chapter  Chapter 4
17 Pages

Black Girls and the Gallows

WithLawrence B. Goodheart

This chapter shows that the clash between the degradation of slavery and Enlightenment ideals was the provocation for the de facto end of female capital punishment in the New Republic and since. A 12-year-old of mixed race, Hannah Occuish, was notoriously hanged in 1786 for the killing of a white girl half her age. In 1795, however, the life of Ann Negro was spared for a similar crime. The explosive contradictions of slavery led to several examples of black girls killing white peers. At the same time that Connecticut initiated a gradual abolition of slavery, the vulnerability of black girls to the death penalty called into question the execution of females as a whole. The uncodified paternalistic exclusion for girls and women continued without exception; for males, capital punishment remained the ultimate punishment throughout the next two centuries and beyond.