Thomas Bird

Thomas Bird was a sailor aboard Mary, a small British slave ship that carried newly-enslaved Africans to larger slave ships for transport to the Americas. For reasons that were never made clear, Bird killed Mary’s captain, John Connor, who had a reputation for violence.

Bird was arrested when the Mary docked in Portland, Maine, which was a district of Massachusetts until statehood in 1820.

Though Bird, Connor, and Mary were all British, Article 3, Section 2 of the recently-enacted United States Constitution provided federal jurisdiction for all maritime cases.

Poughkeepsie Journal, July 17, 1790

Thomas Bird was convicted of murder on high seas and sentenced to death on June 4, 1790. After his pardon request was rejected, he was hanged by the U.S. Marshal Service in Portland on June 25, 1790. It was the first federal execution in United States history.

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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