Your great-grandparents really did lock their doors – or should have. . . .

As you read contemporary accounts of everyday life in Victorian-era New England, a few things gradually become clear.  1.  Burglary was quite common.  2.  Gun ownership was also quite common.  Sure, there’s a lot of truth that Victorian-era New Englanders spent considerable time riding through snow-covered landscapes on one-horse open sleighs while caroling.  (Think Currier & Ives lithographs).  While they were away in the sleighs, however, burglars eyed – and in some cases entered – their homes.  While today’s burglars target easy resellers like electronics and jewelry, burglars in the late 19th century were not nearly so selective.  Accounts of stolen furniture, livestock, and equestrian supplies are common.

C.E. Horne, who lived on the outskirts of Haverhill, Massachusetts, was a sensible homeowner.  Just days before the Fourth of July in 1897, he and his family left Dora Dow, a servant in his household to watch the house while they went out.  Soon after the family left, two men came to the door.

“We’ve come to take the furniture,” one told Dora, aged 15 years at the time.

Something about the men didn’t feel right and she wished that they would leave.  She told them.  They didn’t.

“Let’s get a rope and tie the little vixen.”  the man said and left the house to get a rope.

This, of course, was alarming to Dora.  The other man stayed behind and quickly learned that Dora was not to be easily subdued.

Her eyes searched the kitchen and found a bread knife, on the kitchen table, behind the man.

She waited for her moment.  When it came, she pushed him away, reached for the knife.  Seeing her holding the knife, the man tried to make a run for it.  And quickly felt a knife burrow deep into his back.

The man kept running, out of the kitchen, out of the house, and into the team (wagon) that his partner had slowed in front of the house.  The wounded man jumped into the team and the two vanished, never coming back for the furniture.

Dow, for her part, waited for her employer to come back.  And when he did, of course, she learned that no one was to come for the furniture.  C.E. Horne alerted the police and hopefully gave his servant a well-deserved raise.

Our Victorian-era predecessors may have have fewer tools than we have today to combat crime, but they were quick to use the resources at hand.  While the images preserved in Currier & Ives lithographs do provide a window into Victorian-era life as Victorians would like to present it, stories preserving the other, also true, elements of society must also be considered when creating a complete representation of Victorian era life.


  • “Stabbed Robber.”  The Lowell Sun.  2 July 1897: 1.

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