Life, Last Words and Dying Confession, of Rachel Wall, Who, with William Smith and William Dunogan, were executed at Boston, on Thursday, October 8, 1789, for High-Way Robbery. [Boston: 1789]. Printed broadside with woodcut illustration of the execution scene at head, four lines of the title, and the text in four columns with dateline Boston-Goal: Wednesday Evening, October 7, 1789 and signed at end in print "Taken from the prisoner's mouth, a few hours before her execution" and signed in print by Rachel Wall, Joseph Otis as Deputy Goaler and Wm. Crombie as Assistant. 18 x 13 1/2 inches (45 x 35 cm); framed. Laid to board with showthrough of backing or adhesive, early repairs along old vertical and horizontal folds slightly obscuring some text, a few spots to text and old stains to margins.
A scarce broadside printing the dying confession of Rachel Wall, the last woman executed by hanging in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, also considered the first American-born woman to become a pirate. The broadside tells in detail of Wall's life and crimes: born near Philadelphia in 1760, Wall reports of running away from her parents at a young age with husband George Wall. After time spent in New York they arrived in Boston, and after Wall returned from a time at sea, the two embarked on a life of crime, sneaking into docked ships and stealing from sleeping captains. Soon thereafter, George and Rachel Wall with a few others formed a band of pirates robbing ships that passed their hideout on the Isle of Shoals, just off the New Hampshire coast. As a decoy, Rachel Wall would stand on the deck pretending to be in distress and the pirates would attack, rob, and sometimes kill the shipmen that unwittingly came to her rescue.
It is believed that George Wall and the other pirates were drowned when they washed out to sea by accident but in her confession Rachel Wall was not convinced her husband was dead: "he enticed me to leave my service and take to bad company, from which I may date my ruin. I hope my unhappy fate will be a solemn warning to him. He went off again and left me, and where he is now I know not ... I hope my awful and untimely fate will be a solemn warning and caution to every one, but more particularly to the youth, especially those of my own sex ... I acknowledge myself to have been guilty of a great many crimes, such as Sabbath-breaking, stealing, lying, disobedience to parents, and almost every other sin a person could commit, except murder."
Alone after her husband's disappearance Rachel Wall returned to being a maid in Boston. In 1789 Wall was accused of stealing a bonnet and was charged with the then capital crime of high-way robbery. Rachel Wall claimed innocence when charged for robbery but it is reported that at her trial she asked to be hung as a pirate rather than a thief; a request that was denied by John Hancock. Wall became the last woman executed by hanging in Massachusetts, hung alongside two unrelated male robbers shortly after delivering this confession. Sadly, within a few years the punishment for this crime was much reduced.
The broadside is scarce: we trace no copies at auction and few held institutionally. Evans 22235; Ford 2555; Sabin 101087.
Sold for $6,300
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