The Hangman's Knot

Military Punishments,
page 6 of 9

Jan Alleman, a Dutch officer, valorously challenged Jan de Fries, who was bedridden; for this cruel and meaningless insult he, too, was sentenced to ride the wooden horse, and was cashiered.

Dutch regiments in New Netherland were frequently drilled and commanded by English officers, and riding the wooden horse was a favorite punishment in the English army; hence perhaps its prevalence in the Dutch regiments.

Grose, in his Military History of England, gives a picture of the wooden horse. It shows a narrow-edged board mounted on four legs on rollers and bearing a rudely-shaped head and tail. The ruins of one was still standing in Portsmouth, England, in 1765. He says that its use was abandoned in the English army on account of the permanent injury to the health of the culprit who endured it. At least one death is known in America, in colonial times, on Long Island, from riding the wooden horse. It was, of course, meted out as a punishment in the American provinces both in the royal troops and in the local train bands.

A Maine soldier, one Richard Gibson, in 1670, was “complayned of for his dangerous and churtonous caridge to his commander and mallplying of oaths.” He was sentenced to be laid neck and heels together at the head of his company for two hours, or to ride the “Wooden-Hourse” at the head of the company the next training-day at Kittery.

In 1661, a Salem soldier, for some military misdemeanor, was sentenced to “ride the wooden horse,” and in Revolutionary days it was a favorite punishment in the Continental army. In the order-book kept by Rev. John Pitman during his military service on the Hudson, are frequent entries of sentences both for soldiers and suspected spies, to “ride the woodin horse,” or, as it was sometimes called, “the timber mare.” It was probably from the many hours of each sentence a modification of the cruel punishment of the seventeenth century.


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