Friday, May 30, 2008

Law & Order: SVU, 18th-Century Edition

I spent some time with the John Boyle diary this afternoon. Boyle was a printer's apprentice in Boston who kept a diary from 1759-1777, from the time he was 13 until he was 31. I've started transcribing it and have thought about asking Harvard for permission to publish it. That would be a big project, but it's a tremendous source.

I often watch Law & Order reruns as I blog, so it seems appropriate that I should post some of John Boyle's observations on crime and punishment in 18th-century Massachusetts.

Boyle comments most frequently on two types of crimes/trials: sex crimes and crimes committed by British Regulars. I'll leave the latter for another day. For today, I'll post the former, complete with Boyle's not-so-charming misogynist commentary.

At the Inferior Court lately held in the County of York Thomas Hammett of Berwick, Plaintiff, recovered of Peter Staple of Kittery, Defendant, One Thousand Pounds Lawful Money Damages, and Costs of Prosecution, for the Defendant’s Debauching, Ravishing, and Carnally knowing the Plaintiff’s Wife – A valuable Wife this, who in a few minutes can make so great an addition to her Husband’s Estate.

At the Superior Court at Charlestown, one Bunker was convicted of abusing his daughter (17 years old) in a most shameful Manner. As his crime is of an entire new specie[s], that of sewing up his Daughters pudenda, the Court have deferred his Sentence till next Term, that they may have an opportunity to consider what kind of punisht. will be most suitable to it.

A Rape was lately committed at Winthrop by a Married man on the Body of a Girl 13 years of Age — The Father of the Girl compromised the Affair with the Man on his paying him the trifling sum of Two Hundred Pounds Old Tenor!!!
Boyle's incredulity at the fines levied against rapists is particularly interesting. He doesn't seem to object to their being fined, but finds the size of the fines shocking. As for the genital mutilation incident — I'll have to look into that one because I've never heard of it before.

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