BEFORE THE NEEDLES

Hanging, Electric Chair, Gas Chamber, Firing Squad
and other historic methods of Capital Punishment

THE HISTORY OF EXECUTIONS IN AMERICA
 BEFORE LETHAL INJECTION
(Plus a Few Thousand Lynchings)

Prior to the execution of Gary Gilmore (sitting before the firing squad) saying "Let's do it.", thousands of people had been legally executed in the United States. Click below to see a time based summary.

State Execution Totals

Why were they executed? Capital crimes varied from century to century. We no longer execute witches, horse thieves or adulterers. Between 1607 and 1708 only 34% of the 191 documented executions were for murder. At the same time, 24% of those executed were women. Click below to see statistical data relating to crimes, sex, race and methods of execution over the centuries.

 Executions Over Time

Executions By Crime, Race and Sex

I've done some Regional Studies of the Executions between 1607 and 1968.  

Regional Studies
Including Execution Trivia for all 50 States & DC

The following is a detailed State by State listing of 14,490 executions that occurred under civil authority in the United States or within territory that later became the United States. From George Kendal being shot for espionage in Virginia (Dec. 1, 1607*) until Gary Gilmore met his maker for murder in Utah (1977), it includes (when known) the convict's name, age, race, sex, occupation, crime, date of execution, method of execution, whether it was a single or multiple execution and the County in which the crime occurred. Click on the individual States to view the details. Use your "Back" button to return.
*According to National Park Service Records
 Beware, some of these files are huge. Many are over
1 MB in size and may take a very long time to load.

Alabama 708Alaska 12Arizona 104Arkansas 478California 709Colorado 101Connecticut 126Delaware 62District of Columbia 118Florida 314Georgia 950Hawaii 49Idaho 26Illinois 348Indiana 131Iowa 45Kansas 57Kentucky 424Louisiana 632Maine 21Maryland 309Massachusetts 345Michigan 13Minnesota 66Mississippi 351Missouri 285Montana 71Nebraska 34Nevada 61New Hampshire 24New Jersey 361New Mexico 73New York 1,130North Carolina 784North Dakota 8Ohio 438Oklahoma 132Oregon 122Pennsylvania 1,040Rhode Island 52South Carolina 641South Dakota 15Tennessee 335Texas 755Utah 43Vermont 26Virginia 1,277Washington 105West Virginia 155Wisconsin 1Wyoming 22

The racial breakdown of these executions is as follows.
White 5,903 - Black 7,084 (1,749 slaves) - Hispanic 295
Native Americans 353 - Asians 142 - Unknown 700+

Less than 3% of those executed were women. Click below to see details about these executions.

Females 356

We can't get away without mentioning juveniles. The following is a listing of those who were actually executed when they were between the ages of 12 and 17 years old.

Juveniles 159

Until recently, Non-Homicidal Rape (or in some cases Attempted Rape) was a capital crime. Click below to see details about these executions. At the bottom of the page is a racial summary.

Rape 1,086

Not all executions were Rape or Murder related. 

Non-Rape / Non-Murder 1,310

Ah, the good old days. Not every execution involved hanging, shooting, gassing, electrocution or injection. Click below to see details about some of the more brutal methods of execution.

   Unusual Executions 120

If you don't know what some of these methods of executions are, don't feel alone. Click below to find out the dirty details.

Breaking at the Wheel
Gibbeting  &  Hanging in Chains
Burning

Pressing

Other

If you are curious about how they do it today, the following is the actual execution protocols used by  TENNESSEE (Electric Chair), DELAWARE, (Hanging), MISSISSIPPI (Gas Chamber) and MISSOURI (Lethal Injection). I wish to thank Fred Leuchter, the author of these manuals, for sending them to me and giving me permission to publish them on this site.

Electric Chair
Hanging

Gas Chamber

Lethal Injection

As far as usual executions, there were at least 9,321 by hanging, at least 142 by firing squad, 4,281 by electric chair and 582 by gas chamber.

Electric Chair 1 to 1,000 
Electric Chair 1,001 to 2,000
 
Electric Chair 2,001 to 3,000
 
Electric Chair 3,001 to 4,000
 
Electric Chair 4,001 to 4,281
 
Firing Squad 
Gas Chamber 
Hanging Pre-Revolutionary 
Hanging 1777 to 1799 
Hanging 1800 to 1850 
Hanging 1851 to 1875 
Hanging 1876 to 1899 
Hanging 1900 to 1925 
Hanging 1926 to 1965 
Other or Unknown

America's Electric Chairs
(Under Construction)

It all started in 1890 when William Kemmler was strapped into this chair.

Kemmler Chair 1.jpg (51831 bytes)

Click on the pic to see the rest of them.

Mystery Electric Chair

One of my readers has in his possession a real, functional Electric Chair. We are currently trying to determine the origin of it. Can you help us? Click in the thumbnail below to find out more about it.

mystery chair.JPG (35916 bytes)

For those seeking sequential information I have listed these executions in order of occurrence. Data includes (when known) name, age, race, sex, occupation, crime, method of execution, date of execution, State of execution and the State's sequential number.

Execution 1 to 1,500 - 1608 to Jul. 18, 1797
Execution 1,501 to 3,000 - Jul. ?, 1797 to May 12, 1848

Execution 3,001 to 4,500 - May 15, 1848 to Apr. 21, 1876

Execution 4,501 to 6,000 - Apr. 21, 1876 to Sep. 4, 1891

Execution 6,001 to 7,500 - Sep. 4, 1891 to Jul. 28, 1904

Execution 7,501 to 9,000 - Jul. 28, 1904 to Mar. 10, 1916

Execution 9,001 to 10,500 - Mar. 10, 1916 to Jan. 11, 1929

Execution 10,501 to 12,000 - Jan. 14, 1929 to May 3, 1938

Execution 12,001 to 13,500 - May. 6, 1938 to Apr, 11, 1949

Execution 13,501 to 14,490 - Apr. 16, 1949 to Jan. 17, 1977

And finally, I have listed these executions in alphabetical order. Data includes name, age, race, sex, occupation, crime, method of execution, date of execution, State of execution and the State's sequential number.

-A-, -B-, -C-, -D-, -E-, -F-, -G-, -H-, -I-, -J-, -K-, -L-, -M-
  -N-, -O-, -P-, -Q-, -R-, -S-, -T-, -U-, -V-, -W-, -Y-, -Z-

FEDERAL EXECUTIONS

 There have been at least 340 Federal Executions. in addition 271 were executed under Territorial Government authority and 40 more under the authority of Indian Tribunals. 7 of these 651 executed were women.

Federal, Territorial and Indian Tribunal List 

MILITARY EXECUTIONS

An 18-year-old private named Thomas Hickey was court-martialed and executed Jun 28,1776 and represented the first military execution in the Continental Army. He was involved in an attempt to kidnap and/or assassinate George Washington. He was found guilty of Mutiny and Sedition and was hanged before an audience of 20,000 soldiers.

The Civil War

 Currently I have a listing of 267 Union Soldier executed by the Union Army during our Civil War. I haven't had much luck finding a complete list of Confederate Soldier executions. I also don't have complete listings of Union Soldiers executed by the Confederate Army nor Confederate Soldiers executed by the Union Army. If you know where I can find this data please get in touch with me so I can include this information on the site. Data should include Name, Unit, Execution Date, Method and Offense.

Union Soldiers Executed Sequential List 
Union Soldiers Executed Alphabetical List

World War II

My British friend and execution expert, Richard Clark, has provided me with a listing of U.S. Servicemen executed in England during WWII.

World War II England

One of my readers, Bill Crews, was kind enough to send me a listing of all 98 US Soldiers who were executed in the European Theater of WWII. The list is missing a lot of information beyond the names of the executees. If you have any information regarding crime, method of execution, place, date, color, rank, etc., please let me know.

World War II Europe

Bill Crews also sent me a listing of the 21 military executions that occurred in Milne Bay, New Guinea in the Pacific Theater of WWII.

World War II Pacific

Only once in the history of the US Navy has there been an execution for Mutiny,

USS Somers Mutiny

Who is The Most Famous Executioner in the World?

I wrote an article about him for my friend Robert Anthony Phillips' website "TheDeathHouse.com". (Unfortunately, time constraints forced Robert to close his excellent site.)
Who is this famous hangman? I'll give you a hint, his image is on the US $1000 bill. 
You still don't know, do you?

Click on the $1000 Bill below to read the article.

  1000 bill front.jpg (63297 bytes)  

LYNCHINGS

Not all executions were result of the American Judicial System. Especially in the Deep South there cruel and unusual punishment was the way of doing business. Lynchings are much more difficult to document than legal executions. There are no Court Documents or Warrants of Execution. Experts can't even agree on where to draw the line between a Lynching and a Murder. Another problem is defining the Timeline of Lynching. When was the first Lynching? The last? Are Lynchings still occurring today?

Just What is a Lynching?

I sent a questionnaire to several Lynching Experts asking for their opinions.

Michael J. Pfeifer Ph.D.
Gode Davis

Check out several thousand of these ILLEGAL EXECUTIONS.

Southern Lynchings
From Project HAL (Historic American Lynchings)

More Lynchings
Courtesy of Michael J. Pfeifer Ph.D.

Maine's Only Lynching

2,400 More Lynchings and Murders
THE LYNCHING CENTURY, African Americans
Who Died In Racial Violence, 1865 - 1965
Source: THE NATIONAL LISTS

Even More Lynchings
From Various Sources

The Biggest Lynching in History
One Lynching Is Unique From All The Rest

If you, my readers, know of any pre-Furman (before 1972) executions or lynchings not listed above, let me know. Please submit some evidence that the execution actually occurred such as newspaper articles, website references, legal documents etc. Put "Additional Execution" in the subject line of your e-mail. I will add these executions to the link below.

Recently Discovered Executions and Lynchings

Since my site has been discovered by the Genealogy Community I have been receiving a lot of interesting e-mail. Some from people who are descendents of those executed. Others are from folks who refer me to interesting websites about individuals who suffered the ultimate punishment.

Interesting E-Mail

If you know of any executions not listed here, or have
 any questions or comments, e-mail me at

 rg@bestweb.net

Note: Many people have e-mailed me requesting more information on specific executions, like victim names or execution locations. This is information that I simply don't have. These historic executions were major news stories in those days. Almost every newspaper in the state would have covered it no matter where it occurred. If you know the name and date, it shouldn't be too hard to find more details by researching the archives of the newspapers that existed in those days. Many libraries have this on microfilm.

Enjoy your research,
Rob Gallagher

This page was developed from the data file "Executions in the United States, 1608-1987: The ESPY File", Espy, M. Watt, and John Ortiz Smykla, Principal Investigators. Funded by the National Science Foundation. This dataset represents the most complete list of executions in the United States compiled to date.