CRIME & PUNISHMENT IN YORK TOWN (TORONTO)
1790 - 1834
(with a note on slavery)
PUNISHMENT COLONIAL CANADA
Justice was harsh in the early
days of pioneer Toronto at the end if the 1700's. The death
penalty was the punishment for no less than 120 different crimes.
Only in 1865 was hanging finally restricted as punishment for the
crimes of murder, rape and treason.
Hanging was performed publicly, and the "drop", a technique where the
condemned fell a distance through a trapdoor to have his neck broken,
resulting in almost instantaneous death, was not used at the time.
Instead the condemned died a slow and horrible death by strangulation
as he or she were roughly hauled up at the end of a rope tied around their
neck or just dangled a foot or so high.
when the drop was used, hanging was still a public and frequently bloody
Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews, participants in the Mackenzie
Rebellion of 1837, were hung in a horrific manner
before a huge crowd of spectators on the corner of King and Toronto Streets,
just across from where the King Edward Hotel stands today. W.L.
Mackenzie described the executions in "Caroline Almanac" for 1840:
They (Lount and Matthews) behaved
with great resolution at the gallows; they would not have spoken to the
people, had they desire it. The spectacle of Lount after the execution was
the most shocking sight that can be imagined. He was covered over with his
blood; the head being nearly severed from his body, owing to the depth of
to Dr. S.I. Gorelsky, Department of Chemistry, Stanford
University for the above quote.)
Public hanging in Canada wasn't abolished until 1869, and in
Toronto it was moved indoors from the Don Jail yard into its confines in 1905.
PUBLIC HANGINGS OF
SAMUEL LOUNT AND PETER MATHEWS
& Toronto Streets
was an expensive undertaking. In 1828 Toronto's Sheriff Jarvis
the Province the following for a double hanging:
framing, erecting and taking down
44 0 0
8 13s 6d
7 17s 4d
2 0 0
44 10 10
expense to executioner and Sheriff's assistant;
for rope cord, dress, and to certain persons aiding
sheriff in erecting the platform and removing the body
15 0 0
For second criminal:
15 0 0
£ 30 0 0
92 10 10
costs of the last outdoor hanging in Toronto, in the Don Jail yard in 1905:
Gallows: $ 58.50
not include pay to executioner, Death Watch, and some constables.
Source: James Edmund Jones, Pioneer Crimes and Punishments in
Toronto and Home District, Toronto: 1924. )
Execution of Stanislaus Lacroix,
21 Mar. 1902 at Hull, Quebec, said to be the last publicly viewed
execution in Canada.
Onlookers can be seen on surrounding rooftops and telegraph poles.
PUNISHMENT COLONIAL CANADA
("corporal"--corpus-"body" punishment in the form
of pain caused to the body of the condemned by whipping, mutilation,
amputation, branding, etc.)
Branding on the tongue and hand was a
common penalty for petty crimes. In Toronto
prisoners were publicly branded in open court at the bottom of
Berkeley Street near the present location of Front Street.
for the crime of manslaughter, branding
was abolished in 1802.
remained on the books in Canada until very recently, whipping was most often routinely prescribed for petty larceny
(theft under $10), and accompanied by a term in jail.
The punishment was carried out in public until 1830, usually in the
Market Square -- approximately where St. Lawrence Market stands today on
Front Street in Toronto.
was the most common amount of blows given with the cat-o'-nine-tails,
reflecting a Biblical precedent, 2 Corinthians 11:24, where St. Paul
declares, "five times
received I forty lashes minus one."
In the Magistrate's Records of
Toronto there was a order in 1811 for the construction of a moveable
stocks for two people: "ordered that a carpenter be
employed to make moveable stocks that will confine two persons at once, and
when completed that they be erected where a majority of the Magistrates may
think most proper." This was a wooden
contraption that consisted of heavy timbers with holes, in which the legs of
a prisoner were confined. A
variation on this was the pillory, where the prisoner's head and arms were
locked into the device. The
prisoner was then left out at the mercy of the public, which would amuse
itself by throwing objects at the prisoners.
The objects would range from eggs to rocks, depending upon how the
public felt about the particular prisoner.
With just the legs confined in stocks, the prisoner could at least
protect his head and face, but in the pillory there was no such opportunity.
In England, the prisoner's ears were frequently nailed to the pillory
but there is no record of this having been done in Ontario.
In Toronto the stocks were wheeled out for use in the Market Square.
There is only one case surviving on record of their use:
in 1834 Mayor and Magistrate William Lyon Mackenzie ordered a
prisoner convicted for larceny to a two month term at hard labour in the
jail and "to stand one hour tomorrow, and one hour tomorrow week, in
the common stocks, and to be banished."
The use of this device was finally abolished in Canada in 1842.
In 1802 an Act was introduced providing for the banishment of
convicts from the Province of Upper Canada for a maximum period up to
life. The convict usually had eight days to remove themselves from the
Province and failure to comply was punishable by death. In 1841 the
punishment for unauthorized return from banishment was amended to
imprisonment for four years and transportation upon release.
hanging in Ontario c. 1895-1900 (possibly in London.)
LYNCHING IN TORONTO
On occasion, citizens took action
on their own, as in the case of one of the earlier murders on record in the
Toronto district. In 1819, just
outside of Toronto, a farmhand by the name of De Benyon, brutally murdered his stepson.
The two lived in a log cabin by the side of the road.
On a bitterly cold night in February, De Benyon threw his
thirteen-year-old stepson out of the house.
The boy tried to sneak back into the cabin, but his step-father
caught. He tied the boy up, and
slowly pushed him into the burning fireplace, first burning his legs, and
then eventually the rest of the lad.
When the neighbors heard of the
murder, they formed into an ugly mob and De Benyon ran towards Toronto.
The mob overtook him near the Don River and he was lynched there from
a tree near the river.
FREQUENCY OF ASSAULT
Our Toronto forefathers were most
often guilty of one particular crime: assault.
Toronto Magistrate James Jones, writing in 1924 a history of justice
in Toronto, observed that the court records in 1828, indicate in a short
time period four cases of petty larceny, nineteen of larceny, eight of riot,
one of break-and-enter, four of nuisance, and 129 of assault!
Some of Toronto's most prominent citizens, whose names now mark the
streets of the city, were brought up on assault charges in our courts: James Mercer, Jonathan Cawthra, William Augustus Baldwin,
were some who were convicted of assault.
IN TORONTO IN 1811.
Our Toronto ancestors
also kept slaves.
Slavery persisted in Toronto much later than we think.
Toronto Magistrates Thomas Ridout, Hon. Duncan Cameron and John
Small's minutes for March 1811, describe the escape of
two black slaves, a young boy and girl who eloped, belonging to William
Jarvis, of the prominent Toronto family:
William Jarvis of the town of York, Esq., informed the Court that a
negro boy and girl, his slaves, had the evening before been committed to
prison for having stolen gold and silver out of his desk in his
dwelling-house, and escaped from their said master, and prayed that the
Court would order that the said prisoners, with one Coachley, a free negro,
also committed to prison on the suspicion of having advised and aided the
said boy and girl in eloping with their Master's property, they were
accordingly ordered to be brought before the Court for examination."
The court held that the "said negro boy named Henry commonly called
Prince, be remitted to prison and there safely kept till delivered according
to law and that the girl do return to her said Master."
While slavery was banned in Ontario 1793,
this was to "gradually be done without violating private
property." Thus slaves
purchased prior to the ban, were not freed, and furthermore, children born
to female slaves subsequently, were to remain slaves until the age of
twenty-five. Under these laws,
a female slave, one year of age in 1793 when the act was enacted, and who
for the sake of argument, could give birth until the age of thirty-five,
could have technically sustained slavery in Toronto until about 1850.
In the Magistrate records there are references to blacks as
"free nigger" and "a free man of color."
Surnames for Blacks were not in favor:
a 1819 record shows a charge of assault against "Catherine,
calling herself Catherine Meyers."
She is later referred to as, "Catherine, a woman of colour."