Maggie Dickson lived from about 1702 to about 1765. She was a fish-wife who came to fame after being convicted of killing her newly born baby. She survived her subsequent execution and was subsequently known as Half-Hangit Maggie. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Maggie Dickson was born in Musselburgh in about 1702 and subsequently brought up there. She married a fisherman but he quickly left the scene after, depending on the version of the story you read, being press ganged into the Royal Navy or going to work on the fishing fleet in Newcastle.
In 1723 Maggie found work at an inn in Kelso, and subsequently "fell pregnant" after a relationship with the innkeeper's son. Maggie concealed the fact of her pregnancy and the baby duly arrived, prematurely. It is unclear whether the baby was stillborn or died shortly after birth, and if the latter how it died. Either way, Maggie abandoned the body on the banks of the River Tweed, where it was found. Maggie was arrested and subsequently tried in Edinburgh. Some sources say she was charged under the Concealment of Pregnancy Act, but it seems more likely she was tried with causing the death of her child. Based on questionable medical evidence that the child had been born alive, she was convicted and sentenced to death.
Maggie was duly hanged at a public execution in Edinburgh's Grassmarket on 2 September 1724. Her execution was followed by a near riot as friends and relatives fought with medical students for possession of her body. The friends and relatives won, and Maggie was placed in a coffin to be transported to Musselburgh for burial. While the party paused en route for refreshment in a roadside pub, the lid of the coffin was seen to move, and Maggie was found to be alive. She was well enough to walk the rest of the way to Musselburgh the next day.
As the sentence of the court has been carried out, Maggie was beyond further prosecution and she lived for another 40 years, known universally as Half-Hangit Maggie. Some say that Maggie survived because she had become a "good friend" of the ropemaker who supplied the hangman: and the early breaking of the rope allowed her survival. Whatever the reason for her survival, her story is remembered in the name of Maggie Dickson's Pub, which overlooks the scene of her execution in Edinburgh's Grassmarket.