Punishment and Modern Society

The Bilboes,
page 3 of 5

In the very oldest court records, which are still preserved, of the settlement of Boston—the Bay colony—appear the frequent sentences of offenders to be placed in the bilboes. The earliest entry is in the authorized record of the Court held at Boston on the 7th of August, 1632. It reads thus: “Jams Woodward shall be sett in the bilbowes for being drunk at the Newetowne.” “Newe-towne” was the old name of Cambridge. Soon another colonist felt the bilboes for “selling peeces and powder and shott to the Indians,” ever a bitterly-abhorred and fiercely-punished crime. And another, the same year, for threatening — were he punished he would carry the case to England, was summarily and fearlessly thrust into the bilboes.

Then troublesome Thomas Dexter, with his ever-ready tongue, was hauled up and tried on March 4, 1633. Here is his sentence:

“Thomas Dexter shal be sett in the bilbowes, disfranchized, and fyned £15 for speking rpchfull and seditious words agt the government here established.” He also suffered in the bilboes for cursing, for “prophane saying dam ye come.” Thomas Morton of Mare-Mount, that amusing old debauchee and roysterer, was sentenced to be “clapt into the bilbowes.” And he says “the harmeles salvages” stared at him in wonder “like poore silly lambes” as he endured his punishment, and doubtless some of “the Indesses, gay lasses in beaver coats” who had danced with him around his merry Maypole and had partaken of his cask of “claret sparkling neat” sympathized with him and cheered him in his indignity.

The next year another Newe-towne man, being penitent, Henry Bright, was set in the bilboes for “swearynge.” Another had “sleited the magistrates in speaches.” In 1635, on April 7, Griffin Montagne “shal be sett in ye bilbowes for stealing boards and clapboards and enjoyned to move his habitacon.” Within a year we find offenders being punished in two places for the same offence, thus degrading them far and wide; and when in Salem they were “sett in the stockes,” we find always in Boston that the bilboes claimed its own.


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