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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Crime and Prison Songs: “Prettiest Train”

From the 1870’s to the 1920’s, some Southern states contracted their convicts out to private landowners and companies to perform heavy labor, such as timbering, mining, railroad work, and farming. Little to no concern was given to the prisoners’ safety or health, and they received inadequate food, shelter, and clothing. Because the convicts belonged […]

Early American Criminals: The Wicked Oath of Patience Boston

The Native-American servant Patience Boston developed, in her words, “some groundless Prejudice” against her new master, so she tried to come up with ways to take action against him. She thought about poisoning his food, but she did not have access to a toxin that would kill him. She tried to burn down his barn, […]

Crime and Prison Songs: “Jumpin’ Judy”

In 1933, John and Alan Lomax visited prison farms in the South in the hope of recording African-American songs that dated back to the time of slavery. Their visits were based on the theory that the best places to find songs of slavery preserved in their purest form were in prison camps, with their […]

Early American Criminals: Jeremiah Meacham’s Tortured Soul

The “Enemies of Souls” had clearly taken control of Jeremiah Meacham in March of 1715. Meacham visibly possessed a troubled conscience and walked around in deep reflection. He became paranoid. He believed that all of his neighbors looked oddly at him, and he feared that somebody somewhere was out to kill him. He woke up […]

Crime and Prison Songs: “Black Betty”

In the 1930’s, John A. Lomax and his son, Alan Lomax, traveled around the United States collecting and recording ballads and songs sung by cowboys, lumberjacks, slaves, creoles, and railway men. They also recorded work songs sung by convicts in Southern prison farms. The following song, “Black Betty,” appears in their 1934 compilation, American […]