Women, Crime And Punishment In Ancient Law And Society

The Ducking Stool,
page 8 of 9

“City of Philadelphia. We the grand Inquest for our Lord the King upon respective oaths and affirmations Do present that Mary wife of John Austin late of Philadelphia, Cordwainer, the twenty-ninth day of September and divers other days and times as well before as after in the High City Ward in the City afforsd within the Jurisdiction of this Court was and yet is a Common Scold, And the Peace of our Lord the King a common and publick Disturber, And Strife and Debate among her neighbours a Comon Sower and Mover, To the Great Disburbance of the Leige Subjects of our sd Lord the King Inhabiting the City afforsd, And to the Evill Example of other Such Cases & Delinquents And also agt the Peace of our Lord the King his Crown and Dignity.”

As late as 1824 a Philadelphia scold was sentenced by this same Court of Sessions to be ducked; but the punishment was not inflicted, as it was deemed obsolete and contrary to the spirit of the time.

In 1777 a ducking-school was ordered at the confluence of the Ohio and Monongahela rivers and doubtless it was erected and used.

In the year 1811, at the Supreme Court at Milledgeville, Georgia, one “Miss Palmer,” who, the account says, “seems to have been rather glib on the tongue,” was indicted, tried, convicted and punished for scolding, by being publicly ducked in the Oconee River. The editor adds: “Numerous spectators attended the execution of the sentence.” Eight years later the Grand Jury of Burke County, of the same state, presented Mary Cammell as a “common scold and disturber of the peacable inhabitants of the County.” The Augusta Chronicle says this of the indictment:

“We do not know the penalty, or if there be any, attached to the offense of scolding; but for the information of our Burke neighbours we would inform them that the late lamented and distinguished Judge Early decided, some years since, when a modern Xantippe was brought before him, that she should undergo the punishment of lustration by immersion three several times in the Oconee. Accordingly she was confined to the tail of a cart, and, accompanied by the hooting of a mob, conducted to the river, where she was publicly ducked, in conformity with the sentence of the court. Should this punishment be accorded Mary Cammell, we hope, however, it may be attended with a more salutary effect than in the case we have just alluded to the unruly subject of which, each time as she rose from the watery element, impiously exclaimed, with a ludicrous gravity of countenance, ‘Glory to God.’”


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