New England's Cruel and Unusual Punishments

Branks and Gags,
page 4 of 5

“It is ordered that Goody Edwards shall pay £3 or have her tongue in a cleft stick for contempt of court warrant in saienge she would not come, but if they had been governor or magistrate then she would come, and desireing the warrant to burn it.”

About the same time Goodwife Hunter was gagged in Springfield for a similar offense. In Salem, under the sway of the rigid and narrow Puritan Endicott, the system of petty surveillance and demeaning punishment seemed to reach its height; and one citizen in mild sarcasm thereof said he did suppose if he did lie abed in the morning he would be hauled up by the magistrates, — and was promptly fined for even saying such a thing in jest. Therefore of course “one Oliver; his wife” was adjudged to be whipped for reproaching the magistrates and for prophesying. Winthrop, in his History of New England, says of her scourging and her further punishment:

“She stood without tying, and bare her punishment with a masculine spirit, glorying in her suffering. But after (when she came to consider the reproach which would stick by her, etc.), she was much dejected about it. She had a cleft stick put on her tongue half an hour for reproaching the elders.”

In Salem in 1639 four men got drunk-young men, some of them servants. Two named George Dill and John Cook were thus punished:

“They be fined 40s for drunckenes, and to stand att the meeting-house doar next Lecture day with a Clefte Stick vpon his Tong and a paper vpon his hatt subscribed for gross premeditated lyinge.”

The others, Thomas Tucke and Mica Ivor, were not so drunk nor such wanton liars and their punishment was somewhat mitigated. The sentence runs thus:

“They are also found guilty of Lyeing & Drunckenes though not to that degree as the twoe former yett are fined 40s & their own promis taken for itt. Alsoe two stand on the Lecture day with the twoe former but noe clefte sticke on their Tong only a paper on his head subscribed for lying.”

So it will be seen that men suffered this painful and mortifying punishment as well as women. And I may say, in passing, that slander and mischief-making seemed to be even more rife among men than among women in colonial times. This entry may be found in the Records of the Massachusetts Bay Colony:


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