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Tag Archives: Massachusetts

Prisons and Punishments: The Failure of the Treadmill in America

In 1822, when the American press began to circulate articles praising the use of a new invention in England that would instill fear in convicted felons and turn them into productive citizens, politicians, prison officials, and the press in America took notice. The invention was a treadmill, a large, long cylinder equipped with steps that […]

Crime Poems: Robert Young’s True Character

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 […]

Early American Criminals: The Cuckolded Soldier

Around 1764 or 1765, Bryan Sheehen returned home to his wife in Casco Bay, ME after serving in the regular army for a long six and a half years. But the joy of his homecoming turned into rage when he learned that his wife had remarried during his absence to a Frenchman. Sheehen made preparations […]

Crime Poems: “Inhuman Cruelty”

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 […]

Early American Criminals: “The Wicked Flee When None Pursue”

The final chapter in the fall of John Ormsby began when he stabbed a man in the chest with a fork in Boston in 1734. In his Last SPEECH and Dying WORDS, Ormsby says that he was hanging around a friend’s shop when some of the boys who worked there persuaded him that a customer […]

Crime Poems: “That Notorious Cheat”

Crime Poems: “That Notorious Cheat” In June 1761, Jeremiah Dexter of Walpole, MA was caught trying to pass counterfeit dollars of his own making. As punishment, Dexter was forced on September 10 to stand in the pillory for one hour and pay a fine of 20 pounds. Among the crowd who showed up that day […]

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

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 […]

Crime Poems: Philip Kennison’s Prison Writings

When Thomas Fleet, publisher of the Boston Evening-Post learned in 1738 that Philip Kennison was going to be executed in Cambridge, MA for burglary, he sensed a business opportunity. While Kennison waited in prison for his sentence to be carried out, he spent a good deal of time writing “a Narrative of his Wicked Life,” […]

Early American Criminals: The Conversion of Esther Rodgers

The night before the special event, Esther Rodgers exclaimed to the group of people who had gathered in her cell, “Oh! I have had the joyfullest day to day that ever I had in my whole life. I bless God that ever I came into this Prison.” Rodgers’s exclamation is remarkable. She had little exposure […]

Crime Poems: Richard Wilson’s Burglary

Late Sunday night on August 14, 2011, four burglars entered a Big Ed’s Restaurant in South Brunswick, NJ. Their cars parked outside the restaurant drew the attention of the police, and when the officers arrived they discovered an open door that led to the basement of the building. When they started to investigate, three of […]