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Lynchings & Hangings of
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Hanging one scoundrel, it appears,
does not deter the next. Well, what of it?
The first one is at least disposed of.
-- H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
hanging was the most popular legal and extralegal form of putting
criminals to death in the United States from its beginning. Brought
over to the states from our English ancestors, the method actually
originated in Persia (now Iran) about 2,500 years ago. Hanging
soon became the method of choice for most countries, as it produced a
highly visible deterrent by a simple method. It also made a good
public spectacle, considered important during those times, as viewers
looked above them to the gallows or tree to watch the punishment. Legal
hangings, practiced by the early American colonists, were readily accepted by the
public as a proper form of punishment for serious crimes like theft, rape,
and murder. It was also readily practiced for activities that are
not considered crimes at all today, such as witchcraft, sodomy and
concealing a birth.
most hangings were carried
out by the sheriff or legal entity of the town or county where the death
sentence had been passed. Prisoner's deaths were usually painful as
most executioners were not proficient enough to know how to calculate the
correct "drop" of the hangman's noose to ensure breaking the neck, thus
the victim usually died by strangulation. The use of gallows with a
trap door did not become common practice until the 1870s. Prior to
that, most were hanged from the branch of a tree, being turned off the back of a cart,
or from a horse.
began in U.S. pretty much at the same time that settlements began to be
formed in the "New World." One of the first was a man by the name of
John Billington who arrived with the original band of pilgrims at Plymouth
Rock on the Mayflower in 1620. Allegedly, Billington was prone to
blasphemous language, and during the journey over the ocean, the ship's
captain, Miles Standish, had Billington's feet and neck tied together as
an example of a sin-struck man possessed of a Devil's tongue. But,
that's not what got him hanged,
rather, it was but an unpleasant experience for the blasphemer. However, ten years later, Billington became the prime suspect in the
murder of another settler by the name of John Newcomen. Soon, the man was
summarily hanged by an angry mob of pilgrims in 1630.
earliest recorded female
America was that of Jane Champion in 1632 in Virginia for an unknown
offense. Up until the late 1640s
of men during these early pilgrim times were usually caused by sexual
offenses such as sodomy or bestiality; and women were most often hanged
for concealing a birth. However, this all began to change in 1647 when
many began to be hung for practicing witchcraft.
Guilty of "flapping his hands and arms" and "behaving in a peculiar
manner," Thomas Hellier, a 14-year-old white boy, became a suspect in a
rash of thefts and was sentenced to a life of bondage on a Virginia
plantation. Never agreeable to his servile status, Hellier was sold
several years later to a harsh taskmaster named Cutbeard Williamson. After
Williamson, Williamson's wife, and a maid were murdered with an axe while
they slept one night, Hellier was assumed to be the murderer and hanged by
a mob on August 5, 1678. His body was lashed with chains to a tall tree
overlooking the James River where it remained for several years until it
Culminating in 1692, both men and women were
after the notorious witchcraft trials in Salem, Massechusettes. One
of these notorious cases was that of four-year-old Dorcas Goode who was
convicted of witchcraft and sent to prison in 1692. She was the
daughter of Sarah Goode, who was one of the first three people accused of
witchcraft. Little Dorcas was taken to prison with her mother, and at one
point she confessed to practicing witchcraft. It's pretty certain
that her mother told her to do that in an effort to save her life. As it
turned out, Sarah Goode was hanged
on July 19, 1692 and her little daughter stayed in prison for several more
months. When she was finally released she had lost her mind. Later her
father petitioned the authorities for help in taking care of her.
It was during the
that the term lynch law originated with Colonel Charles Lynch, a
Virginia planter and his associates, who began to make their own
rules for confronting the British Tories, loyalists to England, and other
This type of rough justice was also used
regularly by whites against their African American slaves. Those
white men who protested were often in danger of being
themselves. One such man was Elijah Lovejoy, editor of the Alton [Illinois] Observer,
who was shot by a white mob after publishing articles criticizing
and advocating the abolition of slavery.
After the revolution,
the most common hangings of white men
were due to war related crimes such as spying espionage, treason or
desertion. Blacks were summarily hanged, at
the will of their owners, most often for the "official" reason of revolt. However, it could have been for any cause whatsoever and merely "labeled"
as such. Whites who sympathized with the slaves, were also often hanged.
The hanging of
Bridget Bishop, one of the
13 "witches" hanged in 1692.
It was also during
this time that
vigilantism arose in the absence of formal criminal justice systems. Most often called
vigilance committees, these groups got
together to blacklist, harass, banish, "tar and feather," flog, mutilate,
torture, or kill people who were perceived as threats to their communities
or families. By the late 1700s, these committees became known as
lynch mobs because almost all the time, the punishment handed out was
a summary execution by
In the first part of the 19th century,
opponents of slavery, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, gamblers and other
“desperadoes” in the South and the
were the most common targets of those who were not of African American
descent. Meanwhile, hangings, burnings, and whippings continued to
kill slaves with common regularity.
The state of
Montana holds the record for the bloodiest
vigilante movement from 1863 to 1865 when hundreds of suspected horse
thieves were rounded up and killed in massive mob action. Texas,
California, and the Deep South, especially the
city of New Orleans, were hotbeds of
vigilante activity in American history.
found an easy acceptance as the nation expanded west to the frontier,
where raw conditions encouraged swift
punishment for real or imagined criminal behavior.
consisting of anywhere from several dozen to several hundred men, formed
quickly who summarily made decision to execute in order to repress crime. Even where official law enforcement did exist, prisoners were sometimes
dragged from jail by a lynch mob and executed.
of the first recorded
of a woman was during 1849, when miners pioneered the boomtowns of
where gambling, drinking, violence and
vigilante justice was common. One woman, known as "Pretty
Juanita," was convicted of murder after stabbing a man who had tried to
rape her. Before she was hung, she gave a laugh and a salute as the
rope pulled tight around her neck. She was first person hanged
California mining camps.
On June 2, 1850 five Cayuse
City for the Whitman massacre. All five had turned themselves in to spare
their people from persecution. Before the execution, on ef the
condemded by the name of Tiloukait said: "Did not your missionaries
teach us that Christ died to save his people? So we die to save our
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Lynchings, Hangings & Vigilante Groups - By
Owner/Editor of Legends of America
- Execution by hanging was the most
popular legal and extralegal form of putting criminals to death in the
United States from its beginning. Brought over to the states from our
English ancestors, hanging soon became the method of choice for most
countries, as it produced a highly visible deterrent by a simple method.
It also made a good public spectacle, considered important during those
times, as viewers looked above them to the gallows or tree to watch the
punishment. Legal hangings, practiced by the early American colonists,
were readily accepted by the public as a proper form of punishment for
serious crimes like theft, rape, and murder. It was also readily practiced
for activities that are not considered crimes at all today, such as
witchcraft, sodomy and concealing a birth.
Autographed. 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.2 inches, paperback -- 78 pages. Published by
Roundabout Publications, 1st edition, January 2014.
Made in the USA.