The Punishment of Crimes in Colonial New York

Branks and Gags,
page 3 of 5

The mode of putting it on would be thus: The brank would be opened by throwing back the sides of the hoop, and the hinder part of the top band by means of the hinges. The constable would then stand in front of his victim and force the knife or plate into her mouth, the divided band passing on either side of her nose, which would protrude through the opening. The hoop would then be closed behind, the band brought down from the top to the back of the head, and fastened down upon it, and thus the cage would at once be firmly and immovably fixed so long as her tormentors might think fit. On the left side is a chain, one end of which is attached to the hoop, and on the other end is a ring by which the victim was led, or by which she was at pleasure attached to a post or wall. On the front of the brank is the date 1688.”

This brank is depicted in the Reliquary for October, 1860. Mr. William Andrews, in his interesting book, entitled Old-Time Punishments gives drawings of no less than sixteen branks now preserved in England. Some of them are massive, and horrible instruments of torture.

It will be noted that the brank is universally spoken of as a punishment for women; but men also were sentenced to wear it — paupers, blasphemers, railers.

I am glad John Winthrop and John Carver did not bring cumbrous and cruel iron branks to America. There are plenty of other ways to shut a woman’s mouth and to still her tongue, as all sensible men know; on every hand, if gossips were found, a simple machine could be shaped, one far simpler than a scold’s bridle. A cleft stick pinched on the tongue was as temporarily efficacious as the iron machine, and could be speedily put in use. On June 4, 1651, the little town of Southampton, Long Island, saw a well-known resident, for her “exorbitant words of imprication,” stand for an hour in public with her tongue in a cleft stick. A neighbor at Easthampton, Long Island, the same year received a like sentence:


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