“Half-Hangit Maggie”: The Woman Who Survived Hanging

In 1720, Margaret Dickson was separated from her husband and needed to find employment. Taking up work at a local inn in Edinburgh, Scotland, Maggie soon found herself pregnant by the innkeeper’s son. Not wanting to jeopardize her position at work, she concealed the pregnancy from everyone. The child was weak and unhealthy and died a few days after birth. Maggie, not wanting to be caught nor able to give her child a proper burial, decided to place the body of the baby in the nearby River Tweed. The small body was discovered later that day, having washed up further down the river. All suspicion pointed to Maggie, and she was tried for the crime of concealing a pregnancy. On September 2, 1721, Maggie was hanged. She was pronounced dead at the gallows, her body transferred to a wooden coffin, and the coffin carted off to the cemetery. However, the coffin she was buried in let air inside, and combined with the jostling cart along the cobblestone streets, Maggie woke up — much to the horror of her family. The law deemed this an act of God — bringing Maggie back from the dead — and pardoned her crime. Though weak and fragile in the beginning, she pulled through, reunited with her husband, and went on to live another 40 years, having several more children.