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INV-26299 [PIRACY, CAPITAL PUNISHMENT] Printed Document, Broadside, “Life, Last Words and Dying Confession of Rachel Wall,” October 7, 1789, Boston. 1 p., 13˝ x 18 in. 1789-10-07

This printed broadside features a woodcut illustration of the execution on Boston Common and the text of the dying confession of Rachel Wall, the first American-born woman to become a pirate and the last woman executed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Wall and two others were publicly hanged on October 8, 1789, for the crime of highway robbery. The execution order was signed by Massachusetts Governor John Hancock (1736-1793), who thirteen years earlier as president of the Second Continental Congress had boldly signed the Declaration of Independence.

By early November 1789, “The Lives and Confessions of Rachel Wall, William Smith, and William Denoffe” were for sale throughout New England. One advertisement noted, “Neither of the above had arrived to the age of 30 years, but have been old offenders—the woman in particular. The above are not unworthy the perusal of any person—and if attended to by our rising youth, will doubtless tend to preserve their morals.”[1] Later that month, Boston printer Elijah Russell published The Prisoners Magazine, Or Malefactors Bloody Register, which contained perhaps a different version of “the life and confession of Rachel Wall, William Dunogan and William Smith.”[2]



[1]New-Hampshire Recorder and the Weekly Advertiser (Keene), November 5, 1789, 3:3.

[2]The Herald of Freedom, and the Federal Advertiser (Boston, MA), November 27, 1789, 4:1.

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