1793 – Jean-Paul Marat is killed in his bathtub

Jean-Paul Marat was a fiery republican journalist who was an important figure in the French revolutionary movement. A scientist (he translated Newton’s “Opticks” into French, among other accomplishments), after the revolution, he devoted himself to politics and propaganda. He was heavily involved in the factional struggles surrounding the revolution.

It was this latter that led to his death. Charlotte Corday was a member of a rival political faction, the Girondists, who believed that Marat was largely responsible for the fall of the Girondists – and that the outcome of that factional struggle might well lead to outright civil war in France. And so it was that Corday surprised Marat in his bathtub one night, stabbing him once in the carotid artery, which killed him in very short order. Later that year, he was immortalised in a painting, “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David, which has become an iconic image of revolutionary martyrdom.

Referenced in:

We Walk — REM

1794 – Maximilien Robespierre is arrested for his acts in the French Revolution

Robespierre and Louis Saint-Just were among the leading lights of the French Revolution. Both of them were active participants in the Revolution, and the Reign of Terror that followed it. Robespierre in particular was a major architect of the Terror.

A couple of years into the revolutionary calendar, and about nine months into the Terror, on 9 Thermidor – July 27 – a reaction to the excesses of the Terror occurred. Robespierre, who had become increasingly isolated politically, while at the same time concentrating power in his own hands. For a number of reasons – political, practical and personal – many of the other revolutionaries turned against him. He was arrested, and executed the following day along with Saint-Just and twenty other supporters.

Referenced in:

Sex Kills – Joni Mitchell

1804 – Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr fight a duel

People like to describe modern American politics as a blood sport. They have no idea.

Back in 1804, former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and sitting Vice President Aaron Burr fought a pistol duel that would result in the death of one and the arrest of the other on changes of murder. Burr and Hamilton, who were members of opposing political factions, had hated each other for years. Part of it was personal – Hamilton in particular had engaged in character assassination of Burr in the press – and part of it was political, tensions then being at least as high as they are today.

In the early morning of July 11, 1804, the two met at the Heights of Weehawken in New Jersey (a popular dueling ground at that time). On the day, Hamilton intended not to fire directly at Burr, at least not on the first round. Burr, on the other hand, did intend to hurt Hamilton, and probably would have done an even better job of it had he been a better shot. As it was, Burr mortally wounded Hamilton, although he did not die until the afternoon of the following day.

Referenced in:

Lazy Sunday — The Lonely Island

1822 – Alexander Pearce and five others escape Macquarie Harbour

Alexander Pearce was a convict in the Macquarie Harbour “secondary punishment” penal colony when he and seven others made their escape. Being sent to “secondary punishment” means that these men, who had already been convicted in Britain and transported to Van Diemens Land, and had then misbehaved sufficiently to be singled out for additional punishment in harsher conditions.

The other convicts: Alexander Dalton, Thomas Bodenham, William Kennerly, Matthew Travers, Edward Brown, Robert Greenhill and John Mather. Brown and Kennerly soon gave up and turned back. They were recaptured by the Macquarie Harbour authorities and died in the prison infirmary. The authorities more or less gave up the search at this point, reasoning that the elements or the natives would kill them. They were wrong about this, but just how wrong they wouldn’t know for more than another year.

Referenced in:
A Tale They Won’t Believe — Weddings, Parties, Anything

1822 – Alexander Pearce and his fellows kill and eat the first of their number

Pearce and his five fellows – Alexander Dalton, Thomas Bodenham, Matthew Travers, Robert Greenhill and John Mather – had been on the run, exposed to the elements and without food for eight days. They were desperate, cold and starving. Robert Greenhill, who had carried an axe since the escape and, as the only member of the group able to navigate by the stars, had basically become the leader. Supported by Travers, he led the gang in deciding to resort to cannibalism.

The men drew lots, and Alexander Dalton came up short. Greenhill killed him with the axe, and then the five remaining men butchered the corpose, cooked the meat and, well, ate him. That much at least is probably true.

But we have only the word of self-confessed murderer and cannibal for all of this – and Pearce tends to embellish a little to diminish his own guilt. On the other hand, given the extraordinarily heinous nature of the crimes he did confess to, you have to wonder what he thought he’d gain by lying.

Referenced in:
A Tale They Won’t Believe — Weddings, Parties, Anything

1822 – Alexander Pearce and his fellows cross the Franklin River

BY this point in their escape – after eleven days on the run – the five remaining escapees reached the Franklin River. Swollen with early spring run off, the river ran high and fast. And of the five men in the group, only three could swim. They crossed easily, but the other two had to be more or less dragged across, clinging to branches.

You almost wonder why they bothered to drag Thomas Bodenham across, given that shortly afterwards they’d be killing him and eating him – leaving two uneasy duos facing off. Alexander Pearce and John Mather were one pair, while the ‘leaders’ of the group, Robert Greenhill and Matthew Travers, were the other pair. It was going to be tense trip to Hobart Town.

Referenced in:
A Tale They Won’t Believe — Weddings, Parties, Anything

1823 – Alexander Pearce recaptured in Hobart Town

AFter 113 days of freedom, about half of it spent making the deadly trip from Macquarie Harbour to Hobart Town through the trackless wilderness of the southern Tasmania, Alexander Pearce was captured again outside of Hobart. Pearce, no stranger to this process, sang like a canary. An at times inconsistent canary, but certain themes emerged.

Pearce had escaped with seven other men. Two had turned back and been recaptured. The rest…

…the rest had killed and eaten each other one at a time, until finally only Pearce and another man, Robert Greenhill, were left. Pearce claimed to be innocent of all the killings except Greenhill, which he made a fairly convincing case was self defence. He did, however, claim to have eaten at least part of each of the five.

Of course, Pearce was an Irishman and a convict, which meant that getting the authorities to believe him would be quite a job.

Referenced in:
A Tale They Won’t Believe — Weddings, Parties, Anything

1823 – Alexander Pearce is tried and sentenced in Hobart Town

Alexander Pearce had committed many crimes – the original theft that saw him transported to Van Diemens Land from Ireland, sundry minor infractions in Hobart Town including at least one escape attempt, and assorted infractions after he was sent to Macquarie Harbour. But on this day, he stood before the court charged with escaping Macquarie Harbour and making his way overland to Hobart Town.

He had left Macquarie Harbour with seven others, two of whom had turned back and surrendered to the authorities there. The other five were unaccounted for, except by Pearce’s remarkable tale of cannibalism among the six, whittling down their numbers until he was the last left alive. The judge, of course, knew this for the lie it was. Pearce was sent back to Macquarie Harbour and the watch for the other five, still at large, was redoubled.

The only problem was, Pearce had told the truth. He really had participated in the murder and consumption of five other men. But no one would believe him until he did it again.

Referenced in:
A Tale They Won’t Believe — Weddings, Parties, Anything

1823 – Alexander Pearce escapes Macquarie Harbour again

Alexander Pearce escaped custody for the last time in the company of one Thomas Cox. However, their escape was due to be short-lived. Pearce remembered all too well how difficult his overland trip the previous year had been, and he wasn’t about to do the same thing again. His plan was to steal a boat and travel north along the coast until they could find a settlement, from whence they could hopefully get to the mainland.

Unfortunately, Cox could not swim, let alone sail – which was why Pearce had taken him along in the first place. As it happened, this escape would last less than a week, and lead to the deaths of both men. But along the way, they would end up confirming some of the things that Pearce had claimed about his previous escape.

Referenced in:
A Tale They Won’t Believe — Weddings, Parties, Anything

1823 – Alexander Pearce kills and eats Thomas Cox

Thomas Cox was probably foolish to try escaping alone with Alexander Pearce. While the authorities might not have believed that he was a cannibal who’d eaten the last group of men whom he escaped with, it seems likely that the other convicts did. But perhaps Cox thought it was just the extremity of the situation that drove Pearce to it.

He must have been surprised when Pearce assaulted and killed him, although he would have been too dead to be surprised that Pearce then cooked and ate him. And he would no doubt have been astonished at Pearce’s deliberate surrender to the authorities and instant confession of what he had done to Cox. This time, the authorities believed Pearce – and when he faced trial again, this time he was sentenced to hang. The saga of Tasmania’s cannibal convict was at an end.

Referenced in:
A Tale They Won’t Believe — Weddings, Parties, Anything

1831 — Nat Turner’s Rebellion begins

Nat Tuner was a black slave in Virginia who believed he was divinely inspired to lead his people to freedom. The rebellion he led in 1831 is the single largest slave rebellion in the history of the United States of America, with a death toll of at least 160 people (100 of them black, including Turner himself, 60 of them white).

The rebellion was a bloody and vengeful affair on both sides, but in the end, Turner’s slaves – for the most part lacking horses and firearms – had little chance against the white establishment. Many of them were killed in the fighting, and the few surviving ringleaders were tried and hung – by people who believed they were divinely inspired to deny them their freedom.

Referenced in:

David Rose — Clutch
Nat Turner — Reef the Lost Cauze
Prophets of Rage — Public Enemy
Somebody’s Gotta Do It — The Roots
Point of No Return — Immortal Technique
Who Will Survive In America — Kanye West

1831 — Nat Turner sentenced to death

In August 1831, guided by visions sent from God (or so he claimed), black slave Nat Turner led a rebellion of slaves in Virginia. Turner and his fellow rebels killed between 55 and 65 white men, women and children (accounts vary as the exact number). But the rebellion was put down quickly, and most of the rebels were slain or captured (and then, for the most part, executed).

Nat Turner eluded capture for many weeks after the end of the slave rebellion he had led. It was not until October 30 – more than two months later – that he was captured. He was tried in Jerusalem, Virginia, and defended by white lawyer Thomas Gray. The trial did not take long – on a single day, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Turner was hung on November 11, 1831. Controversy regarding his goals and methods continues to this day.

Referenced in:

David Rose — Clutch
Nat Turner — Reef the Lost Cauze

1837 – The Broad Street Riot breaks out

The Broad Street Riot was an outbreak of violence occasioned by racial tensions between Irish immigrants and native Bostonians. Fire Engine Company 20 was returning from a fire when they encountered an Irish funeral procession at the corner of Milk Street and Broad Street in Boston.

The initial groups weren’t particularly large, but both sides were reinforced by their respective countrymen as the afternoon drew on. All in all, about a thousand people were involved in the riot, and the army had to be called out to quell the disturbance. Incredibly, no one was killed in the riot.

Referenced in:
Riot on Broad Street — Mighty Mighty Bosstones