December 20, 1786
New London, Connecticut
12-year-old Hannah Ocuish is hanged for the murder of a 6-year-old following an argument over strawberries
Ocuish was a biracial orphan (her father was black and her mother belonged to the Pequot tribe) and possibly had a mental disability.
In June 1786, 6-year-old Eunice Bolles accused Ocuish of stealing strawberries. Apparently, the insinuation was offensive enough to Ocuish to plot the younger girl’s murder five weeks later. On July 21, 1786, Ocuish lured Bolles into the woods by promising her a calico kitten. Once alone, Ocuish beat, stoned, and strangled Bolles to death. Bolles suffered a skull fracture, a broken arm, a broken back, and multiple bruises. To conceal the murder, Ocuish covered Bolles’ body in rocks to suggest she had died in an accident. Those who found Bolles’ body were unconvinced and a hunt for her killer was launched.
The investigation began by questioning the townspeople. During her questioning, Ocuish claimed she had seen four boys in the area before the murder. When her story seemed doubtful she was pressed further and she eventually confessed to the killing. Her trial began in October.
Despite her age and likely being mentally incapable of standing trial, she was convicted and sentenced to death to be used as an example for others. The judge concluded the sentencing by saying: “The sparing of you on account of your age would, as the law says, be of dangerous consequence to the public, by holding up an idea, that children might commit such atrocious crimes with impunity.”
Ocuish seemed unaware of what her punishment entailed until her fate was fully explained to her. Upon learning of her eminent death, she spent most of the day weeping uncontrollably. At her execution, “she said very little — appeared greatly afraid, and seemed to want someone to help her. … She thanked the warden for his kindness, and launched into the eternal world.”
Ocuish was the last documented female to be executed in Connecticut, and the youngest documented legally-executed criminal in the United States.
- Stagis, Julie. “A Girl, 12, Is Hanged In Connecticut For Murder In 1786.” The Hartford Courant. April 1, 2014. Accessed: December 20, 2018. https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-250-hannah-occuish-20140401-story.html?trb=20181212
- “A Most Unusual Criminal Execution in New London.” Connecticut History. Accessed: December 20, 2018. https://connecticuthistory.org/a-most-unusual-criminal-execution-in-new-london/
- “It’s rare, woman facing death.” Hartford Courant. May 14, 1996
- Radelet, Michael L. Facing the Death Penalty: Essay on a Cruel and Unusual Punishment. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989