Telling Tales of the Past
Persecution Without Words.
This story tells a historical fiction of the tale of the legal system in Colonial America. The setting for this is on the outskirts of the Boston Colony in 1640, just one short decade after the naming of what will become a booming metropolis.1 Our character is Jacob Bulfinch, who is a carpenter that works with his his good friend Thomas Stone, in the contracting and construction of housing for the colony. As a carpenter Jacob naturally has apprentices to his trade, and in this case has three including his son.2 Despite being apprenticed to Jacob, these men harbor anything but gratitude towards either Jacob or Thomas. Out of a plot to be rid of them both the men have put an accident that lead to Thomas’s death into a framing to be rid of Jacob in a fortunate circumstance. Brought before the justice system of the era, Jacob is found guilty and sentenced to hang. Now he sits in his cell, the night before he hangs, with little more to do but to question the futility and silence that cost him his life.3
“I know not how this came about, but I find myself at the edge. I am sentenced to die, I am sentenced to hang” The realization sunk deep into the bones of this man who sat in darkness. The cell that he was in, if one would call it that was little more than a logged structure, no windows and one iron door blocking the man’s freedom. The seat that the man sat in dug into flesh, it was nothing more than a pine plank fastened to one side of the wall with irons. The gaols were meant to hold prisoners awaiting trial, and in his case execution.2 Once again the realization of his fate struck down upon the man, alone in his cell he whimpered “I am Jacob Bulfinch, I have done no ill”. No one answered his plea back, and no one gave him company on his last night. “Silence eats at mine will, and it stripped me of my freedom”. “Free, I was once a free man!” he shouted out at the into the darkness, “I deserve mine freedom again!”, his own voice was the only thing to meet his first shout.
Thinking of the past would do him no good now, but the men, his workers that plotted against him. They were worthy of his time and his ire. his misfortunes are numbered to many for him to care about things like that. “Traitors and that Bastard of mine own blood”, the thought of the two men, and his son, who he was sure was the leader of this treachery brought his emotion to a boil at the thought.
“Men without honor to hold them steady”, Jacob’s anger continued to eke out into the cell as he recalled the three who placed him here. The first two were of little note to Jacob, “fools made of sloth and gluttony” Jacob only thought it befitting that he should describe the source of his ire with sins that most offend god, and he let a wry cackle out of spite for them. Samuel Morgan and Abraham Morgan, these two men were brothers with whom his son grew up with an Jacob apprenticed because of that. In his opinion both were lazy men with little talent besides finding ways to spend in leisure. Jacob could not recount how many times that he told them to straighten their work for the sake of themselves and to please God with work and not wasted time. He would not deny to himself that he would often resort to showing them his meanings with force, but felt no guilt in purging sin from where he saw it. His son, James Bulfinch, if he dared to call him a son anymore, was a different matter. Jacob had cursed his child since his birth, as his wife died in childbirth to the boy. Stricken with grief that his love was gone, Jacob tried to find pride in his son whom she left behind. However in Jacob’s opinion James turned to be all the failure that his friends were, the three would often find ways to disappoint him, and he made sure to attempt to correct his son for his failure whenever possible. As a carpenter Jacob thought that he would be able to mend his son’s problems with the hard work of learning a trade, and bring those other two under his wing would be his duty to God to produce responsible Men as he could. “I gave three men a chance at life, they repay me with death” rage erupted from his throat,“I will see those bastards pay even if I reach the gallows first”, Jacob took a ragged breath as he began to tear up . “On my death I will curse them, those men did this to me, they think that they are beyond reach” The words of course that Jacob spoke of were what was said during the trial. One of his workers, Samuel Morgan, brought the offense before the local magistrate reporting an offense of murder. Upon hearing the accusation the magistrate immediately sent forth for a deputy to obtain Jacob for questioning.3 That was a process which sent a wracking agony through his flesh as he remembered.
The process of the questioning was done at the power of the magistrate by the will of the magistrate.4 No other lawman or witnesses were allowed to intervene in this matter. Jacob could only reason before that this must be some cruel mistake, but when the events of the trial took place he was revealed a greater tragedy than fate. Jacob focused into the questions raised by the magistrate. The questioning went on in simple terms, as to first where Jacob had been, he quickly answered with his men attempting to finish the barn before the winter freeze hardened the wood and soil. Next he was asked if he saw the murder, to which Jacob replied that he saw it with his own eyes, that Thomas was crushed underneath by a fallen beam. The Magistrate judged his response over with a harsh and weary eye. Finally after what seemed to Jacob to have been far to long at indirect questions the Magistrate delivered the one that he feared. “Jacob Bulfinch, you have been accused of a vile act, before God I tell you to speak truth, did you kill Thomas Stone?” Jacob of course answered that he had not, and that the beam falling was an accident. Once again Jacob was questioned if he would admit to the murder, and again he stood to his truth. What good the truth gave him was a trial to be held in two days time, and a spot in the jail cell to hold him till his time of judgment. While most men would be allowed to go free with warning to return, for the suspect of murder the accused was held for the safety of the colony.5
The thought stung at his mind “I am no threat to people, save those who would see me hang” Anger seared with each word as he Flexed his hands. Jacob felt the Irons that kept him bound, a raw wound had begun to form at his wrists where he struggled had struggled, and now served as a dull ache, a reminder of his condition. Seeking to get his mind away from his own state, Jacob once again thought about the magistrate. Magistrate being all that he knew to call this man who had passed judgment on him against his word and honor. While this man had a name Jacob cared not to recall too much about the ones who played their roles. Yet still, as he struggled to forget the look that the magistrate gave him during that questioning stuck to his mind. He was a perplexing man, whom Jacob had never sought to know personally, in fact Jacob had never given anyone the time of day after his wife had passed during childbirth leaving him to raise his son. Forcing his wife’s death into the recesses of his mind, Jacob refocused on that man, who was appointed to judge the law, and to pass down the punishment to the people in name of repentance for sins. While well aware that the lawman were elected to serve that duty the weariness in his eyes enraged Jacob when he thought of it.6 “A man without purpose in his eyes, cannot judge one who does”, and he knew what his purpose was even if others did not. A grudging acknowledgment ground at Jacob’s attention“A lamb to herd, and a farm hand to lead”, he mumbled to himself when remembering that those men who were supposed to uphold the common law for the people had failed to uphold his truth. After all that was what they were supposed to do, and it was their fault to bare the shame of following so blindly. Being manipulated by the men he once worked with. To Jacob’s reasoning, by things that turned out to only be described as a group of demons in human skins. Anger once again seethed from under his breath at the thought as panic at the silence around him continued on the edge of his mind, which he sought to end by letting his mind wander again.
The trial that Jacob was given but one day after his questioning was once again at the mercy of the Magistrate. In this case there were no jury to pay heed, yet Jacob found himself face to face with the “witnesses” who were going to state the evidence that they had before the magistrate once again. The two workers and his own son, swore to truth before God and began to give an account that seasoned Jacob’s body with a cold despair. Samuel gave the first account to what he heard and saw. “Mr. Bulfinch is a hard boss, though we always thought he was a good man”, Jacob felt the poison slip beneath Samuel’s teeth as he continued. “He always would work Thomas hard, said that it would be a cure to his sloth”, “Thomas did sleep on occasion, but was a good man with good values”. Samuel drove in the point of Thomas’s virtue with a heated virility. “I heard the cry, Thomas laid under the beam when I came to the front of the barn”. Continuing on with their story, Samuel took over to state that he was witness to the murder. “Mr. Bulfinch and Thomas were placing the main beam for the roof when I saw it. “Thomas was pushed by Mr. Bulfinch, and took a fall to the ground” “I was returning from getting tools when I was witness to this” Samuel put on a somber expression for the last line, and the magistrate looked over him with worry. “I am sorry for what you witnessed, may God bless you to heal your mind” the magistrate said over to Samuel. “Now if you may James Bulfinch, what did you witness?” James took a step forward and gave a sharp look at Jacob, a mixture of distaste and a feigned sadness on his face. “Sir, I have seen mine father for what he is. I laid witness to the body of Thomas, with both Samuel and saw the devil’s shadow over his death at my father’s hand” Jacob thrashed out in his bonds “ James, you dare speak out against your father” Jacob was about to scream more but was quickly brought into order by the deputy and silenced. After a time looking at Jacob with the same eyes as before the magistrate asked Jacob if he wished to confess before God. To which Jacob once again replied for a final time that he had done no wrong. This was all the speech that Jacob would be allowed during the trial, as during the time the defendant was not given the legal council, and could not speak on his own behalf save for the questioning period that occurred before the trial. The magistrate after a time put his head down, and said words that crushed Jacob’s spirit to the state that it is in now. “ Jacob Bulfinch, I have hear the evidence, and I judge you guilty of murder, you will hang at the morning of tomorrow”.
After being stripped down into a prison garb, that consisted of a white cotton shirt, gray wool knickers, wool socks, and his shoes for his own sake he was thankful he could keep.7 The experience of going to a cell was humiliating and what came to Jacob was more pain than he believed that he could endure. Despite trying to come to terms with what just happened. After the trial took place Jacob was expected to repent his sins to God, so the he may show mercy by God. With a deep tone of the gospel ringing in his voice the Father approached Jacob with talk of repentance and admission of his sins to please God. He scoffed with a rasp at the thought of it “Why should I repent, when no grave sin weighs at mine heart”, was the reply that he gave the Father with a dull tone. Thinking back with regret he wished that he could take back what he said, as it was hurtful to the God that he now relies upon in his dire time of need. With the empty cell, and wind outside stirring fear in Jacob, if anything was getting worse this night, besides his imminent demise, it was the feeling of being alone that had reduced him to tears. Out of a sense of need he began to pray for salvation and for God to end this torment.
Reasoning out to himself to God only served to increased his anxiety. With no provocation or warning he found himself in tears once again and madly pleading with God. “My lord God, I am humble, am I not, then why was I put to this?” “Of what sin did I offend you to deserve this”, Jacob reached out into the dark for a response, but no answer came in return. Feeling a weight close down upon his mind, Jacob rattled in his bond in hysterics.“What penance must I pay to be rid of this trial God?”, “The Father said that if I was an innocent man that my absolution would come, where is my deliverance?”. Jacob echoed his pained plea louder now, which reverberated in the empty hollow of the cell. Still struggling at his bonds, his wrists began to bleed at the strain, and the irons were made slippery with blood and sweat. The smell of blood in the air jolted Jacob back to his senses and he looked down upon his hands. Jacob’s desperation shot forth, and he howled at his fate and against it all the same. For some time this continued until Jacob exhausted his lungs and throat, in between the heavy rise and fall of his chest Jacob began pleading to God again. “I feel pity for those men, deceived by a devil in human guise”, “God give pity for pity and let me free, father Issac whom wished to help me is a just man so please God take back what offense I brought to him”. Jacob continued with his speech ,”After all it was Father Issac who gave the Word of God to the people, and urged Jacob to repent before the gallows took him. Jacob could only reason before that this jail cell must be some cruel mistake by God, but when the events of the trial took place he was revealed a greater tragedy than fate. “ He chortled in between the rasps of his weeping. “God these men do not know what they have done”. Rocking back and forth Jacob hastily began whispering to himself “I am Jacob Bulfinch, I have done no ill” in a repeated manner for some time, until silence and despair took him deep within his mind and he fell silent to his own devices for the rest of the night.
As the sun began to rise panic set in for Jacob again, as he realized that his time was drawing ever shorter. Yet at this moment he could not find his voice to say anything out in the silence. For an eternity within his own head Jacob pondered his own silence, and how in effort that silence was killing him far more than any noose could accomplish. Without a voice in the trial, with no one to defend his innocence he had fallen prey to the machinations of three men.8 Their word against his proved to be a more convincing argument than one man could provide an argument against. Jacob began silently laughing to himself at the futility of his situation as the dawn gave rise to the Sun in full. With the morning came the deputy to collect Jacob and bring him to the gallows. Jacob was led out with a slow march towards his final moments. The crowd that had gathered was nothing short of what one would expect. Murder is an uncommon thing, and a hanging serves as both a warning and a curiosity to the public of the colony.9
As the noose was being prepared around his neck, Father Issac gave his last graces and rights to Jacob, fitting for a man who begged so desperately for his forgiveness the day before. Jacob looked out over the crowd and searched for the men who would see him die for their own goals. He found them near the front of the crowd watching him with deadened eyes. In return he looked back with the same eyes, ones that were dead even before the noose tightened around his neck. The hanging itself was unremarkable for the crowd. Jacob Bulfinch died as a man who exhausted his words and his options long ago in the night before and all that was left was was a silent voice, never heard and never asked.
a. Books: Jones; Jones, Bessie Zaban (1975). The Many Voices of Boston: A Historical Anthology 1630–1975. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Williams, Roger. A Key to the Language of America Or, An Help to the Language of
the Natives in That Part of America, Called New-England. London: Printed by Gregory Dexter, 1643.
b. Articles: Clark, David S. “Comparative Law in Colonial British America.” American Journal of Comparative Law 1.-1 (2010): 1-32. .
Greenberg, Douglas. “Crime, Law Enforcement, and Social Control in Colonial America.” The American Journal of Legal History 26.4 (1982): 239-325.
Bulletin of the Business Historical Society, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Mar., 1928), pp. 1-9
c. Websites: “History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Official History and Citizenship Website.” Cruel and Unusual: Prisons and Prison Reform : The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site.
a. Books: Jones: This book offers the historical information on the formation of the Boston colony that was needed to set up the correct period and date to focus the rest of my research on. I only used the basic information about the actual formation of the colony. However the book goes further on the history of Boston, in particular the social dynamics that are important in the profiling of any criminal system.
Williams: This is an excellent source for the language used during the mid 17th century. It offers phonetic and dictation for multiple tribal and colonial sources in early America, I used this novel to tune the dialog of the characters to be more impressive.
b. Articles: Clark: Offers a comprehensive analysis of colonial law and the reasoning behind the changes when compared to the English common law that the early colonial justice system was based off of.
Greenburg: Gives the social reasoning behind laws, and specifically the religious connection between the punishments, and how they are intended as social control for the colonies.
Bulletin: A comprehensive collection of craftsmanship pieces for colonial America, the end result is a useful for gauging colonial styling and framework for buildings that involve heavy woodwork.
c. Websites: History.org: This page offers a great look at the prison system of colonial America. Most importantly the attire and bonds that they would have been kept in, as well as the detailing of the early gaol jail cells that were used.
7“History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Official History and Citizenship Website.” Cruel and Unusual: Prisons and Prison Reform : The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site.