Sunday, 26 May 2013

Mothers and Sons: Theft and the Death Penalty

On 7th October 1769 widow Jane Whitfield confessed to a magistrate that earlier the same day Joseph Waller came to her house to search for 35 yards of linen stolen from his bleaching croft three weeks earlier. The goods had been discovered and Jane stated that her son Richard had brought the linen to her.
At the same time her son Richard Whitfield, a servant to Joseph Waller, confessed that his mother had advised him to take the linen back to his master but he had refused.
Richard Whitfield was subsequently convicted of theft and his mother of receiving stolen goods at the City of York assizes held in April 1770. Both were sentenced to death at the sessions presided over by Mr Justice Gould.
In addition to the depositions found in TNA ASSI 54/29, copies of the indictments can be found in TNA ASSI 44/85 while the trial and appeal are recorded in TNA ASSI 41/6 and TNA ASSI 42/8.
State papers record that Justice Gould recommended Jane to the king/secretary of state for a free pardon and Richard to transportation for fourteen years which were granted and delivered at the subsequent summer assizes for York. In Jane's case, the circuit memorial recommends Jane on the grounds that 'favourable circumstances' had been found, while her son was deemed 'a fit object of mercy'. It would be interesting to explore further the use of these terms. 
Other records show that although Richard was convicted in Yorkshire, he attempted to avoid transportation by escaping captivity in London. However records in the Maryland State Archives show that he was eventually transported from Bristol by the 'Trotman' to Baltimore, Maryland in December 1770. MSA:CR 40.

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