Cruel Crimes and Painful Punishments

The Bilboes,
page 4 of 5

Women suffered this punishment as well as men. Francis Weston’s wife and others were set in the bilboes.

It is high noon in Boston in the year 1638. The hot June sun beats down on the little town, the narrow paths, the wharfs; and the sweet-fern and cedars on the common give forth a pungent dry hot scent that is wafted down to the square where stands the Governor’s house, the market, the church, the homes of the gentlefolk. A crowd is gathered there around some interesting object in the middle of the square; visitors from Newe-towne and Salem, Puritan women and children, tawny Indian braves in wampum and war-paint, gaily dressed sailors from two great ships lying at anchor in the bay — all staring and whispering, or jeering and biting the thumb. They are gathered around a Puritan soldier, garbed in trappings of military bravery, yet in but sorry plight. For it is training day in the Bay colony, and in spite of the long prayer with which the day’s review began, or perhaps before that pious opening prayer, Serjeant John Evins has drunken too freely of old Sack or Alicant, and the hot sun and the sweet wine have sent him reeling from the ranks in disgrace. There he sits, sweltering in his great coat “basted with cotton-wool and thus made defensive ag’t Indian arrowes;” weighed down with his tin armor, a heavy corselet covering his body, a stiff gorget guarding his throat, clumsy tasses protecting his thighs, all these “neatly varnished black,” and costing twenty-four shillings apiece of the town’s money. Over his shoulder hangs another weight, his bandelier, a strong “neat’s leather” belt, carrying twelve boxes of solid cartridges and a well-filled bullet-bag; and over all and heavier than all hangs from his neck — as of lead — the great letter D. Still from his wrist dangles his wooden gun-rest, but his “bastard musket with a snaphance” lies with his pike degraded in the dust.

The serjeant does not move at the jeers of the sailors, nor turn away from the wondering stare of the savages — he cannot move, he cannot turn away, for his legs are firmly set in the strong iron bilboes which John Winthrop sternly brought from England to the new land. Poor John Evins!


:: Previous Page :: Next Page ::

Books & articles appearing here are modified adaptations
from a private collection of vintage books & magazines.
Reproduction of these pages is prohibited without written permission. © Laurel O'Donnell, 1996-2006.