1772: Bryan Sheehen, cuck

Add comment January 16th, 2018 Headsman

Colonial Massachusetts sailor Bryan Sheehen culminated a life of warped relations with the opposite sex at his hanging on this date in 1772.

According to the pamphlet An Account of the Life of Bryan Sheehen, as a child in Ireland, Sheehen‘s family split up by gender with the Catholic father taking the boys and the Anglican mother taking the girls. While the legacy of this childhood trauma can only be guessed at, it looks suggestive in hindsight

Sheehen migrated to Newfoundland and then to Massachusetts where he eventually indentured himself as a household servant to colonial shipwright Benjamin Hallowell, a “father” from whom the young adult Sheehen again fled, this time to fight in the Seven Years’ War.

Unfortunately upon his return from only six years away he found that his wife had impatiently [re]married herself to a Frenchman, a humiliating risk and fear of the seagoing set. Sheehen forced the woman to choose between the rivals but when she chose Sheehen, the latter found that he was still so disgusted with her that he preferred to abandon the wife, and the child she had borne him, and the child she had borne the Frenchman. Psychologists have a lot to unpack here already.

Relocating to Marblehead, Mass. our reborn swinging single now developed “the character of a wicked, profligate person” and eventually began stalking a woman named Abial Hollowell … her surname eerily echoing that of Sheehen’s own former master. In fact, Abial’s husband was also named Benjamin Hollowell. His advances rebuffed, Sheehen

went up, in the middle of the night, to the room where Mrs. Hollowell lay, found her asleep, awaked her, and swore, if she made the least noise, he would kill her; and then stopping her mouth, perpetrated the atrocious crime. After which (to prevent, it seems, a pregnancy) he abused her with his hand, in an unheard-of, cruel and shocking manner: Insomuch that her life was for some time almost despaired of; and she was not able for ten days after to get off her bed without help.

That’s as per a case summary appended to “A Sermon Preached at Salem, January 16, 1772” by the Salem Rev. James Diman. The good preacher was so chagrined that Sheehen’s persistent denials had led some citizens to murmur against Mrs. Hollowell that for “justice to the woman’s character” he devotes about a page and a half to traducing Sheehen’s. Sheehen, Diman charged, was just the sort of vicious wretch who would imperil his soul by going to the gallows with a lie upon his lips, perhaps because, as a Catholic, “he might swear falsely, he might doubtless speak falsely to Hereticks, as they call all whose religious principles differ from theirs.”

Last and most important, Diman claimed to have it on good authority from “two credible persons”

that there was a young woman, daughter of one Williams, of Goldsborough, in the Eastern part of this province, abased in the same manner Mrs. Hollowell was. That she was way-layed in the the evening, between her father’s house and a neighbour’s; was seized, forced, and wounded to such a degree, that her friends were obliged to carry her home, she being unable to walk, and that the next morning early she died. That the villain, who perpetrated this crime, returned after he had done it, to his companions, who, it seems, were before, or then, made acquainted with his enterprize; for such wretches declare their sin as Sodom: And that one of them told him he would probably have a child to maintain: He answered so, that he had taken care to prevent that, and that she would never have a child by him, nor by any other man.

This guy, his informants said, was an Irishman named something like Bryan Sheehen — and he had escaped town after the incident.

* The Hallowells were notable British loyalists during the American Revolution, and returned to England when their estates were sacked by Patriots. The grandson of Bryan Sheehen’s employer, Admiral Sir Benjamin Hallowell Carew, was one of Lord Nelson‘s Band of Brothers. During the Battle of the Nile, Admiral Hallowell’s supplied the literal fireworks by defeating the French battleship Orient — whose spectacularly exploding magazines highlighted all the artistic commemorations of that victory. He later presented to Nelson as a gift a coffin fashioned from the Orient‘s mast, “that when you have finished your military career in this world you may be buried in one of your trophies.” Nelson was indeed laid to rest in Hallowell’s trophy in 1805.


The flaming Orient illuminates Thomas Luny’s Battle of the Nile, August 1st 1798 at 10 pm.

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1852: Samuel Treadway

1 comment March 1st, 2017 Headsman

Hartford Courant, Nov. 20, 1852


Newark Daily Advertiser, Jan. 4, 1853


Baltimore Sun, Jan. 12, 1853


Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 21, 1853

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 4, 1853

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1884: Howard Sullivan, ravisher and murderer

Add comment December 2nd, 2016 Headsman

From the New York Times, Dec. 3, 1884:

SALEM, N.J., Dec. 2. — The hanging of Howard Sullivan, the negro, which took place at the county jail this morning, was the closing act of a tragedy that has never been equaled in Salem and rarely in any other county in the State of New-Jersey. Ella Watson, on the night of Aug. 18, while proceeding to her home over a lonely road near Yorktown, a thrifty little village, nine miles north of this place, was waylaid, robbed, ravished, and murdered, and her body concealed in some bushes near by, where it was discovered a few days later.

For a time the murder was enveloped in mystery, but the vigilance of two or three detectives, among them a colored man, who exhibited remarkable skill in working up the case, soon unraveled it, and Sullivan was charged with the murder.

He had not been long in jail before a confession was wormed from him,* and when placed on trial before a Supreme Court and three lay Judges, in the Court of Oyer and Terminer, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to be hanged. Sullivan stood the prison life bravely, and not once did he display the slightest emotion.

Sullivan did not go to bed until after midnight last night. A great part of the time he spent in singing and praying, and when not engaged in this he was conversing with his death-watchers.

Confined in a cell on the third floor, the one he formerly occupied, and from which he attempted to escape, is a colored woman named Sallie Fisher, convicted of the larceny of a watch chain, and sentenced to imprisonment in the county jail for 90 days. Nearly all last night she prayed and wept aloud for Sullivan. Her voice could be heard for a long distance from the jail, and her cries were piteous in the extreme. Sullivan’s mother called to see him and remained with him for some time. The scene between them was an affecting one.

The morning opened clear and pleasant, and Sullivan arose at exactly 7:05 A.M., when he was awakened by the Warden. He left his breakfast untouched, saying he would eat “after a while.” When asked if he wished to make any statement for the public, he said: “There is nothing more that I care to say about the case. I have got no complaint at all to make about my trial or my treatment. I have had all I want to eat and Sheriff Kelty and ex-Sheriff Coles have been very kind to me. I hope to go to a better world, and I believe my sins will be forgiven.”

Sullivan added that he had slept quite as well as usual during the night. After making this statement he ate the breakfast that had been prepared for him. His manner was calm, and when talking to his companions he was almost cheerful.

At 9 o’clock the gallows was tested and found to be in good working order. A few minutes later the condemned man’s fater and mother called to see him, and while they were with him in the cell all others, except his spiritual adviser, were excluded. The father is a bright, honest looking man, 65 years of age, though his appearance does not indicate it.

The meeting between Sullivan and his father and mother, together with the Rev. Richard Miles, Pastor of the Mount Pisgah Methodist Episcopal (colored) Church, of this city, one of his spiritual advisers, was a quiet one. They all sat around a stove in an outer room and chatted pleasantly for a few minutes. Sullivan said to his parents: “If you cry I will want to cry, but if you control yourselves I will.” This was all he said regarding his feelings.

While his family were still with him the Rev. William S. Zane, Pastor of the Walnut-Street Church, and the Rev. W.V. Louderbough, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, called on him and uttered a few consoling words. They have been regular visitors for some time, but took no part in the execution. The Rev. Wilson Peterson, Pastor of the African Church of Bushtown, also called while Sullivan’s parents were with him, and before taking their final leave all joined in singing “Take the Name of Jesus with you.”

Finally, the prisoner’s sisters entered the jail, and his parting with them was distressing.

His sister Emeline fell in a fainting fit and had to be carried out. This sight proved too much for his mother’s nerves, and, weeping and wailing, she was led into another room. When Emeline was taken to the street, on her way to the railroad station, she again fell in a fainting fit, and was actually dragged to the train. Mrs. Sullivan kept up long enough to reach the house of a friend, where she remained until her departure for Yorktown at noon.

After Sullivan’s cell was cleared of all except his spiritual adviser a final prayer in the jail was offered by the Rev. Mr. Peterson, after which, at 10:20 A.M., Sheriff Kelty, in the presence of Prosecutor Slape, read the death warrant. Sullivan was the coolest man in the party.

At 11:18 the jury appointed by the court filed down stairs to the basement and thence to the yard.

Sullivan, preceded by the two spiritual advisers, and accompanied by his friend, ex-Sheriff Coles, followed immediately after. He was dressed in a neat-fitting black diagonal suit, and wore black cloth gloves.

At the scaffold the Rev. Mr. Miles offered a prayer. Then the prisoner’s ankles were pinioned and his hands were fastened behind him with handcuffs

Ex-Sheriff Coles asked him if he desired to say anything, and he replied: “I hope the Lord will bless you all, and I hope to meet you all in heaven. Good-bye. When I fall from here I will fall into the arms of Jesus. It is a warning for all. It is very sad for my mother, my father, for Mr. Kelty, and for every one, but it is not sad for me. It is a marriage ceremony with me, and I want to be there in time for the feast with all those good men that have gone before me. I want all you gentlemen who have sons to take heed and learn them. Good-bye all.”

As the black cap was being adjusted Sullivan bade his friend Coles good-bye. There was just the slightest tremor in his voice as he spoke.

At exactly 11:29 the drop fell. There was a twitching of the body for a minute, and then it hung withut motion. In three minutes Sullivan was pronounced dead; his neck had been broken. The body was allowed to hang for half an hour, when it was cut down and placed in the coffin. It was buried at Bushtown in the afternoon.

* By a Pinkerton detective infiltrated into his cell for the purpose. According to the Chicago Tribune report of the trial, relating that detective’s gloss on Sullivan’s alleged jailhouse confession,

Sullivan said he sneaked up behind Ella Watson unperceived and struck her three or four terrible blows with a cane had had picked up in the woods. She fell to the ground, and, grasping the prostrate form, he dragged it across the road into the bushes, where he attempted to commit a dastardly assault upon the dying girl. She resisted his attempts, but he accomplished his design. Then the girl raised her head and exclaimed, “O, I know you!” “Then,” said Sullivan, “I clutched her by the throat and choked her with all my might. That killed her. I didn’t stop choking her until a shudder ran through her and I knew she was dead.”

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1692: The Salem witch trials’ last hangings

Add comment September 22nd, 2014 Headsman

This date in 1692 saw the last executions of the Salem witch trials.

Eight souls hanged from sturdy trees at Gallows Hill on the occasion:

  • Mary Easty (or Eastey)
  • Alice Parker
  • Mary Parker
  • Ann Pudeator
  • Wilmot Redd
  • Margaret Scott
  • Samuel Wardwell

As well as:

  • Martha Corey, days after her husband Giles was horribly pressed to death for refusing to recognize the court’s legitimacy by lodging any plea

This group of mostly older women (and one man who married an older widow) had, like their predecessors over the course of 1692, been the victims of wailing children charging them (with afflicted histrionics to match) as supernatural malevolents — and of the credulity of their neighbors and judges.

The latter was, at least, eroding by this point in time.

Shortly before her execution this day, Mary Easty addressed to the court a dignified petition less for her own life than for the safety of everyone else who might come under her honorable judges’ scrutiny — indicted as it stood by Easty’s own certitude of her innocence.

To the honorable judge and bench now sitting in judicature in Salem and the reverend ministers, humbly sheweth that whereas your humble poor petitioner being condemned to die doth humbly beg of you to take it into your judicious and pious consideration that your poor and humble petitioner, knowing my own innocency (blessed by the Lord for it) and seeing plainly the wiles and subtlety of my accusers by myself, cannot but judge charitably of others that are going the same way with myself if the Lord step not mightily in.

I was confined a whole month on the same account that I am now condemned for, and then cleared by the afflicted persons, as some of your honors know. And in two days time I was cried out upon by them, and have been confined and am now condemned to die.

The Lord above knows my innocency then and likewise doth now, as at the Great Day will be known to men and angels.

I petition to your honors not for my own life, for I know I must die, and my appointed time is set.

But the Lord He knows it is, if it be possible, that no more innocent blood be shed, which undoubtedly cannot be avoided in the way and course you go in.

I question not but your honors do to the utmost of your powers in the discovery and detecting of witchcraft, and witches, and would not be guilty of innocent blood for the world. But by my own innocency I know you are in the wrong way.

The Lord in his infinite mercy direct you in this great work, if it be His blessed will, that innocent blood be not shed.

I would humbly beg of you that your honors would be pleased to examine some of those confessing witches, I being confident that there are several of them have belied themselves and others, as will appear, if not in this world, I am sure in the world to come, whither I am going.

And I question not but yourselves will see an alteration in these things. They say myself and others have made a league with the Devil; we cannot confess. I know and the Lord He knows (as will shortly appear) they belie me, and so I question not but they do others. The Lord alone, who is the searcher of all hearts, knows that I shall answer it at the Tribunal Seat that I know not the least thing of witchcraft, therefore I cannot, I durst not belie my own soul.

I beg your honors not to deny this my humble petition for a poor dying innocent person, and I question not but the Lord will give a blessing to your endeavors.

Mary Easty

As she herself foresaw, Easty’s petition availed her own self nothing — but her judges would soon feel the rebuke Easty voiced.

Exactly why the Salem witch trials started when they did, and ended when they did, has always been a speculative matter. This occasion was a mere 15 weeks after the first Salem witch hanging. It was the largest single mass-hanging of the affair, and it brought the body count to 19 or 20, depending on whether you count Giles Corey. (His death by pressing wasn’t technically an “execution,” merely the violent termination of his life by a legally constituted judicial process.)

The snowballing investigation, sweeping up dozens more accused besides just those executed, was making people uneasy. It surely hastened the end of the hysteria that the little accusers started pointing their witch-detectors at people with actual power — notably at the wife of Massachusetts Gov. William Phip(p)s.

Phips had initially established the special Court of Oyer and Terminer that was finding his little colony honeycombed with necromancy. Now considering his creature to be run amok and targeting “several persons who were doubtless innocent,” Phips stopped proceedings in October — first, by barring so-called “spectral evidence” (which was tantamount to barring the trials altogether since kids claiming to be tormented by underworld spirits was the only evidence on hand); and on October 29, dissolving the court altogether and prohibiting further arrests.

A special court established to try the remaining 52 cases in January of 1693 acquitted 49 of the prisoners; the rest, and all those still in jail for witchcraft, were pardoned by May of 1693. Within just a few years, jurors and judges and even accusers issued public mea culpas for hanging the Salem “witches”.

The original witch-court’s Judge William Stoughton joined Cotton Mather in pridefully refusing to acknowledge the injustice they had helped to author.* Among most others, it would very quickly become shamefully understood that Salem had done the accused witches a very great wrong.

John Hale, the Puritan minister of nearby Beverly, Mass. — and like Gov. Phips a man who had had his own wife chillingly accused by one of the “possessed” brats — would later write a book ruminating on “the nature of witchcraft” (like Mary Easty, he wasn’t quite ready to give up the concept categorically). In it, he notes the forehead-slapping indicia of the witches’ innocence — and if we dock him points for obtaining his wisdom retrospectively, we might also consider as motes in our jaundiced eyes the ridiculous non-evidence and overlooked exculpations that have served to seat men and women on the mercy chair in our own time.

It may be queried then, How doth it appear that there was a going too far in this affair?

Answer I. — By the number of persons accused. It cannot be imagined, that, in a place of so much knowledge, so many, in so small a compass of land, should so abominably leap into the Devil’s lap, — at once.

Ans. II. — The quality of several of the accused was such as did bespeak better things, and things that accompany salvation. Persons whose blameless and holy lives before did testify for them; persons that had taken great pains to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, such as we had charity for as for our own souls, — and charity is a Christian duty, commended to us in 1 Cor. xiii, Col. iii.14, and many other places.

Ans. III. — The number of the afflicted by Satan daily increased, till about fifty persons were thus vexed by the Devil. This gave just ground to suspect some mistake.

Ans. IV. — It was considerable, that nineteen were executed, and all denied the crime to the death; and some of them were knowing persons, and had before this been accounted blameless livers. And it is not to be imagined but that, if all had been guilty, some would have had so much tenderness as to seek mercy for their souls in the way of confession, and sorrow for such a sin.

Ans. V. — When this prosecution ceased, the Lord so chained up Satan, that the afflicted grew presently well: the accused are generally quiet, and for five years since we have no such molestation by them.

In 300-odd years since September 22, 1692 on Gallows Hill, nobody else has been executed for witchcraft in the United States.

* Stoughton clashed with Phips to the extent of actually ordering in January 1693 the executions of old sentences that had been stayed for pregnancies or other reasons. Phips immediately blocked them, causing Stoughton to resign the bench.

Stoughton was no ordinary magistrate: he was also the sitting Lieutenant Governor, and would succeed Phips as the head man in Massachusetts. Had he been the man with executive power at the time all this toil and trouble bubbled over, considerably more than 20 souls might have been lost to the madness.

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1835: Captain Pedro Gilbert and the Spanish Pirates

1 comment June 11th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1835, four Spanish pirates — it was supposed to be more — were put to death at Boston.

Their captain, the Catalan Pedro Gilbert, was chief among them in death as he was in life. Three years previous, he had commanded the buccaneer schooner with the deceptively cuddly name Panda out of Havana. It’s for Gilbert that “Gilbert’s Bar” is named, a historic sandbar off Stuart, Florida where the man reputedly liked to lure ships aground.*

Gilbert and his crew of forty or so souls — Spaniards, Portuguese, South Americans, half-castes, and at least one west African — waylaid the Salem, Mass. brig Mexican.

After hours ransacking the ship, relieving it of $20,000 in silver, the raiders locked the crew of their prize below decks and put the Mexican to the torch. After the Panda departed, those imprisoned unfortunates managed to break out of the death trap in time to control the blaze and return to port.

The incident thereby reported, the Panda would in due time be cornered off the African coast and sunk by a British ship. A dozen of the salty brigands fished out of the sea were eventually extradited to the U.S. for an eventful fourteen-day trial.


One of the crew of the Mexican, called upon to identify a member of the pirate crew who tried to drown him in a burning ship, strikes the accused corsair.

A defense lawyer laboring mightily in a half-lost cause managed to procure not-guilty verdicts for five of the crew on grounds of superior orders. The cabin boy (15 at the time of the raid) and the aforementioned west African were among these men spared.

The four who hanged today — Pedro Gilbert, Juan Montenegro, Manuel Castillo, and Angel Garcia — were meant to have been seven. Two of the seven received stays of execution; we’ll return to them in a moment.

The other man in the condemned party, Manuel Boyga, cheated his executioner, kind of, by exploiting a guard’s momentary inattentiveness to slash open his own carotid artery with a sharp bit of tin. He bled out too quickly for his executioners to “help” him, but because this efficient (near-?)suicide occurred immediately before the hanging, Boyga’s unconscious form was still borne in a chair to the scaffold and hung along with his four quick mates, just to make sure. Boyga might well have been dead already; if not, the hanging only hastened his demise by moments.

As to the other two: the ship’s carpenter Francisco Ruiz, it was thought, might have been crazy. But the Spanish-speaking physicians who eventually examined him would pronounce his ravings a simulation; he was accordingly hanged in a follow-up execution on September 12, 1835.

The last man was Bernardo de Soto, the first mate and the owner of the Panda.

De Soto’s pretty black-eyed wife back home caught wind of her man’s fate and made the Atlantic crossing to comfort her husband in prison … and to prostrate herself before the U.S. president Andrew Jackson who had the final say for clemency in this federal case. Duly smitten by this pleasing romantic flourish, Jackson did better than merely sparing de Soto’s life: he gave the condemned pirate a free pardon on July 6, 1835.

* Gilbert’s Bar today has the last remaining “House of Refuge”, once one of several standing 19th century encampments built to shelter any wayfarer who shipwrecked in the vicinity.

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1909: C.Y. Timmons

Add comment February 26th, 2013 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

Minutes after midnight on this date in 1909, an Oregon plasterer named C.Y. Timmons was hanged at the state prison in Salem, Oregon for the murder of Estella, his wife of two years.

On October 21 the previous year, he had put an ax in the back of her head, slit her throat from ear to ear with a straight razor and then attempted to take his own life with the same razor. The two were discovered by the neighbors at 7:30 the next morning when a partially unclothed C.Y. came knocking on their door, “covered in blood from head to foot.”

C.Y.’s wound, as R. Michael Wilson explains in his accounting of the case in Legal Executions After Statehood in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, was serious but not fatal, and it responded to medical treatment: “The gash had missed the veins and arteries but had severed the trachea, but it had sealed and prevented him from drowning in his own blood.”

Timmons quickly regained his ability to speak and told authorities Estella had cut his throat while he was sleeping. He grabbed the razor from her hand, slit her throat in self-defense, and then finished her off with an ax. Then he lay down and waited until dawn before he went and asked for help.

The truth came out, however, and at his trial in mid-January 1909, C.Y. admitted that he’d gone round the bend with jealousy over his younger wife’s* affair with one Robert Hornbuckle. C.Y. and Estella had been quarreling for a long time about her relationship with Hornbuckle. Only the day before the murder, the couple had met with an attorney to procure a divorce — a drastic measure in that day and age.

During the meeting, Estella told the lawyer that her husband had a violent temper, especially when he had been drinking, and that he had threatened her life on numerous occasions.

C.Y. apparently believed his victim’s alleged infidelity would outrage the jury into acquitting him. Not so; they deliberated a whopping 35 minutes before finding him guilty. C.Y. broke down in tears when the verdict was read. And, for what it’s worth, all evidence indicates that Estella’s “affair” with Hornbuckle existed only in her husband’s imagination.

C.Y.’s hanging was as gruesome as his crime, as Wilson records:

[A]t 12:31 p.m., the trap was sprung and Timmons dropped six feet, one inch. The force of the drop caused the neck wound to open and for some time the hanging figure breathed through the gaping wound beneath the rope, and the body was drenched with blood. The attending physicians differed on whether Timmons’ neck was broken in the fall, but later examination proved that the vertebrae had been dislocated. This complication, breathing through the open wound, prevented pronouncement of death until 12:54 p.m., and the body was allowed to hang another seven minutes to ensure he was dead.

The murderer was buried separately from his victim, at the Lee Mission Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

* Her age was given in different accounts as either 19 or 21; C.Y. Was 37. Another pathetic detail to her tragic life: Estella was an orphan, raised in an orphanage after her parents both died of tuberculosis.

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1898: Alfred C. Williams

Add comment October 7th, 2012 Robert Wilhelm

(Thanks for the guest post to Robert Wilhelm, author of the Murder By Gaslight historic crime blog, and author of the book Murder And Mayhem in Essex County. Executed Today readers are sure to enjoy Wilhelm’s detailed investigations into long-lost historic crime. -ed.)

When Alfred C. Williams was arrested for the murder of John Gallo, his conviction seemed highly unlikely. There appeared to be no direct link between Williams and Gallo. There was no absolute proof that Gallo had been murdered, or even that he was dead. But in this case, circumstantial evidence, rather than increasing doubt, actually succeeded in dispelling doubt, bringing investigators closer to the truth and drawing the noose ever tighter around Alfred Williams’s neck.

John Gallo was a young Italian immigrant who worked on a farm in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. He was industrious and popular with the other workers, but kept to himself and very seldom left the farm. Gallo lived alone in a small shack in the rear of the farm. In the early hours of July 28, 1897, the shack caught fire and burned with flames so high they could be seen in neighboring towns. The shack was leveled, leaving nothing but ashes and the charred remains of a body, so badly burned that it could not be identified.

The body was so charred that it took two examinations to verify that it was, in fact, the body of a human. The head and neck were gone, both arms and both legs had been completely consumed, bone and all, by the fire. The spinal column remained with some back muscle attached; the heart, liver, kidneys, and bladders remained, but were badly burned. Everything else was completely gone. The medical examiner could state that the body was that of an adult human being, but nothing more.

With the destruction so complete, it appeared to investigators that nothing could be learned to explain what had happened that night. But as the investigation progressed, details began to emerge, like an image developing on a photographic plate. The fact that there was too little information became a clue in itself, and soon investigators were able to compile a list of facts that pointed to foul play:

  1. The body had been destroyed to a greater extent than would be expected from a fire in such a small building.
  2. The deceased had not been burned in bed. The bedsprings had survived the blaze but the body was found several feet away.
  3. The victim had not been dressed. Some buckles, metal buttons, a few coins and the clasp of a pocketbook were found by the side of the bedsprings, none were found near the body.
  4. The body lay in the doorway between rooms with the head back in the room toward the bed, not falling forward as a person naturally would if trying to escape from a burning room.
  5. A kerosene-oil can, which was usually kept near the stove, was found in the middle of the floor
    next to the body.

It was believed that the victim had been murdered before the fire started. His body was doused with kerosene and ignited, which would account for the severe damage to the body. The flame then quickly spread to the rest of the house.

John Gallo had earned $1.50 a day at Phillips’s farm and was paid monthly, always in five dollar bills. He spent very little and at the time of his death, it was suspected that he had around one hundred dollars earned on the farm. It was also well known that Gallo always carried three twenty dollar gold pieces that he had earned on a construction job prior to coming to the farm. No trace of the gold pieces or any melted gold were found.

Another crime had allegedly been committed near Lynnfield in the early morning of July 28. That afternoon, Alfred C. Williams reported that he had been held up near his rooming house in Wakefield. He had been unable to sleep and went outside to smoke a cigar. As he stood with one foot on the rail fence by the road, someone struck him on the head from behind. He turned to fight back, striking his assailant on the nose causing it to bleed. He was knocked unconscious, robbed of his watch and a small amount of money, and then thrown down the banks of Wakefield Pond.

He told his story to the police, showing them bruises on his neck and face from the fight, and bloodstains on his clothing from the assailant’s nose. The officers were skeptical of his story and held Williams for questioning. Unlike most holdups, Williams apparently had more money in his possession after the crime than he did before. On July 27, Williams had not had enough money to buy a meal or even pay a five-cent streetcar fare. The morning of July 28, he paid his back board bill and made some purchases. The police found seventy-five dollars, in five dollar bills, on his person.

The police learned that Williams had previously worked as a laborer on Phillips farm and knew the habits of the deceased. They searched Williams’s room and under the carpet, they found two twenty dollar gold pieces. When Williams was told where they found the coins he responded, “I know, I put them there.” They also found a bloodstained coat and vest in his room. Alfred C. Williams was arrested for the murder of John Gallo.

At the trial, the prosecution presented a case against Williams that was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. While there was nothing to directly link Williams to the fire, his familiarity with Gallo’s habits, his possession of money — including gold pieces — the day after the fire, the bloody clothing, and Williams’s inconsistent stories, taken all together were incriminating.

The defense challenged the very core of the evidence. There was no proof that the body found in the ashes was John Gallo’s; it could not be proven that a murder was committed or that the fire was not started accidentally; there was no proof that Alfred Williams was anywhere near the fire that night. But Williams was sticking to the story that he was held up on the night of July 28, so his alibi was also a matter of circumstantial evidence, and no one seemed willing to believe it. The jury deliberated for six hours before returning a verdict of guilty, first degree murder.

Alfred C. Williams was hanged in the yard of Salem jail on October 7, 1898. It was not a public hanging; the sheriff issued a few invitations, but only for the purpose of providing legal witnesses. Williams’s arms and legs were bound and his head was covered as he stood on the gallows. At 10:01 a.m. the trap was sprung and Williams dropped six feet, one inch. His neck was broken and he died within seconds. Williams professed innocence to the end.

Get Murder and Mayhem in Essex County here.

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1692: Martha Carrier, ferocious woman

8 comments August 19th, 2011 Headsman

This date in 1692 was the third of four execution dates during the notorious Salem witch trials.

Five souls were dispatched at Gallows Hill this date. With the executioner’s due respect to John Willard, George Burroughs, George Jacobs, Sr. and The Crucible main character John Proctor, we’re elated this date to focus on the only woman among them — Martha Carrier.

Carrier is the subject of the recent historical novel The Heretic’s Daughter by her tenth-generation descendant Kathleen Kent, whom we’re delighted to welcome for an interview on this anniversary.

How did you first learn of your connection to Martha Carrier, and how does your family feel about this link?

I was very fortunate to have heard stories of the colonial Carriers from the time I was a young child. My first memory of hearing about the Salem witch trials was when I was eight years old, visiting my maternal grandmother. She was the first one to tell me that my grandmother back nine generations, Martha Carrier, had been hanged as a witch in 1692. When I asked her if Martha was in fact a witch, my grandmother said, “Sweetheart, there are no such things as witches, just ferocious women.”

She, along with the rest of my family, had a great sense of pride over Martha’s courage in standing up to her accusers. She was one of the few people, out of the 150 New Englanders accused of practicing witchcraft, who not only refused to admit to being guilty, but also never accused anyone else of being a witch, which most people did to save themselves.

Your book tells the story of Martha Carrier from the perspective of her 10-year-old daughter. As an author, how did you approach the research, especially when it comes to Martha as an individual? Is that something you were able to source pretty strongly or did it require a lot of filling in the blanks?

The Heretic’s Daughter was my first novel, and it took five years of research and writing to complete it.

Fortunately, there is a wealth of historical information about the colonies during that time. The courts where the witch trials were conducted kept very meticulous records so I was able to gather a lot of facts regarding the magistrates and deponents, as well as the accused. There are so many wonderful fiction and non-fiction books alike that have been written about the Salem witch trials, but I wanted to write a very personal story about the Carrier family; how they lived day to day, how they survived disease, Indian raids, hostility from their neighbors, and ultimately the witch trials. I was able to weave in a lot of my family’s stories — the cow that gave golden milk, Andrew’s near death experience in the prison — that have been passed down through 10 generations.

When I first began working on the book, it was written from Martha’s point of view, but I decided it would make more compelling reading if the narrator was one of the Carrier children, Sarah, and it is through her eyes that we see the growing hysteria over witchcraft, and her struggle with Martha’s strong, unyielding character. This theme of mother-daughter conflict is central to the book’s development.

So, who was Martha Carrier and why did she become one of the people caught up in the Salem witch trials?

Martha Carrier had evidently long been resented by the community in Andover, where the Carrier family lived during the Salem witch trials, because of her forceful nature. She argued over boundary lines with several neighbors (which was a common occurrence amongst the settlers), telling one neighbor, “I will stick as close to you as bark on a tree.” (source: Salem witch trial deposition; see this document) She was also married to a man who had fought in the English Civil War, and was widely rumored to be one of the executioners of King Charles I of England. Martha fell outside of the Puritan ideal of what a woman was supposed to be and was so vocal in her own defense during the trials that when she was asked by her judges if she had ever seen the Devil, she responded by telling them that the only devils she had ever seen were the men sitting in judgment before her.


One of 20 granite benches commemorating the Salem witch trial victims at a memorial. (cc) image from Deaf RED Bear.

Her own children accused her of witchcraft. Are you descended through those kids as well? And do we know anything about how they later dealt with or rationalized that act?

My family is descended from Tom, Jr., and I learned the full genealogy at an early age from my grandparents. Four of Martha’s five children were arrested to compel her to admit to being guilty. Her two oldest sons were arrested first, and they were tortured until they agreed to testify against their mother. Tom and Sarah were then arrested — the real Sarah being only 7 years old at the time, and the second youngest child to be imprisoned during the trials — and they quickly admitted that they, too, were complicit in witchcraft.

During the research, I discovered how truly awful the conditions were in the Salem jail. Nearly half of the 150 people arrested from towns all over New England were under the age of 18. The surprising thing was not that people died, but that anyone survived at all. The four children were kept imprisoned for months after their mother was hanged and they were finally released in the fall of 1692. Within a few years, their father, Thomas, collected his children and grandchildren and moved to the wilds of Connecticut to start a new life.

How did she try to defend herself?

Martha Carrier was so vocal in her own defense during the trials that Cotton Mather, one of the most famous theologians of his day, named her the “Queen of Hell.”

This Rampant Hag, Martha Carrier, was the Person, of whom the Confessions of the Witches, and of her own Children among the rest, agreed, That the Devil had promised her, she should be Queen of Hell.

Mather

When she was confronted by the accusing girls, she turned to her judges and said, “It is a shameful thing that you should listen to these folks who are out of their wits.”

By the time of her arrest, several women had already been sentenced to be hanged, and she knew that her refusal to confess would mean death. She never wavered in her testimony and never accused another person to save herself, even when her four children were arrested and two of her sons were tortured.

Do you feel like she’s an overlooked figure in this affair? She’s not, for instance, even a character in The Crucible.

Arthur Miller did extensive research for The Crucible, but he did make changes to the historical facts for fictional purposes: for example John Proctor was in his seventies during the trials; hardly the strapping figure played by Daniel Day Lewis in the film adaptation.

There were so many remarkable people and events during the trials that he had to choose selectively in order to illustrate his primary motivation in writing the play which was to shed light on the McCarthy era communist “witch” trials.

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about Martha Carrier, as did Cotton Mather, but her forceful character made her a difficult subject, especially when there were more motherly figures like Rebecca Nurse, or titillating young characters like Abigail Williams to explore.

At this distance of time, Martha Carrier must have a great many descendants. Are you in touch with other branches of the family?

Soon after publishing The Heretic’s Daughter, I started getting emails and letters from fellow descendents of Thomas and Martha Carrier telling me that they, too, had heard many of the stories that I had grown up with.

For the release of my second novel, The Wolves of Andover, about Thomas Carrier’s life, I decided it would be fun to invite some of these extended family members to Salem for a book launch. On November 5th, 2010, nearly 250 Carrier descendents, some of them flying in from as far away as Washington State, California and Arizona, came to Salem for a weekend of author talks, receptions and story swapping. A video on my web site captured some of the highlights from that remarkable weekend.

We came as strangers and left Salem as family.

Ultimately, what’s changed about you yourself from your literary encounter with this famous ancestor?

The Salem witch trials were a dark period in American history, but from researching those events I discovered that positive changes occurred over time in the judicial system, the penal system, and for religious tolerance. I am awe-struck by the courage and fortitude of the settlers who sacrificed so much for their children and grandchildren.

And I am especially proud of my heritage: that my 9x great-grandmother defended her principles and conscience, even in the face of death. An interviewer once asked if, having written the novel, I felt I was speaking for Martha Carrier, and I said that I felt she had been speaking for me. A ferocious woman indeed!

With your second book, The Wolves of Andover, you’ve written two about the Carrier family. What’s your next project?

Wolves is a prequel to Heretic, as it explores the life of Thomas Carrier during the English Civil War and his journey to the new world from London.

I am about halfway through my third novel, but this one is quite different from the first two. It takes place during reconstruction era Texas in 1870, and chronicles a particularly chaotic, violent time in Texas history.

There’s another fine interview with Kathleen Kent here. -ed.

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1692: Bridget Bishop, the first Salem witch hanging

5 comments June 10th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1692, the pious folk of Salem, Mass., hanged their first witch.

Local bawd Bridget Bishop, pushing 60 and onto her third husband, was a natural target for the emergent civic insanity.

She liked living it up down at the tavern with a red bodice and the occasional game of shuffleboard. When she entered the courtroom, all the little brats with the sorcery stories (strangers to the accused before all this started) fell down and howled. When the Salem goodwives were tasked with groping her for bodily disfigurements that might be a witches’ mark, they

discovered a preternathurall Excresence of flesh between the pudendum and Anus much like to Tetts & not usuall in women

Bishop was obstinate in repelling the charges against her, even uppity enough to question her persecutors’ categorical assumptions.

I am innocent I know nothing of it I am no witch I know not what a witch is.

(Both the above excerpts can be found in the proceedings against Bishop — and other witchcraft defendants — lodged here.)

The local respectable citizens certainly weren’t about to entertain any wisecracking about the whole “witch” construct from the likes of Bishop. (She’d already been accused once before, in 1680.) In Puritan Bible-basher Cotton Mather’s embarrassing 1693 defense of the proceedings, he’s got Bishop’s WMDsdaemonic influences confidently sussed out.

There was little Occasion to prove the Witchcraft, it being Evident and Notorious to all Beholders. Now to fix the Witchcraft on the Prisoner at the Bar, the first thing used, was the Testimony of the Bewitched; whereof several Testify’d, That the Shape of the Prisoner did oftentimes very grievously pinch them, choak them, Bite them, and Afflict them; urging them to write their Names in a Book, which the said Spectre called, Ours. One of them did further Testify, that it was the Shape of this Prisoner, with another, which one Day took her from her Wheel, and carrying her to the River side, threatned there to Drown her, if she did not Sign to the Book mentioned: which yet she refused. Others of them did also Testify, that the said Shape did in her Threats brag to them that she had been the Death of sundry persons, then by her Named; that she had Ridden a man then likewise Named. Another Testify’d the Apparition of Ghosts unto the Spectre of Bishop, crying out, You Murdered us! About the Truth whereof, there was in the matter of Fact but too much Suspicion.

With this kind of slam-dunk evidence, Puritan New England wasn’t the sort of place to suffer a condemned enchantress a lot of dilatory appeals. Victims demanded closure, and two days after Bridget Bishop heard her sentence, she was strung up at Salem’s aptly named Gallows Hill.

There is at this point in the timeline of the Salem hysteria a slight pause in the proceedings as, having crossed the Rubicon and actually begun stretching necks, colonial elites consulted one another as regards the unfolding tragedy (and in the case of one of the judges, resigned).

The remainder finding themselves still committed to the crazy, Salem fired up its witch trials in earnest at the end of the month and greased the hanging rope for 18 more noosings, plus the nasty pressing to death of Giles Corey, over the months ahead.

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1692: Giles Corey, “more weight!”

9 comments September 19th, 2009 Headsman

Monday, September 19, 1692. About noon, at Salem, Giles Corey was press’d to death for standing mute; much pains was used with him two days, one after another, by the Court and Capt. Gardner of Nantucket, who had been of his acquaintance: but all in vain.
Diary of Salem witch trials judge Samuel Sewall

Pressing to death — peine forte et dure — was a brutal procedure that wasn’t technically a method of execution: courts used it to extract a plea from a defendant, since the law of the time (altered in the 18th century) would not allow criminal proceedings to get underway without one.

Procedure: stake a fellow down and start piling crushing weight on his chest for hours or days until he agrees to enter a plea and start the trial.

For the sufficiently obstinate prisoner, it was a manner of exiting the world quite a bit more unpleasant than hanging. But it came with one significant advantage: since one died without a capital conviction, one could pass on one’s property rather than having it confiscated by the state. For Giles Corey, that was worth two days of agony.

PROCTOR: And Giles?

ELIZABETH: You have not heard of it?

PROCTOR:* I hear nothin’, where I am kept.

ELIZABETH: Giles is dead.

(He looks at her incredulously.)

PROCTOR: When were he hanged?

ELIZABETH (quietly, factually): He were not hanged. He would not answer aye or nay to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they’d hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law. And so his sons will have his farm. It is the law, for he could not be condemned a wizard without he answer the indictment, aye or nay.

PROCTOR: Then how does he die?

ELIZABETH (gently): They press him, John.

PROCTOR: Press?

ELIZABETH: Great stones they lay upon his chest until he please aye or nay. (With a tender smile for the old man.) They say he give them but two words. ‘More weight,’ he says. And died.

PROCTOR (numbed — a thread to weave into his agony): ‘More weight’.

ELIZABETH: Aye. It were a fearsome man, Giles Corey.

Arthur Miller‘s The Crucible

Hard core, that Giles Corey.

Giles Cory pleaded not guilty to his indictment, but would not put himself on Tryal by the Jury (they having cleared none upon tryal) and knowing there would be the same witnesses against him, rather chose to undergo what death they would put him to. In pressing his tongue being forced out of his mouth, the Sheriff with his Cane forced it in again, when he was dying. He was the first in New England that was ever prest to death. (Source)

* Arthur Miller availed himself some dramatic license in The Crucible; among the more trifling was that the historical John Proctor was actually hanged a month before Giles Corey’s death.

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