Famous for her Wit and Beauty, compelled to marry a Man she detested, poisoned him, and was executed in 1703, at the age of 18
MARY CHANNEL was the daughter of one Mr Woods, a person of good repute, who resided in a little village near Dorchester, in the county of Dorset. He was a person of known wealth and good credit, who, by his industry and diligence, daily increased his riches. Perceiving his daughter to be of a promising disposition, and amiable both in body and mind, he gave her a liberal education, to improve and refine those good qualifications by art and study wherewith she was liberally endowed by the bounty of nature. She made so speedy a progress in her learning that she soon outvied her schoolfellows; and the strong imagination, polite behaviour and majestic graces in her carriage so lively displayed themselves that she became the mirror and discourse of all who knew her. Though her birth gave place to those of the highest rank and quality, yet her education was not inferior to them; and her incomparable wit, united with her beautiful presence, rendered her so agreeable that she was to be preferred even to many of a superior rank.
Her charms did not consist in adorning and dressing herself in magnificent and gay attire, decked with pearls and diamonds, which gives a false gloss of beauty to persons whose natures are opposite, and only serve to brighten the lustre of their pretended fine qualities. In a word, she was generally esteemed the most celebrated wit and accomplished beauty of her age.
Being now in the flower of her youth and bloom of her beauty, she had several suitors of good repute, who all became captives to her beauty, and hardly did they find themselves ensnared but they had the boldness to flatter themselves with the hopes of one day possessing such a charming object. Amongst the rest, one Mr Channel, a wealthy grocer of Dorchester, came to pay his respects to her, who, for the great riches he enjoyed, was gratefully accepted by her parents, though by her altogether contemned and slighted. He had nothing to recommend him but his wealth, which was as much superior to the rest of her suitors as his person was inferior to them: his limbs and body were in some measure ill proportioned, and his features in no wise agreeable; but what rendered him the more detestable and ridiculous in her sight was his splay-foot, which did not in the least concur with her sublime and lofty temper. Her father, evidently perceiving the addresses of Mr Channel were received and accepted by her with scorn and reproofs, entreated her to receive him with less disdain and listen to his respectful addresses. Being weary, however, of his fond familiarities, she determined to abandon herself from him, and never more admit him into her presence or society. She had no sooner put her design into execution but it reached her father's ears, who kept a more strict guard and watchful eye over her behaviour and conduct, and forthwith continued his absurd and unreasonable expostulations and imprudent menaces to enforce and augment her love. She in vain endeavoured to excuse herself, by disputing the most solid and rational arguments; but how much the more she persisted, by so much the more her parents' resolution was incensed and irritated, pressing her to consent to a speedy marriage, and telling her she would discharge the duty under which she was obligated to them by assenting to and complying with their commands. At length, being continually fatigued and importuned by her parents to have the marriage solemnised, she consented, though with the greatest reluctance. And on the day appointed the ceremony was ordained.
Having now gratified her parents' desire, and yielded to their compulsions, by putting the finishing stroke to her marriage, she still continued her slights and contempts towards her husband, and he became the entire object of her scorn. Soon after the solemnisation of the marriage she began to plot and contrive new scenes of tragedies, and her thoughts were chiefly employed and taken up in studying what measures to take to get rid of her husband, and set herself at liberty. Nothing would satisfy her enormous desires but his death, which she determined to bring about by poison. And, in order thereto, she sent her maid to the apothecary's for some white mercury, telling her it was to kill rats and mice; though it is certain her design was reverse, which she intended to fulfil as soon as opportunity would give reins to her vicious inclinations. A little after she gave orders for rice milk to be made for breakfast. That morning, particularly, she was observed to demonstrate a seeming diligence in procuring everyone their proper messes; and no one was permitted to serve her husband but herself. Accordingly she prepared and gave him the poisonous draught, mixed and infused with the mercury, which she had reserved for this desperate use, and which proved his fatal dish. After he had eaten somewhat liberally he discovered an ill savour in his milk, and said it tasted amiss. Hereupon he offered his wife's brother (a youth who boarded with him) to taste it; but she would by no means permit her brother to comply with this reasonable request, which caused a strong suspicion throughout the family. Then Mr Channel required the maid to taste it; but she had no sooner taken it into her hands than her mistress in a violent passion caught it from her, and forthwith conveyed it away. It was now too late to recall what had passed, or to seek for refuge; for his body presently began to swell vehemently, perceiving which, the domestics immediately sent for a doctor. But the infused mercury had so great an effect upon him that no remedy could expel it, and he expired before the physicians came to his assistance. Having thus resigned his breath, and there being visible proofs of his being poisoned, it was not without reason she was suspected to be the principal and only actress and procurer thereof. Thereupon she was immediately seized and conveyed before a justice, before whom she entirely denied the fact; nevertheless, on her servants' information he committed her to Dorchester jail.
At the assizes ensuing at Dorchester the defence she made (whether it was real or pretended) was so full of wit and ingenuity, and uttered with such an extraordinary courage and humility, that it caused admiration in the judges, and pity and compassion in all who heard her trial. But this availed nothing; for the evidences appearing plain against her, and the friends of her deceased husband being very substantial people' she received sentence to be burned at the stake till she was dead.
The day whereon she was to suffer being come, she was guarded by proper officers to the place of execution, with her hood veiled over her face. After she had uttered some private ejaculations she pulled off her gown and white silk hood and delivered them to her maid —- who accompanied her to the stake —- and then suffered death, according to the sentence before pronounced against her, declaring her faith in Christ; and to the last continued to exclaim against her parents' constraints, which had been the sole cause of her torturing death. Thus at a small distance from the town of Dorchester she yielded her breath, in or about the month of April, Anno Domini 1703, in the eighteenth year of her age, being greatly bewailed and lamented, though the sentence was acknowledged to be just and lawful.