Colonial Crime and Punishment

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CRIME and PUNISHMENT Behind most of the systems of justice in early civilizations lay the concept of vengeance, making the miscreant pay for his crime. Deterrence—providing a good reason to stay out of trouble. Colonial practice took the matter a step further, making use of shame and shaming. Punishments were almost always public, for the aim was to humiliate the trouble-maker and teach him a lesson so that he would change his ways.


The STOCKS Wooden framework that had holes in it which the troublemaker's ankles were locked while setting down.


BILBOES Long heavy bars of iron with sliding shackles and padlocks that held many a colonial culprit by the heels.


The DUCKING STOOL Aseat set at the end of two beams twelve or fifteen feet long that could be swung out from the bank of a pond or river. This punishment was especially assigned to scolds—usually women. Also for slanderers, "makebayts,” (malicious slanderers), brawlers, "chyderers,” as well as brewers of bad beer, bakers of bad bread, and unruly paupers.

The BRANK : 

The BRANK For slanderers, nags, and gossips. Sometimes called the "gossip's bridle” this was a sort of heavy iron cage, that covered the head; a flat tongue of iron, sometimes spiked, was thrust into the mouth over the criminal's tongue.

The Pillory : 

The Pillory The pillory, or "stretch-neck.” An upright board, hinged or divided in half with a hole in which the head was set fast, it usually also had two openings for the hands. Often the ears of the subject were nailed to the wood on either side of the head hole

Slide 7: 

In 1648 in Maryland, John Goneere, convicted of perjury, was "nayled by both eares to the pillory 3 nailes in each eare and the nailes to be slitt out, and whipped 20 good lashes.” The pillory was used for treason, sedition, arson, blasphemy, witchcraft, perjury, wife beating, cheating, forgery, coin clipping, slandering, fortune-telling, and drunkenness. One man was set in the pillory for delivering false dinner invitations; another for being the author of a rough practical joke; another for selling a harmful fake medicine. All beggars, bums, and shiftless persons were in danger of being pilloried. On several occasions, onlookers pelted the pilloried prisoner so enthusiastically with heavy objects that death resulted.


BRANDING Burglary was punished in all the colonies by branding with a capital B in the right hand for the first offense, in the left hand for the second. In Maryland, every county was ordered to have branding irons, with the lettering specifically prescribed: SL stood for seditious libel and could be burned on either cheek. M stood for manslaughter, T for thief, R for rogue or vagabond, F for forgery.

The Gallows : 

The Gallows

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Slide 11: Cost of Living

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