Bramhall Square – The Site of the First U.S. Federal Execution

Bramhall Square – The Site of the First U.S. Federal Execution

Today, the historical Holt building, originally known as the Maine Eye and Ear Infirmary, stands on one of the most historically significant plots of land in the United States of America, known to the locals of Portland Maine as Bramhall Square.

This building was originally designed by an architect by the name of John Calvin Stevens in the year 1886. It has recently been renovated and turned into upscale apartments and office space. This renovation is seen as the successful preservation of a historical building by the Maine Historical Preservation Society, as the external features of this beautiful brick and granite structure have remained intact.

Before the construction of the infirmary could begin, a task had to be completed. This task was the removal of the gallows which stood for nearly 100 years. There is a big sign on the edge of the parking lot of the Bramhall Fire Station, which sits a couple buildings down on Congress St. telling about the Hanging of Thomas Bird, which took place on June 25, 1790. It is the sight of the first federally ordered execution in the history of the United States of America. Although others had been executed during colonial times, for crimes ranging from murder, rape, robbery and witchcraft, none had been so ordered by the a U.S. Judge until then.

The gallows were built by a U.S. Martial by the name of Henry Dearborn, for the soul purpose of hanging Thomas Bird. Bird had been captured earlier a few miles away in Cape Elizabeth, and convicted for the crime of murdering his captain while at sea off the coast of Africa. At the time, the new U.S. government was becoming increasingly concerned with maritime law. In his efforts to coordinate a public spectacle where almost 3000 people were witness to the hanging, Dearborn spent tax money on building the gallows and a coffin.

There is much information available about Henry Dearborn who later went on to become a U.S. Congressman and Secretary of Defense under President Thomas Jefferson as well as being a general in the Revolutionary war. There is little available about Thomas Bird or the events of the hanging. And looking around Bramhall square now-a-days, you would never know that it is blood stained land.

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