Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Crime And Punishment


So we have talked about the courthouse, the jail and all the surrounding buildings. We have looked at plats and maps and historic pictures. We know about some of the admired and notorious people that have been a part of the history of Port Tobacco. We have delved into what life was like in Port Tobacco for people in the many centuries it has been around. We know about the first courthouse, the village green, the reconstructed courthouse, Stagg Hall, etc. I could go on about those but I won't.


Yesterday Jim had his meeting with the county commissioners and the first meeting of the Charles County Archaeological Society. Out of that county meeting I started to look back at plat records and deeds. I looked again at the 1697 plat (shown above) and was reminded of the pillory that was enacted to be put up with the courthouse and jail. This was a mandate for all the counties in the provence in the 17th Century. Knowing very little about 17th Century punishments I started to do some research. Let me just say, they found some strange (and a bit funny) ways of punishing folks back then.


The pillory is basically just a stock, wherein a person's legs, arms and head are locked up in wooden pole and board. If you've ever been to Williamsburg I'm sure you had your picture taken in one as a child, just like I did. (If I can find it, I'll post mine on here for all to have a good laugh!)


The idea for most of the lesser crimes was public embarassment so to pursuade the offender to sraighten up so to speak. My favorite has to be the "ducking stool" though. An ingenious device I must say.


This is a seat set at the end of two beams twelve or fifteen feet long that could be swung out from the bank of a pond or river. This engine of punishment was especially assigned to scolds—usually women but sometimes men—and sometimes to quarrelsome married couples tied back to back. Other candidates were slanderers, "makebayts," brawlers, "chyderers," railers, and "women of light carriage," as well as brewers of bad beer, bakers of bad bread, and unruly paupers (James A. Cox, Colonial Williamsburg website). After being swung out over the water, the offender would be dunked over and over for an undetermined (undetermined by my research that is) period of time.


We have not found any archaeological evidence of either devices in Port Tobacco but we do know they were used. In the plat above you can see in the drawing the pillory, right beneath the courthouse.


- Peter

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Light carriage"? What is that?

pquantock said...

"light carriage" is a 17th Century term for women exhibiting "wanton behavior" and those involved in extramarital affairs in which they would be publicly admonished. Hope that answers your question!

Jim said...

Well answered, Peter, and a good question; but I would have exercised my rights under the Fifth Amendment...those kinds of questions can only get you into trouble.

boggsr said...

The "dunking stool" from what I have learned was actually constructed by the Sheriff of Charles County in the Popes Creek area...according to state records. I assume this was because the water was already not deep enough at the Port Tobacco River.