Confessions of two of the men who murdered Captain John Braddick and others at sea

Published in the June 29, 1734 issue of the British Observer

      As we have just received the dying sketches of John Wittness and Thomas Parker, who were executed at Barbadoes the 25th of February last, for the murder of their master Captain John Braddock, which we have before taken notice of, we did believe it might be acceptable to our readers to hear that those murderers were punished with death.

The last dying speech and Confession of Ziggey John Witness, so. called after the Indian manner.

I was born in Long Island in the government of New-York, in North-America, 23 years of age come next May, and what little education I had, I took of myself, my mother being poor and not able to bestow any learning upon me. I was unwilling therefore to stay at home, but chose rather to go to sea. I bore a very honest character and was beloved in Long-Island by all that ever knew me, both by sea and land. The last and fatal voyage that I undertook was in the brigantine Recovery, Captain Braddock, with whom I was unwilling to make this trip, but he over-persuaded, and would not part from me, which has proved in the end my utter ruin and destruction, through my own wicked graceless courses, rash, unthinking, and remorseless proceedings; for which I heartily beg of God to be merciful to my poor soul, who alone knows the sincerity of my repentance; and may this prove a dreadful warning to all persons for the future, and more especially to all the spectators here present, whose prayers for mercy for me at the Throne of Grace I fervently implore.

We sailed from Boston in New England in the Recovery, in the month of [month was omitted] 1753, to the [destination was omitted] from thence to the Island of Madera, where we took in wines, which the vessel’s company, making very free with while we stayed there, regularly got drunk, which occasioned the master to discharge three of them, saying that he would never carry any Irishmen more with him. Afterward, meeting there with John Smith on shore, he shipt him, with a promise of paying his debts; upon which he went on board, but the master not performing his promise to John Smith, he and the chief mate could never agree. But one day having some words more than common, Smith swore that he would have an inch of the chief mate's liver out before the voyage was at an end. From the Madera we were bound to the island of Salt, and after being out at sea, we all seem'd to agree pretty well together; but as we were obliged to do a great deal of work, and were kept up all day, and were very scanty of provisions and bad withal, it occasioned a general grumbling among us all, and Smith first spoke of it to the master, at which he began to enquire who it was complained of the victuals? Answer was made, it was not one, but all. At which John Main and I being then on the main top, a letting up the top mast shrouds,. I came down, whereupon says the master to me, “In course, you must be one.” “Sir, (says I,) if I must tell you the truth, the chief mate was the first;” which indeed he did not deny. The master therefore reprimanded him very smartly and said, “If he was the first that complained, well might the rest;" and that it might be the means of the men’s knocking his brains out and running away with the vessel; at which says the chief mate, “Sir, do you mind what them damn'd sons of bitches say?” “Yes, (says the master) I do believe it, because it was spoke before your face.” The same day, the master having given John Smith some blows, seemed afterwards to be much concerned for what he had done to him, but towards night Smith declared he would be revenged of the master one way or the other; upon which, says I, “I'll stand by you as long as I live.” Then replies Smith, “And I'd stand by you.” Upon that says Smith to Thomas Parker, (the lad who suffers with me for the same crime) Are you willing to stand by us?” He replied he would. John Main, then at helm, was asked the same question by us, who resolutely answered, "Damn the sailers," and the murder must be done this night or not at all. In a short time after we made the island of Salt, upon which the chart was up, and we looked into it to see where the land made, as it was laid down therein, the cabbin boy then going into the cabbin, brought out a can of brandy and some sugar, and went forward with it unknown to the master. John Main seeing it, went forward, and taking a drink, wish'd for the night to come on, not being able to steer through eagerness to be committing the fact. John Smith was then sent to the helm by the master, and about six o'clock in the evening we laid the brigantine to. After supper the master and both mates went to sleep; we four, v/z John Smith, Thomas Parker, John Main, and myself, being forwards, where we drank the rest of the brandy made into punch: About ten o’clock John Main began to grumble at our backwardness and said he believed we had no mind to do it, and that what we had to do, we should do with all expedition, or else we should fall asleep, and neglect it. I myself handed the tools up and took a small hatchet for my weapon. John Smith took an iron maul, and giving Thomas Parker a wood ax, and John Main a caulking mallet, we all went together with an intention to kill the master and chief mate and save the second mate. I entering into the great cabbin went to the master, who was lying in the state room, and took him by the hand, who grasped me with it immediately (otherwise I should not have struck him) and then I let drive at him one or two blows with my hatchet, after which he tumbled out upon me; the noise of this awoke the chief mate, who coming out of his cabbin, John Smith struck him several times with his iron maul and brought him down, which being done, Thomas Parker laid at him with his ax. Supposing now they had effectually made an end of him, they went directly into the state room, in order to assist me, and finding the master not quite dead, Parker and Smith both struck him on the head, and concluding they had dispatched him likewise, they went next to the second mate, whom they found lying in his cabbin, John Main held him down, threatening him at the same time, if he made any manner of resistance, as he would serve him as the other two had been served. John Smith and I coming into the cabbin, hauled him out, and asked him, “Whether or no he would side with us,” or be served as the others were? He answered he would if we would spare his life; then going with us into the cabbin, he told us it would be the best way to read the Burial of the Dead over the captain, and throw him over-board, which being done, we made sail, our design being then for the Spanish Main.

The next morning as soon as I rose from sleep, I altered my resolution, being willing to bring the vessel into Barbadoes, for the good of the poor widow and family, which was agreed to by the rest; some time afterwards, the little boy lying along with the second mate, would be every now and then talking and laughing with him, which John Main observing, seemed much dejected; upon which John Smith asked hem what was the matter with him? Matter, says he, matter enough, why as long as this boy is alive, I never shall be easy for fear he should betray us at the first port we come into; to this it was answered that the first port we came to, he should be put on board of some vessel and sent to his friends. John Main said that it should never be. The next morning early as the little boy was lying in bed with the second mate, I went and took hold of him by the leg, and beat him, and by chance struck him on the eye with a rope, upon which he struggled and got loose, and run down into the hold and hid himself. Then I ordered Thomas Parker and John Smith to bring him up on deck, which being done, John Main left the helm, and coming upon deck, got a boom iron, and having tied it on the boy's neck, John Smith and he flung him over the side; the boy notwithstanding, finding himself over the side, caught hold of the boom tackle fall and held there till such time as I myself cut him down with a cutlass. These things being all done and over, we then sat down to drinking, and concluded in the journal, that the master had the misfortune to be knocked overboard in gybing; the mate died a natural death; and that the boy fell over-board in handing the fore-top gallant sail.

These are the horrid, barbarous and bloody facts truly set down with every circumstance, for which I am now condemned to die, and whereby it appears that I am not alone guilty, but the others equally involved in the same wicked and inhuman practices; and though Main has saved his Life by becoming an evidence for the king, yet that can surely by no means excuse him before the face of Almighty God, who knows the secrets of all hearts, Once he was as much a principal in the murder as we who are to die for it. His guilt will undoubtedly continually stare him in the face and his conscience be a perpetual fiend, haunting and afrightening him every thinking moment of his life till, like Cain, who slew his brother in the field, he will be forced to cry out, My punishment is greater than I can bear, or (as some translators renders it) Mine iniquity is greater than it can be forgiven; And there shall be no one to pity him.

As for Henry Peck, the second mate of the brigantine, we do declare, in justice to him, that he was no ways aiding, assisting, or abetting in any part of this dismal tragedy.

We think this affair can be no unnecessary lesson to all masters of vessels, not to be so over eager of getting estates as to pinch it out of the poor men’s bellies, but to let them have sufficient allowance of wholesome provisions that they may have no room to complain. The want or neglect of this has been the occasion of this unhappy accident; and I beg that all sea faring men may take warning by us, least by some such hasty and rash mutinous proceedings they may be led to commit such scenes of blood and vengeance as will never go unpunished, either in this world or the next; for one sally of passion in most unthinking sailors brings on another, till at last they never know where to stop, till the measure of their sins is compleat.

I die in charity with all men, and resign my soul into the hands of a merciful Creator and Redeemer.

The last dying Speech and Confession of Thomas Parker.

I was born at a small town called Cannock, in the county of Stafford, in the year 1707, of honest parents; my father is a farmer there in good circumstances, my Uncle William Parker is an attorney at law, living within half a mile of Stafford Town. I had an uncle one John Parker, my father's elder brother, a Cheesemonger in London, who sent a letter to my father, desiring him to let me come up and live with him, which he consented to, I had not been with him past nine months before he died, my aunt removed from London, and went to my friends, desiring very much that I would accompany her there, which I declined, telling her that my inclinations led me to the sea, she observing me so determined for the sea, gave me five Guineas, with which I went directly to Chatham, and there entered on board the Windsor man of war, where I served upwards of two years, from thence I served on board the Namure, and another man of war for the space of one year. From her I was discharged and going to London, entered on board the brigantine Anne and Elizabeth, John Hurst, master, bound for Lisbon. leaving her I entered on board the ship Albany, William Maxwell, master, bound for Madeira. Being arrived there, his orders were to sell the vessel, upon which he discharged me, and being on shore with him when he fell in company with Captain Braddock, he asked him if he wanted any hands. He answered yes, for he had discharged three; then recommending me to him, occasioned him to ship me, little thinking then that it would be the means of my coming to so untimely an end. And I hope as I sincerely repent of this great and crying sin, that God Almighty will have mercy upon me, through the merits and mediation of our Blessed Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ, into whose hands I recommend my Soul.

N. B. As to the particulars of the facts, I can say no more, than that all that John Witness had confessed in his account of the several murders committed on board, and for which we deservedly suffer, is every tittle the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

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