The Hangman's Knot

Punishments of Authors and Books,
page 3 of 8

In 1630 Henry Lynne of Boston was sentenced to be whipped. He wrote to England “against the government and execution of justice here,” and was again whipped and banished. Lying, swearing, taking false toll, perjury, selling rum to the Indians, all were punished by whipping.

Pious regard for the Sabbath was fiercely upheld by the support of the whipping-post. In 1643 Roger Scott, for “repeated sleeping on the Lord’s Day” and for striking the person who waked him from his godless slumber was sentenced to be severely whipped.

Women were not spared in public chastisement. “The gift of prophecy” was at once subdued in Boston by lashes, as was unwomanly carriage. On February 30, 1638, this sentence was rendered:

“Anne ux. Richard Walker being cast out of the church of Boston for intemperate drinking from one inn to another, and for light and wanton behavior, was the next day called before the governour and the treasurer, and convict by two witnesses, and was stripped naked one shoulder, and tied to the whipping-post, but her punishment was respited.”

Every year, every month, and in time every week, fresh whippings followed. No culprits were, however, to be beaten more than forty stripes as one sentence; and the Body of Liberties decreed that no “true gentleman or any man equall to a gentleman shall be punished with whipping unless his crime be very shameful and his course of life vitious and profligate.” In pursuance of this notion of the exemption of the aristocracy from bodily punishment, a Boston witness testified in one flagrant case, as a condonement of the offense, that the culprit “had been a soldier and was a gentleman and they must have their liberties,” and he urged letting the case default, and to “make no uprore” in the matter. The lines of social position were just as well defined in New England as in old England, else why was one Mr. Plaistowe, for fraudulently obtaining corn from the Indians, condemned as punishment to be called Josias instead of Mr. as heretofore? His servant, who assisted in the fraud, was whipped.


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