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Punished in Colonial America

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  • Mary Jones (c.1682 - 1714)
    Mary Ransford was born in England about 1682 and was living in July 1714 on Block Island, Rhode Island. She emigrated as a Redemptionist to New London, Connecticut. notes From Miner Descent John ...
  • John Rogers, of New London (1648 - 1721)
    John Rogers (son of James Rogers, a wealthy merchant, and Elizabeth Rowland) was born 1 December 1648 in Milford, New Haven County in the Connecticut Colony, and died 17 October 1721 in New London, New...
  • Stephen Hopkins, "Mayflower" Passenger (c.1581 - 1644)
    From Mayflower History - Stephen Hopkins 1. Stephen Hopkins was christened in Apr 1581 in Upper Clatford, Hampshire, England. He died on 6 Jun 1644 in Plymouth, MA. Stephen married (1) Mary in 1604...
  • George Garland (c.1623 - 1676)
    notes From "Ancestors of John Burton Kaherl" FTM CD 523 Genealogical Dictionary, Maine & New Hampshire, Noyes, Libby, Davis, 1979, pg 482: 2. GEORGE [Garland], tenant at Nonesuch under Jordan, ...
  • Sarah Garland (deceased)
    notes From "At the Magistrate's Discretion: Sexual Crime and New England Law, 1636-1718." by Abby Chandler, Page 68: The York County Court of Associates charged Garland on July 18, 1668 for inconti...

I've been running across ancestors who were publicly "punished" in Colonial America, have you? Here's a project to remember what they endured.

In Colonial America the court structure was quite different from Great Britain. The colonial system was a hierarchy of overlapping courts and common law was the law of the land. The common law was greatly influenced by moral law because it was based on moral law which was derived from the Bible.

Crime in Colonial America was similar to the criminal acts prevalent in our society today. There were murders, thefts and disturbance of peace. However, certain crimes were taken very seriously in Colonial America which are not considered so in our society today. For instance, hog theft, slander and public drunkenness ...

In most colonies it was against the law to swear, not to attend church services, to display unacceptable behavior between members of the opposite gender, and to behave inappropriately on Sabbath. Blasphemy was dealt with severely and treason was considered a serious crime as the King wanted to keep tight control over the colonies.

The people of a particular town appointed law officials and carried out criminal punishment. Although the colonists considered themselves to be morally upright and religious, Colonial America had crimes and some of the common punishments that were meted out were as follows:

Ducking Stool -- This was a chair onto which criminals were tied and then ducked into water as punishment for their crimes.

Whipping Post -- The criminals were tied and then whipped in front of the entire town.

Stocks -- This referred to a wooden frame with foot holes into which the ankles were locked while the criminal was sitting down.

Pillory -- This was also a wooden frame which had holes for the head and hands. The criminals were made to stand while his head and hands were inserted into the framework. It was quite common to through rocks and rotten fruits at the criminal making the already uncomfortable punishment even worse.

It was seen that people belonging to higher social strata were punished less severely than a person belonging to a lower strata even if the crime was the same. This also held true for women, who were whipped or publicly shamed for a crime while a man would get away with a fine for the same crime. Slaves were convicted at courts and were handed out physical punishment.