After reading these narratives, I have to wonder how humanity has made it this far? The things we join and the things we do can just be atrocious. The pirates were absolutely brutal and barbaric in what they do. They would take over a ship, cut the captains’ arm off and feed him to the sharks! But once they were caught by a couple of fisherman, the pirates were tried and sentenced to death. I believe one was acquitted of his charges and one went to his last standing point as a tough guy while the other two were trying to repent for their wrong doings. I never would have guessed that pirates had feelings.
Reading the narrative of Joseph Mountain was very entertaining. He was a servant up until about 17 when he left and Joined the gang of a juggler and a musician by day and thieves by night. The amount of people, the kind of people, and the stuff they got was absolutely ridiculous. These guys were as good as it gets in my opinion. Mountain just kept on making mistakes. He had the chance to get out of the life he was living but returned to being a Highway man and robbing the towns of Europe. One day he saw two white girls and tried to get a hold of the older one but she fought it and then went for the younger girl. He raped her and was found out and brought before a judge. Mountain was found guilty and sentenced to death and about 10000 people attended the execution. That number I find astonishing because during the late 18th century we see the spectacle of the execution diminishing, but it doesnt look like it happened at this instance.
When I was reading the narrative of Thomas Powers, it felt like I was reading those of Portia Boston or Esther Rodgers again. The life story is very identical. From a young age they are being moved around house to house to a religious household. Then the foster family teaches the child how to read and write, but he/she starts to develop a very mischievous demeanor. Thomas Powers was a thief. Then he became a rapist when he raped an innocent girl. He was able to break out of the big house but was caught shortly after and sentenced to death. Before he was executed, he wanted to see his victim but she didnt want to see him. The victim did let Powers write to her though and she forgave him, but let Powers know that God needs to forgive hime for what he has done. So until he died Thomas Powers tried to repent for his sins.
In today’s world it is extremely hard to believe the horrendous torture that an executioner would force onto the victim being executed in the 1600′s. The amount of pain that the executioner would inflict on the convicted felon is far to extreme, even in my book. I think it is evident that back in these days there was no constitution that stated that the punishment cant be worse than the crime, or no unusual and cruel punishment. People convicted of crimes ranging from stealing an apple to killing a man could suffer the same penalty. Some of the tortures methods that were used include the wheel, the horses, starvation, and cutting body parts off. I think it is really sick that people could think of stuff like this to do to another human being.
The history of criminal punishment, I personally find fascinating. We started out in the 1600′s and beyond, the punishment process was ran by the state and Church where they wanted to condemn the accused, make him confess to God, and use him/her as an example to help shape society. We obviously see this in Puritan society but it was also in Europe in countries like England and France. I think it was interesting what France had, a religious bootcamp prison system is what I like to call it. Basically the inmates lived by a strict schedule of working, eating, and praying, and the piece of bread given for a meal. Then when it was time for a criminal to get thrown on the hot seat (they actually didnt have it then) a minister would talk to the convict and try to get a confession.
The way the criminal system has evolved to where it is today is quite amazing. Going from a time period where it was a spectacle to go see someone get hung, to 18th and 19th century where people didn’t really care about watching someone die. I think this is due in part to the fact that the religious aspect of law was removed from the legal process and the law took over. Punishment also started to include community service and there was still executions but not as gory as it was.
Punishment of the guilty became a “hands off” process and when violence was called for, it was done behind closed doors so the public couldn’t watch. The idea of criminal punishment changed course and become more of a correctional process. I guess thats why our prison system is called “Department of Corrections” and not punishment. When a sentence to the criminal does call for the death penalty, it is done in a totally different way than back in the old days. There must be a doctor who watches over the patient, right up until their last breath, and makes sure the process is as quick and as painless as possible. There is no angry mob to watch and it was done in a secret place, behind closed doors. In fact, if a person did see something of the procession and told others about it, he could be prosecuted. Finally, I think it is interesting, how in just a few hundred years we went from not only torturing the criminal while he was alive, but also his body to how do we help this person when he gets out? Also, when a judge or jury is making a decision, we bring in experts of different subjects to help with the decision instead of a judge laying down the hammer.
While reading these three stories: Esther Rodgers “The Declaration & Confession of Esther Rodgers“, Patience Boston “The Faithful Narrative of the Wicked Life of Patience Bosto“, and Owen Syllavan “A Short Account of the Life off John ********* Alias Owen Syllavan,” I found it quite aery how similar the lives of these three early convicts were. For starters all three of them did not live in their parents home growing up for some odd reasons, but they were all put into religious households where they learned the Bible and how to read and write. As adolescents, all three future victims of the gallows, were pretty mischievous kids who always got into trouble and even growing up in a religious setting didn’t really care to much about God. But that all changed later in life when they were in their cells waiting for their turn to get executed.
The similarities between Esther Rodgers and Patience Boston are astounding. They both grew up in religious foster like homes, but still decided to go their own way. Both women ended up having babies with black men which is interesting but then they terminate the infants on more than one occasion. After being tried and convicted both females started to repent for their sins and tried to develop a relationship with God so he may have mercy on them. They obviously felt some sort of remorse towards the lives of the babies which they ended far too early, but they both felt sick about letting God down and that is what they felt was the worse crime that was committed. Finally when the women’s lives were about to come to an abrupt end, they were o.k. with it because they believed they found God and he forgave them and I find that to be an incredible concept. One last thing, I do think it was ironic how the two women were hung for killing their own babies and Owen Syllavan was killed for counterfeiting.
I find it very fascinating how similar we are to our colonial ancestors. They loved watching the justice system at work just like we do. The only difference is they got to see it live while we hear about it from the news. Back in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds, our ancestors would travel miles to come see someone get executed which may seem kind of strange but I think we all wouldn’t mind seeing an execution every once in a while. I know when I was younger I kept asking my dad if we could go see Steven Oaken get executed because I thought it would be kind of cool to see. (Oaken grew up two houses down from my mom). Everybody saw the video of Hussein being hung a few years ago and we celebrate the death of a horrible person such as Osama Bin Laden and rightfully so. We really aren’t that much different than the colonists if you ask me.
Back in the colonial days, the idea of a public execution was to keep order and to scare the population into not causing any trouble. It was a split thing between religious and political leaders who would decide a criminals fate for their own benefit which I think is extremely ironic. A minister is sentencing someone to death because he feels he rebelled against God. Last words and the sermon of the minister were usually published and very widely read (thanks to the development of the printing press). Even today if you really wanted to you could look up executed inmates’s last words online. I have and its actually quite an amusing way to kill time. Also on the stand, the victim would usually make a confession before being put down to try and get God’s forgiveness. Hearing the offender confess also made the spectators feel better about themselves knowing that the little things they broke can be forgiven.
I think the timeline of the history of the literature of criminal stories is extremely fascinating. It started back in the 1600s as ministers publishing their sermons to the stories that were practically about Satan in the 1800s which people absolutely loved to read. Another interesting time cycle of the crime line is what crimes were deemed heinous and the way they were punished. Early days you were killed for counterfeiting which was a little over the top, as well as for committing adultery. Now a days all of our leaders and celebrity figures cheat on there spouses many times and get caught and then go back to power and do it all over again. I find it amusing how that has changed. Then we went from these public executions to punish and humiliate the offender to in the 19th century the idea of prisons are not there to punish but to correct behavior. Then when someone is to be executed they do it behind closed doors.
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