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1724 Boston Property Taxes for “Robert Dobney” the Boston Town Executioner Known for His Piracy Activities

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(ROBERT DOBNEY). Boston “Executioner” Merchant (of death), paid by the Province: “To Makeing of the Chaines for John Rose Archer one of the (two Executed) Pyrats and hire of a man to help fix him on the Gebbet att Brid (Bird) Island. Assisting in the Chaining and Execution of documented Pirate(s), with the Executed Quarter Master then hung by his chains for a week, placed on display as a deterrent to others considering Piracy.

1724-Dated, Partly-Printed Document, Signed at top made to “Robert Dobney”, 1 page, measuring 4.75” x 3.25”, Boston (MA), Choice Very Fine. Being a completed Tax Notice form in Boston for his Province and Town rates of Taxes. This uniface form is typeset printed in black on clean laid period paper, and fully completed in manuscript. Signed in type at bottom, “Per William Young, Constable.” This exceedingly rare 1724 Tax assessment form is the first we have seen and combined for the Province of Massachusetts-Bay and Boston Town. This form records values for “Houses & Lands.” plus “Personal Estate & Faculty.” What is of further early American Colonial era interest is the statement at bottom reading:

“The Assessors sit at the Town House in Boston on Thursdays, from 3 to 5 a Clock afternoon to whom any Person agrieved, may apply for ease, as the Law directs. 1724. Errors Excepted. - Per William Young, Constable.”

According to, “Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period” Robert Dobney was involved with “Pyrates” and “Pyracy” of the period in Colonial Boston. He was a newcomer, who was admitted in 1715. It records “Bill of Robert Dobney. June 2, 1724 “The Province off the Massachusetts Bay by Order of Edward Stanbridge (1688-1734) is Dr (directed) 1724 June 2d - To Makeing of the Chaines for John Rose Archer one of the Pyrats and hire of a man to help fix him on the Gebbet att Brid (Bird) Island... 12.10 - per me (Signed) Robert Dobney”.

(*The term “Gebbet” relates to the spell Ged uses to summon a shadow was one for summoning the dead. “Bird Island” was located in the inner Harbor of Boston, which disappeared under Logan Airport in 1946.) See: Mass. Archives, vol. 63, p. 399.

It is further recorded: “Bill of Edward Stanbridge. June 2, 1724. - The Province of the Massachusets Bay to Edwd. Stanbridge, Dr - for Sundrys by him Expended being for the Execution And by Order of A Speciall Cort of Admiralty for the Execution of John Rose and William White two Pirates, Viz.: “To the Executioner for his Service I paid him - 12.00.0”. (This cost matching the exact amount per his recorded Invoice charge as presented by Robert Dobney.) Plus, additional charges for the executions are noted, totaling to 23.8.10.

According to a report in the Boston Gazette, June 8, 1724: “On Tuesday the 2d instant, were executed here, for Piracy, John Rose Archer, Quarter Master, aged about 27 years, and William White, aged about 22 years. After their Death they were conveyed in Boats down to an Island, where White was buried, and the Quarter Master was hung up in Irons (by Robert Dobney and his assistant), to be a Spectacle, and so a Warning to others.” Six days after the execution a local’s diary entry states: “David Cunningham and his wife, and 6 more, went to the castle to Governors Island, and to see the Piratte in Gibbits at Bird Island.” See: N.E. Hist. Gen. Reg. XV, p. 202.

Edward Stanbridge (1688-1734) was an Colonial Massachusetts, Boston, Military Provost Marshal who is buried in King’s Chapel Burying Ground in Boston. Notables buried there include Massachusetts' first Governor, John Winthrop; William Dawes, Paul Revere's compatriot on his ride to Lexington in 1775; the Reverend John Cotton, a powerful religious leader in seventeenth-century Boston; Hezekiah Usher, the Colonies' first printer and publisher; John Alden; and Mary Chilton, who many believe was the first woman to step off the Ship Mayflower.

Reference See: Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period: Illustrative Documents, 1923,

edited by John Franklin Jameson, pages 344-345.
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