Lady Pirate at the Gallows - The Execution of Rachel Wall

Lady Pirate at the Gallows - The Execution of Rachel Wall

I usually open up these articles by discussing what interests me about the topic at hand. My fascination with Rachel Wall is fairly obvious.

Rachel Wall was one of the few women born in the soon-to-be United States who became a pirate.

Oh, she was also the last woman to be hung in Massachusetts.


American Pirates

At the same time George Washington was leading the Continental Army to victory at Yorktown, a small group of pirates began attacking ships off the coast of New Hampshire.

This gang would disguise their ship as disabled and leave a woman on the deck. When passing ship came to help, the pirates would board, rob and (sometimes) murder them.

Their attacks lasted for almost two years until a storm came, swept the ship out to sea, and killed them.

Well, all but one of them.


Rachel Wall

Rachel Schmidtl was born and raised in Pennsylvania.

About the time the United States was declaring independence she ran away from home. Soon thereafter, she met and married George Wall. They traveled for several years before settling in Boston.

Rachel worked as a servant for several years before her, her husband and several friends decided to take to piracy.

She was the ‘damsel in distress’ who lured in other ships. When the crew was killed, she was the lone survivor.


Caught

Now alone, Rachel Wall returned to Boston where she spent most of the 1780’s committing small crimes.

At the end of the decade she attacked a young woman, stealing her bonnet and shoes. Rachel was tracked down that same night and arrested.

Just three years removed from Shays’ Rebellion (and during the first year of George Washington’s presidency), the people of Massachusetts were extremely concerned with lawlessness. Wall was quickly convicted of highway robbery and sentenced to death.


Hung

Interestingly, Wall did not deny she was a criminal. Instead, she argued that she should not be hung for highway robbery, she should be hung as a pirate. The courts did not agree.

In October of 1789, a crowd of thousands gathered to watch Rachel brought to the gallows with two other men.

Rachel Wall was the only woman hung as a pirate in US history as well as the final woman hung by the State of Massachusetts.


To learn about other women who didn’t play by the rules during the American Founding, check out these articles:

Patience Wright Waxes the King

Deborah Sampson Drags Herself to War

Mercy Otis Warren Scribbles Her Way Into History

Woman played an underrated role on the high seas.

‘Seafaring Women’ is a deeper look into the lives of the women who sailed the oceans.

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