Account of the cruel and barbarous murder...
January 4, 2008 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Dying Speeches & Bloody Murders digitizes over five hundred broadsides owned by the Harvard Law Library, all of them devoted to "last dying speeches"--that is, sensational accounts of crime, punishment, and (fictional) confession, intended to be sold at public executions. The New York State Historical Association has an online exhibition devoted to nineteenth-century American murder pamphlets. You can find a couple of seventeenth-century examples at the Early Modern Web and the Folger Library. Old Bailey Online briefly puts this literature into context. (Main link via C18-L.)
posted by thomas j wise (10 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, these are fascinating. Thanks for the links.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 5:39 PM on January 4, 2008

Instantly favorited by this rubbernecking ghoul. Awesome!
posted by subbes at 5:41 PM on January 4, 2008

Grue approves.
posted by Mblue at 5:47 PM on January 4, 2008

Wow. Just, wow.
posted by Bookhouse at 6:02 PM on January 4, 2008

Ah, thomas j wise, we don't see enough of your posts, but when they surface, they are always gems. Thanks for these great links.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:04 PM on January 4, 2008

Awesome. tjwise, you rock.
posted by jonson at 7:04 PM on January 4, 2008

Great post. Thought to make it clear the first link is to English broadsides, though a handful of them deal with American crimes. The American equivalent was most often 8 to 24 page little books usually called "gallows narratives." Typically a condemned prisoner would be interviewed by a minister who would record the wretch's life story in the first person and publish a quickie little book with a title something like "The Awful Narrative of Larry C, a Sailor, Who did Kill a Snarker and Was Hung on January 5th." The booklets would dwell on the crimes and sins of the malefactor with salacious detail, then conclude (usually) with a formulaic confession and acknowledgment of God's justice. They were the trash literature of the colonial and early national period.

I am surprised that I cannot find any online.
posted by LarryC at 9:54 PM on January 4, 2008

tjwise, thanks!!
posted by CitizenD at 10:35 PM on January 4, 2008

Fantastic post, thanks!
posted by jokeefe at 12:49 PM on January 5, 2008

Love your erudite and interesting posts thomas j wise. Now that I know about the destructive personality disorders (NPD, ASPD, BPD and HPD) forming in the first six years of life, usually as a result of being abused as a child (a combination of both nature and nurture). I can't help wondering how crimes, such as those depicted in these fascinating documents, would be perceived throughout history with that information.
posted by nickyskye at 2:49 PM on January 5, 2008

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