Saturday, December 11, 2021

Michael M’Garvey.

The evening of November 21, 1828, Michael M’Garvey violently chastised his wife, Margaret, in the room, they occupied on the top floor of a house at the corner of Pine and Ball Alleys, between Third and Fourth Streets, and between South and Shippen Streets in Philadelphia. He tied her by the hair to a bedpost and began beating her, unmercifully with a whip, continuing at intervals for the next hour and a half. When she passed out, he attempted to throw her out the window but pulled her back in when someone outside saw him and cried out.

The police were summoned and after a fierce struggle a constable, assisted by neighbors, was able to subdue M’Garvey and take him into custody. 

“It was a damned bad country that would not allow a man to beat his wife.” Said M’Garvey as they took him away. He further said if he had a knife, he would have cut her throat.

A doctor was summoned, but Margaret was already dead. He found her covered with blood with eight large wounds to the head, any one of which would be sufficient to produce death. Her throat was gashed as if by a severe blow. 

M’Garvey was charged and quickly brought to trial. He was tried before the court of oyer and terminer in Philadelphia on November 27, and though the trial only lasted one day, testimony continued until 11:00 that night. At issue was whether M’Garvey intended to murder his wife. Most outside observers believed that he certainly had intended to kill her, but M’Garvey said he only meant to chastise her until she agreed to quit drinking. It was stated that had M’Garvey intended to kill his wife he would have chosen a different time and place and weapon.

The next morning the jury had questions on some aspects of the testimony and Judge Gibson read them his notes on the testimony and gave some explanations. The jury went out again for deliberation and came back at 3:00, ready to give their verdict. To everyone’s surprise, they found Michael M’Garvey guilty of second-degree murder.

The public had expected a conviction for the capital crime of first-degree murder. Disagreement with the jury and its verdict was nearly universal, evoking harsh criticism from the press. The Albany Argus said:
“We have read the report attentively and with horror—and cannot conceive of ‘murder in the first degree’ if the circumstances attending this unfortunate and unresisting woman’s death, do not constitute that crime.”
The Norwich Courier said:
“Everyone who has read the trial cries out, shame on such a jury.”
But the most eloquent criticism of the killer, the jury, and the verdict came from Judge Gibson as he addressed Michael M’Garvey, handing down the harshest sentence he could under the circumstances:
"You have been most wonderfully and mercifully dealt with. The evidence was amply sufficient to warrant a conviction, which, had it been pronounced by the jury, would have deprived you of life. You have escaped by a miracle. Be grateful then to that Providence which has so wonderfully interposed to preserve your wretched existence. If the deepest remorse does not pursue your future steps, then must you indeed have a conscience impervious to all feeling of shame and repentance.

"Your treatment of your unfortunate and murdered wife, was a disgrace to man; there was nothing to impeach the propriety of her conduct. She was mild and confiding; you have acted towards her like a devil in human shape. 

"The imperious duty of this court is to give you the highest punishment which the law admits. Had the jury dealt with you as you deserved—had they given that verdict which would have entailed death, death you should have suffered! The sentence of the Court is, that you, Michael M’Garvey, be confined in the penitentiary for the term of eighteen years, nine of those years in solitary cells, to be kept on low diet, and the remaining nine years to hard labor."

Originally posted April 27, 2019. 

“[Thursday; Philadelphia; Michael; M' Garvey; U,” Norwich Courier, December 10, 1828.
“From the Philadelphia Chronicle, Nov.24.,” Evening Post, November 26, 1828.
“M'Garvey's Sentence,” National Gazette, December 2, 1828.
“News Article,” Poulson's American Daily Advertiser, November 29, 1828.
“News Article,” Poulson's American Daily Advertiser, December 15, 1828.
“News Article,” Poulson's American Daily Advertiser, December 18, 1828.
“News Article,” Poulson's American Daily Advertiser, December 19, 1828.
“Trial of M'Garvey,” Albany Argus, December 5, 1828.
Michael McGarvey [sic] beating his wife to death. - The Library Company of Philadelphia


Unknown says:
April 29, 2019 at 9:00 PM

Here's to hoping he died a violent death in prison...

Robert Wilhelm says:
July 20, 2019 at 8:57 AM

You're welcome.

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