Edison and the Electric Chair

Punishments of Authors and Books,
page 2 of 8

This concentration of events has taken more of my paper than I intended, but I could not forbear to inform you how the beadle thrashed the thief, the constable the beadle, and the lady the constable, and how the thief was the only person who suffered nothing.”

As a good, sound British institution, and to have familiar home-like surroundings in the new strange land, the whipping-post was promptly set up, and the whip set at work in all the American colonies. In the orders sent over from England for the restraint of the first settlement at Salem, whipping was enjoined, “as correccon is ordaned for the fooles back” — and fools’ backs soon were found for the “correccon”; tawny skins and white shared alike in punishment, as both Indians and white men were partakers in crime. Scourgings were sometimes given on Sabbath days and often on lecture days, to the vast content and edification of Salem folk.

The whipping-post was speedily in full force in Boston. At the session of the court held November 30, 1630, one man was sentenced to be whipped for stealing a loaf of bread; another for shooting fowl on the Sabbath, another for swearing, another for leaving a boat “without a pylott.” Then we read of John Pease that for “stryking his mother and deryding her he shalbe whipt.”

In 1631, in June, this order was given by the General Court in Boston:

“That Philip Ratcliffe shall be whipped, have his eares cutt off, fined 40 pounds, and banished out of the limits of this jurisdiction, for uttering malicious and scandalous speeches against the Government.”

Governor Winthrop added to his account of this affair that Ratcliffe was “convict of most foul slanderous invectives against our government.” This episode and the execution of this sentence caused much reprehension and unfavorable comment in England, where, it would seem, whipping and ear-lopping were rife enough to be little noted. But the mote in our brother’s eye seemed very large when seen across the water. Anent it, in a letter written from London to the Governor’s son, I read: “I have heard divers complaints against the severity of your government, about cutting off the lunatick man’s ears and other grievances.”


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