At the time of the Lizzie Borden case it was speculated that a jury would not convict because of the abysmal result of the last female hanged for murder – one Bathsheba Spooner. But Spooner was N0T the last female executed in Massachusetts prior to the Borden case.
While much is often made of Bathesheba Spooner, who was executed in 1778, as being the last female to have been executed in the State of Massachusetts prior to the Lizzie Borden case, the below list tells us something quite different. In fact, it shows the last two women executed by hanging were in 1789, both in Suffolk County, MA., and a mere 104 years before Lizzie was charged and tried for the murders of her father and stepmother.
Those not familiar with the Bathsheba Spooner case, here is a recap:
“In March 1778, Joshua Spooner, a wealthy gentleman farmer in Brookfield, was beaten to death and his body stuffed down a well. Four people were hanged for the crime: two British soldiers, a young Continental soldier, and Spooner’s wife, Bathsheba, who was charged with instigating the murder. She was thirty-two years old and five months pregnant when executed. Newspapers described the case as “the most extraordinary crime ever perpetrated in New England.”Bathsheba was the mother of three young children and in her own words felt “an utter aversion” for her husband, who was known to be an abusive drunk.
A year before the murder, she took in and nursed a sixteen-year-old Continental soldier who was returning from a year’s enlistment under George Washington. The two became lovers and conceived a child.
Divorces were all but impossible for women at that time and adulteresses were stripped to the waist and publicly whipped. Bathsheba’s pregnancy occasioned a series of desperate plots to murder her husband, finally brought to fruition with the aid of two British deserters from General Burgoyne’s defeated army.”
As the daughter of the state’s most prominent and despised Loyalist, Bathsheba bore the brunt of the political, cultural, and gender prejudices of her day. When she sought a stay of execution to deliver her baby, the Massachusetts Council rejected her petition, and she was promptly hanged before a crowd of 5,000 spectators.” –Murdered by His Wife, Deborah Navas, University of Mass. Press, 1999.
For additional information, see also Laura James True Crime Blog entry.
But in going over the list, I was struck by the name “Hannah Piggen”. (Some things you just can’t make up.) In 1785, Hannah Piggen, unknown age (#120 on list here) was executed in Middleton, MA. While little can be found about her, she has the distinction of being the last female to be executed for concealing birth. Not suprisingly, this “crime” was gender specific, i.e., any “concealment” by the biological father was not an issue. Had the unfortunate Hannah lived today she could have dropped the baby off at the nearest fire station and skulked away in the dark of night, to name but one option.
Also of interest to me was the other “Hannah” behind Ms. Piggen. This girl (nay, child) was a Native American girl, #121 on the list, and was only 12 years old. She was hanged for murder. Wonder who she murdered? Someone who raped her?
THE LAST WOMAN TO BE EXECUTED BY HANGING IN THE STATE OF MASS. PRIOR TO THE LIZZIE BORDEN CASE WAS NOT BATHSHEBA SPOONER – IT WAS RACHEL WALL. RACHEL WAS A NOTORIOUS WOMAN PIRATE AND CAN BE READ ABOUT HERE. SHE IS NO 127 ON THAT SAME LIST ABOVE.
I think we can put to rest the notion that Bathsheba Spooner was the last female to be put to death by hanging in the State of Mass. prior to the Lizzie Borden case, as is so frequently mentioned in books about Lizzie.