Public Executions in Philadelphia

DOI10.1177/003288557305300106
Date01 April 1973
Published date01 April 1973
Subject MatterArticles
-58-
Public
Executions
in
Philadelphia
By
Negley
K.
Teeters
Reprinted from
The
Prison Journal,
October,
1958
One
of
the
less
significant
attractions
usually
pointed
out
to
tourists
by
London
guides
is
the
site
of
Tyburn
in
Hyde
Park
where
hundreds
of
public
executions
took
place
in
days
gone
by.
With
cap-
ital
crimes
running
into
the
hundreds
the
gallows
and
hangmen
were
busily
engaged
both
in
Europe
and
America.
Under
our
own
colonial
codes
there
were
many
capital
offenses
and
those
con-
victed
were
executed
publicly.
It
is
believed
that
the
last
public
execution
in
the
United
States
occured
in
Owensboro,
Daviess
County,
Kentucky,
on
August
14, 1936,
when
a
crowd
estimated
at
10,000
witnessed
the
hanging
of
a
22
year-old
man
convicted
of
assaulting
and
killing
a
70
year-
old
woman.
Pennsylvania
abolished
public
executions
by
the
Act
of
April
10, 18341
but
one
criminal
convicted
of
a
federal
offense
was
publicly
executed
in
Philadelphia
after
that
date.2
The
last
public
execution
held
in
Philadelphia
for
a
capital
crime
against
the
Com-
monwealth
was
that
of
Lieut.
Richard
Smyth.
He
had been
con-
victed
of
the
murder
of
Capt.
Carson,
sea-faring
husband
of
a
no-
torious
but
comely
coquette
who
had
unwittingly
married
Smyth
while
her
husband,
presumed
dead,
was
still
roaming
around
Europe.
Like
Enoch
Arden,
Carson
returned
home
and
proceeded
to
make
trouble.
In
a
subsequent
scuffle,
Smyth
killed
Carson-he
claimed
in
self-defense-and
after
a
sensational
trial,
with
the
city
all
agog
and
largely
partisan
to
the
dashing
Irish
lieutenant,
he
was
pronoun-
ced
guilty.
He
was
executed
at
North
West
Square
(now
Logan
Circle)
on
August
10,
1816.3
He
was
taken
from
the
Walnut
Street
Jail
&dquo;arrayed
in
a
blue
surtout
[close
fitting
garment]
reaching
to
his
knees
and
was
accompanied
to
the
public
square
by
a
clergyman
....
The
concourse
of
people
at
the
place
of
execution
was
immense,
and
all
seemed
to
lament
the
necessity
of
enforcing
so
awful
a
pun-
ishment.&dquo;

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