Today marks the 158th anniversary of the last public hanging in Milton. It was held in what is now Victoria Park. Edward Keenan, 18 years of age at the time was hanged for the murder of his mother. But it was the opinion mentioned in Milton’s Champion newspaper, that many considered the father Jimmy Keenan guilty, and that the son refused to incriminate his father suffered death rather than reveal the dreadful secret. The Milton Canadian Champion’s opinion on the matter was that if Edward Keenan was the guilty party, he was too intoxicated to know anything about it. The local sheriff at the time questioned the fairness of the trial, but was unable to have the sentence commuted to imprisonment. Following the hanging the Sheriff resigned in disgust.
Below is the story about the hanging as written in the Milton Champion the following week.
“On Thursday Last, about 10 1/2, the sentence of the Court in the case of the unfortunate young man Keenan, was carried into effect. As on every occasion of the kind, a great number of people from all parts of the county were assembled to witness the sad, revolting spectacle. At the time of the execution it was estimated that not less than 700 persons were on the ground – about 200 of whom – we are sorry to say – were ladies, many of whom took their station at an early hour, fearful of missing, what to such vitiated tastes, bight be considered a rare treat. Hundreds kept pouring into town till late in the afternoon, expecting to be in sufficient time to witness the fatal drop – and many of them felt woefully disappointed when they learned that the execution had already taken place.
The young man appeared to be very penitent; indeed his spiritual adviser – Rev. J. Ryan – informed us he was deeply penitent, and his conduct during the last trying hour fully proved this assertion.
When he first descended from his cell- which was for some reason in the upper part of the Jail – he appeared to us to be very frightened looking; this together with the blanched pale look, incident on long confinement, made us doubtful he would not be able to undergo the fearful ordeal, without being carried to the scaffold. However, previous to his descending from his cell, Dr. Freeman, Jail Surgeon, administered to him some stimulating medicine, which together with the manner in which Priest kept his mind riveted on things beyond this vale of tears, buoyed him up to the last, and he repeated short prayers in a clear audible voice, and walked to the scaffold and up the stairs, under the drop, without a faltering step. On arriving at which Rev. Mr. Ryan, told him to kneel and repeat some prayers for him, which he did during the time of the hangman putting the rope around his neck and drawing down the cap. Previous to the drawing down of the cap the Sheriff asked him the usual question, “Have you anything to say to the people” but received no reply, and during his devotions – at a sign from the Sheriff — the lever was turned by the hangman, and the poor fellow was launched from into eternity at about 10 1/2 o’clock a.m. The knot turned to the back of the head, and from the length of time he struggled and writhed – nearly 3 minutes – it was generally supposed his neck was not broke,, but on being taken down, on examination it was pronounced by the Surgeon to be broken at the upper joint. Rev. Mr. Ryan informed us that previous to quitting his cell he forgave every one and died without malice towards any person. While on the scaffold he begged the spectators to pray for him, and we imagined that many a silent prayer was breathed in his behalf to the only aid in a dying moment. Just as the cap was drawn over his eyes his imploring, agonizing cry for mercy was heartrending, and the words had hardly died away from his lips when the drop fell, and he was suspended about 6 feet from the scaffold, struggling and writhing in the agonies of death.
The night previous to his execution he occupied by writing, praying and counting the hours till it would be the last one for him in this world. A few of his friends kept him company, and administered to him all the consolation in their power. He had previous made a statement, which was taken down in writing at his own dictation by the Rev H. Bartlett, and which we were here inert for the benefit and information of our readers, but occupied a part of his last night in writing another one (which we will be glad to publish – if it is intended for the public). He wished to take back any thing he had said that could be construed as derogatory to his poor mother; with this exception, we think the statements are nearly the same.
For some few days previous to the execution, the Sheriff was very energetically engaged in using his endeavors to have the culprit get a respite of but 10 days, feeling assured that in that time affidavits could be fyled that would gain for him commutation to the Provincial Penitentiary; but although many of the advisers of his Excellency were in favour of giving the desired respite, the Governor General could see nothing in the case that would alter his mind in the matter, and consequently, the decision of the Court had to be carried into effect.
The following is the statement referred to in another place, which was taken down by Rev. H. Bartlett, Wesleyan Minister:
I, Edward Keenan, was born, June 29, 1843, in the County of Monaghan, Ireland.
My Parents emigrated to Canada when I was about 12 months old, and we lived in Milton ever since.
I was sent to the common school of the town where I received my education. I left school at the age of sixteen and then commenced my downward course to ruin; for my parents allowed…. (see attached image for the continuation of his letter…..)