upon the trivial offence committed by the deceased, and the dreadful punishment inflicted upon her by the accused. Mr. Riker then endeavoured, by minutely dissecting the testimony, to find some excuse for the prisoner’s conduct; but after viewing it in every possible shape, he told the Jury they must pronounce him a murderer, for not a doubt of his guilt could remain upon the mind of any who had heard the witnesses. Mr. Riker then argumented upon the evidence, and concluded neartly in these words: “If I lay too much stress upon the testimony against the prisoner, I beg, I beseech you, to cast away from my statement, as much as you conceive to be overcoloured; but, upon reviewing all the circumstances, I am convinced there cannot be the smallest doubt, and the prisoner ought not to look for mercy from this court, but to that God, from whom finally he must hope only to receive it.”

Mr. Justice Van Ness, in charging the Jury, informed the counsel for the prisoner, that no lenity could be expected from the court, as it was compelled, from the strong testimony adduced, to say that he was a Murderer: and added — “if you have any doubt, gentlemen, you ought to acquit. If I could say any thing in favour of the prisoner, I would cordially do it; but as I cannot, I deem it unnecessary to recapitulate those circumstances which must have sufficiently shocked you already. Indeed, you are to decide upon the law and the facts, and ought not to take a verdict from the court. — With these observations, I shall now leave you to decide upon the fate of the prisoner, with an assurance that you will decide correctly.[“]

The Jury then retired [about half past three o’clock] and at 4 returned with a verdict of “GUILTY.”

The prisoner being put to the bar, the Clerk of the court informed him that he had been indicted for a felony, and on his arraignment had plead “not guilty” and had put himself upon his country for trial, which country had found him “Guilty” — “The court is now,” said the clerk, “about to pronounce sentence against you; have you any thing to say why the terrible punishment which the law inflicts upon the perpetrators of the crime, whereof you are convicted shall not be announced to you?” The prisoner offering nothing in bar of Judgment, His Hon. Mr. Justice Van Ness, addressed himself to the prisoner as follows:

[The words were taken down by Mr. Sampson, who has obligingly furnished us with a copy of them.]

GEORGE HART — It is now the painful duty of the Court, to pronounce on you, that sentence, which our religion and our law concur in awarding against those, who are guilty of the crime of deliberate Murder — This crime has been punished with death, by the laws of every civilized country, ancient or modern. They have all considered it unpardonable, and the offender has been justly deemed unfit to live. The punishment of it, is the highest known to our law, and publick policy requires, that the community should be rid of one, who has shewn so diabolical a disposition, as deliberately to take away the life of his fellow creature.

The sentence of the law then is, that you be taken from hence, to the place where you have been lately confined thence to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck, ’till you are dead; on the 3d day of January next between the hours of twelve and two o’clock.

I have now discharged my duty as a publick magistrate. I have a few words to add, which I address to you as a friend. I have stated to the unfortunate man, who stands beside you, that he might entertain hopes of pardon;* but I should be false to you, and faithless to my duty, if I gave you the slightest hopes. For it would be in vain to search the annals of the most barbarous people, or the traditions of the most untutored savages, for a crime of equal enormity to yours. Through the course of your trial, I have sought, but in vain, for a single circumstance of mitigation; the woman whom you murdered lived with you as your wife. Standing in that relation the offence imputed to her, was light, and trivial. You usurped over her, a power, which the law itself could give to no man; and of your own authority, you put her inhumanly to death. — Thus was in your act, the extreme of cruelty and cowardice. You took advantage of a feeble unresisting woman; one who could look to you only as her protector. You took unmanly advantage of your superior strength; and by brutal force you took away her life — This marks you out as a man of disposition both mean and dastardly. Though this woman had been an hour and a half exposed to your cruelty, and all the time intreating for mercy, yet unfortunately, the people in the house were afraid to descend into that place, which was her habitation, till by your cruelty, it was converted, I may almost say, to her sepulchre, fearing that their lives might be also jeopardized. As long as she could speak, she was heard to address you in tones of tenderness & supplica[t]ion, that would have vibrated on the heart of any one possessed of human feeling. Yet you continued for half an hour, unmoved by her intreaties, to inflict those barbarous wounds and mutilations, that finished her existance; and when your neighbors went to remonstrate, you threatened them with death, and before their face, inflicted new wounds on her naked and prostrate body, so that from the testimony of the physician and of other persons, no one part of her was free from wounds or bruises.

A Murder so unprovoked, so deliberately inhuman, has seldom been known; for almost all the murders, that come to light, have some foundation in provocation or temptation. The highwayman that stops the traveller, does it for his money. The bully or the assassin does it for revenge. In every case, there is some motive or incentive. Here there was none but savage cruelty. Had she robbed you (as you pretended) of three or of four shillings, as your wife, you should have forgiven her, and as her friend, you should have rebuked her in the language of tenderness; instead of which, you exercised that superior strength, which nature gave to your sex, for the protection of the other, and in a way, that I am at a loss to describe, you mercilessly took away her life.

For this offence, the law requires your life as an atonement, and that religion, which most of us believe, and which is publickly taught amonst us, and on which our morals as our laws are founded — has said that “whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” It has been doubted from this whether man had power to pardon the deliberate murderer.

You have a short course now to run, and a dark and gloomy prospect around you. If you look back, you have little satisfaction; as to your present condition in this world, you have no hope of pardon. As to the future, you have too small claims to mercy. But conversant with books, you must know something of religion; were it not for the mercy, which that religion teaches, your views of futurity would be most painful, for in that world of spirits, where a more awful judgment is to follow, the accusing spirit of this murdered woman must appear against you; your only hope lies in the [sic] rightly employing the little time you have in this life, in imploring that Being who alone has power to pardon you, and I pray that he may pardon you, and hope that you will approach his throne, with an humble and a contrite heart. You should, therefore, all your time, both day and night, deprecate His Wrath. I trust, that the Ministers of the Holy Gospel in this city, will administer their aid, and instruct you to pray devoutly and sincerely. Your situation is painful, so is that of the Court. In the world to come, you will find, that punishment follows guilt in this life, but we are taught that there is mercy shewn, even for those “whose sins are as scarlet” and that you may turn your whole attention to that only hope; I once more implore you to indulge no thought of mercy on this side of the grave. One gleam of hope of future mercy is more precious than any thing you have to look for here below. I feel myself the importance of what I have said, and wish that I could make it more strongly felt by you. You have but a few days — let them be spent in profit to your soul. And that the Lord may have mercy upon you, is the sincere and ardent wish of the Court.

* Benjamin Farmer, who was tried and found guilty of Manslaughter, and sentenced at the same time. [this footnote appears in the original -ed.]


From the New York Evening Post, Jan. 3, 1812.

Pursuant to sentence, was executed this day, at the upper end of Broadway near Dydes [Hotel], on a gallows created for the purpose, George Hart, for the murder of Mary Van Housen.


From the New York Evening Post, Jan. 4, 1812.

Published by Desire.

George Hart, who was executed on the 3d inst. in his dying confession, mentions a Mr. Thomas, Printer, who was formerly a partner of his, in destroying the Dogs of this city. The public are respectfully informed, that the Thomas mentioned by Hart, is not Mr. Isaiah W. Thomas, Printer, from Massachusetts.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Pelf,Public Executions,USA

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1818: James Ouley

1 comment October 1st, 2017 Headsman

This date’s entry arrives to us via the 1921 Indiana Magazine of History, looking back to frontier times over a century before. According to the Espy File‘s index of U.S. executions, this appears to be just the second hanging since Indiana attained statehood in 1816.

ORGANIZATION OF THE FIRST COURT

The first session of the circuit court of Crawford county convened at Mount Sterling, August 1, 1818. Hon. Davis Floyd, Judge Green, and James Glenn composed the court. Since there was no courthouse in Mount Sterling then, James Brasher let the judges use his new log house. This house was too small to accommodate all of the jurors, hence they sat around on logs in the yard.

Sheriff Daniel Weathers was present and returned the names of the following men for a grand jury: Cornelius Hall, Lazarus Stewart, Alex King, William Osborn, James Lewis, Elias Davis, Elisha Potter, Alex Barnett, William Potter, Robert Yates, Peter Peckinpaugh, William Scott, Reuben Laswell, Abraham Wiseman, George Tutter, Martin Scott, John Sturgeon, Robert Sands, Isaac Lamp, Ed Gobin, and Malachi Monk.

These men elected Cornelius Hall foreman. After due consideration the jury returned a bill against James Ouley for murder in the first degree. The evidence showed that Ouley had followed William Briley through the woods for some distance and had then shot him in the back about where his suspenders crossed.

The ball came out in his neck making a wound about 8 inches deep. Briley died almost instantly and Ouley escaped with his horse and about 75 cents in money.

Briley lived near the present town of English. He had left home with a sack of wool and was going to Corydon to get the wool carded. He was traveling on the Governor’s Old Trail which ran from Corydon to Vincennes. The exact spot where the shooting occurred cannot now be located. It happened near the top of White Oak hill in what was then Whiskey Run township.

This act occurred July 1, 1818. Some men happened by and found Briley. They started to carry him to his cabin over on Dog creek. After they had gone about two miles they decided that they would bury him there. So a grave was dug and the body was buried just as the men had found it. Briley had no person living with him and Ouley might have escaped if he had hidden the body.

The news spread rapidly and the whole community was aroused. The only evidence then against Ouley was that he had disappeared from home that same day on which the man Briley was killed and that some woman had seen him following Briley through the woods.

Jonathan Chambers and Zedekiah Lindley who were prominent men volunteered to catch Ouley. These men had no warrant for his arrest but they were experts in catching horse thieves and felt sure that they could catch Ouley if he could be found anywhere. So they traveled all over southern Indiana but did not find him. They then crossed the Ohio river near Mauckport and began hunting for him in Meade county, Kentucky. After a two weeks’ tramp they came to the town of Brandenburg and decided to give up the hunt and let him go. While stopping at the tavern one day they saw men hauling cord wood into town. From these men they learned that there was a wood cutter out in the forest who had come there from Corydon a short time before. That night Chambers and Lindley crept up and caught Ouley in his cabin. They brought him back to the old block house near Marengo and chained him to the logs in the house and guarded him day and night till the trial came off on the first day of August.

The bill returned by the grand jury read:

James Ouley late of Crawford county, a yeoman not having the fear of God before his eyes, but moved |and seduced by the spirit of the Devil on July 1, 1818, with force and arms in Whiskey Run township in and upon William Briley in the peace of God then and there being wilful and of malice a fore thought did make and against James Ouley with a certain rifle gun of the value |of $10 loaded with gun powder and a certain leaden bullet with which gun the said Ouley did shoot William Briley in the back and the ball came out in his neck making a wound about 8 inches deep from which wound Briley died almost instantly.

The trial began at once. Ouley pleaded not guilty and demanded that the county furnish him an attorney. The court appointed Henry Stephens and Harbin Moore to defend while William Thompson was appointed prosecuting attorney for that session of the court.

Daniel Weathers, the sheriff, had a large number of men present from which these men were selected for a petit jury: Elisha Lane, Constance Williams, Marcus Troelock, Joseph Beals, Andrew Troelock, David Beals, John Goldman, James Richie, William May, George Peckinpaugh, Thomas W. Cummins, and Robert Grimes. Constance Williams was selected foreman of the jury.

The trial was conducted out of doors in the woodyard. The jurors who were among the best men in the county were sworn to hear the evidence and to decide the case. After all the evidence was in and the court had instructed the jurors, the jury retired to consider the evidence. After some time the jury returned a verdict of guilty and placed his sentence at death.

The counsel for defense asked for a new trial on these grounds:

  1. That the verdict was contrary to the state law;
  2. That the evidence was not sufficient;
  3. The conduct of the jurors was not proper;
  4. That outsiders talked to the jurors during the trial;
  5. That Elisha Lane had expressed his opinion before the trial began;
  6. That one of the jurors was too much indisposed to pay the proper amount of attention that such a case demanded. The juror in question was said to have been asleep.

The court not being fully advised adjourned till the next day when it refused the defendant a new trial and asked him if he had any further reason why sentence of death should not be passed upon him. He asked the court to arrest the judgment of the jurors on these grounds:

  1. That he was a wheelright made the evidence uncertain;
  2. That the bill did not have the name of the state or county in it.

The court overruled the argument and passed this sentence upon him:

That he should be kept in the old block house in the custody of the sheriff till October 1, 1818, when he should be taken out on the same road pr on what ever new road might be laid out by that time in one half mile of Old Mount Sterling, between the hours 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and hanged by the neck till dead.

Sheriff Weathers took the prisoner back to the block house and chained him to the logs. Men kept guard over him day and night. Yet he attempted to gnaw out. Years afterwards when the block house was torn down one could see the place where he had gnawed with his teeth on the logs of the block house.

Cornelius Hall who was a carpenter, volunteered to make the casket for Ouley. On the day of execution the coffin was put into a wagon and Ouley was chained and hauled back to Mount Sterling and hanged. He was buried in the old field near the site of the hanging. His grave was marked for a long time but now no trace of it can be found. Henry Batman who cleared the old field in 1900 said that he found a spot of clay near the road about three feet by six and thought that must have been the dirt which was thrown up from the grave. There was not much direct evidence against Ouley in the case but the jury was sure that he was guilty. So they wanted to make an example of him for the rest of the outlaws who lived in the county.

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1815: St. Peter the Aleut, the martyr of San Francisco

Add comment September 24th, 2017 Headsman

September 24 is the feast date in the Orthodox Christian tradition of Peter the Aleut.

As one might infer from his sobriquet, Peter the Aleut* — Chukagnak, to call him by the name of his birth — was a North American indigene whose canonization story features cultural collision all the way down.

Originally from Kodiak Island, Peter’s soul was won for Christ via the Russian Empire’s eastward expansion across the Bering Strait to Alaska.

Come the early 19th century the Russian-American Company that was Moscow’s chartered vehicle in the colonization game had pressed south seeking more favorable climes** with a fort in northern California supplying a network of outposts that stretched far south as Bodega Bay,† near the present-day San Francisco area.

Russia’s southerly excursions would collide with Spanish exploration pressing north: in their intersection lies the context for Peter the Aleut’s martyrdom.

The story in a nutshell is that a party of Alaskan natives in California under Russian colors was caught out hunting seals or otters by Spanish soldiers who took them captive. Peter and another Alaskan native convert called Ivan Kiglay were eventually left imprisoned together in a Spanish mission and ordered to convert to Catholicism on pain of death. When they refused, Peter was indeed slain — horribly tortured to death by having his extremities cut away while living, before finally being disemboweled.

Ivan Kiglay is the eyewitness source of this information, spared from sharing Peter’s chalice for unclear reasons. The blog OrthodoxHistory.org has done yeoman coverage of this controversial event or “event” and its overview post “Is the St. Peter the Aleut Story True?” is well worth exploring.‡ In 2011, the same site posted a rare English translation of the original Russian-language Ivan Kiglay deposition, excerpted (lightly tidied) below:

Missioners and the leader of the named above mission (whose name he does not remember) made a request to all the Kodiak dwellers to convert to the Catholic religion, to which they replied that they have already converted to a Christian religion on Kodiak, and they do not want to convert to any other religion. In a short time, Tarasov and other Kodiak dwellers [i.e., all the other Alaskans] were transferred to Saint Barbara. Though he (Kiglay Ivan) and wounded Chukagnak, were left in the mentioned mission, were kept with Indian criminals in the prison for several days, without food and water.

[One night] the chief of the mission brought the order to convert but they did not comply, despite the critical situation that they faced. On the sunrise of the next day a religious clerk came to the prison, accompanied by betrayed Indians, and called them out of the prison; Indians surrounded them, and by order started to cut (chop) Chukagnak’s fingers by articulations, from both hands and [after that] arms, and in the end cut his stomach (abdomen), by that time, he was already dead. That should have happened also to Kiglay, but at that time to the priest was brought a paper (he does not know from where and from whom). After reading that, [the priest] ordered to bury the body of the dead Chukagnak from Kasguiatskovo in the same place, and he [Kiglay] was sent back to prison.

Ivan Kiglay himself only delivered this information in 1819, four years after the alleged events, because he had ultimately to escape from a period of Spanish enslavement. In 1820 the Russian-American Company official Symeon Ivanovich Yanovsky forwarded the same report to a monastery in the motherland along with his endorsement of Ivan’s credibility (“He is not the type who could think up things”).

Unless you’re cocking an eyebrow at the convenient and mysterious last-second reprieve, there’s no particular reason to doubt the sincerity of the original deposition or of Yanovsky as interlocutor. However, there’s also no apparent corroboration of the incident known from Catholic records and the forced conversion backed by such an outlandish murder seems at odds with Spanish behavior on this particular frontier. A much later sentimental embroidery by Yanovsky from 1865 blurs the Peter story into outright hagiography. The documentary trail is so thin and questionable that everything about Peter the Aleut down to his actual existence has been hotly debated since.

Russia’s probes of California came to naught, of course — and Spain’s too for that matter, considering the Mexican War of Independence already in progress in this decade. All this land, and Alaska too, were marked for a different empire rising on the far side of the continent … and Russia’s Alaskan evangels would not in the end extend the Third Rome into the New World, but instead form the germ of the Orthodox Church in America. Today, St. Peter the Aleut is honored by Orthodox communities throughout the United States as the “martyr of San Francisco” (although this proximity for the martyrdom is also uncertain).


Shrine to Peter the Aleut in Kodiak, Alaska. (cc) image by Jesuit anthropologist Raymond Bucko, SJ.

* The descriptor “Aleut” was applied indiscriminately here, but by now it has the blessing of tradition. A more discriminating ethnography would reckon Peter and his Kodiak origins not an Aleut (from the Aleutian Islands) but an Alutiiq.

** Apart from the events narrated in this post, the Russian-American Company also dropped a fortress on Hawaii and even attempted an ill-considered takeover.

† Arriving there long before Alfred Hitchcock.

Our grim site does not pretend an opinion on whether and how religions ought to enshrine their saints … but for those curious about how St. Peter’s questionable historicity plays vis-a-vis his canonization, OrthodoxHistory.org has you covered.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Alaska,Borderline "Executions",California,Disfavored Minorities,Dismembered,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Religious Figures,Russia,Spain,Torture,USA

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1810: Santiago de Liniers

Add comment August 26th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1810, a French officer in Spanish service became an Argentine martyr.

Jacques de Liniers — or Santiago de Liniers, in the Hispanized form* — was a cavalryman turned naval officer descended of a storied noble house,** and he made his bones serving Bourbon princes on either side of the Pyrenees.

Bumping out of the French service in his early twenties, Liniers (English Wikipedia link |French | Spanish) entered his life’s destined course when he took the Spanish colors to fight the Moors in Algiers in 1774.

Progressing thence to the navy, Liniers enjoyed a variegated career at sea in the last quarter of the 18th century, participating among other engagements in the Bourbon-backed American Revolution, and in the Barbary Wars.

By the 1790s he had washed up in the Spanish possessions in the cone of South America, then organized as the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata. Here he would achieve both glory and death, coming to the fore of the colony when a surprise 1806 British attack seized lightly-defended Buenos Aires during the Napoleonic Wars. Vowing to make an offering of this interloper Home Riggs Popham‘s Union Jacks to the Dominican convent where he took refuge, Liniers escaped from the occupied city to nearby Montevideo (present-day Uruguay) where he marshaled a local militia that successfully stormed Buenos Aires.

As a result, that convent still holds the captured British flags to this day … and the white-haired Liniers (he was 53 years old at this point) stands front and center in triumph in a famous painting accepting the rosbif surrender:


La Reconquista de Buenos Aires, by Charles Fouqueray (1909).

With the official leadership having fled the place, a “cabildo abierto” — an “open council” assembly of all the city’s heads of household† — anointed the re-conqueror Liniers the new viceroy.

We catch in this easy conversion of military success to populist support a foreshadowing of the caudillo political character that would so color the coming centuries of post-independence politics, writes Lyman L. Johnson in Workshop of Revolution: Plebeian Buenos Aires and the Atlantic World, 1776-1810 — “the first appearance of personalist politics in Buenos Aires … While his closest allies worked the crowd in the Plaza Mayor to demand the substitution of the viceroy, Liniers was conveniently absent in the suburbs, an absence that forced the crowd to march en masse to return him in triumph to the city.” Thereafter, “[l]eaders elevated by contested and irregular means, Liniers the prime case, would now legitimze their claims to power on the massed authority of the transformed porteno plebe.”

Buenos Aires wasn’t the only thing transforming. Across the ocean, Napoleon’s invasion had the Spanish crown on the run. King Charles IV of Spain had recognized Liniers as “Count of Buenos Aires” before Charles’s forced abdication in 1808; however, the Junta of Seville that tenuously asserted itself the Spanish rump state dispatched a different guy as viceroy and Liniers accepted that fellow’s appointment and resigned his post. It’s a surprising decision in retrospect, one that reminds of Liniers’s Old World, ancien regime roots: this very moment in time, with the Spanish crown reduced to a bauble and the Peninsular crises leaving the empire’s overseas possessions to their own devices, saw the advent of breakaway movements throughout South America. Many of Spain’s former colonies there date independence to the 1810s or 1820s as a result.

Argentina marks its independence from July 9, 1816, but that event was product of a separatist war that began with the 1810 May Revolution. This affair deposed the post-Liniers viceroy upon news of French gains in Iberia that had collapsed even the Junta of Seville. If nobody’s left in charge — why not us? (The May Revolution continued to govern in the name of the occulted Spanish king, which is why it doesn’t get the independence day laurels.)

At this, Liniers came out of retirement like an aging pugilist for one fight too many, and mounted an ill-fated royalist counterrevolution. Instead of re-creating the glories of his campaign against the British, Liniers saw his soldiers desert him to an anticlimactic capture.

He was shot together with Juan Antonio Gutierrez de la Concha and three officers of their late unreliable militia at a small town between Cordoba and Buenos Aires called Cabeza de Tigre (“Head of the Tiger”; today it’s known as Los Surgentes‡).

Despite his dying in an attempt to stand athwart Argentinian independence, his heroism against the British has secured him posthumous honor in a country he never wanted to exist. There’s a Liniers neighborhood in Buenos Aires, and a town of Santiago de Liniers; his former estate in Cordoba is preserved today as a museum and UNESCO heritage site.

* The name in either form is “James”; he got it because his birthday, July 25 of 1753, was the feast of St. James.

** The letters of U.S. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson — present in Paris as an envoy from 1784 to 1789 — preserve an invitation from another Liniers (Santiago’s older brother, the comte de Liniers?) “to a game of chess with pear and melon.”

† As distinct from the regular (“closed”) municipal council, comprising just a few handpicked grandees.

‡ Los Surgentes is unfortunately also known for an infamous 1976 massacre of disappeared leftists.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Argentina,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Wartime Executions

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1811: Five at Shrewsbury, “but a ten minutes job”

Add comment August 24th, 2017 William Allen

(Thanks to Quaker humanitarian William Allen for the guest post, originally published in Allen’s early 19th century periodical The Philanthropist — a journal intended “to stimlate to virtue and active benevolence, by pointing out to those who have the disposition and the power the means of gratifying the best feelings of the heart.” We dated the quintuple hanging referred to via CapitalPunishmentUK.org. -ed.)

Remarks on a late Execution at Shrewsbury

As one object of THE PHILANTHROPIST is to diffuse knowledge respecting capital punishment, it may, perhaps, afford a place for the following particulars.

At the last Shrewsbury assizes, George Taylor, aged 43, William Turner, aged 53, Abraham Whitehouse, aged 23, James Baker, aged 19, and Isaac Hickman, aged 19, were, convicted of burglariously breaking into a dwelling-house, and stealing some bank notes and other articles of value. They were all left for death. The three first were considered as old offenders. The two others, however, were understood to have borne a good character; their parents were said to be respectable; the offence, as far as appeared, was the first they had committed; and they were only nineteen.

A general persuasion therefore prevailed, that these unfortunate youths would be permitted to live. Under this impression, it seems, some kind-hearted person, a stranger to them, climbed to the top of the wall overlooking the press yard behind the Shire-hall, where the prisoners were waiting on the day of their condemnation, and cried out, “You are all condemned, but only three of you will suffer.”

The poor young fellows eagerly embraced the assurance. They knew how often mercy was extended to persons under sentence of death, and could not suppose they should be selected as fit objects of peculiar severity.

While they were comforting themselves in confinement with the daily hope of a reprieve, the time appointed for the execution drew near. Two days before that time, one of them received a message from his mother, intended to console him under the expectation of a miserable death, that she would send to fetch away his body! Not till then, had they given themselves up for lost. But from that moment all hope was over. From that moment they had but two days — two days of consternation and despair, to fit themselves for death and eternity. Those two days, the shortest they had ever known, were but too soon gone. The morning of execution came. On that day, the five prisoners, even the two lads of nineteen, were all hanged! The two poor fellows who were executed together, immediately as the drop fell from under them, caught hold of each other’s hands, and expired in a mutual embrace! What a feeling has pervaded the county, among all who could feel, hardly need be described.

The extraordinary circumstance of five men being executed at once, for one offence, attracted vast multitudes of people, of the lower order, from all parts of the country. To see five of their fellow creatures hanged, was as good as a horse-race, a boxing-match, or a bull-baiting. If nothing was intended but to amuse the rabble, at a great loss of their time and a considerable expense, the design was undoubtedly effected. If a public entertainment was not the object, it may be asked, What benefit has a single individual derived from beholding the destruction of these miserable victims? Perhaps that question may be answered by stating, that many of the spectators immediately afterwards got intoxicated, and some cried out to their companions, with a significant gesture in allusion to the mode of punishment, “It is but a ten minutes job!” If such is the sentiment excited on the very spot, it cannot be supposed to be more salutary at a distance; and notwithstanding the sacrifice of these five men, the people of Shropshire must still fasten their doors.

But if, on the other hand, in time to come, a compassionate Shropshire jury should rather acquit some unhappy young culprit, when charged with a capital felony, and suffer hm to go unpunished, rather than consign him to the executioner, — if house-breakers should learn to think lightly of human life, and adopt the precaution of committing a murder the next time they commit a robbery, since the danger of detection would be less, and the punishment no greater, — what will the inhabitants of the county have to thank for it, but this very spectacle! — a spectacle which cannot soften one heart, but may harden many; which confounds moral distinctions, and draws away public indignation from the guilt of the offender, to turn it against the severity of the law.

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1817: Eleanor Gillespie

Add comment July 26th, 2017 Headsman

Two hundred years ago today, Bath County, Kentucky housewife Eleanor (sometimes spelled Ellenor) Gillespie hanged “at the forks of the road on Mt. Sterling pike” for strangling her abusive husband.

The best account we’ve found of this affair is the Gillespie family lore as related in a letter to the Bath County News-Outlook on Nov. 4, 2009.

The family version of events was that [second husband, and sheriff, John] Hawkins was a drunkard who was both physically and sexually abusive to Eleanor and her children. She couldn’t turn to “the law” for help as he was the law. She took matters into her own hands on the night in question. He was drunk and up to the usual. Luckily for little 7 yr. old Rebecca Gillespie, he passed out before he was able to abuse her. Eleanor had had enough. With the help of her son [Jacob Gillespie, aged about 14 years and therefore lightly handled by the law] they tied a rope around the man’s neck and as the family version goes, “One went one way and the other went the other way.” …

The acting sheriff after the murder was none other than the son of John Hawkins … Hawkins, Jr. is the one who quite possibly started the rumor that Hawkins was murdered over money, not wanting to real reason to get out.

It seems that Eleanor still enjoyed some public sympathy notwithstanding; local magnate George Lansdown(e) was involved in a caper to spring her from jail, perhaps owing a debt of inspiration to the cross-dressing flight of Jacobite Lord Nithsdale: Lansdown called on the jail as a visitor and there stripped himself so that Eleanor could put on his civilian men’s clothing and just stroll on out of lockup.

She just about accomplished this but a do-gooder or do-badder guard named David Fathey recognized her on the way out and arrested her; evidently our disrobed rescuer was counting on some look-the-other-wayism via what must have been a sentiment widely abroad in the community, for “Lansdown was incensed at Fathey for not permitting her to escape; a fight ensued and Fathey whipped Lansdown.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Kentucky,Murder,Public Executions,USA,Women

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1819: Robert Dean, “rational incoherence”

Add comment April 8th, 2017 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1819, an apprentice watch engraver named Robert Dean was hanged at. St. George’s Fields, Surrey for the murder of Mary Ann Albert, age four.

The crime appeared, on the surface, to be without motive. Robert was a coworker and good friend of Mary Ann’s uncle, Joseph Williams, and he also became close to Joseph’s sister, Mary Albert. On his frequent visits to the Albert family, he would play adoringly with Mary’s daughter, little Mary Ann.

On the day of the murder, Dean met Joseph at Mary Albert’s house and little Mary Ann sat in his lap for a time. Then Dean and Joseph left the house, but after they had walked only a short distance, Dean made an excuse to go back to the Albert residence. He asked for permission to take Mary Ann for a short walk, and her mother agreed. When they didn’t return, she went out looking for them and was horrified to see her daughter stumbling toward her, blood spurting from a deep gash in her throat.

Mary summoned a doctor, but it was too late: the child died within the hour.

Robert Dean turned himself in to the authorities several days later. Prior to his trial he penned a confession that offered a perplexing reason behind his terrible actions:

On Friday evening last I met a young man named Joseph Williams with whom I had long been intimate, at Mrs. Albert’s house in Jacques-court, Thomas-street. I had long been acquainted with a young woman named Sarah Longman, daughter of Mr. L. at the Grapes, Church-row, Aldgate; my affection for her was extremely great; I had for some time corresponded with her. A dispute unhappily arose; I wrote to her on the subject, expressing my regret at the unfortunate rupture, described the very great regard which I entertained for her, implored her to consent to reconciliation, and begged that she would write me an easily answer. She never replied to my letter. Her father called upon me, and wished that the connexion might be discontinued. These circumstances had an indescribable effect upon my mind; I was miserably unhappy, and was incapable for attending to my business, and gave myself up entirely to despair. I endeavored to prevail upon her to renew the correspondence. I felt that I could not be happy in this world without her, and was determined to leave it. Thoughts of a dreadful description entered my mind, and must have proceeded from the Devil. I felt that I should leave the world in a state of happiness if I could murder her, and determined to perpetrate the deed. I had been home from two days, business not being very brisk, and on Friday evening I called to see Williams, at Mrs. Albert’s. We both came out together and walked in company to the theater. We did not go in; I told Williams that I wanted to see a gentleman in the Borough, and should go that way. We parted and I returned to Mrs. Albert’s. After talking in a very friendly manner with the family, I asked for a knife and they gave me a case-knife. I took an opportunity of concealing it unperceived in my pocket. I shortly went out with the child to buy her some apples, which having done, I returned to the court. A sudden thought came over my mind, that if I murdered the child, who was innocent, I should not commit so great a crime as murdering Sarah Longman, who was older, and as I imagined, has sins to answer for. In a moment I pulled the knife out of my pocket, put the child down out of my arms, held her head back and cut her little throat. In an instant I imagined that I was in the midst of flaming fire, and the court appeared to me like the entrance of hell. I ran away, not knowing where I went or what I did; I wandered about in a state of distraction until I surrendered myself up to the watch-house.

In other words, Robert Dean, spurned by his lover, chose to take out his rage on a toddler, “who was an innocent,” whose family liked and trusted him, and who had nothing to do with the love affair at all. Mary Ann Albert’s mother was obliged to testify against him at trial, and the Newgate Calendar records that when she “beheld the prisoner at the bar, she burst into an hysteric scream of horror, and was for a long time incapable of giving her evidence, until she was relieved by a flood of tears.”

His guilt was never in doubt; for those who saw him at trial he “appeared to be in a kind of idiotic stupor” and “being called upon to make his defence, merely said in a wild manner, that he was not guilty.” (Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, April 8, 1819)

Dean’s disordered thoughts likewise governed his embrace of the death sentence; “his general appearance was that of a maniac, but on all subjects he spoke rationally, although often incoherently.” Did he fear to hang? The example of Enlightenment philosophers comforted him. “Why should I complain, knowing as I do that the change I am going to make is for the better? Where is Voltaire now? — in hell: where is Tom Paine? — in hell: God have mercy upon them as he has upon me.”

A cast of Dean’s head was made after his execution and phrenologists made a careful study of it. According to their findings,

Disappointment in love, aided perhaps by other causes, appears to have produced diseased action in the brain: and the different mental faculties are here seen acting like so many limbs of an automaton, when their different organs happen to be excited by external objects, those which are largest always taking the lead. Thus Amativeness, and apparently Adhesiveness, excite Destructiveness, and Dean first resolved to kill Sarah Longman. The little child, however, fell accidentally in his way, and his Veneration and Benevolence seem to have started into activity in favour of his young woman: he would not kill her because “she would have much sin to answer for.” Impelled, however, by the diseased energy of his large Destructiveness, he could not refrain from murder, but slew the infant, to whom nevertheless he had previously been tenderly attached. After giving scope to Destructiveness, his moral organs came into action, and he was overwhelmed with remorse, and gave himself up to the police.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions

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1818: Samuel Godfrey, American picaro

Add comment February 13th, 2017 Headsman

“The day was remarkably calm, serene and placid, for the season — as was also, the mind, the countenance, and the conduct of the prisoner” on February the 13th of 1818 when “more than ten thousand persons” witnessed the execution of Samuel Godfrey on Woodstock (Vt.) Green.

That’s per A Sketch of the Life of Samuel E. Godfrey, which is reproduced in full in this post; some version of the publication was sold on Woodstock Green on the day of the hanging, presumably without the final appendix actually reporting the execution’s result.*

Alternating between mariner and hatter, with frequent brushes against authority and a keen feel (up to and including the transaction that cost him his own life) for the injustices visited upon him by the powerful, Samuel Godfrey emerges episodically as an American picaro on the Canadian frontier — which he is made to cross thanks to the hated British practice of seizing and impressing American seamen.

Although the man’s personal history is impossible to audit, the historical events in which he situates his autobiography were quite real: the dramatic naval battle of the HMS Cleopatra and the Ville de Milan is narrated here; there were American-British skirmishes at Odelltown, Quebec during the War of 1812; and certainly his audience would have been familiar with the flood that devastated Woodstock in 1811.

* Despite the extensive prepared “valedictory address” printed in the document in this post, Godfrey’s scaffold statement was actually quite cursory thanks to a planning snafu. According to the Amherst, N.H. Farmers’ Cabinet (Feb. 21, 1818), he said only: “I have no remarks to make, only that I declare before God and man, that I am innocent of the crime for which I am about to suffer. I had an address prepared for the occasion, but it is not here; if it was, I should be glad to have it read.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,USA,Vermont

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1813: John McDonald and James Black, Edinburgh robbers

1 comment July 14th, 2016 Headsman

From the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1813:

On Wednesday, M’Donald and Black, who were convicted before the High Court of Justiciary of the robbery and murder of Mr. Muirhead, near Coltbridge, were executed upon the spot where the murder was committed. About one o’clock these unfortunate young men were brought out of prison and placed upon a cart, having seats elevated and railed round.

They were escorted along the Lawn Market, Bank-street, the Mound, and Prince’s street, by the magistrates of the city, the high constables, a detachment of the Northampton and Norfolk militias, a party of the 7th dragoons, and the city guard.

Upon reaching the west end of Prince’s street, the procession halted, where the magistrates delivered over the prisoners to the sheriff of the county, and they were then escorted by a strong detachment of the Mid Lothian yeomanry cavalry, and the sheriff and police constables, through the village of Coltbridge to the place of execution.

After some time spent in devotion, the prisoners mounted the platform, and about a quarter before three they were launched into eternity.

On the way to the place of execution the prisoners employed their time in reading, but occasionally looked round on the surrounding multitude. At the place of execution they behaved with seeming fortitude and resignation; in a particular manner, Black, who first mounted the platform, and prayed.

M’Donald was not visited by any catholic [sic] clergymen till after sentence had been passed upon him. On the first visit, he was found not so grossly ignorant as might have been apprehended, seeing that he had never attended any religious duty: and his dispositions seemed to correspond with his awful situation.

On the scaffold, as on the way to it, and indeed during the whole preceding day, he seemed entirely taken up with those exercises of devotion which had been suggested to him as proper for the occasion. In all appearance he died truly penitent and resigned to his fate.

At half past three the bodies were cut down, and conveyed in the same cart, escorted by a body of constables, to the College of Edinburgh, and delivered over to the professors of anatomy.

On this day..

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

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