Who with three Men committed a Murder, and was executed at Tyburn on I 7th of December, 1708
In this case we shall disclose one of the most consummate tricks ever played by woman, to defraud her creditors; and a more effectual method cannot be resorted to. It is a satisfaction, however, that during the perusal of the fate of Deborah Churchill, we know that Fleet marriages have long been de dared illegal; and therefore the artifice cannot now be so easily accomplished. Formerly, within the liberties of the Fleet, the clergy could perform the marriage rites, with as little ceremony as at Gretna Green, where, to the disgrace of the British empire, an ignorant blacksmith, or a fellow, equally mean and unfit, assumes this sacred duty of the church.
Though this woman's sins were great, (yet we must admit some hardship in her suffering the utmost rigour of the law for the crime, of which she was found guilty,) but which, at the same time, is, in the eye of the law, great as in the immediate perpetrator of a murder. Here we deem it well to observe, that any person present while murder is committing, and though he may take no part in the commission of the crime, yet unless he does his utmost to prevent, he is considered guilty, equal with him who might have given the fatal blow.
Deborah Churchill was born about the year 1678, in a village near Norwich. She had several children by her husband, Mr. Churchill; but her temper not being calculated to afford him domestic happiness, he repined at his situation, and destroyed himself by intoxication.
Deborah, after this event, came to London; and being much too idle and too proud to think of earning a subsistence by her industry, she ran considerably in debt; and, in order to extricate herself from her incumbrances, bad recourse to a method which was formerly as common as it is unjust. Going to a public-house in Holborn, she saw a soldier, and asked him if he would marry her. The man immediately answered in the affirmative, on which they went in a coach to the Fleet, where the nuptial knot was instantly tied.
Mrs. Churchill, whose maiden-name is unknown, having obtained a certificate of her marriage, enticed her husband to drink till he was quite inebriated, and then gave him the slip, happy in this contrivance to screen herself from an arrest.
A little after this, she cohabited with a young fellow named Hunt, with whom she lived more than six years. Hunt appears to have been a youth of a rakish disposition. He behaved very ill to this unhappy woman, who, however, loved him to distraction; and, at length, forfeited her life in consequence of the regard she had for him.
One night as Mr. Hunt and one of his associates were return ing from the Theatre, in company with Mrs. Churchill, a quarrel arose between the men, who immediately drew theft swords; while Mrs. Churchill, anxious for the safety of Hunt, interposed, and kept his antagonist at a distance; in consequence of which, being off his guard, he received a wound, of which he died almost immediately.
No sooner was the murder committed, than Hunt effected his escape, and, eluding his pursuers, arrived safely in Holland; but Mrs. Churchill was apprehended on the spot, and being taken before a magistrate, was committed to Newgate.
June 1708, at the sessions held at the Old Bailey, Mrs. Churchill was indicted as an accomplice on the act of the first year of king James the First, called the statute of stabbing, by which it is enacted, that "If any one stabs another, who hath not at that time a weapon drawn, or hath not first struck the party who stabs, is deemed guilty of murder, if the person stabbed dies within six months afterwards."
Mrs. Churchill, being convicted, pleaded a state of pregnancy, in bar to her execution; and a jury of matrons being impannelled, declared that they were ignorant whether she was with child or not. Hereupon the court, willing to allow all reasonable time in a case of this nature, respited judgment for six months; at the end of which time she received sentence of death, as there was no appearance of her being pregnant.
This woman's behaviour was extremely penitent; but she denied her guilt to the last moment of her life, having no conception that she had committed murder, because she did not herself stab the deceased. She suffered at Tyburn, 17th of December 1708.