Traders and Gentlefolk

Chapter XII.
Crimes and Punishments.

THE court records of any period in our American history are an unfailing source of profit and delight to the historian. In the town or state whose colonial records still exist there can ever be drawn a picture not only of the crimes and punishments, but of the manners, occupations, and ways of our ancestors and a knowledge can be gained of the social ethics, the morality, the modes of thought, the intelligence of dead-and-gone citizens. We learn that they had daily hopes and plans and interests and harassments just such as our own, as well as vices and wickedness.

In spite of Chancellor Kent’s assertion of their dulness and lack of interest, the court records of Dutch colonial times are not to me dull reading: quaint humor and curious terms abound; the criminal records always are interesting; even the old reken-boeks (the account-books) are of value. These first sources give an unbiassed and well-outlined picture, sometimes a surprising and almost irreconcilable one; for instance, I had always a fixed notion that the early women-colonists of Dutch birth were wholly a quiet, reserved, even timid group; not talkative and never aggressive. It was therefore a great thrust at my established ideas to discover, when poring over an old “Road Book” at the Hall of Records in Brooklyn, containing some entries of an early Court of Sessions, an account of the trial of two dames of Bushwyck, Mistress Jonica Schampf and Widow Rachel Luquer, for assaulting the captain of the Train-Band, Captain Peter Praa, on training-day in October, 1690, while he was at the head of his company. These two vixens most despitefully used him; they beat him, pulled his hair, assaulted and wounded him, and committed “other Ivill Inormities, so that his life was despaired of.” And there was no evidence to show that any of his soldiers, or any of the spectators present, interfered to save either Peter’s life or his honor.


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