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Category Archives: Poems

Prisons and Punishments: The Treadmill Song

From the Amateur STATE PRISON MELODIES. The Treadmill Song The stars are rolling in the sky, The earth rolls on below, And we can feel the rattling wheel Revolving as we go, Then tread away, my gallant boys, And make the axle fly; Why shouldn’t wheels go round about, Like planets in the sky? Wake […]

Crime Poems: Robert Young’s True Character

Fifteen year-old Robert Young used his time in Dublin in 1765 to find his true character. He decided that he was “an absolute hater of all sorts of strong liquor,” but he also discovered that he was “much inclined to the company of women.” This inclination moved him to try his hand at seducing one […]

Crime Poems: “Inhuman Cruelty”

I find some of the crimes committed in colonial America to be too sad or too disturbing to report: our age by no means has a monopoly on shocking cruelty. The following crime could easily fit into this category, so I will let the poem that was sold in broadside form at the scene of […]

Crime Poems: “That Notorious Cheat”

Crime Poems: “That Notorious Cheat” In June 1761, Jeremiah Dexter of Walpole, MA was caught trying to pass counterfeit dollars of his own making. As punishment, Dexter was forced on September 10 to stand in the pillory for one hour and pay a fine of 20 pounds. Among the crowd who showed up that day […]

Crime Poems: “Cot-er’s Speech from the Pillory”

In 1768, James Cotter was convicted of making and passing several counterfeit coins. On Friday, April 22, 1768 in front of a crowd in Boston, he “stood one Hour in the Pillory, and was whip’d 20 Stripes at the public Whipping post” as part of his punishment. The following “Speech” was published by an anonymous […]

Crime Poems: Philip Kennison’s Prison Writings

When Thomas Fleet, publisher of the Boston Evening-Post learned in 1738 that Philip Kennison was going to be executed in Cambridge, MA for burglary, he sensed a business opportunity. While Kennison waited in prison for his sentence to be carried out, he spent a good deal of time writing “a Narrative of his Wicked Life,” […]

Crime Poems: Richard Wilson’s Burglary

Late Sunday night on August 14, 2011, four burglars entered a Big Ed’s Restaurant in South Brunswick, NJ. Their cars parked outside the restaurant drew the attention of the police, and when the officers arrived they discovered an open door that led to the basement of the building. When they started to investigate, three of […]

Crime Poems: Elizabeth Smith and John Sennet

On March 10, 1772, Elizabeth Smith appeared before the Massachusetts Superior Court and for a second time was found guilty of theft. Her first conviction came almost a year ago, when she received 20 lashes as punishment for the same crime. This time, Smith was sentenced to sit on the gallows for one hour with […]

Crime Poems: Samuel Cooke’s Forged Notes

In March 1765, Samuel Cooke, a yeoman from Westfield, MA, pleaded guilty to forging two promissory notes for considerable sums of money. His scheme was exposed when he tried to redeem the fake notes by sending them to an attorney in Boston. As punishment, Cooke was sentenced to stand in the pillory for one hour […]

Crime Poems: The Memory of Infanticide Committed by Elizabeth Shaw

On June 29, 1745, Elizabeth Shaw, a “weak, simple girl, deficient in mental capacity,” gave birth to a boy in Windham, CT. She was not happy. Her son was a bastard child, which could not only bring punishment and public humiliation upon her, but also incur the wrath of her “stern and rigid” father. She […]