Exhibtion Index  Credits   Bryn Mawr College Library    

Eliz. Jeffryes and John SwanEliz: Jeffryes & John Swan.
Click the image to see the picture full size.
Download the image as a pdf


These accounts usually assume that legal guilt – or innocence – is susceptible of proof.  But what of the moral aspect of the events they treat?  Crime, after all, is legally proscribed sin.  What leads to that sin?  Today we may feel that most crimes are committed by people who are overwhelmed by circumstance, and we focus our efforts toward prevention or rehabilitation or the environment as much as on the person's moral character. But this is not the attitude of the historical accounts; the supposition of many of the writers is that even the smallest sin naturally leads, step by step, to crime.  The girl who commits some peccadillo, like sassing her mother, is next inspired by the Devil to break the Sabbath, then to "folly" with a young man, then to theft, violence, and murder – and she ends her life on the gallows.  The explanation of these lapses almost always includes sexual transgression; it is a marker of female sin and leads to total degradation.  Having taken one wrong step the woman is inevitably condemned to further criminality and death. 

Elizabeth Jeffryes and John Swan were convicted of having murdered her uncle, after they failed to convince one Thomas Matthews to do the job for them.  They were in love and the uncle had ordered them to separate.  Some accounts claim that Jeffryes was pregnant with Swan's child; everyone assumed they had sexual relations, but pregnancy would have proved that beyond any doubt.

        Back         Forward