Monica M. Jones
Dr. James Rosenheim
30 Apr 2013
The Last Dying Words
Executions in 18th century Britain are a subject of merit for study as an insight into the lives of people of during that time. In the spirit of that aim, one could focus upon the final accounts of the condemned just before or on the day of their executions. Executions were a main attraction to the local townspeople during this period. There were several reasons for the popularity of executions – one being that many people viewed criminals as heroic and their exploits were publicized. There were also several methods of execution at that time, the most popular being public hanging. Regardless of the type of execution, we found from several personal accounts that as individuals were faced with execution, all asked for forgiveness for their sins. These accounts are noteworthy for the fact that they are first-hand from individuals who were at the center of public spectacle and were looking death in the face. In order to preface the accounts, special attention must be paid to the above-mentioned spectacle in process of the executions. These were not speedy trials, so those who were accused of a crime often languished in prison awaiting their trial and ultimately, their fate. This gave them time to reflect on their upcoming punishment or execution. If they were sentenced to death, not only were these individuals going to be executed, but they were also forced to contribute to the spectacle of their death. For example, criminals “were driven from the prison to their deaths sitting with their coffins” (Executions 1). Such a thing would be considered by most as a further insult to injury. In particular the last words of nine different individuals will be examined in the paragraphs below. In order to properly convey these accounts in a historical context we will discuss the individuals in chronological order beginning with the year 1708 and ending with the year 1793, illustrating how the church-influenced government coerced these alleged criminals into confessions of guilt and sin. As noted above, we begin in the year 1708 with the background of the first of three individuals who were executed in this year, at the same date and time. John Barnes was a 50-year-old man who was born in Ipswich, part of the county town of Suffolk. Beginning at the ripe age of 12, Barnes took to the sea for employment, which he continued to do until he was accused of murder and was arrested. John Barnes was given a short leave from his employment and upon departing the vessel he immediately met with a friend and began drinking heavily at a pub. Upon leaving the pub, Barnes stays the night at the inn of the Widow Edgebrooke. The next day Barnes, the Widow Edgebrooke, and a mutual friend, Mrs. Vineyard, returned to the café and began drinking again. The following morning Widow Edgebrooke was found dead - her throat had been cut. Barnes also had a wound upon his throat, however, his wound was not life threatening. A few days later Barnes was committed to Newgate Prison in London where he remained until his trial on October 15, 1708, all the while proclaiming his innocence. Barnes was indicted for the murder of Ann Edgebrooke “by giving her one mortal Wound on the Throat with a Knife, on the 9th of September last” (Barnes 5). Barnes was guilty and sentenced to death. Now we move on to the second of the three individuals who were executed in this year, at the same date and time. Aggitha Ashbrook was a 28-year-old widow who worked as a button-maker for employment and lived in Water-Lane in Black-Fryars. Her husband was employed at sea when she became pregnant, thus making it impossible for him to be the father. According to the report we know that the husband passed away, however it is unclear as to how. Ashbrook eventually gave birth to a little girl whom she strangled and then hid the body in a trunk. Ashbrook was immediately taken to Newgate where “She was...
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