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Crime Poems: Samuel Cooke’s Forged Notes

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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 twice–one time for each note–and to pay costs.

When Cooke was confronted with the fact of the forged notes, the authorities discovered that he was holding three more. Cooke pleaded guilty to forging them as well and was fined an additional five pounds, plus costs.

Cooke stood in the pillory on April 9, 1765 and once again on May 10, and his case occasioned the following poem.

Cooke’s SPEECH
The Pillory.

WHY do the people press along,
And in such Crouds appear?
From whence came all this noisy throng,
Which seems to settle here?

What makes each foolish block-head look
With such surprise on me?
Is there no villain here but Cooke,
Am I the only he?

I know that I have often broke
The precepts of this land;
I justly wear the wooden yoke,
And here erected stand.

A proper place for every rogue;
It has held knaves before,
And if my tricks still keep in vouge,
It shall hold many more.

Exalted on a higher seat,
I make a grander show,
Than baser souls beneath my feet,
Than villains down below.

Come then ye knaves both small and great,
If you will join with me;
Come up, and share one common fate,
And leave but few to see.

Since we have had one mind and heart,
Our crimes have equal grown;
Then brother villans bare your part,
Nor leave me here alone.

How often I have falsely wrote;
These willing hands of mine,
Have counterfeited, note by note,
And liked in ev’ry line.

You that have not been mark’d with shame
Nor branded with disgrace,
May yet be guilty of the same,
Or crimes that are as base.

The world itself is but a trap,
The bate is pleasing sin,
Which while we bite, it gives a snap,
And hooks each villain in.

Thus while the fatal trap was set,
The bait was hung in view;
I of the pleasing morsel eat:
It snapt and catch’d me too.

‘Twas thus the wonderous bulley sung,
While I stood listening by,
And was astonish’d at that tongue,
Which did the earth defy.

J. K.


“Boston, March 25.” Boston Evening-Post, March 25, 1765, issue 1542, p. 3. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.

“Boston, April 11.” Boston News-Letter, April 11, 1765, issue 3190, p. 3. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.

“Boston, May 13.” Boston Evening-Post, May 13, 1765, issue 1549, p. 3. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.

J. K. Cooke’s Speech from the Pillory. [Boston]: Sold at the Printing-Office in Back Street, [1765].

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