Crime and Punishment in Early Maryland

Branding and Maiming,
page 6 of 6

“William Carlisle was convicted of passing Counterfeit Dollars, and sentenced to stand One Hour in the Pillory on Little-Rest Hill, next Friday, to have both Ears cropped, to be branded on both Cheeks with the Letter R, to pay a fine of One Hundred Dollars and cost of Prosecution, and to stand committed till Sentence performed.”

In Virginia many offenses were punished by loss of the ears or by slitting the ears. Among other penalties decreed to “deceiptful bakers,” dishonest cooks, cheating fishermen, or careless fish dressers was “to loose his eares.”

Truly long hair and wigs had their ulterior uses in colonial days when ear-cropping was thus rife. Romantic old tales of life on the road tell of carefully hidden deformities, of mysterious gauntleted strangers, whose hands displayed when revealed the lurid brand of past villainies. Life was dull and cramped in those days, but there were diversions; when the breeze might lift the locks from your friends or your lover’s cheek and give a glimpse of ghastly hole instead of an ear, or display a burning letter on the forehead; when his shoulder under his lace collar might be branded with a rogue’s mark, or be banded beneath his velvet doublet with the scars and welts of fierce lashes of the cat-o’-nine tails.

Brand and brank have passed away, the stocks and pillory no longer grace our village greens. We pride ourselves on our humanity, our justice. Therefore it may be well to note that we have now in the United States the most extreme code in the entire world in regard to capital punishment-sixty-two crimes punishable by death. A bill is before the Senate to strike sixteen offenses from our brutal list. Belgium, Holland, Brazil, Italy, Portugal, Gautemala, Venezuela and Costa Rica have wholly abolished the death penalty. In cruel Russia the death sentence has been since 1753 never pronounced save for treason, while China has only eleven capital offenses. We have adhered to obsolete English laws while England has done away with them and has now only four capital crimes. It is certainly surprising and even mortifying to know that in Maryland setting fire to a hay-rick is to this day punishable by death.


:: Previous Page

Books & articles appearing here are modified adaptations
from a private collection of vintage books & magazines.
Reproduction of these pages is prohibited without written permission. © Laurel O'Donnell, 1996-2006.