Died 1790 aged 40
Greetings from Portland. Sweater weather is here. Every day this month I’m telling a story that bridges the gap between this world, and the next. I’m resurrecting the memory of Portlanders who’ve crossed over to the other side by posting one video each day, relating the tale of one, interesting “permanent Portlander.”
Englishman Thomas Bird was involved in some bad business aboard the slave ship Mary, off the west coast of Africa in 1789. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but in the end, Capt. John Connor was dead.
Afterwards, Bird, and a drunken crew of three, sailed the small sloop across the Atlantic Ocean. They landed in Cape Elizabeth, four months later, where they were all arrested.
The Constitution had only been ratified the year before and after a year, waiting in the Cumberland County jail, Bird was put on trial by the new federal court system. He was charged with the “piratical murder” of Capt. Connor.
His trial commenced on the morning of June 4th. By suppertime, he’d been convicted. The next day, the judge sentenced him to hang.
Late one afternoon, three weeks later, Bird was marched from his cell in Monument Square, down Congress Street to the gallows at Bramhall Square.
A crowd of thousands watched him swing. He was buried somewhere in the Eastern Cemetery. Nobody remembers where.
Thomas Bird was the first prisoner executed by the brand new government of the United States of America. There’s been over 300, since then.
Today’s story is brought to you, in part, by Jerry Genesio’s eye-opening book “Portland Neck: The Hanging of Thomas Bird” published in 2010.
Disclaimer: I’m not a historian. I owe everything I know to the dedicated research of those who have come before me. These character sketches are assembled from multiple (often antique) sources and sprinkled with my own conjecture. I’m happy to be set straight or to learn more.