1825: Odysseus Androutsos

Add comment June 5th, 2020 Headsman

On this date* in 1825, Greek revolutionary Odysseus (or Odysseas) Androutsos was summarily executed as a traitor by his comrades.

Fruit of Ithaca like the immortal hero of the same name, Androutsos joined the uprising that became the Greek War of Independence and repelled the numerically overwhelming forces of the cruel Ottoman governor Ali Pasha that had lately crushed Athanasios Diakos.

This upstart victory at the Battle of Gravia Inn might have been decisive in saving the independence bid from being destroyed in its cradle. In its day it established Androutsos as one of the major commanders of the revolution, good enough for unprincipled English rogue and Lord Byron crony Edward John Trelawny to fall in with long enough to marry Androutsos’s sister.**

According to the Scottish historian George Finlay — another British interloper in this war — many of the warlords who prosecuted Greek’s revolution are best viewed in the perspective of klephts or hajduks: an archetype combining anti-Ottoman insurgent and opportunistic brigand, making for themselves on treacherous terrain. “Odysseus never attached any importance to political independence and national liberty,” Finlay opines. “His conduct from the commencement of the Revolution testified that he had no confidence in its ultimate success. He viewed it as a temporary revolt, which might be rendered conducive to his own interests.”

Installed in eastern Greece, it was only natural that such a figure would consider cutting deals with the Ottomans. Androutsos’s brief and little-harmful defection was prosecuted as treason by his comrades — his execution on Athens’s Acropolis conducted by his former second-in-commannd, Yannis Gouras — but countrymen down the years have been quite a bit more understanding. The Greek government reconsidered its malediction and in 1865 reburied Androutsos with honors; his grave is never since to be found without the garlands of admiring posterity.

* June 5 is the Julian date, an exception from our normal Gregorian preference in the 19th century because, well, it’s a national hero of an Orthodox polity. Nevertheless, the Gregorian June 17 can be found mentioned here and there, including even on Androutsos’s cemetery stele.

** Trelawny dumped her when his Greek holiday had run its course, and he returned to England a bachelor.

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1826: Francis Irvin, the first hanging in Ohio County, Kentucky

Add comment May 13th, 2020 Headsman

This chapter titled “The First Hanging in Ohio County, KY” comes from the public-domain 1926 volume Ohio County Kentucky in the Olden Days. The footnote appears in the original text.

Francis Irvin, who was raised in the Adams Fork settlement, had become involved In a lawsuit with an old gentleman named William Maxwell in which Irvin’s character and purse were involved. Maxwell gave a deposition and, after he had testified, mounted his horse to go home. That was the last seen of Maxwell alive. At a late hour in the evening his riderless horse reached the farm and whinnied for his master. The animal was found by a member of the family who at once saw that the empty saddle was covered with blood, indicating that the rider had been seriously hurt or killed.

Several days were spent in hunting the body, in which hunt Irvin joined. Being suspected of the crime he was constantly watched. It was afterwards observed that he always proposed searching in different localities from that in which the body was eventually found. It had been thrown into a slight pool or basin worn by the water of a small branch where it poured over the roots that partially obstructed the channel. It was there found covered with loose stones, logs, dirt, and leaves. A heavy fall of rain had washed away all the lighter covering, and after the high water subsided, the body was left exposed to sight.

Cowardly sneaks, although the most disposed, should never commit crime. Had Irvin been a man of iron nerve and will and boldly protested his innocence, he could never have been lawfully convicted, but his craven heart gave evidence as soon as the body was discovered. He trembled and turned pale, and although his confession might have been made under sufficient threats and persuasions to have excluded it as evidence on the trial, yet he gave facts which fastened the guilt on him, such as telling where he had hidden Maxwell’s hat and shoes and where they could find another bullet hole in the body, one which, up to then, had not been noticed.

Irvin was arrested and committed to the old log jail in Hartford. The old house was so weak that it had to be guarded at a great expense until he was removed to the Hardinsburg jail for safe-keeping.

His case lingered in court for nearly two years and at one time resulted in a hung jury. A final trial was had and the jury brought in a verdict of murder.

Joseph Allen, of Hardinsburg, had been a practitioner at the Hartford bar from perhaps the first circuit court held in the county. He was Irvin’s lawyer, and was able, untiring, and devoted to his client. Great reliance was placed on the selection of juries in desperate cases. Next to the hardened villain who feared punishment himself, the mild, tender-hearted man who abhorred a murder and shrank from taking life, even by due process of law, was sought as a juryman. The panel was at last completed save one, and the defendant still had one or more peremptory challenges in reserve. Timothy Condit was called. There perhaps never lived a purer Christian or more tender-hearted man. He seldom listened to a tale of suffering or misery without tears.

Mr. Allen viewed him sternly and critically and took him without challenge, and during the trial and in his argument always aimed to excite the old man’s sympathy. This he no doubt succeeded in doing for tears were seen coursing down his cheeks during the trial, also when a verdict of guilt was announced. The able counsel for the defendant looked surprised, but no doubt still clung to the hope that Timothy Condit would “give down,” so he called for a poll of the jury.

This was done by each juryman being called by name and asked whether he agreed to the verdict. Condit’s name was the last on the list. When his name was called, Mr. Allen assumed a grave and solemn tone of voice, and, pausing on each word, said: “Mister Condit, do you agree to that verdict?” — with an emphasis on “you,” “agree,” and “verdict.”

During all this time the courthouse was thronged with spectators. The interest felt seemed painfully intense. Every eye was turned on the meek, simple-hearted old man. Every ear was strained to hear his words. The good old man raised his eyes to heaven; tears trickled down his cheeks. His words were feeble, yet thrilling. Slowly he said: “In the name of the Lord, I do.” A murmur of applause burst from the crowd. This was followed by a titter of laughter at an ill-natured remark by Allen about the old man and his Lord. Allen then threw down his papers and books and left the courthouse.

Judge Alney McLean, whose heart was always overflowing with human kindness, could not pass sentence with anything like due composure. He solemnly set the day of execution — May 13, 1826 — but when he spoke the words “that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead!” — his voice became husky and almost inaudible as he wiped tears from his eyes.*

A hanging had never before occurred in Ohio County. Men, women, and children of every age and condition came not only from this county but also from Daviess, Breckinridge, Grayson, Butler, and Muhlenberg. Taverns, private houses in town, and even homes for miles in the country were crowded with visitors. Even the courthouse was filled over night with campers. The whole of the four acres of the public square was then unoccupied, except as a common, and was almost as green as a meadow, but the morning after the hanging it resembled a battlefield.

The erection of a gallows in the center of the town was unusual, but the reason was this: Shortly after the sentence was passed, remonstrances came in from every neighborhood to the sheriff, John Rogers, against erecting a gallows on the road they traveled to town. No man would give leave for its erection on his property. The sheriff did not wish to incur the ill will of the whole community, so, upon the advice of the county attorney, he built the scaffold in Washington Street, a short distance below the crossing of Market Street.

The night previous to the execution the poor wife of the condemned man brought him a new suit of snow white home-made linen and a very large twist of home-grown tobacco.

Dressed in his suit of white, with his big twist of tobacco protruding largely from his pantaloon pocket, he was driven to the gallows in a one-horse cart by the sheriff. He seemed determined to take the tobacco with him to another world, for, just before the rope was adjusted around his neck, he pulled out his twist, took an enormous chew, and then put the twist back in his pocket and buttoned the flap over it, apparently with anxious care.

Irvin’s conduct upon the scaffold seemed to excite only pity and contempt. He showed nothing but a weak, cowardly fear of death — no courage, no stoicism to excite admiration, certainly nothing to stimulate the most depraved spectator to emulate his example. Whilst the sheriff was adjusting the cap over his face and the rope around his neck, he clung to him like a drowning man, and the sheriff had to pull from him. The cart moved suddenly away. A few convulsive struggles, a quiver of muscles, and the melon-stealing, orchard-robbing boy who had culminated into a vile murderer in middle age was no more.

* In a subsequent article Mr. Taylor makes a correction to the effect that upon further reflection he found “the scene with Timothy Condit and Joseph Allen” took place at the first trial of Irvin and not the last. He attended all the trials and admits that “after a lapse of these many years these trials became blended together in the writer’s memory.” Judge John B. Wilson, in a memorandum (1926) citing Order Book No. 7, pages 10 and 44, says that the last trial ended on Tuesday, April 4, 1826, and that the jury consisted of: George Oldham, Job Malin, Joseph D. McFarland, Ezekiel Kennedy, Cornelius Roach, Joseph Paxton, Stephen Rowan, Churchill Jones, Michael Myers, Nicholas Taylor, Allan May, and Ansel Watson, foreman.

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1821: Patriarch Gregory V, in his vestments

Add comment April 10th, 2020 Headsman

The Ottoman Empire besmirched this date in 1821* by launching the Constantinople Massacre of Orthodox Greeks, prominently including the summary hanging of Patriarch Gregory V in his full clerical vestments — on Easter Sunday.


Gregory V approaching martyrdom, by Nikiforos Lytras.

On edge from the outbreak just days earlier of the rebellion that would become the Greek War of Independence, Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II came down on the Greeks within his empire like a ton of bricks. He demanded a religious fatwa licensing a general massacre, a demand that the Sheikh ul-Islam courageously refused. (It cost him his own life to do so.)

Trapped frightfully in the middle of this was the Patriarch, 75 years old and no revolutionary but with a delicate job to safeguard his flock. Fatwa or no — and Gregory’s own private mission to his Muslim counterpart had helped to block that dreadful order — his people stood at Mahmud’s mercy. With news of rebel advances reaching the Porte during Holy Week, Mahmud had the prelate seized during Easter liturgy, escorted outside, and hanged at the gate of the Patriarchate.


St. Peter’s Gate where Gregory suffered has never since been opened. (cc) image from Alessandro57.

On the same day, dozens of other Greek priests, merchants, and officials were summarily executed around Constantinople; one report described of that day that “[a]ll the Archbishops and Bishops who were in the Church on account of the celebration of Easter, were either executed or thrown into prison. The congregation fled out of the Church to the neighbouring houses of the priest, but many were murdered by the enraged populace.” This assault signaled the start of months of terrors ranging from official persecutions, harassment by Janissaries, pogroms, and frequent public executions of prominent Greek Christians that continued into the summer.

* It was April 10 by the Julian (O.S.) date that was still in use in the Orthodox world; by the Gregorian (N.S.) calendar, it’s April 22. We think the reasons to override our general preference for Gregorian dates in this era of history are self-explanatory, especially since the Patriarch has been canonized with a feast date of April 10.

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1820: The pirates of the William

Add comment February 4th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1820, six pirates of the brig William hanged at the Maltese capital Valletta.

This vessel had the previous July departed her Liverpool berth hauling a cargo of lucrative sugar to Malta under the command of Charles Christopher Delano. The latter evidently labored under some legal judgment he considered unjust and convinced a none-too-reluctant crew that it would be “neither a sin nor a shame” to augment their wages by turning buccaneer.

To this end, the William waylaid an Italy-bound English brigantine, the Helen, off the Spanish coast just inside the Straits of Gibraltar on August 2. All that night and throughout the next day the pirates were engaged in transferring the Helen‘s cargo to their own ship, finally boring open the hull and abandoning her to sink with all hands aboard. The contingent of the Helen was able with difficult to force their way out of confinement and take a longboat (likewise disabled by the raiders and therefore in need of constant bailing) towards the coast until they encountered the aid of friendlier mariners. All survived their brush with the William although their prosecutor would rightly observe that “the confidence on which the prisoners relied for their security (and which has led to their present arraignment) must have arisen from the belief that all evidence of their crime was extinct, and that the intention of a deliberate and comprehensive murder must be added to their already too prominent offence.”

The William, meanwhile, had proceeded to Sardinia where her crew was able to unload some of the ill-gotten gains, and thence to Malta, where they discharged the remainder, along with the legitimate sugar cargo they’d carried out of Liverpool.* However, the Maltese transactions attracted enough suspicion that after the William left harbor, British insurance men there hired a ship named Frederick to apprehend the William — which was soon accomplished.

The case itself was open and shut, and from an appendix to its record we discover the usual climax that is this site‘s stock in trade:

On Friday morning, the 4th of February, at eight o’clock, the awful sentence of the law was carried into execution, on board the brig William, upon Charles Christopher Delano, Thomas Thompson, Benjamin Wilcock, John Smith, John Lewis, and John Webb, in the mode prescribed by the following order issued upon that occasion: —

That the William, brig, being the vessel in which the unfortunate convicts committed the flagrant and most atrocious act of piracy, be painted black, hauled out and anchored in the middle of the great port of Malta, viz. that of Valetta [sic]; and that the aforesaid most unhappy convicts be carried on board of the said vessel, at such time and in such manner as may hereafter be directed; and that on Friday morning, being the fourth day of the month, between the hours of eight and twelve, the aforesaid convicts, viz. Charles Christopher Delano, the late master of the said brig; Thomas Thompson, late mate of ditto; Benjamin Wilcock, late mariner and second mate of ditto; John Webb, late mariner of ditto; John Lewis, late mariner and cook of ditto; John Smith, late mariner of ditto; John Curtis, late carpenter of ditto;** and Reuben Marshall, late mariner of ditto, be hanged as may be directed between the hours of eight and twelve on Friday morning next, being the fourth day of the month of February, in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty; and after hanging till they be dead, that they be cut down, put in open shells, and protected by a proper guard from his Majesty’s ships; that they be carried to the appointed place, viz. Fort Ricasoli, where the body of the late Charles Christopher Delano, late Captain of the William, is to be hung in irons on the right hand gibbet, next to the Port of Valletta, erected for this purpose in the north-west angle of the said fort; the body of John Lewis, late cook and mariner on board the same vessel, on the left hand gibbet in the same angle; the body of Thomas Thompson, late mate, on the right hand gibbet, erected for the purpose on the north-east angle of the same part of the said fort; and the body of John Smith on the left hand gibbet in the same fort; and that the four remaining bodies be interred at the feet of the before-mentioned gibbets — the body of Benjamin Wilcock under the gibbet on which the late Charles Christopher Delano hangs; the body of John Webb under the gibbet on which the late John Lewis hangs; the body of John Curtis under that on which Thomas Thompson hangs; and the body of Reuben Marshall under the gibbet on which John Smith hangs.

It is satisfactory to state, that the unfortunate man, who commanded the piratical vessel, confessed, in the last hours of his life, in order to reconcile himself with that Supreme Being on whom alone all his hopes then depended, that he was the prime mover and instigator of this most heinous crime.

His Majesty’s most gracious clemency was extended to the persons of the other two prisoners, Reuben Marshall and John Curtis, whose fatal sentence was respited on the spot, after the execution of their associates, by a warrant to that effect from his Excellency Sir Thomas Maitland,† issued at ten o’clock on the preceding night.

The following extract from the Malta Government Gazette will explain the laudable motives which induced His Excellency to this most humane and gracious act of clemency: —

We understand that His Excellency was induced to grant this mark of favour from the conviction, after a laborious investigation into the subject, that cases had occurred, although very rarely, of such clemency having been extended, in previous instances, to some of the parties convicted of aggravated piracy.

Such a precedent was, no doubt, most grateful to his Excellency’s feelings, and in the choice of the two persons to be spared, we understand his Excellency was guided by the uncommonly good character which Marshall had possessed previous to this atrocious act in which he was concerned; and in the case of Curtis, independently of his youth, by some very peculiar circumstances which had been disclosed in his favour by the captain and the rest of his ill-fated associates.

* One of the crew members reported receiving a total of 345 dollars from his share of the booty. Even allowing that “legitimate” fourfold share he claimed for himself as the captain, Delano apparently shortchanged his associates.

** So many Johns!

† Catch a Maitland cameo in this post from the Haitian Revolution.

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1829: Thomas Maynard, the last hanged for forgery

Add comment December 31st, 2019 Headsman

The last day of the 1820s marked the last hanging for forgery in Great Britain: that of Thomas Maynard, at London’s Newgate Prison.

Maynard was charged with two other men* for forging an order of His Majesty’s Customs to pay them £1,973. They got the money and for a few months had that blessed relief from the weight of penury and debt; one of the numerous witnesses in their case described how one of Maynard’s confederates “was in difficulties in the year 1828 … I saw him in June last, when he told me his wife had 700l.”

It must have been nice, but they weren’t quite quick enough about executing their plan to sail for America.

Although the sovereign himself was the victim in this instance, British juries had grown ever more reluctant in the early 19th century to impose capital punishment for faking a document to non-violently steal some money — although there were still 218 such executions over the first 30 years of the century.

The availability of the death penalty for such a deed was repealed in 1832.

* Joseph West, who was acquitted, and Richard Jones, who was convicted only as an accessory and transported to Australia.

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1822: Thomas Thomasen Bisp, skull exhibit

Add comment July 22nd, 2019 Headsman

Thomas Thomasen Bisp, an adulterer who fatally poisoned his wife after he got the hots for his maid, became on this date in 1822 the last person executed in the North Jutland city of Hjørring.

Times being what they were, the torture-spectacle parts of the sentence — like having his offending hand struck off — were remitted; all things equal, we assume that Bisp would have best preferred to keep the one extremity he was still required to sacrifice.

This minor milestone is memorable to visitors of the Vendsyssel Historial Museum, where reposes the killer’s grisly beheaded skull courtesy of its 1900 accidental discovery in the course of some road work.

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1821: Athanasios Diakos, Greek War of Independence hero

Add comment April 24th, 2019 Headsman

Greek independence hero Athanasios Diakos died by Ottoman impalement on this date in 1821.*

Though he acquired his nickname Diakos (“deacon”) from a youthful spell in a monastery, this fellow Athanasios (English Wikipedia entry | Greek) while the Turks still governed Greece made his way as a klepht — Greece’s version of the Balkan hybrid outlaw/guerrilla archetype, similar to the hajduk figures among the South Slavs. All of these outlaw types took to the mountains where they could subsist as brigands and mercenaries beyond the reach of the Porte, and seek opportunities where they might to strike at Ottomans. Many of the Greek persuasion, Diakos included, adhered to the Filiki Eteria secret society that aspired to liberate Greece.

With the onset of the Greek War of Independence in early 1821, Diakos jumped right into the fight. Picturesquely, he met a much larger Turkish detachment in battle at Thermopylae where he made like Leonidas and with a handful of companions heroically held out against impossible odds at the Alamana Bridge.

Captured wounded, Diakos spurned the temptation of an officer’s commission in the Turkish army should he but switch sides with words that remain legendary in his homeland to this day: “I was born a Greek, I shall die a Greek.” He was impaled at the city of Lamia, fearlessly musing, “Look at the time Charon chose to take me, now that the branches are flowering, and the earth sends forth grass.”


The Apotheosis of Athanasios Diakos, by Konstantinos Parthenis (1933).

He’s a very famous and beloved figure in Greece, albeit much less so in parts beyond. The village where Diakos was allegedly born has been renamed for him full stop.

* The narratives I’ve seen run a bit hinkie between the Battle of Alamana on April 22 and the great klepht’s death on April 24 since there’s a two-day gap and everyone seems to agree that he was ordered for execution “the next day”. I’m sticking to the agreed death date here, which is universal, but as best I can discern the timeline alternatives for accounting the missing day appear to break down between the notion that Diakos was impaled on the 23rd and lingered on his spike overnight before death, and that it was not until the 23rd that the Ottoman commander had the opportunity to interrogate him and decide his fate and thus “the next day” was the 24th. I haven’t located a source that appears dispositive on this issue.

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1827: Sarah Jones, firm infanticide

Add comment April 11th, 2019 Headsman

From the Bristol Mercury of April 16, 1827:

EXECUTION OF SARAH JONES.

This unfortunate victim to seduction was 26 years of age, and lived with her father and mother, Thomas and Mary Jones, who resided in a small cottage, forming one of a row of houses, situated on the side of the Sirhowy tram-road, called Pye-corner, in the parish of Bassalleg, in the county of Monmouth.

On Tuesday morning she took a farewell leave of her wretched parents, which she bore with considerable firmness, being the least affected of the three. — A neighbor, who spoke to her character, was, at her desire, permitted to see her the same morning, and speak to her in the Welsh language. She was particularly communicative; detailing the circumstances most minutely, which led to her present situation. She said it was not her intention to have destroyed the hapless infant, until three months before her confinement, when she discovered her seducer, Flook, had married another woman; she then formed the diabolical plan of having her revenge in the murder of his infant.

On Monday, the 23d of October, at breakfast, she found herself ill, and went up stairs; about ten or eleven her mother came up, disturbed by her voice; she sent her down for some fresh linen; and whilst the mother was going down stairs, the child was born: — she immediately seized one of two pen-knives which were in her pocket by her bedside, and in a minute or two after the birth, gave it two gashes in the throat; the mother coming up with the linen, she hid the body between the sacking and the bed, on some straw lying between, and lay on it until the Friday night. On that night Flook came to see her, — she was then down stairs in the chair (her father asleep) — he immediately noticed the alteration in her size, on which she told him of the horrid deed she had committed, and entreated him to assist her, by burying the body; — he consented; and, having sewed it up in some spare sacking, she gave it him through the window.

She positively declares her father knew nothing of the transaction, till Potter, the game-keeper, brought the body to the house; that she had concealed her situation from her mother, denying her pregnancy, even the Sunday evening before her confinement; and that the mother believed the child to have been still-born, up to the time of the coroner’s inquisition.

Sarah Burley, a fellow prisoner, under sentence of imprisonment, for stealing money, at Newport, slept with her during the night; — she slept remarkably sound, being only disturbed by supposing she saw her coffin lying by her bedside: she asserts, she has felt ever since her sentence, the sensation of having a rope round her neck, and that she often lifted her hand to remove it. She spoke in the most flattering manner of the attentions of the keeper, Mr. T. Phillips, to whose humanity and instructions she was indebted for her firmness of mind; — she took a prison farewell of the friend to whom she revealed her mind, without tears, and viewed the prospect of the near approach of her death with the greatest resignation.

Additional Particulars. — This unfortunate woman was of short stature, stout made, with nothing in her countenance indicative of ferociousness, she stood during her trial without any perceptible emotion, but on receiving sentence was obliged to be supported by one of the officers in attendance, and was carried from the bar to the chaise which conducted her to the gaol; she has asserted that even then, she was as collected as she ever was in her life, and was only exhausted from the joy she felt that her mother was acquitted. She had made up her mind for the worst on first entering the gaol, and her whole anxiety was, lest her poor mother should be found guilty, and she should be thus accessory to another death.

She slept soundly the last night, awaking about 6 o’clock, and on viewing the fatal spot observed that every thing was ready and she was so herself. After divine service she received the sacrament with several other criminals, and was from thence ushered to the drop, walking with a steady step, on arriving at the lodge she took a last farewell of several around her, expressing her confidence of being in a few minutes happy, she then ascended the place where the executioner awaited her, in the performance of his painful duty, the only observation she made, was not to draw the rope too tight, and having kissed those around her, begged the cap might be then pulled over her face, she then stept on the platform with firmness, on the rope being adjusted, she begged the executioner to draw her clothes tight around her, which he did by tying a handkerchief, having retired, the drop fell, and in about a minute vitality ceased.

After hanging an hour her body was delivered to her friends, for interment in Bassalleg churchyard; on its being made known that the part of her sentence relating to her dissection was remitted, she felt much gratified and hoped they would let her body remain one night at her father’s house. Thus died this unhappy woman in her 26th year, her fate has excited much commiseration and miserable must be the recollections of her seducer; her resignation was praiseworthy, her repentance contrite, and her conduct firm and decided beyond precedent under such circumstances; endued with great strength and presence of mind, she only wanted the advantages of education, and to have been under the moral restrictions of the Christian code to have been an useful character in society, may her end be (in the impressive language of the Learned Judge who tried her) a warning to the unguarded of her age, and to those wretches unworthy the name of men who have, or who may seduce females to a similar state of degradation; throughout the trial the humanity of the Learned Sergeant was apparent, and the feeling manner in which he pronounced the dreadful fiat of the law drew tears from the eyes of a majority of the largest assemblage of spectators within that court. The crowd assembled at her execution was unusually large, and, as is customary, but no ways creditable to them, two thirds were females.

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1820: John and Lavinia Fisher

Add comment February 18th, 2019 Headsman

February 18, 1820 was the execution date of South Carolina crime Hall of Famers John and Lavinia Fisher.

By legendary repute the first serial killer in America, Fisher and her husband John were said to lure travelers to their Six Mile Wayfarer House near Ashley Ferry outside Charleston where they’d be poisoned, stabbed, and robbed.

Alas, the Fishers were actually a more conventional sort of brigand.


National Advocate for the Country (New York, N.Y.), January 28, 1820.

Quite incredible legends have been embroidered for this purported Bates Motel of the early Republic: for instance, that their cover was blown by a man named John Peoples/Peeples who grew suspicious enough to avoid drinking the poisoned tea and then sat up all night like young Felix Platter until he caught wind of the imminent attack, sprang out a window, and fled to safety. If so, it was a woeful failure of the period’s journalists merely to report that he had been savagely beaten and robbed.

A few books about the Lavinia Fisher case

Instead, these two seemed to be part of a gang of bandits who occupied not only their Six Mile House but also the Five Mile House, and Lavinia wasn’t the only woman in the lot: one Jane Howard was among the half-dozen arrested when the Six Mile lair was raided by a vigilante posse in February 1819, along with William Heyward, James M’Elwray, and Seth Young, along with others uncaptured. (Names via National Advocate, March 3, 1819) Papers of the time slate them with offenses like stealing livestock and highway robbery, and it’s the latter crime — not murder — that brought the Fishers to their gallows.

Either way, Charleston tour guides will tell you that she haunts the old city jail to this day. She’s also famous for her purported last words, “If you have a message you want to send to Hell, give it to me; I’ll carry it,” which might even be a real quote.


Alexandria [Va.] Gazette & Daily Advertiser, Feb. 26, 1820

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1821: Henry Tobin, extortionist

Add comment January 31st, 2019 Headsman

Five men hanged together at Newgate Prison on this date in 1821.

All stood convicted of stealing by means of violence. In four cases, they’d deployed fists and blades further to grim street muggings in the Great Wen.

The fifth, Henry Tobin, used the executioner as his weapon of choice — in the form of a threat to expose a man named Charles Overall for sexual deviance. Such a threat would carry public obloquy and the potential for capital punishment.

The historian Rictor Norton’s archive of reportage on same-sex news from that period informs us that

Tobin was convicted, upon the most satisfatory testimony, of extorting money from a respectable tradesman in Thames-stereet, by threatening to charge him with an unnatural crime; and the audacity with which he several times repeated his extortions has seldom been equalled. He was a young man of genteel appearance and insinuating manners, and possessed talents, which, if well applied, would have rendered him an ornament of society.

In fact, Norton notes at least three other people executed in this same year of 1821 for blackmailing “unnatural criminals.” Yet for this period the same courtrooms where this hard line was held against exploiting sodomites were ones in which sodomy cases were also prosecuted; no doubt there were a few black caps which came out of the drawer on this day for the one varietal and the next day for the other.

The noose ceased to threaten English same-sexers inside of a generation. Extortioners kept up their predations for many, many years beyond.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,Homosexuals,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Theft

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