Cruel Crimes and Painful Punishments

Punishments of Authors and Books,
page 6 of 6

In 1684 a man in Maryland “of tender years” was convicted of horse-stealing and sentenced to death. A “private and secret” pardon was issued by the Assembly, but he was given no knowledge of it until he was conveyed to the place of execution and the rope placed round his neck, when he was respited on condition that he would perform the part for life of common hangman, which he did.

The hangman was usually some respited prisoner under sentence of death. In some shires in England, he had to be hung at last himself, else the power of possessing a hangman lapsed from the town. One hangman, mortally sick, was bolstered up by his friends with a shoemaker’s bench and kit in front or him, pretending to work, and when the sheriffs came to seize him and carry him to the gallows, he did not seem very sick and they left the house without him. He died that night peaceably in bed. All these doings seem too barbarous for civilized England.

Thomas Maule was a Salem Quaker and an author. His book was ordered to be burned in 1695 in Boston market place. The diary of the Reverend Dr. Bentley says of him:

“Tho’s Maule, shopkeeper of Salem, is brought before the Council to answer for his printing and publishing a pamphlet of 260 pages entitled “Truth held Forth and Maintained,” owns the book but will not own all, till he sees his copy which is at New York with Bradford who printed it. Saith he writt to ye Gov’r of N. York before he could get it printed. Book is ordered to be burnt — being stuff’d wth notorious lyes and scandals, and he recognizes to it next Court of Assize and gen’l gaol delivery to be held for the County of Essex. He acknowledges that what was written concerning the circumstance of Major Gen. Atherton’s death was a mistake, was chiefly insisted on against him, which I believe was a surprize to him, he expecting to be examined in some point of religion, as should seem by his bringing his Bible under his arm.”

In 1654 the writings of John Reeves and Ludowick Muggleton, self-styled prophets, were burned in Boston market-place by that abhorred public functionary the hangman. Other Quaker books were similarly burned, and John Rogers of New London, who hated the Quakers, but whom the Boston magistrates persisted in regarding and classifying as a Quaker, had to see his books perish in the flames in company with Quaker publications. In 1754 a pamphlet called The Monster of Monsters, a sharp criticism on the Massachusetts Court which caused much stir in provincial political circles, was burned by the hangman in King Street, Boston. We learn from the Connecticut Gazette that about the same time another offending publication was sentenced to be “publickly whipt according to Moses Law, with forty stripes save one, and then burnt.” The true book-lover winces at the thought of the bloodstained hands of the hangman on any book, even though a “Monster.”


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