Crime and Punishment in the England of Shakespeare

The Stocks,
page 3 of 7

Every town was enjoined to build stocks. In 1655 Medfield had stocks, and in 1638 Newbury and Concord were fined for “the want of stocks,” and Newbury was given time till the next court session to build them. The town obeyed the order, and soon John Perry was set in them for his “abusive carriage to his wife and child.” Dedham and Watertown were “psent’d” in 1639 for “the want of stocks.” Ipswich already had them, for John Wedgwood that same year was set in the stocks simply for being in the company of drunkards. In Yarmouth, a thief who stole flax and yarn, and in Rehoboth, one who stole an Indian child, were “stocked.” Portsmouth, New Hampshire, built stocks and a cage. Plymouth had a constant relay of Quakers to keep her stocks from ever lying idle, as well as other offenders, such as Ann Savory, of unsavory memory. Rhode Island ordered “good sufficient stocks” in every town. In the southern and central colonies the stocks were a constant force. The Dutch favored the pillory and whipping-post, but a few towns had stocks. We find the Heer officer in Beverwyck (Albany) dispensing justice in a most summary manner. When Martin de Metslaer wounded another in a drunken brawl, the authorities hunted Martin up, “early hauled him out of bed and set him in the stocks.” Connecticut was a firm advocate of the stocks, and plentiful examples might be given under New Haven and Connecticut laws.

Web Adey, who was evidently a “single-man,” for “two breaches of the Saboth” was ordered to be set in the stocks, then to find a master, and if not complying with this second order the town would find one for him and sell him for a term of service. This was the arbitrary and not unusual method of disposing of lazy, lawless and even lonely men, as well as of more hardened criminals, who, when sold for a term of service, usually got into fresh disgrace and punishment through disobedience, idleness and running away.

I do not find many sentences of women to be set in the stocks. Jane Boulton of Plymouth was stocked for reviling the magistrates; one of her neighbors sat in the stocks and watched her husband take a flogging.


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