Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The First Execution by Electrocution

     I am distracted by articles completely unrelated to my research subject when I am poking through old newspapers, like the headline in the August 14, 1890 Barrie Examiner which caught my eye "Execution by Electricity". It would appear as though the first execution by these means was not a success, the editor declines to describe the details of what went wrong but simply states they are sickening and harrowing. Even the inventor of the process, who had gone through a competitive bidding war against George Westinghouse to obtain the contract, Thomas Edison agreed that the work was 'sadly' blundered. One can only imagine how awful it was.
     The editor of the Medical Record of New York and eyewitness to the execution, Dr. Shrady is quoted as saying if this system was generally adopted with the same problems, the public would soon demand an end to capital punishment. Westinghouse was later widely quoted as saying "It could have been done better with an ax."
      The unfortunate, who was dispatched in such a disgusting fashion, was William Kemmler from Buffalo, New York. He was convicted of murdering his girlfriend Mrs. Tillie Ziegler. They were both married to others but had abandoned these relationships and were living together. Kemmler had a jealous disposition and beat Tillie to death in a drunken rage.
      The Aberdeen Evening Express had no qualms about giving greater details on the execution. Kemmler had to be strapped in, a long and fiddly process but he managed to remain calm. The first blast of current failed to kill him and, as he was appearing to recover consciousness, the 'dynamo' had to be restarted. On the second try, the prisoner began to drool, convulse and moan and the electricity remained on for 73 seconds or four and a half minutes (depending on which account you read) of awful, while a vapour emerged from the top of the head and the room filled with a stench of burning flesh.
     The botched execution of Eduard Delacroix scene in The Green Mile film is very close to how this execution ran. Newspapers widely predicted that this form of execution would be swiftly abandoned. They were wrong.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ravens and Ash

It has been a while since I translated a story from the Gesta Romanorum or The Deeds of the Romans.
Here is story #110 About Ash and Ravens:

     "The philosopher reads in a book about animals that if one wishes to make it so that a raven, after it has built a nest in a tree, is never able to hatch chicks from its eggs, one should place ashes of glass (?) among the trees and, while those ashes are there, the raven will not produce chicks."

One would think shards of broken glass might I don't know that ashes of burnt glass would unsettle a nesting bird.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ned Myers and the Sinking of the Scourge

     Ned Myers was born in Quebec in c.1793, the son of a British soldier. He had no recollections of his mother and little memory of his father. When the father was sent to serve in Halifax, Ned and his sister went along. There they were abandoned. Myers did not know what became of his father except that he was re-assigned to another location and left without taking his children with him. It was assumed he had died in a battle somewhere, leaving the two children alone and without any family to care for them. They had been left with a clergyman, who continued to care for them after it seemed the father was not going to return. At the age of eleven, Myers got the urge to go to sea and ran away, without telling anyone, to join an American merchant vessel.
     James Fenimore Cooper met Myers in 1806 when Cooper had just graduated from Yale and went to sea on the same ship. It was in the middle of the Napoleonic wars, about a year after the famous Battle of Trafalgar. Ned described how ship was searched by the British looking for deserters from their navy and, when war broke out between the U.S. and Britain, Ned fought on the side of the U.S.. He joined Chauncey's fleet on Lake Ontario and gives a fascinating perspective of life on the other side. He took part in the attack on York in April 1813 and witnessed the explosion that took the life of  General Pike and the subsequent looting of the town.
      In May that same year, Ned took part in the successful attack on Fort George and in August was still in the Niagara area when Sir James Yeo showed up with the British fleet. Myers was on the ill fated U.S.S. Scourge which went down in a storm on August 8 along with the U.S.S. Hamilton. He was picked up by the crew of the Julia but there were few other survivors from his ship. In a case of 'out of the frying pan and into the fire', the Julia and the Growler were captured by the British. As the British were boarding the vessel, the enlisted men found two barrels of whiskey and were sampling the contents. The sailors from the Julia joined in the orgy of drinking that ended only when the British officers stepped below and kicked the barrels over. Myers was taken on board the Royal George and sent to York. From there, he was interrogated and sent to Halifax, from where he managed to escape and return to the U.S. His story shows how uncertain the loyalties of the ordinary citizens were at the time and why General Brock didn't and couldn't trust the local militias.
        After the war, Myers remained a sailor and looked up his old friend Fenimore Cooper, who decided to publish Ned's memoirs in 1843. Going by memory, Ned probably errs in many of the facts but one rarely gets the opportunity to see the life of the unlettered, poor sailors in these conflicts and it is a valuable account nevertheless for anyone interested in the War of 1812 history.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Postage Stamp Commemorating Captain Worsley's Deeds on Lake Huron

     I visited the Nancy Island Museum this summer. It is the 200th anniversary of the burning of the HMS Nancy in the Nottawasaga River. I did not go for any of the historical re-enactments because the truth is stretched far too much in those re-enactments to make me happy. It is rather like trying to get me to say the Lord of the Rings trilogy on film is a great adaptation of the novels. I think my head might explode.
    It seemed to me that the museum displays could use a little updating and fact checking but most annoying of all is this stamp that is only available at Nancy Island, depicting Miller Worsley, the Commander of the Nancy.
There are other things I find objectionable about the image but worst of all and least excusable is the grey hair. Worsley was 23 years old when he took command of the Nancy. He died at the rather young age of 43. It is doubtful that he ever looked this old. The vigorous young man who rowed across Lake Huron with supplies and who lead a daring attack on two American warships in those same rowboats is not this guy. He looks like he is some crazy old guy scaring teenagers off his front lawn. Grrrrr, indeed.
      At 23, Worsley was an 11 year veteran of the Napoleonic Wars. He was a veteran of the Battle of Trafalgar at the age of 14. He was credited with having genial manners and self discipline and I have never pictured him as this snarling old fart. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Eat this! Mmmmmmmm!

     The February 6, 1832 Hampshire Telegraph was reporting on a duel between two lawyers over a case that had recently been tried in London. It was interesting but just below it was an even more interesting story.
    At the Queen Square Police station, a case had been heard about a dispute of wages between a master butcher and his journeyman. Part of the evidence heard was that the two had dressed an old cow that had died of udder disease and sold it to a sausage maker in Cow Cross. The journeyman also told the court that he had been hired to dig up some pigs which had died of disease and had been buried. They dressed those pigs and sold them to the same sausage maker.
     This is why we have and need government meat inspectors and they are worth every penny.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Sailor and the Princess

      One finds the most extraordinary stories in old newspapers. I spotted an article in the August 4, 1834 Hampshire Telegraph about the captain of an American whaling ship the Erie who had married a princess. The captain was from Newport on the Isle of Wight, hence the interest from the Telegraph, but they seem to have gotten the name of the kingdom wrong. They identified her as being from Hawaii which they spelled 'Gwyhee'.
     Always looking for confirmation of extraordinary stories, I went searching for other sources to confirm this event. When distance is involved, newspapers are not reliable. I found a French book on curiosities called Le Livre des Singularit├ęs by G.P Philomneste, published in 1841 . He too found the story interesting enough to relate on page 43. Philomneste stated that Captain Charles Spooner of the Erie married Kingatara-Oruruth, the daughter of a chief in Tahiti,  in 1834. There were some racist and snide comments about the bride's tribal markings. The bride, who was a skilled swimmer, celebrated the marriage with a demonstration of her skills for the guests. He ended the story by commenting he did not know how the marriage worked out since the maritime annals were silent on the subject.
     On page 150, Whaling by Charles Boardman Hawes, published in 1924, also describes the marriage. Hawes stated that the wedding took place in 1843 but this was a typo since news of the marriage clearly appears in the Telegraph in 1834. He states that the marriage took place at Otahete in the Society Islands, which Tahiti was a part of. He repeated the humorous and racist comments the editor of the Philadelphia newspaper saw fit to print adding that the princess was 16 years of age and a giant at 6'6" in height. Nobody masticates sugar cane. Using that term applied to a human is clearly making her less evolved. The article goes on to say that the Erie left its captain in New Zealand and took on a new commander Captain A.W. Dennis but the fate of Spooner and his bride were unknown.
      A more recently published book(1976): Islands and Empires: Western Impact on the Pacific and East Asia by Ernest Stanley Dodge also described the marriage. I do not have a copy of the book so I cannot read what Dodge had to say about it but the Telegraph did have something to say about the fate of the marriage. Two weeks after the marriage had been reported in the Telegraph, there had been an update. Miss Cingatara Oruruth had gone into the water to amuse her husband with an exhibition of her extraordinary feats of swimming when she was attacked by a large shark. The unfortunate princess was cut in two by the shark that had seized her in its jaws. The story was a reprint from the Bristol Gazette so it is difficult to say if in fact the poor girl died but surely, if there had been a Captain Spooner, he would have returned to England or whaling upon her death and there would have been some kind of confirmation that the story was true. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Circus Comes to Town (1891)

Found this ad in the Orillia Packet. It must have been quite a show - a $30,000 parade for such a small town financed by a 50 cent ticket. The biblical spectacle must be a pious way of featuring dancing girls since it includes the Queen of Sheba and - a Roman Hippodrome and three monster menageries!!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Canadians! Look Out For the Man-Stealers.

    This was one of the headlines in the September 24, 1847 Barrie Magnet newspaper under a column called Colonial Items. Also in bold letters was the phrase 'IMPORTANT SLAVE CASE'. The article relates to an escaped slave case that began with a slave by the name of Brown who had been murdered by his owner Mr. Somerville of Maryland. Mr. Somerville was later also the victim of murder and the brother of the killed slave was accused and tried for the offence. Astonishingly he was acquitted but Somerville's family sold the brother into what was described in the Magnet as the "desolating bondage of the South". He then escaped and reached Philadelphia, where he expected to live in some safety. He also had a wife and seven children in Maryland that he was anxious to free as well and had assumed the name of Russell. Somerville's family learned of his whereabouts and sent men from New Orleans to claim that Brown was a murderer. "This is a favorite and hackney mode of seizing a victim" Two men showed up in Philadelphia at a magistrate's office and had the man put in prison but the Abolitionists succeeded in having him released as the warrant was improperly done.
     After such a narrow escape,  the man made his way to Canada accompanied by Rev. Young from New York.  They laid a case before Lord Elgin claiming the protection of the British crown, which the Governor General agreed to. On the next day, the two bounty hunters arrived in Montreal demanding Brown's surrender. They were turned away but the writer carried on saying "some magistrate, from ignorance of the facts, may possibly give him up on a charge of murder, although this is not likely. However to prevent it, we have to request our contemporaries, as an act of justice and mercy, to hand around this not of warning. Let it never be said that there is a single magistrate in the length and bread of British North America so ignorant, or so indifferent as to surrender a fellow man into the hands of the relentless slave holder - Globe"
     For good measure, the Magnet's editor added, "We have always been decidedly opposed to Lynch-law, and should deem it a very hard case if the above mentioned 'free and unlightened' citizens, during their 'n***** hunt' should happen to get unmercifully tar'd and feathered!" It is awkwardly worded but the editor is clearly outraged on behalf of the fugitive and his treatment.
     If only this had been the last time an American bounty hunter forgot that Canada is politically and legally separate from the U.S. and one cannot just come here and grab fugitives.
    Curious if there is any information on the escapee, I am delighted to find an article from the Maryland archives that the fugitive was named Isaac Brown and he escaped to Canada with his family.
Full article here: and there is more information included in this book: Fugitive Slaves and American Courts: The Pamphlet Literature, edited by Paul Finkelman. There are a large number of webpages devoted to the case which must have been very important in 1847. As well, a Canadian, researching his own family history with an ancestor also named Isaac Brown, wrote a book about the case and Brown's history. The book is called One More River to Cross by Bryan Prince. In it, he states that Brown kept his alias of Samuel Russell in Canada and eventually settled in Chatham, Ontario where he died. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

1956 News from the Elmvale Lance

     Spring makes people want to clean up their houses, garages, basements and sheds but what to do with all that garbage? As I drive around the countryside, I see that for many people the solution is to drive to the nearest farm and pitch it into the ditch by the side of the road. People use all kinds of excuses for that behaviour, such as they resent having to purchase tags for additional garbage bags or that tipping fees are too high. In 1956 garbage disposal was not the problem it has become and landfills were new and not full to bursting.  In the April 26th Elmvale Lance, Dr. P.A. Scott from the Simcoe County Public Health was quoted as 'deploring the garbage that was thrown along roadsides'.  Some things never change.
     While we are looking at the Elmvale news, in May 1957, there was a prediction by Billy Graham that the end of the world was in sight. He was quoted as saying, "I have not only God's word for it that the end of the world is in sight but I also have the word of the scientists." He cited the arms' race as the reason why and expressed the certainty that the end of the world would take place during the lives of the generation that was being born. Lucky for him that he did not give a specific date and thereby avoided the embarrassment that has followed other unlucky predictors of the end of the world.
    In the August 13, 1957 edition a Toronto judge, Fred Bartron was quoted sniffing at the 'people who would not think of getting drunk and disorderly near their own homes but don't mind going to Wasaga Beach and drinking themselves into a disgraceful state'. He added "I can't understand why all the people from Toronto come to Wasaga Beach to drink and get drunk." Indeed.
     The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Martello Towers

    I discovered Martello Towers years ago on a trip to the east coast of Canada. We were heading for the Saint John to Digby ferry and arrived a little early in the evening with nothing to do. So I suggested we go and check out the Carleton Martello Tower. I saw a sign for it pointing up the hill and I was wondering what it was. Since it was evening the tower was closed, but I was able to come back another time and visit it when it was open.
    The concrete structure on the roof was added during WWII. It is ugly and should be removed. This Martello Tower was built to defend the Saint John Harbour during the War of 1812-1814. Construction began in 1813 and, since it took two years to build, it was not completed until the war was already over. It has been restored now and is operated as a historic site by Parks Canada. I have visited almost every Martello Tower in Canada that survives and this one has by far the best museum, great location and might be a contender for the most attractive tower if it did not sport that ugly top.
Link to the Parks Canada page for the Carlton Martello Tower here.
     The best looking tower is the Prince of Wales Tower in Halifax. Originally there were five towers built here in 1794 by Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, Victoria's father. He named them all after family members. This is the only remaining tower in Halifax. The Prince of Wales Tower suffers from a bit of neglect. You may visit the grounds at Point Pleasant Park. It appears from the Parks Canada website that there is a display on the first floor now. There was no entry on the time I visited it.  This tower has the distinction of being the only tower that was part of a fight. There was a famous duel fought on the grounds in front of the tower between Father of Confederation, Joseph Howe, and the son of Judge Haliburton (of Sam Slick fame), John C. Haliburton. Haliburton had taken offence to an article that Howe had published criticizing his father. Haliburton fired first and missed after which Howe fired his shot into the air and said "Let the creature live.". It would be lovely to see more done with this very cool tower.
You may look at the pages on the Prince of Wales Tower at Parks Canada here.
     The third tower that I am going to write about is Tower #1 in Quebec City. There were four towers built here and none were given a name. The tower was designed to be built quickly and, with a very small garrison, be able to keep up a very spirited defence in an attack by sea. So the first tower is placed correctly on the heights of the Plains of Abraham, overlooking the St. Lawrence. The other three were built inland in a line facing west, which is where the British command thought an American attack might come from. They were not completely wrong; the Americans did come at Montreal from the west and, had they succeeded, would have attempted to take Quebec City from that direction.
     Tower 1 is a museum to the War of 1812-1814 and is nicely done and worth a visit. Tower 2 is now a mystery dinner theatre. Tower 3 was destroyed to make a new wing for a hospital that is now gone. The Mckenzie Pavilion of the old Jeffrey Hale Hospital is there but I do not know what it is used for. Tower 4 still exists but is vacant and not restored or visitable.
As an aside, Google Maps has placed the opera on the site of the second tower. Street view will show that this is wrong. The fourth tower is smack dab in the middle of Rue Lavigueur around 171.
     The photo of Tower 1 below was taken by my father in the middle of the usual blustery Canadian winter. He lived in Quebec City for years and like many, did not know there was anything special about this tower. You might notice the cone shaped roof on it. This feature was peculiar to the Canadian towers only. They had a foldable roof which they put up in the winter to keep the weight of the snow from collapsing the tower. These would be removed in the summer so that the cannon on top could fire freely at anything approaching by sea. All three Quebec City towers and all six in Kingston, Ontario have this roof permanently placed on them.
Gives you the chills just looking at that snow. The link to this tower's page is run by the National Battlefields Commission.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Henry Scadding's House

     I always knew about Holy Trinity Church, an old church that survived the building of the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto by being incorporated into the plans. The centre went up and the church was preserved where it stood but it is close to the walls of the mall. The Toronto library has some amazing photos of the church including one that shows the little cluster of buildings and a huge pit where the mall foundations were going.
    It was on a trip to a washroom that I passed by the doors that lead to the church and I noticed a house right up against the walls of the centre. So, I took a closer look and noticed the name on the plaque: Henry Scadding's house. I knew he had been the author of Toronto of Old and the founder of the York Pioneers, plus his father's log cabin is preserved at the CNE grounds but I had no idea his house had been saved. I also did not realize that he was the first pastor assigned to Holy Trinity by Bishop Strachan, the man who negotiated a surrender to the Americans when York was overrun on April 27, 1813. Scadding was a member of the Family Compact that ruled Upper Canada until William Lyon Mackenzie's rebellion caused Victoria to send Lord Durham to discover why there was unrest in the colony. He recommended greater self rule which gave us our first combined Canadas parliament.
Here is a photo that I took with my cell phone of the house, Henry lived in:
    In his book on Toronto (1873), Henry wrote that the land had belonged to Dr. Macaulay and that Albert Street which entered Yonge Street was in 1833 know as Macaulay Lane and the area was still all fields.  Toronto, at the time, was actually a little east of Yonge Street, nearer to the Don River. The place that Macaulay's homestead occupied is now Trinity Square. Even as Scadding was writing, he said that the area was now surrounded by buildings, although from his attic he could still catch a glimpse of Lake Ontario to the south and the still green and untouched Yorkville area to the north.
     He wrote that the church was a gift of benevolence from two sisters in England to Canada. They made their gift anonymously to Bishop Strachan with the proviso that the pews are free and therefore the first pastor had to have means of his own. Henry lamented the loss of the fine trees that had lined Yonge Street along Macaulay's estate, victims of 'progess' and development.
     The church rectory has also survived development which is beautiful to see. It looks like an island of tranquility in a busy, busy place and a little pocket of historical Toronto, obliterated almost everywhere else. I can just imagine the battle the historical groups had to save the place.
I expect this place is an oasis in the summer. Notice the address on the rectory is 10 Trinity Place. Judging from the preface to Scadding's book, this is where he wrote it. I do not know when he built the other house, which now houses not for profit organizations.
     There are many photos on the net of Holy Trinity Church but I will add one of my own. I thought the interior was worth seeing. Yes it is a small church and doesn't have the feel of antiquity like Notre Dame or other medieval churches but it was delightful to me.
I tried to take a good photo of the faces in stone here. This window is directly behind the altar. Unfortunately the good doctor did not say whose faces these two kings represented.
      If you ever do stop in and have a look at the church, please put a few dollars in the donation box at the front for the maintaining of the space. I did.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

40 Days of Lent

One of my favorite books on Medieval History is Clifford Backman's The Worlds of Medieval Europe. He wrote about fasting for Lent: 
" A fellow named Macarius of Alexandria, for example, once tried to stand upright in prayer, nonstop throughout the entire forty day season of Lent, while eating nothing but cabbage leaves (Presumably the gas he produced helped keep him aloft.)" 
Love a historian with a sense of humor.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Whitby Company, Part II

page 2 of Ely Playter's diary listing the men in the Whitby Company of the 3rd Regiment of the York Militia.

#           Names                       rank       arms and nature of                  remarks
                                                            musket/fusil  /rifle
24        John W. Covel           private
25        Phestus C Wolf             "             1                                      gone to the States
 (I am not sure the name is Phestus, Ely has terrible handwriting and he scratched this one out.)
26        Richard Martin           3rd                       1
27      George Willson                                                                    gone to States
not 100% certain he wrote Willson
28      John Groat (?)                                                                      moved to Darlington
26       Samuel Jemerson X      2nd
27      Charles Jemerson  X      2nd
31      William Dobb                                           1                        gone to Darlington
32       Elijah A. Webber X     3rd    
29       Henry Smith                 2nd
34      George Mc Gaham X     "
30       David Annice X           private                                 deserted from M. McRuther
31       David Dehart
32       Thomas Cross                                           1
33       Timothy Nightengale                        Over 50 years of age (applies to #31 to 35)
34       Thody Cole Snr. X
35       William McCue X
35       William McDue Junior X  3rd
37        Willard Hall                      1st
38        George Hall drafted         1st
            Adam Stefhour                              1                 1              over 50 years of age
39        John Quick                       2nd
40        William Farewell           3rd      
41        Ezekiel Crane                3rd
42        John Smith                                                                        over 50 years of age
            Benjamin Vernon

It must have been a challenge to raise an army when people did not want to fight.
Ely's diary is available at the Ontario Archives where it can be viewed on microfilm.
If you want to see it, bring some eye drops and a magnifying glass.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Muster Roll of the Whitby Company

     I have decided to come back and use the blog again since someone appears to be attempting to hijack the account. Rather than delete all of my articles, which I am sure someone out there is enjoying, I am going to also write about Canadian history. I have been spending a large amount of time sifting through various archival collections and I have found many gems that would be great to share with people. So, this is my first 'share': a muster list that will likely be a gift for anyone researching their family history in Southern Ontario.

     Ely Playter was a United Empire Loyalist and a resident of Toronto, then called York, during the War of 1812-1814. He kept a diary for most of his life. Unfortunately, he stopped writing for sometimes a year and a half around the time of the war, often when things got most interesting. He was a Lieutenant in the 3rd Regiment of the York Militia and in August 1812, he took a count of the men in his unit who showed up for muster. This is not on any conventional list, like the microfilms at the Library and Archives Canada because he wrote it in his diary. All spelling is as in his diary.

Here it is, transcribed

Muster Roll of the Whitby Company - Commanded by Lieutenant Playter, 3rd Regiment of York Militia on the (blank) day of August 1812-
                                                                                     arms, nature of
number   names                                            rank           musket/ Fusil/ rifle     remarks
1            Ely Playter                                Lieutenant    
2            Donold McAuther                    Ensign
1            Eleazer Lockwood      drafted   Sargt.
2            James Cole                              2nd Sargt.
3            Moody Tarewell                      3rd Sargt.
1            Jabes Lynde x                           Private                             2
2             Enoch Davis x drafted              3rd
3             John Still Gund            ditto        3rd                                   1
4             Henry Crawford             ditto         3
5             Caleb Crawford x           ditto         3
6             John Clawson x                               3                                1
7             William Groat                 ditto          3
8              Stephen Smith                                 3                                             nearsighted
9             Abel Crane                     ditto           3                                1
10           William Annice x                           1st                               1
11           John Stephens x                              3                         1                          sick
12           Jonathan Stephens                           3    
13           Joseph Stephens                              3                                           1
14           Russell Hoag Jones(?)  x                3
15           William Hall                                   1st
16            David Willson                                1st
17            John Dehart                                    2nd
18            Jacob Dehart                                  2nd                              1
19            Joseph Smith                ditto          2nd         
20            Henry McGahan          ditto
21            Thomas McGahan                                                                              delirious
22             Samuel Cole                                  2nd                                          1
23             James Huntington                          3rd  

I don't know whether the 'x' means that the man showed up for muster of was missing. Ely was frustrated at times at how few showed up when they were called so the low number of 'x's' could be the few who actually came. I believe the ditto is for 'drafted'. There appears to have been classes of privates. Playter never did comment further on Thomas McGahan who was 'delirious' although it would have been nice to know more. He wrote these entries for his own use and did not expect they would be so interesting to us 200 years later.
There is a second page which I will transcribe another day.