History of Punishment

Branding and Maiming,
page 4 of 6

In Haddon, Derbyshire, England, is a relic of a similar punishment, an iron handcuff fastened to the woodwork of the banqueting hall. A sneak-cup who “balked his liquor” or any one who committed any violation of the convivial customs of that day and place, had his wrist placed in the iron ring, and a can of cold water, or the liquor he declined was poured up his sleeve.

It is interesting to note in the statutes of Virginia and Maryland the honor that for decades hedged around the domestic hog. The crime of hog stealing is minutely defined and specified, and vested with bitter retribution. It was enacted by the Maryland Assembly that for the first offense the criminal should stand in the pillory “four Compleat hours,” have his ears cropped and pay treble damages; for the second offense be stigmatized on the forehead with the letter H and pay treble damages; for the third be adjudged a “fellon,” and therefore receive capital punishment. In Virginia in 1748 the hog-stealer for the first offense received “twenty-five lashes well laid on at the publick whipping-post;” for the second offense he was set two hours in the pillory and had both ears nailed thereto, at the end of the two hours to have the ears slit loose; for the third offense, death. Were the culprit in either province a slave, the cruelty and punishment were doubled. For all hog-stealers, whether bond or free, there was no benefit of clergy, which was the ameliorating plea, permissible in some felonies of being able to read “clerkly.”

It is evident that in early days this plea could not extend to a very large number in any community. It was originally a monkish privilege extended to English ecclesiastics in criminal processes in secular courts. It was granted originally in 1274 and was not abolished in England till 1827. The minutes of the Court of General Quarter Sessions in New York bear many records of criminals who pleaded “the benefit,” and instead of hanging on a gallows, were branded on the brawn of the left thumb with T in open court and then discharged. Benefit of clergy existed and was in force in New York state till February 21, 1788.


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