Human Disasters the Jukes Criminal Family Part 1

About a study by Richard Dugdale of the Jukes family, a group of misfits and criminals which led to Dugdale to draw a connection between evil and genes.



The Jukes were an extraordinarily depraved family who produced seven generations of identifiable rapists, horse thieves, disease-mongers, and all-around undesirables between the mid-18th century and the 1870s. They became the subjects of an extensive criminal-genealogical study by Richard L. Dugdale, who concluded that an immoral nature, just like red hair or a musical bent, could be passed on genetically from one generation to the next. For decades the study, entitled the Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity, was viewed as a masterpiece of genetic wisdom, an insightful examination of the sources of human evil, and evidence for the Lamarckian theory which stated that acquired traits were inheritable.

Today, Dugdale's supporters are not so legion; as many geneticists, criminologists, and researchers as not consider The Jukes the shoddy, intellectually dishonest work of a pretentious layman who fancied himself a scientific researcher but who was merely a functionary of the Prison Association of New York. The work is even regarded as somewhat libelous as well, despite Dugdale's considerate coinage of the alias "Jukes." In the words of Samuel Hopkins Adams, "Dugdale did not precisely invent them; rather, he compiled them from an assortment of human derelicts whom he collected after a method peculiarly his own, for the purpose of boosting the theory of criminal heredity."

Dugdale's inspiration for the project came one day in 1874 in Kingston, N.Y., as he sat in on the trial of a man charged with accepting stolen goods. Five relatives of the accused were also present and afterward, following up a hunch, Dugdale learned that they consisted of a burglar, two would-be murderers, and two prostitutes. Few of them had been proven as such in a court of law, but that made no difference to Dugdale, who extended his search to others of the primitive, backwoods clan and found that "out of 29 males, in ages ranging from 15 to 75, the immediate blood relations of these six persons [in the courtroom], 17 of them were criminals, or 58 percent; while 15 were convicted of some degree of offense, and received 71 years of sentence."

Dugdale was now satisfied that he had the beginnings of an investigation into the sources of evil in the human animal. With the blessing and sponsorship of the state Prison Association, he began riffling through arrest records in the courts of Orange County, N.Y., interviewing prisoners and prison wardens and the inmates of poorhouses and insane asylums.

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