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Eng 251 - Forms of Punishment in Early America

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Fred Watson

ENG 251

Mrs. Speeker

June 22, 2011

Essay #1

Today forms of punishment for committing crimes may include jail or prison time, fines and community service. However, in Early America punishment was a bit different. Whippings were the most common, but fines, branding, cutting off of ears and placing the convicted in stocks or pillories were, also, commonly used forms of punishment.

Today the common methods of administering capital punishment include lethal injection, gas, electrocution or firing squad, though many states have no death penalty or have suspended it. Capital punishment throughout Early America was usually administered by hanging. Even early Puritan courthouses had their own gallows, stocks, pillories and whipping posts located nearby so as to administer punishment swiftly after a conviction.

Hangings were somber and not staged as a show for entertainment as is sometimes depicted in modern movies. They were more like a church service or ceremony and could last several hours. The convicted was lead in a procession from the jail to the gallows accompanied by ministers, the sheriff and deputies. There the death warrant was read and a minister or more would give a sermon. Usually, the prisoner was expected to give a speech. The attending people may have been lead in singing of a hymn. Finally, the prisoner's face was covered, the noose was adjusted around his/her neck and the prisoner was dropped (Banner 24).

Encyclopaedia Britannica defines corporal punishment as "the infliction of physical pain upon a person's body as punishment for a crime of infraction" ("corporal punishment" 1). Commonly used methods have been flogging, mutilation, branding, the stocks, and the pillory.

Flogging has been used over the ages as a corporal punishment. There have been many different methods and instruments used to administer flogging, but the lash or the cat-o'-nine-tails was used most often in America. It was a whip consisting of nine knotted cords of rawhide attached to a handle. After a vigorous beating salt was often rubbed into the wounds to increase the pain (Banks 9).

Stocks and pillories were somewhat the same thing, the difference being that with stocks the legs or wrists were secured, whereas with pillories it was the wrists and neck. A person confined with one or the other was subject to scorn, ridicule and abuse including paddling, tickling, or being spat on. Designed to humiliate, the pillory was usually used to hold the person while the public threw rotten vegetables and sometimes stones. Sometimes the pelting resulted in death (Banks 11).

Mutilation was used as a deterrent form of punishment that was based on the eye for an eye rule. Spies might have their eyes gouged

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