Tuesday, December 12, 2017

On Crime and Punishment

Page from Register listing Amelia BuellAmelia Buell was born on May 25, 1856, in Lisbon, New Hampshire. She was the daughter of George Hansen Buell and Cordelia Thayer. On November 25, 1865, she was committed to the New Hampshire House of Reformation in Manchester, NH. The charge – fornication. Amelia was nine years old.

Cover page to RegisterAmelia is only one of the names listed in the "Register of Inmates of the House of Reformation Compiled to Jan. 1868." Ranging in age from eight to sixteen, many of the juveniles were incarcerated for such infractions as truancy, lewdness, vagrancy and stubbornness. The latter infraction dated back to a law known as the "Stubborn Child Law" which was first enacted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1641.  Even though the law was no longer prosecuted to its fullest extent (which in the 17th century often led to the child's death), the fact that it was still used by the 19th century speaks volumes about the status of children, who until the late 19th century, were still prosecuted as adults. Reform schools, like the one in Manchester, were established to provide a way to separate juvenile offenders and their "crimes" from those of adults. There was strict discipline and education, but also institutional abuse.

The Manchester institution was built in 1857, on land that was once the home of Gen. John Stark, and opened in 1858 as "a house of reformation for juvenile and female offenders against the law." Most of the inmates were boys. The few girls that were incarcerated there were held on charges of prostitution.

Two page spread of Register
The register also contains more serious offenses such as stealing, assault, barn burning and breaking and entering with the offenders coming from all over the state of New Hampshire. Punishment ranged from one to seven years. Amelia was sentenced to six years. She was  released on December 11, 1869.

To take a look at the register please ask for Codex 003352 (there isn't a catalog record for this quite yet, but we will link to it when it is ready).

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