1780: The Biggerstaff Hanging Tree earns its name

Add comment October 14th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1780, American Revolution patriots hanged nine captive loyalist prisoners in North Carolina, in the wake of the Battle of King’s Mountain.

Although the colonials would ultimately accomplish their break with the British Empire, the British and their local loyalists had a strong run in a southern campaign from about 1778.

But even at their acme, the redcoats could not extend their writ westward past the Appalachian Mountains, into the frontiers where hunger to swallow up Indian land made for ferocious adherence to the pro-independence cause, since the Crown was trying to limit settler expansion in those zones. The ones who turned their muskets against their king would become known as the “Overmountain Men” — and the Battle of King’s Mountain was their glory.

Feeling their oats after thrashing Horatio Gates‘s rebel army at the Battle of Camden — seen here in the Mel Gibson/Heath Ledger movie The Patriot

— the Brits sent the capable Scottish Major Patrick Ferguson into the mountains to roust out the irregulars. After some weeks of maneuver, Ferguson faced off with the Overmountain Men on October 7 at a wooded crag just south of the border between the Carolinas: barely a “mountain”, and definitely not the king’s. In an hourlong fight, the Overmountain militia overwhelmed Ferguson’s command, killing Ferguson himself.

Historical novel about the events surrounding King’s Mountain. (Review)

It was a stunning blow to the British, and checked that rampant southern campaign; as British prospects slipped away in subsequent years, King’s Mountain would loom as a mighty portent. The British commander Sir Henry Clinton considered King’s Mountain “the first link in a chain of events that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America.” In a more buoyant mood, Thomas Jefferson judged this battle “the joyful annunciation of the turn of the tide of success which terminated the Revolutionary War, with the Seal of our independence.”

Not so joyful were nearly 700 Tory prisoners whom the colonial militia hurriedly marched west to Gilbert Town (present-day Rutherfordton) in the western reaches of North Carolina. The militia’s blood was up already from British atrocities; at King’s Mountain, the British had difficulty surrendering to baying guerrillas who killed the first man to offer the white flag, baying for revenge upon previous massacres of patriots.

While holding their prisoners at the farm of Aaron Biggerstaff — a Tory who had been killed at King’s Mountain, even as his Patriot brother languished in British custody — word reached the Overmountain Men that yet more revolutionists had been executed in British custody.

Vowing to put a stop to this this, they put 36 of their prisoners to a drumhead trial on October 14 and sentenced them all to death. Nine of them were actually hanged that evening, three by three: Ambrose Mills, Robert Wilson, James Chitwood, Arthur Grimes, Thomas Lafferty, Walter Gilkey, John McFall, John Bibby, and Augustine Hobbs. Mills, a colonel and the leader of the loyalist forces in this western county, was the most prominent of the bunch.

Intercession by Patriot officers and the Biggerstaff women put a stop to the proceedings; the other 27 “condemned” were simply suffered to return to the horde of POWs, and marched out the next morning.

A sign noting the place of the Biggerstaff Hanging Tree is one of the markers on the National Parks Service’s Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,North Carolina,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Soldiers,Summary Executions,USA,Wartime Executions

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1783: John Grinslade and John Cunningham

Add comment August 25th, 2020 Headsman

From Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal (Bristol, England), Saturday, August 30, 1783:

Monday was executed at Hall-Down, near Exeter, John Grinslade, aged 22, for the murder of the Rev. Mr. Gilbert Yarde; and John Cunningham, aged only 17, for the murder of John Pratt. The former expressed sorrow for his offences, and declared he died in charity with all men: The latter, from whose youth and ignorance no great degree of sensibility could be expected, appeared rather stupified than grieved at his fate. Cunningham professed himself a Papist.

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1788: Elisabetha Gassner

Add comment July 16th, 2020 Headsman

Thief Elisabetha Gassner (English Wikipedia entry | German) was beheaded in Oberdischingen by executioner Xaver Vollmer on this date in 1788.

Gassner (English Wikipedia entry | German) was an industrious laborer who, born a vagrant and soon after losing her father, busted her hump into a home and a small farm of her own while maintaining a large family (seven kids by the time of her beheading, plus an invalid mother).

Nimble fingers made her this nest egg — fingers for knitting stockings, and, more and more, for picking pockets in Biderberg and Württemberg.

With a purported 300+ thefts attributed to her, she acquired outsized reputation as a thief transcendent enough to apotheosize her under the nickname Schwarze Lies (“Black Lisa”) alongside the legendary outlaws of the day.

Her ambition for a foothold in this precarious world made her as bold with the quality of her targets as their quantity: her arrest was for lifting a 1,700 guilder purse from Count Franz Ludwig Schenk von Castell, in the chapel of Ludwigsburg Palace.

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1786: Phoebe Harris, coiner

Add comment June 21st, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Up to 1790, women convicted of High Treason and Petty Treason were burned at the stake. Although I am sure you have a perception of what High Treason is, as a crime in those days, it also encompassed several other offences, notably coining. Coining covered several individual offences relating only to gold and silver coins, e.g. clipping coins to provide coin metal for forgeries, colouring coins to make them appear of higher value, making counterfeit coins and having the equipment to do any of the above. Coining was considered treasonable because it directly affected the State and confidence in the currency.

The crime.

Under the name of Mrs. Brown, Phoebe Harris had rented a room from one Joel Sparkes at a house in Drury Lane, London (No. 19, in Swan-yard) before Christmas 1785. A friend of hers, Francis Hardy, had recommended her to Sparkes, describing her as a captain’s widow with a private income. In reality, it seems that Phoebe had been separated from her husband for two or three years. Whilst Phoebe lived at this address she was regularly engaged in filing and clipping coins and then using the metal to make new counterfeit coins in sand moulds. Francis Hardy was the person who was later to inform the police of the goings on at No. 19. There was a suggestion, flatly denied by him in court, that Francis Hardy had had a relationship with Phoebe. He did, however, take her teenage daughter in as a servant on the day of her mother’s arrest.

Arrest.

At about 5 o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday, the 11th of February 1786, John Clarke (a constable) went to No. 19 in consequence of the information he had received and found Phoebe Harris and Elizabeth Yelland in the first floor room. He and his assistants, George Meecham, Patrick Macmanus, and William Andrews, broke down the locked door and arrested the two female occupants. They then searched the room in which they found some counterfeit coins and the necessary equipment for coining in an adjoining closet.

When John Clarke compared the counterfeit shillings to genuine ones, it was clear that they had been cast from a mould made from a genuine shilling. In all, some 12 counterfeit coins were discovered, both shillings and sixpences. One of the genuine sixpences had a hole in it and this was evident in the counterfeits.

A little later, after the rooms had been searched, Elizabeth’s brother, Joseph Yelland, returned home and was also arrested. All three were taken to Bow Street to appear before a magistrate. They were remanded in custody at Newgate to stand trial at the next Sessions of the Old Bailey.

The trial.

Capital trials at this period took up very little time with a number being conducted during a single day. The April Sessions of the Old Bailey in 1786 were held on Wednesday, the 26th of that month, before Mr. Baron Eyre. Among those indicted were Joseph Yelland, otherwise known as Holman, Phebe Harris (spelling of Phoebe as given in the original indictment) and Elizabeth Yelland, who were jointly charged with two specimen counts, as follows: “for that they, on the 11th of February last, one piece of false, feigned, and counterfeit money and coin, to the likeness and similitude of the good, legal, and silver coin of this realm, called a shilling, falsely, deceitfully, feloniously, and traiterously did counterfeit and coin, against the duty of their allegiance, and against the statute.” There was also a second count of coining a sixpence. The shilling is the equivalent of the current 5p coin, whilst a sixpence is the equivalent of 2.5p. Although in 1786, these two coins had much greater purchasing power they were still coins of small denomination.

The prosecution was opened by Mr. Silvester, assisted by Mr. Wilson and Mr. Garrow led the defence. [Silvester and Garrow were famous combatants at the bar. See this post for another instance. -ed.]

The case was heard before the 2nd Middlesex jury, consisting of twelve men. Both sides were able to call witnesses and cross examine those for the other side. In this case, the Crown called the constables involved in the raid, together with the landlord and his son. They also called Francis Hardy, who gave direct eyewitness evidence of the manufacture and colouring of the counterfeit coins. The coining equipment found in the rooms was produced in court as evidence. Hardy also suggested that the group had bought forged coins from other criminals to pass off as good — also a capital crime then, known as uttering. He stated in his testimony that she continued with the coining business even though she knew that Hardy was fully aware of what she was doing. It appears that there had been some disagreement between Hardy and Phoebe and this may have led to him informing on her.

The defence was principally based upon the testimony of character witnesses for each of the defendants who averred them to be people of good character. Phoebe addressed the court as follows: “My Lord and Gentlemen of the Jury, I am an unhappy woman; I was desired by a young man of the name of John Brown, to take the room, which I did, and he brought the things found in the room; and desired me to secrete them, and I not knowing the nature of them, or for what purpose they were intended, did do so, and so I told the gentleman when they came and took me: as to my sister-in-law, I being very ill, she came to clean the room for me, and the gentleman found her cleaning it on her knees: and my brother-in-law came some time after the gentlemen had been in the room.”

She also called two character witnesses.

The jury took some time in their deliberations before finding Phoebe guilty and, despite Francis Hardy’s evidence against them, acquitting Elizabeth and Joseph Yelland. As was normal sentencing of all those convicted, took place at the end of the Sessions. Nine prisoners were condemned to death, these being: Hannah Mullins, William Smith, Edward Griffiths, James May, George Woodward, Daniel Keefe, Jonathan Harwood and William Watts, who were sentenced to be hanged while Phoebe was condemned to be burned at the stake. Many other prisoners were sentenced to transportation or imprisonment. Hannah Mullins and James May were subsequently reprieved to transportation. The condemned were returned to Newgate prison to await their fates.

Execution.

Phoebe Harris was to be the first woman burnt at Newgate, as distinct from Tyburn or Smithfield, and her execution was carried out just after 8.00 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday the 21st of June 1786. A huge crowd, estimated at some 20,000 people, had turned out to watch this gruesome spectacle.

At 7.30 a.m. six men, Edward Griffiths, George Woodward, William Watts, Daniel Keefe, Jonathan Harwood and William Smith were brought out through Newgate’s Debtor’s Door and led up onto the “New Drop” gallows. They were prepared in the usual way and the drop reportedly fell around 8.00 a.m.

After they were suspended, Phoebe was led from the Debtor’s Door of Newgate by two sheriff’s officers to a stake that had been erected halfway between the gallows and Newgate Street. The stake was some 11 feet high and had a metal bracket at the top from which a noose dangled. Phoebe was described as, “a well made little woman of something more than thirty years of age, with a pale complexion and not disagreeable features.” She was reported to be terrified and trembling as she was led out. She mounted a stool and the noose was placed around her neck and was allowed a few moments to pray with the Ordinary before her support was removed and she was left suspended. According to V. A. C. Gatrell’s book The Hanging Tree she died hard, he reported that she choked noisily to death over several minutes.

After hanging for half an hour, the executioner put an iron chain around her upper body and fastened it to the stake with nails. Two cart loads of faggots were now piled around the stake and then lit. It is reasonable to assume that she would have been quite dead by this time. After a while, the fire burnt through the rope and Phoebe’s body dropped, remaining attached to the stake by the chain. It took over two hours to be completely consumed by the fire, which continued to burn until midday.

Comment.

Only two more women were to suffer Phoebe’s fate. These were Margaret Sullivan on the 25th of June 1788 and Catherine Murphy on the 18th of March 1789, both for coining. At the April Sessions of 1790, Sophia Girton was also convicted of this offence but her execution was delayed until after Parliament had passed an Act (Act 30 Geo. III, c.48) substituting ordinary hanging for coining offences on the 5th of June 1790. In fact, Sophia was ultimately pardoned, on condition of transportation for life to New South Wales, on the 12th of June 1790.

Executions by burning at Newgate were distinctly unpopular with the local residents of what was a respectable business area of the City. They had sent a petition to the Lord Mayor requesting that Phoebe’s execution be carried out elsewhere. This was an early version of “not in my back yard” rather than a protest against the severity of her punishment. It was later reported that some locals became ill from the smoke from her body. There were similar protests over the Sullivan and Murphy executions and a great feeling of relief when Sophia Girton was reprieved, and the whole ghastly business passed into history in 1790.

The Sheriffs were also becoming increasingly unhappy about attending burnings, and it was they who brought forward the Bill to end this practice. Even though by this time the condemned woman was dead before the faggots were lit, it must have still been a gruesome and revolting spectacle and one which conveyed a feeling of injustice. Men convicted of coining offences were hanged in the same way as other condemned males. The Times newspaper took up this theme after Phoebe’s burning and printed the following article: “The execution of a woman for coining on Wednesday morning, reflects a scandal upon the law and was not only inhuman, but shamefully indelicate and shocking. Why should the law in this species of offence inflict a severer punishment upon a woman, than a man. It is not an offence which she can perpetrate alone — in every such case the insistence of a man has been found the operating motive upon the woman; yet the man is but hanged, and the woman burned.” One can only agree with the “Thunderer’s” sentiments as the Times came to be known. Other London newspapers carried similar articles. Again similar outrage was expressed two years later at the burning of Margaret Sullivan, although strangely there was little media interest at the burning of Catherine Murphy.

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1780: Johann Heinrich Waser, persecuted whistleblower

Add comment May 27th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1780, statistician Johann Heinrich Waser

“One of the most spectacular and horrific treason cases of the late eighteenth century” in the words of Jeffrey Freedman (A Poisoned Chalice | here’s a review) — one that “shattered the complacent belief that such a brutal and cynical act of repression could no longer occur in an age of Enlightenment, let alone in Switzerland, the land of William Tell, republican virtue, and free, self-governing citizens.” Subsequent centuries laugh in bitter commiseration.

Initially a pastor, Waser’s idealism had not been fully wrung out in the seminary and so he got himself fired from his Zurich-area parish for complaining too loudly about the oligarchic graft that left his flock’s poor relief barren.

Nothing daunted, he effected a career change and “threw himself with zeal and success into all researches in natural history, history, agriculture and statistics.” He surely had little notion that this technocratic exercise could imperil his life … but as with his time in the ministry, he suffered for his inability to pay the tithe of politic hypocrisy to the unrighteous mighty. Freedman again:

One of Waser’s demographic studies uncovered evidence of a stagnating and even declining population in certain rural districts. To Waser (and indeed to cameralists in general) it was axiomatic that a growing population was good, that it was both cause and symptom of economic prosperity. So the evidence of a stagnating and declining population demanded an explanation, which Waser believed he had found in the trade in mercenaries practiced by the Swiss cantons. With this, Waser was touching upon a very delicate subject indeed, for the trade in mercenaries was not only a useful safety valve for disposing of excess population, it was a major source of fiscal revenue. Yet Waser condemned the lucrative trade without restraint, documenting with hard statistical evidence the population losses it caused; and he drove home his point with anecdotes such as the following, which appeared in the introduction to a study provocatively entitled, “Swiss Blood, French Money”:

With the General Stuppa in attendance, the Marquis de Lauvois, the War Minister of Louis XIV, is supposed once t0o have said to his king: “Sire, if you had all the gold and silver paid by yourself and your royal ancestors to the Swiss, you would be able to pave the highway from Paris to Basel with Thalers.” Whereupon General Stuppa declared: “Sire, that may well be so; but if it were possible to collect all the blood shed by our nation for you and your royal ancestors, one could build a navigable canal from Paris to Basel.

Waser’s incautious muckraking got him the Julian Assange treatment: he’d be condemned for treasonably stealing the information he reported for the public weal; in an attempt to blacken his name, he was even spuriously investigated for poisoning the sacramental wine.

The May 27 beheading of the “unhappy pastor” raised a clamor of European outrage against Zurich’s oligarchs. True, the salon-dwelling demographic liable to such a sentiment had no power to chastise. But it at least enjoyed the satisfaction inside of 20 years to see the lords toppled who had built Waser’s scaffold … thanks, appropriately enough, to the French.

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1789: Ann Davis, the first woman hanged at Sydney Cove

Add comment November 23rd, 2019 Headsman

The first woman hanged in colonial Australia was Ann(e) Davis, on this date in 1789.

Convicted in London “for feloniously stealing, on the 27th day of April, eight pair of silk stockings, value 8s. the property of James Atkinson,” Davis was one of 101 female convicts transported to Sydney Cove with the First Fleet aboard the Lady Penrhyn.* Davis would have been in the crowd of onlookers the year before when the fledgling colony conducted its very first execution.

This spectacle did not un-sticky Davis’s fingers, for she was sentenced in Sydney Cove for again plundering wardrobes to the tune of

four linen shirts of the value of twenty nine shillings and six pence; one cheque shirt of the value of four pence; one linen waistcoat of the value of two shillings; two cambrick handkerchiefs of the value of three shillings; one silk waistcoat of the value of two shillings; one dimety waistcoat of the value of eighteen pence of the goods and chattels of the said Robert Sidaway; and one linen bed gown of the value of two shillings; one linen apron of the value of eighteen pence; two linen caps of the value of sixpence; one piece of a cap of the value of one penny; one muslin handkerchief of the value of six pence; and one pair of linen pockets of the value of one penny of the goods and chattels of Mary Marshall in the same dwelling house.

Davis attempted to plead her belly, failing to impress a jury of matrons impaneled to scrutinize her for pregnancy.

Seaman Jacob Nagle piteously recorded her end:

Some time after this, one of the wimen [Ann Davis] stole some wet clothes and was condemned and hung. She strove to bring a free man in guilty that belonged to our ship that was on duty on shore, it being proved by a number of witnesses that he was innocent and new nothing of it. Otherwise, she might have been saved, as the Governor left it to Captain Hunter, but he would not for give her, and when brought to gallos, leading her by two wimen, she was so much intocsicated in liquor that she could not stand without holding her up. It was dreadful to see heir going to aternity out of this world in such a senceless, shocking manne.

As noted by Australia’s Dark Heart the experience of dispatching this creature might have been especially traumatizing to the colony’s unwilling executioner James Freeman — for he was found roaring drunk a few days later and punished with 100 lashes.

* After discharging its human cargo, the Lady Penrhyn proceeded upon further circulating in the Pacific and the Far East; in 1788, she sighted and named the Cook Islands atoll of Penrhyn.

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1785: Elizabeth Taylor, hanged for burglary

1 comment August 17th, 2019 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

On August 17, 1785, Elizabeth Taylor was only the third woman to be hanged on the New Drop gallows outside Newgate.*

Elizabeth and her brother Martin were convicted of burgling the house and shop of Samuel Hooker at Highgate in London on the night of Sunday the 7th of May 1785. They got quite a haul, nearly £200 worth of goods comprising sixty yards of Irish linen cloth, ten linen handkerchiefs, two hundred and fifty yards of thread lace, two thousand yards of silk ribbon, thirty yards of muslin, two silk handkerchiefs and some silver spoons and tableware. Elizabeth had been a servant in the Hooker household and had left his employment about sixteen months earlier.

On the night of the 7th Mr. Hooker locked up as usual before going to bed and was satisfied that everything was secure. Sometime after midnight Elizabeth, Martin and possibly a second man arrived at the house where they carefully removed four course of brickwork from under the kitchen window without disturbing the sleeping occupants. Martin was able to get through this hole and then went into the shop, taking the items that he found and passing them out to Elizabeth.

The crime was discovered the following morning when Mr. Hooker came down and was surprised by the amount of light in his kitchen from the sun shining through the hole that had been made. He checked round and went into the shop where he noticed various items missing. In a state of agitation he went next door and fetched his neighbour to look at the situation. He then fetched the local constable, Mr. Thomas Seasons and reported the burglary and the considerable loss of stock to him.

On the 18th of May, Mr. Hooker and Mr. Seasons went to Martin Taylor’s home and searched it. They discovered a cap which had some lace on it and a few yards of ribbon which Mr. Hooker was able to identify but none of the other property. Martin was arrested at the house. Mr. Hooker and Mr. Seasons then went to the home of a friend of the Taylors, Mrs. Halloway, who was a part time dress maker with whom Martin had lodged. She claimed in court that Martin had asked her to make two shifts for his sister from the material that he had brought to her. Mrs. Halloway knew Elizabeth from her visits to the house. Here Mr. Hooker and Mr. Seasons discovered pieces of the Irish linen cut up into panels for shirts and shifts. They also discovered one of the handkerchiefs that had been stolen. Further searching of the house revealed some more of the items in the upstairs room of another lodger, Mrs. Powell. Mr. Hooker and the constable’s next visit was to Bow fair where they apprehended Elizabeth who tried to make a run for it with the help of some of the bystanders. When she was searched a small quantity of ribbon was found in her pocket book. She was taken back to Mr. Season’s house and then before a magistrate where she made a confession. She told Mr. Seasons that she and two men had committed the burglary.

Elizabeth and Martin were committed for trial by the magistrates and appeared at the June Sessions of the Old Bailey which opened on Wednesday the 29th of that month before Mr. Justice Buller. Mr. Silvester led the prosecution and the defence was handled by Mr. Garrow.**

Various witnesses were called including Mr. Hooker, Mr. Seasons, Mrs. Halloway and Mrs. Powell, each giving their account of the events and being cross examined for the defence. Mr. Garrow questioned the constable as to the circumstances in which Elizabeth had made her confession and whether or not he had placed under duress to extract it. He suggested to the constable that he had threatened her with being hanged if she did not confess, something which Mr. Seasons denied, telling the court that he tried to dissuade her from making a confession to him and that she continued because she thought, in his opinion, that it might save her from the gallows.

Martin Taylor was allowed to make a personal statement in his defence in which he told the court that he had bought fourteen yards of the linen for twenty two pence a yard from an acquaintance in the Borough with the intention of having it made up by Mrs. Halloway into clothes for his wife and sister. Elizabeth simply told the court that she knew nothing about the crime at all. Not a statement that was likely to impress the jury in view of the evidence against her.

Both Elizabeth and Martin were convicted and sent back to Newgate to await sentencing at the end of the Sessions. No less than twenty-two men and three women were condemned to hang on that Friday. However fifteen men and the other two women were reprieved and had their sentences commuted to transportation.

The execution of the eight remaining prisoners was to take place on the portable “New Drop” gallows outside the Debtor’s Door of Newgate on Wednesday the 17th of August 1785. They were among a group of eight prisoners to die that morning. With them on the platform was James Lockhart who had been convicted of stealing in a dwelling house, John Rebouit, John Morris and James Guthrie convicted of highway robbery and Richard Jacobs and Thomas Bailey who had also been condemned for burglary.

The actress Elizabeth Taylor — no relation — taking her leave of the soon-to-be-executed Montgomery Clift in the 1951 classic A Place in the Sun

At around 7.30 a.m., the condemned were led from their cells into the Press Yard where the Under Sheriff and John Villette, the Ordinary, (Newgate’s chaplain) met them. Their leg irons were removed by the prison blacksmith and the Yeoman of the Halter supervised the proceedings as the hangman and his assistant bound their wrists in front of them with cord and also place a cord round their body and arms at the elbows. White nightcaps were placed on their heads. The prisoners were now led across the Yard to the Lodge and then out through the Debtor’s Door where they climbed the steps up to the portable wooden gallows. There were shouts of “hats off” in the crowd. This was not out of respect for those about to die, but rather because the people further back demanded those at the front remove their hats so as not to obscure their view of the execution. Once assembled on the drop, the hangman, probably Edward Dennis, put the nooses round their necks while they prayed with the Ordinary. Elizabeth might have had her dress bound around her legs for the sake of decency but the men’s legs were left free. When the prayers had finished at about 8.15, the under sheriff gave the signal and the hangman moved the lever, which was connected to a drawbar under the trap, causing it to fall with a loud crash, the prisoners plunging 12-18 inches and usually writhing and struggling for some seconds before relaxing and becoming still. If their bodies continued to struggle, the hangman, unseen by the crowd, within the box below the drop, would grasp their legs and swing on them so adding his weight to theirs and thus ending their sufferings sooner. The dangling bodies would be left hanging for an hour before being either returned to their relatives. It was not recorded whether Elizabeth struggled or whether she died easily.

Although still by no means an instant death at least being hanged outside Newgate and being given some drop was a considerable improvement over executions at Tyburn with the long and uncomfortable ride to the gallows where prisoners died a much slower death as they got virtually no drop.

* The other two were Frances Warren and Mary Moody.

** William Garrow was a wet-behind-the-ears barrister at this moment having been called to the bar just the year prior, but he went on to a career as one of the age’s great Whig jurists and (thanks to his unusually energetic advocacy for his clientele) a key figure in the development of the adversarial trial model. He’s notable for coining — in 1791, in a case that he lost — the phrase and then-novel doctrine “presumed innocent until proven guilty”. He’s the subject of the 2009-2011 BBC series Garrow’s Law. -ed.

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1789: Ford, unfortunate wretch

1 comment August 4th, 2019 Headsman

This story hails from Dublin by way of the New York Daily Gazette, Oct. 31 1789:

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1780: Dennis Carragan, John Hill, and Marmaduke Grant, robbers

Add comment May 6th, 2019 Headsman


From the Pennsylvania Packet, May 23, 1780.

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1780: Elizabeth Butchill, Trinity College Cambridge bedding-girl

2 comments March 17th, 2019 Headsman

A Cambridge University servant was hanged on this date in 1780 for infanticide.

Elizabeth Butchill made her way turning down the beds for the boys attending Trinity College, work she had secured via her aunt who held the same position. She somehow got pregnant, an event which does not appear to have inordinately exercised her eventual judges perhaps by virtue of its very obviousness; as Frank McLynn wryly observes, “It does not need the imagination of a novelist to reconstruct the events that led her to the gallows.”

She was surely desperate to avoid social opprobrium and unemployment, so we find from the Newgate Calendar that “she confessed that she was delivered of a female child on Thursday morning [January 6, 1780], about half past six o’clock, by herself; that the child cried some little time after its birth; and that, in about twenty minutes after, she herself threw the said infant down one of the holes of the necessary into the river, and buried the placenta, &c. in the dunghill near the house.”

“Modest, patient, and penitent” during her confinement awaiting the noose, Butchill died

firm, resigned, and exemplary. She joined with the minister in prayer, and sung the lamentation of a sinner with marks of a sincere penitent, declaring she had made her peace with God, and was reconciled to her fate. Desiring her example might be a warning to all thoughtless young women, and calling on Jesus Christ for mercy, she was launched into eternity amidst thousands of commiserating spectators, who, though they abhorred the crime, shed tears of pity for the unhappy criminal.

Whether the nameless infant’s nameless father shared those tears is a matter for the novelist’s imagination.

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Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!