Friday, December 11 1761

…In the evening down at Mr Porter’s a little time. This day we brought home by two men (whom our parish had sent on purpose) Will Burrage, who had absconded above 5 years ago and left a wife and 6 small children as a burden to the parish. Now as the affair makes a great noise and confusion in the place and the inhabitants seem much divided in their opinion about the treatment which he deserves to meet with, I shall for the future satisfaction of anyone who may happen to see my memoirs deliver my sentiments in the affair:

First, Mr Porter, Mr Coates and Mr French are desirous he should suffer the punishment due to so atrocious a crime as deserting his family, by which means they have been an expense to the parish of upwards of £50, and the poor woman become a lunatic through grief, in the most rigorous manner. The rest of the people are all desirous he should escape without any further punishment.

Neither of these methods is I think agreeable to reason or justice, for as to the first I think it is too severe, as many things appear in his favor, and as to his first going away I doubt he had some faint reason for so doing, (though none adequate to answer the leaving his family), such as his wife and he living unhappy through the instigation and unhappy temper of her mother, who lived with them, and the many attempts made by the first mentioned gentlemen to reduce the price of day labor by bringing into the parish certificate-men [paupers with certificates from their own parishes] for that purpose, which undoubtedly must be very disheartening to an industrious man and what I think hardly just and human. Then, since he has been in custody he has behaved extremely well, giving the men no trouble, and coming home with a seeming cheerfulness, and at the same time promising to maintain and do the best for his family in his power.

These things duly considered should I presume be some mitigation of the rigorous punishment due to his crime (which must be allowed great). The greatest number or body of the people who are for releasing him immediately plead that it will be of no service to the parish to confine him in the house of correction, and that the interest to the parish barely considered should be a motive sufficient to release him. This I think savors too much of a contracted and self-interested mind, or rather a pusillanimous disposition, neither of which methods I approve of.

I would then advise justice should take place in such a manner that a strict eye may be had to mercy, and not in the height of executing justice to forget that benign virtue. No, I would not but that it might be so tempered together as not to interfere or clash with each other, for undoubtedly he ought to suffer in some manner, either by confinement or corporal punishment, or both, in order to deter others from the same offence, but then I would have mercy so far take place that he might be convinced his punishment did not proceed from choice but as it were from real necessity in order to keep a due subordination in the parish and that the mitigation of the punishment proceeded altogether from the lenity of the officers and gentlemen of the parish. This if I can form any judgment of the affair would seem the most eligible way, as justice would not be perverted and yet mercy shine through the whole in the most beautiful and delightful colors. However as I write or think not to direct others, only to deliver my own sentiments in the affair, if my arguments were brought to the test sand strictly scrutinized they might perhaps be found quite insignificant and of no weight. Therefore I shall with all due deference submit to the opinion of them who are better judges.

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