Crime and Punishment in Early Maryland

The Scarlet Letter,
page 4 of 5

Drunkards frequently were thus temporarily labelled.

I quote an entry of Governor Winthrop’s in the year 1640:

“One Baker, master’s mate of the ship, being in drink, used some reproachful words of the queen. The governour and council were much in doubt what to do with him, but having considered that he was distempered, and sorry for it, and being a stranger, and a chief officer in the ship, and many ships were there in harbour, they thought it not fit to inflict corporal punishment upon him, but after he had been two or three days in prison, he was set an hour at the whipping post with a paper on his head and dismissed.”

Many Boston men were similarly punished. For defacing a public record one was sentenced in May, 1652, “to stand in the pillory two Howers in Boston market with a paper ouer his head marked in Capitall Letters A DEFACER OF RECORDS.” Ann Boulder at about the same time was ordered “to stand in yrons half an hour with a Paper on her Breast marked PVBLICK DESTROYER OF PEACE.”

In 1639 three Boston women received this form of public punishment; of them Margaret Henderson was “censured to stand in the market place with a paper for her ill behavior, & her husband was fyned £5 for her yvill behavior & to bring her to the market place for her to stand there.”

Joan Andrews of York, Maine, sold two heavy stones in a firkin of butter. She, too, had to stand disgraced bearing the description of her wicked cheatery “written in Capitall Letters and pinned upon her forehead.” Widow Bradley of New London, Connecticut, for her sorry behaviour in 1673 had to wear a paper pinned to her cap to proclaim her shame.

Really picturesque was Jan of Leyden, of the New Netherland settlement, who for insolence to the Bushwyck magistrates was sentenced to be fastened to a stake near the gallows, with a bridle in his mouth, a bundle of rods under his arm, and a paper on his breast bearing the words, “Lampoon-riter, False-accuser, Defamer of Magistrates.” William Gerritsen of New Amsterdam sang a defamatory song against the Lutheran minister and his daughter.


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