Someone recently asked my advice regarding their (the generic their) historical novel in progress. Their hero was orphaned when his criminal parents were hanged. The aspiring author, who lives in a western state, asked me to let them know what crime would have been a hanging offense in Massachusetts in the mid to late 1800s.
Specifically, in 1865, could both the hero’s father and mother have been hanged for a crime that generally seems to warrant only several years of prison time in the twenty-first century? As an example that would be relevant today, let’s pretend the parents had conned the preacher’s widow out of her life savings.
Despite having grown up in Massachusetts, I know very little about nineteenth-century justice in that state. However, I don’t think a man would have been hanged for theft then. And, as far as I know, Massachusetts hasn’t executed a woman since the days of the Salem witch trials.
I suggested that the author have the father kill the mother. I’m fairly certain that would have been a hanging offense in 1865, and it conveniently would have dispatched both Dad and Mom for plot purposes.
For some reason, the author didn’t seem too enthusiastic about my suggestion.