The Edmond Higgins papers provide a first-hand glimpse into the mind of a northern New Englander imprisoned for raping his daughter during the late antebellum period. The collection is among few assemblages of letters written by a convicted rapist in the antebellum period, discussing his case and efforts to obtain a pardon. The letters, most written by Higgins to his friend and counsel, John Reed, are filled with the worries of a prisoner who feels wrongly accused of raping his own daughter, wrongly convicted, and wrongly imprisoned. His letters give a strong sense of Higgins' attitudes toward his accusers and what he believed was a conspiracy to have him locked away.
The support Higgins received from his wife paired with the dire animosity of his children give some clues into family life among the Higginses, and Higgins' own feelings toward his family can be read through silences in the letters and occasional admissions of drunkenness and disorderliness. At one point, he commented revealingly about life among the boys of Oxford County: "The fact is there is no such things as Boys in Denmark for they Step directly out of the diaper & flannels into high hieled Boots & frock Coat and Chainge the nipple for the Cigar, the next step is to get an old watch with some Brass seals & the next indispencible Requisit is a wife and here the Curtin falls..." (1853 September 4).
Most revealing is the letter that Higgins wrote to his daughter -- and accuser -- Ruby Jane, shortly after his arrest. His wheedling assurance that he believes in his daughter's good name and good nature, and his claims to being concerned for her welfare are belied elsewhere in the collection by his admission that she was already a "very bad girl" when she met her "saducer." Edmond's reaction to his predicament, a mixture of remorse, embarrassment, anger, and denial, and his elaborate insistence that a conspiracy had been waged to frame him also provide potent commentary, if only through the silences, about his attitudes. His guilt, however, is hard to ascertain. Higgins freely admitted to drunken and violent behavior and to unspecified crimes, but there appears to have been evidence to suggest that Ruby Jane was sexually involved with Taber and that she may have come to a financial arrangement with him, possibly in exchange for her testimony. With only one side of the story present, Higgins' case is impossible to judge.
The Higgins papers contain sparse details of prison life, though there are significant, brief comments regarding the scourge of illness among the inmates, the hard labor regimen, and the role of wardens in bolstering (or undermining) the spirits of the prisoners. The collection does include some excellent examples of artisanal-class and prison slang, however. Writing from prison about his health, he concluded,
If any Enquire after me up there please tell them that I am well if not Better, tell them I have a Constation like a trip hammer, an apetite like a threshing machine, and can go ahead like a locomotive, and that I Expect soon to change my Boarding house and Reside down on the pick of the Cape, where girls grow Spontaineous and live on Oyster Soop. I have Bought me a pair of india rubber wings and a flying night dress, & a pocket spy glass, and I sleep altogether Best with Boath Eyes open" (1864 August 14).