1807: Henry Niles

Add comment November 4th, 2018 Headsman

From the Greenfield (Massachusetts) Gazette, November 30, 1807:

NEW LONDON, (Con.) Nov. 11.

On Wednesday last, Henry Niles, an Indian, was executed in this city, for the murder of his wife, pursuant to the sentence of the Supreme Court.

The day before his execution the prisoner attempted to anticipate his sentence, and with a piece of the blade of a knife opened a vein in his thigh, from which a large quantity of blood issued before his purpose was prevented.

On the day of execution, he was taken from prison by the Sheriff and his Deputies, (the Independent Company acting as guards) and carried to the Presbyterian meeting house, where a sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. [Abel] M’Ewen.

At the place of execution the prisoner made a short speech to the spectators, and was then launched into eternity.

It is 21 years since the execution of a criminal in this city, and the spectacle of the public death of a human being, though “a poor Indian,” drew together a large concourse of people; the number has, by many observers, been computed at 6, 8, and 10 thousand. The prisoner behaved with much calmness, and when passing from prison thro’ the crowd, his countenance bespoke the magnanimity of the American savage.

The death of his wife was occasioned by a quarrel produced by intoxication, the effects of which are known to be peculiarly mischievous among the aborigines of America.

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

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1738: Katherine Garret, Pequot infanticide

4 comments May 3rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1738, before “a Vast Circle of people, more Numerous, perhaps, than Ever was gathered together before, On any Occasion” in Connecticut, Pequot servant Katherine “Indian Kate” Garret was hanged for murdering her newborn child.

As an unmarried young woman, Garret didn’t want a child to begin with, but she managed to pass off the pregnancy in her master’s house as just putting on a few extra pounds. Finally, one day, she slipped out to the household barn and delivered. The mistress of the house said they later found the dead infant, clubbed to death with a handy wood block.

It took an unusually protracted six-odd months to bring Garret’s case so far as the actual scaffold, giving the ministrations of a local pastor plenty of time to move the once-truculent lass to such devoutness that “with her hands lifted up, as she cou’d, she past out of life, in the posture of one praying.” We have her pious purported dying statement:

The Confession & Dying Warning of Katherine Garret.

I Katherine Garret, being Condemned to Die for the Crying Sin of Murder, Do Own the Justice of GOD in suffering me to die this Violent Death; and also Acknowledge the Justice of the Court who has Sentenced me to die this Death; and I thank them who have Lengthned the Time to me, whereby I have had great Opportunity to prepare for my Death: I thank those also who have taken pains with me for my Soul; so that since I have been in Prison, I have had opportunity to seek after Baptism & the Supper of the Lord & have obtained both. I Confess my self to have been a great Sinner; a sinner by Nature, also guilty of many Actual Transgressions, Particularly of Pride and Lying, as well as of the Sin of destroying the Fruit of my own Body, for which latter, I am now to Die. I thank God that I was learn’d to Read in my Childhood, which has been much my Exercise since I have been in Prison, and especially since my Condemnation. The Bible has been a precious Book to me. There I read, That JESUS CHRIST came into the world to Save Sinners, Even the Chief of Sinners: And that all manner of Sins shall be forgiven, One only Excepted; For His Blood Cleanseth from all Sin. And other good Books I have been favoured with, by peoples giving and lending them to me, which has been blessed to me.

I would Warn all Young People against Sinning against their own Consciences; For there is a GOD that Knows all things. Oh! Beware of all Sin, Especially of Fornication; for that has led me to Murder. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it Holy. Be Sober and wise. Redeem your Time, and Improve it well.

Little Children I would Warn you to take heed of Sinning against God. Be Dutiful to your Parents; For the Eye that Mocks at his Father and despiseth to Obey his Mother, the Ravens of the Valley shall pick it out, and the Young Eagles shall eat it. Little Children, Learn to Pray to God, Sit still on the Lord’s Day, and Love your Books.

I would also Warn Servants, Either Whites or Blacks, to be Obedient to your Masters & Mistresses. Be Faithful in your places and diligent: Above all Fear God; fear to Sin against Him: He is our Great Master.

I would also Intreat Parents and Masters to set a good Example before their Children and Servants, for You also must give an Account to God how you carry it to them.

I desire the Prayers of all God’s People for me, Private Christians, as well as Ministers of the Gospel, that I may while I have Life Improve it aright; May have all my Sins Pardoned and may be Accepted through CHRIST JESUS. Amen.

New London, May 3. 1738.
Katherine Garret.

The spiritual counselor who achieved this transformation, Eliphalet Adams, preached a lengthy sermon on the occasion.

The sound of the sermon — especially considered next to the protracted delay for Garret’s hanging — hints at a communal controversy over employing the death penalty in this case. Adams spends most of it fulminating against acquittals, jury nullification, and the insidious operation of sentimentality such as one might imagine might have attended an unmarried girl having rid of her unwanted infant: “What moving Expressions do sometimes come out of the mouths of poor people on such Occasions! … Judges are melted into tears, Yet they must not be so mollified thereby as to neglect Justice; With tears in their Eyes they must pronounce the righteous Sentence and commend them to the mercy of God, who have forfeited all Claim to be suffered any longer among men; Oh, piteous case, when the[y] cry for Mercy, Mercy must no longer be regarded! They must have Judgment without mercy, who have shewed no mercy.”

Stern stuff, ultimately straight from the dialogue around crime and punishment (capital and otherwise) down to the present day. Most of it, anyway. Some parts have changed:

Tho’ they may be great & Considerable persons who are guilty and they, whose blood they have done Violence unto, may be but Comparatively mean. This should not be so considered as to stop a prosecution, or stifle a testimony, or favour or forward an Escape, A Barbarian is of the meanest Nation, a Servant is of the lowest rank, an Infant is of the most imperfect age, Yet even their blood is required by God and the Laws, when it hath been unjustly shed; Rich and great people are most Honoured, Masters over Servants and Parents over Children, may seem to have most power and authority (I say nothing now of Princes over Subjects, that being a curious Argument and which may need very Cautious handling) Yet even these may not be protected by their greatness, authority or priviledge, if they have done Violence to blood, If they have defaced the Image of God in which every man is made and destroyed his workmanship, they also must flee to the pit and none may stay them.

It’s supposed to be the first hanging in New London. Original documents about Katherine Garret’s sad story are linked from the pamphlet about her case hosted here.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Women

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1786: Hannah Ocuish, age 12

17 comments December 20th, 2008 Caitlin GD Hopkins

(Thanks to Caitlin at Vast Public Indifference for the guest post -ed.)

On December 20, 1786, the Sheriff of New London, Conn., led a distraught 12-year-old girl to the gallows, placed a rope around her neck, and hanged her in front of a crowd of spectators. The girl was Hannah Ocuish, a young member of the Pequot nation. She was charged with the murder of six-year-old Eunice Bolles, a white girl with whom Hannah had quarreled the previous summer.

While it is difficult to get a clear picture of Hannah’s life from the available sources, it is clear that hers was not a comfortable existence. An appendix to Rev. Henry Channing’s execution sermon notes that Hannah’s mother was “an abandoned creature, much addicted to the vice of drunkenness,” who sent Hannah to work as a servant in a white family’s home. At the age of six, Hannah was accused of beating a white child while trying to steal her necklace. The anonymous author describes Hannah’s character thus:

Her conduct, as appeared in evidence before the honorable Superior Court was marked with almost every thing bad. Theft and lying were her common vices. To these were added a maliciousness of disposition which made the children in the neighborhood much afraid of her. She had a degree of artful cunning and sagacity beyond many of her years.

This description, expressed in terms designed to emphasize the importance of training children in obedience, may or may not be accurate. Regardless, all evidence suggests that Hannah was alone in a hostile world. (Some historians have suggested that she may also have been mentally retarded intellectually disabled.)

On July 21, 1786, someone found Eunice Bolles’ body at the side of the road outside Norwich, Conn. The corpse displayed signs of extreme trauma: “the head and body were mangled in a shocking manner, the back and one arm broken, and a number of heavy stones placed on the body, arms and legs.” Investigators questioned Hannah, who initially denied any involvement, but mentioned that she had seen a group of boys on the road earlier. The town officials did not believe her. On July 22, “she was closely questioned, but repeatedly denied that she was guilty.” Still unconvinced, the investigators “carried [Hannah] to the house where the body lay, and being charged with the crime, burst into tears and confessed that she killed her, saying if she could be forgiven she would never do so again.”

Hannah’s confession, which was accepted as truth by the court, indicated that she had sought revenge on Eunice because the younger girl had “complained of her in strawberry time … for taking away her strawberries.” When Hannah saw Eunice walking to school alone, she beat and choked her, covering the body with rocks “to make people think that the wall fell upon her and killed her.”

Rev. Henry Channing, a talented local minister, visited Hannah in prison many times, urging her to repent so that her soul might be spared. On the day of her execution, he delivered a thundering sermon entitled, God Admonishing His People of Their Duty as Parents and Masters, which held Hannah up as an example of what could happen if parents did not raise their children to be “dutiful and obedient.”

Her crimes, he argued, were the “natural consequences of too great parental indulgence,” and warned that “appetites and passions unrestrained in childhood become furious in youth; and ensure dishonour, disease and an untimely death.” In the portion of the sermon directed at Hannah herself, Channing did his best to scare her into repentance:

HANNAH! — prisoner at the bar– agreeably to the laws of the land you have arraigned, tried and convicted of the crime of murder … The good and safety of society requires, that no one, of such a malignant character, shall be suffered to live, and the punishment of death is but the just demerit of your crime: and the sparing you on account of your age, would, as the law says, be of dangerous consequence to the publick, by holding up an idea, that children might commit such atrocious crimes with impunity … And you must consider that after death you must undergo another trial, infinitely more solemn and awful than what you have here passed through, before that God against whom you offended; at whose bar the deceased child will appear as a swift witness against you — And you will be condemned and consigned to an everlasting punishment, unless you now obtain a pardon, by confessing and sincerely repenting of your sins, and applying to his sovereign grace, through the merits of his Son, Jesus Christ, for mercy, who is able and willing to save the greatest offenders, who repent and believe in him.

At her trial in October, Hannah “appeared entirely unconcerned,” but as the date of her execution approached, she began to show fear. In early December, visitors began to ask her how long she had to live, and Hannah “would tell the Number of her Days with manifest Agitation.” On December 19th, she “appeared in great Distress . . . and continued in Tears most of the Day, and until her Execution.” Witnesses to her execution reported that Hannah “seemed greatly afraid when at the Gallows.” With her last words, she “thanked the Sheriff for his kindness, and launched into the eternal World.”

In the United States, the youngest children put to death by the government have all be children of color. James Arcene, a Cherokee boy, was only 10 or 11 years old when he was hanged for committed a robbery and murder that resulted in his 1885 hanging in Arkansas.* At 12, Hannah Ocuish was the youngest female offender executed by any state. In the 20th century, the youngest children executed were both African-American: 13-year-old Fortune Ferguson of Florida (1927) and 14-year-old George Stinney of South Carolina (1944).

In 2005, the United States Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for criminals who committed their crimes as juveniles (Roper v. Simmons). The court split 5-4, with Jutices Scalia, O’Connor, Thomas, and Chief Justice Rehnquist dissenting. In his dissent, Justice Scalia excoriated the majority for considering international consensus (along with the laws of 30 of the 50 U.S. states) on the cruelty of executing children under the age of 18 when determining the standard for “cruel and unusual.” Justice Scalia, an avowed proponent of Constitutional originalism, proclaimed, “I do not believe that the meaning of our Eighth Amendment, any more than the meaning of other provisions of our Constitution, should be determined by the subjective views of five Members of this Court and like-minded foreigners.”

* This post originally asserted that Arcene was a juvenile when hanged. In fact, he was (or claimed to have been) 10 years old or so at the time he committed the crime, but was not tried and hanged until over a decade later. (This is corrected in the Arcene post.) -ed.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Women

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