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Crime Poems: The Memory of Infanticide Committed by Elizabeth Shaw

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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 decided to rid herself of the problem by taking the baby into the woods, hiding it in a nook along a ledge of rocks, and leaving it there to die.

Town lore says that Shaw’s father grew suspicious and, implausibly, saw Elizabeth perform the deed (why didn’t he stop her or rescue the child?). When he could not get his daughter to confess the crime, he turned her over to the authorities. A search party was sent out, and they found the expired baby hidden in the rocks.

On September 17, a large audience watched as Shaw was tried and found guilty of murder by the Superior Court, but an even larger crowd showed up on December 18 to see Shaw carted from the jail where she was being held to the gallows that was erected on a small hill one mile southwest of the Windham Green. Shaw sat on her coffin in tears as she moved through the streets, crying out, “Oh, Jesus! Have mercy on my soul!”

Some people said afterwards that Shaw’s repentant father traveled to Hartford and procured a last-second reprieve from the governor. The father raced back to Windham, but a sudden snowstorm made the rivers impassable, so he never made it back in time to stop the execution. (A local historian, however, questions the veracity of this part of the story.)

Infanticide Put to Verse

Many years later in 1772, a poem about Elizabeth Shaw was published in New London, CT, although the title misstates the date of the execution by 13 months. Why did someone (was it the printer, Timothy Green?) write and publish a poem about Elizabeth Shaw’s crime and execution 27 years after the fact?

Boston Gazette - May 8, 1772 (From Early American Newspapers, an Archive of Americana Collection, published by Readex (, a division of NewsBank, inc.)

Perhaps the poem’s publication was prompted by two reports of infanticide that appeared in the Connecticut Gazette (New London) and several other Connecticut newspapers. In one case, Sarah Goldthwait was accused of murdering her newborn son by tying several stones around his body and throwing him into a pond in Lynn, MA. The same newspaper article also reported that a newborn child was found floating in the Charles River and was assumed to have been murdered by its “unnatural Mother.” That two shocking murders of newborn babies occurred on the heels of one another in Massachusetts could have reawakened the memory of the local infanticide involving Elizabeth Shaw.

A brief Relation of a MURDER committed by
Who was executed at Windham, on the 18th of
Nov. 1744, for the Murder of her Child.

Behold a sight may cause a fright
From paths of sin in time,
As some have run till quite undone
And perish’d in their prime.

Here’s one must die before our eyes
which some of us did know,
For murder done to her own son
which caus’d her overthrow.

Her time being come she went from home
as she herself declares,
And satan found her on his ground
and did her soul insnare.

Her child being born, she left forlorn
being deaf to all its moans,
Her heart being hard had no regard
to her own flesh and bones.

Hard lodging sure she did procure
for such young tender skin,
Barks of the wood the best she cou’d
afford for covering.

Parental pity she had none
unto her infant’s cry,
On the cold ground she laid it down
and left it there to die.

It is not known how long alone
it languish’d in the grove.
Its mournful cries that did arise,
was heard by God above.

Soon after this she did confess,
say’ng, on my father’s ground.
There she replies the infant lies,
and there the corps they found.

While lying there no beast did tear
which seems to testify,
For blood conceal’d must be reveal’d
it did for vengeance cry.

She was commanded with her hand
to touch the infant’s flesh,
Which when she came to touch the same
the corps did bleed afresh.

Then she was judg’d in goal to lodge
till they her case might try—
The judges say, and jury they
this murderer must die.

To see her when she’s just condemn’d
does make my heart to ache,
But God I know is just and true
and this just law did make.

It makes me mind how in short time
in the great judgment morn,
How she and I the Lord will try
and all that e’er was born.

God’s watchmen they, must pity take
with her much time they spent,
Their earnest cries that did arise,
and warn’d her to repeat.

In standing by to hear her cry,
that she wou’d Christ receive,
The word doth say, her soul might save
if she would but believe.—

Her time being spent that God had lent
her on this earth to be,
The warning’s read she must be dead
before the hour of three.

Alas poor heart! Then in a cart
was carried along.
Unto the place of high disgrace
where many round her throng.

There she may see her fatal tree,
there she may see her grave
And O that she her self could see
a gracious Christ to have.

Thus di’d this female in her youth,
not twenty years of age,
Her sinful ways cut short her days
and snatch’d her from the stage:

O may we all who hear her fall
a timely warning take:
Let’s not delay another day,
before we sin forsake.


  • “Boston, May 4.” Connecticut Gazette, May 8, 1772, vol. IX, issue 443, p. 2. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.
  • “Boston, May 4.” Connecticut Journal, May 8, 1772, issue 238, p. 3. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.
  • “Boston, May 7.” Connecticut Courant, May 12, 1772, issue 385, p. 3. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.
  • A Brief Relation of a Murder Committed by Elizabeth Shaw. London: [Timothy Green], 1772. A copy of original can be found on the Connecticut History Online website:
  • Larned, Ellen Douglas. History of Windham County, Connecticut. Vol. I. Worcester, MA: Charles Hamilton, 1874.

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