The Execution of Michael Martin

F. W. Waldo’s pamphlet of Michael Martin’s confession, as well as contemporary newspaper accounts, universally noted the acceptance and dignity which Martin exhibited as he faced the scaffold. Waldo, in fact, quoted from the December 22, 1821 account of the Columbian Centinel:

“On Thursday last, Michael Martin, was executed for highway robbery, a short distance from the jail, of Middlesex County, in Cambridge, (Lechmere Point,) directly in view from the westerly part of this town, and the State Prison in Charlestown.

“Some time before the execution, he was released from his irons, and was visited in his room by the Rev. Mr. M’Quade, of the Catholic Church. About 12 o’clock, he was put into a close carriage, in which were Sheriff Austin, the reverend gentleman, above named, and a professional gentleman of this town. The carriage was preceded, and surrounded by Deputy Sheriffs on horseback, and followed by a cart containing the criminal’s coffin. When arrived at the gallows, the prisoner ascended to the stage, on which the platform of execution was erected, without assistance and with the most placid look, cast his eyes over the immense multitude which surrounded him.

“He appeared a young man, about 27, in perfect health, dressed in a suit of black, with a white neck-cloth, and apparently, the most unaffected person on the stage, of which there were nine — the sheriff, the prisoner, the priest, the professional gentleman alluded to, two surgeons, and three deputy sheriffs. His resignation appeared unforced. While the sheriff was reading the death warrant, the prisoner was in earnest conversation with the priest, and did not appear to hear it. The warrant having been read, the sheriff announced to the assembled spectators, that the last office of religion would be performed to the unhappy man, by the clergyman then present, and beseeched them to attend with the same silence and decorum which they had attended to the reading of the warrant. The request was fully complied with; and the utmost silence was preserved while the priest and the convict, kneeling at the foot of the steps which led to the scaffold, recited the prayers of the church, suited to the occasion; Martin responding with serenity, and frequently making the sign of the cross.

“This service ended, the prisoner, the sheriff, and Mr. Train, the gaoler, ascended the scaffold. Martin surveyed the apparatus for his execution, for a moment, without any change of countenance, and then untied his neck-cloth, and appeared to assist in fixing the fatal noose to his neck, so as to occasion his death without suffering. He then took a handkerchief, and after the cap was placed over his face, and the sheriff and his deputy had descended to the stage, inquired, with a firm voice, ‘When shall I drop the handkerchief?’ The sheriff answered, ‘When you please.’ Martin slowly raised his hands thrice to his breast, as in prayer, and then threw down the handkerchief, and was instantly launched into eternity. His death appeared to be immediate, and without suffering. After hanging the usual time, his body was disposed of, as desired in his will. This was the first execution, under the law making the crime, of which Martin was convicted, capital; and the regularity and decorum with which it was conducted, must have made a deep impression on the great body of spectators which witnessed it, and inspired them with a suitable awe of the energy and majesty of the law.”

Decades later, in 1885, a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe revealed the final resting place of Martin:

The St. Augustine cemetery still exists, and Martin’s remains are presumably still there.

[Note that Martin, in his confession, said that his real given name was John, not Michael. And yet the aged woman who said she knew him as a boy said, “I remember Micky…” So did Martin go by the name Michael (Micky) ever since he was very young; or, perhaps, did this woman not really know him?]

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