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Punished in Colonial America

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  • Mary Putnam (1653 - d.)
    Mary Read, baptized 10 April 1653 as the daughter of Thomas Read. She was the 14-year-old daughter mentioned in her father's probate records. On 20 November 1693, she married John Tompkins. He was th...
  • John "The Welshman" Hewes (c.1608 - 1671)
    Lieut. John Hewes “The Welshman” Birth: 1608, of Wales Death bet 6 Feb 1671 (will), 22 Feb 1674 (probate) Scituate, Bristol, MA Occupation: planter Parents: unknown Wife: Joan...
  • Joan Hewes (c.1612 - 1674)
    John Hewes married Joan _____ in late 1632 or early 1633 On 1 April 1633 the Plymouth court ordered "John Hews & Jone his wife adjudged to sit in the stocks because the said Jone conceived with child...
  • Francis Weston (c.1583 - 1645)
    Francis Weston was an early leader of the colony that came to America with the Winthrop fleet. He was a deputy of the court, and owned 125 acres of land "in the direction of West Peabody." Weston's rel...
  • John Pease, of Great Baddow & Martha's Vineyard (1608 - 1677)
    The ship in which John Pease came was bound to Port Penn, in the Delaware, with 140 persons on board; it was in the fall of the year, and they were short of provisions, and sickness prevailed. Owing to...

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.