Archive for September, 2011

1951: Eliseo Mares, “silently and horribly”

2 comments September 10th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1951, Eliseo (sometimes rendered “Elisio”) Mares was shot in Utah for murder.

He was condemned for the 1946 murder of an Ohio sailor en route to California for his marriage. (Mares claimed self-defense.) The wait for his execution — “five long years,” Mares told a reporter* after he lost his last appeal — was unusually protracted for the time.

By the time his case had wended its way through the courts, county-managed executions had been consolidated at the state prison at Point of the Mountain. Mares was the first put to death there.

Not until 25 years later, in a reminiscence by one of the witnesses, Salt Lake Tribune reporter Clark Lobb, was it disclosed that Mares “died silently and horribly.” Two of the four bullets fired from 15 feet away struck Mares in the hip and abdomen. It was several minutes before the prisoner was declared dead.

This source speculates that the poor marksmanship was intentional, but whether intentional or not, it must have been an appalling spectacle.

The sheriff directing the proceedings immediately began pushing for a switch to away from the error-prone firing squad to the gas chamber. (No dice, although the 1955 legislature did approve a switch to electrocution that fell through for want of funding.)

* UP wire report quoted in the New York Times, Sept. 9, 1951.

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1861: Not William Scott, the Sleeping Sentinel

3 comments September 9th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1861, Vermont private William Scott of the new-formed Army of the Potomac, then fortifying Washington D.C. for the unfolding Civil War in the aftermath of Bull Run, was led out for execution for having fallen asleep at his post.

The so-called Sleeping Sentinel took a sick comrade’s watch even though he himself was bushed, and … well, you know the rest.

Condemned for a dereliction of duty which “may endanger the safety of a command, or even of the whole army” (the words of the army’s commander Gen. McClellan), Scott still attracted widespread sympathy due to the obviously sympathetic nature of his situation. He was a youth new to war, with an exemplary military record outside of his forty winks.

“The American people,” reckoned the New York Times, “are quite unprepared to hear of a measure of such fearful and unwarned rigor as that which was awarded private SCOTT.”

Appeals went straight to the White House, which was conveniently located in the Army of the Potomac’s back yard, and freshman president Abraham Lincoln magnanimously spared the lad.

Still, wanting to use the case to impress military discipline upon the rabble of corn-fed conscripts, that clemency was delivered with a terrifyingly dramatic flourish. Scott was left to contemplate his last hours on the earth, and, Dostoyevsky-like, marched out to the stake ostensibly to face the firing squad. Only then did he and his fellow-soldiers hear the commutation order.*

This exhilarating climax did not long stay the hand of the Reaper, as it transpired.

Scott died in battle the following spring. In death he lives on, as befits the habitues of these pages: fellow Vermonter Lucius E. Chittenden, who was serving in the U.S. Treasury when all this sleeping sentinel stuff went down, commemorated William Scott for posterity in a subsequent entry to the merciful-Lincoln mythology, a postwar volume titled Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel.

The story was also made into a 1914 silent film, which sadly doesn’t seem to be available online: but never fear, this syrupy poem will amply represent our Sentinel’s contribution to the canon.

But God is love – and finite minds can faintly comprehend
How gentle Mercy, in His rule, may with stern Justice blend;
And this poor soldier, seized and bound, found none to justify,
While war’s inexorable law decreed that he must die.

‘Twas night. In a secluded room, with measured tread and slow,
A statesman of commanding mien paced gravely to and fro.
Oppressed, he pondered on a land by civil discord rent;
On brothers armed in deadly strife: it was the President!

The woes of thirty millions filled his burdened heart with grief;
Embattled hosts, on land and sea, acknowledged him their chief;
And yet, amid the din of war, he heard the plaintive cry
Of that poor soldier, as he lay in prison, doomed to die!

‘Twas morning. On a tented field, and through the heated haze,
Flashed back, from lines of burnished arms, the sun’s effulgent blaze;
While, from a somber prison house, seen slowly to emerge,
A sad procession, o’er the sward, moved to a muffled dirge.

And in the midst, with faltering step, and pale and anxious face,
In manacles, between two guards, a soldier had his place.
A youth, led out to die; and yet it was not death, but shame,
That smote his gallant heart with dread, and shook his manly frame!

Still on, before the marshalled ranks, the train pursued its way,
Up to the designated spot, whereon a coffin lay-
His coffin! And, with reeling brain, despairing, desolate-
He took his station by its side, abandoned to his fate!

Then came across his wavering sight strange pictures in the air:
He saw his distant mountain home; he saw his parents there;
He saw them bowed with hopeless grief, through fast declining years;
He saw a nameless grave; and then, the vision closed-in tears!

Yet once again. In double file, advancing, then, he saw
Twelve comrades, sternly set apart to execute the law-
But saw no more; his senses swam-deep darkness settled round-
And, shuddering, he awaited now the fatal volley’s sound!

Then suddenly was heard the sounds of steeds and wheels approach,
And, rolling through a cloud of dust, appeared a stately coach.
On, past the guards, and through the field, its rapid course was bent,
Till, halting, ‘mid the lines was seen the nation’s President!**

He came to save that stricken soul, now waking from despair;
And from a thousand voices rose a shout which rent the air!
The pardoned soldier understood the tones of jubilee,
And, bounding from his fetters, blessed the hand that made him free!

A few letters from Scott’s own hand are preserved here. A (defunct) mini-blog exploring the case in detail can be perused here.

* There was actually American precedent for this sort of stagey non-execution in a case from the War of 1812.

** Obviously, Lincoln did not actually bring his presidential person to the execution grounds to issue this pardon in the flesh: in fact, the presiding officer on-site simply read out the pardon: “the President of the United States has expressed a wish that as this is the first condemnation to death in this army for this crime, mercy may be extended to the criminal.”

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1999: Double execution in Arkansas

2 comments September 8th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1999, Arkansas went retro with the double execution of Mark Gardner and Alan Willett.

Time was that the multiple-execution format was one of the standard guises of capital punishment in America as elsewhere in the Anglo world back to the Tyburn tree and well before.

Not uncommonly a party of malefactors — like the Lincoln assassination conspirators, the Rosenbergs, or Sacco and Vanzetti — would all get their deserts together, symbolically tying up the crime. So too the convenience of the state, or its interest in an impressive show of force, could put together a group hanging just for the whole effect.

The scaffold scaled up easily, of course, but even some more modern devices — like the two-seater California gas chamber — were constructed with committee sessions in mind.

For whatever reason, Arkansas really cottoned to this format in the Nineties. It carried out a double execution on May 11, 1994, and two separate triple executions on August 3, 1994 and January 8, 1997. Volume packages account for nearly half of the 21 Arkansan executions in that decade.*

But the operational efficiency of killing people in multiples inevitably bowed in the more deliberate modern era to the overriding inefficiency of its supporting judicial process. Rare would be the day — especially for a smaller state like Arkansas — when more than one prisoner exhausted remedies at the same time, even if they’d begun their legal journey as parties to the same crime.

In this late degenerate age, whatever rationales may once have existed for group executions have faded well away. The double execution this date in 1999 was at best a minor public relations flourish, and there wasn’t any symbolic import at all. The two culprits were completely unconnected:

  • Mark Gardner, a career criminal out on parole who had slaughtered a family in order to rape their daughter and steal their valuables (last meal: fried shrimp, grilled salmon, garden salad, and chocolate cake with a Coke);**
  • Alan Willett, a guy who killed his own son and mentally impaired brother, then dropped appeals to volunteer for execution (last meal: beef jerky, barbecue-flavored potato chips, onion dip, garlic dip, buttered popcorn, and Pepsi)

The volunteer aspect helped make the twofer scheduling happen, but to what end? A “double execution” here really means two individual executions back-to-back, each one with its own witness room, its own set of last-minute appeals, its own dose of poison. So why bother coordinating execution dates when there are already so many other moving pieces in the machinery of death? It’s just bad engineering

So this date’s exercise was the last multiple execution in the United States save one. In 2000, the absolute high-water mark for execution pace in the country’s busiest death chamber, Texas injected Oliver Cruz and Brian Robertson on the same day, Aug. 9. That’s the last multiple-execution to date in the U.S.

Arkansas actually made a bid to conduct another one in 2004. Condemned prisoner Karl Roberts, like Willett a volunteer, picked up his appeals at the last moment and remains on death row to this day; the state had to settle for one out of two.

* All these dates and figures per the Death Penalty Information Center’s handy searchable executions database.

** Gardner piously anticipated “a never-ending feast” at “the Lord’s supper” in his last statement, but his worldly appetites were less transcendental. He was accused of rape by his neighbor on death row: Damien Echols.

Echols was one of the West Memphis Three convicted for a supposedly occult triple homicide during the late gasps of America’s infantile Satanism panic. This case became a cause celebre (literally so: Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, and other glitterati were among his vocal supporters), and the convictions were debunked to such an extent that Echols and his two friends (both serving prison terms) were all released earlier this year.

Echols is not offically “exonerated” since ass-covering prosecutors negotiated an Alford plea as the price of his liberty. He remains a convicted killer in the eyes of the state and among some holdout defenders of the original verdict. This polarizing case is the subject of the HBO documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and its sequel Paradise Lost 2. A third installment of the series is in post-production as of this writing.

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1768: Isaac Frasier, three strikes offender

1 comment September 7th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1768, Isaac Frasier hanged at Fairfield, Connecticut for his career of (as the pamphlet told it) “Abominable Thefts”.

Frasier took to his larcenous ways from a very young age, and committed a host of thefts from the time of his minority apprenticed to a tightfisted shoemaker. For the volume and audacity of his thefts, Frasier was a sort of Charlie Peace of colonial New England with the significant difference that he was also extraordinarily bad about conducting his career in serial burglary without (repeated) detection.

And so Frasier was caught, over and over and over again: really, he might have thought about a different vocation. Eventually he ran afoul of an 18th-century three strikes law allowing the execution of repeat offenders. (And drawing in its case some lively public debate over the justice of hanging a man for a mere property crime under any circumstances whatsoever.

Anyway, thanks to his want of both restraint and wile, Frasier was clapped in irons, whipped, branded, sold to a privateer, had an ear cropped, whipped some more. He lost his wife after one arrest (that wasn’t juridical penalty, just a modicum of shame.)

He had a gift for escape which jibed well with his gift for arrest, but every time he busted out of stir he returned instantly to burglary with a positively alcoholic compulsion.

Even when he effected his last jailbreak while already under sentence of death for recidivism, he exercised not an iota of discretion but invited his swift recapture by frantically plundering every shopkeep he laid eyes on in a whirlwind tour of Connecticut and environs. Just one last fix for the road.

Last Wednesday evening the notorious FRASIER, who was under sentence of death for burglary, as has been mentioned, was brought from Worcester, (where he was taken up for theft, and whipt) and re-committed to the goal [sic] in this town, from whence he escaped about a month since, — in which time he has committed five or six burglaries and thefts, and traveled near 500 miles. The next night but one after his escape, he broke open no less than three shops in Middletown, from one of which he stole 70l. value in goods and cash. The Superior Court now sitting in Fairfield, have given strict orders, that he should be loaded with chains, and the goal guarded every night till the time of his execution …

Connecticut Gazette (aka New-London Gazette), Sep. 2, 1768

“Excessive Wickedness, the Way to an untimely Death.” That was the title of the gallows sermon they gave for him. At least they couldn’t knock him for idleness.

Frasier’s career is narrated in considerable detail at the excellent site Early American Crime, and this also affords enough excuse to note that this prolific blogger has published a book on his topic, Bound with an Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America. It’s a captivating read we recommend enthusiastically.

(Said blogger-author, Anthony Vaver, has also guest-posted on this site: see here and here.)

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1811: John Andrews, whisky man

1 comment September 6th, 2011 Headsman

This date is the bicentennial of the first public execution in Seneca County, New York. (There would only be one other.)

Future New York Gov. Joseph C. Yates — for whom the adjacent Yates County is named — was already a state Supreme Court justice when he repaired to the newly-built county courthouse in tiny Ovid to judge the case of the cottonmouthed contract clodhopper.

Yates duly condemned John Andrews to hang on account of murdering (pdf) a local distillery worker for the rather disproportionate offense of not ladling Andrews a drink of whisky after Andrews had completed some odd job or other for the place.

Sometimes a man takes a drink. Sometimes a drink takes a man.

Surrounded by the usual contingent of Militia and the surging crowd that had assembled from the town and surrounding contryside through the earlier circulation of handbills that had declared the unusual event as a sort of holiday, the noose was adjusted and Andrews quickly jerked into eternity. Some of the spectators had taken to the roof-tops, others were perched in nearby trees, and parents held their children high on their shoulders for a better view. No other event, save the General Trainings of Militia, called together so many people as did a hanging in those early times. Years afterwards, the stumps of the gallows were pointed out, as a spectator recalled the details of that momentous day. Some three years later, Reuben Tingley, who lived in close proximity to the Court-House in this village, killed his wife by a blow on the head with an axe, and then cut his own throat. The murder and suicide on October 28, 1814, saved the county the expense of an execution, but deprived the curious of an opportunity to witness a second public hanging, a fact that might have well been foremost in the mind of the murderer after having dispatched his wife. (Source)

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1924: Richard A. Birkes, stickup man

1 comment September 5th, 2011 Headsman

Our serialized Americana would hardly be complete without that classic rogue, the bank robber.

On this date in 1924, “chewing the frayed stump of a cigar,” holdup man Richard Birkes sauntered to the electric chair at the McAlester, Oklahoma state prison and rode the lightning for gunning down a teller in the course of a heist.

“So long boys,” which he tried to accompany with a wave of the hand already strapped to the death-chair, were Birkes’ last words.

Although other points give his last words as “I’m not guilty and I am not afraid to die; turn it on, boys.”

Birkes was unquestionably part of the three-man team that had knocked over the Ketchum Bank the summer prior, laying poor Frank Pitts, Sr. in his grave. The robber’s potential “innocence” turned on the question of which miscreant actually put him there.

This “non-triggerman” stuff is not necessarily legally or morally compelling in the best of circumstances, but right or wrong it was dispositive in this case: his accomplices both drew life terms.

This generic Prohibition-era bandit was so perfectly a creature of his time that his dear mum Eliza trekked over from Siloam Springs, Ark. to make a tearful eleventh-hour clemency plea, maternally (and mistakenly) certain that “the governor will surely spare my boy’s life.”

That executive’s thoughts ran to different plans.

Alarmed at the rash of bank jobs by brazen outlaws like Birkes who could strike and then escape over county lines in their period Studebakers, twirling their villainous mustaches, said unmerciful Gov. Martin E. Trapp the next year created a statewide law enforcement agency, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Invesigation.

This bureau’s effective intervention in the Sooner gangland scene (bank robberies fell … ) heralded a long and fruitful life that still continues to this day. They’re the people you’re gonna call when some local police pathologist gets caught systematically cooking forensic results to order for the state’s prosecutors.

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1953: Miss Earle Dennison, the first white woman electrocuted in Alabama

2 comments September 4th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1953, Earle Dennison became the first white woman electrocuted in Alabama history.*

The 55-year-old widow had a sort of Arsenic and Old Lace and Orange Drink thing going on: that sugary refreshment administered by kindly old Auntie Earle on a visit to her niece Shirley Weldon was the delivery vehicle for that venerable poison.

Puking her guts out, little Shirley was raced to the hospital where Earle Dennison had her day job as a nurse. But while the child lay dying, the aunt slipped away so that she could make a payment on a $5,500 life insurance policy she had taken out on the kid — a policy that would have expired the very next day.

This whole affair could hardly fail to cast an incriminating light on the death two years prior of Shirley’s older sister … whose body, upon exhumation, also showed traces of arsenic.

Dennison was indicted but never tried for that previous possible murder; Shirley Weldon’s case would more than suffice to secure the landmark visit to Yellow Mama. The main question was really whether Dennison had been, juridically speaking, plum off her rocker.

Not far enough off it to help her.

Shirley’s parents subsequently won a $75,000 judgment against the insurance company for issuing the policy to an in-law with no insurable interest in the young victim, thereby “plac[ing] the insured child in a zone of danger, with unreasonable harm to her and … the defendants in issuing the alleged illegal contracts.”

But that was a different era. As of today, vast tranches of collateralized policies among suspicious parties with no insurable interest, issued by bankers as rich as Croesus and implicitly guaranteed too big to fail, might well constitute a forward-thinking investment opportunity for troubled economic times.

* There had been only one woman of any racial category electrocuted in Alabama full stop, according to the Espy file of historical U.S. executions: African-American Silena Gilmore in 1930. Prior to that, Alabama had not executed a woman at all since the Civil War.

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1875: Six in Fort Smith under Hanging Judge Isaac Parker

7 comments September 3rd, 2011 Headsman

I have ever had the single aim of justice in view … ‘Do equal and exact justice,’ is my motto, and I have often said to the grand jury, ‘Permit no innocent man to be punished, but let no guilty man escape.’

Judge Isaac Parker

On this date in 1875, the most famous — or infamous, depending on your perspective — “hanging judge” of the American West dropped the trap on his noosing career with his first six hangings at Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Isaac Parker, around the time he arrived at Fort Smith

Isaac Parker had parlayed a legal career in Missouri into a congressional seat, when the fall of the Arkansas Republican party’s fortunes late in Reconstruction swept him out of office in 1874.

No problem: his co-partisan president, Ulysses S. Grant, appointed Parker to a federal judgeship in neighboring Arkansas. It’s upon that renowned tenure that the man’s reputation, uh, hangs.

Parker arrived at Fort Smith on May 4, 1875, the youngest federal judge in the west and a man whose jurisdiction included the lawless Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).

This expanse of land, the final destination of the Trail of Tears, had once been preserved for tribes forcibly “removed” from eastern North America.

But by the post-Civil War years, the frontier was sweeping past on iron wheels … and as long as Indian Territory remained (mostly) protected from white settlement, it remained a sparsely-populated refuge for outlaws.

Pandemonium in the Territory was only exacerbated by the Fort Smith court’s reputation for corruption and inefficiency; the office was open for Parker’s appointment because his predecessor had resigned to avoid impeachment.

Judge Isaac Parker came to clean up the place.

Fort Smith was an unusual portfolio for a federal judge. While most of Parker’s colleagues were confined to the tedium of interstate civil litigation, Parker was the court of first call for many regular criminal cases in the Indian Territory which in other jurisdictions would have been a state matter. He estimated in 1885 Congressional testimony that seven-eighths of his caseload came from Indian Territory.*

And in those cases he quickly established himself a reputation for severity.

“I never hanged a man,” Parker said of himself later in life. “The law hanged him. I was only its instrument.”

But make yourself the law’s instrument to the tune of 79 hangings, and folks are bound to sit up and take notice.


“they nearly hung me for stealin’ a horse
in Fort Smith Arkansas.

Judge Parker said guilty and the gavel came down
just like a cannon shot …”

At his court’s very first sitting in May 1875, Parker death-sentenced a murderer — Daniel Evans, who came straight from frontier central casting and had murdered a man for his boots.

As that year unfolded, he added enough condemned men to the bowels of the miserable jail nicknamed “Hell on the Border” — for an eight-strong hanging date to christen September.

One of the eight had his sentence commuted due to youth.

One was shot trying to escape.

And the other six were the debut crop for the mass-occupancy gallows that Parker ordered constructed at Fort Smith. (Its capacity was a full dozen.)


Modern replica at Fort Smith — today a national historic site — of Judge Parker’s gallows. (cc) image from photoguyinmo.

The clientele was six unconnected murderers, committing various atrocities for various motives and aptly embodying the region’s ethnic diversity.

  • Evans, white
  • James Moore, white
  • Samuel Fooy, quarter Cherokee
  • Smoker Mankiller, Cherokee
  • Edmond Campbell, black
  • John Whittington, white

And the audience? Five thousand or so reportedly on hand in Fort Smith this date, plus a national media audience … and posterity deep into the second century since this sturdy magistrate donned his first black cap and set about putting chaos into order with a rope in his hand.


New York Tmes, September 4, 1875.

Whatever one might have to say about his methods, Parker presents a magnetic personality, a figure so truly of his own time and place that he obligingly died just weeks after his court was finally relieved of its Oklahoman jurisdiction in 1896. He’d never hang around to jolt our anachronism meter by weighing in on trench warfare or cubism.

Parker is undoubtedly a more layered figure than his “hanging judge” reputation would suggest, and even his life’s project to bring his unruly jurisdiction to heel was more complicated than just being a hardass. (He had a significant administrative challenge to manage his chronically underfunded court, and he needed to foster the sense of communal reciprocity and legal integrity that would encourage fellow-citizens to turn up for jury duty and witness testimony that make the law’s everyday business possible.) The judge was famous for the long hours he kept, and capital cases were never more than a tiny fraction of his work.

Parker was notorious (slash-beloved, again depending on perspective) for his prosecution-friendly courtrooms, but even the tough sentences he handed down came in his mind from a place of tough love. He wrote late in life that

not one of [those he suffered to long prison terms for violent crimes], no matter how depraved, had entirely lost that better part of human nature …

The object of punishment is to revive, that in some cases, almost extinct spark, to lift the man up, to stamp out his bad nature and wicked disposition, that his better and God given traits may assert themselves.*

Still, whether you prefer him as the stern avatar of law on an outlaw plain or bloodthirsty yahoo, Parker’s ready amenability to latter-day Hollywood tropes will surely maintain his popularity in the cultural rookery of wild west cutouts.

Among numerous other reference points, the novel True Grit, and the 1969 and 2010 films based on it, use Judge Parker’s Fort Smith as the heroine’s embarkation point — with her dangerous journey carrying her into the untamed Indian Territory on his doorstep.

Pat Hingle’s “Judge Fenton” (from “Fort Grant”) in the Clint Eastwood western Hang ‘Em High also shows an unmistakable debt to the Judge Parker persona.

A few books about Judge Parker

Spare a thought, too, for the man operating the ropes and levers this date.

George Maledon, named Fort Smith’s official hangman just a couple of years before Isaac Parker’s appointment, would enforce the Hanging Judge’s hanging sentences into the 1890s: 60-plus executions in all, plus five other escaping prisoners he gunned down, all in a day’s work for an Arkansas lawman.

Maledon has a sad coda to this story, which wasn’t so upbeat to begin with.

The year after the veteran hangman hung up his hood and opened a grocery store, Maledon’s daughter was murdered. The bereaved father’s friend Judge Parker, still on the bench at that time, condemned the killer to die in a case we’ll suggest might have warranted a recusal by present-day standards. Nevertheless, a successful appeal balked Maledon’s successor of the malefactor, and the disgusted ex-executioner got his species of payback by taking the accoutrement of his late profession on the road as a traveling act.

There, under the billing of “the Prince of Hangmen,” Maledon lectured and exhibited old hanging ropes and pictures of the outlaws they had choked.

People of all classes flocked to the show grounds, crowded about the lecturer and filled the tent, viewing the gruesome relics and listening to the old hangman’s recital of soul-stirring events as he pointed out the…instruments of his vocation. (Source)

* See Mary Stolerg, “Politician, Populist, Reformer: A Reesamination of ‘Hanging Judge’ Isaac C. Parker”, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Spring 1988

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1772: Moses Paul

2 comments September 2nd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1772, the town of New Haven, Connecticut hanged a Mohegan Indian named Moses Paul for a drunken homicide. He’d been kicked out of a tavern as an unruly sot, and vengefully beat to death outside it a (white) fellow-customer with whom he had quarreled.

Notable to the reported “concourse” of attendees as the first execution in those parts for more than twenty years, it comes to posterity as the occasion for an interesting milestone: the first known Native American publication in America was Samson Occom‘s “A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, an Indian”. (pdf)

Occom, himself a Mohegan, was a Presbyterian divine whom the condemned solicited to deliver the hanging sermon. So the multitudes assembled were also treated to the edification of seeing an Indian preach from the scaffold, which may have been yet another first.

Occom’s sermon went predictably long on the hark-ye-to-this-warning Christian boilerplate (as a convert from heathenism, Occom did not want for zeal). But the speaker was also plainly self-conscious of his racial position,and took pains to invoke the egalitarianism of the afterlife:* the same death and judgment awaiting “Negroes, Indians, English, or … what nations soever.”

Given the liquor-induced crime that was even then a stereotype of Indian susceptibilities, Occom concluded “address[ing] myself to the Indians, my bretheren and kindred according to the flesh” with a call to temperance in view of the waste he saw laid to his own communities:

My Poor Kindred,

You see the woeful consequences of sin, by seeing this our poor miserable countryman now before us, who is to die this day for his sins and great wickedness. And it was the sin of drunkenness that has brought this destruction and untimely death upon him … this abominable, this beastly and accursed sin of drunkenness, that has stript us of every desirable comfort in this life; by this we are poor miserable and wretched; by this sin we have no name nor credit in the world among polite nations, for this sin we are despised in the world … when we are intoxicated with strong drink we drown our rational powers, by which we are distinguished from the brutal creation we unman ourselves, and bring ourselves not only level with the beasts of the field, but seven degrees beneath them.

Drunkenness is so common amongst us, that even our young men, (and what is still more shocking) young women are not ashamed to get drunk.

break off from your drunkenness … O let us reform our lives, and live as becomes dying creatures, in time to come. Let us be persuaded that we are accountable creatures to God, and we must be called to an account in a few days … Fight against all sins, and especially the sin that easily besets you, and behave in time to come as becomes rational creatures.

Ava Chamberlain’s “The Execution of Moses Paul: A Story of Crime and Contact in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut”, published in The New England Quarterly (September 2004) has a detailed summary of this case, Paul’s unsuccessful efforts to appeal around the question of premeditation, and the historiographical riddle left by Occom’s voluble commentary vis-a-vis his subject’s near-total silence.

* Our colonial Calvinist anticipated Marxist aphorists with the remark, “whether we concern ourselves with death or not, it will concern itself with us.” The colonists present probably would have appreciated the occasion more had they known they were participating in an Internet meme.

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1863: Peyton Farquhar, in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

1 comment September 1st, 2011 Headsman

It would perhaps be around this time in 1863 that a Southern planter is arrayed for hanging in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

This “greatest American short story … a flawless example of American genius” (according to Kurt Vonnegut) was 1890 product of puissant wordsmith Ambrose Bierce.

In this non-chronological story, Peyton Farquhar, “a well to do planter, of an old and highly respected Alabama family,” is entrapped by a Union spy purporting to be a Confederate agent to attempt an act of sabotage in the face of a hanging warning issued by the Union army.

It can be ballparked in late August or early September based on its location in northern Alabama, which essentially didn’t see Civil War activity until the very end of the war. Except, that is, for the maneuvering building up to the Battle of Chickamauga fought just over the border in southeastern Tennessee September 19-20, 1863.* That also squares with seasonal indicators in the text pointing to summer, e.g.: “the flood of last winter had lodged a great quantity of driftwood against the wooden pier at this end of the bridge. It is now dry and would burn like tinder.”

At any rate, the story begins with Farquhar stationed on Owl Creek Bridge awaiting execution … but the rope snaps as he falls, giving him a bid for freedom. As for what happens next: read the story, or take in this economical screen adaptation by French director Robert Enrico aired for American audiences on The Twilight Zone.

* Bierce fought at Chickamauga on the Union side; he wrote a non-fiction memoir and a short story titled “Chickamauga” about the experience.

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Alabama,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Escapes,Execution,Executions Survived,Fictional,Hanged,History,Military Crimes,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Summary Executions,Terrorists,U.S. Military,Uncertain Dates,USA,Wartime Executions

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