Social Order and Disorder

Alexandre O. Exquemelin, De Americaensche zee-roovers Amsterdam: Jan ten Hoorn, 1678.  Original McGregor Library (A 1678 .E97)

During the 17th century, Spain’s European rivals encouraged roving bands of pirates to disrupt its immensely profitable New World commerce. Alexandre Exquemelin, a French Huguenot, spent several years sailing the Caribbean as a buccaneer, mostly in the service of Captain Henry Morgan. He vividly chronicles his personal adventures—and Morgan’s celebrated raids on Panama, Cartagena, and other ports—in this classic account, which is illustrated with engravings depicting noted buccaneers and pirate derring-do. Quickly translated from the original Dutch into Spanish, English, and French, Exquemelin’s work remains in print.

The vain prodigal life, and tragical penitent death of Thomas Hellier … London: Printed for Sam. Crouch, 1680.  Acquired 1951 (A 1680 .V35)

This is the earliest separately published account of murders committed in the American Colonies. Born in Dorsetshire in 1650, Hellier squandered his inheritance through drink and dissipation, sailing for Virginia to escape his creditors. Bound as a servant to one Cutbeard Williamson near present-day Charles City, Hellier was tricked into hard labor tending tobacco. Desperate to escape his ill treatment, Hellier took an axe to Williamson, his wife, and their maid on May 24, 1678. He was soon caught and hanged at Jamestown on August 5, 1678. Included here are Hellier’s autobiography and his confessional speech at the gallows.

Oliver Hart, Dancing exploded. A sermon, shewing the unlawfulness, sinfulness, and bad consequences of balls, assemblies, and dances in general. Charleston: David Bruce, 1778.  Acquired 2012 (A 1778 .H27)

Hart’s sermon condemning dancing and fancy dress balls was prompted by the devastating Charleston fire of January 15, 1778, during the American Revolution. No sooner had its embers cooled, he noted, than “we had Balls, Assemblies and Dances in every quarter.” The conflagration and wartime privations constituted “so many loud calls to repentance, reformation of life, and prayer, that the wrath of God may be turned away from us.” Hart specified 14 evils of dancing, including wasted time, unnecessary expense, vulgar music, and immodesty of conversation and movement. This is the third earliest American imprint on dance—the McGregor Library also holds the earliest, a 1685 sermon by Increase Mather.

Richmond (Va.) Police Guard, Daybook, 1834-1843.  Acquired 1942 (MSS 1481)

This extraordinary document provides a daily record of crimes logged by the antebellum Richmond police. The entries displayed here (for February and March 1834) include a rash of meat and shoe thefts. But thefts were outnumbered by constant reports of runaway slaves: 935 (a quarter of whom were women) over ten years, with 88 apprehensions, for a slave population numbering around 7,000. Many slaves fled on their own, but the entry at upper left documents an unsuccessful attempt by nine slaves to escape by ship “Secreted in [a] load of coal.”

John Lyde Wilson, The code of honor; or, Rules for the government of principals and seconds in duelling. Charleston: Thomas J. Eccles, 1838.  Acquired 1965 (A 1838 .W56)

During the 19th century, dueling gradually fell out of favor in the United States. Former South Carolina governor John Lyde Wilson claimed to desire its eventual eradication. But having been raised in a society valuing “manly independence, and a lofty personal pride” over “passive forbearance,” Wilson saw the duel as a valid means of defending one’s all-important honor whenever the courts could not afford “satisfaction.” In publishing the first American dueling code, Wilson sought through its complicated rules to prevent most disputes from reaching a deadly conclusion, or if they did, to see them conducted honorably.

The trial and acquittal of Mary Moriarty, on the charge of the murder of John Shehan, her seducer … Memphis: Memphis Typographical Association, Morning Bulletin Office, 1856.  Acquired 2012 (A 1856 .T75)

An Irish domestic in Memphis, Mary Moriarty was engaged to wed John Shehan, the father of her child. When Shehan backed out, a furious Mary stabbed him to death in broad daylight. Moriarty’s attorney expertly defended her in front of an all-male jury, arguing “that he who seduces a maid, upon the most solemn vow of marriage, hath committed a worse crime than that of murder!” Afterward “the jury retired for a few minutes, and returned a verdict of ‘NOT GUILTY,’ the announcement of which was enthusiastically cheered by the large crowd of people in the Court House.” Capitalizing on the case’s notoriety, the Memphis Morning Bulletin condensed its newspaper coverage into this crudely printed pamphlet. No other copy is known.

The oaths, signs, ceremonies and objects of the Ku-Klux Klan. A full exposé. Cleveland, 1868.  Acquired ca. 1960 (A 1868 .O3)

Founded in Tennessee in late 1865 as a loose-knit network of secret vigilante groups, the Ku Klux Klan spread quickly throughout the South. By 1868 it rose to national prominence through an expanding campaign of intimidation and murder on behalf of white supremacy and in response to Reconstruction. This anonymous pamphlet was one of the first to interpret the Klan for a Northern audience. After detailing the Klan’s secret rituals and mode of operation, it claims that Klan members were secretly infiltrating the North, waiting for the signal to rise and seize control. “Let the people of the North be warned!”

J. W. Murphy, Outlaws of the Fox River country Hannibal, Mo.: Hannibal Printing Company, 1882.  Original McGregor Library (A 1882 .M87)

Aided by evocative wood engravings, Murphy chronicles for a local audience four decades of crime, lawlessness, and mob violence in Missouri’s Clark County. The horse stealings and highway robberies of the “Prairie Bandits” took a darker turn with the arrival of the notorious Young family. Implicated in the 1860 lynching of James Whiteford, the 1861 assassination of Judge Richardson, and the 1877 Spencer family quintuple murder, Bill Young was acquitted of the last, only to be lynched afterward. Murphy closes by pleading for justice on Young’s behalf, exposing the corruption of local officials and the evil manipulations of “Detective” Frank Lane. Who, he asks, were the true outlaws?