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Crime Poems: Robert Young’s True Character

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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 of his master’s maids, who at first resisted his advances until his persistence and the “large promises” he made finally weakened her.

Young’s father had sent his son to Dublin from Carrick, Ireland to work for George Reilly, a wholesale merchant. He had educated Young with the expectation that the boy would eventually follow in his footsteps, and he believed that his son would gain valuable experience in the business world by working for Reilly. But Young came away from his time in Dublin with a worldly education that was not what his father had intended.

Young’s Education

Once Young attained his goal of seducing Reilly’s maid, he used his close connection with the merchant to have her discharged to ensure that the illicit relationship would remain a secret. Young then turned his attentions to “lewd women,” and with their influence he lost any noble spirit he originally possessed and “in a short time learned to drink to excess.”

Reilly soon discovered how Young was spending his time away from the warehouse, and he threatened to tell Young’s parents about it if he did not quit his current lifestyle and apply himself to learning the ways of business. Young responded by leaving Reilly and traveling to Liverpool, England for a two-week vacation. After he returned to Dublin, he enlisted in the army.

Young committed “all manner of debauchery” while in the army, and before he left Dublin with his regiment, he was treated in the hospital for syphilis, his first of many such treatments. As Young moved from place to place as a soldier, he continued to seduce and abandon women along the way. He eventually landed in Canada under General Burgoyne, and as the army wintered in Quebec, he came up with a scheme to supplement his meager earnings. He developed a relationship with a widow, who supplied him with money that he then used to buy liquor and spend time with bad company. When it came time for his regiment to go to Ticonderoga, the widow pleaded with Young to stay behind with her, but in perfect step, he marched on.

Desertion

Young saw action in two battles but came out of both unscathed. After marching with his regiment to Hadley, MA, a woman he met talked him into deserting the army. He took her advice, spent the night with her, and then continued his rakish ways as he traveled around New England.

The Massachusetts Spy, November 11, 1779 (From Early American Newspapers, an Archive of Americana Collection, published by Readex (Readex.com), a division of NewsBank, inc.)

Young landed a job as a schoolteacher in Greenfield, MA, and after two months went back to his “old practices of seducing the young women,” although he never explicitly says whether any of them were his students. One girl in town took a particular fancy to Young, and she often visited him “in private.” Her parents tried to keep the two apart by refusing to allow Young in their house, but their efforts came to no avail. And when Young eventually left Greenfield, the girl continued to slip away to visit him.

Teacher Opening

Young moved around acting as a schoolteacher in several towns, when he learned that there was an opening for a teacher in Brookfield, MA. When he arrived there in 1779, he decided to keep the fact that he had deserted the British army a secret so as to avoid any problems. Young opened a school on the property of Samuel Green, and not surprisingly he soon struck up relations with Green’s daughter, Anne. When Anne’s parents found out about the relationship, they were furious, especially because they knew that Young was having similar contacts with other women in town and on many nights never came home.

But this time was different. Young believed he was truly in love with Anne. He promised to quit his relationships with the other women and offered Anne marriage. He even told her that he belonged to the British army and assured her that he would never go back to it. Anne’s parents and friends tried their best to derail the relationship, but she held firm to her intention to marry Young. Young himself, though, made sure that the marriage would never happen.

On September 3 with their marriage only a few days away, Young got drunk and then raped one of his students, Jane Green, Anne’s eleven year-old sister.

Young was tried at the Superior Court in Worcester, and the Massachussets Spy reported that

the evidence of his crime was clear and striking. The jury found him guilty, and he received sentence of death on Saturday last. It is supposed that greater influences of brutality and barbarity, were never exercised in a crime of this kind, than were exhibited by said Young in the perpetration of this inhuman deed. The circumstances of which decency forbids us to publish in a public news paper.

Before Young was executed on November 11, 1779 at the age of 29, he wrote a poem called, “The Dying Criminal,” although it also offers little detail about what happened on that fateful evening in September.

(Library of Congress)

The Dying CRIMINAL:
A
POEM.

By ROBERT YOUNG, on his own Execution, which was on Thursday last, November 11th, 1779, for a RAPE committed on the Body of Jane Green, a Child eleven Years of Age, at Brookfield, in the County of Worcester, on the 3d Day of September last. Corrected from his own Manuscript.

ATTEND, ye youth! if ye would fain be old,
Take solemn warning when my tale is told;
In blooming life my soul I must resign,
In my full strength, just aged twenty-nine.

But a short time ago, I little thought
That to this shameful end I should be brought;
But the foul fiend, excepting God controuls,
Dresses sin lovely when he baits for souls.

Could you the monster in true colours see,
His subject nor his servant would you be;
His gilded baits would ne’er allure your minds,
For he who serves him bitter anguish finds.

Had I as oft unto my Bible went,
As on vain pleasures I was eager bent,
These lines had never been composed by me,
Nor my vile body hung upon the tree.

Those guilty pleasures that I did pursue,
No more delight—they’re painful to my view;
That monster, Sin, that dwells within my breast,
Tortures my soul and robs me of my rest.

That fatal time I very well remember,
For it was on the third day of September,
I went to Western, thoughtless of my God,
Though worlds do tremble at his awful nod:

With pot-companions did I pass the day,
And then direct to Brookfield bent my way,
The grand-deceiver thought it was his time,
And led me to commit a horrid crime.

When it was dark I met the little fair,
(Great God forgive, and hear my humble pray’r)
And, O! dear Jane, wilt thou forgive me too,
For I most cruelly have used you.

I took advantage of the dark’ning hour,
(For beasts always by night their prey devour)
This little child, eleven years of age,
Then fell a victim to my brutal rage;

Nor could the groans of innocence prevail;
O pity, reader, though I tell the tale;
Drunk with my lust, on cursed purpose bent,
Severely us’d th’unhappy innocent.

Her sister dear was to have been my wife,
But I’ve abus’d her and must lose my life;
Was I but innocent, my heart would bleed
To hear a wretch, like me, had done the deed.

Reader, whoe’er thou art, a warning take,
Be good and just, and all your sins forsake;
May the Almighty God direct your way
To the bright regions of eternal day.

A dying man to you makes this request,
For sure he wishes that you may be blest;
And shortly, reader, thou must follow me,
And drop into a vast eternity!

The paths of lewdness, and these base profane,
Produce keen anguish, sorrow, fear and shame;
Forsake them then, I’ve trod the dreary road,
My crimes are great, I groan beneath the load.

For a long time on sin should you be bent,
You’ll find it hard, like me for to repent;
The more a dangerous wound doth mortify,
The more the surgeon his best skill must try.

These lines I write within a gloomy cell,
I soon shall leave them with a long farewell;
Again I caution all who read the same
And beg they would their wicked lives reclaim.

O THOU, Almight GOD, who gave me breath,
Save me from suffering a second death,
Through faith in thy dear SON may I be free,
And my poor soul ascend to dwell with Thee.

The Massachusetts Spy, November 24, 1779 (From Early American Newspapers, an Archive of Americana Collection, published by Readex (Readex.com), a division of NewsBank, inc.)

Sources

  • “Extract of Another Letter from the Same Place. August 20.” Connecticut Gazette, October 27, 1779, vol. XVII, issue 833, p. 2. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.
  • “Worcester, October 14.” Massachusetts Spy, October 14, 1779, vol. IX, issue 441, p. 3. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.
  • Young, Robert. The Dying Criminal: A Poem. New London, [1779]. Database: America’s Historical Imprints, Readex/Newsbank.
  • —. The Last Words and Dying Speech of Robert Young. New London, [1779]. Database: America’s Historical Imprints, Readex/Newsbank.
  • —. The Last Words and Dying Speech of Robert Young. Worcester, [1779]. Database: America’s Historical Imprints, Readex/Newsbank.

One Comment

  1. Colonial times are not my strength, so I was surprised the other day when I ran across an article (not on your site, just sharing)that said that a boy was executed for bestiality.

    I have been to your site before, but I had not bookmarked it…now I have. Great site, keep up the work.

    Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

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