Saturday, May 13, 2017



Some miscellaneous facts and information . . .

William “Deacon” Brodie:

  • Back in the days of public executions, those who were hanged were simply stood on a platform with a rope around their necks and pushed off. Enter William Brodie (1741-1788), a Scottish cabinet-maker, deacon of a trades guild, and Edinburgh city councillor and who was commonly known by his title as Deacon Brodie. Brodie was involved in the design of the drop gallows, the device by which the person being hanged was dropped through a trap door.
  • Deacon Brodie, however, also had a secret life. His job as a cabinetmaker included the installation and repair of locks and security mechanisms. Having access to banks, expensive homes and commercial premises, and thereby being familiar with the security features in place, he then either burgled them himself or had his gang do it. The money he obtained through his burglaries was used to maintain his gambling habit and to support five children to two mistresses. His dishonesty began when in 1768 he copied keys to a bank door and stole £800.
  • When apprehended and sentenced to death, he was hanged on the form of drop gallows that he had designed. It is reported that he asked to inspect the gallows before the hanging and that he pronounced it satisfactory. There is also a story that he wore a metal collar which he bribed the executioner to ignore, and that hye was later sighted in Paris.
  • Deacon Brodie’s double life, and the dichotomy between his respectable fa├žade and his real nature, inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886).

Title page of the first edition, 18886

Alexander Blackwell:
  • On the topic of executions, meet one Alexander Blackwell. Born in England and a printer by trade, he lost his business by reason of not having completed a prior apprenticeship and was imprisoned as a debtor.
  • Released from prison as a result of the efforts, paid work and savings of his wife, he fled to Sweden where he became physician to King Frederick I. It wasn’t long before he was arrested again, this time for conspiracy to alter the royal line of succession further to facilitate an alliance with Britain. He maintained his innocence even on the scaffold, in 1747.
  • When he was told to place his head on the chopping block, he did so the wrong way round, causing the executioner to correct him. Blackwell replied “I am sorry, this is the first time that I have been beheaded.”

Andrew Jackson:

  • Andrew Jackson (1767 – 1845), the 7th President of the United States, was also a military general, war hero and founder of the Democratic Party. A general in the United States Army, he won the battle of New Orleans against the British in 1812 and won major battles in the Indian Wars of 1813 and 1814.
  • He was also known as a man of aggressive temperament, toughness, and of strong principle. In an age where honour was so highly valued that it led to numerous duels, Jackson participated in a number of duels in his lifetime, the most notorious being that with Charles Dickinson.
  • Bad blood had existed between Jackson and Dickinson after the two had had a wager on a horse race between the two. Erwin’s horse went lame before the race and Dickinson was obliged to pay the forfeit fee of $800, as per the rules of the wager. Thereafter Dickinson was hostile to Jackson and made comments about Jackson publicly, including that Jackson was a coward. Jackson challenged Dickinson to a duel (1791).
  • Dickinson was known to be an excellent shot, it being said that he could shoot 4 bullets within the space of a dollar coin at 24 paces. Jackson wore an overly large coat to the duel to disguise his body's form, and to disguise where his heart was located. He also planned on letting Dickinson shoot him first, so that he could take his time with aiming and firing.
  • At the duel, after the order to fire and been given, Dickinson turned and shot Jackson in the chest, missing his heart by only an inch. The shot broke one of Jackson’s ribs but, according to witnesses at the event, it was thought Dickinson had missed because Jackson remained standing as though he had not been struck.
  • Jackson took his time, aimed and fired, but his pistol misfired. Under the rules of the duel, Jackson was entitled to reload and fire again. Dickinson had to stand there as Jackson carefully reloaded, took aim and fired, hitting Dickinson in the abdomen. He was taken home where he died a few hours later.

  • The bullet that had hit Jackson was too close to his heart to carry out surgery and it remained in his body for the rest of his life. This bullet frequently caused Jackson later health problems, causing him to often cough up blood as a result. 
  • Following his shooting of Dickinson, Jackson commented “I would have stood up long enough to kill him if he had put a bullet in my brain.”

A rare daguerreotype photograph of Andrew Jackson.

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