Historical Reprints Religion Christian Origins of America

Christian Origins of America

Christian Origins of America
Catalog # SKU3340
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Alice Morse Earle
ISBN 10: 1610336755
ISBN 13: 9781610336758


Christian Origins
of America

Curious Punishments
of Bygone Days

Alice Morse Earle

In ransacking old court records, newspapers, diaries and letters for the historic foundation of the books which I have written on colonial history, I have found and noted much of interest that has not been used or referred to in any of those books. An accumulation of notes on old-time laws, punishments and penalties has evoked this volume. The subject is not a pleasant one, though it often has a humorous element; but a punishment that is obsolete gains an interest and dignity from antiquity and its history becomes endurable because it has a past only and no future. That men were pilloried and women ducked by our law-abiding forbears rouses a thrill of hot indignation which dies down into a dull ember of curiosity when we reflect that they will never be pilloried or ducked again.

Large Print, 15 point font



There is no doubt that our far-away grandfathers, whether of English, French, Dutch, Scotch or Irish blood, were much more afraid of ridicule than they were even of sinning, and far more than we are of extreme derision or mockery to-day. This fear and sensitiveness they showed in many ways. They were vastly touchy and resentful about being called opprobrious or bantering names; often running petulantly to the court about it and seeking redress by prosecution of the offender. And they were forever bringing suits in petty slander and libel cases. Colonial court-rooms "bubbled over with scandal and gossip and spite."

A creature as obsolete as his name, a "makebayt," was ever-present in the community, ever whispering slander, ever exciting contention, and often also haled to court for punishment; while his opposite, a make-peace, was everywhere sadly needed. Far-seeing magistrates declared against the make-bait, as even guilty of stirring up barratry, or as Judge Sewall, the old Boston Puritan termed it, at least "gravaminous."

Equally with personal libel did all good citizens and all good Christians fiercely resent of word, not only of derision or satire, but even of dispassionate disapproval of either government or church. A tithe of the plain-speaking criticism cheerfully endured in politics to-day would have provoked a civil war two centuries ago; while freedom of judgment or expression in religious matters was ever sharply silenced and punished in New England.

That ultra-sensitiveness which made a lampoon, a jeer, a scoff, a taunt, an unbearable and inflaming offence, was of equal force when used against the men of the day in punishment for real crimes and offenses.

In many-indeed, in nearly all-of the penalties and punishments of past centuries, derision, scoffing, contemptuous publicity and personal obloquy were applied to the offender or criminal by means of demeaning, degrading and helpless exposure in grotesque, insulting and painful "engines of punishment," such as the stocks, bilboes, pillory, brank, ducking-stool or jougs. Thus confined and exposed to the free gibes and constant mocking of the whole community, the peculiar power of the punishment was accented. Kindred in their nature and in their force were the punishments of setting on the gallows and of branding; the latter, whether in permanent form by searing the flesh, or by mutilation; or temporarily, by labeling with written placards or affixed initials.

One of the earliest of these degrading engines of confinement for public exposure, to be used in punishment in this country, was the bilboes.

200 pages - 5½ x 8½ softcover
ISBN-10: 1610336755
ISBN-13: 9781610336758

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