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Jeremiah Swift, Convict and Child Murderer by Robert Barnes

Note: This week Early American Crime welcomes historian and genealogist Robert Barnes as a guest author. Even though Robert’s guest post is a first for him on this website, it is not the first time his work has appeared in this space, since his book, Colonial Families of Maryland: Bound and Determined to Succeed, served as an important source for my research on convict transportation to America. Robert has also written and compiled a whole series of genealogy books on Maryland marriages, deaths, and biographical data.

On 20 February 1749, Miles Man, Clerk of the City of London, certified that Jeremiah Swift and a host of other convicts had been sentenced to be transported to “his Majesty’s Colonies and Plantations in America” for the term of seven years. He also certified that Swift and the other convicts had been “Conveyed Transferred and made over unto Andrew Ried [sic] and James Armour of London Merchants and their Assigns or the Assigns of one of them for the Term afs.d in order to their being Transported.”

In April 1750, Swift and 130 other felons were shipped on board the Tryal, with Captain John Johnstoun in command. The ship arrived in Annapolis in June 1750, and it was the Tryal’s first voyage carrying convicts to Maryland and Virginia. The last voyage made by a ship of that name was made in April 1769.

In Maryland

Swift arrived in Maryland and found himself working on the plantation of John Hatherly, a well established member of the community. A native of Elk Ridge Hundred in Anne Arundel County, Hatherly was the son of John and Elizabeth (Ewings) Hatherly. He was married and had seven children, and he had once joined his neighbors in sending a petition to the Governor and Assembly asking that Elk Ridge be created a town. He had also been granted patents on several tracts of land totaling 500 acres.

Maryland tobacco field (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

On 14 March 1747 while John Hatherly and his wife were at a funeral, Swift was at work in the fields with two of his master’s children, John and Benjamin, one aged twelve and the other aged ten. John asked Swift if he could make a thousand hills of tobacco before the end of the day. Swift replied that he would let the boy know before night, and then without any provocation struck him on the head with his hoe and knocked him down. Swift repeated his blows until he killed the child.

Benjamin tried to run away, but he was stopped by a fence. Swift caught up to him, knocked him down, and left him for dead. Benjamin later recovered from the attack, but he had a dent on the back of his head as big as a saucer. Jonas Green, who had taken over the defunct Maryland Gazette back in January of 1745, later reported in his newspaper that the boy healed up so well that he was able to appear in court to give evidence.

After leaving Benjamin at the fence, Swift went into his master’s house and repeatedly stabbed Elizabeth Hatherly, the fourteen-year-old daughter. Another child, Benedict Leonard Hatherly, aged 9, came to the aid of his sister and grabbed the knife, which was dull. In the process, the boy was cut in the hand in several places. Swift then gave Elizabeth several blows on the head with an axe, which eventually killed her, but the girl was amazingly still alive when her parents returned home.

Swift ran off and traveled a few miles before he was captured and secured in jail. He was arraigned on one indictment only, which was for the murder of Elizabeth. At his trial, Swift pleaded not guilty, but the evidence against him was so full and explicit that the jury did not spend more than two minutes before bringing in a guilty verdict.

Sentencing and Execution

On Friday, April 26, 1751, Governor Samuel Ogle and his Council met and ruled the following:

His Excellency having communicated to this Board a Report made to him by the Justices of the Provincial Court of their having passed Sentence of Death at April Term on a Certain Jeremiah Swift a Convict Servant of a certain John Hatherly of Ann Arundel County for the barbarous Murder of Elizabeth Hatherly Daughter to the said John, and that It appeared to the said Court the Murder was perpetrated with all imaginable Circumstances of Horror and Cruelty; It is ordered by his Excellency with the Advice of this Board that the said Jeremiah Swift be hung in Chains as near as may be to the Place where the Fact was committed.

When the day came for Swift’s execution, he was carried from the jail in Annapolis to Elk Ridge to be executed and then hanged in chains. Jonas Green reported that Swift had been born at Braintree in Essex to “credible” parents. He was about 21 years of age and had been well educated. Before his execution, Swift expressed concern for the discredit he had brought to his parents, and he was afraid that the news of his unhappy end would kill his mother. Green went on to report that Swift was shocked to see the irons in which his body was to be hanged fastened to the back of a horse as he headed to the place of execution.

After these events, John Hatherly continued to be an active member of the community. He was called on to appraise several estates of neighbors who had died. In 1778, he took the Oath of Fidelity to the State of Maryland and was called on to give testimony in several cases where the boundaries of properties were in question. In one case in 1782, the “land commissioners” kept the investigation open because they were waiting to hear Hatherly’s testimony, and they had heard that he had been ill. Word soon came that Hatherly had died.

In his will, Hatherly left his property to his surviving children. One of his descendants was a Captain in the War of 1812, and another one became Examiner General of the Western Shore of Maryland.


I am indebted to Justin Demski of the Maryland State Archives for bringing the “Dead Warrants” to my attention.

Swift’s order to be transported is from the Archives of Maryland Online: Volume 701 – Provincial Court Land Records, 1749-1756: Accessed at:–65.html.

Information on the Tryal is from Peter Wilson Coldham’s The King’s Passengers to Maryland and Virginia (Westminster: Family Line Publications, 1997). Coldham cites PRO: TI/340/20 as his source.

Data on John Hatherly was taken from Anne Arundel County land, court, probate, and church records, and from the Black Books in the Calendar of Maryland State Papers series.

The meeting of the Governor and Council is from the Archives of Maryland 28: 507. Accessed at:–507.html.

For the account of Swift’s crime and execution, see issues of the Annapolis Maryland Gazette for 10, 17, and 24 April 1751.

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