Crime and Punishment in American History

Punishments of Authors and Books,
page 2 of 6

In 1664 Benjamin Keach, a Baptist minister, was arraigned for writing and publishing a seditious book. His arrest was brought about by another minister named Disney, who, as his fellow-countrymen would say, “sings small” in the matter. Disney wrote “to his honoured friend Luke Wilkes, esqre, at Whitehall, with speed, these presents”: “Honour’d Sir And Loving Brother:

This Primmer owned by Benjamin Keach as the Author and bought by my man George Chilton for five pence of Henry Keach of Stableford Mill neare me, a miller; who then sayd that his brother Benjamin Keach is author of it, and that there are fiveteen hundred of them printed. This Benjamin Keach is a Tayler, and one that is a teacher in this new-fangled-way and lives at Winslow a market town in Buckinghamshire. Pray take some speedie course to acquaint my Lord Archbishop his Grace with it, whereby his authoritye may issue forth that ye impression may be seized upon before they be much more dispersed to ye poisoning of people; they containing (as I conceive) schismaticall factions and hereticall matter. Some are scattered in my parish, and perchance in no place sooner because he hath a sister here and some others of his gang, two whereof I have bought up. Pray let me have your speedie account of it. I doubt not but it will be taken as acceptable service to God’s church and beleeve it a very thankeful obligement to

          Honoured Sir,
                    Your truely Loving Brother,”
                              THOMAS DISNEY.

As a result of Disney’s neighborly and zealous offices, Benjamin Keach was thus sentenced:

“That you shall go to gaol for a fortnight without bail or mainprise; and the next Saturday to stand upon the pillory at Ailsbury for the space of two hours, from eleven o’clock to one, with a paper on your head with this inscription: For writing, printing and publishing a schismatical book, entitled ’The Child’s Instructor; or, a New and Easy Primmer.’ And the next Thursday so stand, and in the same manner and for the same time, in the market of Winslow; and there your book shall be openly burnt before your face by the common hangman, in disgrace to you and your doctrine.


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