The Obscenity Trial of Samuel K Head - 1858

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Founded in 1846, the Boston Herald was the result of the collaboration of a group of Boston printers joined under the name of John A. French & Co. They published a single sheet, two-sided paper and sold it for 1 penny per copy. Its first editor, William O. Eaton, then only 22 years old, said, “The Herald will be independent in politics and religion; liberal, industrious, enterprising, critically concerned with literacy and dramatic matters, and diligent in its mission to report and analyze the news, local and global.”

Boston Herald Masthead 1848 with S K Head as Publisher

The Boston Herald of Friday, June 30, 1848, Page 2 , published an editorial about an ordinance that was passed by city government making it illegal for newsboys to vend newspapers in the street, claiming the ban was levelled at the Boston Herald, which apparently become obnoxious to a Mr. Charles Smith. Newsboys were arrested, and the article states that Mr. Samuel K Head, proprietor of the paper, "the man whom the True Rum Organ, the Lard Oil Pot and the saints delight to revile", stepped forward to help one of the newsboys.

On Saturday, September 28, 1850, Page 2, the Herald listed the notables present at Jenny Lind's concert the night before, and in the list is Samuel K Head, Esquire.

On 29 April 1853, Samuel was assaulted by three men near his residence in Cambridge.[1]

By 1854, Samuel was no longer the proprietor of the Herald. On Tuesday, January 10, 1854, Page 2 , the Herald printed an article about a Trial for Larceny. Samuel K. Head, proprietor of the 'Life in Boston' stated a former employee had made off with a list of names and locations.

On Saturday, November 11, 1854, Page 4 the Herald reports that the "Mail" has passed into the hand of Samuel K. Head. In rebuttal to an unflattering article, the Herald stated that "Mr. Head has tact, industry and experience, and will doubtless make an interesting and entertaining paper.

Samuel K Head, Publisher of the Daily Mail, was knocked down, kicked and beaten by James Vanderbeck, a doorkeeper for the Circus. The injuries inflicted were very severe, and the attack is supposed to have been prompted by a newspaper paragraph concerning the assailant.[2]

In the Herald Court Reports for Tuesday, July 10, 1855, Page 4, Samuel K. Head and Wm. Symmes were arraigned and pled not guilty to assaulting Sheriff Baker.

Boston Daily Bee; Wednesday, December 2, 1857:[3]

The Life in Boston. - Mr. Samuel K. Head, the reputed proprietor of the Life in Boston, was today complained of in the Police Court, before Judge Cushing, in two indictments issued by Deputy Chief Ham, which are as follows:
The first count sets forth that Samuel K Head did, on the 29th day of August, willfully, corruptibly, and extorsively threaten to accuse one William Mack of the crime of adultery, with intent thereby to extort money from said Mack, to the great damage, injury and apprehension of the said Mack.
The second count sets forth that he attempted, on the 23d of July last, to extort money from Mr. Abijah Jenkins, by threatening to accuse him of the crime of larceny.
He appeared in Court, and waiving an examination, was held for trial in the Muncipal Court.

Two years later, on Tuesday, December 22, 1857, Page 2, Samuel K Head was arraigned for "publishing, printing and selling an obscene paper, entitled the 'Life in Boston and New York' on the 22d of May last." He said he wasn't guilty, and his bail was $2,000.00.

The obscenity trial began on Thursday January 21, 1858. The Herald published many articles detailing the trial. The first article was Friday, January 22, 1858, Page 2. The indictment contains twelve separate counts, all of which Samuel pled not guilty to. His lawyer, Mr. Green, then admitted that the "Life in Boston" was a vulgar paper, read by vulgar people, and although it contained many grounds for personal libel suits against the publisher, its contents could not be construed into obscenity. The District Attorney's argument was that it "was a notorious sheet, dealing in libels, slander and obscenities of all kinds, and that is had been a moral curse to the city, frequently complained of by respectable citizens whose families and firesides have suffered by its gross and malicious falsehoods." The article continued on Page 4, and one witness, John D. Baldwin, stated he leased the premises at 29 School Street, Boston, to Mrs. Head. Another witness, Wm. H Allen, asked about Mrs. Head's involvement in the business, stated he visited Samuel in his residence in Lynn. He saw a lady at the house, and Samuel called her Mrs. Head, and they lived together as man and wife. Mr. Allen also said he thought her name was Mary. And Mr. Baldwin added, I called on their house in Westboro, where Mrs. Head resided, that Mrs. Head is now a woman of 45, light brown hair and medium build. She has always been described as the wife of Samuel K Head. Another witness stated he had always heard them called man and wife, and Mrs. Head testified in a case as the wife of Mr. Head, and he had heard Samuel speak of his wife in connection with keeping a hotel at the beach in Lynn.

The Saturday, January 23, 1858, Page 2 article in the Herald reported the defense opened by stating Mr. Head was not the proprietor of the paper at the time it was indicted. Then witnesses were called, and one, A.D. Hotchkiss, mentioned Mrs. Head, who was involved in renting one of the stores to Mr. Hotchkiss, providing him with the keys.

Monday, January 25, 1858, Page 4, the jury could not agree - seven for conviction and five for acquittal. This was also reported in the New England Farmer Page 3 on Saturday, 30 January 1858.


Thanks to Dr. Elizabeth Haven Hawley (@ehh_ptr), chair of the Special and Area Studies Collections Department at the George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, for her generous contributions to the details of Samuel's trial.

Samuel led a checkered life. Thanks to John Buescher, more facts have come to light.

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