Crime and Punishment in Ancient Rome

The Stocks,
page 4 of 7

Goody Gregory of Springfield in 1640, being grievously angered by a neighbor, profanely abused her, saying “Before God I could break thy head.” She acknowledged her “great sine and fault” like a woman, but she paid her fine and sat in the stocks like a man, since she swore like one.

And it should be noted that the stocks were not for the punishment of gentlemen, they were thoroughly plebeian. The pillory was aristocratic in comparison, as was also branding with a hot iron.

Fiercely hedged around was divine worship. The stocks added their restraint by threatened use. “All persons who stand out of the meeting-house during time of service, to be set in the stocks.”

In Plymouth in 1665 “all persons being without the dores att the meeting house on the Lords daies in houres of exercise, demeaneing themselves by jesting, sleeping, and the like, if they shall psist in such practices hee (the tithing-man) shall sett them in the stocks.”

Regard for church and state were often combined by making public confession of sin in church with punishment in front of the church after the service. This was simply a carrying out of English customs. Mr. Hamilton, author of that interesting book, Quarter Sessions from Queen Elizabeth to Queen Anne, says, dealing with Devonshire:

“A favorite punishment for small offenses, such as resisting the constable, was the stocks. The offender had to come into the church at morning prayer, and say publicly that he was sorry; he was then set in the stocks until the end of the evening prayer. The punishment was generally repeated on the next market-day.”

It seems scarcely necessary to describe the shape and appearance of stocks, for pictures of them are so common. They were formed by two heavy timbers the upper one of which could be raised, and when lowered, was held in place by a lock. In these two timbers were cut two half-circle notches which met two similar notches when the upper timber was in place and thus formed round holes, holding firmly in place the legs of the imprisoned culprit; sometimes the arms were thrust into smaller holes similarly formed.


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