Nov. 20, 1652: Stamping out a 3-year-old effort to form an independent English province of Maine, Massachusetts Bay Colony authorities convince 41 residents of Kittery to submit unconditionally to Massachusetts. A few days later, they exact a similar pledge of loyalty from residents of nearby Agamenticus – now the town of York.

In doing so, the colony of Massachusetts is taking advantage of a period of relative chaos in England, when the monarchy has been overthrown and Oliver Cromwell is ruling as head of the Protectorate.

Massachusetts quickly takes over the southwestern part of Maine and incorporates York County. The county eventually comprises all of Maine until Cumberland and Lincoln counties are created in 1760.

Nov. 20, 1862: J. Rufus Child sells his home, at the northwest corner of State and Capitol streets in Augusta, to U.S. Rep.-elect James G. Blaine (1830-1893) for $5,000. Blaine presents the house to his wife, Augusta native Harriet (Stanwood) Blaine, as a birthday present. The Blaine family owns the house for more than a half century and makes extensive renovations to it.

Home of Hon. James G. Blaine, Augusta, Me., 1892 Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

James Blaine also has a mansion on Dupont Circle in Washington and a “cottage” in Bar Harbor, but he considers Augusta to be home.

In his book “The Blaine House: Home of Maine’s Governors,” H. Draper Hunt writes: “‘Augusta stood for freedom,’ Blaine’s daughter recalled, ‘for a large old yard of apple trees and a butternut tree in the corner, and a vegetable garden at the back. It stood for a stable with horses and a pony; it stood for the kindest neighbors in the world, whose front doors were never locked and whose cookie jars were never empty; and for a household of aunts who were only waiting to welcome and spoil us.’”

Long after James Blaine’s death, his family donates the house in Augusta to the state of Maine for use as a governor’s mansion in memory of James and Harriet Blaine’s grandson, Army 1st Lt. Walker Blaine Beale, who is killed in World War I combat in 1918 in France.

Nov. 20, 1885: Knowing he is about to be hanged, Daniel Wilkinson arises about half past four in the morning in his cell at the Maine State Prison in Thomaston. He has his usual breakfast of bread, coffee and milk. He smokes a cigar.

When Deputy Warden Hinkley visits him, Wilkinson says he feels first-rate. The prison chaplain stops by for a discussion about Wilkinson’s religious beliefs.

Wilkinson, 40, says he was raised Episcopalian, but after considering the matter for years, he abandoned his religious convictions.

“If you had it in your power, the men who you claimed have wronged you, would you injure them?” the chaplain asks, apparently referring to witnesses who testified against Wilkinson at his murder trial. If he is hoping for contrition, he doesn’t get it.

“Yes, I would take my revenge,” Wilkinson replies.

A reporter for the Daily Eastern Argus, a Portland newspaper, comes to Wilkinson’s cell at 11 a.m. and asks whether he has any message for his friends in Portland.

“I have got no friends in Portland,” Wilkinson says, “except a few fellows who wanted to get a few dollars for stringing me up.”

He talks about his parents, how they don’t know what has become of him, and that if they did, they probably would consider him a disgrace. He almost breaks down when talking about his mother, whom he says he loves.

A teacher at the prison tries to convince him to divulge his real name; prison officials and others assume “Wilkinson” is an alias. Wilkinson refuses to reveal it, saying it’s best that it not be known.

He talks at length about his preference for England, about the decline of American shipping, and about his misadventures during a recent escape, when he inflicted a fatal wound on a constable, William Lawrence.

“I learned the facts from the papers and was horror-stricken at the thought … of having killed a man, though unintentionally,” he says.

He didn’t surrender, he says, fearing he wouldn’t get a fair trial. Nonetheless, when he was arrested, he felt almost relieved. Wilkinson then gives a detailed account of people who he claims testified falsely against him at his murder trial by saying the killing was premeditated.

Just then, Bette Knowles, a woman who has taken a deep interest in his welfare, arrives at the prison with her small daughter, having taken a train from Augusta. They are shown to Wilkinson’s cell. She and Wilkinson talk for about five minutes. She is crying.

“Put your trust in God,” Knowles says.

“I wish I could,” he replies, and gives each of them a book of Scripture allegories with their names inscribed in them. Then he bids them goodbye.

Sheriff Wilder Irish and other officers come to collect Wilkinson shortly before noon. They get him dressed in a black alpaca suit and conduct him through the sunlit prison yard and into the carriage shop, where a scaffold awaits.

A prison official ties his legs together and places a noose around his neck. The chaplain recites some prayers; Wilkinson glances up at the sun. When the chaplain is done, Sheriff Irish asks the condemned man whether he has anything to say. He doesn’t. A black hood is pulled over his head.

Irish puts his foot on a spring lever and says, “By authority of the power vested in me, I now hang you by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

At 11:59 a.m., before dozens of witnesses, Wilkinson becomes the last person in Maine to be executed by the state’s criminal justice system.

The sheriff triggers the spring. The trap falls. Wilkinson drops about 8 feet, then recoils a bit. The body sways to and fro, then is still. Four physicians, including the prison doctor, step under the scaffold. The body, still dangling, is lowered a bit. They repeatedly measure Wilkinson’s vital signs. For the first minute, his muscles twitch involuntarily. Sometime after 10.5 minutes, the pulse vanishes; the heart has stopped beating at 15. After 17 minutes, the body is cut down, and with the black hood over the head, placed in a coffin. The lid is screwed onto it. The prison bell rings.

Shortly afterward, inmates return to the prison shops, as usual, according to the Argus writer, “as if a life had not been blotted out.”

Newspaper reporters rush to the telegraph office to file their stories, which appear in the next day’s editions in lurid detail. Descriptions of the hanging, and two similar ones that preceded it that year, provide ammunition for death penalty opponents, who agitate for their cause feverishly at the Legislature.

In 1887, legislators approve a bill abolishing the state’s death penalty. The governor signs it.

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]


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