Vengeance and Justice

The Pillory,
page 6 of 6

“BOSTON, JANUARY 31.—At the Superiour Court held at Charlestown last Week, Samuel Bacon of Bedford, and Meriam Fitch wife of Benjamin Fitch of said Bedford, were convicted of being notorious Cheats, and of having by Fraud, Craft and Deceit, possess’d themselves of Fifteen Hundred Johannes the property of a third Person; were sentenced to be each of them set in the Pillory one Hour, with a Paper on each of their Breasts and the words A CHEAT wrote in Capitals thereon, to suffer three months’ imprisonment, and to be bound to their good Behaviour for one Year and to pay Costs.”

From the Boston Chronicle, November 20, 1769:

“We learn from Worcester that on the eighth instant one Lindsay stood in the Pillory there one hour, after which he received 30 stripes at the public whipping-post, and was then branded in the hand his crime was Forgery.”

The use of the pillory in New England extended into this century. On the 15th of January, 1801, one Hawkins, for the crime of forgery, stood for an hour in a pillory in Salem, and had his ears cropped. The pillory was in use in Boston, certainly as late as 1803. In March of that year the brigantine “Hannah” was criminally sunk at sea by its owner Robert Pierpont and its master H. R. Story, to defraud the underwriters. The two criminals were sentenced after trial to stand one hour in the pillory in State Street on two days, be confined in prison for two years and pay the costs of the prosecution. As this case was termed “a transaction exceeding in infamy all that has hitherto appeared in the commerce of our country,” this sentence does not seem severe.

The pillory lingered long in England. Lord Thurlow was eloquent in its defence, calling it “the restraint against licentiousness provided by the wisdom of past ages.” In 1812 Lord Ellenborough, equally warm in his approval and endorsement, sentenced a blasphemer to the pillory for two hours, once each month, for eighteen months; and in 1814 he ordered Lord Cochrane, the famous sea-fighter of Brasque Roads fame, to be set in the pillory for spreading false news. But Sir Francis Burdett declared he would stand on the pillory by Lord Cochrane’s side, and public opinion was more powerful than the Judge. By this time the pillory was rarely used save in cases of perjury. As late as 1830 a man was pilloried for that crime. In 1837 the pillory was ordered to be abandoned, by Act of Parliament; and in 1832 it was abolished in France.


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