Women, Crime And Punishment In Ancient Law And Society

Branding and Maiming,
page 3 of 6

Under the laws proclaimed by Dale, absence from church was a capital offense. One man was broken on the wheel, one of the few instances known in the colonies. Blasphemy was punished by boring the tongue with a red hot bodkin; one offender was thus punished and chained to a tree to die. A Mr. Barnes of Bermuda Hundred, for uttering detracting words against another Virginia gentleman, was condemned to have his tongue bored through with an awl, to pass through a guard of forty men, and be butted by every one of them. At the end to be knocked down and footed out of the fort, which must have effectively finished Mr. Barnes of Virginia. Yet Dale was an ardent Christian, beloved by his pastor, who said he was “a man of great knowledge in divinity and a good conscience in all things.” He is an interesting figure in Virginia history — a sturdy watch-dog — tearing and rending with a cruelty equal to his zeal every offender against the common-weal.

In Maryland blasphemy was similarly punished. For the first offense the tongue was to be bored, and a fine paid of twenty pounds. For the second offense the blasphemer was to be stigmatized in the forehead with the letter B and the fine was doubled. For the third offense the penalty was death. Until the reign of Queen Anne the punishment of an English officer for blasphemy was boring the tongue with a hot iron.

A curious punishment for swearing was ordered by the President of the pioneer expedition into Virginia as told by Captain John Smith. The English gallants who came to the colony for adventure or to escape punishment were very tender-handed. They were sent into the woods to cut down trees for clapboard, but their hands soon blistered under the heavy axe helves, and the pain caused them to frequently cry out in great oaths. The President ordered that every oath should be noted, and for each a can of water was poured down the sleeve of the the person who had been guilty of uttering it.


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