Love of Money- Rosencrantz has everything, unlike many of the criminals in these narratives. He stops being content when he loses money, however. He is willing to risk losing his family, which he says gives him an “unspeakable joy” in order to pursue money.

Return- Rosencrantz can’t seem to stop returning to counterfeiting money, even though he is apprehended almost as soon as he starts. He compares himself to a dog returning to vomit or a cow to mire.

Fatality- Rosencrantz says of continuing to take up crime “that fatality which always attended me, or the evil disposition of my own heart, still pushed me on to my ruin.” He sometimes acts as though something is controlling him (here fate of his heart). He never seems to really try to stop, however.

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Unrepentant- Frost seems to have no regrets about killing his father. He speaks of him with disgust and casually says that he beat his brains out. He is almost nonchalant about the fact that he wasn’t sentenced after the murder. When he kills his master by beating him in the head with a hoe, he is completely unfeeling. Allen asks Frost to stop, but he doesn’t until he “made a large hole in the ground, and his brains came out.” He speaks very nonchalantly of his decision to murder Allen: “When I returned with the hoe, I found him stooping to fix the plant- I then thought it would be a good time to put my design into execution and accordingly went up to him and gave him a blow with the hoe on his head, and repeated it.” He has no mercy. In the account of him, it says “he would talk with the same calmness and composure of the murders he committed,as though the persons who fell sacrifice to his fury, had been of brutal creation.” It also says “he shewed no signs of contrition, especially for the unnatural murder of his father.

Affection- It is strange when Frost talks about his affection for his mother and his hatred of his father for his lack of affection for and misuse of his mother. His father, as far as we know, does nothing else to bother him, so he probably wishes to protect his mother. It does not seem like somebody that can kill as ruthlessly as Frost could have genuine affection for anyone.

Reality-  Frost seems to have a very unique view of reality.  He is fiercely loyal to his mother, but sees nothing wrong with killing people who he thinks deserve it.  He shows no remorse for the murders, but beats his head against the wall of his cell to feel their pain.  It seems to be more out of curiousity than remorse.  He hates lying and considers it worse than his killings.  He is very easily offended but insensitive to the suffering of others.  He may or may not be possessed.  He pictures devils as wearing black wigs, which is really more interesting than horns.  He subscribes to his own view of reality and doesn’t try to mesh it with other people’s reality.

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Escape- Almost more than a thief, Mount seems to be a skilled escape artist. Somehow, he manages to escape from several jails. Instead of lying and pretending to repent and welcome punishment, Mount says “when i see that every attempt to break gaol is unsuccessful, and that every effort to prevent my suffering an ignominious death, is like to be fruitless, I Thomas Mount, in conformity to the custom of publishing a last speech or dying words, for benefit of my survivors, do hereby declare this to be my last speech and dying words.” He really does not seem to care about anything.

Women- Like Levi Ames, Mount tries to blame his life of crime on the company of bad women. He says that these women are “the first seducers of all evil, and if their extravegancies are not gratified to the full, become our betrayers.  He has a lot in common with Powers (impulsivity, lack of conscience) and, like Powers, he believes seduction by women made him corrupt.

Flash Phrases- Just as Mountain’s gang was reminiscent of modern crime, the code used by the Flash society seems very modern.  It is more of a slang than a code.  Some of the words are still used.  Snitch is used everywhere and peepers is a pretty common word for eyes.  Grub and quid are also still used.  It’s interesting to know that some of the slang we use now came from thieves in the late 1700s.  I think my favorite flash phrase is sucky, for drunk.

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Childlike- Usually childlike is used in a positive way, but Powers is childlike in the sense that he lacks foresight, perspective, and a grip on reality. He thinks only of the present. In jail, he forgets that he is about to be executed because people are smiling at him. He is completely self-involved, like a two-year-old who wants a toy, but since he’s physically a grown man, he demands sex instead.

Pilfering-  Powers describes his stealing as pilfering, which seems like a good word for it because he is destructive when he steals.  Unlike Mountain’s planned thefts, he just impulsively decides to take things.  He is the classic brutish figure who rapes and pilfers.

Blame-  Powers’ childishness is evident again when he blames his later crimes on an overly lenient punishment from his master for stealing.  He says “If I had received my just deserts I might possibly have escaped the fate which now awaits me.”  This seems unlikely because he is so wrapped up in moment-to-moment existence that it does not seem like he’d remember or focus on an earlier punishment.  It seems more likely that, after his death sentence, if he were to be released, he’d commence his life of crime again.

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Robbery- Wall is unique because she is the only woman whose narrative involves highway robbery (or stealing of any kind.) Most of the women’s narratives have to do with affairs and killing their children to avoid shame. It seems odd that she wants to warn youth, but “especially those of my sex” since her crime, at least as far as we know from the narratives, was rare.

Forgiveness- Wall manipulates the usual tradition of pressuring criminals, before their executions, to forgive the people that condemned them. Wall says that she is innocent and that “the witnesses who swore against me are surely mistaken, but as a dying person I freely forgive them. This forgiveness and her generosity in “believing” that the witnesses against her were mistaken rather than lying gives her an air of moral superiority and piety that she surely planned.

Curious- Wall seems to be acting for an audience, the “ever-curious public,” who, she says, “will be anxious to know every particular circumstance of the life and character of a person in my unhappy situation.”  Despite her certain guilt as a thief, she manages to play the martyr.  She knows how to work the nosy crowd, but her performances seem like a waste of time because winning over the crowd won’t stop her execution.  She throws in an exoneration of a cripple woman, tools for escaping from jail baked into bread, and other pop favorites.

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ritual – Monster describes the act of stripping inmates together in herds of 40 in order to search them for any contraband is nothing but a mind game that delineates the structure of subjugation the prisoners will endure while incarcerated.   This seems ritualized process of humbling a criminal is used throughout the texts we have read.  The procession to the scaffold and the drama that unfolds  as well as the escape all become elements of criminal ritual.

gangs – The criminal element of the gang mentality serves as a backbone modern crime and its early traces can be seen in narratives such as mountain and mount.  The structure of the gang is such that every member is supposed to look out for the best interest of the gang while openly warring with those of other factions.  The gang is the formation of an organized structure of crime in which people unite their common illegal goals and use one another’s resources for a common good of the group.  It defines who you are and how others percieve and interact with you.

pig – My personal favorite term of endearment for an officer of the law is prevalent within the modern criminal culture and exemplifies the disdain that the criminal generally harbors towards the authority figures who job it is to arrest them.  It draws a comparison between a person who has for the good of the whole community decided upon seeking to curb chaos to an animal that rolls around in a pit of mud and feces; quite possibly the filthiest animal there is.  This is interesting because it speaks volumes about the degree to which criminals place themselves in opposition to the powers that be.  Criminals do not seem to admit that stopping crime is justifiable instead they condemn the executor of the public’s general welfare by positing that they are the truly savage and beastly creations.

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Elizabeth Wilson

Alibi- Elizabeth Wilson is the only person in one of these narratives to proclaim her innocence and have a plausible alibi. When accused of murdering her twins, Wilson “persisted in denying the fact; her behavior was such, in general, as gave reason to conclude she was innocent of the murder of which she was charged, or was an insensible, hardened creature, and did not expect to die for this crime.” The narrative is intended more as a tear-jerker than a cautionary tale. The state is in the wrong here. Foucault said that public executions began to work against the church and state because they began to engender sympathy for the murdered or bloodlust. Here, we can see how a public execution could backfire and reflect poorly on the state rather than the sinner.

Happy-  Wilson supposedly says that the dungeon is “the happiest place she ever was in her life.”  This seems strange and unlikely because she is in jail falsely accused of murdering her children.   This sounds like the religious propaganda found mostly in earlier narratives.

Marriage-  The sacrament of marriage is important in these texts.  A big deal is made of whether children are legitimate or illegitimate.  Wilson, like Charlotte Temple, is seduced by the promise of marriage.   The involvement of the church is important.  This narrative seems to be warning women (as C.T. did) that a promise of marriage was not the same thing as marriage.  Men are fallible; the church is not.

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ruthless – Frost’s second murder appears ruthless to the average reader and citizen of America, and many other countries as well.  Beating his master’s head in with a gardening hoe to the point where its contents were spilled out on the ground is brutal and gruesome.  What makes it Frost ruthless is that he didn’t stop pounding after his victim cried for him to stop, saying that enough damage had been done and that the point was made.  He had wronged him and was sorry for it, but Frost considered this confession insufficient and continued to waylay the man until death was undeniable. 

vengeance – Vengeance is defined in this narrative as the exaction of just punishment for actions done to a person or to a person that is in some way connected with one’s self.  In the narrative we learn that Frost was harmed in some way either to himself or to his mother by both of the father figures that he killed.  His acting out against those actions taken against him is defined as vengeance.  The word comes with skewed meaning for everyone who is involved.  For some vengeance goes as far as tipping off the authorities to the offender, but for others like Frost vengeance is more personal and must be wrought with the victim’s own hands. 

sympathy – Taking pity on someone who has been wronged, injured, or hurt in some way whether it be physical or mental.  Frost showed sympathy for his victims while he was in jail.  Many would claim that his beating his head against the wall in a claim to feel what his victims felt made him crazy and insane.  I feel that this was an act of sympathy on the part of Frost.  He knew that it was wrong to kill those men, but their actions against him and his mother proved too much for him to handle and he had to get his revenge.   His actions turned out to go just a little bit too far in our standards of revenge and he was penalized for them.  But his desire to know or at least relate to the pain that his victims suffered shows sympathy and conscience, which in my mind saves him from being insane.

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Buchanan, Ross, Brooks


Seducer of Souls– Buchanan says “Accordingly we stayed, and were never in better quarters, little thinking of the bait the seducer of souls was laying for us.”  It is not entirely clear whether he is speaking of Satan, Mrs. Spooner, or both. This conflation of Mrs. Spooner and Satan, although negative, puts her in a position of power previously unseen in women in these narratives.  It implies that she is cunning.  In most of these narratives, the women are weak and easily drawn astray by men while Mrs. Spooner draws men astray.  The word “seducer” in one sense implies that she is playing the role of a man, but it also has connotations of Eve and the use of feminine sexuality.  Although the role of the female seducer is new to this medium, it is present in various periods of history.  The Salem Witch Trials had already taken place when this narrative was written, a historical event at least partially based on a fear of seduction/corruption by women.  This relegation of women to a role of either weakness or evil shows up again in early movies, where women were generally cast as either a well-meaning but useless protagonist or a sexy femme fatale.



Unwilling– As Buchanan tells it, he was rather unwilling kill Mr. Spooner, especially at first and at the time of the actual crime.  The narrative leaves his reasons for staying in the house of Mrs. Spooner once he finds out her motives up to the reader’s imagination.  He finds out almost immediately that she has plotted to poison her husband, and yet he sets up residence there.  Perhaps he is willing all along and lies about his qualms.  It does not seem reasonable that a man who had previously never entertained thoughts of murder, but rather hung out drinking all the time, would murder a man for good lodging, drinks, and money.  If he was indeed unwilling, then it supports Mrs. Spooner having a power over him which is never expressly addressed.  As I talked about above, there is an implied sexuality.  This constant uwillingness is a testament to the power of sexuality (much like White’s rash crime of passion in Bloody Register.)


Intrigue– This narrative has an air of intrigue that previous narratives did not.  Other narratives laid everything on the line immediately.  The criminals in question plot their own crimes and list them or describe them.  Here, the both reader and Buchanan don’t know what is going on immediately so the reader is sucked into the plot more effectively than in narratives that read like lists.  The reader knows that all the action and details are leading up to some kind of exciting finale.

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Bloody Register

Implication of the master- In class, we have discussed at length the importance of the hierarchy in early American society. Rebelling against a master is a small treason. Barrick has an irreverent attitude, however, and does not pander to that tradition. He describes his first master only briefly, but it is an important statement. The fact that he was allowed to print it at all could be evidence of change in the hierarchical system. He says “At ten years of age I went as apprentice to James Saunders, a silk weaver in Spittlefield Parish, lived with my master about three years, but he starved and froze me almost to death, for which I left him, and roved through the streets, and frequently stole small things from shop windows.” Not only is he implicitly blaming his master for his downfall, he further implicates him by giving his name.

Passion- Two very different stories are juxtaposed- that of John Sullivan and that of Alexander White. White’s story is one of the first crime narratives we’ve read that describes a crime of passion. He kills because he wants to win the favor of a wealthy woman. Sullivan’s narrative is almost entirely devoid of passion. He lists his crimes. He describes his more serious crimes in the same matter-of-fact tone he describes his petty crimes. He only devotes a few words to the beating at the end of his narrative, and his warning to others is almost like an obligatory afterthought.

Authenticity-  White’s narrative seems to follow the style of older narratives, using words like “heinous” to describe his actions, but certain aspects of his narrative seem more authentic than others. He seems more concerned about the effect that he’s had on his family, for example, than his offending God. One thought that seems show authentic remorse is his wish in his letter that “no reflections may be cast on the innocent child hereafter for the untimely death of his unhappy father. His love for his family separates his narrative from past narratives which express mainly a (possibly forced) love for God.

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