Who was married a Few Days after she was hanged for Murder in 1728
THIS remarkable woman was the daughter of poor parents, who lived at Musselburgh, about five miles from Edinburgh, and who brought up their child in the practice of religious duties, having instructed her in such household business as was likely to suit her future situation in life. The village of Musselburgh was then almost entirely inhabited by gardeners, fishermen and persons employed in making salt. The husbands having prepared the several articles for sale, the wives carried them to Edinburgh, and procured a subsistence by crying them through the streets of that city.
When Margaret Dixon had attained years of maturity she was married to a fisherman, by whom she had several children. But there being a want of seamen, her husband was impressed into the naval service; and during his absence from Scotland his wife had an illicit connection with a man at Musselburgh, in consequence of which she became pregnant. At this time it was the law in Scotland that a woman known to have been unchaste should sit in a distinguished place in the church on three Sundays, to be publicly rebuked by the minister; and many poor infants have been destroyed because the mother dreaded this public exposure, particularly as many Scottish ladies went to church to be witnesses of the frailty of a sister who were never seen there on any other occasion.
The neighbours of Mrs Dixon averred that she was with child; but this she constantly denied. At length, however, she was delivered of a child; but it is uncertain whether it was born alive or not. Be this as it may, she was taken into custody, and lodged in the jail of Edinburgh. When her trial for child-murder came on several witnesses deposed that she had been frequently pregnant; others proved that there were signs of her having been delivered, and that a new-born infant had been found near the place of her residence. A surgeon deposed that, putting the lungs of the infant in water, they were found to swim, which was deemed a proof that the child had been born alive. For it was a received opinion that, if no air be ever drawn into the lungs, they will not swim; but this circumstance is a matter of doubt even among the gentlemen of the faculty. The jury, giving credit to the evidence against her, brought in a verdict of guilty; in consequence of which she was doomed to die.
After her condemnation she behaved in the most penitent manner, confessed that she had been guilty of many sins, and even owned that she had departed from the line of duty to her husband; but she constantly and steadily denied that she had murdered her child, or even formed an idea of so horrid a crime. She owned that the far of being exposed to the ridicule of her neighbours in the church has tempted her to deny that she was pregnant; and she said that, being suddenly seized with the pangs of childbirth, she was unable o procure the assistance of her neighbours; and that a state of insensibility ensued, so it was impossible she should know what became of her infant.
At the place of execution her behaviour was consistent with her former declaration. She avowed her total innocence of the crime of which she was convicted, but confessed the sincerest sorrow for all her other sins. After execution her body was cut down and delivered to her friends, who put it into a coffin and sent it in a cart to be buried at her native place; but, the weather being sultry, the persons who had the body in their care stopped to drink at a village called Pepper Mill, about two miles from Edinburgh. While they were refreshing themselves one of them perceived the lid of the coffin move, and, uncovering it, the woman immediately sat up, and most of the spectators ran off, with every sign of trepidation. It happened that a person who was then drinking in the public-house had recollection enough to bleed her, and in about an hour she was put to bed; and by the following morning she was so far recovered as to be able to walk to her own house.
By the Scottish law, which is in part founded on that of the Romans, a person against whom the judgment of the Court has been executed can suffer no more in future, but is thenceforward totally exculpated; and it is likewise held that a marriage is dissolved by the execution of the convicted party —- which indeed is consistent with the ideas that common sense would form on such an occasion.
Mrs Dixon, then, being convicted and executed as above mentioned, the King's advocate could prosecute her no further; but he filed a bill in the High Court of Justiciary against the sheriff for omitting to fulfil the law. The husband of this revived convict married her publicly a few days after she was hanged; and she constantly denied that she had been guilty of the alleged crime. She was living as late as the year 1753. This singular transaction took place in the year 1728.