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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

New York City Criminal Courts: Historical Research: Criminal Trial Pamphlets

Links and information on historical research on documents produced by NYC, NY State and Federal court proceedings in NYC.

Published Trial accounts in the John Jay Collections

In addition to our Criminal Trial Transcripts Collection, the Special Collections actively collects published accounts of Criminal Trials, particularly those occuring in NYC and NY State. These are not transcripts nor official accounts of trials -although up to the mid 19th century they could be cited as legal doctrine- but rather popular accounts of trials printed to sell to a public who wanted to read graphic 'true crime' accounts of crimes, trials and executions.  Most of them recount murder cases, but any case that was shocking, wierd, famous, gastly or otherwise sale-able could be published and sold as a pamphlet or broadside. Often these accounts were first sold as 'penny papers' recounting the court proceedings from the previous day; we now call such single sheet printed items broadsides.

Mainly published in the formats of short pamphlets, broadsides, and/or books, these accounts of the proceedings of a trial, feature lurid details and illustrations on the enactement of the crime, accounts of the testimony of the defendant and witnesses and statements by lawyers and judges and general proceedings of the trial. They can also feature the detailed accounts public hangings, and last words and confessions of the convicted. 

We hold over one hundred examples of this sort of literature, which was often sold quite cheaply outside the courts or locations of public execution by court stenographers, journalists or their representatives. All of these can be found in OneSearch with the defendant mentioned both in the author and title field. While some are available in our stacks as reprints, most of these pamphlets, broadsides and books are available by appointment in our special collections room. To find titles in our Special Collections Room try searching OneSearch for books, subject word 'trial', currently on shelf, sort by date, oldest first.

Currently our earliest trial pamphlet is An alarme for sinners : containing the confession, prayers, letters, and last words of Robert Foulkes, late minister of Stanton-Lacy in the county of Salop, who was tryed, convicted, and sentenced at the Sessions in the Old Bayly, London, January 16th 1678/9 and executed the 31st following : with an account of his life. (London, 1679). The bulk of our trial pamphlet collection dates to the 19th century.

To find collections outside of John Jay, including digitally available examples, search WorldCat. In NYC, the N-YHS and NYPL have particularly large collections of pamphlets, most of which can be found in WorldCat .

See also the Regional Murder Series, with volumes organized by state or city featuring chapters on well known murders in the 19th and first half of the 20th century published by Duell, Slaon and Pearce from 1944 - 1949. John Jay has many but not all of these - try searching "Regional Murder Series" in OneSearch.

Digitially available Criminal Trial Pamphlets

A selection of digitally available trial pamphlets in other collections:

Narrative of Edward McGowan, including a full account of the author's adventures and perils while persecuted by the San Francisco vigilance committee of 1856, together with a report of his trial, which resulted in his acquittal ... (1857) Digitally available from the Library of Congress


Links to Digital Collections of Trial Pamphlets and Publications

The Lloyd Sealy Library has digitized The Baldwinsville homicide; verbatim report of the trial of Owen Lindsay, for the murder of Francis A. Colvin, containing the testimony in full; opening and closing speeches of counsel; charge to the jury, &c. Printed from the minutes of the official reporters. (1875, Syracuse) trial pamphlet as part of our digitization of our unique titles on Criminal Justice in New York with the Internet Archive.

Cornell University - Trial Pamphlets Collection  Contemporary accounts of trials from the 1600s to 1800s

NY State Historical Association online exhibition Was He a Man or a Monster?  Merchandising Murder in the Nineteenth Century

Most Horrible and Shocking Murders. "True Crime" Murder pamphlets in the collections of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Harvard Law School's Crime Broadsides Online Project

The Proceedings of London's Old Bailey Online

Slaves and the Courts 1740-1860 contains just over a hundred pamphlets and books (published between 1772 and 1889) concerning the difficult and troubling experiences of African and African-American slaves in the American colonies and the United States at the Library of Congress

Executions in the U.S. 1608 - 2002 "The ESPY File" The "Espy File" is a database of executions in the United States and the earlier colonies from 1608 to 2002. This list of 15,269 executions was compiled by M. Watt Espy and John Ortiz Smykla, and was made available through the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research.

Databases with full text Trial Pamphlets:
Check the following databases and online resources for the trial pamphlet you are looking for:

The Internet Archive offers open and free access to books, contributed mainly from American and Canadian libraries. 

HathiTrust is a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future.

Digitized books from the Rare Book Division at the Library of Congress (Washington, DC) including a link the American Memory Project

Project Gutenberg was the first producer of free electronic books (ebooks).

Early English Books Online (JOHN JAY USE ONLY) EEBO contains page images of nearly every work published in English since the beginning of printing through the 18th century

Many of the above databases can be searched together by restricting to online resource in when searching for titles and subjects in WorldCat (CUNY USE ONLY)
If you are looking for an account of a crime or trial, don't forget to check Historical Newspaper Sources

Publications about Criminal Trial Transcripts

McDade, Thomas M. (1961)  The annals of murder; a bibliography of books and pamphlets on American murders from colonial times to 1900. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press [1961]  Reference Law - KF221.M8 M3

see also: Behrens, Jennifer L., Beyond 'The Annals of Murder': The Life and Works of Thomas M. McDade (December 7, 2017). Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2018-16. Available at SSRN: or

see also: Smith, Patterson  (1996) "Thomas McDade and the Annals of Murder." AB Bookmans' Weekly, April 22, 1996.

Murder by Gaslight. Murder Pamphlets blog entry.
Ronald A Bosco (1978) Early American Gallows Literature: An Annotated Checklist  Resources for American Literary Study  8 (1): 81–107.
Information on the Crimes of Passion exhibit at the Library of the NYC Bar Association
Additional bibliography on this type of literature has been collected by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

There are also many articles to be found by searching "Murder Pamphlets" on JSTOR, Academic Search Complete  (CUNY use only) and Historical Abstracts (John Jay use only).