1821: Tommy Jemmy executes Kauquatau

Add comment May 2nd, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1821, a chief of the Seneca Native American nation slit the throat of a woman named Kauquatau, who had been condemned as a witch.

As Matthew Dennis explains in his book on the Seneca of the early American Republic, Seneca Possessed, the rapid march of European settlement and the Seneca’s recent and ambiguous incorporation into the newborn United States had strained the indigenous society in complex ways.

One of those reactions was a period of gendered witch-hunting in the early 19th century, especially growing out of the religious movement of the prophet Handsome Lake.

“Handsome Lake pinpointed the dangers the Seneca faced, the threats that they faced, the source of those threats, and a way … of purging his society of those who were most likely to resist his changes,” Dennis explained in this New Books Network podcast interview.

The “threat” for the instance at hand was a tribal healer who had become suspected of bewitching a man to his death — and her guilt in the same voted on by the Seneca elders. One of their number, Chief Soonongise — known as Tommy Jemmy to whites — went to her cabin on May 2, 1821, and killed her. It’s anyone’s guess whether Kauquatau realized what was happening — whether she took it as a social call or recognized her angel of death from the outset. But to New Yorkers, it was murder plain as day — and Tommy Jemmy was soon confined to a gaol to stand trial for his life.


Another reaction occasioned by the upheaval of those years, a reaction destined to emerge dramatically in this instance, was a feeling-out of the Seneca people’s position within the Anglo Republic that had engulfed it. “If the Senecas were a conquered people, as some tried to allege, the terms of their conquest were ill defined, their sovereignty, though diminished, still recognizable,” Harris writes. In these very pages we have met this ill-defined sovereignty several times: a few years on from the events of this post, the state of Georgia would defy a Supreme Court stay and execute a Cherokee man in a case turning on disputed sovereignty.*

Here in New York, Tommy Jemmy’s trial would open a different contest over the same underlying question.

Rather than attempting to deny or minimize his “crime,” Tommy Jemmy defended it as a legal execution conducted by the proper jurisdiction of Seneca laws — no matter for the interference of New York. It’s a position that appeared to have ample sympathy among Anglo New Yorkers,** who gingerly kicked the argument to a Circuit Court and thence to the New York Supreme Court which found itself thereby obliged to “a very thorough examination of all the laws, treaties, documents and public history relating to the Indians” going all the way back to the Dutch. (Cherry-Valley Gazette, Aug. 21, 1821)

What musty old scrolls could supply by precedence, the luminous Seneca orator Red Jacket brought to life in his forceful defense. Red Jacket had an expert feel for the pangs in the Anglo conscience, as one can appreciate by his retort against one obvious line of condescension.

What! Do you denounce us fools and bigots because we still believe what you yourselves believed two centuries ago? Your black-coats thundered this doctrine from the pulpit, your judges pronounced it from the bench, and sanctioned it with the formality of law; and would you now punish our unfortunate brother for adhering to the faith of his fathers and of yours? Go to Salem! Look at the records of your own government, and you will find that thousands have been executed for the very crime which has called forth the sentence of condemnation against this woman, and drawn upon her the arm of vengeance. What have our brothers done more than the rulers of your people? And what crime has this man committed, by executing in a summary way the laws of his country and the command of the Great Spirit?

It was by no means certain that Tommy Jemmy’s argument would prevail here; a literally simultaneous case in Michigan saw a native defendant make a similar jursidictional argument and still wind up on the gallows. The question in the end stood outside any existing grant of law — and it was resolved in a legally questionable way, too.

Accepting the merits of Tommy Jemmy’s position but also unwilling to render Indian power over life and death into the statutes, Tommy Jemmy was set free without any judgment and subsequently pardoned by the legislature — the pardon reversing no conviction. He was an executioner, after all.

* U.S. President Andrew Jackson vigorously supported the state in this separation-of-powers dispute: it’s the case of which he alleged to have remarked, “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.”

** In an essay appearing in New World Orders: Violence, Sanction, and Authority in the Colonial Americas, Dennis notes the precedent here of an 1802 trial involving a Seneca man named Stiff-Armed George. Although Stiff-Armed George murdered a white victim and not on Seneca land, Red Jacket also urged a defense, successfully: “Did we ever make a treaty with the state of New-York, and agree to conform to its laws? No. We are independent from that state of New-York … we appeal to the government of the United States.” (The Seneca did have treaties with the federal government.)

They finessed the issue in the end: Stiff-Armed George was convicted, but immediately pardoned.

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1821: Jose Miguel Carrera, Chilean patriot

Add comment September 4th, 2016 Headsman

Mercurial Chilean patriot Jose Miguel Carrera was shot on this date in 1821.

Born in a Santiago that was then a part of Spain’s Captaincy General of Chile, Jose (English Wikipedia entry | the far more detailed Spanish) was an officer in the mother country fighting Napoleon when the latter deposed the Spanish king. As the collapse of the Spanish monarchy nicely dovetailed with the scandal-plagued collapse of its Chilean viceroy, there was soon a semi-independent junta government directing the Captaincy.*

Carrera hurried home to join it … and in 1811, he seized control of it in a coup d’etat.** As a progressive dictator type, Carrera would go on to promulgate a constitution, set the stage for slavery abolition by declaring “freedom of the womb”, introduce the country’s first printing press, and establish diplomatic relations with the United States. Carrera’s sister Javiera even sewed the first Chilean flag.

The entire Carrera family would play a leading part in their nation’s birth throes, although whether for good or for ill history has hotly disputed. Our man Jose put himself at the head of the army to meet the Spanish reconquista force in the field — leaving his brother Juan Jose at the head of an unstable government — and by 1814 was mired in a virtual civil war against his former subordinate turned rival Bernardo O’Higgins. Spain (temporarily) recaptured Chile from its divided patriots, who by and large fled into exile.

Never a soul to eschew adventure, Carrera spent the next several years in derring-do plots. He finagled a flotilla from the Yankees, sailed it back to Argentina where he was arrested, and escaped captivity to Montevideo from which perch he waged a propaganda campaign against the Argentine government. By that time his enmity with Argentine revolutionary Jose de San Martin was quite personal: the O’Higgins-aligned San Martin had captured Carrera’s brothers Juan Jose and Luis and had them shot in Mendoza in 1818.

Carrera threw himself into the federalist war against San Martin’s unitary government in Argentina. The hated O’Higgins — who had by now declared Chilean independence and made it stick — routed aid to his longtime rival’s enemies. He was at last betrayed to his death after a defeat at Punta del Medano, and like his siblings, given over to a firing squad in Mendoza.


The Last Moments of J.M. Carrera.

* Present-day Chile’s independence day, September 18, marks the founding of this junta in 1810. It was Carrera who established the holiday.

** Actually Carrera authored two distinct coups in 1811: one to replace the junta with a new council, in September 1811 — and a second to replace that new council with himself that November. In January of 1812, he then replaced his November governing council in a move that essentially made him the dictator. Let’s say that institution-building wasn’t Carrera’s thing.

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1821: Elizabeth Warriner, Lincoln poisoner

Add comment October 27th, 2015 Headsman

For this just-in-time-for-Halloween wicked stepmother, we are indebted to the highly browsable The Word On The Street, a collection of highlight broadsides held by the National Library of Scotland.

The Last Dying Words, Speech, & Confession of Elizabeth Warriner. Who was Convicted at the last Lincoln Assizes, for the Horrid Murder of her Step-Son, J. Warriner, by poison, and who was Executed at the City of Linclon [sic], on Saturday the 27th of Oct. 1821.

ELIZABETH WARRINER was indicted for the Murder of J. Warriner, her Step-Son, at Surfleet, by administering poison to him. The prisoner was the second wife of a Farmer. The deceased was his Son by a former marriage, about 12 years of age. From the period of her marriage, the prisoner treated the child with great cruelty. On various occasions she was heard to say she would be the death of him. At length on the morning stated in the indictment, the boy, immediately after breakfast, which consisted of bread and milk, was taken ill. Medical aid was called in, but he breathed his last in the course of the day. After she had poisoned the unfortunate boy, she dragged him out of the house, and put him in the stable, and hanged him up, with a rope round his neck, to make people believe he had hung himself, as there was no marks of violence round the neck. The body was opened by a surgeon, when the stomach and intestines were found to exhibit all the appearance of arsenic having been administered. It was afterwards ascertained that a quantity of arsenic was in the possession of the father, who used it for some husbandry purpose, [and to] which the prisoner had access. It further turned out, that a small quantity was found [in t]he basin from which he had eaten his breakfast: and that the prisoner had given him his breakfast in that basin. This circumstance, added to a variety of others, which in the [cou]rse of the examination of the witnesses, seven in numher, came out, led to to the conclu[sion], that the prisoner administered the poison.

Mr. Justice Holroyd summed up tne evidence, and the Jury found her gulity, The [judge] in passing sentence, obserted to the prisoner, that the crime of murder in all cases [was] an heinous one, and in all countries was punished with death; but there were gradations e[ven] in this crime, and her’s [sic] was of the worst nature. She had destroyed her Step-Son; and no other motive could be assigned than that arising from a cruel, hardened, and vicious disposition — her crime was that of muder, the most heinous and cruel. — He hoped she would sincerely repent of her crime, and take all possible care of her soul during the few hours she had to live, so to be reconciled to her offended Maker; he feared she was not so convinced of the necessity of this as she ought to be, but trusted she would seek for that advice which would satisfy her of that necessity, and enable her to meet her future Judge, with a well-rounded hope in his mercy from the sincerity of her contrition; all that remained for him to do was to pass sentence upon her which the law required, which was, that she should be taken from whence she came, and on Saturday the 27th October, 1821, to be taken from thence, to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck till she was dead, and that her body should be delivered to the surgeons for dissection — concluding with — “and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

The moment she heard that her life was to be forfeited for the barbarous murder, and her cruel treatment to her Step-Son, she jumped up from the floor in the greatest agony, wringing her hands, and other symptoms of distraction.

About ten o’clock on Saturday morning, she ascended the fatal scaffold with a greater degree of fortitude and resignation than could have been expected; and addressed the numerous spectators around her in nearly the following words: “Good people, you see now before you an unfortunate woman, cut off just in the prime of life, and for the most dreadful of al [sic] crimes, Murder! let my dreadful fate be a warning to you not to suffer your passion to work forcibly on your minds, which has been the cause of the melancholy situation in which I am now placed; let me beg your prayers — good people pray for me; O pray for me.”

On the morning of her awful execution, she was dressed all in white, with a child suckling at her breast, which was taken from her by the executioner and her melancholy cries was heard at a great distance. It was shocking to the surrounding multitude.

She then dropped a handkerchief she held in her hand, as a signal, crying, O my Child! my Child! and was immediately launched into a dreadful eternity.

Printed by John Muir, Glasgow.

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1821: Ketaukah and Kewahiskin, the first hangings in the Michigan Territory

Add comment December 27th, 2014 Headsman

From the Salem (Mass.) Gazette, Jan. 18, 1822.

Executions — Two Indians,* Ketaukah and Kewahiskin [elsewhere given as Kewaubis -ed.] were hanged at Detroit on the 27th ult. the former for the murder of Dr. W.S. Madison, the latter for the murder of Charles Ulrick.

The criminals (says the account) often acknowledged the justice of their sentence,** and in their way they had prepared themselves to meet its execution.

For several weeks past they appeared very anxious to obtain presents of tobacco, pipes, &c. none of which they used, but carefully laid them aside as an offering to the Great Spirit on the day of their death.

They had contrived a sort of drum, by drawing a piece of leather over the vessel that contained their drink, and often engaged in their solemn death dance. On the night previous to their execution, they continued their death dance to a very late hour, and commenced it again early in the morning.

They had been presented, among other things, with some red paint — with this they painted on the wall of their cell numerous figures of men, quadrupeds, reptiles, &c. — on their blankets were also painted many figures — among the rest, an Indian, hanging by the neck, was observed.

From the jail they were taken to the Protestant Church, where an appropriate discourse was delivered to the assemblage by Mr. J.S. Hudson (one of the gentlemen belonging to the Mission family).

They appeared throughout the whole of the solemn preparatory steps to be perfectly collected — they walked firmly to the gallows, and previously to ascending to the drop, shook hands with the Rev. Mr. Juvier, Mr. Hudson, the Sheriff and Marshal, and several other gentlemen who stood near them.

They ascended the steps of the drop in a manner peculiarly firm — after which, they asked, through the interpreter, the pardon of the surrounding spectators, for the crime they had committed.

They then shook hands and gazed for a few minutes on the assemblage and on the heavens, when their caps were drawn over their faces, and they were launched into eternity.

* Ketaukah was of the Ojibwe (Chippewa) people, while Kewahiskin was a Menominee. (Source) The two men were not associates of each other prior to their shared condemnation, and their crimes were completely unrelated.

** Be that as it may, Ketaukah tested the jurisdiction of the Territorial Court (Michigan had not yet been admitted to statehood). He argued (like Tommy Jemmy in New York) that Anglo juries had no jurisdiction over his crime, which had been committed against a white doctor on Winnebago land. He also demanded the inclusion of Indians on the jury; complications of a potential language barrier within the jury pool, and the matter of whether an interpreter’s presence at jury deliberations would vitiate the verdict, defeated that motion. (For the jurisdictional question, see American Indians and State Law: Sovereignty, Race, and Citizenship, 1790-1880. For the jury composition, see the footnote on page 123 of this masters thesis.)

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1821: Timothy Bennett, duelist

Add comment September 3rd, 2012 Headsman

From the Oct. 12, 1927 Republican Herald recapping the Land of Lincoln’s hanging history on the occasion of its trendy switch to the electric chair.

Hanging has been the legal method of execution in the state of Illinois for 106 years, the first execution in the state being held at Belleville on September 3, 1821, when Timothy Bennett paid the penalty for murder resulting in a duel in which Timothy [sic — the rest of the article refers to the victim as “Alphonso”] C. Stewart was killed.

According to the account appearing in an old history of St. Clair county, now in the state historical library, Timothy Bennett and Alphonso C. Stewart became involved in an argument while under the influence of liquor, on February 8, 1819, at Belleville. Friends interfered and sought to effect a reconciliation, but their efforts were unavail[ing]. Finally it was agreed to arrange a sham duel in the belief that the ridiculous issue would bring the two participants to their senses.

“The duel was arranged,” the account reads. “Jacob Short and Nathan Fike acted as seconds. When the word was given and the rifles discharged, it was proven the ‘sham’ duel was fought with powder and lead-at any rate Alphonso C. Stewart fell to the ground mortally wounded.

Special Session in Court

“Timothy Bennett was arrested and so were the seconds, Short and Fike. A special term of the circuit court was held March 8, 1919 [sic], under a special law of the legislature to hold said term. The officers of the court, John Reynolds, judge; John Hay, clerk, and W.A. Beard, sheriff, were all appointed by Governor Shadrack Bond.

“The grand jury found true bills of indictments for murder against Bennett and the two seconds after hearing the testimony of Reuben Anderson, James Parks, James Kincade, James Reed, Daniel Million, Ben Million, Peter Sprinkle and Michael Tannahill.

“When the case was called for trial the sheriff reported that Bennett had broken jail and was at large. Short and Fike had their trial in June 1819, and were acquited [sic].

“Bennett was captured and jailed about July 1, 1821. A special term of court was held July 26, 1821. The grand jury found a new indictment against him for the same offense

Trial Starts Immediately

“Bennett was put on trial July 27, 1821, before Judge Reynolds and a jury. The jury rendered a verdict July 28, and found the presoner [sic] guilty. He had entered a plea of not guilty.

“The court then proceeded to pass sentence upon him in the following words:

“And it being demanded of him if anything for himself he had or knew to say why the court should not proceed to pass sentence upon him, he said he had nothing more than he had before said. Therefore it was considered by the court that he be hanged by the neck until he is dead, and that the sheriff of the county do cause execution of this judgment to be done and performed on him, the said Timothy Bennett, on Monday, the third of September, next, between the hours of ten in the forenoon and four in the afternoon at or near the town of Belleville.”

“Neither Bennett nor his friends believed that this awful sentence would ever be executed. The latter made strenuous efforts to have him pardoned. Failing in this, they tried to have the sentence commuted. But the governor remained firm and against all entreaty.

“On the day appointed for his execution, Bennett was hanged near West Belleville, near the site of the Henry Raab school. The execution was witnessed by a multitude of men, women and children.

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1821: Owen Coffin, main course

5 comments February 6th, 2011 dogboy

On this date in 1821, a first-time whaleship crewman named Owen Coffin was executed by a comrade to feed three starving mates.

Coffin was the second-to-last victim of an event which shocked the whaling community and inspired the novel Moby Dick.

Owen Coffin was a 17-year-old aboard a doomed whaling vessel called the Essex. He was cousin to George Pollard, Jr., who was making his first trek to the Pacific whaling grounds as a ship’s captain.

The Essex sailed from Nantucket Island in 1819, one of dozens of ships to leave port in search of whales and, ultimately, whale oil. In spite of the large numbers of whales slaughtered by whalers around the world, the Essex had the unfortunate honor of taking part in the first documented violent encounter by a sperm whale on a whaleship.

Of the whales available to the whalers of the day, the sperm whale was most prized: aside from the typical blubber found on all whales, which could be processed for its “oil” (actually a free-flowing form of wax), this whale’s head was filled with the clean-burning substance called spermaceti, a name inspired by its resemblance to the sexual fluid. Spermaceti fetched a high price at market when sperm whales were in sufficient abundance to hunt them.


A 1902 photograph of whalers cutting into a sperm whale’s jaw. (cc) image from Curious Expeditions.

There Once Was a Crew from Nantucket

At the time, Nantucket Island was the center of the whaling world.

The industry was primarily run by Quaker businessmen, who negotiated profit-sharing rates for young, largely local crews willing to risk their lives in search of whales. To fill out the ship numbers, poor non-Nantucketers were imported from other New England ports. The Essex was no different: the ship originally held 21 crewmembers, eight of whom came from off-island.

The ship’s journey began inauspiciously by being flattened in a squall, but after repairs, she continued on in pursuit of whales. The ship made its classic trip around the southern tip of South America, put in to port in Ecuador, then traversed 2000 miles of ocean westward in search of a recently-discovered sperm whale hunting ground.

The Essex being rammed by a sperm whale, sketched by crewmember Thomas Nickerson.

And the crew did find whales and made a mildly successful trip of it … until it really pissed off the wrong whale.

The Essex discovered a group of sperm whales consisting of two females and one male. When the call went out, the three small whaleboats — built to be light and fast for the pursuit — launched.

These boats separated the females from the male, and one of the crews made a kill. It was around that time that the male, probably already distraught at being partitioned from his group, first ran into the 38-foot Essex. The jostle, which may have been accidental, apparently further upset the abnormally large whale, which briskly left the area, made a sharp turn, then swam all-out on a direct collision course with the Essex.

The old timber ship didn’t stand a chance.

The crew which had stayed aboard the main vessel watched in horror as the Essex was shattered beneath them. Two of the whaleboat crews noted the sinking and returned quickly, and Captain Pollard immediately set his crew about saving as many of the provisions as they could, including water and food.

But the speed with which the Essex went under left them with too little of both. As the final whaleboat made its way to the carnage, it was clear that the full crew complement was doomed to a long trip on a trio of very small boats.

Call Me Ishmael

Pollard and first mate Owen Chase hatched a plan (crewman Thomas Nickerson indicates that it was largely Chase who pushed the plan) to set sail for South America, thousands of miles distant and through unfavorable currents and winds, rather than for the Pacific Islands, about half as far away and in the direction of both favorable winds and currents.

The choice was sealed by fear of the unknown and a century of tales of South Pacific cannibals. Hopefully they came to appreciate the irony.

The crew went through its supplies in the first month at sea, and finally came ashore at Henderson Island, a raised, uninhabited coral reef that they mis-identified.

The fortunate crew found a temporarily available freshwater spring from which to refill their casks, and they subsisted on local fauna for several days while deciding their next course of action. Though Tahiti lay just a few hundred miles westward (again, in the direction of favorable winds and currents), our wayfarers opted to continue towards South America.

Three of the crew decided to stay behind. The remaining 17 crewmembers set out in late December 1820, and again quickly depleted their supplies.

One of the ships — carrying the second mate but no navigational equipment — was separated from the others during a storm and never heard from again, leaving two to carry on under increasingly desperate circumstances.

Cannibal Corpse

Passengers on both boats began succumbing to want and exposure, and their starving former comrades had little choice but to devour their remains.

The boat containing Owen Chase, Thomas Nickerson, and Benjamin Lawrence was eventually rescued by the Indian off the coast of Chile, and both Nickerson and Chase wrote accounts of the the survivors’ cannibalism.

Yet it was aboard Pollard’s boat that the most gruesome events unfolded.

The deaths of two crewmen had provided for the others — but not nearly enough to hope for landfall.

Short on food and water and despairing of bringing all four remaining souls to port, Charles Ramsdell suggested that the quartet draw lots to both remove one consumer from the boat and provide for the remaining three. Pollard objected to subjecting his crew to such a fate, but Barzillai Ray and Owen Coffin agreed to the plan. The lots were cast, and Coffin pulled the black spot. The other three cast again to decide his executioner, and Ramsdell was chosen.

Pollard’s account indicates that he immediately spoke up for Coffin, offering himself up in place, but Coffin demurred and prepared himself for the execution.*

The following day, February 6, Coffin dictated a short note to his mother and declared, as per Pollard’s diary, that “the lots had been fairly drawn.”

Charles Ramsdell shot Owen Coffin, then joined Ray and Pollard in consuming his remains.

Ray died just days later, and Ramsdell and Pollard barely survived the next two weeks. When the Dauphin came up alongside the whaleboat on February 20, its crew thrilled to the spectacle of Ramsdell and Pollard sucking on the bones of their dead crewmates, emaciated beyond recognition.

Based on their statements about the events of the previous 95 days, a vessel was dispatched to find the three Henderson Island survivors. Because the crew had mis-identified the island, however, the search took longer than expected. Not until April 5, 1821, were the three located … out of fresh water and also scarcely alive.

A few books about the Essex

The Essex was a legend in its own time, and the story of the sinking and the harrowing events which followed continue to circle around Nantucket Island. Though the island’s economy collapsed less than 30 years later, Herman Melville kept the story alive through his literary classic Moby-Dick, whose story revolves around the captain of a whaling ship attacked by a vengeful whale.**

It is also suspected that a portion of Edgar Allen Poe’s 1838 novel† The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket is based on the Essex disaster.

Closer to modern times, the rock group Mountain’s album and eponymous song “Nantucket Sleighride”, which was used as the theme song to London Weekend Television’s Weekend World, is dedicated to Coffin.

Coffin is not the only sailor adrift ever selected for cannibalism by lot, but his case is unusual because the particulars are so well-documented. Several other cases are provided in Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea. Arthur Gordon Pym uses a victim by the name of Richard Parker, coincidentally the same name as a man who was actually cannibalized in 1884‡ in an affair leading to the famous common law case R v Dudley and Stephens, wherein the killers were charged with murder and sentenced to 6 months in prison — unlike the 1835 incident of the Francis Spaight, which saw the crew acquitted for three such killings.

* One of the crueler accounts of such lot drawing occurred aboard the Peggy, where crewman David Flatt pulled the short straw. However, prior to the execution the following morning, the crew was rescued. Flatt, however, had a breakdown in the intervening hours and suffered mental illness which persisted even after their rescue.

** He was also inspired by the story of Mocha Dick, a notorious white whale which survived dozens of encounters with whalers and is now available in trenta sizes.

Arthur Gordon Pym is Poe’s only full-length novel.

‡ Richard Parker was also the name of a man executed for the Nore Mutiny, as well as one killed in the wreck of the Francis Spaight in 1846 — not to be confused with the Francis Spaight on which cannibalism occurred 11 years prior.

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1821: Tudor Vladimirescu, Romanian revolutionary

2 comments June 7th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1821, Romanian national hero Tudor Vladimirescu (sometimes “Theodore Vladimiresco” in 19th century Anglo sources) was executed-slash-murdered in revolt against the Ottoman Empire by his Greek counterparts.

In the run-up to the Greek War of Independence, the Greek patriotic network Filiki Eteria tried to line up support in the Danubian Principalities.

As it happened, Tudor Vladimirescu (English Wikipedia entry | Romanian) was the guy enlisted to head up the Wallachian rebellion.

The low-born Vladimirescu had risen to the boyard nobility through his own merit. He had also won the Russian Order of St. Vladimir for his service in that country’s army, which made him an attractive partner for Greek conspirators hoping to attract Russian aid.

Vladimirescu’s pandurs even made the first move, ahead of the Greeks, seeking to occupy a power vacuum with the death of the Wallachian prince.

And this fact, ultimately, brackets the Wallachian Uprising into its unfortunate fate. While Greek revolutionaries went on to romantic glory, Tudor Vladimirescu struggled to gain Russian support, stressed internal reforms as against breakaway aspirations to keep the Ottomans cool, and tried to stay on at least cordial terms with Greek revolutionary leader Alexander Ypsilanti.

It’s perhaps because he accomplished none of these things and therefore became no other man’s instrument that Vladimirescu can be appreciated by posterity as a true exponent of the nationalist cause.* Illustrative of the difficulty: one of Romania’s chief nationalist beefs at this point was with Phanariot Greeks who soaked the Balkans under the Ottoman aegis; Vladimirescu’s initial manifesto to Constantinople called for restoration of Wallachian privileges and protection from Phanariot abuses. And that Greek leader Ypsilanti? He was a Phanariot himself. Peasants who rallied to the Wallachian banner weren’t looking to go to the wall for the Greeks.

Sources of a Hellenic bent are liable to perceive “perfidy and crimes” in Vladimirescu’s twisting and turning and maneuvering … which happens to be what Ypsilanti decided, too. This, too, was probably in the best interests of Tudor’s long-term reputation.

Vladimirescu was arrested by Greek agents, subjected to a drumhead tribunal for cooperation with the Ottomans, and immediately put to death. (And then chopped up and tossed in a privy; clearly, the Greeks were giving up on the diplomatic approach to Wallachia.) The Turks bloodily pacified the Principalities, and the locus of the war shifted to the Peloponnese.

There are today many streets named after Tudor Vladimirescu in Romania. There was also a pro-Soviet Tudor Vladimirescu Division that fought the fascist Ion Antonescu government during World War II, and the man’s face used to adorn the 25-leu note.

If only by happenstance, this “perfidious” and perhaps mainly self-interested captain has morphed into a Rorschach-blot nationalist image amenable, as Lucian Boia observes, to almost any reading.

The hero of 1821 passed all ideological examinations con brio, being invoked successively by liberals, Legionaries, “internationalist” communism, and nationalist communism. A major historiographical offensive was launched in the time of Ceausescu around his relations with the Greek Etaireia movement. After Andrei Otetea had striven to demonstrate the close links between the two (Tudor Vladimirescu and the Etairist Movement in the Romanian Lands, 1945), the historians of the nationalist phase did all they could to absolve the Romanian revolutionary of any obligation towards the Etairists.

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1821: Stephen Merrill Clark, boy arsonist

Add comment May 10th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1821, a 17-year-old ne’er-do-well was hanged at Winter Island near Salem, Mass., for arson.

Several fires had menaced Newburyport in 1820, and skulking juvenile delinquent Stephen Merrill Clark was swiftly suspected. Clark’s father had even been trying to fix up some kind of intervention for the boy, who had twice washed out of apprenticeships.

Stephen’s main squeeze, a “night walker” and “person of lascivious behavior” by the name of Hannah Downes, obligingly informed on him in the arson matter, and this was sufficient to secure his conviction. (Trial transcriptions are available here.)

The perp’s youth and the impeachable evidence against him helped raise the general public hand-wringing over the matter; even Clark’s convicting jury recommended mercy, which the Bay State’s Governor’s Council declined to extend in view of the serious public menace posed by fires.

And Clark, in the end, provided an obliging 11th-hour confession to set everyone’s mind at ease as regards the shaky stool-pigeon testimony that hung him. Clark blamed that night-walker girl of his for instigating everything, licensing the circulation of outstanding doggerel like the following from an execution broadside.

Be warn’d, ye youth, who see my sad despair:
Avoid LEWD WOMEN, false as they are fair.
By my example learn to shun my fate:
How wretched is the man who’s wise too late!
Ere innocence, and fame and life be lost,
Here purchase wisdom cheaply, at my cost.*

Indeed.

The Essex Register of May 12, 1821 printed this eyewitness report of the scaffold, similarly suggestive of a prisoner just barely keeping his composure.

O, how changed from that sturdy, robust and apparently unconcerned youth who, but a few weeks before, was tried, convicted and sentenced to suffer death. Then, his countenance was flushed and ruddy with the glow of health, his eye was quick and animated his nerves unshaken by the array and circumstance of the judicial proceedings, and his whole frame was firm and strong — Now, a ghastly paleness covered his face, his eye was languid and declined to earth, his aspect bespoke an inward grief and agony that could not be uttered, and as the Rev. Clergyman supported his feeble steps toward the scaffold, his very soul appeared to quake at the terrors of the law that surrounded him.

He was conducted up the first flight of steps … here the agony of his spirit almost overpowered his strength, and he was near fainting, but was in some measure revived by the kind and assiduous attentions of those about him … a profound and solemn silence reigned throughout the vast multitude of spectators, whose countenances were marked by feelings of the deepest interest, and who remained uncovered during the residue of the tragic scene… when he ascended the second flight of steps, and took his stand upon his last support, the sympathies and pity of the beholders were raised to the highest pitch, and when his bosom and his neck were bared and he meekly inclined his head to enable Mr. Brown to adjust the fatal cord, and submissively placed himself in the position most convenient for the dreadful purpose for which he was brought there, the feelings of the multitude could no longer be suppressed, and mingled sighs and groans were heard in every direction. These preparations were soon finished, & at a signal from the High Sheriff, the spring was touched, and Clark was, in a moment, launched into eternity! — Thus died Stephen Merrill Clark, aged 17 years — cut off in the morning of his life, for a heinous offence, and made a public example of the terrible retributions of the present world, and held up as an awful warning to all survivors, and especially to young persons, to shun the paths of vice.

* Not that it wasn’t circulating already; this poem was just an execution-day twist on the argument of Clark’s defense counsel, that “respectable citizens have been unfortunately led, by the wicked arts of the most abandoned of women … of notoriously profligate character … on whose word no reliance can be placed.” Sally Chase, another woman of circumstances similar to Hannah Downes, provided similar testimony against Clark.

Oh, along with a bunch of other confessional things Clark admitted to various authorities under various states of cajolery or duress.

On this day..

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

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