This article argues that in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England, changes in the perceived value of children, both materially and emotionally, put them in a new position of possible danger. The valorization of childhood brought new risks to children. Children were thought to be vulnerable to child abduction, or “child stealing,” as contemporaries termed it. Between 1790 and 1849, 108 cases of child abduction were tried at the Old Bailey and then recorded in its Proceedings or heard before magistrates in London's police courts and at county sessions courts and subsequently reported in newspapers. These cases, along with fictional accounts of child abduction, give insights into what were considered the most common motives for this crime. While some child abductors were motivated by poverty and saw children's clothes as economic assets that could be sold, others were driven by a desire to assume a mother role and represented stolen children as their own. Popular interest in abduction stories was sustained while contemporaries shared common fears about the loss of children and the limitations of adults to protect children from harm.
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