1736: Both John Vernham and Joshua Harding survive a hanging

Add comment September 3rd, 2010 Headsman

Bristol, September 4.

Yesterday at 12 o’Clock, Vernham and Harding, were carry’d from Newgate to the Place of Execution on St. Michael’s hill, attended by the Under-Sheriff, and his Officers, and the Constables of the City, (in a Cart, with Halters about their Necks;) the Divine who attended them, having finish’d his last Office, the Cart drew away: But to the Surprize of every one, after hanging the usual Time, and being cut down, Vernham was perceived to have Life in him, when put into the Coffin; and some Lightermen and others, who promis’d to save his Body from the Surgeons, carried him away to a House; and a Surgeon being sent for, immediately open’d a Vein, which to recovered his Senses, that he had the Use of Speech, far up, robb’d his knees, shook Hands with divers persons that he knew, and to all seeming Appearance, a perfect Recovery was expected.


Appropriately metaphorical image of a gateway on St. Michael’s Hill in Bristol, (cc) Daniele Sartori.

The Rumour of this, soon came to the Under-Sherif’s Ears, who, with Mr. Legg, and several Officers armed, went to know the Truth, and finding it certain, were about to remove him to a proper Place, in order to have him again under their Care for a second Execution,and finishing the Law; which we hear would have been done in a private Manner, without any Ceremony: But whether any secret Method was used to dispatch him, or not, he died about Eleven o’ Clock, in great Agony of Pain, his Bowels being very much convls’d, as appeared by his rolling from one Side to the other, and often on his Belly.

{He was bout 20 Years of Age; while [under] Sentence of Death he behaved very penitent, laying the whole of his Misfortune upon a fatal Companion,* particularly as to the breaking open Mrs. Atherton’s House. Harding behaved very unconcerned, charging his Wife with being the chief Inset to his Misfortunes, and even curs’d her just before he received the Sacrament that Morning.}

And to our second Surprize, Joshua Harding is also come to Life again, and is actually now in Bride-well, where great Numbers of People resort to see him, Particularly Surgeons, curious of Observations. He lies in his Coffin, covered with a Rug, has Pulsation, breathes freely, and has a regular Look with his Eyes; but he has not been heard to speak, only motions with his Hand where his Pain lies. ‘Twas thought he would be executed a second Time {to the finishing his unhappy Fate by a private Execution, at the same Tree he was cut down from}; but we are now told, he is to be provided for in some convenient House of Charity, with Restraint, he being to all Appearance defective in his Intellects. Two such Resurrections happening at one Instant in the World, was never heard of in the Memory of man.**

The Virginia Gazette, Dec. 24, 1736. {Curly-braces portions from an otherwise largely identical report in The South Carolina Gazette, Jan. 15, 1737.}

Coverage from The Daily Gazetteer is available here. The London Magazine adds the detail that all those curiosity-seekers visiting Harding “give him Money” and “are very inquisitive whether he remembers the Manner of his Execution: to which he says, he only can remember his being at the Gallows, and knows nothing of Vernham’s being with him.”

* This Annals of Bristol says that Vernham nearly refused to plead until the prospect of judicial pressing caused him to chicken out. (And ironically, to the extent it forwarded his execution date to this evidently felicitous occasion, almost saved his life.)

** Two hanged men reviving at once is remarkable indeed, but it was not so strange at this time for individual prisoners to survive their executions.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,England,Execution,Executions Survived,Hanged,History,Not Executed,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft

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1918: Fanya Kaplan, Lenin’s would-be assassin

5 comments September 3rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1918, a 28-year-old Jewish revolutionary was shot in Moscow for attempting to murder Vladimir Lenin.

Fanya (“Fanny”) Kaplan had actually drawn a life sentence for trying the same trick on a tsarist official 12 years before, so you couldn’t say she was a reactionary element.

No, she was a member of the peasant-based Socialist Revolutionary Party, the SRs — the Bolsheviks’ onetime coalition partners who had splintered into left and right factions, the latter being shut out of power when the Constituent Assembly was closed.

A peasant herself, Kaplan was incensed at the Bolshevik power grab and shot Lenin twice at close range as he left a factory on August 30.

Taken immediately, Kaplan clammed up in interrogation.

My name is Fanya Kaplan. Today I shot at Lenin. I did it on my own. I will not say whom I obtained my revolver. I will give no details. I had resolved to kill Lenin long ago. I consider him a traitor to the Revolution. I was exiled to Akatoi for participating in an assassination attempt against a Tsarist official in Kiev. I spent eleven years at hard labour. After the Revolution I was freed. I favoured the Constituent Assembly and am still for it.

Realizing there was no information to be had from her, the Cheka had her executed four days after her crime — an affair organized by Yakov Sverdlov, the same guy who had recently disposed of the tsar.

On the same day Kaplan took her shots at Lenin, Bolshevik Moisei Uritsky was (successfully) assassinated. The two murders helped justify the Red Terror officially initiated on September 2 — which saw thousands of politically-motivated arrests and executions as the Bolsheviks consolidated their hold on power.


YouTube hosts a great many dreadful student dramatizations of historical events, but this one of Fanya Kaplan by Georgia Tech students is remarkably watchable.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Jews,Notable for their Victims,Revolutionaries,Russia,Shot,USSR,Women

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2003: Paul Hill, anti-abortion martyr

25 comments September 3rd, 2008 Headsman

Five years ago today, minister Paul Hill was put to death by lethal injection for murdering an abortion provider and a clinic escort nine years before.

Hill rose to prominence in the early 1990’s as a fire-eating abortion foe, who openly preached the righteousness of defending unborn life by force — a divisive position among anti-abortion activists that got him excommunicated from the Presbyterian church.

On July 29, 1994, in the abortion conflict’s ground-zero of Pensacola, Fla., Hill put his theology into action by gunning down Dr. John Britton and his septuagenarian escort, along with Britton’s wife (who survived the shooting).

Creepy. It sure looks like the song and image pairings were done in earnest, not in irony.

He never betrayed the least scruple about his act, hoping only to use his trial to present a “justifiable homicide” defense; the judge’s suppression of this line was and remains a grievance of Hill’s fellow-travelers against the judiciary.

Nor did Hill betray the least concern to die for his beliefs; if anything, in dropping appeals that would at the least have prolonged his life, he cut a figure thirsty for the martyrdom he attained this day.

To what end?

Hill left a plentiful documentary record — like this manifesto, among the pro-Hill documents collected on the Army of God website:

I knew that [killing an abortion provider] would uphold the truths of the gospel at the precise point of Satan’s current attack (the abortionist’s knife). While most Christians firmly profess the duty to defend born children with force (which is not yet being disputed by the government) most of these professors have neglected the duty to similarly defend the unborn. They are steady all along the battleline except at the point where the enemy has broken through. I was certain that if I took my stand at this point, others would join with me, and the Lord would eventually bring about a great victory.

One can question whether this proved to be the case or not. The infamy (in most circles) of the killing arguably dampened enthusiasm for the cause, at least as measured by the sulfur level on clinic sidewalks. At the same time, Hill’s was only the most spectacular instance of a campaign to terrorize abortion providers that drove many out of business and made some areas of the country virtual abortion-free zones.

Whatever may have surprised him about the way the issue played out over the 1990’s, he was serene about his choices when interviewed the day before his execution.

To some in the movement, he’s a holy martyr, the John Brown of slavery’s modern-day parallel.

And even if Paul Hill’s name is taboo in the respectable public discourse of abortion today, with four relatively young rock-ribbed anti-Roe v. Wade votes now entrenched at the Supreme Court, it’s far from obvious that Hill won’t get what he was after all along … even if he didn’t live to see it.

Part of the Themed Set: Judging Abortion.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Florida,God,History,Infamous,Lethal Injection,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Popular Culture,Religious Figures,Ripped from the Headlines,Terrorists,USA

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