Series 1, M. Watt Espy Papers, 1730-2008
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Card File Index of Executions, Undated

Component description

About this series

2.8 cubic ft.
Scope and Content:
Watt Espy kept a series of index cards, grouped mainly by state, that records information about executions on American soil (colonies, states, territories) since the 1600s. Some cards contain lots of information, including name, place of execution, method, and details of the crime. Other cards have very little information aside from the fact that someone was executed. Sometimes there is not even a name—just “two slaves” or “pirate”. There are additional categories for federal, military, and Indian tribal executions. There are two different card sizes; for the 3x5 inch cards, each state, territory, or other main division is identified with a manila tab. Subdivisions are marked with blue, unlined cards and are intended to mirror the arrangement of materials in Series #2 as closely as possible., In addition to Espy’s numerous 3x5 inch cards, there is also an assortment of 4x6 inch cards used in cases where Espy continued information for prisoners who had lengthy and/or unusual details regarding their crimes and punishments. Nearly every state is featured in this category, as well as Guam, Indian tribal, military, and federal executions. Since Espy did not have surplus information to match every 3x5 card, the 4x6 cards are a much smaller group. Researchers will know when to refer to the larger index cards because Espy noted “see large card” on the 3x5 size where appropriate. The 4x6 cards do not have any subdivisions and are arranged alphabetically by state, then alphabetically by prisoner name within each state., Special notes for 3x5 index cards:, 1. Slave states of the South, as well as colonial states of the North, usually have an extra category of cards: compensation paid to owners whose slaves were executed for crimes. Espy was the first researcher to track that information. However, cards showing compensation paid to sheriffs for carrying out executions are not separated into their own group., 2. Espy marked certain cards “unconfirmed” if he did not have sufficient evidence that an execution was carried out. Other cards indicate that an individual (or individuals) received a death sentence, but there is neither an “unconfirmed” notation nor date of death. Those cards have been categorized by the archivist as additional unconfirmed executions., 3. Researchers might want to search more than one category within a state, because some executions fit more than one description. Ex. “Female slave” executed 1858 whose owner was paid $400 would fit the categories of anonymous executions and slave owner compensations, but would only be filed in the latter. Ex. #2: “Man and Woman” possibly hanged in Kentucky, 1820s—would be filed in unconfirmed executions, not the anonymous group., 4. Card files include military executions and lynchings although neither were a main focus of Espy’s research., 5. Cards that name 3 or more individuals executed are in order by whoever’s name would properly be first alphabetically, even if Espy did not list that person’s name first. Ex: Dennis Igoe, James Johnson, and Joseph Frampton- Frampton is first alphabetically and is filed as such although his name is listed last on Espy’s index card., and 6. Many of the 3x5 card subdivisions identified by blue cards are organized alphabetically, but due to time constraints, the slave owner compensation categories are not alphabetized.
Arranged alphabetically by state/territory, then alphabetically by person's name within categories such as "1-2 people executed", "3+ people executed", "Executions-- anonymous", etc.

Collection Context

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Access to this record group is unrestricted.
Terms of Access:
The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.