British Executions

John Massey

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: piracy

Date Of Execution: 26 Jul 1723

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown


Executed at Execution-Dock, July 26, 1723, for Piracy. (A Very Hard Case.)

   IN transcribing the record and particulars of this truly unfortunate man, we had no conception that he would have appeared among those who suffered the extreme sentence of the law. Indeed, we rather thought his conduct, making allowance for the critical way in which he was situated, meritorious, than really guilty; but; when we found that he actually pleaded guilty to the charge laid against him in the indictment, we were left in wonder at the mysterious ways of Providence.

   Captain Massey was the son of a gentleman of fortune, who gave him an excellent education. When young, though somewhat wild and wavering in his mind, yet we find no flagitious conduct imputed to him. He grew weary of home, and thirsted to taste the pleasures of a world in which he was doomed to act an unhappy part. His father procured him a commission in the army; he served with great credit as lieutenant, under the command of the Duke of Marlborough, during the wars in Flanders, in the reign of Queen Anne. On his return to England, he conducted himself with great decency, but became acquainted with a woman of bad character, to whom he was so much attached that he would undoubtedly have married her, if his father, who got intelligence of the affair, had not happily broke off the connection. After this he went with his regiment to Ireland, where he lived for some time in a dissolute manner, but at length got appointed to the rank of lieutenant and engineer to the Royal African Company, and sailed in one of their ships to direct the building of a fort. The ship being ill supplied with provisions, and those of the worst kind, the sufferings of the crew were inexpressibly great. Every Officer on board died except Massey, and many of the soldiers likewise fell a sacrifice to the scandalous neglect. Those who lived to get on shore drankso greedily of the fresh water, that they were thrown into fluxes, which destroyed them in such a rapid manner, that only Captain Massey and a very few of his people were left alive. These, being totally unable to build a fort, and seeing no prospect of relief, began to abandon themselves to despair; but at this time a vessel happening to come near the shore, they made signals of distress; on which a boat was sent off to their relief. They were no sooner on board, than they found the vessel was a pirate; and, distressed as they had been, perhaps too hastily engaged in their lawless plan, or appeared so to do, rather than run the hazard of perishing on shore. Sailing from hence, they took several prizes and though the persons made prisoners were not used with cruelty, Mr. Massey had so true a sense of the illegality of the proceedings in which he was concerned, that his mind was perpetually tormented with the idea of the fatal consequences that might ensue. At length the ship reached Jamaica, when Mr. Massey seized the first opportunity of deserting, and, repairing to the governor, he gave such information, that the crew of the pirate vessel were taken into custody, convicted, and hanged. Massey might have been provided for by the governor, who treated him with singular respect, on account of his services to the public, but he declined his generous offers, through an anxiety to visit his native country. On his sailing for England, the governor gave him recommendatory letters to the lords of the admiralty; but, astonishing as it may seem, instead of being caressed, he was taken into custody, and committed till a sessions of admiralty was held for his trial, when he pleaded guilty, and received sentence of death. As his case was remarkable, the public entertained no doubt but that he would have been pardoned; however, a warrant was sent for his execution, and he made the most solemn preparation for his approaching fate. Two clergymen attended him at the place of execution, where he freely acknowledged his sins in general, was remarkably fervent in his devotions, and seemed perfectly resigned to his fatal destiny. Though the captain pleaded guilty at his trial, for guilty in some measure he was, yet his joining the pirates was evidently an act of necessity, not of choice; add to which, his subsequent conduct at Jamaica proved that he took the earliest opportunity to abandon his late companions, and bring them to justice; a conduct by which he surely merited the thanks of his country, and not the vengeance of the law. We sincerely hope that no future king will under such circumstances, sign a warrant for execution.