Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Wed Sep 23 20:32:53 UTC 2009

The earliest law in Massachusetts against "nightwalking" that I've
found is from 1652, an addition to an act governing the
watch.  Records of the Governor and Company, vol. 3 (I believe!), page 282:

The constables are ordered to direct their watches that "they duely
examine all nightwalkers after ten of the clocke in the night, unles
they be knowne to be peaceable inhabitants, to inquire whither they
are goeinge,& what theire busines is; & in case of not giving
rationall satisfaction to the watchmen or constable, then the
constable forthwith to secure them till the morninge, & then the
constable to carry such person or persons before the next magistrate
or commissionere, or three men, who shall in this case have power, as
the commissionors have, to give satisfaction for theire being abroade
at that tyme of night; & if the said watchmen shall find any
inhabitant or straunger after ten of the clocke at night behaveing
themselves in any way *deboyst, or that giveth not a reasonable
ground to the cunstable or watchmen, or shalbe in drinke, to secure
them by committment, or otherwise, till the law be
satisfyed."  [Abbreviations expanded and u -> v.]

[* "deboyst" from "deboise, v." = "2. trans. To corrupt morally; to
deprave by sensuality; = DEBAUCH v."]

Under the second charter, in 1700 a similar law was enacted; it says
about behavior, giving up on "deboise"  (Acts and Resolves, vol. 1, page 382):

"... or are persons of ill behavior or justly suspected to have any
unlawful intention or design".

  In Boston -- In some court cases, when breaking and entering could
not be proved the defendant was convicted of nightwalking instead
(e.g., a case in 1673).  In a 1679 case, the charge was being abroad
at unreasonable hours at night and drinking at a house after nine
o"clock.  In another case, two men were outdoors in the company of
two women at night; they were convicted for refusing to identify the
women.  (One can speculate what the four were doing, but there is
nothing in the court record.)


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