Crime and Punishment in the 19th Century

Eleanor SullivanEleanor Sullivan, widowed with five children, became first an RN, then earned her doctorate, and finally became a professor and dean of nursing at the University of Kansas. She authored award-winning books in nursing, numerous journal articles and edited a professional journal. She has testified before the U. S. Senate, served on a National Institutes of Health council, presented papers to international audiences, been quoted in Chicago Tribune, St. Louis PostDispatch, and Rolling Stone, and named “Who’s Who in Health Care” by Kansas City Business Journal.

Ten years ago, she turned her attention to writing mystery fiction, publishing three medical mysteries featuring nurse sleuth Monika Everhardt: Twice Dead, Deadly Diversion, and Assumed Dead. Then she looked for another challenge. Now Eleanor has turned her family heritage into fact-based fiction with a series of mystery novels set in Zoar. The stories feature a midwife and her cabinet-maker husband. Graven Images is the second in the Singular Village Mystery series.

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Warning: The following is for mature audiences only

Murder, burglary, theft. You think they’re all a product of recent history. Think again. Violent altercations occurred often in the hurly, burly world of early American life. Soon laws were enacted, courts established, and a justice system (of sorts) grew up to right the wrongs and mete out punishments.

Penalties were designed to punish the wrong doer and to discourage others from committing crimes. Flogging was a favorite. The perpetrator would be stripped to the waist (men and women both), their hands tied over their heads, and the punishment administered. What merited this merciless punishment? Robbery (even one so minor as filching an apple from an overhanging branch), adultery (especially married women who had physicial concourse with a man not her husband even if he raped her).  Eleanor Sullivan Hangman's NooseHanging was another favorite. And a community spectacle, allowing the citizenry to witness the result of wrongdoing and discouraging future capital transgressions, presumably.

So, what were the crimes so onerous that they merited severe punishments? Let me count the ways!

We call unintentional killings manslaughter today and punishments are more lenient than for murder convictions. However, 19th century juries were more tolerant of accidental killings-as in a sudden quarrel or even in the commission of an unlawful act. According to the Statutes of Ohio in 1833, the penalty for killing without malice aforethought was not to exceed $1000 and imprisonment not to exceed 2 years.  Willful murder merited death by hanging.

In addition, if a man shall “carnally know any woman, with force and against her consent” or “carnally know any woman child under the age of ten years” and convicted of such crime, the penalty was death. (I’m glad to see our forbearers desired to protect our distant sisters, however much it was to protect the blood heritage of their descendants!)

If, however, a man only attempted a rape, he would be “whipped not exceeding thirty-nine stripes on his naked back.” (Statutes of Ohio, 1833). Forgery and counterfeiting warranted the same punishment.

An arson that caused a death merited a likewise punishment: death. An eye for an eye, anyone?

Punishments of various other crimes are spelled out in the statutes.

Fifty stripes on a naked back were ordered for:

Cutting out a tongue

Putting out an eye

Cutting off an arm or leg or rendering them useless

Severing or destroying a man’s “privy member”

Graven ImagesWhy weren’t more convicted people sent to prison, you ask? Because they were few and far between. Local jails primarily housed prisoners pending their trials. Few facilities to house prisoners long term existed until later in the 19th century. Justice was to be administered swiftly and severely.

Prisoners’ rights? They never heard of them. Corporal punishment, deterrence, and retribution characterized 19th century justice. The good of society and morality governed court decisions.

I wonder…have we changed all that much today?

Cover Reveal: The Days Lost by Shannon McCrimmon

The Days Lost


Title: The Days Lost
Author: Shannon McCrimmon
Release Date: 12/10/13
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery


Summary from Goodreads:

Part routine, part escape, running is Ellie Morales’ way of dealing with the grief of
losing her mother. On the heels of her high school graduation, she is spending
her summer vacation in Western North Carolina with her dad and brother, Jonah.

Shortly after sunrise each morning, Ellie and her dog, Bosco, set out for a
lengthy run on the path that passes by her house and leads deep into the
woods of the Blue Ridge Mountains. One fateful morning, Ellie is lead off of the
trail and discovers a secret that will change her life, as well as the lives of the
family she meets, forever. One member of this mysterious family is Sam Gantry,
who seems unlike any guy she’s ever known.

This meeting sparks a series of events, causing Ellie to question everything
she’s ever known and believed. The more she learns about Sam and his
family, the more she wants to help him find the missing puzzle pieces.




About the Author

Shannon McCrimmonI’m a Florida native who currently resides in Greenville, South Carolina with my husband and toy poodle. When I’m not writing, I can be found drinking Earl Grey tea with honey and cream, singing ineptly and butchering the lyrics to my favorite songs, and asking my friends ridiculous, hypothetical scenario-based questions.

***Author Links***

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