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Timeline - Capital Punishment in North Carolina

(1608-1909) > (1910-1971) > (1972-2007) 

[Following each entry on the timeline is a citation of the source from which the event entry is derived.]

1608 Virginia became the first of the American colonies to put one of its own to death. Captain George Kendall, a member of the first Council of Jamestown, was executed by firing squad for the crime of espionage.1
1663 The institution of capital punishment in North Carolina dates to the crafting of the 1663 Charter of the Carolinas. Capital punishment in colonial North Carolina was governed by English Common Law and legislation enacted by North Carolina's Colonial Assembly.2
26 Aug. 1726 The first documented legal execution in the colony occurred on 26 August 1726, when Native American George Sennecca was hanged for a murder committed in Chowan County.3
1802 From 1800 to 1802, a series of planned slave rebellions took place at a number of locations in North Carolina and Virginia, alarming the states' white residents. Following this unrest, two dozen suspected organizers were hanged in eastern North Carolina, while two dozen slaves were hanged in Virginia.4
8 Nov. 1830 According to The Raleigh Register, over 3,000 spectators gathered on 8 November 1830 to watch the execution of two men: Elijah W. Kimbrough and "negro Carey" in Raleigh.The Register reported that Kimbrough "was habited in a long white shroud which entirely concealed his person" while Carey wore "a similar garment, except that it was black."5
12 July 1833 Frances ("Frankie") Stuart Silver was hanged in Morganton, N.C., for the 22 December 1831 murder of her husband Charles Silver. Conflicting evidence and reports of the trial and execution have been transformed over the years into a number of legends about Frankie Silver. The most popular legend is that Frankie sang a ballad at the gallows, confessing to the crime. The song, "Frankie Silver's Confession," has been re-published, retold, and kept alive over the years by local storytellers, historians, and journalists. However, this "Confession" was not penned by Frankie Silver after all - after several lengthy investigations by historians into the origins of the song, a consensus has emerged that it was written by a man named Thomas W. Scott, a school teacher who lived in Morganton at the time of the execution.6
1841 The North Carolina Legislature passed a law that defined any conspiracy involving three or more slaves a "rebellion," a crime made punishable by death.7
1868 In 1868, North Carolina adopted a much-revised State Constitution. The new Constitution made a number of major changes to the prosecution of capital crimes. It limited the number of crimes punishable by death to four: murder, arson, rape, and burglary. The 1868 Constitution also made provisions to create a Board of Charities and Public Welfare to oversee and report on jails. The Constitution further stipulated that executions thereafter were to take place privately within the walls of a central state penitentiary. Even given this new legislation, executions continued to be unofficially public until 1897 and imposed at county seats until 1909.8
6 Jan. 1870 Its construction having been mandated by the 1868 constitution, North Carolina's first State Penitentiary officially opened on 6 January 1870 in Raleigh. Its first prisoners were housed in a temporary log structure that was surrounded by a wooden stockade. The permanent buildings and walls that would eventually become Central Prison were constructed at the site by inmate labor over the following fifteen years. Central Prison was completed and officially occupied in December 1884.9
1893 The crime of murder was divided into two degrees (first and second), with only first degree murder being punishable by death.10
6 Mar. 1909 In 1909, the North Carolina General Assembly passed "An Act to Prescribe the Mode of Capital Punishment in North Carolina." The act mandated the adoption of electrocution as the state's official method of execution, outlawed hanging as an execution method in the state, and dictated that the state would take over responsibility from local jurisdictions for all executions (among other changes).11
11 May 1910 The last legal hanging in North Carolina occurred in Elizabethtown, N.C. Henry Spivey was put to death for the murder of his father-in-law, Frank Shaw.12