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

Add comment August 6th, 2019 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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

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1718: Purry Moll and Elizabeth Cave

Add comment August 6th, 2018 Headsman

Tyburn on this date three hundred years ago saw the hanging of two women, both transgressors of the booming capital’s purported sexual mores.

The Ordinary of Newgate Paul Lorrain favored Mary Price (alias Purry Moll) and Elizabeth Cave for the occasion with “A Dehortation from living after the Flesh, that is, after the carnal Desires and sinful Lusts of our Corrupt Nature, which brings forth Death, even Eternal Death.”

Purry Moll‘s sinful Lusts didn’t really have that much to do with her crime; it’s just that she and her husband had walked away from an unedifying union after the banns of marriage were already published. It seems that her post-hubby lover upon putting out to sea had left her a tobacco box as a mark of his affection but — and this gets a little tangled — her mother‘s lover had snatched the box. Moll, clearly in a domestic passion which the scarce words on file at the Old Bailey hardly even attempt to convey, strangled to death a three-year-old girl who was the daughter of mom’s lover. (But not by mom.)

So grief-stricken was she that she insisted on pleading guilty despite the court’s repeated admonition that “if she confess’d it she must be hang’d: To which she replied, if she did confess it, she confess’d nothing but the Truth.”

With her was a woman “about 40 Years of age” of whom the Ordinary noticed — and his narrative is unfortunately truncated by a missing page — “her Face to be extreamly disfigur’d, even to that degree as to have her Nose and Lips eaten up (as it were) with the foul Disease.” Ms. Cave confirmed that “she had been a very lewd Woman, debauch’d.”

She was, in fact, a whore, as would be obvious to any 18th century cad by the cursory narration of her trial: a fellow named Sampson Barret “depos’d, that going through Drury Lane at about 11 o’Clock at Night, there was 6 or 7 Women kind standing together, who divided and made a Lane for him to go through them” whereupon Elizabeth Cave followed him and picked his pocket.

Now, with apologies to the children’s rhyme, there’s really only one reason a guy would be traversing Drury Lane at 11 o’clock at night and that he’d bump into six or seven women on his way … and baked goods weren’t the reason.

This street was a hub of London’s vigorous sex trade. Pronging off “the great thoroughfare running east from the Royal Exchange, along Fleet Street, to St. James’s Park, linking the financial and trade centre of the City with the political power base of aristocratic West London,”* Drury Lane channeled into the far less reputable Covent Garden and from the 17th century had developed into the heart of the red light district that earned this zone the sobriquet “great square of Venus.”

Here, tarts offered their wares amid the bustle of theaters and taverns, often pursuing their profession under the guise of a nominally legitimate street-hawking occupation such as flower-selling.** But little pretense was necessary: from the mid-18th century there was even an annual catalogue of area working girls, Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies which by the end of its run in the 1790s was selling 8,000 copies per year. So great a boon was sex work to the economy that a German visitor half-joked that if suppressed, “London would soon be depopulated; the fine arts would be frightened away; one half of the inhabitants would be deprived of subsistence.”


In the “Morning” plate of William Hogarth‘s Four Times of the Day cycle (above), men rendezvous with prostitutes outside a notorious Covent Garden dive, Moll and Tom King’s Coffee House.

We catch an interior glimpse of this same environment in plate three of Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, wherein said rake frolics at a Covent Garden brothel (below).

Unsurprisingly, venereal diseases such as that suffered by Elizabeth Cave were quite common among the more proletarian pros to be found at an hour to midnight on Drury Lane; nevertheless, they had no shortage of customers.

If Cave did indeed rob this passing john, it was unfortunate for her that she took currency. In order to save small-time criminals from the gallows, juries routinely applied “pious perjury” to downrate the value of stolen objects below the absurdly low one-shilling (12-pence) threshold for felony larceny; such maneuvers were obviously impossible when it was actual shillings that had been pilfered.

* The trade spilled aggressively out upon that same august thoroughfare, which was the route Defoe alluded to when complaining in the 1720s of “being in full Speed upon important Business, [and] have every now and then been put to the Halt; sometimes by the full Encounter of an audacious Harlot whose impudent Leer shewd she only stopp’d my Passage in order to draw my Observations to her; at other times by Twitches on the Sleeve. Lewd and ogling Salutations; and not infrequently by the more profligate Impudence of some Jades, who boldly dare to seize a Man by the Elbow and make insolent Demands of Wine and Treats before they let him go.” (Source)

** “Flower girl” consequently developed into a euphemism for a tramp. One literary artifact of this history is Eliza Doolittle of the G.B. Shaw play Pygmalion and its musical adaptation My Fair Lady: it’s never overtly stated in the text, but because Eliza begins as a Covent Garden flower girl her virtue is implicitly suspect … hence her repeated insistence, “I’m a good girl I am!”

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1859: Ratu Mara Kapaiwai, Fiji warrior

Add comment August 6th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1859,* the Ratu (chief or prince) Seru Epenisa Cakobau hanged a major obstacle to his control the Fiji archipelago.

Fiji comprises over 300 distinct islands in the South Pacific of which the principal and namesake is Viti Levu. Our man Cakobau ascended as the Ratu of a two-mile islet, Bau, which hugs the east coast of Viti Levu and to a 19th century European visitor “may with propriety be called the capital of Feejee.”

Not all of “Feejee” was quite so eager as Mary Davis Wallis to champion the suzerainty of the Ratu of Bau, and so Cakobau spent much of the mid-19th century maneuvering to consolidate and extend his authority. He would in the end succeed well enough to establish the first unified Kingdom of Fiji in 1871, and it was his signature on the 1874 Deed of Cession that gave said kingdom to the British.**

But before he could be the father of the nation he had to put his foot on the neck of rivals like his cousin Ratu Mara Kapaiwai.

“The ubiquitous stormy petrel of mid nineteenth century Fiji” (source), Mara’s bold adventures blew a turbulent wind through the Fijian political scene in the 1840s and 1850s. A renowned seaman and aggressive warrior, he called no one place home but shuttled incessantly among Fijian and Tongan islands, and among shifting alliances thereof. If there was one constant in the life of Mara Kapaiwai it was rejecting the overlordship of Cakobau.

He suffered what would prove to be a decisive defeat in 1855 at the Battle of Kaba, although the convert Cakobau in a paroxysm of Christian charity forgave the defeated right there on the battlefield instead of insisting the traditional right to kill and cannibalize them.

His pique for his kinsman only stoked by the defeat, the stormy petrel returned soon enough to his schemes and by 1858 had raised another rebellion.

Cakobau put an end to this resistance by putting an end to Mara himself: luring Mara to Bau with promise of forgiveness, Cakobau instead had him seized and sent to the gallows the very next day.

“He said his punishment was quite just — that he had been a very bad man and had caused the death of very many people, but that he sincerely repented of his sins and looked for mercy believing that in God his sins were being pardoned,” according to a Wesleyan missionary who attended to Mara.

* There are a few cites to be found for June 8, rather than August 6, which I cannot credit to any better cause than an inverted reading of the date 6/8 or 8/6 because people are rubbish about dates. The scholarly consensus around 6 August, and the allusion in sources like this book chapter to western missionaries’ diaries and letters, carries the argument for me — even though I have not been able to lay my own eyes on those primary documents. (As best I can determine, many of these firsthand accounts are held, un-digitized, by the Methodist Church of Australasia Department of Overseas Missions.)

** Fiji attained independence within the Commonwealth in 1970. Queen Elizabeth II’s picturesque honorific as Tui Viti (paramount chief) of Fiji — the title that Cokabau ceded to Queen Victoria along with the archipelago — has slipped into official disuse in recent years but many Fijians still embrace Elizabeth as queen. Here’s a newsreel of her 1953 visit to Fiji:

Topical here: Ratu Mara’s grandson Lala Sakuna became one of the leading statesmen of Fijian independence in the 20th century, although he predeceased its realization … fulfilling Mara’s plea to his executioner “for the safety of his 10-day-old son Joni, promising Cakobau that one day the child’s descendants would ‘bear Fiji up’.” (Source)

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2013: Nguyen Anh Tuan, Vietnam’s first lethal injection

Add comment August 6th, 2016 Headsman

Vietnam on this date in 2013 made its first-ever use of lethal injection for the execution of Nguyen Anh Tuan. Anh Tuan robbed and murdered a woman in 2009.

The new execution method was scheduled to take effect July 1, 2011, fully replacing the firing squad, but had a delayed rollout.

As in its country of birth, America, the needle-and-gurney contraption was afflicted by by shortages of the killing drugs. The European Union’s unwillingness to permit import for use in capital punishment eventually led Vietnam to arrange for local production instead.

Vietnam’s annual execution toll unofficially runs into the dozens.

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1883: James Burton, William Marwood’s last

Add comment August 6th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1883, the illustrious hanging career of executioner William Marwood came to an inglorious conclusion.

The Billy Beane of the Victorian gallows, Marwood brought metrics — that is, calculated drop distances designed for killing precision — to a craft long characterized by clumsy amateurism.

James Burton, 33, had killed his 18-year-old wife in a violent quarrel earlier that same year; according to his confession, after she jabbed him with an umbrella and threatened to swear his life away,

my temper got the best of me, and I struck her, and we both fell. She got up first to check me not to hit her any more. At that time I could not see out of my own eyes for tears, and she cried out, ‘Oh, Jim Burton, I am only trying you don’t hit me any more,’ and I said it was too late now, for I have not a home for myself. I was blind at the time with passion, and I picked up a stone and hit her with it, and she fell down in the same place where her body was picked up. Then she said, ‘Jim, don’t, for that is my last; do come with me, Jim.’ (Glasgow Herald, Aug. 8, 1883)

Hardly a criminal mastermind, Burton proceeded to wander the town of Tunstall for several furtive days trying to screw up the nerve to commit suicide.

Instead, William Marwood ended up with the task.

The 174th and last client of the great executioner surely didn’t present any difficulties in the Mass * Acceleration department, but even for Marwood there’s more to a hanging than striking force. By some last-moment faint, stumble, or twist Burton fell through the trap wrong, dinging the side of it and getting the long slack of the noose caught under his arm.

Marwood, who was an aging man of declining strength at this point, had to haul poor Jim Burton up through the trap. “When drawn up Burton presented a shocking appearance,” one reporter on-site put it.

As Burton moaned “Oh Lord, help me!” Marwood readied for an inelegant do-over: not bothering to reset the trap, he hurriedly unwound the rope and positioned it as it ought while Burton stood heaving on the platform. When all was in readiness, Marwood simply shoved the uxoricide back into the hole.

This time, Burton died. But Marwood himself had not long to outlive him: he passed away four weeks later, on September 4, at the age of 65.

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1788: John and Robert Winter, father and son

Add comment August 6th, 2014 Headsman

On August 6, 1788, “John and Robert Winter, the father and son, were executed at Morpeth, pursuant to their sentence, for breaking open the house of William Charlton, esq., of Hesleyside. As they had lived for many years in a course of the most daring and shameless villainy, at their death, they testified the most brutal want of feeling, fear, or compunction.”

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1936: Josep Sunyol, FC Barcelona President

Add comment August 6th, 2013 Headsman

FC Barcelona is many a sportive leftist’s major European football side of choice, thanks to the club’s longtime identification with its city’s Catalan anti-Francoism.

That identification, stretching all the way back to the club’s formative early-20th century years (“History of FC Barcelona” enjoys its own voluminous Wikipedia page) put the Barca president at the end of fascist guns on this date in 1936.

Josep Sunyol was born into the Catalan elite, and had a varied career in the public eye: left activist, parliamentary deputy, newspaper founder, and, come 1935, president of FC Barcelona. He’d been serving on the Barca board of directors since 1928. There’s a lengthy Sunyol biography here.


At the center of the rail, Sunyol (left) chats with Catalan president Lluis Companys. (Source)

It was in his political, rather than his footballing, capacity that in August 1936 — just days into the Spanish Civil War — Sunyol traveled from Barcelona to Madrid to meet with fellow Republicans.

He never made it back.

On the return trip from Madrid, Sunyol’s chauffeured car flying the Catalan senyera was stopped by pro-Franco Falangist forces in the Sierra de Guadarrama north of Madrid. It may have been only inadvertently that Sunyol crossed this checkpoint of nationalists, who were already gathering for an attack on Madrid that would eventually inspire For Whom The Bell Tolls. (Indeed, this novel is set in the Sierra de Guadarrama.)

Whatever Sunyol’s intention, he was quickly recognized and detained by his foes on the evening of August 6. Shortly thereafter, they decided to shoot him out of hand.

The civil war and the era of Franco are still sensitive topic in Spain, but FC Barcelona’s politically engaged supporters have pushed the present-day club (with partial success) to more overtly embrace its anti-fascist “martyr president”.

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1759: Eugene Aram, philologist

Add comment August 6th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1759, Eugene Aram was hanged at York for murder.

Aram was the son of a gardener, but taught himself Latin and Greek and made himself a respected schoolteacher.

Aram had a special gift for languages, and began research on a never-completed comparative lexicology of the Celtic tongue — correctly intuiting, if not the identity of the distant common mother tongue, the concept of what is now understood as the common progenitor of the related Indo-European languages.

the ancient Celtae, by the numberless vestigaes left behind them, in Gaul, Britain, Greece, and all the western parts of Europe, appear to have been, if not the aborigines, at least their successors, and masters, in Gaul, Britain, and the west; — that their language, however obsolete, however mutilated, is at this day discernible in all those places which that victorious people conquered and retained: — that it has extended itself far and wide, visibly appearing in the ancient Greek, Latin, and English, of all which it included a very considerable part; and, indeed, it still unquestionably, forms a most important ingredient in all the languages of Europe. (Source at archive.org | Google books)

His might have been an illustrious name in linguistic history. Instead …

In 1745, when Aram was already 40 and teaching in Knaresborough, a strange event occurred: a friend of Aram’s named Daniel Clark made the rounds of local merchants “buying” (on credit) a variety of portable valuables … and then promptly disappeared. Aram was suspected of some part in this sketchy affair and detained using the expedient of an outstanding debt pending investigation that would yield a more satisfactory charge.

Aram, however, paid off his arrears in cash. Since no real grounds existed to hold him, he walked away, and immediately left Knaresborough.

There the matter rested for 13 years, time that Aram spent immersed in his language work.

Justice delayed was not to be denied, however. Finally, in 1758, the accidental discovery of a body in Knaresborough rekindled interest in the case (even though the body turned out not to be Clark’s). Thirteen years on, the matter unlocked with amazing ease; Aram’s wife (left behind in Knaresborough when our man blew town) had her suspicions, which led to a mutual friend of Aram’s and the victim, who gave authorities the correct location of Clark’s theretofore undiscovered body. (Namely, St. Robert’s cave.) Upon that considerable credibility the mutual friend (Houseman by name) accused Aram of the murder. Since the wife was also prepared to swear she had heard all these men, and Clark among them, conspiring shadily together, Aram was in the stew.

As a proper Enlightenment man, learner of languages, inquirer of science, writer of poetry, and author of dark and vengeful deeds, Aram didn’t bother with a barrister but defended himself, and very ably in the judgment of his observers.

“His defense was an ingenious plea of the general fallibility of circumstantial evidence,” records this encyclopedia. But he had to stick to generalities because (as he admitted after conviction) he was actually quite guilty, and Aram “seemed really more carried away by the abstract philosophy of his argument, than impressed by the terrible relation it bore to his fate.” The lengthy Newgate calendar entry on his case preserves some of these sorties.

He would eventually ascribe his own motive not to greed of gold but suspicion of cuckoldry. Houseman, who was probably just as involved (and probably in his part for greed) appears to have escaped the noose.

Aram became a potent literary reference for his countrymen as a partially sympathetic, Janus-faced creature: the thoughtful scholar encumbered by his guilty conscience, or one whose potential gift to all mankind is undone by his injury to one man.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote a novel about Aram. In Thomas Hood‘s poem “The Dream of Eugene Aram”, the titular killer is tormented by the recollection of what he has done.

“Oh God! that horrid, horrid dream
Besets me now awake!
Again — again, with dizzy brain,
The human life I take:
And my red right hand grows raging hot,
Like Cranmer‘s at the stake.

“And still no peace for the restless clay,
Will wave or mould allow;
The horrid thing pursues my soul —
It stands before me now!”
The fearful Boy looked up, and saw
Huge drops upon his brow.

That very night while gentle sleep
The urchin’s eyelids kissed,
Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn,*
Through the cold and heavy mist;
And Eugene Aram walked between,
With gyves upon his wrist.

Wodehouse, Orwell, W.G. Wills all also dropped Eugene Aram literary references in their day.

* The town in Norfolk where Aram was hanging his hat when he was finally arrested.

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1795: Pomp, a Negro

Add comment August 6th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1795, an African-American near-slave (slavery’s official 1783 abolition in the state seems not to have constituted a completely bright line) was hanged in Ipswich, Mass. for murdering his master-slash-employer.

Thanks to Laura James at CLEWS, we are drawn to this story reproduced here at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Documenting the American South site. Pomp was perhaps mentally “touched”; he was certainly physically “touched” for any perceived inadequacy at his labors, and eventually chopped off his master’s head while the latter slept beside his wife. (The wife summoned the police, without molestation from Pomp.)

The victim, Captain Charles Furbush, was a minuteman who fought at Lexington, one of the opening skirmishes of the Revolutionary War.

Reprinted in full below (complete with breaks in the text where the original document is damaged) is the “Dying Confession of Pomp,” a broadsheet produced by a local merchant — who does not scruple to append some classified ads to the end of the text.*


I POMP now under sentence of death in Ipswich Jail, was born in [illegible], and brought from that place, so soon after I began my existence, that together with my Parents, I arrived at Boston when I was about three months old. My Father died soon after and my Mother has since had two husbands, and is now a widow. I have three sisters and three brothers now living in Boston, for whom a well as for my Mother I have a great regard.

My Mother soon after our arrival in this Country gave me away to Mr. Abbot of Andover. With this Gentleman I lived till I was sixteen years of age, but he being then on the point of moving back into the country some distance, told me if I chose it that I might then live with one of his sons, who was still to reside in Andover. I took up with his offer: choosing rather to continue in Andover, than to accompany my old master, to his new abode.

With young Mr. Abbot I lived not long, before I grew uneasy with the place. I told him that I meant to leave him soon, but he informed me that I was not free. About this time I was seized with convulsion fits which continued to oppress me at times ever after, to the fatal night that I murdered Capt. Furbush. Continuing still unreconciled to the new place, I went to the Select men of Andover to know whether I had not a right to leave it, and by their advice continued there a considerable time longer. But after a while it came to pass that Capt. Furbush took a notion to have a black man; and applying to the Select men, obtained their consent that I should be his servant. In compliance with the wishes [illegible] him; but soon found that I did not like him any better than the man with whom I had last lived. Furbush had a considerable farm and when I first began to live with him did some work himself, but I did not like the way he carried on his business, and after a while he left off work entirely, and by my desire left the whole management of the farm to me. I performed nearly all the work that was done on the place, cut all the hay, and with a trifle of help from the boy, whom my master desired to asist me a few days in a season, raised an hundred and seventy bushels of corn in a year. But my master still continued unkind to me, never letting me go to meeting on Sundays, and forcing me to clear out the cattle on those sacred days. When I asked him for money, he commonly gave me no more than four pence half peny, at a time: and even on Election day he gave me no more, nor would he suffer me on those days to go to frolicing till after one o’clock in the afternoon.

Though I did the best that I was able to do on the farm, my master was so far from seconding my endeavors, that he often brought whole droves of horses home with him in the night, and turned them in among the standing corn, that I had taken so much pains to plant, and hoe, and on the succeeding mornings he would charge me with the guilt of turning these horses into the corn field. In this way he often caused corn enough to be broken down in one night to fat a hog, and keep him fat a whole winter. I thought I found that he was a bad man, and a cheating horse jockey, and finally being unable to like him, I ran away from him, but was pursued, found, brought back, and severely flogged, by him for my pains. I afterwards ran off again but again met with the same fate. In this manner I went on ten or a dozen years, not liking my place, and not able to get away from it. I was frequently troubled with convulsion fits and sometimes crazy in such a degree, that I was generally bolted in to a chamber every night, in order to hinder me from getting into the chamber where my masters daughters slept. I worked very hard all the time. My master had one weakle son who was unable to work, and who often shed tears while he saw me labor and told me that he wished he was able to help me. I told him that perhaps I should contrive something after a while but did not explain myself. Continuing still uneasy I thought I would try once more the benefit of my legs. I accordingly ran off, but after a weeks absence, I was again brought back by my master, stripped naked, tied up by both hands, and unmercifully flogged. This was in the evening, and though it was late in the fall, and cold, frosty, icy weather, my master left me thus naked, and tied up, till the morning. My sufferings during the tedious hours of this lengthy night, by reason of cold and nakedness, a sore back and wounded spirits, were extremely great, and while under this torture, I thought it likely that my master would sometime or other feell the effect of his cruelty. My conjectures were so far right that it was the last time, that Furbush ever struck me.

My master used to tell me I might stay as long as I pleased at his house, adding that he should not stay in the world forever. From this I entertained an idea that Mrs. Furbush and the farm would be mine, after the death of my master. The hopes of being master, husband and owner, on one hand, and the cruel treatment I had received from Furbush on the other, prompted me to wish for his death and produced an idea of hastening [illegible] by [illegible] him myself.

In this state of mind the morning of the fatal day arrived. I arose considerably disordered having a great singing noise in the ears, and something whispering strange things to me I however went about my work as usual, cut up bushes all the day, near where there was another man to work but revealed nothing concerning my designs to him, at night went home, eat a beef steak for supper, and went to bed. Soon after I was seized with a fit, bit my tongue almost through, and after coming out of the fit, was delirious. I continued not long after this in bed, being impressed with an idea that I must get up and kill Capt. Furbush. The Lord a massy! said I to myself what is a going to take place now! The door of my chamber not being bolted as usual, I left my apartment and went down to the fire place. I was struck with horror by my reflections; but something still kept whispering in my ear, that now is your time! kill him now! now or never! now! now! I took an axe and went softly into the bed room of my master, and the moon shining bright, distinguished him from my mistress, I raised the ax before he awaked and at two blows, I so effectually did the job for him, that he never after even stretched himself.

My mistress being roused from sleep by the sound of the blows, said are you dead you? But receiving no answer she immediately left the bed, and called in a near neighbor. I did not try to escape not knowing that there was any necessity of it. I was told that I had but to go up to my chamber, I went there and perceived that somebody had bolted the door after me. Company soon began to croud into the house, and I was soon told that I should certainly be hanged. I was now very much frighted, nnd expected to be hung immediately, but my grief wore off considerably w [illegible] found that I was not to be hung there. I [illegible] soon brought to this Jail, and here enjoy mys [illegible] considerable well, though at Court time I [illegible] ry unhappy, and now some times, the idea [illegible] I have no friends, makes me dull.

The Ministers have been kind to me here, and I believe they are clever people: Mr. Stanniford too the Ja [illegible] keeper is kind and humane, and his wife and daughters clever people and pretty women. ([illegible] ndantly amiable ladies he ought to have said [illegible] whole family are clever folks.) The Ministers have told me to pray to God, and to the blood of Christ, for a new heart. I approve of [illegible] advice, and spend great part of my time in prayer, even ten or twenty times in a day I pray though I find it hard work, I do not however find fault with the hardness of the task, for [illegible] ieve it has been attended with great success. I have good hopes that I have got a new hear [illegible] the one that I used to have, used to ache [illegible] d, but the one I now have feels easy. I never [illegible] so well and hearty in my life as I now am, [illegible] fits and lunacy have left me entirely [illegible] hope to behave cleverly and graciously in this world.

I have prayed so much, that I have got all the minister’s [illegible] of praying and am not afraid to pray with [illegible] black coated man on the Continent. I [illegible] d make a very extraordinary priest, and inde [illegible] am turning very fast into one. When I [illegible] here, I was as black as any negro in the country, but now I have scarcely a drop of negro blood left in me, my blood having so far [illegible] ed into the blood of a Minister, that I am a [illegible] y nearly as white as a Mulatto. Minist [illegible] people and they can turn [illegible]

Some acc [illegible] the hapless POMP with some reflections [illegible] fate by J. PLUMMER, Jun.

Illustration of Pomp's hanging from the broadsheet

POOR POMP was a well made, considerable large, likely looking Negro. [illegible] e was very capable of contriving business on a farm, and such was his strength and industry, that besides the [illegible] which he received for his labour, Capt. Furbush could very well have afforded him 50 dollars per year–With such wages, or even with half that salary he might soon have acquired money enough to purchase 50 acres of excellent [illegible] land, and to have enabled him to clear and improve the same–In that situation some unfortunate white woman might possibly have sought [illegible] assylum in his arms, or at least the likelie [illegible] to girl that fell within the line of his ac [illegible] nce would have sprung like nimble doe [illegible] his marriage bed–The animating sweets of freedom, and of domestic life, had then been all his own–He would neither have sullied his hands with innocent blood, nor have been forced with unutterable woe, to breathe his last in a h [illegible] . But alas! instead of running this happy course, for want of understanding, and skill [illegible] him, to wife and laudable pursuits, we have seen him experience the sad reverse.

I ha [illegible] endeavored to preserve the ideas of poor Pomp, in the above speech, though I have taken the liberty to arrange the matter in my own way, [illegible] to word his thoughts more elegantly and [illegible] than he was able to express them. As to [illegible] said of something telling him to kill his [illegible] er, I believe it to be a falsehood of his ow [illegible] hing contrived by him to excuse his conduct, but as to the rest of his speech, I fancy that he believed it himself; though in several particulars he was pretty much mistaken. His [illegible] capacity was below the common pitch, and his understanding was undoubtedly considerably injured by convulsion fits, though his parts were vastly superior to those of an ideot. But for a rational being his mental improvements were extremely small; though when we consider the situation that he has lived in, this is not so very strange as we at first should think it. He lived either alone in the field, in bed, or in the kitchen of some people, who were too much above him to be his associates: and probably was never learned to read–There were few Negroes in Andover or any where near him, and all there was were unlearned people. From whom then or in what manner was it in his power to gain knowledge? ‘Tis true that he had some intercourse with his white neighbours, but very little that was profitable for instruction;– the discourse generally turning on domestic business, the raising country produce, the age, and strength, of oxen, and horses, the bulling of cows, or the lambing of sheep.– Of knowledge like this Pomp had a large stock. He knew all his master’s cattle, sheep, and hogs, and pretty exactly the age of each creature: and likewise the horses and oxen of many of his neighbours: could tell when such a particular cow of a certain neighbour had been bulled, and when his sow had pigged; but no man thought it worth his while to talk much upon other matters with him, nor would he have been much pleased with the discourse had it been otherwise. He knew not the names of the Seven Sciences, nor even that there were such things or names–knew nothing of ancient or modern history, nor even the late revolution in France, or the consequences of it so often rung through the universe–So little [illegible] ears–Of philosophy [illegible] , geography, good breeding, honor, politics, [illegible] he never heard, or heard with little attention, and less improvement– To crown his ignorance he lost his life by not knowing that murder was a sin: he expecting that he should immediately rise to a good estate and great felicity whenever he should be fortunate enough to kill his master. He knew nothing of the Laws of the United States or of this Commonwealth; and after the murder when he was told that he would be hung, he dreamed nothing of any previous imprisonment or trial: when he heard the sentence of death in Court, he expected to be hung the same hour but finding he was not to be executed that day, he conceived hopes that he never should be. He had seen others and been himself corrected in anger. He had observed that whenever his master was angry with him he either flogged immediately, or he for that time escaped correction, and that after the wrath of his master had subsided there was no danger. He thought the People of Andover and the Court at Ipswich would hang him in the same angry frame of mind, that his master used to flog him in, or that they would not hang him at all: he having no idea of the calm, but irrefutable ire, the deliberate, but vindictive, vengeance of the offended Justice, and of Heaven.

N. B. The reader will take notice that I do not attest to the truth of Pomp’s dying speech, but I affirm that he related to me as matters of fact the particulars [illegible] ted in this speech– Unfortunately for me [illegible] Jail keeper was absent when I visited the prisoner, [illegible] on his name does not appear a [illegible] tness: his lady was present, but perceiving that she was rather timorous, I did not trouble her with a request to be a witness; though I believe she will readly, orally attest to the truth of it.

Printed for and sold by JONATHAN PLUMMER, JUN. price 6d, who still continues to [illegible] various branches of trifling business–Underbeds filled with straw and wheeled to the ladies doors — Any person wanting a few dollars at any time may be supplied by leaving a proper adequate in pawn–Wanted 1000 junk bottles.

A certain secret disorder cured privately and expeditiously– Love-letters in prose and verse furnished on the shortest notice–The art of gaining the object beloved reasonably taught–

Nymphs and swains bow’d down with care
By cupid wounded to the heart,
Quick, O quick to me repair
For soon I ease the dreadful smart.


To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865 characterizes the dueling interpretations of Pomp and his white interlocutor as “[pitting] two explanations of black criminal behavior against each other for the first time in Afro-American autobiography. Plummer’s argument is based on the notion of the Negro as absence. His lack of remorse for murder shows that he has no moral sense, and in justifying his crime with the “whispering” voices, he proves that he lacks truthfulness. Pomp’s narrative, on the other hand, insists that there was something at work in the black man’s psyche, a dynamic whose manifestations in the actions and language of Pomp resisted Furbush’s methods of control and Plummer’s system of reference.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1628: Johannes Junius “will never see you more”

1 comment August 6th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1628 was burned in Bamberg (former) Burgomaster Johannes Junius, a civic official caught up in the frenetic witch-hunts of Bavaria in the Thirty Years’ War.

Fellow townspeople under torture accused him; Junius eventually did the same, copping to the stock stuff witch trials knew just how to use:

there had come to him a woman like a grass-maid … And thereafter this wench had changed into the form of a goat, which bleated and said, “Now you see with whom you have had to do. You must be mine or I will forthwith break your neck”. Thereupon he had been frightened, and trembled all over for fear. Than the transformed spirit had seized him by the throat, and demanded that he should renounce God Almighty, whereupon Junius said, “God help me”, and thereupon the spirit vanquished through the power of these words. Yet it came straightway back, brought more people with it, and persistently demanded of him that he renounce God in Heaven and all the heavenly host, by which terrible threatening he was obliged to speak this formula: “I renounce God in Heaven and his host, and will henceforward recognize the Devil as my God”.

After the renunciation he was so far persuaded by those present and by the evil spirit that he suffered himself to be baptized by the devil in the evil spirit’s name. The Morhauptin had given him a ducat as dower-gold, which afterward became only a potsherd.

He was then named Krix. His succubus was called Vixen (Füchsin). Those present had congratulated him in Beelzebub’s name and said that they were now all alike.

Etc.

What survives of him among the thousands of similar unfortunates is the illicit letter in his own hand describing those tortures in detail … a reminder (regrettably current) of the reality of crippled limbs and ripped flesh and the meager limits of human hardiness that surround a word like “torture”.

July 24, 1628

Many hundred thousand good-nights, dearly beloved daughter Veronica. Innocent have I come into prison, innocent have I been tortured, innocent must I die. For whoever comes into the witch prison must become a witch or be tortured until he invents something out of his head and – God pity him – bethinks him of something.

I will tell you how it has gone with me.

When I was the first time put to the torture, my brother-in-law, Dr. Braun, Dr. Kotzendorffer, and two strange doctors were there. Then Dr. Braun asks me; “Kinsman, how come you are here?” I answer, “Through falsehood and through misfortune”. “Hear, you,” he retorts, “you are a witch. Will you confess it voluntarily? If not, we’ll bring in witnesses and the executioner for you”. I said, “I am no witch; I have a pure conscience in the matter. If there are a thousand witnesses, I am not anxious, but I’ll gladly hear them”.

Then the Chancellor’s son was set before me, who said he had seen me. I asked that he be sworn and legally examined, but Dr. Braun refused it. Then the Chancellor, Dr. George Haan, was brought, who said the same as his son. Afterward Höppfen Ellse. She had seen me dance on Hauptsmorwald, but they refused to swear her in. I said: “I have never renounced God, and will never do it – God graciously keep me from it. I’ll rather bear whatever I must”.

And then came also – God in highest Heaven have mercy – the executioner, and put the thumbscrews on me, both hands bound together, so that the blood spurted from the nails and everywhere, so that for four weeks I could not use my hands, as you can see from the writing.

Thereafter they stripped me, bound my hands behind me, and drew me up on the ladder. Then I thought heaven and earth were at an end. Eight times did they draw me up and let me fall again, so that I suffered terrible agony. I said to Dr. Braun, “God forgive you for thus misusing an innocent and honorable man”. He replied, “You are a knave”.

And this happened on Friday, June 30, and with God’s help I had to bear the torture. When at last the executioner led me back into the cell, he said to me, “Sir, I beg you, for God’s sake, confess something, whether it be true or not. Invent something, for you cannot endure the torture which you will be put to; and, even if you bear it all, yet you will not escape, not even if you were an earl, but one torture will follow another until you say you are a witch. Not before that,” he said, “will they let you go, as you may see by all their trials, for one is just like another”.

Then came George Haan, who said the commissioners had said the Prince-Bishop wished to make such an example of me, that everybody would be astonished.

And so I begged, since I was in wretched plight, to be given one day for thought and a priest. The priest was refused me, but the time for thought was given. Now, my dearest child, see in what hazard I stood and still stand. I must say that I am a witch, though I am not – must now renounce God, though I have never done it before. Day and night I was deeply troubled, but at last there came to me a new idea. I would not be anxious, but, since I had been given no priest with whom I could take counsel, I would myself think of something and say it. It were surely better that I just say it with mouth and words, even though I had not really done it; and afterwards I could confess it to the priest, and let those answer for it who compel me to do it . . . And so I made my confession, as follows; but it was all a lie.

Now follows, dear child, what I confessed in order to escape the great anguish and bitter torture, which it was impossible for me longer to bear.

Then I had to tell what people I had seen (at the witch sabbat). I said that I had not recognized them. “You old knave, I must put the torturer at your throat. Say – was not the Chancellor there?” So I said yes. “Who besides?” I had not recognized anybody. So he said: “Take one street after another. Begin at the market, go out on one street and back on the next”. I had to name several persons there. Then came the long street (die lange Gasse). I knew nobody. Had to name eight persons there. Then the Zinkenwert – one person more. Then over the upper bridge to the Georgthor, on both sides. Knew nobody again. Did I know nobody in the castle – whoever it might be, I should speak without fear. And thus continuously they asked me on all the streets, though I could not and would not say more. So they gave me to the torturer, told him to strip me, shave me all over, and put me to the torture. “The rascal knows one on the market-place, is with him daily, and yet won’t name him”. By this they meant Burgomaster Dietmeyer: so I had to name him too.

Then I had to tell what crimes I had committed. I said nothing. . . “Hoist the knave up!” So I said that I was to kill my children, but I had killed a horse instead. It did not help. I had also taken a sacred wafer, and had buried it. When I had said this, they left me in peace.

Now, dearest child, here you have all my acts and confession, for which I must die. And they are sheer lies and inventions, so help me God. For all this I was forced to say through dread of the torture beyond what I had already endured. For they never leave off with the torture till one confesses something; be he ever so pious, he must be a witch. Nobody escapes, though he were an earl. If God send no means of bringing the truth to light, our whole kindred will be burned. God in heaven knows that I know not the slightest thing. I die innocent and as a martyr.

Dear child, keep this letter secret, so that people do not find it, else I shall be tortured most piteously and the jailers will be beheaded. So strictly is it forbidden. . . . Dear child, pay this man a thaler. . . . I have taken several days to write this: my hands are both crippled. I am in a sad plight. . . .

Good night, for your father Johannes Junius will never see you more.

Junius adds, in the margin, a touching gesture towards posthumous healing by asking no bitterness be kept against his false accusers.

Dear child, six have confessed against me at once: the Chancellor, his son, Neudecker, Zaner, Hoffmaisters Ursel, and Hoppfens Elsse–all false, through compulsion, as they have all told me, and begged my forgiveness in God’s name before they were executed. . . . They know nothing but good of me. They were forced to say it, just as I myself was. . . .

Haan, Junius’s accuser, was also burned at the stake.

Their mutual inquisitor, Dr. Braun, was arrested in 1629 — tortured — confessed — and burned as well. (Source)

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Germany,History,Innocent Bystanders,Notable Sleuthing,Politicians,Torture,Witchcraft,Wrongful Executions

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