The 19th-Century Woman Journalist Who Made Congress Bow Down in Fear

Roundup
tags: Congress, Anne Royall, The Trials of a Scold



In 1829, more than a century after Grace Sherwood had been plunged into the Lynnhaven River in Virginia in what is generally considered the last American witch trial, a bedraggled Anne Royall took the stand at the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia to face charges of being an “evil disposed person” and a “common scold.”

The U.S. district attorney had conjured the charges from an ancient English common law, which had long been dismissed in England as a “sport for the mob in ducking women,” especially for older women as a precursor in trials for witchcraft.

The 60-year-old Royall grinned in the seat of the accused for her unabashed acts of free speech and free press. According to the court’s research, England had curtailed the conviction of “common scolds” in the late 1770s at the same time it ceased hanging women and gypsies as witches.

Not so in our nation’s capital. For the throng of reporters that crowded the suffocating courthouse that summer, the United States v. Anne Royall—and the “vituperative powers of this giantess of literature,” according to the New York Observer—would become one of the most bizarre trials in Washington, D.C., history.

Anne Royall was an American original, a stranger to fear who defied 19th century skeptics as a prolific literary force, satirist and social critic. ...




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