Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment

Branding and Maiming,
page 5 of 6

In Salem men and women offenders constantly pleaded commutation through benefit of clergy. In 1750 a counterfeiter of that time was sentenced to death. He pleaded benefit of clergy, and was respited, and instead of his original sentence was burnt in the hand. A woman for polyandry was similarly benefited by the same plea. This power of claiming amelioration of sentence lasted in Massachusetts till the year 1785, when it was forever nullified by the laws of Massachusetts under the new United States. In Virginia, benefit of clergy was a constant plea, and was recognized in all cases save, as has been said, in hog-stealing.

In Maryland branding was legal, and every county was ordered to have branding-irons. The lettering was specifically defined and enjoined. S. L. stood for seditious libel, and could be burnt on either cheek. M. stood for manslaughter, T. for thief, and could be branded on the left hand. R. was for rogue or vagabond, and was branded on the shoulder. Coiners could for the second offense be branded on the cheek F. for forgery.

Burglary was punished in all the colonies by branding. By the Provincial laws of New Hampshire, of 1679, a burglar was branded with a capital B in the right hand for the first offense, in the left hand for the second, “and if either be committed on the Lord’s Daye his Brand shall bee sett on his Forehead.” By Governor Eaton’s Code of Laws for the Connecticut colonists the punishment was equally severe.

“If any person commit Burglary or rob any person on the Lord’s Day he shalbe burned and whipped and for a second offense burned on the left hand, stand in the Pillory and wear a halter around his neck in the daytime visibly as a mark of infamy.”

A forger of deeds could be branded in the forehead with the letter F; while for defacing the records the offender could be disfranchised and branded in the face. A forger was branded in Worcester in 1769. A man who sold arms and powder and shot to the Indians was branded with the letter I. Counterfeiters were branded and often had the ears cropped.

A conviction and sentence in Newport in 1771 was thus reported in the daily newspapers:


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