June 21st, 2010
On this date in 1734, a Portuguese-born slave known as Marie-Joseph Angélique was publicly hanged before the burned ruins of old Montreal on an accusation of having set the blaze.
Having recently been caught attempting to abscond with her lover, a white servant named Claude Thibault, Angelique was the instant consensus community suspect when Montreal caught fire on April 10. Forty-six buildings in the still-small frontier town burned; Angelique was arrested the very next morning.
(Thibault fled town, his fate unknown but presumptively no worse than what befell his paramour.)
Nobody died in the fire, but conflagrations were deadly serious back in the bucket brigade era.
calls for the said Marie Joseph Angelique in reparation for the Fire caused by Her and other issues brought forward at the trial, to be condemned to make honourable amends Disrobed, a Rope around her Neck, holding in her hands a flaming torch weighing two Pounds before the door and main entrance of the parish Church of the said City of Montreal, where She will be led by the Executor of the high Court And there on her knees state and declare in a loud and intelligible voice that she maliciously and defiantly and wrongly set the Said fire for which She is repentant, [and] ask Forgiveness from God, the King and the Court; this done she is to be taken to the public square of the said City of Montreal to be Hanged until dead at the gallows erected for this Purpose at the said square, and then her dead Body is to be placed on a flaming pyre and burned and her Ashes Cast to the wind, her belongings taken and confiscated by the King; prior to this the said Marie Joseph Angelique is to be subjected to torture in the ordinary and extraordinary ways in order to have her reveal her accomplices …
And so she was.
Although the torture broke Angelique’s now-useless denial of her own guilt, she maintained her defense of Claude Thibault, insisting that she acted alone. It’s up for debate whether she did, in fact, act alone, or act at all — and if Angelique was guilty, what meaning or intent one can ascribe to her action.
There’s a fascinating exploration of this case, including the available primary documents, available in English or French.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arson,Burned,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Quebec,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,Torture,Women
Tags: 1730s, 1734, june 21, marie-joseph angelique, montreal, slavery
March 29th, 2010
Shortly after midnight this date* in 1935, the career of 71-year-old Canadian executioner Arthur Ellis came to an end with the botched hanging of Thomasina Sarao.
All a simple matter of physics.
When the old-school “drop ‘em from a cart” method of strangulation hanging gave way to the “new drop”, the hangman’s art eventually came to encompass the scientific application of the humane level of force to the doomed person’s vertebrae.
Something in the neighborhood of 1,000 ft/lbs was about right. Too little, and the poor wretch strangles to death. Too much, and you rip the head right off.
Thomasina Sarao got too much, and it ripped her head right off.
They’d worked everything out to a handy table, see, where if you weighed this much, they knew to drop you this far, derived from the formula
1020/weight in pounds (less 14 lbs for the head) = drop in feet
Except in the widow Mrs. Sarao’s case — the Italian immigrant had offed her husband to collect the insurance** — Arthur Ellis was given the wrong weight for his client. He coiled a noose for a woman 32 pounds lighter than the person who actually mounted the scaffold, and he therefore made it more than a foot too long.
That whole “ripping off a woman’s head” thing really harshed everyone’s vibe. So, although hangings had long been moved behind prison walls, the Canadian government stopped the ongoing practice of allowing members of the general public to obtain tickets to witness them.
“Arthur Ellis” — it was actually a trade name he’d made up, and so dignified that one of his successors used the same alias — died three years after his grisly retirement party. He’s saluted by the Arthur Ellis Awards, the Crime Writers of Canada’s annual awards: a little trophy of a guy getting hanged.
Winners of the Arthur Ellis Award, like Robert J. Sawyer, get this trinket to commemorate. At least the little wooden fetish has his head attached to his shoulders. (Images (c) Robert J. Sawyer, and used with permission.)
* March 28 is sometimes reported, but the period press reports (like this wire story) seem to agree on the 29th, as does this index of Canadian executions.
** Two male co-conspirators, Leone Gagliardi and Angelo Donofrio, were also hanged for the same crime, a few minutes before Sarao on a different scaffold.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Participants,Power,Women
Tags: 1930s, 1935, arthur ellis, arthur ellis awards, awards, crime writers of canada, famous executioners, montreal, thomasina sarao