Tag Archives: crime

- “A Frolicsome Freak of Boyhood”



Jacket of Application for Pardon of James Gibson, Charles Tosh, John Lyle, James Allen, Rufus Percival, and David Austin. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Executive Papers, 1876, June 20-September 1876, Box 48, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with the
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, sponsored four residential fellows for the 2016-2017 academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. Catherine Jones, associate professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, spent the fall semester researching and writing, Child Prisoners and the Limits of Citizenship in the New South.

On 22 September 1876, Governor James L. Kemper issued a conditional pardon to six inmates housed at the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond. He explained his action by noting that all but one was “under seventeen years of age.” Further, he characterized the boys’ actions—stealing and consuming food from a hotel dining room—as an “impulsive and frolicsome freak of boyhood.”  Kemper’s pardon and the appeals that prompted it, shed light on a tricky question— what did age mean to Virginians in the nineteenth century, particularly as it related to criminal responsibility?


Entry for James Gibson, John Lyle, Rufus Percival, James Allen, and David Austin, 11 May 1876, Prisoner Register No. 5, 1876-1884, page 59, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Subseries A. Registers, Miscellaneous Reel 5990, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, LIbrary of Virginia (part one).

The Virginians pardoned by the Governor—James Gibson, Charles Tosh, John Lyle, Rufus Percival, James Allen, and David Austin—were committed to the penitentiary on 11 May 1876. The Wythe County Court had sentenced the youths to five years in the penitentiary for burglary and theft of food valued at under $9. These six young prisoners became part of a penitentiary population that grew rapidly between the end of the … read more »

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- Mug Shot Monday: Michael Bertone, No. 18654 and No. 21579


Photograph of Michael Bertone, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Superintendent Rice M. Youell, Box 419, Folder 5, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Michael Bertone, the subject of this week’s post, was a member of a gang of yeggmen who robbed the Sussex and Surry Bank in Wakefield in 1921.


Virginian Pilot, 8 February 1921, page 15.

Early on Sunday, 6 February 1921, four men entered the Sussex and Surry Bank in Wakefield through a window. At about 2 AM, an explosion blew off the door to the vault. The bank robbers looted approximately $30,000 worth of Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps from the safety deposit boxes. They left by the back door and drove off in a stolen car. The vehicle, along with $1,800 of Liberty Bonds, was recovered in Petersburg the next day. The police had no witnesses or suspects.

The first break in the case occurred in July 1921. Harry Young, James Powers, alias “Hooligan Joe,” John Hall alias “Jingle Jerry,” and Mike Benton alias Michael Bertone, were arrested near Clarksburg, West Virginia. The four were charged with attempted train robbery. The thieves had removed the switch lights in an attempt to wreck the train and rob the express car. In November 1921, United States Post Office inspectors connected the four to the Wakefield Bank robbery. During their January 1922 term, the Sussex County grand jury … read more »

- The Old Ball and Chain

In the colonial period, married Virginians had very few legal grounds for divorce. Over the years, though, standards loosened up a bit, and eventually the old justifications of adultery and impotency were joined by reasons such as abandonment, cruelty, or being a fugitive from justice. In 1873, a new justification was added to the list: if either party was sentenced to confinement in the penitentiary. One of least common reasons for divorce, this kind of suit does pop up in chancery from time to time when the spouses of criminal Virginians took advantage of the law to get rid of the old ball-and-chain.

W. H. Bonaparte and Emma G. Lee were married in Hampton in 1888. In January 1889, W. H. was convicted of a felony for transporting a woman named Ruth Tennelle into Hampton for the purpose of concubinage and was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. Emma filed for divorce in February 1891 and her petition was granted one month later. (Elizabeth City County chancery cause 1891-007 Emma Bonaparte by etc vs. W. H. Bonaparte)

In 1898, Rosalie Mayo and Daniel N. Huffer were united in matrimony. In 1901 Rosalie filed for divorce while pregnant with her second child, stating that her husband had recently been sentenced to one year in the penitentiary for a terrible assault on their little … read more »

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