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Crime

In the early seventeenth century, the most common crimes in the North American colonies were crimes against people, property, and the public order. Crimes such as disturbing the peace, public intoxication, fornication, lying, and idleness were relatively common in all of the colonies, regardless of whether those colonies were founded for religious, political, or economic reasons. Cheating, dice, clog dancing, forgery, blasphemy, perjury, and coin clipping (the act of slicing off tiny slivers of silver or gold from the edges of coins and then melting those slivers down into bullion) were also crimes with which the early colonial leaders were forced to contend. It should be noted that the majority of the men and women who committed crimes during this early period of colonization were by no means career criminals, nor were they the desperate poor (so common in Western Europe at the time) who committed crime only in order to survive. In a country where unemployment was not a problem and where land and food were both readily available, there was little reason to risk running afoul of the law. When firstgeneration colonists turned to crime, that turn had more to do with personality, disposition, temptation, and peer pressure than it did with any economic necessity. Consequently, the vast majority of the crimes committed by colonists in the early seventeenth century were either relatively minor moral lapses, such as drinking too much or falling asleep in church, or petty crimes of opportunity, such as stealing a pair of stockings from a clothesline. In fact, the items most often stolen from early colonial households were silver, linens, and silks. There were exceptions, however, with Stephen Hopkins, a Pilgrim of the London contingent and onetime assistant governor of Plymouth colony, being one of the most obvious. During the course of an illicit career that spanned more than thirty years, Hopkins was found guilty of mutiny, assault and battery, disorderly conduct, price fixing, breach of contract, and illegal sale of alcohol. The nature and number of the crimes he committed successfully, crimes for which he was never brought to trial, are open to speculation. More serious crimes murder, burglary, robbery (the colonial equivalent of mugging), vicious assault, rape, treason, sedition, and arson also occurred in all of the colonies, but the frequency with which those crimes occurred depended largely on locale. The murder rate, for example, was twice as high in Maryland as it was in Massachusetts in the seventeenth century, and the rate of morals offenses was higher in New England at that time than it was anywhere else. That does not mean, however, that residents of the Middle and Southern colonies never worried about immorality, nor is it to say that violence was unknown north of New York. On the contrary, a morals offense such as profaning the Sabbath an offense usually associated with the New England colonies, where sin and crime were conflated occurred in Virginia just as it did in Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. In fact, the first Sunday law passed in North America, a law that required every man and woman to attend church on the Sabbath both in the morning and in the afternoon (on penalty of fine, whipping, or death), was passed not in New England but in Virginia in 1610. Similarly, while homicide was by no means a daily occurrence in early-seventeenth-century New England, murders did happen, and many were so violent and gruesome as to be noteworthy even by modern standards. There appears in the church records of the Plymouth colony a coroner’s jury report from 1648, which gives the following brief account of how Alice Bishop, for apparently no reason whatsoever, murdered her 4-year-old daughter, Martha, while the child was sleeping peacefully in her bed. In’ the house of said Richard Bisops, wee saw at the foot of a ladder which leadeth into an upperchamber, much bllod ‘blood’; and going up all of us into the chamber, wee found a woman child, of about foure years of age, lying in her shifte uppon her left cheeke, with her throat cut with divers gashes crose wayes, the wind pipe cut and stucke into the throat downward, and a bloody knife lying by the side of the child, with which knife all of us judge, and the said Allis hath confessed to five of us att one time, that shee murdered the child with the said knife. Though a particularly horrific example of colonial murder, the Bishop case is also a precursor of sorts to what would become a curious trend in violent crime in colonial New England. In Massachusetts between 1674 and 1774, women accounted for fully one-third of all those accused of murder, and more than three-quarters of those women were charged with killing their own children. Colonial Crime at the End of the Seventeenth Century From the early years of colonization to roughly 1650, crimes such as drunkenness, idleness, and fornication far outnumbered more serious crimes such as theft and vicious assault. By the end of the 1670s, however, violent crimes and property crimes were occurring in the colonies almost as frequently as were victimless crimes, and the rates of both were on the rise. This was not due to any appreciable increase in the number of people who were committing crimes in fact, the number of criminals operating within the colonies remained relatively constant between 1651 and 1680 nor was it a result of any radical increase in the inherent criminality of the colonists. Rather, the increasing crime rate that characterized the North American colonies in the last thirty years of the seventeenth century was due, in large part, to the rapidly changing nature of colonial life itself. The urbanization and increasingly cosmopolitan nature of many colonial towns coupled with ever-increasing class stratification in both urban and rural areas, as well as an ebbing sense of divine mission and communal responsibility, provided fertile ground for the growth of social deviance. Long-established urban areas such as Boston and Philadelphia were no longer the quaint hubs of small-town colonial life; they were rapidly becoming thriving commercial centers that cultivated and catered to the needs and desires of foreign merchants, traders, and travelers. And the more urban and commercial those towns became, the more dependent they became on a large lower class a service class made up of men and women whose only job was the provision of whatever labor or assistance the towns’ various visitors required. Even though many of those visitors were rowdy sailors, pirates (who operated with the knowledge and protection of local officials), and refugee strangers from the hinterlands, the people who comprised the service class upon whom they relied were politically and socially irrelevant, and they knew it. Many were convicted criminals transported from England, runaway servants, or indentured servants whose terms of indenture had expired and who could not procure good farmable land of their own; the only stake they had in the New World was the money they could squeeze out of it. For them, there was no chance for full participation in society, and so playing by society’s rules was not a priority. To make matters worse, these newly transformed urban areas were perfect havens for criminals of every sort. All manner of bloodletters and thieves enjoyed the anonymity afforded by urban congestion, and they were assisted in the plying of their trades by dimly lit streets, the absence of any police force (in the modern sense) to stop them, and easy access to rural provinces, which made managing successful getaways all the easier. In Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, crime had been more of a nuisance than a problem in the years before those towns became thriving seaports. By 1690, however, the number of assaults, arsons, burglaries, murders, and thefts in all three towns had risen considerably. In fact, according to the records of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s Court of Assistants, the number of murders in Massachusetts tripled over the course of the seventeenth century, going from three in the years between 1630 and 1640 to nine in the years between 1673 and 1683. As these urban centers grew, so did the appetites of their inhabitants for all manner of unseemly diversions. Brothels and pubs were abundant in seaside towns from Massachusetts to Carolina, and such morals offenses as drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, and unruly behavior became more and more common the closer the seventeenth century came to its close. Even Newport, the quietest and most respectable of all the early towns (it didn’t get involved with shipping until 1675), was having trouble controlling its drunkards by midcentury, and by 1680, the “whores of Boston” were internationally renowned. It should not be supposed that vice was limited only to city dwellers or to members of the urban lower classes. Captain Thomas Bradnox, for example, a Maryland justice of the peace, not only was known as one of the heaviest drinkers in Kent County but also was given to swearing and disturbing the peace when he was drunk. Similarly, John Barnes, a landholding merchant of the Plymouth colony, was an uncontrollably heavy drinker, and he was disenfranchised for drunkenness in 1659. Denver crime rate up almost 7 percent – Dr. Christian Thurstone Is Violent Crime Really on the Rise? | FreedomWorks Which MBTI type fits different crimes? | Which MBTI Type…

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