Colonial Craftsmen

Crimes and Punishments,
page 12 of 17

Though scolds were punished, I have never seen any sentence to show that this ducking-stool was ever built, or that one was ever used in New York; while instances of the use of a ducking-stool are comparatively plentiful in the Southern colonies. The ducking-stool was an English “engine” of punishment, not a Dutch.

The colonists were astonishingly honest. Thieves were surprisingly few; they were punished under Dutch rule by scourging with rods, and usually by banishment, — a very convenient way of shifting responsibility. Assaults were punished by imprisonment and subjection to prison fare, consisting only of bread and water or small beer; and sometimes temporary banishment. There was at first no prison, so men were often imprisoned in their own houses, which does not seem very disgraceful. In the case of Francois de Bruyn, tried for insulting and striking the court messenger, he was fined two hundred guilders, and answered that he would rot in prison before he would pay. He was then ordered to be imprisoned in a respectable tavern, which sentence seems to have some possibility of mitigating accompaniments.

In 1692 it was ordered in Kings County that a good pair of stocks and a pound be made in every bound within Kings County, and kept in sufficient repair. In repair and in use were they kept till this century. Pillories too were employed in punishment till within the memory of persons now living. The whipping-post was really a public blessing, — in constant use, and apparently of constant benefit, though the publicity of its employment seems shocking to us to-day. The public whipper received a large salary. In 1751, we learn from an advertisement, it was twenty pounds annually.

Some of the punishments were really almost picturesque in their ingenious inventions of mortification and degradation. Truly it was a striking sight when “Jan of Leyden” — a foul-mouthed rogue, a true blatherschuyten — was fastened to a stake in front of the townhouse, with a bridle in his mouth and a bundle of rods tied under each arm, and a placard on his breast bearing the inscription, “Lampoon-riter, false accuser, defamer of magistrates.” Though he was banished, I am sure he never was forgotten by the children who saw him standing thus garnished and branded on that spring day in 1664.


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