Book Review: The Devil Made Me Do It!: Crime and Punishment in Early New England

“The Devil Made Me Do It!”: Crime and Punishment in Early New England, by longtime Bath resident Juliet Haines Mofford, is an excellent and informative read. The book provides detailed stories on the types of crime and the punishments applied in the early days of our country. Whatever the crime — public intoxication, infanticide, or domestic abuse — the early colonial laws were strict and controlled nearly every aspect of peoples’ lives. If one was not living in accordance to godly beliefs, there was always a punishment. In these early times, with no real laws to begin with and a limited criminal justice system, Mofford notes that it was up to neighbors, friends, and family to report on criminal behavior in order to maintain strict moral and ethical codes. Chaos ensued.

As Mofford takes the reader through the various types of crime and criminal justice in America’s colonial years, including the Salem Witch Trials and the rise of piracy, she lays out a road map to the establishment of the criminal justice system in America. Her book details of a number of cases and events that led to some strange and often seemingly harsh punishments for early New England settlers, which Mofford believes resulted from a quickly growing population, the lack of direct supervision by the crown of England, and fervent religious beliefs of settlers. She uses early court documents and prison records, diaries, and sermons to investigate these crimes and the social and political causes behind the various and sometimes bizarre cases. Her detailed research makes for an excellent and quick read, perfect for anyone interested in early American History and the evolution of our criminal justice system.

Mofford has published 18 books in all. Before moving to Bath, she worked as the Director of Research and Education for the Andover Historical Society and for the Museums of Old York, Maine, and also served as the Cultural Director for the Lowell National Historical Park. Many of her books draw extensively from the primary resources available through these institutions. Her latest book, Captain Redlegs Greaves: A Pirate by Mistake,was published by TouchPoint Press in 2019; it’s about one of her husband’s ancestors.

Book review by Samantha Ricker, Development Director.

To request a copy of “The Devil Made Me Do It!,” click here.


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