[Slander and Libel: 1793 Maryland Legal Document accusing Jacob Guyer of Falsely Proclaiming Plaintiffs Philip and Mary Willyard as Thieves by the Public Singing of an “Infamous Ballad”].


Of slander and libel, a 1793 Legal document in which attorney, John G. Hamilton, accuses one Jacob Guyer of libel, of publicly accusing his clients, plaintiffs Philip and Mary Willyard of Frederick County, Maryland, of being sheep thieves. Hamilton says that Guyer publicly sang or otherwise used the lyrics of an “Infamous Ballad” as a coded message to attack his clients, “Good and Honest Citizens.” In part:

[Guyer did] maliciously falsely and wickedly write publish and sing or write publish or sing a slanderous and Infamous Ballad in the presents of a large number of Citizens of this County an Elliquent Knew Song from the dum Corner to the tune of the Roving piper John. ... [He] did cause to be sung said spoken utterances published and pronounced the said false scandalous malicious and libellous song…[in the] manner following: The moon is full and going down and Polly will you take the rounds – meaning that the said Mary [Willyard] after moon down went out in the night time to be gilty of some evil and unlawless act…and one other line of this most Infamous Ballad these words, Adam Smolers offered half a crown all for to tel him about his sheep…said Polly mutton is sweet – meaning that the said Mary had stolen Smolers sheep and eaten them…

For the “Great Scandal, Infamy and Disgrace” suffered by his clients, Hamilton sought £100. It is unknown if Guyer’s ballad survives, in either newspaper or broadside form, but Hamilton’s transcription and interpretation of the lyrics are novel and remarkable.

A very curious Federal-era American legal document concerning sung slander and “libellous song.”


Description: [Slander and Libel: 1793 Maryland Legal Document accusing Jacob Guyer of Falsely Proclaiming Plaintiffs Philip and Mary Willyard as Thieves by the Public Singing of an “Infamous Ballad”].

[Frederick County, Maryland, 1793]. [2½] pages. Document Signed. Bifolium. 12 x 7¼ inches. Contemporary docketing. Expert tissue mends and strengthening at folds; scattered toning and foxing; Very Good.

[3729720]

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