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

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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 source to honor the occasion.

Cot-er’s Speech from the Pillory.

[Who was sentenced by the Superiour Court held at Boston, to set in the Pillory one Hour, be whip’d 20 Stripes, and pay Costs of prosecution, for counterfeiting Quarters of Dollars.]


HEAVENS! what a num’rous Throng do here attend,
To see a Man the Pillory ascend;
Where unrivaled Merit is display’d
In all it’s [sic] Beauty to the World convey’d.


Few, I believe, with equal right could claim
So good a Title to so great a Fame,
Or even think my Glory to excel,
In any Place, except the depths of Hell.


Great is my Post, unenvy’d is my Pride,
I am singled out from all the World beside:
How great have Things conspir’d, or where or when,
To make me thus the happiest of Men?


Sure if this Honor be not justly due,
It would not be conferr’d by all of you;
Who do with Admiration view my Fate,
And gaze with wonder on my happy State.


How every Person assembled here to-Day,
With anxious Hearts would gladly find a Way
To gain so noble, so glorious a Place,
And with themselves the Pillory to grace.


But vain their hopes, unless by me they’re taught,
How in the Net of Fortune to be caught:
Vain their desires, unless like me they strive
To tread such Steps, and by such Precepts thrive.


Pray Pupils let one Moment’s silence Reign,
And I’ll recount to you the various Train
Of previous Steps which all of you must take,
’Fore in this Joy you can participate.


Lying is the first that I propose to mention,
Which ought to engross the whole of your attention,
As ’tis the only Rule and Ground of all,
On which your Grand Design must stand or fall.


Cheating the next, which often comes of Course,
Yet must be always learnt with equal force;
With equal Vigour ought to be pursu’d,
That so the next with ease may be subdu’d.


Stealing, though ’tis a Virtue of the Age,
Yet is not always honor’d with a Stage;
Yet it is manifest upon Record,
It never fails to meet some great Reward.


But Coin your Cash yourselves, and then you’ll find,
You’ll have a Birth that’s suited to your mind:
Such a high Birth as I this Day enjoy,
Need all the Arts that you can well employ.


Yet still one loftier Place you can obtain,
(And hope ’twill be my lot e’r long to gain)
I mean the Gallows, that exalted State,
Where you’ll arrive at Fortune’s utmost Height.

Back in October 1767, a James Cotter along with John Clanse were pursued from Plymouth, MA on suspicion of stealing a silver can, a silver watch, and other articles from someone in town. Along the way, they stole two horses to aid their getaway. Clanse was captured in Newport, RI, where he acknowledged taking the goods, but he said that his partner, who managed to get away, was in possession of them. Cotter soon showed up, however, in Boston when he was put in jail after he stole some cloth “to make a Great-Coat.”

If this James Cotter was the same one who appeared on the pillory six months later, the petty counterfeiter portrayed in the poem may have been even more of a criminal mastermind than its author supposed.


  • “Boston, April 18.” Boston News-Letter, April 21, 1768, issue 3368, p. 3. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.
  • “Boston, April 28.” Boston News-Letter, April 28, 1768, issue 3369, p. 3. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.
  • Cot-er’s Speech from the Pillory. [Boston, 1768]. Database: America’s Historical Imprints, Readex/Newsbank.

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