Thieving times : criminals, victims and the judicial system in Richmond, Virginia, 1869-1872

Reed, Mark Alan, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

Crime in the South is most often associated with violent acts. A study of the courts in Richmond, Virginia dur­ing the volatile Reconstruction era would be expected to reflect this apparent predisposition toward violence in the region. The courts of that city, however, appear to have been preoccupied with race control under the guise of property protection.

A survey of indictments in the Richmond Hustings Court from 1868 through 1872 indicates that property crimes allegedly committed by black persons dominated the court's docket. The nearly 1500 cases involved, when examined in detail, demonstrate the overwhelming prejudice in the Richmond judicial system. Blacks accused of crimes were convicted at a higher rate than accused whites and were generally given more severe sentences when convicted. This finding, although not unexpected, is significant when the affect of Radical Reconstruction is considered. Blacks fared no better under the tenure of the Republicans in Richmond than they did under the former Confederates. By including other characteristics, such as gender, age, occu­pation, wealth, and nativity, in the analysis, it was poss­ible to determine that the criminal's race was influential in the final decision of the court.

The relatively short period investigated also allowed the inclusion of the victim in the analysis. Despite being ignored, for the most part, in previous historical research, the victim is an integral ingredient in the judicial pro­cess. By adding the victim to the analysis it is possible to determine if the court was most concerned with who the criminal was or with the individual who had been offended. The data point conclusively toward the identity of the criminal as being the determining factor. Identity in post-bellum Richmond was equivalent to race. The race of the victim was basically inconsequential in the final disposi­tion of criminal cases when compared with the significance of the race of the accused.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

MA (Master of Arts)
African Americans -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- Virginia -- Richmond -- History, Criminal justice, Administration of -- Virginia -- Richmond -- History, Race discrimination -- Virginia -- Richmond -- History

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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