Law And Punishment

The Ducking Stool,
page 4 of 9

The cuck-stool was simply a strong chair in which an offender was fastened, thus to be hooted at or pelted at by the mob. Sometimes, when placed on a tumbrel, it was used for ducking.

At the time of the colonization of America the ducking-stool was at the height of its English reign; and apparently the amiability of the lower classes was equally at ebb. The colonists brought their tempers to the new land, and they brought their ducking-stools. Many minor and some great historians of this country have called the ducking-stool a Puritan punishment. I have never found in the hundreds of pages of court records that I have examined a single entry of an execution of ducking in any Puritan community; while in the “cavalier colonies,” so called, in Virginia and the Carolinas, and in Quaker Pennsylvania, many duckings took place, and in law survived as long as similar punishments in England.

In the Statute Books of Virginia from Dale’s time onward many laws may be found designed to silence idle tongues by ducking. One reads:

“Whereas oftentimes many brabling women often slander and scandalize their neighbours, for which their poore husbands are often brought into chargeable and vexatious suits and cast in great damages, be it enacted that all women found guilty be sentenced to ducking.”

Others dated 1662 are most explicit.

“The court in every county shall cause to be set up near a Court House a Pillory, a pair of Stocks, a Whipping Post and a Ducking-Stool in such place as they think convenient, which not being set up within six month after the date of this act the said Court shall be fined 5,000 lbs. of tobacco.

“In actions of slander caused by a man’s wife, after judgment past for damages, the woman shall be punished by Ducking, and if the slander be such as the damages shall be adjudged as above 500 lbs. of Tobacco, then the woman shall have ducking for every 500 lbs. of Tobacco adjudged against the husband if he refuse to pay the Tobacco.”

The fee of a sheriff or constable for ducking was twenty pounds of tobacco.


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