Albert W. Hicks

Albert W. Hicks

Albert W. Hicks (c. 1820 - July 13, 1860) also known as William Johnson, John Hicks and 'Pirate Hicks', was the name of the last person executed for piracy in the United States (though the execution of the slaver Nathaniel Gordon in 1862 was under the terms of the Piracy Law).


In person Hicks is tall and strongly built, being about five feet ten inches in height, with a slight stoop in his shoulders. His arms are long and sinewy, and his hands very large and much hardened by work; his complexion is dark, and he has high cheek bones, and a stout crop of straight, black hair. His eyes are black; and rather small, with an unsteady and revengeful expression. He is a native of Foster, R. I. and is 32 years of age. He has several brothers, residing in that and the neighboring town of Killingly, Connecticut some of whom are wealthy farmers. His father and mother are dead, and he has led a roving life for several years, having left home on account as he say [s] , of a difficulty with the family.
It is stated that a brother of the accused, named Simon Hicks, was the murderer of Mr. Crossman at Chepatchet (sic), several years ago, and after being convicted and sentenced for the crime, he escaped out of prison and has not been heard from since.
Source: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 26, 1860 []


"The affair occurred," said Hicks, "about half past nine or ten o'clock at night, while Captain Burr and one of the Watts boys were asleep in the cabin. I was steering at the time, and the other Watts was on tbe lookout at the bow. Suddenly the devil took possession of me, and I determined to murder the capiain and crew that very night. Creeping forward softly I stole upon the boy at the bow, and with one blow knocked him senseless. I believe be died in a few minutes after I struck him. The noise attracted the attention of the other Watts, who jumped out of bed, and came up the companion way to see what was the matter. Just at that moment I struck him a beavy blow on the head with the axe and soon he was dead. Then I went down in search of the captain, and upon going into tbe cabin we immediately came in contact. Captain Burr,. who was a strong, able bodied man fought hard with me for several nunutes; but at last I brought him down, and he, too, was soon dead. After rifling the captain's money bags, I commenced to throw, the bodies over board. They had been dead about an hour at this time, and sank into the sea the minute I threw them over the rail.
The knife marks found on the gunwale of the sloop were not made by me. I had no occasion to make them, as the men had all been dead an hour, and could not have clung to the rail, as was supposed. I should think we were about fifty miles at sea at the time, so that it was improbable that any of the bodies will ever be recovered. While I was on board the sloop the devil was always by my side and sustained me, butt while I have been locked up here he has deserted me, and I feel bad."
Source: New York Herald, July 14 1860 []

Execution for Piracy

In March 1860 he was drugged and shanghaied onto the oyster sloop "A.E. Johnson".

He confessed to murdering the skipper Captain George H. Burr and the two other crewmembers, Smith and Oliver Watts, throwing the bodies overboard. During his escape, he collided with the schooner "J. R. Mather". He then took all the money on board (about $500) and abandoned ship in a yawl, landing on Staten Island.

He also claimed to have killed 97 others in California gold camps, as well as having committed a similar piracy in South America.

He had a wife and a ten-year-old child, residing in Providence, Rhode Island, where he was arrested.

He was found to be in possession of the watch of Captain Burr, several money bags and a coat of Watts’s containing a daguerreotype belonging to Oliver Watts.

He gave his reason as "...the devil took possession of me."

He was executed by hanging, on Bedloe's Island, now known as Liberty Island. An estimated ten thousand people viewed the event from boats anchored in New York Bay.

His last wish was to see the steamship "Great Eastern", which was docked in New York at the time.

A ballad was written about him by Henry Sherman Backus, titled "Hicks the Pirate" on March 1860.

Soon after his burial, grave robbers stole his body. Some thought that he had survived, but his body was actually sold to medical students.

P. T. Barnum’s American Museum featured a wax image of Hicks. Barnum also arranged for Hicks to be hung in a silk pirate costume, which he later charged admission to view. [Velda magazine, December, 1954 [ PDF] ]

His name became a slang gambling phrase, meaning "Six on a pair of dice." [cite book | last = Monteleone | first = Vincent | title = Criminal Slang | publisher = Lawbook Exchange | location = New York | year = 2004 | isbn = 1584773006 ]

In fiction

A 1963 episode of "The Twilight Zone", "The New Exhibit", featured a wax museum statue of Hicks as part of a collection of notorious serial killers.


*The [ July 14, 1860] edition of the New York Herald
* [ July 14, 1860] edition of the New York Tribune
*Francis Vincent "Vincent's Semi-annual United States Register", 1860
*James Dugan, "The Great Iron Ship", 1953 (regularly reprinted) ISBN 0-7509-3447-6 , pgs 70-71
*Lorenzo Niles Fowler, "The Life, Trial, Confession and Execution of Albert W. Hicks, The Pirate and Murderer, Executed on Bedloe’s Island, New York Bay…." (New York: Robert M. De Witt, Publisher, 1860?) [ Illustrations from the book]
*Hicks, Albert W. "Story Of My Life" []
*Hicks, Albert W. "Execution of H,” 1860
*cite book | last = Steelwater | first = Eliza | title = The Hangman's Knot | publisher = Westview Press | location = Boulder | year = 2003 | isbn = 081334042X
* [ Murder and Mayhem, Tra-La! The Saugerties Bard] by John Thorn in "VOICES: The Journal of New York Folklore", Vol. 31, Fall-Winter, 2005

External links

* [ Photo drawing of the scene of the execution]

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