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Executions 1608-2002

execution-1896 MissouriYes, they have existed in America from the early 1600s. Some of the most famous were the hangings for those being declared witches in Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1690s. However, witchcraft hangings in some of the other colonies, such as Connecticut in the 1640s to 1660s totaled seven of males and females. Any in the 1600s or 1700s would have been with the 13 colonies, any territories and the early states. Places like Oklahoma did not have its first execution until 1841.

Using the Black Sheep Ancestors’ web site of executions through the decades covering each present-day state (even those that were not a state yet, but rather a territory) are listed. With each state additional information, along with some fascinating court cases and criminals, there are links given. Unfortunately, not every state link of all that state’s execution is active.

Another source is ESPY File of executions, which also provides the state, the date, the crime, the person’s name, their occupation, and occasionally some additional information. These files can be downloaded as a PDF file (most run many pages) and then you can search.  Here is a PDF file on executions across America based on the earliest to more recent dates.  Executions by date

execution 1856You might have an ancestor you can’t track down, wondering what happened to them. This could possibly be the answer. By these sources covering hundreds of years and all locations in America, there is a good resource to check. Not that you really want to find such an ancestor, but it might provide some answers.

Just to select a state and run through the list of individuals executed, some by hanging, by a firing squad, and other methods, it is interesting especially in the 1600s and 1700s the crime committed to be executed. In the 1700s many were hung for stealing a horse or robbing a home. By the 1800s and 1900s, it was generally for crimes of murder. The leading state / territory / colony for executions over those years are Virginia, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania. The ones with the least include Michigan, Alaska, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

Sometimes it might the person least likely to commit a major crime. In Virginia there was Dr. David M. Wright, a medical doctor, who was hung on January 23,1863 for murder.  It was during the Civil War with the Federal occupation of Norfolk, VA, that Dr. Wright, a non-combatant, shot and killed a Union officer over words spoken by both on the streets of Norfolk.

So it is another resource to find a lost ancestor to see what happened.

Photos: 1896 hanging in Missouri, a double hanging on July 29, 1856 in San Francisco, California of Philander Brace and Joseph Hetherington, who were never arrested or tried, were executed for murder by vigilantes.

Related genealogical blogs:

Names at Alcatraz

Prison Records


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