The History of Torture and Execution

Military Punishments,
page 7 of 9

It was most interesting to me to find, under the firm signature of our familiar Revolutionary hero, Paul Revere, as “Preseding Officer,” the report of a Court-martial upon two Continental soldiers for playing cards onthe Sabbath day in September, 1776; and to know that, as expressed by Paul Revere, “the Court are of the Oppinion that Thomas Cleverly ride the Wooden Horse for a Quarter of an hower with a muskett on each foot, and that Caleb Southward Cleans the Streets of the Camp,” which shows that the patriot, could temper justice with both tender mercy and tidy prudence.

The wooden horse was employed some times as a civil punishment. Horse thieves were thus fitly punished. In New Haven, in January, 1787, a case happened:

“Last Tuesday one James Brown, a transient person, was brought to the bar of the County Court on a complaint for horse-stealing — being put to plead — plead guilty, and on Thursday received the sentence of the Court, that he shall be confined to the Goal in this County 8 weeks, to be whipped the first Day 15 stripes on the naked Body, and set an hour on the wooden horse, and on the first Monday each following Month be whipped ten stripes and set one hour each time on the wooden horse.”

The cruel punishment of “picketing,” which was ever the close companion of “riding the wooden horse” in the English army is recorded by Dr. Rea as constantly employed in the colonial forces. In “picketing” the culprit was strung up to a hook by one wrist while the opposite bare heel rested upon a stake or picket, rounded at the point just enough not to pierce the skin. The agony caused by this punishment was great. It could seldom be endured longer than a quarter of an hour at a time. It so frequently disabled soldiers for marching that it was finally abandoned as “inexpedient.”

The high honor of inventing and employing the whirlgig as a means of punishment in the army has often been assigned to our Revolutionary hero, General Henry Dearborn, but the fame or infamy is not his. For years it was used in the English army for the petty offenses of soldiers, and especially of camp-followers. It was a cage which was made to revolve at great speed, and the nausea and agony it caused to its unhappy occupant were unspeakable.


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