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Crime Poems: “Inhuman Cruelty”

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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 the perpetrators’ punishment fill in the details of exactly what happened.

Here is the basic outline of events: On July 9, 1763, Ann Everton of Boston gave birth to a bastard female child, and a few months later she married John Richardson, a laborer who was presumably the father of the girl. After the couple married, they conspired to end the life of their infant daughter, but their attempts to murder her were eventually discovered. Somehow the child survived the ordeal.

John and Ann Richardson were tried and found guilty of contriving to kill and murder their baby through starvation. They were sentenced to stand at the gallows with nooses tied around their necks for one hour, and their punishment took place at Boston Neck on October 4, 1764, almost one year to the day after the two were married.

Because their daughter survived their murderous attempts on her life, the couple was spared from actually hanging from the ropes tied around their necks. But they did not escape harsh punishment. John Rowe, who attended the scene, reported in his diary, “the man behaved in the most audacious manner, so that the mob pelted him, which was what he deserved.”

Inhuman Cruelty:
Or Villany Detected.

Being a true Relation of the most unheard of, cruel and barberous [sic] Intended Murder of a Bastard Child belonging to JOHN and ANN RICHARDSON, of Boston, who confined it in a small Room, with scarce any Victuals, or Cloathing to cover it from the cold or rain, which beat into it, for which Crime they were both of them Sentenc’d to set on the Gallows, with a rope round their Necks, &c.

ADIEU to wanton jests, both false and vain,
To foolish fland’ring tales, and songs profane;
A mournful theme my heart and tongue employs,
Afflicts my mind and flattens all my joys.

I sing the cruel, miserable pair,
Th’ unhappy Man, and the accursed Fair,
Whose base and horrid fact torments my ears,
Distracts my soul, and drowns my eyes in tears.

Then on my muse, let all the vulgar know
The barb’rous cause from whence my sorrows flow
Proclaim the Wretch and his infernal Wife,
Whose wrestless malice sought her Infant’s life.

Who in a wet, a cold and loathsome room
Confin’d her Babe, the off-spring of her womb:
‘Twas there she made the half-starv’d Infant lay,
To sob alone and waste its flesh away.

Nor did the base and cruel Mother feel,
The least remorse—her breast was harden’d steel:
With looks serene, the Tigress could behold
Her panting Infant naked, wet and cold.

Thus she the helpless, tender Infant us’d,
She vex’d its spirits, and its body bruis’d;
And thus you see how John and bloody Ann,
The cruel Mother and unnatural Man.

Invented means to stop this Infants breath,
And sought to kill it by a ling’ring death;
But thanks to GOD, who sits inthron’d on high,
Supream o’er all, dread Sov’reign of the sky.

Who did his rich and wond’rous grace extend,
To save the Child from that untimely end;
How freely does his tender mercies flow,
To rescue Mortals from their depths of woe.

When sore distress’d he mitigates our pain,
Regards our tears, nor lets us cry in vain:
He hears our pray’rs, when we implore his grace,
And loves and pities, while he hides his face.

But as for those whom goodness can’t reclaim,
Who scorn his mercies, and blaspheme his name:
Those rebels soon shall feel his heavy rod,
And know the justice of an angry GOD.

So shall these Felons whose detected crime,
Has mark’d them out the scandal of our time:
This day the Man and his accomplish’d Dame
Are both expos’d to everlasting shame.

Behold him, Sirs, with his inviting Fair,
High on the gallows, see him seated there:
Behold how well the pliant halter suits
These hardn’d monsters, and unnatural brutes.

Behold, I pray, this Female’s brasen face,
Which gives the gallows that becoming grace;
See how she sets without concern or dread,
Bites in her lip, and rears her guilty head.

Behold, ye Swains, how great their guilt has been;
Then stand in awe, and be afraid to sin:—
Ye virgin Nymphs—ye few and virtuous Fair,
The earth’s great joy, and Heav’ns peculiar care.

Be content now, while in your youthful prime;
Abhor this Harlot, and avoid her crime:
Detest this Man, and ev’ry villains face,
Who dare be cruel, impudent or base.

And now that we may have our sins forgiven,
May live at ease, and die in peace with Heav’n;
Let us attend to wisdom’s sacred call,
Who thus concludes with an address to all.

Ye simple mortals, harken to my voice,
And take me now for your eternal choice;
Now let my sayings in your hearts descend,
Receive my law, and to my words attend.

Keep far from passion, cruelty and strife,
And I’ll conduct thee in the paths of life:
Exalt me now and I’ll prolong thy days,
I’ll save thy soul and prosper all thy ways.

Tho’ all forsake thee, I’ll be with thee still,
I’ll be thy guide and keep thee free from ill,
I’ll lead thee here and be thy kind convoy
Safe to the Haven of eternal joy.


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