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Hanged for Shoplifting, Being a True History of Mary Jones’ Sad Life and Death

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fallenmystic

Governor
I would ask the reader to note that, with the exception of some brutish guards who exploited Mary’s helplessness for their own erotic pleasure, that none of the representatives of His Majesty’s government demonstrated any animus toward Mary or her family. The press-gang, the Lieutenant on the Victory, the constable who arrested her, the keeper at the compter, Sheriff Wilkes, the prosecutor and judges at the Old Bailey, the Recorder of London, the King and his Privy Council, the City Marshal and Under-Marshal, the Yeoman of the Halter and Edward Dennis the hangman, none of them acted out of malice, or desire to be unjust or cruel. All just did their jobs, their duty, following the laws and the rules. And because of that, young Mary Jones had to die and her children had to be orphaned.
The New England poet, Robert Frost said it well:

No one stands round to stare.
It is nobody else's affair
It couldn't be called ungentle
But how thoroughly departmental
I had to keep my mental distance from the erotic aspect of the story for a reason mentioned above, but I'm glad that I've stayed with it until the end. It was well expected that the story would demonstrate a tasteful style knowing what PrPr is capable of as an author. But this paragraph also resonated with particular impact for me, since I believe it illuminates one of the interesting, but rather tragic characteristics of our nature.

A man with an exceptionally cruel disposition can surely do many horrible things. And he may even successfully find a small group of men to share his crimes with. But the very fact that his personality and actions are something regarded as exceptionally heinous by most people will limit the damage he can do to the rest of the world.

A famous criminal will be chased by men of justice, and a dictator will die by patriots. Even when some of them could evade their fate during their lifetime, they'll be condemned after their death. So, their wrongdoings are usually a short-lived one, and their damage won't last very long.

So, the greatest tragedies rarely come from exceptional brutality of a particular man, but they do from that of the time. It is when ordinary people share certain prejudices or become impervious to the cruelty that we can commit the most atrocious actions against each other.

Be it war crimes, genocides, or witch-huntings, we can only commit atrocities of such a scale when we are convinced that what we are doing is something ordinary and well-justified. And such an assurance is usually provided by commonly held beliefs and sentiments of a given time and place.

Maybe I'm overly dramatic to compare Mary Jone's personal tragedy with things like genocides. But how many more Mary Jones did we have at that time when ordinary people believed it is a perfectly acceptable thing to send an impoverished young mother to the gallow for stealing a piece of clothes for her baby?

As PrPr justly pointed out, it was not that the shopkeeper or the men of justice had particularly cruel nature, but it was the time and place itself which made them believe such an inhumane act was something ordinary, or even just.

As such, it gave me a small consolation to know that Mary Jone's tragic death helped them realize that defect in their society. Her story encouraged them to move forward, to the world we know of today where people no longer sent to the death row for stealing a petty sum out of necessity.

But probably we have our own versions of Mary Jones among us without our realizing it. And the future generation may look upon us as we see those 'cruel' shopkeepers or men of justice in the 18th century London. It's not easy to see commonly held prejudices and defects of shared sentiments of the time we live. So, probably the story may also be read as a cautionary tale to remind us of such a problem.

I didn't intend to write such a wall of texts when I hit the reply button. But reading such a fitting ending to this remarkable story, I couldn't resist.

I've yet to read Rebecca and the Bloody Codes you recommended, PrPr. But this story surely raised my expectation pretty high.

Thanks much for providing us such a great story, and I hope to see many more fine works from you in future. :)
 

Praefectus Praetorio

Brother of the Quill
I had to keep my mental distance from the erotic aspect of the story for a reason mentioned above, but I'm glad that I've stayed with it until the end. It was well expected that the story would demonstrate a tasteful style knowing what PrPr is capable of as an author. But this paragraph also resonated with particular impact for me, since I believe it illuminates one of the interesting, but rather tragic characteristics of our nature.

A man with an exceptionally cruel disposition can surely do many horrible things. And he may even successfully find a small group of men to share his crimes with. But the very fact that his personality and actions are something regarded as exceptionally heinous by most people will limit the damage he can do to the rest of the world.

A famous criminal will be chased by men of justice, and a dictator will die by patriots. Even when some of them could evade their fate during their lifetime, they'll be condemned after their death. So, their wrongdoings are usually a short-lived one, and their damage won't last very long.

So, the greatest tragedies rarely come from exceptional brutality of a particular man, but they do from that of the time. It is when ordinary people share certain prejudices or become impervious to the cruelty that we can commit the most atrocious actions against each other.

Be it war crimes, genocides, or witch-huntings, we can only commit atrocities of such a scale when we are convinced that what we are doing is something ordinary and well-justified. And such an assurance is usually provided by commonly held beliefs and sentiments of a given time and place.

Maybe I'm overly dramatic to compare Mary Jone's personal tragedy with things like genocides. But how many more Mary Jones did we have at that time when ordinary people believed it is a perfectly acceptable thing to send an impoverished young mother to the gallow for stealing a piece of clothes for her baby?

As PrPr justly pointed out, it was not that the shopkeeper or the men of justice had particularly cruel nature, but it was the time and place itself which made them believe such an inhumane act was something ordinary, or even just.

As such, it gave me a small consolation to know that Mary Jone's tragic death helped them realize that defect in their society. Her story encouraged them to move forward, to the world we know of today where people no longer sent to the death row for stealing a petty sum out of necessity.

But probably we have our own versions of Mary Jones among us without our realizing it. And the future generation may look upon us as we see those 'cruel' shopkeepers or men of justice in the 18th century London. It's not easy to see commonly held prejudices and defects of shared sentiments of the time we live. So, probably the story may also be read as a cautionary tale to remind us of such a problem.

I didn't intend to write such a wall of texts when I hit the reply button. But reading such a fitting ending to this remarkable story, I couldn't resist.

I've yet to read Rebecca and the Bloody Codes you recommended, PrPr. But this story surely raised my expectation pretty high.

Thanks much for providing us such a great story, and I hope to see many more fine works from you in future. :)
My thanks for your generous remarks. I must say you expressed much of my feelings while researching and writing this tale. I also need to add that much credit goes to @minyoo , who brought the story to my attention and induced me to undertake the retelling. Without her, many of us would never have heard of Mary Jones. As a stalwart of this forum often observes, "You learn so much on cruxforums!"
 

Migoz2

Senator
My thanks for your generous remarks. I must say you expressed much of my feelings while researching and writing this tale. I also need to add that much credit goes to @minyoo , who brought the story to my attention and induced me to undertake the retelling. Without her, many of us would never have heard of Mary Jones. As a stalwart of this forum often observes, "You learn so much on cruxforums!"
Except the importance of reading the small print........
 

Praefectus Praetorio

Brother of the Quill
Afterword

Lord! Some of you all are certainly gluttons for punishment. I’ve already received inquires concerning a follow-up or sequel! No way! Also, several have asked what became of the other people that I didn’t mention in the conclusion.

Unfortunately, there is little relevant recorded history of most of the major actors from the drama of Mary Jones. There are three with some little stories to tell:

Sheriff John Wilkes continued his successful political career with the support of his Middlesex constituency. In 1774, he became Lord Mayor of the City of London. In 1776, he introduced the first bill for parliamentary reform in the British Parliament. During the American War of Independence, he was a supporter of the American rebels, adding further to his popularity with American Whigs. Several places in the US are named after him. The expression “Wilkes and Liberty!” was used during the rebellion and later in English politics. In 1779 he was elected to the position of Chamberlain of the City of London, a post of great responsibility which he was to hold until his death in 1797.

During the uprising known as the Gordon Riots in 1780, Wilkes assembled the soldiers to defend the Bank of England from the attacking mobs. It was under his orders that troops fired into the crowds of rioters.
The_Gordon_Riots_by_John_Seymour_Lucas.jpg
The working classes who had previously seen Wilkes as a "man of the people", then criticized him as a hypocrite; his middle-class support was scared off by the violent action. The Gordon Riots nearly extinguished his popularity. His support waning, he retired from politics in 1790. Wilkes died at his home at 30 Grosvenor Square, Westminster, London on 26 December 1797.
Screen shot 2011-07-21 at 11.36.50 PM.png
American actor and assassin John Wilkes Booth was a distant relative.

Hangman Edward Dennis in November 1783, supervised the last execution at Tyburn, a place of execution for 600 years – 50,000 executions in total. Executions then were carried out in front of Newgate Prison by long drop, to 1868. Dennis continued as the executioner for London and Middlesex until his death in 1786.

Dennis was imprisoned in Newgate in 1780 and tried and sentenced to death for taking part in the Gordon Riots in which Newgate prison was burned. He was later reprieved. The reason being that he could then hang 19 of his fellow rioters. It is an intriguing historical coincidence that both Dennis and Wilkes figure in these anti-popery riots. Charles Dickens, in his first major work, the historical novel, Barnaby Rudge which revolved around the riots of 1780, writes Dennis in.

Finally, the Reverend John Wood remained as Ordinary of Newgate for another year and one-half until May 1773 when he took a leave of absence “for reasons of health”(rumored to be a mental breakdown). He formally retired in January 1774. He published his last Ordinary of Newgate's Account in 1772. For reasons unknown, he did not publish accounts for 1771, and therefore there we do not have one for Mary’s death. Did something happen that year that so moved the old priest and damage his health that he couldn’t bring himself to profit from the stories of the condemned? We don’t know. He lived out his retirement in a cottage near Dartford in Kent.


For those who can’t let the story go, a good first place to start would be this site with an excellent summary.

http://www.executedtoday.com/2017/10/16/1771-mary-jones-hanged-for-shoplifting/
 

Fossy

Tribune
Wow! Having only discovered the existence of this thread in the past day or so through a different conversation with PrPr, I have just had a very enjoyable, if somewhat intense, hour and a half reading the thread from beginning to end. It was so well written that the minimal 'sex and violence' (as our esteemed author refers to it) contained therein was no distraction whatsoever!

Having lived in the London area and worked in the 'City' I know most of these places very well. London is still a hugely atmospheric place, but PrPr brought it to life so impressively.

What a superb story ... I like to write a little myself, and now I have a benchmark for my aspiration!
 

Eulalia

Poet Laureate
Staff member
Wow! Having only discovered the existence of this thread in the past day or so through a different conversation with PrPr, I have just had a very enjoyable, if somewhat intense, hour and a half reading the thread from beginning to end. It was so well written that the minimal 'sex and violence' (as our esteemed author refers to it) contained therein was no distraction whatsoever!

Having lived in the London area and worked in the 'City' I know most of these places very well. London is still a hugely atmospheric place, but PrPr brought it to life so impressively.

What a superb story ... I like to write a little myself, and now I have a benchmark for my aspiration!
One more poem, from the inimitable William Blake half a century later, seems to echo this wonderfully crafted narrative:

London

I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

1589499673375.png
 
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