The History of Punishment

Chapter XI.
Branding and Maiming.

There is nothing more abhorrent to the general sentiment of humanity to-day than the universal custom of all civilized nations, until the present century, of branding and maiming criminals. In these barbarous methods of degrading criminals the colonists in America followed the customs and copied the laws of the fatherland. Our ancestors were not squeamish. The sight of a man lopped of his ears, or slit of his nostrils, or with a seared brand or great gash in his forehead or cheek could not affect the stout stomachs that cheerfully and eagerly gathered around the bloody whipping-post and the gallows.

Let us recount the welcome of New England Christians to the first Quakers on American soil. In 1656 the vanguard, two women, Ann Austin and Mary Fisher, appeared in Boston, from the Barbadoes. They were promptly imprisoned and speedily sent back whence they came; and a premonitory law was passed to punish shipmasters who presumed to bring over more Quakers. Others immediately followed, however, and fierce laws and cruel sentences greeted them; within four years after that first appearance scores of Quakers had been stripped naked, whipped, pilloried, stocked, caged, imprisoned, laid neck and heels, branded and maimed; and four had been hanged in Boston by our Puritan forefathers. I know nothing more chilling to our present glow of Puritan ancestor-worship in New England than the reading of Quaker George Bishop’s account of New England judged by the Spirit of the Lord. Page after page of merciless cruelty is displayed in forcible, simple language. Here is an account of a Quaker’s treatment in New Haven for worshipping God in his chosen way:

“The Drum was Beat, the People gather’d, Norton was fetch’d and stripp’d to the Waste, and set with his Back to the Magistrates, and given in their View Thirty-six cruel Stripes with a knotted cord, and his hand made fast in the Stocks where they had set his Body before, and burn’d very deep with a Red-hot Iron with H. for Heresie.”


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