Crime and Punishment in Early Maryland

The Stocks,
page 2 of 7

Thus did our ancestors make the “punishment fit the crime.” It certainly was rather a steep charge, for Carpenter Robert Bartlett of New London made not long after “a pair of stocks with nine holes fitted for the irons,” and only charged thirteen shillings and fourpence for his work. The carpenter of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, likewise, as Pepys said of a new pair of stocks in his neighborhood, took handsel of the stocks of his own making.

In Virginia a somewhat kindred case was that of one Mr. Henry Charlton of Hungar’s Parish in 1633. For slandering the minister, Mr. Cotton, Charlton was ordered “to make a pair of stocks and set in them several Sabbath days after divine service, and then ask Mr. Cotton’s forgiveness for using offensive words concerning him.”

In Maryland in 1655 another case may be cited. One William Bramhall having been convicted of signing a rebellious petition, was for a second offense of like nature ordered to be “at the Charge of Building a Pair of Stocks and see it finished within one Month.” There is no reference to his punishment through the stocks of his own manufacture.

With a regard for the comfort of the criminal strangely at variance with what Cotton Mather termed “the Gust of the Age,” and a profound submission to New England climate, a Massachusetts law; enacted June 18, 1645, declares that “he yt offens in excessive and longe drinkinge, he shalbe sett in the stocks for three howers when the weather is seasonable.”

Just as soon as the Boston stocks had been well warmed by Carpenter Palmer they promptly started on a well-filled career of usefulness. They gathered in James Luxford, who had been “psented for having two wifes.” He had to pay a fine of £100 and be set in the stocks one hour upon the following market-day after lecture, and on the next lecture-day also, where he could be plainly seen by every maid and widow in the little town, that there might be no wife Number Three. Then a watchman of the town, “for drinking several times of strong waters,” took his turn. Soon a man for “uncivil carriages” was “stocked.”


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