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Town  Portsmouth, NH
Date  December 31, 1768
Author  Pamela & Melanie Keene with Kevin Auger

gloss On December 31, 1768, a tragic event took place that would never be forgotten. On this day, nearly 250 years years ago, 25-year-old Ruth Blay of South Hampton was hanged for allegedly killing her child, who was later found to be stillborn. The crime was one of 600 that were required to be punished with the death penalty. Though Ruth Blay was sentenced on November 24, 1768, she was hanged on December 31 after many fruitless reprieves. When the unfortunate day came and the fatal hour tolled, high noon, the High Sheriff Thomas Packer, against the crying protests of the crowd, slipped the noose neatly around the neck of Ruth Blay, and the cart was drawn out from under her feet. Ruth Blay, who was dressed in silks and satins, departed this world that day a bride to death.

Though Ms. Blay's friends were reportedly hurrying to the scene with another reprieve which would have later resulted in a pardon, the High Sheriff, as the tale goes, did not want to be late for, his dinner. As a result, only minutes after Ruth Blay was swinging, the air was filled with the unmistakable sound of a horse's clattering feet, and the pardon arrived for Ruth Blay, who by that time had joined a more peaceable world than that of which she had departed. Many residents were so angry, that on that night, and effigy was erected before the High Sheriff's house, and beneath the hanging figure was a placard reading:

  "Am I to lose my dinner
  This woman for to hang?
  Come draw away the cart, my boys-
  Don't stop to say amen."

Ruth Blay's hanging was the last hanging of Portsmouth, though the death penalty for such a crime was not lifted until 1792. She was buried in an unmarked grave, which lies about 300 feet north of the pond in Proprietors Burial Ground. ' Those who think that High Sheriff Thomas Packer suffered for his crimes, he did not. He died in bed a wealthy man at an old age. His body was interred at the North Union Cemetery, where still he rests. Or does he?'

More on Ruth Blay in Old Town by the Sea, page 72

SOURCE: Brewster, C.S, Rambles about Portsmouth, "The Richard Jenness House." and Interview with cemetery worker John Griffin, 7-98 " Brighton, Ray, The Portsmouth Herald, December 31, 1949

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