1679: Five Covenanter prisoners from the Battle of Bothwell Bridge

Add comment November 25th, 2017 Headsman

From The Original secession magazine, Volume 15 (1878), reprinting a public letter that had previously appeared in The People’s Journal:

Sir, —

Our boasted freedom is not so highly prized as it ought to be because we have always enjoyed it; but our forefathers struggled hard for it, in many cases even unto death. In the long array of Scottish patriots the Covenanters in many respects stand preeminent, as they wrestled both for religious and civil liberty; and though the line of duty was often made sharp as a razor’s edge, they refused to cross it by a hair’s-breadth, lest in doing so they should deny their Master. Five of the prisoners taken at Bothwell Bridge, though they had no connection with Bishop Sharp’s death, were executed at the place where he had been killed six months previously in order to terrify others. Their lives were offered them if they would sign the bond acknowledging their appearance at Bothwell Bridge to be rebellion, and binding them not to rise in arms against the King; but they chose rather to be crushed under the iron heel of despotism than to save their lives by a sinful compliance. Their joint and individual testimonies, and also their dying speeches, breathing the fragrance of heaven, are in Naphtali, and are a spirited defence of that covenanted work of reformation which they soiled with their blood. Though unlearned, and occupying a humble sphere in society, they were indeed Christ’s nobility, and their dying words have been quoted to shew what Christianity cau do for man; but, as your space is valuable, I only crave room for one extract from the dying speech of John Clyde, who was about 21 years of age. When at the foot of the ladder, while his four brethren were hanging before him, to the assembled crowd of spectators he said —

I bless the Lord for keeping me straight. I desire to speak it to the commendation of free grace, and this I am speaking from my own experience, that there are none who will lippen to God and depand upon Him for direction but they shall be kept straight and right. But to be promised to be kept from tribulation, that is not the bargain; for He hath said that through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom. He deals not with us as Satan does, for Satan lets us see the bonniest side of the temptation; but our Lord Jesus lets us see the roughest side and the blackest. After that the sweetest thing comes, and He tells us the worst thing that will happen to us. For He hath not promised to keep us from trouble; but He hath promised to be with us in it, and what needs more? T bless the Lord for keeping me to this very hour, for little would I have thought a twelvemonth since that the Lord would have taken a poor ploughman lad, and have honoured me so highly as to make me first appear for Him, and then keep me straight, and now hath kept me to this very hour to lay down my life for Him.

These five martyrs were hung in chains to rot, but the greatest risk did not deter an aged couple from taking them down and burying tbem; and 49 years afterwards, when a gravestone was set up to their memory, some of their bones and clothes were found unconsumed. Fully 70 years ago this gravestone was broken, and for a long time the only thing to mark the place was the uncultivated bit of sward where they are resting. Yesterday a handsome and durable stone, designed from the former cue, and bearing an exact copy of its inscription, was erected by John Whyte Melville, Esq.,* the worthy and respected Convener of the County, and is enclosed by the substantial wall which he built this spring. The inscriptions are: —

Here lies Thos. Brown,
James Wood, Andrew Sword,
John Weddell, & John Clyde,
Who suffered martyrdom on Magus Muir
For their adherence to the word of God
And Scotland’s Covenanted work of Reformation.

Nov. 25, 1679.

On the reverse side: —

‘Cause we at Bothwel did appear,
Perjurious oaths refused to swear;
‘Cause we Christ’s cause would not condemn,
We were sentenc’d to death by men
Who raged against us in such fury,
Our dead bodies they did not bury,
But up on Poles did hing us high,
Triumphs of Babel’s victory.
Our lives we feared not to the death,
But constant proved to our last breath.

Restored 1877.

Andrew Gullan‘s stone, which had long been illegible, but which Mr. Melville caused to be renewed, was also re-erected yesterday in the little copse at Claremont. Mr. Melville’s munificence in this matter deserves the highest praise, and every true Scotchman must feel grateful to him.

Can Scotland e’er forget that cause, F
So dear in times long fled,
When for Christ’s Covenant, Crown, and Laws
Her noblest blood was shed?

No! — Buried memories shall arise
From out each hallowed spot, where lies,
‘Neath turf or heath-bell red,
Her martyr’d worthies. And, again,
Her Covenanted King shall reign.

Let the community show their gratitude to Mr. Melville by protecting these gravestones from thoughtless and malicious persons.

I am, &c.,

D. Hay Fleming.
St Andrews, 11th Dec. 1877.

* I believe the writer alludes to the father of novelist George John Whyte-Melville.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gibbeted,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland,Treason,Volunteers

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1889: Thomas Brown, Fargo-Moorhead outlaw

Add comment September 20th, 2015 Headsman

At 4 a.m. on this date in 1889, Clay County, Minnesota hosted its only execution.

This affair began, as such things do, when “a bunch of drunken hoboes got into a fight near Hillsboro, ND” in the autumn of 1888. One of them was killed, and a farmer who saw it happen identified Brown as the suspect. What little is known of Brown* indicates that he was a hardened outlaw; he broke out of prison in Wisconsin, and did time in the Dakota territories, too. While awaiting his fate he would solve a frontier sporting mystery by admitting that he murdered the tramp who had killed bareknuckles pugilist George Fulljames.

So police had their eyes peeled for Brown 40 miles down the way in the border settlement of Fargo-Moorhead. (Fargo is on the North Dakota side of the river, Moorhead on the Minnesota side.)

One night in October, an off-duty Fargo cop spotted Brown a few blocks into the Minnesota side of town, and alerted Moorhead policeman John Thompson. But Brown had noticed them, noticing him, and drew on the Moorhead officer. While Brown was demanding to know what the two had spoken about, another Moorhead policeman approached.

This Patrolman Peter Poull’s appearance set off the gunplay: Brown wheeled and felled Poull with a shot through the heart, but the distraction allowed Patrolman Thompson to draw and wound he fleeing desperado. Brown was captured, his revolver empty, collapsed on the train tracks with shots through his shoulder and leg. It was only because the quick-thinking Clay County sheriff whisked Brown out of jail under cover of darkness by forcing a night train to Minneapolis to make an unscheduled stop that a lynching was averted.

“Unless I get a change of venue I guess I shall have to swing,” Brown observed, with preternatural coolness.

He did not get a change of venue.

Brown’s execution was one of the first (to state it more exactly: it was the second) to occur under the state’s new “midnight assassination” law, which not only shamefacedly stashed hangings behind prison walls under cover of darkness, but also prohibited newspapers from publishing the particulars of the event.

Those lingeringly detailed descriptions — of the hardihood of the dead man and the conduct of the onlookers and the ceremony upon the gallows and whether the victim confessed and if he died fast or died hard — have been a staple of print media practically since its birth, and certainly an indispensable font for these grim annals. But the legislature had been persuaded that their circulation constituted a moral degradation to the consumers who eagerly read them. This directive was at best unevenly complied with: a number of newspapers did publish such accounts, and they were not punished for it. And of course the law did not reach across the Dakota border at all, so the Fargo Argus was able to insinuate an editor into the death chamber, who later described the killer’s last moments thus:

When the spectators reached the gallows, Brown was standing on the drop, on either side being a priest, all engaged in half audible prayer … Sheriff Jensen then tied Brown’s feet, and adjusted the noose about his neck, the knot being behind his right ear … In a weak and trembling** voice, almost inaudible he bade the jailor, Sheriff and priests goodbye, shaking hands with them and wishing them well. He then turned to the spectators, half smiled and nodded a farewell. The black cap was then pulled over his head and fastened under the chin, he with the priests praying meanwhile.

The drop fell at exactly 4:30 o’clock and the murderer of Officer Poull was launched into eternity. Brown’s neck was broken by the fall … In twelve and a half minutes his pulse ceased to beat, and in fifteen his heart had ceased action.

* Even to the end he refused to reveal his real identity or background, so as not to shame his family.

** Other published accounts speak of the hanged man’s unusual nerve. Between the moralizing interests of the interlocutors and the circulation of bogus information facilitated by the midnight assassination law, we here profess agnosticism as to Brown’s actual behavior.

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

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