I try to imagine the day. Alice Martin Bishop’s sentence is handed down – guilty of willful murder. To be hanged by the neck until she is dead. What did Richard think? How did Abigail and Damaris learn of their mother’s impending death?
Alice Martin Bishop left her trial and stopped briefly at home. Said her goodbyes to tearful, terrified girls, maybe shared a prayer with Richard. It was likely she was quickly transported to her execution sight – was a formal scaffold built or did they just hang her from a tree? How long did her body hang there? What were her last words? Did she go to her death believing she was damned to hell? And ultimately, what was she telling herself about why she killed her young daughter?
We know the hanging was likely a public spectacle if for no other reason than privacy would have been infeasible in this small community for such a publicized crime (ample court records prove that). “Hangings [were meant ] to be spectacles so that the example of the fruits of the crime could be impressed on the people” (Chapin 55). As had been done in England, executions happened almost immediately after sentencing and done so in an intentionally public setting.
While we know that a clergy member likely attended the execution to offer some consolation, we do not know if the Puritan practice of delivering a sermon to the public from a gallows pulpit had begun by the time AMB was executed (Chapin, 55). What would a clergy member have said to Alice and what to the spectators? What warning, what solace could he had offered his parishioners? Did he insinuate that Alice must have been under some sort of demonic delusions? Did the gatherers pray for Martha? For her mother?
It seems only reasonable that Alice knew she would be executed. We have no record of her recanting her confession or attempting to flee. As Rachel Ramsden described her on that fateful July day, Alice probably remained “sad and dumpish.”
And so on an early autumn day, a noose was placed around Alice’s neck. Final words were said, maybe her face was covered. And then Alice Martin Bishop was hanged for murder.