Crime and Punishment in England

The Ducking Stool,
page 5 of 9

The American Historical Record, Vol. I, gives a letter said to have been written to Governor Endicott, of Massachusetts, in 1634, by one Thomas Hartley, from Hungars Parish, Virginia. It gives a graphic description of a ducking-stool, and an account of a ducking in Virginia. I quote from it:

“The day afore yesterday at two of ye clock in ye afternoon I saw this punishment given to one Betsey wife of John Tucker who by ye violence of her tongue has made his house and ye neighborhood uncomfortable. She was taken to ye pond near where I am sojourning by ye officer who was joined by ye Magistrate and ye Minister Mr. Cotton who had frequently admonished her and a large number of People. They had a machine for ye purpose yt belongs to ye Parish, and which I was so told had been so used three times this Summer. It is a platform with 4 small rollers or wheels and two upright posts between which works a Lever by a Rope fastened to its shorter or heavier end. At ye end of ye longer arm is fixed a stool upon which sd Betsey was fastened by cords, her gown tied fast around her feete. The Machine was then moved up to ye edge of ye pond, ye Rope was slackened by ye officer and ye woman was allowed to go down under ye water for ye space of half a minute. Betsey had a stout stomach, and would not yield until she had allowed herself to be ducked 5 several times. At length she cried piteously, Let me go Let me go, by God’s help I’ll sin no more. Then they drew back ye Machine, untied ye Ropes and let her walk home in her wetted clothes a hopefully penitent woman.”

Bishop Meade, in his Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, tells of a “scolding quean” who was ordered to be ducked three times from the yard arm of a vessel lying in James Rver. A woman in Northampton County, Virginia, suffered a peculiarly degrading punishment for slander. In the lack of a ducking-stool she was “drawen ouer the Kings Creeke at the starve of a boate or Canoux, also the next Saboth day in the time of diuine seruise” was obliged to present herself before the minister and congregation, and acknowledge her fault and beg forgiveness.


:: 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.