colonial punishments

Branding, a common punishment in colonial America, required stoves
to heat the irons. The "T" stood for thief, the "M" for manslaughter.
The letter used for branding was defined to fit the
offense. Thieves usually had "T" branded on the hand.
A brand could be applied to hands, cheeks, shoulders, or
foreheads, as a way to publically mark the offense.
"T" for thief was branded on the light-fingered criminal's hand. - Photo by Dave Doody
Alice Earle's 1896
Curious Punishments
of Bygone Days
showed readers what
bilboes did to the
legs of lawbreakers.
A brank, the "gossip's
bridle," effectively
silenced an offender.
A seventeenth-century
English ducking stool,
in the Colonial
collections, would be
swung out at the end
of beams over a river
or pond. Some dunked
died. - CWF Collection
A ducking stool was
a seat attached to a
long pole mounted
on a support. A
scold or nagging
woman, on the
order of the
borough court,
would be strapped
to the stool and
ducked in the
waters of the
The pillory, or "stretch-neck," usually stood in the main squares of towns,
in full view of the townspeople. Here interpreter Steve Holloway leads
Karen Clancy to her punishment.
In the pillory, the subject cannot hide her face from bystanders. Sometimes
townspeople threw food and other objects at the culprit.
The pillory was used as
punishment for a variety of
offenses, e.g., treason, sedition,
arson, blasphemy, witchcraft,
wife beating, cheating, and
drunkenness, among others.
Fifteen feet high, this pillory
and post—from seventeenthcentury England and in the
Colonial Williamsburg
collections—held the offender
by the neck and hands.
Whipping Post:
The Whipping Post was where criminals were publicly whipped before
onlookers and neighbors.
Bind Out:
Children, especially those of poor families,
were “bound out.” The court contracted
with someone for the child to serve as his
or her apprentice for a number of years.
Sometimes the punishment for a crime was
for people to “work it off” by being sold to
someone as a servant for a period of years.
Hogarth depicted a hanging at Tyburn's Tree in London. Such events could
bring as many as 50,000 spectators. - CWF Collection
Crowds loved a good ear
nailing or whipping or, choicest
of all, a hanging. Interpreter
Steve Holloway as the sheriff
thwacks the ear of a miscreant
portrayed by Ralph Thurman. Photo by Dave Doody
A hanging required a gallows, a rope, a hangman, and a guest of honor.
Richard Nicoll looks on as interpreter Darin Tschopp carries off the
recently deceased, portrayed by Willie Balderson. - Photo by Dave
The body is carted away for burial.
To show that no humans were injured in this "hanging,"
here’s Colonial Williamsburg interpreter Willie Balderson,
amused…following his "escape."

similar documents