Human Disasters the Jukes Criminal Family Part 2

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.



Here's what he found: in the mid-1700s, a raunchy old Dutch tavernkeeper whom Dugdale called "Max," known for his gambling talents and passion for strong drink, fathered two sons who grew up to marry two illegitimately born sisters, both of them reputed harlots. One of these Dugdale dubbed "Margaret, mother of criminals," and indicted her as "the progenitor of the distinctly criminal line of the family." On the trail of Margaret's scandalously inbred progeny, Dugdale located 540 "blood relatives" and an additional 169 related by marriage or cohabitation. Of the total, 140 were criminals and miscreants of various stripes, nearly 300 were wards of the state, and the remainder were a generally debased, diseased, and unpleasant lot. Totaling up the costs of imprisonment, public assistance, and so forth, the investigator figured the clan had cost the public some $1,308,000.

Readers of the Dugdale study can gain a true sense of the scope and depth of the Jukes' depravity by scanning the several genealogical tables therein included, all filled with descriptions of the sundry nameless wretches who traced their ancestry back to Margaret. One is memorialized with these words: "Constitutional syphilis; harlot; at 25 had bastard boy by her cousin; then married another cousin; got divorced from him because he was impotent; cohabited afterward...." Another woman, at age 41, receives this entry: "Insane tendency; husband beat her;... first husband killed morning after marriage; at 36 melancholical, 41, suicide...."

Precise information and specific legal indictments for many of the Jukes whom Dugdale claimed to have traced were simply not available, but, as Ashley Montagu has pointed out, this made little difference: "The difficulty with untrained investigators ... is that when they become enamored of a theory, they tend to become insensible to the facts that are in opposition to it." Dugdale, it appears, cobbled up a strong case against the Jukes out of the flimsiest of evidence and some rather lame accusations. Indeed, the mammoth, almost imponderably wicked nature of the family deflates like a punctured football bladder when we see that Dugdale has included among the 540 social undesirables "a reputed sheep-stealer," "a petty thief but never convicted," a man "supposed to have attempted rape," an "unpunished and cautious thief," and one slippery fellow about whom it was "impossible to get any reliable information, but it is evident that at nineteen he was a leader in crime." (Italics ours.)

It was not until after Dugdale's death that anyone dared question his premise, findings, or research methods. Prison reformer Thomas Mott Osborne was among the first. Anyone with the intelligence of a gnat, he said, will recognize the impossibility of pinpointing the family lines of the illegitimately born. Moreover, reliable records--nay, any records at all--on the incidence of venereal disease, tuberculosis, insanity, and bastardy among an 18th-and-19th-century inbred backwoods family were largely nonexistent. Osborne was convinced that Dugdale's work was guided by twin hypotheses: every criminal he came upon was probably a Jukes; every Jukes he found was probably a criminal.

Other anti-Dugdale broadsides were published in the first decades of the 20th century. But the pro-Dugdale Arthur H. Estabrook reopened the case in 1916 and found that the Jukes had continued to spawn felons and reprobates since Dugdale had left them. The fact that many patently "good" Jukes had also been born did not undermine the theory of hereditary immorality, Estabrook averred, for the Jukes had just recently taken to marrying outside their breed, often with more decent, respectable persons who contributed "good" genes to the union. Today Estabrook is given as little credence as is Dugdale.

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