1707: Bartellemy Pichon dit La Roze, the first executed in Fort Detroit

Add comment November 7th, 2018 Headsman

The execution hook for today’s post does not arrive until the end of the excerpt below

Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac* … the French explorer who founded Fort Pontchartrain** du Detroit, the germ of the present-day U.S. Motor City.

How did Monsieur Cadillac administer criminal justice in his frontier fortress? Read on …

Cadillac’s Autocratic Rule

The next step, and a step that was very early taken, was the enforced obedience to the will of the first commandant, Cadillac. The troubles he had with the Company of the Colony of Canada forced him to be arbitrary with the servants of that company, and he was arrested and sent to Montreal for putting one of these disobedient servants in prison. This was an attack on the government itself, and could not be overlooked by the governor-general. Cadillac kept away from Detroit for a long time, but eventually returned with his powers confirmed by the king. During his absence his little village came near being sacked and destroyed by turbulent Indians, and it was partly on this account that the home government looked with favor upon his attempt at arbitrary rule.

In 1711 Cadillac left Detroit for good and his successor got into trouble with the village priest and with many of the foremost citizens without unnecessary delay. Although the commandant was always very powerful, there were some matters that appeared to be beyond his authority to try. He could not try any cases in which he was personally interested. He could not try any capital cases or cases in which the life or liberty of the defendant was involved. He could not try these cases, but yet we find that Cadillac asserted that his authority reached to the taking of the life of any person who refused to submit to his orders. Cadillac himself was defendant in a civil suit in 1694, which was protracted until 1703, arising out of the seizure of the goods of a trader of Michilimackinac, when Cadillac was commandant there.

The goods were seized for infraction of the laws which prohibited the sale of brandy to the Indians. The suit was for the recovery of the value of these goods, which were destroyed. The trial was held at Montreal and was decided in favor of Cadillac.

INCENDIARISM

In 1703 some one set fire to the buildings in the village of Detroit and the church was burned, as well as a large warehouse filled with furs, and several other buildings. Cadillac himself was severely burned in attempting to stem the conflagration. There was much speculation as to who set the fire. Cadillac accused the Jesuits of instigating the work. There were no Jesuits in Detroit, but he accused them of sending an Indian from Mackinac to do the work for them. There were some very bitter letters written on the subject between Cadillac and the Jesuit priests at Mackinac and Montreal, but the matter, with them, ended with the letter writing. This did not disclose the incendiary and others were suspected or accused of setting the fire. Shortly after this, in 1706, Jacques Campau accused Pierre Roquant dit la Ville of the crime. Canadian or French justice was administered in the manner that appears odd at this distance. In this case La Ville was arrested and taken to Quebec and lodged in prison. Campau was also summoned to attend the investigation as the complaining witness and most important person. The trial, or investigation, was held at Quebec December 2, 1706 before le conseil extraordinairment and resulted in an apparently extraordinary verdict, for not only was the defendant acquitted, but the complaining witness, Campau, was compelled to pay five hundred livres for the trouble and expense he had caused.

CRIMINAL ASSAULT

In 1705 Pierre Berge (or Boucher) dit La Tulipe, a drummer (tambour) in the company of Cadillac, committed a criminal assault upon Susanne Capelle, a little girl twelve years of age. He was convicted before the conseil superieur of Quebec and was sentenced to make a public confession of his crime and on his knees in the church he was compelled to ask pardon for his sins — he was then to be executed. It was almost impossible to carry out the last part of the sentence, for no one appeared willing to act as executioner. In the jail at Quebec was a man named Jacques Elie, who had been condemned to death for some offense committed at the siege of Port Royal in Acadia. Elie was promised a pardon for his crime if he would act as executioner of Tulipe and the latter was thus duly hanged on November 26, 1705. These were some of the cases the commandants were unable to deal with at home and sent to the higher courts at Montreal and Quebec for trial and disposition.

MILITARY LAWS

Another class of cases, those involving the military laws — disobedience to military orders, desertions and that class of cases [–] were attended to by the soldiers themselves and came before the commandant in his capacity of military officer and not as a civilian.

There is a record of one of these early trials by court-martial. During the absence of Cadillac from the village in 1705, Bourgmont had charge of the post for a time. He misbehaved himself in various ways to such an extent that the citizens nearly rose in rebellion and the public indignation was so great that Bourgmont sought safety in flight. After Cadillac’s return, he set about investigating the matter and in 1707 sent an officer named Desane, with fifteen men, to hunt up and capture Bourgmont, Jolicoeur, and Bartellemy Pichon dit La Roze, all of whom were deserters, and who were then leading an abandoned life on the shores of Lake Erie. They were also commanded to bring with them a woman named Tichenet, who was then living a scandalous life with Bourgmont and who was, in part, the cause of Bourgmont’s desertion.

Apparently La Roze was the only deserter who was captured and he was tried by a court consisting of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Francois LeGautier, Sieur de la Vallee Derasie, Pierre D’Argenteuil, Guignolet Lafleudor and Francouer Brindamour. The defendant was found guilty and sentenced “a avoir la teste cassee jusque a se que mort sensuive,” meaning that he should have his neck stretched until he was dead. The word “teste” in old French, for modern “tete,” meaning the head, was applied in this case to the neck. This sentence was duly carried out in the garrison of the Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit November 7, 1707. No appeal was taken, nor was it possible that any could be. This was the first capital case in Detroit, but not the last one, for there were several others in later years.

* Cadillac’s adoptive title is of course the inspiration for the automobile manufacturer of that name. The name sources to a town in the Gironde, and has now gone international.

** U.S. readers might better recognize Lake Pontchartrain, the enormous, flood-prone estuary jutting into present-day New Orleans. Post-Detroit, our man Cadillac became the governor of French Louisiana, and between the two tributes left him in the New World it is no surprise to find that the comte de Pontchartrain was Cadillac’s patron.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Michigan,Milestones,Military Crimes,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Soldiers,USA

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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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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Michigan,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1830: Stephen Simmons, the last executed by Michigan

1 comment September 24th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1830, Stephen Simmons was publicly hanged in Detroit, Michigan: the very last time that state has conducted an execution.*

Michigan was the first English-speaking jurisdiction in the world to abolish the death penalty for ordinary crimes. Death penalty foes celebrate March 1 as “International Death Penalty Abolition Day” (pdf) after the date Michigan’s law took effect.

Simmons himself was a minor malefactor in the scheme of things but amply detested in the day of his crime.

A tavern-keeper by trade, he had a habit of getting into the whiskey himself, to violent effect. One night at home, a sodden Simmons picked a fight with his wife Livana and killed her with a vicious blow to the abdomen. The main trouble in this noteworthy trial (pdf) was seating a jury not completely biased against him.

An estimated two thousand people turned up to watch him pay for his crime, and for their “comfort and entertainment” the authorities had “wooden grandstands erected on three sides of the scaffolding, uniformed militia to be deployed around the scaffolding as a guard of honor, a military band to serenade the crowd while it waited for the main event, and vendors to patrol the grounds hawking food, whiskey, and rum.”

Sounds like a place about to abolish the death penalty, right?

Executed Today was pleased to speak with David Chardavoyne, law professor at Wayne State University and the University of Detroit-Michigan, about this case and its place in Michigan’s early path to abolition. Chardavoyne is the author of the award-winning book A Hanging In Detroit: Stephen Wayne Simmons and the Last Execution Under Michigan Law

Book CoverET: To set the scene, what is Detroit like in 1830?

DC: In 1830 Detroit was the capital of the Michigan Territory, but it had only about 2,000 inhabitants. It was, though, a bustling community because it was the entryway for the tens of thousands of settlers heading into the wilderness west and north of Detroit. Most buildings were on a narrow strip of land between the river and Jefferson Avenue, although the capitol, jail, and Simmons’s execution site were further north, about a half mile from the river.

This was the last execution in Michigan, but to what extent can we really say that it led to the end of the death penalty there? It strikes me that support must have been pretty soft to start with if that’s the case.

To be precise, the last execution under Michigan law — there were 2 executions under federal law a short time later and the Chebatoris execution in the 1930s.

I conclude in my book that there is no real evidence that the Simmons case caused the abolition of capital punishment. Most people living in Michigan in the 1840s, and almost all of the legislators who voted for abolition, arrived in Michigan after 1830 and there was no mention of that case in the extensive debates in the constitutional conventions in 1835-36 or in the legislature in the 1840s.

However, incidents surrounding the Simmons execution show that unease about capital punishment existed in 1830. First, the fact that most killers before and after 1830 were convicted of manslaughter whatever the facts. Second, the alleged mob that tore down the city whipping post right after Simmons’s execution. Third, Governor Cass, in his annual address a couple of months later stated that he was sorry that the law did not allow him to reduce Simmons’s sentence to time in prison.

Why was it that this one hanging, of a guy who had clearly killed his wife even if not intentionally, so powerfully affected people? And how troubled were Michiganders by the case itself, before the specific events of execution day?

Whatever effect the Simmons execution had on the spectators had little to do with Simmons but rather their exposure to a gruesome death. The people seem to have been genuinely outraged by the crime and the fact that the victim was his wife, so that it was very difficult to seat a fair jury. There is little to no evidence of any sympathy for Simmons.

What about the accounts of attendees stunned and shamed by Simmons’ last-minute plea for mercy in the midst of the public-festival environment.

In the book, I explain that my research puts this whole story very much in doubt. It first appeared almost 50 years later in a speech at the state historical convention, but it is not clear that the speaker was even in town that day. It was picked up and repeated by subsequent writers, but the Detroit newspaper at the time made no mention of it, nor did the very few other witness accounts.

When Michigan did abolish the death penalty, how were people talking about the Simmons case? Did it swing any votes?

Again, the Simmons case seems to have been forgotten by then, or at least neither side thought that it would help their arguments.

We’re accustomed now to think of clemency decisions as highly political. How did Lewis Cass’s political aspirations affect his handling of Simmons, if they did at all? And for that matter, did he or anyone else end up suffering any political fallout for the way events ultimately transpired?

As noted above, under territorial law Cass’s only option was to pardon Simmons — he could not just reduce the sentence. It may or may not have been relevant that he left town early on the day of the execution to visit his mother in Ohio and did not attend the execution.

What’s really amazing is that Michigan has kept the death penalty off the books for nearing two centuries. That can’t all be about Stephen Simmons. What is it about Michigan’s culture, politics, or demographics that has kept it so staunchly anti-death penalty?

This is a question that writers have been asking for decades. Remember that abolition was a close-run thing. Religion, political party, and other divisions do not appear to have been a factor in the voting.

My guess is that it had to do with personality. The legislators in 1846 were mostly young men who were adventurous and optimistic enough to leave their friends and families in the east for the frontier. Such people, according to my psychologist friends tend to be against capital punishment. Why capital punishment was never reinstated is a tribute, I think, to the fact that the system works. Every so often a particularly bad killing starts politicians shouting about bringing it back, but it never goes anywhere. Since 1963, of course, the ban has been in our state constitution, and removing it would be very difficult.

* As Prof. Chardavoyne mentions, a few executions have been conducted in Michigan under federal (not state) law since 1830.

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

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