Sentenced to Death for Extortion by an accusation of Sodomy May 16th 1719

Mast head of the St James Evening Post (June 1719)
Mast head of the St James Evening Post (June 1719)

On 16th May 1719, the St James Evening Post (later called the Evening Post) reported on the Guilty Verdict returned against ex-Servants Stephen Margrove and John Wood. The two men were accused of extorting money by the threat to expose George Smith as a sodomist (then punishable by death).

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey Archive gives details of the case which took place in the Parish of St. Martins in the Fields (near what is now Trafalgar Square), on 18th, January 1718. George Smith told the Court that:

‘ the Prisoners came up to him (and John Wood took him hold by the Collar of his Coat) and demanded his Money, and said if he would not give it them they would take away his Life and swear Sodomy against him; that by means of this Violence, and being under a Terror, and in great-Fear he gave them what he had in his Pocket.’

But they wanted more and forced Smith, to take them to his Master’s House in Golden-Square where he gave them another Guinea, to add to the 22 shillings they had already extorted.

Margrove and Wood protested that Smith: ‘came up to Wood while he was making Water, and took hold of his Yard, using some unseemly Expressions, whereupon he (Wood) called out a Sodomite.

At this accusation, Smith ‘fell on his Knees, and begg’d them not to expose him’ and gave them the money. So, the accused argued it could not be ‘robbing on the High Way’ because their victim gave them the money.

The Court held that the threats, and violence they used made them guilty of Violent Robbery. The men called witnesses to their good employment record, but were unable to show any evidence of ‘how they spent the last 6 Months of their Lives.’ And so the Jury found them Guilty, and the judge put on the Black Cap to pronounce the Death sentence.

On the 8th of June 1719 10 people, 7 men and 3 women were sentenced to hang, but 5 were reprieved. Wood, aged 22, and Margrove, aged 21, were however, executed. Rictor Norton in ‘Homosexuality in 18th Century England has more details, including the confessions of the two extortionists.

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One Reply to “Sentenced to Death for Extortion by an accusation of Sodomy May 16th 1719”

  1. Interesting!
    I searched and learned that the death sentence for sodomy was abrogated during the French Revolution in 1791, and in 1861 in England.
    Last sentencing by burning at the stake in 1750 in France.

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