ancestryink fisherman

Friday, April 17, 2015

Guilty! And Sentenced to Hand Burning

This week marks a somber anniversary - that of the Marathon Bombing.  As we approach the second Boston marathon since the bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev awaits sentencing:  life in prison or - death.

Two choices: prison or death.  It has me wondering what manner of sentences were meted out around the 1600's-1700's.  Researching one of my own previous blog postings about Harvard University's collection of crime broadsides (to find this post, use my search box on right), led me to this wonderful source:

From the website of "The Proceedings of the Old Bailey"

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913 

*A collaboration between the Universities of Hertfordshire and Sheffield and the Open University, this project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Big Lottery Fund.

This intriguing and valuable online database publishes criminal proceedings between 1674 and 1913, at London's central criminal court.  There is a wealth of historical information on this site, and grateful acknowledgement must be given for the creation of this archive.  (To read more about the project, please visit the website directly.)

The home page features a search box for the investigation of crimes and their sentences.  Insert a few keywords, and you can view the original court document listing the crimes, the peoples involved, witnesses, and ...the punishment.

One of the most heinous crimes in this time period was the theft of a horse.  I typed "Theft of horse" into the search window and received a list of results.  This one held no mercy for one man:

On October 14, 1674:  "One was Indicted, together with a Youth, for Stealing of a Horse, the Man was found Guilty, and received Sentence of Death, the Boy Acquitted.

The stealing of silver ale cups from local taverns appeared to be a common crime, also.  One scurrilous group of no-good-doers received their sentences.  For the stealing of silver cups?  Burnt hands.  For the stealing of the horse?  Death!

October 10, 1677:  In all, seven persons (women included) burnt in the hand for their crimes.  One was ordered to be whipped for stealing, and ultimately five ne-er do-wells sentenced to death:  two "highway-men" (apparently those who robbed travelers), two Horse-stealers, and one thief.

Burning of the hands was a common punishment for first time or lesser crimes.  Kind of a gateway punishment for execution, however.  It seems many repeat offenders are recorded to have previously been "burnt or branded" in the hand, thus propelling them quickly to their final punishment: death.

May 16 1678:   Ten people sentenced to Death.

"There were in all Ten persons that received Sentence of Death, viz. Seven men, one for Murder, three notorious High-way men for several Robberies, two upon five several Indictments for Horse-stealing, a young man for a Felony, having been before burnt in the hand since Christmas last; and Three women, one for robbing her Master of goods to a great value, the other two ( whereof one was an old notorious offender) for several Felonies committed under presence of taking Lodgings, thereby having ruined divers honest poor people."

One longs for the punishment of being burnt in the hand or whipped, when execution was carried out by "being burned to ashes" or "hanging in chains".

On October 24, 1679 a grand total of 13 people were sentenced to death for crimes ranging from robbery and horse-stealing to treason.  A Mr. Ordinary met with each and every prisoner, to examine their souls before being transported to the here-after.  He lamented their flaws of consciene in the following way:

"He found them generally lamentably ignorant of the Principles of Religion, as if they had been born in Africk, and bred up amongst the Savages of America, rather than in England, that Goshen of Gospel-Light. But he endeavoured with his utmost pains, both to inform their Understandings of the mysteries of Salvation, and perswade their stubborn Wills to submit to the Yoak of Christ, and accept of him upon his own Evangelical Terms.

Apparently being born in Africa, or brought up with savages in America was as far a fall from grace as humanly possible!  The roots of religious bias and intolerance run very deep, and in many different directions.

105 Catholics Executed at Tyburn Gallows

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