Writing British Infanticide: Child-Murder, Gender, and Print, 1722-1859

By Jennifer Thorn | Go to book overview

"I would be a Witness against my self ":
Infanticide and Communion in
Colonial New England

Laura Henigman

A BOSTON READER WHO FOUND IN HER HANDS A COPY OF THOMAS FOXcroft's 1733 sermon publication Lessons of Caution to Young Sinners would have opened the book to a startling first page. "On Thursday last Rebekah Chamblit was Executed here," she would have read, "being found Guilty of Felony, in concealing the Birth of her spurious Infant, which she was deliver'd of when alone, and was afterwards found dead."1

Perhaps this reader had known Rebekah, or had known about her, or had been present at her execution; perhaps she was a congregant in Foxcroft's First Church, and had already heard the sermon printed in this volume, which he had preached to Rebekah on the day of her execution. What might have struck her the most, though, is the "caution" printed on that first page, preceding the sermon: the text of the law under which Rebekah was condemned:

That if any Woman be Delivered of any Issue of her Body, Male or Fe-
male, which if it were born Alive, should by Law be a Bastard; and that
she endeavour privately, either by Drowning or secret Burying thereof,
or any other way; either by her self, or the procuring of others so as to
conceal the Death thereof, that it may not come to light, whether it were
Born Alive or not, but be concealed: In every such case the Mother so
Offending, shall suffer Death, as in the case of Murder. Except such
Mother can make proof by One Witness at the least, that the Child whose
Death was by her so intended to be concealed, was born Dead.

The capsule narrative of Rebekah's crime, also on that page, fits the definition of murder here exactly. The infant was "spurious" or illegitimate, the birth secret, and the body "found dead." There is no mention of a deliberate or violent act of murder, for none was needed for conviction. There were no witnesses, for it is precisely

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