18th century "was" vs. "had been"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Feb 4 15:37:36 UTC 2010

Yes, in colonial America bodies of those hanged
were sometimes left hanging for more than a short
time.  One well-known instance is a few (3 or 4
persons) executed in the so-called "New York
Conspiracy" of 1741.  There were probably more
than a few instances in the southern colonies,
but I have only minimal knowledge of that area
(one instance is the Stono Rebellion of 1739 in
South Carolina).  Although very infrequently in
New England; in Massachusetts the law required burial within a few days.

And Mark's body was left hanging for a number of
years; there are eye-witness reports.  But my
question is about whether Revere actually saw the
body still hanging in 1775, 20 years after Mark's
execution, or was simply identifying the location
when describing his ride.  Historians have
interpreted Revere's sentence in both ways.  I am
asking whether, in the 18th century, "was
hanging" might have had a "past perfect" sense,
where today we might say "had been hanging".

If Revere had written "was hung", I would
interpret that as the simple past -- Mark was no
longer there.  But Revere didn't (and I don't
know if at his time one could have written that).


At 2/3/2010 10:39 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
>My WAG is that Mark was still hanging. As you probably know, it was
>once customary to let a body rot, hanging from the gallows-tree, along
>with spiking the heads of the beheaded, together with other stuff that
>people now consider barbaric. Whether that was still customary - or
>was ever customary in what's now the U.S. - in 1755 I have no idea. Of
>course, if I really knew anything about this, my post wouldn't be a
>On Wed, Feb 3, 2010 at 9:02 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the
> mail header -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> > Subject:      18th century "was" vs. "had been"
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > When Paul Revere wrote about his ride to Lexington, that in
> > Charleston he "got opposite where Mark was hung in chains", did that mean
> > (a)  he "got opposite where Mark was still hung in chains"(that is,
> > was still hanging); or
> > (b)  he "got opposite where Mark had been hung in chains up to some
> > previous time" (that is, had been hanging)?
> >
> > (Mark was one of the two slaves convicted of poisoning their master,
> > John Codman, in 1755.)
> >
> > Joel
> >
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