Friday, October 12, 2012

The Execution of Private Henry

A page of handwritten text."Notwithstanding promises given by Pvt CB Henry yesterday he has since as acknowledged to me tampered with seal thongs if not other food... Pvt Henry will be shot today... This order is imperative & absolutely necessary for any chance of life."  So read the orders given by A.W. Greely on June 6, 1884, to Sergeants Brainard, Long and Fredericks.

The 1881-1884 Lady Franklin Bay Expedition led by Greely started out well enough according to George Rice, though matters deteriorated the following year when an expected supply ship failed to reach the party. A second provisioning attempt in 1883 also failed when the Proteus was crushed by ice, again preventing any additional supplies from reaching Greely and his men.

Without the expected supplies at their main base of Fort Conger, Greely decided to head south and retrieve the secondary caches that were supposed to have been left by the relief expeditions that had been unable to rendezvous with his party. Unfortunately, the cache at Cape Sabine only contained forty days worth of provisions and by the time Greely reached it in October of 1883, the weather conditions prevented the party from continuing on to Greenland or returning to Fort Conger.

A page of handwritten text.
Needless to say, rationing was put in place and all members of the party were expected to share in the hardship. According to Greely's note from June 5, 1884, Private Henry had made a practice of stealing food and while this had been "so far condoned and pardoned," enough was enough.  Greely wrote that "if this man be detected... eating food of any kind not issued him... you will at once shoot him and report the matter to me." Private Henry failed to refrain from further stealing and was executed the next day. The remaining seven of the original twenty-one members of the expedition were rescued sixteen days later.

Ask for A.W. Greely's papers, Stef Mss-64. The two notes regarding Private Henry are in Box 2, folder 18.