Long before the corner of Mile Lane and High Street became famous for the Clam Box, it was known as Pingrey’s Plain, where the wicked were hung. The story was written by Alice Keenan in Ipswich Yesterday:
“Pingrey’s Plain was where the local hangman plied his macabre trade and was set up for the execution in 1700 of a Newbury lass (Esther Rogers) who had loved not wisely but too well. After being tried before Judge Samuel Sewall, he of witchcraft infamy, and found guilty of killing her illegitimate babe, the General Court in 1701 ordered “the erection of a gibbet” at Ipswich which was done forthwith.
In the customs of the times, she was brought before “lecture” following her sentencing and further reviled and shortly thereafter, dressed in her best clothes, was bumping along High street in the hangman’s cart while the cheering hundreds awaited her arrival at Pingrey’s Plain. Legend has it that passing a small hill “she raised her eyes and took great comfort” and that’s why they call it “Comfort Hill.”
A tougher nut to crack was Elizabeth Atwood, tried and found guilty for the same offense. Thomas Franklin Waters recorded the event: “About 1725, Elizabeth Atwood single woman of Ipswich was hung for murdering her child. She gave no signs of being properly affected by her crime or by the realities of eternity. She put on as many others in a similar condition have done a mock courage which set at defiance the retributions of both God and man. As an evidence of her callousness, tradition tells us that as it was customary for the executioner to have the clothes of those whom he executed she fitted herself out in the very worst of her apparel and on her way to the gallows she laughed so that a woman who attended her saw it and exclaimed, “How can you be so thoughtless on such an occasion?” and that she immediately replied “I am laughing to think what a sorry suit the hangman will get from me”.
The last public hanging at Pingrey’s Plain was held in 1795 when Pomp, “the half-daft negro slave” of Captain Furbush of Andover was hung for doing in his master while asleep. The Salem Gazette carried the tale of his execution on August 6th:
He was carried into the Meeting House at 11 o’clock. A solemn Prayer was made by Rev. Frisbie (Pastor of the First Church) and a judicious and well-adapted sermon by Rev. Mr. Dana (of the South Church) from the solemn denunciation `He that sheddeth man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed. Mr. Bradford of Rowley prayed at the place of execution. The negro remained unmoved throughout the entire scene. He was directed to pray in his last moments and prayed with great solemnity. Poor crazy Pomp, we wonder if he really knew what was going on.”
One of the neighbors, then a young girl, used to tell in her very old age that Mr. Bradford prayed so loud that they could hear him in Rowley and the day, the thousands who gathered to witness the hanging, haunted her still. Happily, this was the last scene of horror in Ipswich and ‘the cheering crowds of thousands’ had to look elsewhere for their peculiar form of entertainment. The area was still known as the Gallow’s Lot well into the 20th Century and the rumor that it’s haunted still persists – it certainly deserves to be.”
Sources and further reading:
- Dying Confession of Pomp, A Negro Man, Who Was Executed at Ipswich, on the 6th August, 1795, for Murdering Capt. Charles Furbush, of Andover, Taken from the Mouth of the Prisoner, and Penned by Jonathan Plummer.
- History of Ipswich, Essex, and Hamilton by Joseph Barlow Felt
- Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by Thomas Franklin Waters