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Old 05-19-2014, 05:39 AM
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Did the US burn a man for witchcraft in 1779?


Since we seem to be on a death-penalty kick here at the SDMB this month :

Occasionally on the SDMB or elsewhere someone will ask how many witches were burned at the stake during the Salem witch-trials. The answer is "none" (they were all hanged, and one man was pressed to death for failing to enter a plea). Usually the person answering adds the statement that the US or its earlier colonies never burned anyone for witch-craft.

Which I always thought was true, but then I found this blurb through a wikipedia page. From the journal of the Governor of Illinois County during the Revolutionary War*:

Quote:
(Happening at Kaskaskia) A Negro slave named Manuel, who made a honorable fine at the door of the church was (arrested) He was sentenced by Col Todd for the crime of Voodoo. He was sentenced 13 Jun 1779 by Col Todd to be chained to a post and burned alive with his ashes scattered. The sentence was carried out by sheriff Richard Winston.
I can't find anything else on this incident, while I can find a lot of places saying witch-burning was a purely European phenomenon (though the Colonies did burn revolting slaves to death). So I'm curious if anyone has any other confirmation/info on the fate of poor Manuel the slave.

*(not really looking for a semantic argument about whether the Government of Illinois County during the Revolution counts as the US. For the purposes of this question, assume it does).

Last edited by Simplicio; 05-19-2014 at 05:39 AM.
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Old 05-19-2014, 05:46 AM
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It is in History of Crawford and Clark Counties, Illinois as well:

http://www.mocavo.com/History-of-Cra...nois/440152/42

Quote:
Negro Manuel, a slave in your custody,
is condemned by the Court of Kaskaskia,
after having made honorable Fine at the
Door of the Church, to be chained to a post
at the Water Side and there to be burnt alive
and his ashes scattered, as appears to me by
Record. This Sentence you are hereby re-
quired to put in execution on tuesday next at
9 o’clock in the morning, aud this shall be
your warrant. Given under my hand and
seal at Kaskaskia the 13th day of June in the
third year of the Commonwealth.”
Also this:
Lynching of Jesse Washington

Quote:
Members of the mob castrated Washington, cut off his fingers, and hung him over a bonfire. He was repeatedly lowered and raised over the fire for about two hours. After the fire was extinguished, his charred torso was dragged through the town and parts of his body were sold as souvenirs. A professional photographer took pictures as the event unfolded, providing rare imagery of a lynching in progress. The pictures were printed and sold as postcards in Waco.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynchin...sse_Washington

Last edited by bob++; 05-19-2014 at 05:49 AM.
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Old 05-19-2014, 06:10 AM
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Can someone tell me what an honorable fine is (just in case I'm doing it too)?
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Old 05-19-2014, 06:13 AM
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Originally Posted by bob++ View Post
It is in History of Crawford and Clark Counties, Illinois as well
Thanks. That seems to confirm it really happened. Interesting the incident isn't better known, as 1779 seems pretty late for execution for witchcraft. And its the latest case of execution by burning alive in N. America that I can find.

Quote:
Lynching of Jesse Washington
Not a judicial penalty and not due to witch-craft, so not really what I'm looking for. (That said, there seemed to have been a decent number of lynching-via-burnings in the post civil-war US. I'm surprised the topic doesn't get more attention, given how sensational and gruesome the incidents were, and how many of them seem to be well documented (and in the case of Washington, photographed).)
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Old 05-19-2014, 06:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Slithy Tove View Post
Can someone tell me what an honorable fine is (just in case I'm doing it too)?
I found a discussion of both the incident and the phrase in this book. The author opines that the phrase was an awkward translation of a French phrase for doing religious penance (one wonders what they would've sentenced the poor guy to if he hadn't done penance!).

Other fun-fact: John Todd, he who ordered the burning, was grand-uncle to Mary Todd, of later marrying Lincoln fame.
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Old 05-19-2014, 06:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Simplicio View Post
That said, there seemed to have been a decent number of lynching-via-burnings in the post civil-war US.
Interesting choice of words there. Decent, I mean.
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Old 05-19-2014, 06:52 AM
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Voodoo is not witchcraft. Different origins, different religious roots, different emphasis on supernatural energy/contacts.

Too much to go into the differences, but the wiki of both do a good job at stating what each is:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_African_Vodun

Last edited by kanicbird; 05-19-2014 at 06:54 AM.
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Old 05-19-2014, 06:54 AM
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Interesting choice of words there. Decent, I mean.
Hmm...I use decent in that way frequently, that is, meaning "a non-trivial percentage of the total". Not meant in the sense of "appropriate, acceptable" obviously.

But looking at the dictionary, my definition isn't listed. Is that use unique to me, or is it more widespread?

Last edited by Simplicio; 05-19-2014 at 06:55 AM.
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Old 05-19-2014, 06:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Simplicio View Post
Hmm...I use decent in that way frequently, that is, meaning "a non-trivial percentage of the total". Not meant in the sense of "appropriate, acceptable" obviously.

But looking at the dictionary, my definition isn't listed. Is that use unique to me, or is it more widespread?
I use it that way too, but it's slang, not a real definition, I think. As in "a decent number of students passed the midterm." But it did seem incongruous to see decent and lynchings in the same sentence!

Last edited by IvoryTowerDenizen; 05-19-2014 at 06:58 AM.
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Old 05-19-2014, 07:02 AM
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Originally Posted by IvoryTowerDenizen View Post
I use it that way too, but it's slang, not a real definition, I think. As in "a decent number of students passed the midterm." But it did seem incongruous to see decent and lynchings in the same sentence!
Yeah, I wasn't criticizing Simplicio -- I am familiar with that use of the phrase, which I would define as "a reasonable [number]" -- it just seemed odd, in an ironic sort of way. Please add your choice of smiley to my post.
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Old 05-19-2014, 07:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kanicbird View Post
Voodoo is not witchcraft. Different origins, different religious roots, different emphasis on supernatural energy/contacts.

Too much to go into the differences, but the wiki of both do a good job at stating what each is:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_African_Vodun
While the practicitioners of both rituals would think them wildly different, I don't think the colonists really cared about the finer details, and would have burned both anyway. And it was their opinion that mattered in 1779, for better or worse (definitely worse).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Simplicio View Post
Hmm...I use decent in that way frequently, that is, meaning "a non-trivial percentage of the total". Not meant in the sense of "appropriate, acceptable" obviously.

But looking at the dictionary, my definition isn't listed. Is that use unique to me, or is it more widespread?
I use it that way as well, but I can't find that definition in the dictionary either. Perhaps the language change hasn't caught up to the dictionary makers.
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Old 05-19-2014, 07:04 AM
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Surely there was no Illinois in 1779. Wasn't that area all Indian territory back then.
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Old 05-19-2014, 07:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IvoryTowerDenizen View Post
I use it that way too, but it's slang, not a real definition, I think. As in "a decent number of students passed the midterm." But it did seem incongruous to see decent and lynchings in the same sentence!
You can have a decent number of indecent things, just like a good number of bad things. I would tend to use something like an indecent number of lynchings instead. But how is it grammatically? Decent is decribing the number, not the numbered things.
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Old 05-19-2014, 07:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yellowjacketcoder View Post
While the practicitioners of both rituals would think them wildly different, I don't think the colonists really cared about the finer details, and would have burned both anyway. And it was their opinion that mattered in 1779, for better or worse (definitely worse).
I don't think you could make that assumption as it was 2 laws primarily used to control 2 different groups. Christianity was used to suppress women and justify slavery. Anti Witchcraft laws (a more female centric religion then the Abrahamic religions) was used often to put women 'in their place' to keep them quite, anti voodoo would be used to oppress slaves and disconnect them from their origins.

Last edited by kanicbird; 05-19-2014 at 07:11 AM.
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Old 05-19-2014, 07:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Slithy Tove View Post
Can someone tell me what an honorable fine is (just in case I'm doing it too)?
A translation of amende honorable.
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Old 05-19-2014, 07:27 AM
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Surely there was no Illinois in 1779. Wasn't that area all Indian territory back then.
Virginia considered it "Illinois County," which included all of modern-day Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, as well as part of Minnesota. The county seat was Kaskaskia. Virginia's claim overlapped with what other states said was theirs, and ultimately it ceded the land to the federal government in 1784.
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Old 05-19-2014, 07:33 AM
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Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
You can have a decent number of indecent things, just like a good number of bad things. I would tend to use something like an indecent number of lynchings instead. But how is it grammatically? Decent is decribing the number, not the numbered things.
Going by the dictionary definition, a "decent number of things" implies a moral approval of the number of things, not just saying that they make up a sizable proportion. So a literal reading of my original statement would imply that I approved of the number of people burned alive by lynch mobs.

Going by this thread, it seems common use has moved to what I intended my meaning to be.

Its pretty easy to see how the meaning would shift that way. Almost the same thing has happened with the word "reasonable". A "reasonable number of Nazi's" has come to mean a non-trivial amount of Nazi's, and doesn't imply that the speaker thinks Nazi's are reasonable or that any number of Nazi's is desirable.
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Old 05-19-2014, 07:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Lord Feldon View Post
Virginia considered it "Illinois County," which included all of modern-day Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, as well as part of Minnesota. The county seat was Kaskaskia. Virginia's claim overlapped with what other states said was theirs, and ultimately it ceded the land to the federal government in 1784.
To expand: at the time in question the Colonists had captured the territory from the British (with 200 guys, I'm always amused by how small the numbers involved were in some of the more out of the way Revolutionary War battles). The aforementioned Col Todd was made Governor.

As the British had recently taken it from the French, most of the settlements were French, and there still seems to have been a French legal system in place, which is probably where the anti-voodoo ruling came from.
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Simplicio View Post
Thanks. That seems to confirm it really happened. Interesting the incident isn't better known, as 1779 seems pretty late for execution for witchcraft. And its the latest case of execution by burning alive in N. America that I can find.



Not a judicial penalty and not due to witch-craft, so not really what I'm looking for. (That said, there seemed to have been a decent number of lynching-via-burnings in the post civil-war US. I'm surprised the topic doesn't get more attention, given how sensational and gruesome the incidents were, and how many of them seem to be well documented (and in the case of Washington, photographed).)


Were there any other burnings for witchcraft in America? Witches had been burned in numerous cases in Europe, but the witches executed in Salem in 1692 were executed by hanging, except for Giles Corey, who was pressed to death because he would plead neither guilty nor innocent. Other witchcraft cases in New England that I've come across were similarly handled. I confess that I haven't looked into witchcraft trials outside New England, though.
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:28 AM
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Originally Posted by CalMeacham View Post
Were there any other burnings for witchcraft in America? Witches had been burned in numerous cases in Europe, but the witches executed in Salem in 1692 were executed by hanging, except for Giles Corey, who was pressed to death because he would plead neither guilty nor innocent. Other witchcraft cases in New England that I've come across were similarly handled. I confess that I haven't looked into witchcraft trials outside New England, though.
I don't think so (see my OP). There were other judicial executions by burning, and there were other executions for witch-craft, but I think this case is the only case of the two together, which is why I asked about it.

At least by the Colonies/US or the British. Not sure if there were cases amongst the other European powers in N. American. The Spanish don't seem likely candidates (the Spanish liked burning people to death, but they never got into the witchtrials thing, presumably burning crypto-Jews/Muslims scratched the same itch).

Maybe the French though? The book I linked to above posits that the Illinois witch-burning was due to the influence of French law in the area. So maybe they were burning slaves for Voodoo in Quebec or New Orleans as well?
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:39 AM
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Is the execution of a legal slave a lynching?

Maybe this is exceedingly fine reasoning, but I'd draw a distinction between the torture-execution of a slave convicted of witchcraft in 1779 - when slaves were legal property without rights, people believed witches were real and horrendous execution methods were the norm - and mob murder of free citizens without trial 100 years later and on.

Granted, it's a distinction between two kinds of unthinkable ugliness, but if the first is a lynching, then why is slowly crushing a (white, landowning, wealthy) man to death as part of a "trial" not also a lynching? Skin color alone?

Last edited by Amateur Barbarian; 05-19-2014 at 08:42 AM.
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:58 AM
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Originally Posted by Amateur Barbarian View Post
Is the execution of a legal slave a lynching?
No. A lynching is extra-judicial. An execution is ordered by a legal authority.

Quote:
Maybe this is exceedingly fine reasoning, but I'd draw a distinction between the torture-execution of a slave convicted of witchcraft in 1779 - when slaves were legal property without rights, people believed witches were real and horrendous execution methods were the norm - and mob murder of free citizens without trial 100 years later and on.
I think we agree (see post #4). The discussion of lynchings was just an aside.

Quote:
when slaves were legal property without rights, people believed witches were real and horrendous execution methods were the norm
One of the things that caught my about this case was actually that 1779 seemed kind of late for both witch-craft trials and execution by burning. So I'm not sure either was the norm. The anti-witchcraft laws in England were overturned in 1735, for example. The last cases in most of Europe seems to all be prior to 1750 (wikipedia has one or two examples of later ones, but their pretty sparse).

Cases of execution by being burnt alive by European gov'ts follow a similar pattern, if maybe a touch later. They seem to have been on their way out by 1700, very rare by 1750 and only a few isolated cases post 1775.
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Old 05-19-2014, 10:19 AM
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No. A lynching is extra-judicial. An execution is ordered by a legal authority.
Extrajudicial is a poor choice of term. The first lynchings appear to have been tarring-and-featherings and possible murders committed against Virginia loyalists during the Revolutionary War. They were ordered by Charles Lynch, who was a justice of the peace.

Several Jim Crow lynchings appear to have been tacitly or even explicitly sanctioned by judicial officers, too.

Lynching is now also a term of art in some jurisdictions: in South Carolina it is a crime (which without evidence irony has largely been used to prosecute African-Americans.)
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Old 05-19-2014, 10:20 AM
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I looked into the Kaskaskia case a few years ago. It's a little more complicated than it seems at first. Several slaves, including one named Manuel or Emanuel, were accused of causing several deaths by poisoning and/or witchcraft. Before he was arrested, Manuel seems to have dug himself a hole by claiming magical powers in order to intimidate people. The records are scant, and it's not clear what exactly he was convicted of, if anything. It could have been simple murder by poisoning, which (as far as I can tell from the scanty records) would not have been an absurd conclusion. The death warrant specifying execution by burning alive exists, but at least one record says Manuel was actually shot by a firing squad.

I'm mostly going by my memory of several articles I read about the case two or three years ago. I can't find most of them now, unfortunately. Here's one from the 1885 edition of Magazine of American History.
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Old 05-19-2014, 10:47 AM
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Ninja'd by bibliophage--I was about to post that this was much more likely to be "execution for slave rebellion"--for which burning was common in the Eighteenth Century--than "burning for practicing a religion".
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