1752: William Montgomery, small enough to fail

Add comment November 13th, 2017 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar, which misstates the date of Montgomery’s execution because of course it does.

In the absence of a modern bankruptcy framework, underwater debtors could be clapped into prisons like the notorious Fleet. As this had the effect of overcrowding the dungeons with otherwise productive persons who were little likely to meet the theoretical obligation to repay their bondsmen, the British Parliament passed Insolvency Acts intermittently throughout the 18th century as bankruptcy holidays that would permit orderly mass discharges of debt. Given the chaotic state of record keeping there must also have been a wide swath of grey-area debtors who for the benefit of resuming economic life would bend whatever facts needed bending to slide themselves into the Acts’ safe harbors.

Our William Montgomery was one of these, who told a white lie about being abroad on the date necessary to wipe the slate clean — but found that his creditors were not so easy to forgive either invoices or prevarications, to the extent of revenging their balance sheet at Tyburn.

This Newgate Calendar entry gives us a heavy dose of editorializing. For the rentiers’ side of the moral preening, compare to the Ordinary’s Account.*


WILLIAM MONTGOMERY
Executed at Tyburn, December 2, 1752 [sic], for defrauding his creditors

In a country like England, and more especially when we view the overgrown capital, though productive of crimes in fraudulent debtors, we must advocate acts of insolvency.

The good of many must be pre-eminent to the villainy of a few; and, where we find one punished for the abuse of the lenity of the legislative body, we happily find thousands of unfortunate beings rescued from the horrors of a prison, where they had long been immured without the means of support, much less were they able to satisfy the demands of inexorable creditors.

The necessity of good faith in contracts, and the support of commerce, oblige the legislature to secure for the creditors the person of the bankrupts; and in this point of view may the subject of this case, and all others who take the benefit of an act of insolvency, be considered.

The fraudulent bankrupt should be punished in the same manner with him who adulterates the coin of the realm; for to falsify a piece of coin, which is a pledge of mutual obligations between men, is not a greater crime than to violate the obligations themselves.

But the bankrupt who, after a strict examination, has proved before the commissioners that either the fraud or losses of others, or misfortunes unavoidable by human prudence, have stripped him of his substance, on what barbarous pretence is he thrown into prison, and thus deprived of the only remaining good, the melancholy enjoyment of mere liberty? Still more hard is the case of an unfortunate trader, who, disclosing his whole transactions, and offering to assign over to his creditors the remains of his stock, is cast into prison by a single hard-hearted unrelenting claimant. Yet this is constantly done in Britain.

Why is such a man cast into a loathsome prison, ranked with criminals, and, in despair, compelled to repent of his honesty? Conscious of his innocence, he lived easy and happy under the protection of those laws, which, it is true, he violated, but not intentionally. Laws are dictated by the avarice of the rich, and tacitly accepted by the poor, seduced by that flattering and universal hope, which makes men believe that all unlucky accidents are the lot of others, and the most fortunate only their share.

Mankind, when influenced by the first impressions, love cruel laws, although, being subject to them themselves, it is in the interest of every person that they should be as mild as possible; but the fear of being injured is always far more prevalent that the intention of injuring others.

But, to return to the innocent bankrupt. Let his debt, if you will, not be considered as cancelled till payment of the whole; let him be refused the liberty of leaving the country with out leave of his creditors, or of carrying into another nation that industry, which, under a penalty, he should be obliged to employ for their benefit; but what pretence can justify the depriving of an innocent, though unfortunate, man of his liberty, without the least utility to his creditors?

Then it may be in answer be said, that the hardships of confinement will induce him to discover his fraudulent transactions: an event that can hardly be supposed, after a rigorous examination into his conduct and affairs.

It will be necessary to distinguish fraud, attended with aggravating circumstances, from simple fraud, and that from perfect innocence. For the first, let there be ordained the same punishment as for forgery. For the second, a punishment with the loss of liberty; and if perfectly innocent, let the bankrupt himself choose the method of re-establishing himself, and satisfying his creditors.

With what ease might a sagacious legislator prevent the greatest part of fraudulent bankruptcies, and remedy the misfortunes that befall the innocent and industrious! A public register of all contracts, with the liberty of consulting it allowed to each tradesman — a public fund, formed by the contribution of fortunate merchants, for the timely assistance of unfortunate industry — would be the establishments that could produce no real inconveniences, but would be attended with numberless advantages.

Many eminent bankers, in the history of the trade of London, by an unexpected run upon their house, must have become bankrupts, and thereby embarrassed thousands, had not the Bank of England come to their assistance; but alas! The unfortunate tradesman has no one to prevent his fall. Unhappily, the most simple, the easiest regulations, await only the nod of the legislator to diffuse through nations wealth, power and felicity; laws, which would be regarded by future generations with eternal gratitude, are either unknown or rejected. A restless and trifling spirit, the timid prudence of the present moment, and a distrust and aversion to the most useful motives, possess the minds of those who are empowered to regulate the actions of mankind.

It must at the same time, be acknowledged, that the baseness of a few failures often tends to render callous the feelings of creditors.

No act of insolvency has been carried into effect without the detection of fraud. Eager to embrace its benefits, and thus rid themselves of debt, men will wade through perjury, and employ every means to accomplish their purpose.

After the destruction of the prisons in London, during the riots of the year 1780, an act was passed for the purpose of absolving all who had been confined. Of this every rascal in London was ready to take the advantage. A mere form was only necessary, to enter their names; but the signatures, that Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, to his infinite honour, ordered the lists to be printed and published, which put to rout whole hives of impostors. Names were herein found that might as well have expected to appear in the list of Gazette promotions.

A man of this description was the subject who led to this enquiry.

William Montgomery was a native of Elphinstone, in Scotland, and educated in the Presbyterian form of religion.

His father dying when he was about thirteen years old, his mother sent him to sea in a ship belonging to Alloa. Having continued in the naval line of business some years, he at length married, and opened a public house in Bishopsgate-street; and dealing largely as a smuggler, he frequently went to Holland, to bring home prohibited goods.

Quitting Bishopsgate-street, he lived some years at the sign of the Highlander, in Shadwell; but, on the death of his wife, he resolved to decline business as a publican; and having saved some money, he entered again into the matrimonial state, and taking a lodging in Nightingale-lane, he let lodgings to seafaring men.

Meeting with success, he took a shop as a seller of seamen’s clothes; but left the care of it chiefly to his wife, while he employed his own time in frequent trips to Holland, in pursuit of his former illicit practice of smuggling.

An act of insolvency passing in the year 1748, favourable to such persons as had been in foreign parts fugitives for debt, Montgomery took the benefit of it, swearing that he was at Rotterdam on the last day of the preceding year: in consequence of which, he was cleared of his debts, to the injury of his creditors.

No notice was taken of this affair till the expiration of four years, when, Montgomery having arrested a neighbour, the man gave notice of his former transactions to one of his creditors, who laying an information before the lord mayor, Montgomery was lodged in Newgate on suspicion.

Being brought to trial at the next sessions at the Old Bailey, several persons deposed that they spent the evening with him at his own house at the time he alleged that he was in Holland, in order to take the benefit of the act: so that he was convicted, and received sentence to die.

For some time after conviction he behaved with apparent signs of devotion; but asserted his innocence, and said that the witnesses against him were perjured; and in this tale he continued till the arrival of the warrant for his execution.

Being pressed by the divine who attended him to tell the truth, he persisted in the former story until the Friday before his death; but in the afternoon of that day he acknowledged, that after having been on board a Dutch vessel; in order to take his passage for Holland, he had come on shore, owing to the contrary winds.

On the following day he insisted that, “as he had been sworn according to the methods used in Scotland, without kissing the book, his crime could not come within the meaning of the act”. In reply to this he was told that the mode of administering could make no difference to the nature of an oath.

Hereupon he made a full confession of his crime, and owned that, having come on shore, he concealed himself for some weeks in his own house; then appeared publicly, saying he had been at Rotterdam: after which he surrendered himself to the warden of the Fleet prison, and obtained the benefit of the act of insolvency.

On the Sunday following, when he was pressed to declare the whole truth, he exclaimed, “What would you have me say? I have told you all the truth, and can say no otherwise than what I have done. If I did, I should belie myself, and my own knowledge.”

This malefactor appeared dreadfully shocked on the morning of execution, and wished for time for repentance, which he now considered highly necessary. At the place of execution he warned the spectators to beware of covetousness, which had been the cause of his destruction.


* Sample of the Ordinary’s take on the gravity of disappointing your creditors:

That he suffered justly, as an Example, and for a Terror to such an Undertaking again, I believe no one can gain-say …

for which Atonement can scarce, but if ever, not without the utmost Difficulty, be made: And, through this Filth, and Mire of Wickedness, must he pass, who resolves to make an intentional, a real Fraud.

What can the Man think that shall be guilty of such high Offence? ‘Tis publickly known that human Laws are determined to punish it with Death, and what is to come afterwards, God only knows.

Let this then the Fate of poor Montgomery deter all others for the future from attempting a Breach of such an Indulgence, if ever it should please the Legislature to grant one again. And tho’, in a former Part of these Sheets, he did not scruple to say, he was not the only one who feloniously laid hold of the Benefit of the last Insolvent Act, yet Charity engages to think better Things, and to hope there is not an Instance of the like Kind to be met with in England.

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1544: Maria von Beckum and her sister-in-law Ursula

Add comment November 13th, 2016 Headsman

From the Martyrs’ Mirror catalogue of Anabaptists

In the year 1544, there was a sister in the Lord, named Maria van Beckum, whom her mother had driven from home on account of her faith. This having become known in the Bishopric of Utrecht, and reported to the Stadtholder, he sent one Goossen van Raesveldt with many servants, to apprehend this maiden at her brother’s, John van Beckum, whither she had fled: She was compelled to rise from her bed, and accompany them; and when she saw the great number of people who had come on her account, she asked Ursula, her brother’s wife, whether she would go with her and keep her company.

The latter answered, “If John van Beckum is satisfied, I will gladly go with you, and we will rejoice together in the Lord.” When Maria put this request to her brother, he consented, and Ursula went with her. Here love was stronger than death, and firmer than the grave. Cant. 8:6.

Her mother and sister had come from Friesland to see her; but this could not move her, she took leave of them, for she chose to suffer affliction, rather than to have worldly joy; hence she went with her sister Maria. They were together brought to Deventer. There blind leaders came to them, who with subtlety sought to win them to human institutions. But they answered, “We hold to the Word of God, and do not regard the dictates of the pope, nor the errors of the whole world.” Friar Grouwel also sought to teach them much, but was not able to prove his assertions by the Scriptures.

Now as he could not overcome them, he said “The devil speaks through your mouth, away with them to the fire.”

They greatly rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer for the name of Christ, and to help bear His reproach. Acts 5:41.

They were then brought to the house at Delden; where many efforts were made to cause them to apostatize, yet all in vain. A commissary came from the court of Burgundy, who greatly extolled the mass and all the institutions of the pope; but he could not prevail against the Scriptures which they adduced.

He then asked them whether they were rebaptized. They replied, “We have been baptized once according to the command of Christ and the practice of the apostles; for there is but one true baptism, and he who receives it, has put on Christ, and leads an unblamable life through the Holy Ghost; in the answer of a good conscience.” Eph. 4:5; Gal. 3:27; I Pet. 3:21.

He also asked them, whether they believed that Christ was wholly present in the sacrament. This they considered a blind question, and said, “God will have no likeness or image, neither in heaven nor on earth (Exodus 20:4); for He says through the prophet: ‘I, even I am the Lord; and beside me there is no Saviour.’ Isa. 43:11. But as regards the Supper, we find that Christ left it as a memorial of His death, with bread and wine; as often as we commemorate it, we are to show forth His death till He come.” I Cor. 11:26.

Now as Maria and Ursula regarded all the institutions of the pope as heresy, they were brought into open court at Delden, on the thirteenth of November, before the children of Pilate and Caiaphas, where they were sentenced to death, in which they rejoiced, praising God. When they were led to the stake, many of the people, seeing their steadfastness, wept. But they sang for joy, and said, “Weep not, on account of what is inflicted upon us.”

“We do not suffer,” said Maria, “as witches or other criminals, but because we adhere to Christ, and will not be separated from God; hence be converted, and it shall be well with you forever.” [See Paul Friedland on the implications of this behavior by Protestant martyrs -ed.]

When the time of suffering drew nigh, Maria said, “Dear sister; heaven is opened for us; for what we now suffer for a little while, we shall forever be happy with our bridegroom.” They then gave each other the kiss of peace.

Thereupon they prayed together to God; that He would forgive the judges their sins, since they knew not what they were doing; and that as the world was sunk in blindness, God would have compassion on them, and receive their souls into His eternal kingdom: They first took Maria; who entreated the authorities not to shed any more innocent blood. Then she fervently prayed to God, and also prayed for those who put her to death; whereupon she joyfully arose, and went with such great gladness to the stake, that it cannot be told, saying, “To Thee, O Christ, I have given myself; I know that I shall live with Thee forever. Therefore, O God of heaven, into Thy hands do I commend my spirit.”

The executioner swore because the chain did not suit him; but she said, “Friend, consider what you are doing; my body is not worthy that you should blaspheme Christ on account of it; repent, lest you burn for it in hell.” The preacher, a teacher at Delden, turned Ursula around, but she turned back again, and urgently said, “Let me behold the end of my sister, for I also desire to receive the glory into which she shall enter.”

After Maria was burned, they asked Ursula, whether she would not yet apostatize. “No,” said she, “not for death; I will not thus forsake the eternal riches.” They would also honor her with the sword, but she said, “My flesh is not too good to be burned for the name of Christ.”

To one of her relatives she said, “Bid John van Beckum good night, and tell him to serve God, to whom I am now about to be offered.” When she came to the wood, she clasped her hands, and said, “Our Father which art in heaven.” “Yea,” said the priest, “there you will find Him.” “Because I seek Him there,” she said, “I must die this temporal death. If I should confess Him in the bread, I might live longer.”

When she stepped upon the wood, her foot slipped. “I think I am falling off,” she said. “Stop,” cried the tyrant; “she means to apostatize.” “No,” said she, “the block slips from under me; I will not faint in the Word of God, but constantly adhere to Christ.” Thus both remained steadfast unto the end, and sealed the Word of God with their death, in great patience and boldness, leaving us a good example.

A subsequent entry in the Mirror reveals that Maria at her execution called on believers to witness that “this stake at which I am to be burned [will] grow green, by which you may know that it is the truth for which we here suffer and die” — a prophecy that proved to be accurate.

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1765: Patrick Ogilvie, but not Katharine Nairn

Add comment November 13th, 2015 Headsman

“So great a concourse of people has perhaps not been seen”* at Edinburgh’s Grassmarket as assembled on this date in 1765 for the execution of Lieutenant Patrick Ogilvie.

It was, naturally, scandal that brought them out of the woodwork. Lt. Ogilvie’s older brother Thomas in January of that same 1765 had married a young woman named Katharine Nairn. She had barely half of Thomas’s 40 years.

Katharine soon took a shine to the more age-appropriate sibling, just back from his dashing adventures in the East Indies. Within weeks of the marriage, the two people closest to Thomas were making a fool of him in his very own home. Their eventual indictment charged Katharine and Patrick with “yielding to your inordinate desires … in the months of January, February, March, April, May, and June … at different times, and in one or other of the rooms of the house of Eastmiln, and in the out-houses adjacent thereto,” not to mention (we’re guessing during the warmer spring weather) “in the fields.”

Thomas himself seems to have been wise to the cuckoldry rather early on, but either from weakness or inclination made only token attempts to abate it. Great was the astonishment of the neighbors that Patrick wasn’t banned from the house or Katharine disallowed his company.

At length, Thomas died of poison. The suspicions were only natural.

In fact, maybe they were a little bit too natural.

It has been suspected that the true author of Thomas’s destruction and the lovers’ too was not their own unnatural passion but the greed of yet another party in the nest of family vipers living under the eldest brother’s roof: Anne Clark.

The lover of the youngest Ogilvie brother, Alexander, Anne was known as a woman of easy virtue, but she had regardless her sexual continence a potentially compelling motive to be rid of Thomas, or rid of Patrick, or both: as both Thomas and Patrick were childless, the family scandal figured to pour all the family’s estates into the puckish hands of her own man. Patrick and Katharine tried vainly to impugn her at trial as a malicious witness

So when Anne supplied a story that the lovers had openly quarreled with Thomas and even vowed in her presence to murder him — and when Anne plied the court with lurid accounts of creeping up the stairs to listen in on Patrick and Katharine romping in his alcove bed — do we hear the voice of a master villain? That reputed prostitute gave bodice-popping evidence at very great length against her incestuous would-be family —

Mrs. Ogilvie was frequently in a room by herself with the Lieutenant … upon Sunday the nineteenth day of May last, all the family went to church, excepting the two pannels and the deponent [Clarke] … the two pannels left the deponent in the low room, and went up stairs together to the east room above stairs … [and Clarke] in order to discover what was passing, went up the stair, and as the bed in the Lieutenant’s room was an alcove ed, the back of which came to the side of the stair, and there was nothing betwixt the bed and the stair, but a piece of plaster and the timber of the bed, so that a person standing in the stair could hear distinctly what passed in the bed, she stood and listened; and from the motions that she heard, is positive that they were in bed together, and abusing their bodies together, by which she means, they were lying carnally together.

You can read the whole of Anne Clark’s testimony among 130-odd pages of details from the proceedings here.

Ogilvie would hold to his innocence through multiple royal reprieves and all the way to the gallows. When the rope slipped on the first hanging attempt, he was not so daunted by the proximity of the eternal that he feared to repeat the claim: “I adhere to my former confession [profession of innocence], and die an innocent man.”

He also died alone.

His former paramour and possible confederate Katharine had delayed her hanging by pleading her belly — truthfully so, for it seemed that her many springtime frolics had in fact quickened her womb.

She delivered early in 1766 and was bound for execution a few weeks later. But Katharine’s wit supplied what crown sentiment would not and she slipped out of prison in the wardrobe of an old family servant one evening.** She had such a considerable head start before her absence was noted the next day that she reached London, hired a boat to the Netherlands, was blown back to Old Blighty by a gale, and hired another boat for Calais before anyone could catch up to her. She alit on French soil, and vanished into the safety of historical obscurity.

“Such were the different fates of two people, who, as far as we can judge of the affair, appear to have been involved in the same crime,” remarks the Newgate Calendar in an expansive vein. “The one dies, avowing his perfect innocence; the other escapes the immediate stroke of justice, which was suspended over her by the most slender thread.

“Mysterious are the ways of Providence, and, in the language of Scripture, ‘past finding out;’ but it is for mortals humbly to submit to all its dispensations.”

* London Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Nov. 19, 1765.

** Hanoverian gaols had a major security hole where cross-dressing escapees were concerned.

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1795: David McCraw, “blasted all our conjugal happiness”

Add comment November 13th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1795, Donald McCraw was hanged in Perth, Scotland. A weaver by trade, McGraw joined the great human migrations the Industrial Revolution was stirring by migrating from the Highlands to Perth’s booming textile industry.

There, he laments in a bracingly emotional confession published as a broadside on the day before his execution,

[I] might have lived very comfortable, if it had not been for that curse to all peace and happiness, an overbearing temper in myself, and a fractious discontented temper in my unfortunate wife, [which] blasted all our conjugal happiness, so that instead of bearing with one another, as we are commanded in scripture 1 Pet. 3:7-11, our time was unhappily spent in mutual railings, upbraidings, threatenings, and even blows. In this most disagreeable life we lived for several years, but wickedness did not stop here, which may teach those who have the pattern of dreadful example before them, how dangerous a thing it is to live a wicked life, and how any vice persevered in grows in us like a second nature, and rare if it be ever left off.

I had long made a practice of beating my unhappy wife, custom made me almost think it no crime till it ended in the horrid crime of murder! And that at a time, which made it a double crime, when she had only one month between her and childbed.

Oh how unhappy have I been, to embrue my hands in the blood of my helpless wife, and my innocent unborn offspring. I no sooner committed the horrid crime, and saw her lying lifeless, than I was seized with such a trembling horror, that had I been lord of a thousand worlds, I would freely have given them all to have had the horrid deed recalled; but alas! it was done past recalling.

McCraw at first fled his crime but after running just a few miles he

began to reflect that I could not fly from the presence of an all-seeing God, nor run from the guilty conscience that now overwhelmed my heart; for should I fly to the uttermost corner of the earth, I would still be in his presence, and my guilt would accompany me. I therefore thought it would be better to give myself up to justice, and suffer what I justly deserv’d, than live with the pangs of a guilty conscience which are worse than death.

After hanging, McCraw was delivered to the city’s doctors for dissection.

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2010: Farid Baghlani, womanslayer

1 comment November 13th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 2010, Farid Baghlani was hanged in Ahvaz for a 2004-2008 serial murder spree that claimed the lives of six women.

At trial, Baghlani openly attributed his crimes to his hatred for women, probably not a defense calculated to maximize his prospects of acquittal. Those who lost loved ones to Baghlani returned the sentiment, and celebrated his execution by handing out sweets.

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1663: Corfitz Ulfeldt, in effigy

Add comment November 13th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1663, Danish noble Corfitz Ulfeldt — then a fugitive abroad — was executed in effigy.

Ulfeldt (English Wikipedia page | Danish) is notorious as his country’s greatest traitor.

To commit great betrayals, one needs to begin with great trust. Ulfeldt was the son of a chancellor and was married off to Leonora Christina, the daughter of King Christian IV.

When Christian died, Ulfeldt was the de facto ruler of the realm or a few months in 1648 while the elective monarchy sorted out where to pass the crown next.

The choice ultimately fell to the late king’s son Frederick III, but this saturnine prince was distrusted by the Danish nobility, who forced on him as the price for his power a Haandfaestning — a sort of temporary Magna Carta circumscribing a monarch’s power for the period of his individual reign. It set a less than comradely tone for the two men’s relationship.

In 1651, an accusation surfaced that Ulfeldt was in on a plot to poison the king — an accusation that cost Ulfeldt’s lover her own head. Deciding that he didn’t need to be around when the next specious regicide allegation made the rounds, Ulfeldt pre-emptively fled the country.

From there, Ulfeldt’s lust for power and personal enmity for Frederick would light his path to infamy.

He signed up with Sweden’s King Charles X — Denmark’s greatest foreign rival — and mounted an invasion of his native country, possibly even financed by stolen Danish treasure. Rewarded with a Swedish noble title, he promptly began double-dealing against them, until his disgusted new sovereign dispossessed him, leading Ulfeldt to return hat in hand to Copenhagen.

Imprisoned there for that whole leading-an-enemy-invasion incident, Ulfeldt again managed to wriggle out and immediately tried to raise a German army against Denmark. Really — enough, dude.

Frederick certainly thought he’d seen enough too. Not having the compulsive traitor available to execute bodily, he resorted to the weird ritual of punishing a mannequin, and ordered the prison governor:

Know that you have to command the executioner in our name, that to-day, November 13, he is to take the effigy of Corfitz, formerly called Count of Ulfeldt, from the Blue Tower where it is now, and bring it on a car to the ordinary place in the square in front of the castle; and when he has come to the place of justice, strike off the right hand and the head, whereafter he is to divide the body into four parts on the spot, and carry them away with him, whilst the head is to be placed on a spike on the Blue Tower for remembrance and execration.

A few months after, the hunted Ulfeldt was reported to have died in Switzerland, a report considered highly suspicious in his native land. Nevertheless, he was never captured or heard from again, so whenever or however he died, it seems he managed to cheat the executioner of his flesh. As to the judgment of posterity: that, he had long since squandered.

The royal and loyal widow Leonora Christina enjoys a reputation quite a bit more favorable than her husband. She swallowed every draught of his exile, and more — remaining imprisoned under harsh conditions long after Corfitz’s death, only released in 1685 with the passing of King Frederick’s wife, her vengeful personal enemy. In that time, and in between fending off in her dungeon the local vermin, lecherous jailers, and the poison of personal bitterness, she wrote voluminous and well-regarded memoirs.

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1676: Col. Thomas Hansford, the first American independence martyr

4 comments November 13th, 2010 Headsman

Col. Thomas Hansford was hanged “a loyal subject and a lover of my country” on this date in 1676 — America’s first executed political martyr, since that “country” was not England, but Virginia.

Robert Beverly‘s 1705 History of Virginia recalls the genesis of that milestone dispute between settlers and mother England.

The occasion of this rebellion is not easy to be discovered: but ’tis certain there were many things that concurred towards it. For it cannot be imagined, that upon the instigation of two or three traders only, who aimed at a monopoly of the Indian trade, as some pretend to say, the whole country would have fallen into so much distraction; in which people did not only hazard their necks by rebellion, but endeavored to ruin a governor, whom they all entirely loved, and had unanimously chosen; a gentleman who had devoted his whole life and estate to the service of the country, and against whom in thirty-five years experience there had never been one single complaint. Neither can it be supposed, that upon so slight grounds, they would make choice of a leader they hardly knew, to oppose a gentleman that had been so long and so deservedly the darling of the people. So that in all probability there was something else in the wind, without which the body of the country had never been engaged in that insurrection.

Four things may be reckoned to have been the main ingredients towards this intestine commotion, viz., First, The extreme low price of tobacco, and the ill usage of the planters in the exchange of goods for it, which the country, with all their earnest endeavors, could not remedy. Secondly, The splitting the colony into proprieties, contrary to the original charters; and the extravagant taxes they were forced to undergo, to relieve themselves from those grants. Thirdly, The heavy restraints and burdens laid upon their trade by act of Parliament in England. Fourthly, The disturbance given by the Indians.

Tobacco aside, these are grievances straight from the next century’s Declaration of Independence at the outset of the (more successful) American Revolution:

cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

… imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

So, tax revolt + political self-determination + impatience about arrangements with Indians who could be wiped out instead. Eventually, this would germinate a mighty empire.

In 1676, it germinated a colonial rebellion against the mighty empire — Bacon’s Rebellion, an unsuccessful rising that is easily read in retrospect as a prototype for the more illustrious revolt one century later.

The suppression of Bacon’s Rebellion also involved a rash of executions, which we’ve touched on before. King Charles II would complain that his Virginia governor’s severity “has taken more lives in that naked country than I have taken for the murder of my father.”

The man dignified to be the first of these executions — and therefore, if you like, the first man put to death in the service of American liberty — was actually nabbed by our historian’s father, also named Robert Beverly, “a parson calculated to the Lattitude of the Servis, which required descretion, Curage, & Celerity, as qualetys wholly subservant to military affares.” (source)

snapt up one Coll: Hansford, and his party … It is saide that Hansford, at (or a little before) the onslaut, had forsaken the Capitole of Marss, to pay his oblations in the Temple of Venus; which made him the easere preay to his enemies; but this I have onely upon report, and must not aver it upon my historicall reputation: But if it was soe, it was the last Sacryfize he ever after offered at the Shrine of that Luxurious Diety, for presently after that he came to Accomack, he had the ill luck to be the first Berginian borne that dyed upon a paire of Gallows. When that he came to the place of Execution (which was about a Mile removed from his prisson) he seemed very well resalved to undergo the utmost mallize of his not over kinde Destinie, onely Complaineing of the manner of his death: Being observed neather at the time of his tryall (which was by a Court Martiall) nor afterwards, to suplicate any other faviour, then that he might be shot like a Soulder, and not to be hang’d like a Dog. But it was tould him, that whwat he so passionately petitioned for could not be granted, in that he was not condem’d as he was merely a Soulder, but as a Rebell, taken in Arms against the King, whose Laws had ordained him that death. Dureing the short time he had to live, after his sentance, he approved to his best advantage for the well fare of his soule, by repentance and contrition for all his Sinns, in generall, excepting his Rebelellion, which he would not acknowledg; desireing the People, at the place of execution, to take notis that he dyed a Loyall Subject, and a lover of his Countrey; and that he had never taken up arms, but for the destruction of the Indians, who had murthered so many Christians.

(A modernized, and less atmospheric, version of the same passage can be read here.)

Hansford’s story and the larger one of Bacon’s Rebellion are treated at second hand in several public-domain histories available online — see here, here, and here.

It also seems that, besides being the first martyr to American liberty, Hansford also had the distinction of being the first native-born Virginian (white Virginian, we presume) ever executed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Separatists,Soldiers,Treason,USA,Virginia,Wartime Executions

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1534: Barthélemi Milon, for the Affair of the Placards

3 comments November 13th, 2009 Headsman

On this date* in 1534, a crippled shoemaker’s son went to the stake … the harbinger of many a pyre that would swallow many a French soul in the internecine struggle over religion that lay ahead.

A relatively chilled-out start to the Protestant Reformation under the tolerant King Francis I had the moderate reformers thinking go-along, get-along.

But churchbound Frenchmen and -women on Sunday, Oct. 18 in Paris and a number of towns around France found that someone had engineered the simultaneous posting of incendiary anti-Catholic placards denouncing the “idolatrous rite” of mass. In an ominous breach of security, one was even left outside the monarch’s own bedchamber.

The Affaire des Placards was a public relations master stroke by any standard … and it got Catholic France up in arms against the heretics in its midst. Overnight, every evangelical had become a terrorist.

[R]umors spread like wildfire throughout the city. Some said that the heretics were going to burn down the churches and massacre the faithful during mass; others that the Louvre would be sacked. Foreigners, especially those who spoke German, were targeted by frightened Parisians, and a Flemish merchant was lynched by a mob.

Many with the means and the prudence fled; it was this event drove John Calvin from Paris to Switzerland, there to root out heresies of his own.

Those that stayed saw several of their number burn.

Milon (didactic French link), paralyzed from the waist down, was the first. He had been found with the treasonable poster in his possession.

As the martyrology filled in the years ahead and France hurtled towards the Wars of Religion that would shape the 16th century, the Affair of the Placards in retrospect came to mark** a decisive turning point for the House of Valois towards an ultimately self-defeating violent repression of Protestantism.

This affair in the context of its time is treated in the free (and Protestant) History of the rise of the Huguenots of France.

* Some sources (this one French) give November 12 as Milon’s execution date.

** Perhaps somewhat glibly; the state’s wavering policies on the day’s religious conflict tracked the everyday vicissitudes of statecraft — competing factions in the court; competing geopolitical priorities abroad.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,God,Heresy,History,Innocent Bystanders,Public Executions

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1849: Frederick and Marie Manning, a Dickensian scene

7 comments November 13th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1849, husband-and-wife murderers Frederick and Marie Manning (or Maria Manning) were publicly hanged together outside Horsemonger Lane Gaol in London.

An image of Marie Manning (nee Marie de Roux) from the Victorian popular press — from this romantic biography of Tolstoyan length available free from Google books.

The felonious pair — she a Swiss-born domestic; he a shifty laborer with a penchant for the inside job — lured to dinner in their Bermondsey home a wealthy friend who had designs on the redheaded knockout, then murdered him for his loot and stuffed the limed body under the floorboards. They were apprehended separately on the lam.

As is typical when a heartthrob femme fatale stands in the dock, a sensational trial of the “here today, gone tomorrow” variety ensued. The crime, nicknamed “the Bermondsey Horror” (here (pdf) is a book chapter-scale recounting), had each accusing the other, with the outcome usual for this site.

A massive, jeering throng turned out to see the two off (Mrs. Manning’s choice of black satin for the occasion is said to have caused the look to go out of fashion).

Among that crowd was Charles Dickens,* who took a break from working on David Copperfield to write The Times a letter published Nov. 14 demanding that executions be removed within prison walls on account of the unedifying conduct of the spectators.

Sir — I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger-lane this morning. I went there with the intention of observing the crowd gathered to behold it, and I had excellent opportunities of doing so, at intervals all through the night, and continuously from daybreak until after the spectacle was over.

I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun. The horrors of the gibbet and of the crime which brought the wretched murderers to it, faded in my mind before the atrocious bearing, looks and language, of the assembled spectators. When I came upon the scene at midnight, the shrillness of the cries and howls that were raised from time to time, denoting that they came from a concourse of boys and girls already assembled in the best places, made my blood run cold. As the night went on, screeching, and laughing, and yelling in strong chorus of parodies on Negro melodies, with substitutions of “Mrs. Manning” for “Susannah,” and the like, were added to these. When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians and vagabonds of every kind, flocked on to the ground, with every variety of offensive and foul behaviour. Fightings, faintings, whistlings, imitations of Punch, brutal jokes, tumultuous demonstrations of indecent delight when swooning women were dragged out of the crowd by the police with their dresses disordered, gave a new zest to the general entertainment. When the sun rose brightly — as it did — it gilded thousands upon thousands of upturned faces, so inexpressibly odious in their brutal mirth or callousness, that a man had cause to feel ashamed of the shape he wore, and to shrink from himself, as fashioned in the image of the Devil. When the two miserable creatures who attracted all this ghastly sight about them were turned quivering into the air, there was no more emotion, no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgment, no more restraint in any of the previous obscenities, than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this world, and there were no belief among men but that they perished like the beasts.

… I am solemnly convinced that nothing that ingenuity could devise to be done in this city, in the same compass of time, could work such ruin as one public execution, and I stand astounded and appalled by the wickedness it exhibits. I do not believe that any community can prosper where such a scene of horror and demoralization as was enacted this morning outside Horsemonger-lane Gaol is presented at the very doors of good citizens, and is passed by, unknown or forgotten.

Dickens would base a French maid named Mademoiselle Hortense in his next novel, Bleak House on Marie Manning.

This question of public as opposed to private hangings was a lively debate at the time, and Dickens’s view was hardly uncontested. A letter in response from one F.B. Head of Oxenton countered thus:

The merciful object of every punishment which the law inflicts is not so much to revenge the past crime as to prevent its recurrence. Now, Mrs. Manning’s last moments clearly explain, or rather indisputably prove, the benefit which society practically derives from a public execution. … as for a few fleeting moments she stood, with bandaged eyes, beneath the gibbet, how unanswerably did the picture mutely expound the terror which the wicked very naturally have of being publicly hanged before the scum and refuse of society! “The whistlings — the imitations of Punch — the brutal jokes and indecent delight of the thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians and vagabonds,” so graphically described by Mr. Charles Dickens were — by her own showing — not only the most fearful portion of her sentence but, under Providence, these coarse ingredients may possibly have effected that momentary repentance which the mild but fervent exhortations of the chaplain had failed to produce.

But, besides the impolicy of divesting the death by law of a murderer of the most effective portion of its terrors, there are, Sir, I submit, higher and infinitely more important reasons, which make it our bounden duty to require that every criminal who suffers death should be executed in public.

So long as it shall be deemed advisable by us, by laws divine as well as human, to deprive the murderer of his life, the whole process of his trial, ending in an act of such awful responsiblity, ought to be performed in open day, in order that the community may at all events clearly see what it is they are doing — what it is they have done. The purple hands of the wretched sufferer sufficiently explain what the white nightcap hypocritically conceals, namely, the dreadful act that has been performed; and, although thieves and prostitutes may ridicule the convulsions they witness, there will, it is to be hoped, in a free country and with a free press, always be found among an English crowd some one fellow-creature possessing the kindly feelings of Mr. Charles Dickens, who, should he see sufficient reasons for doing so, will not only call upon the country most seriously to consider whether the punishment he delineates has not exceeded the offence, but, as an honest witness, will condemn and expose any unnecessary harshness or cruelty that may have accompanied it.”

Even the legendary British humor magazine Punch weighed in, with a famous cartoon skewering the mob who turned up for public hangings.**


“The Great Moral Lesson at Horsemonger Lane Gaol”, Punch magazine’s rendition of the Mannings’ execution — turning its gaze not on the scaffold but on the unruly crowd beneath it. It comes with a poem.

Public executions would continue in England until 1868.

* Not the only literary big wheel in the crowd: Herman Melville also checked it out. No indication they bumped into each other, and no surprise: the crowd was so huge that at least one spectator was crushed to death against a police barricade. (As reported by Hanging in the Balance: A History of the Abolition of Capital Punishment in Britain, which numbers the onlookers at 30,000 and claims 2.5 million execution broadsheets were sold.)

** According to Dickens and Crime, Dickens actually observed the hanging with the Punch cartoonist who sketched “The Great Moral Lesson” (the two went in together to rent out a well-placed roof “for the extremely moderate sum of Ten Guineas”). That artist, John Leech, had illustrated Dickens’ A Christmas Carol a few years before.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Women

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1002: St. Brice’s Day Massacre

6 comments November 13th, 2007 Headsman

On this date over a millennium past, according to the chronicle of John of Wallingford, King Ethelred the Unready of England conducted a massacre of Danes living in the realm.

The character of this sanguinary event — named after a fourth-century French bishop whose feast day Nov. 13 happens to be — lies half-buried in history’s shifting sands. Surely the slaughter of every Dane in a Britain then very much in the Scandinavian orbit would have been not only morally reprehensible but logistically unimaginable.

The accepted, albeit sketchy, story has it that to consolidate his own authority — or to check an actual or suspected plot against him — Ethelred ordered the surprise apprehension and summary execution of some sizable number of Danish lords and mercenaries. British historian Thomas Hodgkin characterizes it as a sort of coup d’etat.

On this date, it was the Danes who were unready for Ethelred.

But whatever its true extent or immediate object, it occurred within the context of intensifying conflict between the English crown and Scandinavian aspirants. Ethelred was to spend the better part of his life struggling — both militarily and through the ruinous tribute of Danegeld — to hold back the incursions of the Viking king Sweyn I.

The St. Brice’s Day Massacre exacerbated those tensions. Sweyn’s sister was apparently among those massacred, and — whether driven by vengeance or simply availing a pretext — Sweyn resumed harrying the English kingdom in the following years.

By 1013, Sweyn had driven Ethelred to Normandy and ruled all of England, welding together a Norse empire fringing the whole north of Europe.

But the empire — and England’s place in it — proved an historical cul-de-sac. Authority in England would be contested for another half-century, gradually sapping the crown’s strength until the Norman Conquest in 1066 swept aside Viking power and set England on a course that would redefine its history.

Update: The story of Ethelred, Normandy, and the Vikings told in Episode 3 of Lars Brownworth’s Norman Centuries podcast:

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On this day..

Entry Filed under: 11th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Denmark,Early Middle Ages,England,Execution,History,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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