The execution of James Stuart

One of the many suspicious characters arrested by the Committee of Vigilance was an Englishman who had been sent to prison in Australia at an early age for forgery. There he had escaped his confinement and made his way to San Francisco where, during his short stay, he had committed more atrocious crimes than any scoundrel yet unhanged. Bold and reckless and in spite of the committee, he had thought himself to be invulnerable to arrest and punishment due to the corruption in the city.

Market Street Wharf,S.F. ca. 1860

But as soon as he was placed in front of people who knew him he was recognized as the real James Stuart, the man who had robbed and beaten Charles Janson and who had escaped punishment for that crime because Thomas Burdue, who looked remarkably similar, had been convicted instead. Burdue was now in jail in Marysville awaiting execution for the murder of Sheriff Moore, another crime committed by Stuart. Burdue was released as soon as possible and brought back to San Francisco where a large amount of money was raised from the citizens of the town and given to him to help compensate for the unjust treatment he had been given.

The hanging of James Stuart

The real James Stuart soon realized that the committee members could not be bribed or swayed in any manner and as such his days were numbered. He agreed to make a full confession, a true narrative of vice and villainy, into which he attempted to settle all his outstanding grudges with others in his despicable profession. The document was published in the newspapers and due to its mean, treacherous spirit few people believed it and it did little to achieve Stuart’s ultimate aim, but instead convinced most of what a vile, contemptible person Stuart really was.

The Hanging of Stuart

The committee lost little time. The bell on the Monumental Engine House rang on the morning of July 11th. Stuart was promptly tried and convicted then given two hours to make his peace before the end. Then, as was done before the Jenkins execution, the crowd outside was notified, this time by Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson. Stuart was soon brought out chained and guarded by committeemen. The crowd followed down Battery Street to Market and then to the end of the Market Street pier where a derrick stood. The rope was placed around his neck and Stuart was quickly jerked aloft. His hat fell off and his hair blew in a light breeze. After about twenty-five minutes his body was lowered and taken away by the authorities.


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