This article is abridged from a short work of fiction that first appeared in The General Advertiser, a London newspaper, on April 15, 1747.
THE Speech of Miss Polly Baker, before a Court of Judicature, at Connecticut near Boston; where she was prosecuted the Fifth Time, for having a Bastard Child:
May it please the Honourable Bench to indulge me in a few Words: I am a poor unhappy Woman, who have no Money to fee Lawyers to plead for me, being hard put to it to get a tolerable Living. All I humbly hope is, That your Honours would charitably move the Governor's Goodness on my Behalf, that my Fine may be remitted.
This is the Fifth Time, Gentlemen, that I have been dragg'd before your Court on the same Account; twice I have paid heavy Fines, and twice have been brought to Publick Punishment, for want of Money to pay those Fines. This may have been agreeable to the Laws, and I don't dispute it; but since Laws are sometimes unreasonable in themselves, and therefore repealed, and others bear too hard on the Subject in particular Circumstances; and therefore there is left a Power somewhat to dispense with the Execution of them; I take the Liberty to say, That I think this Law, by which I am punished, is both unreasonable in itself, and particularly severe with regard to me, who have always lived an inoffensive Life in the Neighborhood where I was born, and defy my Enemies (if I have any) to say I ever wrong'd any Man, Woman or Child.
Abstracted from the Law, I cannot conceive what the Nature of my Offence is. I have brought Five fine Children into the World, at the Risque of my Life; I have maintain'd them well by my own Industry, without burthening the Township, and would have done it better, if it had not been for the heavy Charges and Fines I have paid.
Can it be a Crime to add to the Number of the King's Subjects, in a new Country, that really wants People? I own it, I should think it a Praise-worthy, rather than a punishable Action. I have debauched no other Woman's Husband, nor enticed any Youth; these Things I never was charg'd with; nor has any one the least Cause of Complaint against me, unless, perhaps, the Minister, or Justice, because I have had Children without being married, by which they have missed a Wedding Fee. But, can ever this be a Fault of mine?
You are pleased to allow I don't want Sense; but I must be stupefied to the last Degree, not to prefer the Honourable State of Wedlock, to the Condition I have lived in. On the contrary, I readily consented to the only Proposal of Marriage that ever was made me, which was when I was a Virgin; but too easily confiding in the Person's Sincerity that made it, I unhappily lost my own Honour, by trusting to his; for he got me with Child, and then forsook me.
If mine is a religious Offence, leave it to religious Punishments. You believe I have offended Heaven, and must suffer eternal Fire: Will not that be sufficient? What Need is there then of your additional Fines and Whipping?
If you, Gentlemen, must be making Laws, do not turn natural and useful Actions into Crimes by your Prohibitions. But take into your wise Consideration, the great and growing Number of Batchelors, many of whom from the mean Fear of the Expences of a Family, have never sincerely courted a Woman in their Lives; and by their Manner of Living, leave unproduced (which is little better than Murder) Hundreds of their Posterity to the Thousandth Generation. Is not this a greater Offense against the Publick Good, than mine? Compel them, then, by Law, either to Marriage, or to pay double the Fine of Fornication every Year.
What must poor young Women do, whom Custom and nature forbid to solicit the Men, and who cannot force themselves upon Husbands, when the Laws take no Care to provide them any; and yet severely punish them if they do their Duty without them; the Duty of the first and great Command of Nature, and of Nature's God, Encrease and Multiply. A Duty, from the steady Performance of which, nothing has been able to deter me; but for its Sake, I have hazarded the Loss of the Pub lick Esteem, and have frequently endured Publick Disgrace and Punishment; and therefore ought, in my humble Opinion, instead of a Whipping, to have a Statue erected to my Memory.*