Sexuality, Crime, and Gender

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From the blogs

  • Seth [1] highlights similarities between Esther & Patience. Notes that hanging was used to punish both counterfeiting and infanticide. What does that tell us?
  • Bridget [2] wonders about the motivations for attending public executions. Is it the same as today's popular fascination with crime?
  • Katie [3] points out that public executions were happening in the US as recently as 1936. 15-20,000 people attended. Pictures at Murderpedia: [4] How does that crowd compare with Esther Rodger’s audience?
  • Demi [5] wonders what drives killers - all the different ages, different reasons. She also brings up the guillotine - types of execution and the community role could be worth discussing. Under Mosaic law, as I understand it, stoning was the preferred method - public participation. Over time it changed to public witness, then to out of the public eye. How does this go along with Pinker’s thesis?

Esther Rodgers


Rodgers was executed in 1701 in Ipswich MA - about 30 miles N/NE of Boston

4000-5000 spectators were at her execution. Population of Boston at the time is 7000, population of NYC is 5000. What does the size of that crowd say? Compare to last public execution that Katie posted about wherein roughly 20,000 people ooked on in 1936.

US Population stats:

  • 1701 - 1 million [6]
  • 1936 - 128 million [7]

Preface to the Reader

  • p. 95 "Dear Reader, This serves only to draw the curtain...."
  • Esther Rodgers paralled to a Roman Gladiator? "outfoing all the old Roman Masculien bravery..."
  • "Apprehension in Newbury were the Fact was committed" Crime referred to as "Fact"
  • p. 96 - Nation of faithful? Why the apology?
  • Love the extended metaphor of this crime as a buoy in the ocean against further mortal shipwrecks

Declaration & Confession

  • "A Pillar of Salt Transformed into a Monument of Free Grace" How should we interpret this?
  • 8 months in prison before execution
  • p. 96 "Learned Mr. Cottons Catechism" - Mather's namesake
  • p. 97 - "I was left to fall into that foul Sin of Uncleanness, suffering my self to be defiled…" something very passive about that. Is she deflecting blame, or does it imply something else?

Race is mentioned at a couple points. I wonder what the New England attitude was towards interracial relations at that time.

  • p. 99-100 "I think a thorow change wrought in my whole Nature" --Esther pretty much seized the opportunity for salvation and went out with the fervency of a new convert
  • Not concerned with getting extra time, is ready for the Lord's grace now. Unlike Patience Boston, there is no wavering. Grace descends and that is that.
  • p. 103 Coffin as comfort
  • p. 104 Again, death as comfort
  • Using Rodgers as an example of the grace of god, the possibility of redemption, but always the uncertainty of who, why and when.
  • p. 105 The clsoer she gets the Gallows the more her joy increases
  • p 106 Her speech "Be obedient"
  • p. 108 The manner of "her Entertaining Death" -What do you make of this wording?

Further Reading

  • Early American Criminals: The Conversion of Esther Rodgers [8]
  • Lethal Theatre: Performance, Punishment, and the Death Penalty [9]

"The Puritan structure of feeling that embraced wrongdoers as members of the same moral community in need of repentance was superceded in the nineteenth century by a gothic view of criminals as 'moral aliens' and 'moral monsters.'"

Patience Boston

  • Executed 1735, York, ME

Note to Reader

Can you read between the lines here? Whose story is this?

The Relation of Patience Boston

  • Had two children die (not murder, though she thought about it) - felt guilt - confessed to murdering them
  • p. 121 - again with the race thing. Is there supposed to be a subtle message in that? Was either husband identified by name? What ethnicity was Patience Boston? How do you know?
  • p. 123 - bound to servitude, sold to another Master. Drowned Master’s son in a well. The specter of masters and the criminal relationship to them is a domiannt theme in this anthology. Never do we find the situation wherein the master is the criminal on trial, do we?
  • Loathing of self vs discovery of self ---interesting given Patience's background
  • p. 129 Refers to prison as her "beloved prison?" WTF? Also, Examples of poor indians.
  • p. 130 Part of the torture in this narrative is premised on the covenant of Grace, and the fact that "God'swill" is independent of actions, deeds, etc. (the ongoing struggle here between the covenant of grace versus that of works)
Several beliefs differentiated Puritans from other Christians. The first was their belief in 
predestination. Puritans believed that belief in Jesus and participation in the sacraments could not 
alone effect one's salvation; one cannot choose salvation, for that is the privilege of God alone. All 
features of salvation are determined by God's sovereignty, including choosing those who will be 
saved and those who will receive God's irresistible grace. The Puritans distinguished between 
"justification," or the gift of God's grace given to the elect, and "sanctification," the holy behavior that 
supposedly resulted when an individual had been saved; according to The English Literatures of 
America, "Sanctification is evidence of salvation, but does not cause it" (434). When William Laud, an 
avowed Arminian, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, the Church of England began to 
embrace beliefs abhorrent to Puritans: a focus on the individual's acceptance or rejection of grace; a 
toleration of diverse religious beliefs; and an acceptance of "high church" rituals and symbols.
From Puritanism in New England

  • p. 131 More comforable in prison that in her previous life of licentiousness. "Chain[s] of Gold."
  • p. 132 "the plague of a heard heart" Another example of the constant back and forths that make this narrative so unsettling and tortured
  • p 133 Grudging grace to criminals: "there weere many that did grudge the Grace of God to others."
  • p. 135 Impulse to "thank the judges" upon recieving her sentence of death.
  • p. 136 - Covenant of Grave versus the Covenant of Works

Patience Boston demonstrates the horror every Puritan experienced in the face of death---the covenant of grace is premised on this uncertainty. Good works do not necessarily get you into heaven, it is all up to the arbitrary nature of God's grace. A puritan never truly knows for certain certain if they have been inspired with God's Grace. Unlike Esther Rodgers, Boston spends most of the narrative oscillating between peace and serenity with God's will and fear and trembling at the thought she might be destined for damnation.

Third Person Narrative

  • p. 136 What's going on here? Why this radical break in the narrative? The perspective moves from 3rd person to first person. Why? And what does that do for the narrative? Whose story is this anyway?
  • p. 137 "I found the Prisoner Melancholy at Noon; but at night she was clearly chearful...." Constant reference to her changing moods, tortured state, and general instability.
  • p. 138 Sambo? This is before the use of the term became derogatory. What does it mean? Is it referring to an actual person?

p 141 --As an aside, Willaims notes the co-author of this narrative Joseph Moody was also knows as "Handkercheif Moody" based on the idiosyncracy of wearing a handkercheif over his face in public soon after writing this narrative. Supposedly this was in recognition of a childhood friend of his that had an untinely death. Inspiration for Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil."

Further Reading

Early American Criminals: The Wicked Oath of Patience Boston [10]

Publication note: people lost interest in the case so it didn’t get published at first. Someone else footed the bill three years later.

"Taken from Her Mouth": Narrative Authority and the Conversion of Patience Boston [11]

Tamara Harvey Narrative , Vol. 6, No. 3, Michel de Certeau and Narrative Tactics (Oct., 1998), pp. 256-270 Published by: Ohio State University Press

Questions whether the words were really hers.

John (Brown or Livingston) aka Owen Syllavan

  • executed 1756 NYC for counterfeiting
  • p. 144 - Parents as a tyranny, rebelling against the power structure.
  • p. 146 During his prisonment he "engraved three sorts of plates"
  • p. 147 I will not betray my accomplices
  • p. 148 hope they will burn and destroy all the Money, Plates, & Accoutrements....and that they may not die on a tree as I do"
  • "Hard to die in Cold Blood"

The other narratives talked a lot about faith. This one, not so much. But there are some interesting connections: We can’t trust his name because he has so many false ones. All currency rests on faith - it only has value because enough people believe in it. Syllavan shakes that faith. Faith in economy/money vs. faith in God