The events that occurred before and after the trial and the fate in which Elizabeth Herring faced, is significant in understanding the ways of life in the 1700’s. This blog will bring forth some of the problems in the 1700’s that had occurred in many people’s everyday lives and is still occurring in today’s society. Some of the problems that will be brought to attention is; abuse at this time, drinking and the corruption of the witness and justice system.
Elizabeth Herring was a woman in 1773 who was married to her husband Robert Herring. She was put on trial because she was convicted of murdering her husband with a knife. She was said to have stabbed him one time in the throat and he died shortly after, this occurred on August 5th, 1773. However, she was not tried until September 8th, 1773. The first witness that was brought to the stand was John Boyle. Boyle testifies that he was there when it happened and he had been just a, “half a yard from them” when it occurred. Boyle’s stated that Herring had gone to her husband and, “Struck the knife into his throat.” Boyle’s stated that Robert had died right away and also mentioned he had not heard them fighting prior to the incident. The second witness was Hannah Darling, owner of the house in which the murder occurred. Darling stated she also had not heard them fighting prior to the murder. She then goes on to describe that Elizabeth had been uttering threats at her husband before the murder occurred. Darling also noted that there had been a large amount of blood present. Darling ends her testimony with the notion that, Elizabeth ran out screaming that she had just killed her husband and committed murder. The third witness was Thomas Duncan. Duncan is a brick layer who was working at Hannah Darling’s property at the time of the murder. Duncan testified that Robert Herring had been facing Elizabeth at this time. Duncan then noted that he could not make out what Elizabeth and Robert were saying but, that they were arguing about something. Duncan had not noticed anything else until he had seen the knife dropping to the floor and the blood pouring out of Robert. Duncan goes on to say that Robert was still alive when he went to help and that he had tried to call for help but no one came. Duncan then went into describing that he had tried to help Robert get to help but, numerous times Robert Herring had stumbled or fallen because of the weakness caused by the injury. The Surgeon shows up just minutes before Herring dies. William Pidley (first surgeon) had taken the stand and claimed that he had been the one that examined Robert Herring on site. Next was James Blythe (second surgeon) who testified that he examined the body as well and agreed that Herring’s neck was cut and the knife had hit a major blood vessel. Elizabeth Herring starts her defense speech at this time. Elizabeth starts by telling every one of the harsh abuse that her husband had committed. Elizabeth also drops the bomb that she and her “husband” were actually not married and that they had never been married, they only lived together for over a decade. Elizabeth then admitted that she is guilty of killing her common law but, she did it for good reason. She then had taken time to address the fact that Darling had always disliked her. Four witnesses are called to the stand to testify on Elizabeth’s behalf. All of which testify that Robert had been an abuser and that Elizabeth was actually kind-hearted. The hearing then ends with Elizabeth stating she was pregnant but, this turns out to be false. Elizabeth was proclaimed guilty of the murder of Robert Herring and she was sentenced to be executed. Elizabeth was then executed by being burned alive at the stake.
The trial of Elizabeth Herring gives people today something to draw many conclusions from, on what it may have been like back in the eighteenth century. One thing that I have drawn from this trial is the treatment of women by others. The continuous details given in the trial of the abuse in which Elizabeth had been subject to in her everyday life, is eye opening. Men abusing women is still an occurrence in the world today, so this brings it into a more relate-able context for readers. Most of the details of the abuse were taken from the people that were defending Elizabeth. Some had stated details such as, “he would knock her down with quart pots; stick form in her hand” (quart pots), “he has turned her out of doors without shoes and stockings, and “he has got up and beat her with a poker without a handle.” These details would suggest that abuse was harsh in this instance but, abuse of women in the eighteenth century was very much present. Even while I was searching for my trial I had run into many other women’s trials that had been found guilty for the murdering of their husbands. In the end of the trial even after the testimonies of people stating that Robert Herring was indeed violent and that had been the reason Elizabeth had been pushed over the edge, she was still found guilty for murder and executed in a non-humane way. Yes, there is no doubt that she should have been found guilty but, given the circumstances in which she endured does it still make it okay to burn someone at the stake?
DRINK, DRANK, DRUNK
Drinking had always been a problem during early centuries and drinking is still a problem now. Although it is not as severe as it was back then, drinking is still a major contributor to the abuse of women. A light can be argued to be shone onto this problem through the trial of Elizabeth Herring. In this trial Robert Herring was never outright stated to be an alcoholic because at this time drinking was another part of a person’s day but, it was poked at. Although it was not directly mentioned the witnesses do point to him drinking beer or throwing beer at Elizabeth when he was having one of his abuser moods. This may not seem as a significant amount of evidence but, do to further research I found out that there had been a “Gin Craze” in the 1700′s and it had carried through till the end of the eighteenth century (although not as many people drank gin in the later half because of acts and taxes raising the price of gin). This may also show the reader the relationship of men drinking and abuse going hand in hand with each other in the eighteenth century as it still does today. The amount of alcohol that men had been drinking at this point in time was less then what it had been in the earlier half of the century. With that being said it was still a huge part of a person’s life if they had the money to be able to afford the alcohol. In Robert Herrings case it is not mentioned that he is poor and in order to get a court time someone would of had to have paid for the trial. This could point to Robert Herring possibly being of the middle class or even the upper class. This would also point to all the reasons for Robert Herring to be a person who drank quite frequently.
CORRUPTION OF WITNESS
The corruption of witnesses was another thing found in this trial. This did occur to me when first reading it even before Elizabeth called out Hannah Darling for doing exactly this during the statements in which she had given. This would help people from the twenty first century get a glance at what the law had been like then compared to now. Now it is thought to be horrid that someone would lie on the stand but, back then it seemed rather normal which is weird because it always seemed like religion was more intact back then, then it is in the current day. This would have to do with someone’s morals and actually lying to people and God. Through this trial it could be argued that this was true when Hannah Darling (not so darling) starts spewing words in which Elizabeth was said to have said. This is not the case because other witnesses heard nothing and reported that Elizabeth and Robert barely spoke that day and if so it was only a few words. It is also mentioned in the trial that Hannah claims to have not heard them speaking at all and then when she had been asked again she claimed to have heard them arguing. Hannah seems to be flip flopping and changing points that she had mentioned before into something completely made up of her BS.This would contradict and prove that Hannah had gone rogue.
CORRUPTION OF GOVERNMENT
To tie in with the previous paragraph, this trial helps us understand how corrupt the government and justice system had been at that time. The punishment’s that criminals had been faced with would be argued to be in-humane in the twenty first century(even though what they do for the death sentences now in other states could be argued to be just as in-humane). Elizabeth Herring was punished to be burned till dead at the stake. Others who committed “petty” crimes were sentenced to execution by hanging. It was mentioned by Professor Magrath in class that at this time the executors did not have the science down in order to “effectively” kill someone in the least amount of time. Most people who were burned at the stake were supposed to have a rope tied around their neck, it would then be pulled and this was supposed to break their neck. The thing is that sometimes the people were dumb and did not pull it in time and can anyone guess what happened? That is right the rope burned and this would let the person die the most horrible death possible by being burned alive. This trial also showed us as readers how women were treated and how trials had gone down. Even though Elizabeth did admit to killing her common law, the jury did not even take into account that the only reason this happened was the underlying abuse in the relationship and the possibility that it was just self defense. If one thinks about it, if this was really as bad as it was described, Elizabeth would have been killed at some point and the idiot would have probably got away scotch free. Also, this would show and help people of today understand that most people who committed even a minor offense such as stealing a handkerchief was given the punishment of death.
CONCLUSION AND MY THOUGHTS
I really enjoyed this trial because I was able to view the conversation of many people that were there to defend Elizabeth or testify against her. It was also interesting to hear Elizabeth speak for herself throughout the trial because it showed that she did not care what other’s thought at that time.This trial was an eye opener because of it being a first hand documented source of a trial in the 1700′s because it is from 241 years ago. This trial is also crazy to think about because of the fact that we still are having these problems even 241 years later (we really need to get our stuff together and change this!). Although I do understand she did kill her common law, I do not feel one bit sorry for Robert being murdered just because of being told as a reader and as a woman how he injured her. It is disgusting and I still believe that if she did not kill him when she did he would have killed her at some point. I also thought this brought a lot of attention to the problems that had been causing havoc in society back then. These problems were stated very clearly throughout the trial and also they turned into the underlying cause of murder. A reader may have been more emotional towards this trial because some of the problems (such as abuse) were happening/occurring even as far back as the 1700′s. Abuse is still present now which would make the problem more of a reality to the readers rather then something people today could never fully understand or be exposed to. This article did help readers understand that, the justice system/government was corrupt at this time and its laws were wack and abuse/the impact of drinking on family/everyday life at this time can also be compared to the twenty first century.