Today's story is a sad one; it serves as a reminder of the harsh punishments our 18th century courts handed down for occurrences which, sometimes, weren't really even crimes at all.
|Rural New Hampshire|
In June 1768, children playing in a barn in South Hampton near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, made a grisly and disturbing discovery beneath the floorboards when they found the body of newborn baby girl. The authorities were duly summoned and an autopsy on the unfortunate infant was carried out, that found no suggestion of foul play in the child's death. However, the very act of secretly delivering an illegitimate child was a crime known as concealment and it was punishable by death. If the infant did not live and no eye witnesses were present to attest that the death was a natural one, then the matter automatically became one of murder.
Whispers spread throughout the town that the mother of the unfortunate babe was a 31 year old unmarried schoolteacher named Ruth Blay, who was rooming in a house beside the barn. Within a week of the discovery, the terrified woman was imprisoned and on trial for her life. She readily admitted to being the child's mother but swore that the death was a natural one and refused to name the father. Incarcerated through a blistering summer, Ruth mourned her lost child and sorry circumstances bitterly, her health slowly but surely declining.
An all male jury found Ruth guilty and on 24th November 1768, she was sentenced to death by hanging. Usually the sentence would be carried out swiftly but Ruth received three reprieves before the day of her death, each of them serving only to prolong her torment. The stifling summer turned to autumn and a bitter winter descended until finally, the sorry day could be put off no longer.
On the last night of her life, Ruth sat in her freezing cell in what must have been utter desperation, reflecting on the sad events that had brought her to this place. She composed a final statement in which she once again confessed to giving birth to the child but utterly refuted any claims that she was responsible for the death of her daughter.
The following day she was transported by cart to the place of execution where hundreds of locals gathered to watch her die. When the cart pulled away Ruth did not die quickly in the noose but instead was left to a slow, agonising strangulation. Her body was placed in an unmarked grave, the exact location now lost to history.
Ruth Blay was the last woman to be executed in New Hampshire and today, her name lives on as a symbol of a cruel law, albeit one that would remain in place for almost a quarter of a century after her own execution.