Dec. 2, 1849 and a ‘world of woe’

Anson County man uncovers Rockingham hanging gone wrong

While searching for online information on the Martin Family, I discovered by accident the hanging of my great-great-great-great-grandfather, which was posted in a Fayetteville newspaper back in 1849 and another newspaper in Wisconsin copied it for their newspaper.

It’s a dreadful story of the suffering my ancestor endured before he died — Waukesha (Wis.) Democrat Newspaper issue of Dec. 4, 1849 — “Dreadful Scene at an Execution.”

by Steve Bailey  Anson County Genealogy Services

by Steve Bailey
Anson County Genealogical Society

A Rockingham  correspondent of the Fayetteville Observer gives the following scene at the execution of a man named Robert Hildreth at that place on Dec. 2, 1849. Hildreth had been convicted in the murder of William Taylor. 

“The axe glittered, the trap door falls, and Hildreth swings by the neck. For half a minute he remains motionless. Is he dead? Can his own weight, without having fallen one inch, broken his neck? No. Poor fellow, he expected one pang, and that his lust. But the fatality which often leads sheriffs to gross negligence in executing the law must cost him now a world of woe.

With a convulsive effort he reaches the platform and stands again on earth alive. The cap has fallen from his face. The blood was already fast rushing upwards. But his large and muscular neck prevented the rope from tightening. Even then his meekness did not leave him. He spoke, without complaint, in a clear voice that was heard with awe by every ear — ‘Come here and fix the rope, it won’t choke me to death!’

The sheriff did go to him. First with an axe, then with a piece of scantling, he endeavored to knock away the boards. At last he pushed Hildreth’s feet from the scaffold, and hung him inefficiently a second time. The poor fellow made no more effort to recover himself. Finding that he was hung in a way which produced the most excruciating, because gradual suffocation — with the blood slowly collecting in his brain — through a circulation only partially impeded — the unfortunate man, compelled by the pangs which momentarily grew greater, drew up his legs as high as possible, then with all his force threw them down to tighten the cord.

Three several times, at intervals of a minute, he did the same thing. Then his struggles ceased — his own executioner, he became unconscious of pain. The scene at Rockingham, or something frequently shocking, abominable, is of frequent occurrence. It is witnessed, almost without exception, wherever capital punishment is inflicted in North Carolina.

Steve Bailey is president of the Anson County Genealogical Society and is self-employed as a professional genealogist. This column was originally printed in the Anson County Genealogical Society newsletter and reprinted here with permission. Bailey can be reached by email at

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