Women and the Death Penalty in the United States

Military Punishments,
page 4 of 9

The ranks then were opened and faced inward; thus an open passage way was formed with three rows of soldiers on either side. Each soldier was given a lash or a switch and ordered to strike with force. The offender, stripped naked to the waist, was made to run between the lines, and he was preceded by a sergeant who pressed the point of his reversed halbert against the breast of the unfortunate culprit to prevent his running too swiftly between the strokes. Thus every soldier was made a public executioner of a cowardly and degrading punishment.

Several cases are on record of running the gantlope in Virginia; and an interesting case was that of Captain Walter Gendal of Yarmouth, Maine, a brave soldier, who for the slightest evidence of a not very serious crime was sentenced to “run the gauntelope” through all the military companies in Boston with a rope around his neck. This sentence was never executed.

It is certainly curious to note that the first two parsons who came to Plymouth, named Oldham and Lyford, came in honor and affection, but had to run the gantlope at their leaving. They were most “unsavory salt,” as poor, worried Bradford calls them in his narrative of their misbehaviors (one of the shrewdest, most humorous and sententious pieces of seventeenth century writing extant), and after various “skandales, aggravations, and great malignancies” they were “clapt up for a while.” He then writes of Oldham:

“They comited him till he was tamer, and then apointed a guard of musketiers, wch he was to pass thorow, and every man was ordered to give him a thump on ye breech wth ye end of his musket, then they bid him goe and mende his manners.”

Morton of Merry-mount tells in equally forcible language in his New England Canaan of the similar punishment of Lyford.

A Dutch sailor, for drawing a knife on a companion, was dropped three times from the yard-arm and received a kick from every sailor on the ship a form of running the gantlope. And we read of a woman who enlisted as a seaman, and whose sex was detected, being dropped three times from the yard-arm, running the gantlope, and being tarred and feathered, and that she nearly died from the rough and cruel treatment she received.


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