Rachel Wall

Boston Pirate Trail

Rachel Wall

Boston, Massachusetts 02115, United States

Created By: Simmons University


You are now standing on Long Wharf, the location that holds special meaning to a one Rachel Wall. The account of Rachel Wall, an American female pirate and the last woman to be hanged in Massachusetts, is just one of many stories of small-scale piracy that transpired during the late 18th century. Rachel was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1760. She described her mother and father as “honest and reputable” people who gave her a “good education, and instructed [her] in the fundamental principles of the Christian Religion.”[1] Nonetheless, Rachel left her parents at a young age, returning again, she “was receiving by them, but could not be contented; therefore tarried with them but two years, before [she] left them again.”[2]

This time Rachel ran away to Philadelphia with a sailor named George Wall, whom she thereafter married. The pair traveled to New York and a few months later to Boston. While in Boston, George left Rachel to set sail on a fishing schooner, leaving Rachel working as a servant, where she lived “very contented.”[3] Two months later, George returned and persuaded Rachel to leave her job and become a pirate. George and his mates, who had been privateers during the Revolutionary War, could not resist the lure of the ocean and the prospects of easy money. Rachel accepted his offer, and they set sail.

George and his crew devised a clever scheme to tempt approaching vessels onto their ship, kill them, and steal their riches. George moored his vessel in the harbor at the Isles of Shoals whenever it appeared that a large storm was about to hit the coast. When the storm hit, Wall ordered his crew to “seize the sails, pull them loose, and twist them for a storm-battered look.”[4] Rachel, dressed in tattered clothing, would call to passing vessels to help her, pretending to be a pitiful survivor. When other seafaring men would board Walls’s ship to rescue Rachel, George and his crew members would attack and kill them, transferring their enemies’ booty to their own vessel. In this way, Rachel and the band of pirates were able to successfully prey on passing vessels producing a steady income.

Sometime later, a hurricane hit the Eastern coast. Captain Wall was anchored in his normal spot, waiting for the storm to pass. The sun came out for a little bit, tricking Wall into thinking the hurricane had passed, so he ordered his crew to set sail. As they reached the open sea, the storm came back in full force. Huge waves caused the mainmast to “snap in two.”[5] The crewmen were swept overboard, and one final wave engulfed George throwing him into the abyss of the ocean. The next day, a ship from New York rescued the survivors. That event marked the end of Rachel’s participation in piracy.

The ship returned Rachel back to Boston, where she resumed her job as a servant. Despite the fact that Rachel had ended her career as a pirate, she could not stop thieving. Rachel tried to behave herself but “within a relatively short time her good intentions to behave were forgotten.”[6] Many people stored their valuable items aboard the ships docked in Boston Harbor, and Rachel had first-hand knowledge of these hiding places from her time as a pirate. During the spring of 1787, Rachel went aboard a ship that was docked at Long Wharf, which, built in the 18th century, was, during that time, one of the busiest piers in the country. (Living up to its name, the Long Wharf used to extend from State Street almost half a mile into the Boston Harbor.) As Rachel entered this particular boat, she found that everyone was asleep, therefore, “[she] hunted about for plunder, and discovered… a black silk handkerchief containing upwards of thirty pounds, in gold, crowns, and small change.”[7]

According to Rachel herself, she was on her way home one evening from work, “without design to injure any person” when she was “ surprised when the crime was laid to [her] charge.”[8] Rachel was accused of stealing a bonnet from a 17-year old Margaret Bender who was walking along the road. Consequently, Rachel was arrested for highway robbery and later tried. Rachel insisted she was innocent, “as to the crime of Robbery… I am entirely innocent to the truth of this declaration I appeal to that God before whom I must shortly appear.”[9] Despite her protestations, Rachel was found guilty. Wall was hanged at the Great Elm on Boston Common in front of a large crowd of thousands on October 7, 1789 where, “everyone present was ready for the morning’s gruesome excitement.”[10] Rachel was the last of the three individuals hanged that day and in her final act of bravery, “when the time came she jumped out off the edge to her death without help.”[11] In just over 200 years, 127 women were hanged in New England; Rachel would be the last woman hanged in Massachusetts.[12]

— Jessica Sibert

[1] “Life, Last Words and Dying CONFESSION, OF RACHEL WALL, Who, with William Smith and William Dunogan, were executed at BOSTON, on Thursday, October 8, 1789, for HIGH-WAY ROBBERY.”.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Life, Last Words and Dying CONFESSION, OF RACHEL WALL, Who, with William Smith and William Dunogan, were executed at BOSTON, on Thursday, October 8, 1789, for HIGH-WAY ROBBERY.”.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Edward Rowe Snow. Piracy, Mutiny, and Murder. (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1959) 76.
[7] “Life, Last Words and Dying CONFESSION, OF RACHEL WALL.”
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Snow. Piracy, Mutiny, and Murder, 77.
[11] Ibid.
[12] “Rachel Wall, Pirate.” Historical Walking Tours | Boston, Massachusetts. https://www.walkbostonhistory.com/rachel-wall--pirate.html

Pictured: The Life, Last Words and Dying Confession of Rachel Wall (Boston, 1789). Detail, from the Life, Last Words and Dying Confession of Rachel Wall (Boston, 1789).

**To go to Charles Ellms's Print House (Site 3), continue walking on Long Wharf and cross onto State Street. At the corner of John F. Fitzgerald Surface Road and State Street, take a right. Continue down John F. Fitzgerald Road and take a left onto South Market Street. Continue walking on South Market Street and arrive at Site 3.**

This point of interest is part of the tour: Boston Pirate Trail


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