The Turnpike highwayman's Fate.
In ‘History of Medford
,’ the chapter on Crimes and Punishments
deals only with those of Colonial and Provincial days.
It has been suggested that there were some happenings in Medford
(from murder downward) in later (not to say latest) days, which a faithful chronicler might mention.
But is it known to people generally, that a century ago Massachusetts
had just enacted a law making highway robbery, when accompanied with threat, violence and exposure of a deadly weapon, a capital offence?
Such was the fact, and there are those who, on account of recent increase in crime, and the facilities of escape offered by the automobile, think it would be well if such penalty was restored.
The recent hold-up of Boston
bank messengers in Chelsea
is cited as an example.
One, nearly related to Medford
, is mentioned in the Register, Vol.
XXIII, p. 9, which must have caused much excitement in our old town just one hundred years ago. The Columbian Centinel
of August 15, 1821, thus tells the story:—
It was said that on that evening ‘Governor Brooks
gave an assembly’ at his mansion on High street, which afforded the highwayman the opportunity of waylaying the returning guests, who were of the class most likely to be victims of plunder.
It was told that after the robber's escape from pursuit up High street, he found refuge in a cave in the woods at West Cambridge
). From thence he went to Springfield
, where, a week later, he was arrested and brought to the jail at East Cambridge.
of August 22 said
The highwayman taken. Yesterday Michael Martin was examined at Cambridge on charge of being the person who robbed Major Bray on the Medford Turnpike.
He was fully committed to take his trial in October next.1
, October 20, said,
The sentence of Michael Martin, convicted of highway robbery has not been passed upon him. His counsel have moved an arrest of judgment for misdirection of court matters of law and the court has assigned a future day for hearing arguments on the motion
It seems that the ‘future day’ was not long deferred, for on October 22—
the Chief-justice after a most dignified and pathetic address to him pronounced the awful sentence of the law.
There must have been much excitement over the case, as this was the first sentence under the law before alluded to. His counsel made every effort in his power, but to no purpose.
of December 5 said,
No doubt that Martin would be executed.
But with the fatal day drawing near, ‘Mike Martin
’ undertook to do something for himself.
On the morning of the eighth of December, as the keeper entered his cell bringing his breakfast, Martin
gave him a stunning blow, rushed through the doorway and throwing himself against the gate, forced it open and escaped into the open field, [p. 83]
where he was soon recaptured.
It was found that he had some time before secreted the knife accompanying his food, nicked its back, thus making a crude hack-saw with which he had severed the links of his chain.
The cuts thus made were filled with a mixture of grease and dust, making them unnoticeable until broken in his ‘desperate attempt.’
He told the sheriff that ‘he prayed to God twice on his knees, that the blow he was about to inflict on the keeper might not prove fatal.’
Twelve days later (Thursday, December 20) the sentence of death was executed.
A vast concourse of people assembled at ‘Lechmere Point’ to witness it. East Cambridge was not then a network of railway tracks and closely built factories, and the scaffold was in plain view of the state prison at Charlestown
, and of Boston
across the Charles River
of the 22d gave a graphic account of the same, mentioning the appeal of the sheriff to the assembly to maintain respectful silence and order ‘while the last offices of religion were performed to the unhappy man’ by the attending priest, stating
The request was complied with and the regularity and decorum with which [the execution] was conducted must have made a deep impression upon the great body of spectators which witnessed it, and inspired them with a suitable awe for the energy and majesty of the laws.
We of today may wonder a little that this execution took place outside
the security of the jail enclosure, and that the sheriff should have had so small a number of guards present.
But a century ago executions were public for the purpose of enforcing a respect of law and order.
was described as a young man of twenty-seven years, in perfect health, and perhaps the coolest and most collected of the company that stood upon the elevated stage which supported the scaffold.
He remarked that it was well that he should thus suffer, for had he succeeded in escaping he would probably have gone back to his former life.
In the foregoing it will be observed that the quotations are from the Centinel
, a leading semi-weekly of the time.
It was then the custom to print (in pamphlet form) reports of capital and noted trials, sometimes illustrated by wood-cuts of the criminals and their execution.
In the archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society is the story (third edition) of this case (70 pages) by F. W. Waldo
published by Russell
This contains the story of his life as confided to that writer by Martin
, whose real name was not ‘Mike’ but John.
There is also a smaller pamphlet by Mr. Waldo
which is a detailed report of the court proceedings as reported by him, and by the same publishers, in 1821.
Still another, probably elicited by the first named, deals with the publicity given to the reputed penitence of criminals, and is a careful exposition and defence of the then existing law.
A later publication of forty-eight pages, in 1845,— ‘Mike Martin
, or the last of the highwaymen.
A Tale of Reality’—was by F. A. Durivage
, the editor of the Olive Branch
, and frequent contributor to the columns of the famous Gleason's Pictorial
of the '50s. As his
work was twenty-four years later, it is evident that whatever reality of the tale
there was, he derived from the earlier one of Waldo
, With his vivid imagination and ability in embellishment
, ‘there was a woman in the case,’ and Durivage
's work, like many others, is very readable, but not altogether reliable.
His book was illustrated by a wood-cut, showing Martin
upon a horse, overtaking his victim in a chaise (its top turned down), lashing the horse, and directly opposite the Ten-hills mansion.2
As the indictment charged the robbery in Medford
, this is comparable to the old weapon found in the river at the building of Cradock Bridge and brought to the Historical Society, and said to have ‘been Mike Martin
's,’ but which was a revolver
. [p. 85]
Another writer, perhaps with some reason, gives the ‘Devil's Den’ in Menotomy Rocks park at Arlington
as his hiding place, giving a minute and interesting account of its features.
The date of this latter cannot be fixed but, as before stated, perhaps was 1886.
Another haunt of Martin
's is said to have been on the slope of Central hill, where was (and still is) the spring, just northward from the railroad station known as Winter hill
But neither Martin
nor any one else ever dreamed of a railroad then.
The sheriff doubtless had then
and there good reason to ask of the assembly respect of the rites of religion, but it is a sad commentary on some phases of modern civilization that, after the lapse of a century, the chief executive of the commonwealth has found it needful to appeal to our citizenry for respect of law and order, or that younger men than Mike Martin
can commit more daring crimes in daylight and succeed in a quick getaway.