In this lesson, stocks and pillory will be defined and explained. You will also go over examples of punishments in which stocks and pillory were used. There will be a short quiz at the end of the lesson.
Punishments in the Colonial Period
Imagine committing a minor crime -- maybe public drunkenness or cheating at cards -- and instead of being punished with fines or probation, being forced to undergo ridicule, chastisement and public humiliation. Punishments in the colonial period included using different devices to put an individual on display to show the public they had committed a crime. These devices were stocks and pillory.
Definition of the Stocks and Pillory
Stocks were wooden or metal devices with foot holes used as punishment until the beginning of the 19th century. The convicted individual was seated and had their feet and ankles locked into the device so that the legs were held out straight.
A pillory was also a wooden or metal device with holes to lock the convicted individual's head and hands in place. It was impossible to sit while in a pillory.
In this first picture with the metal stock, the offender would sit on the block with their feet and ankles locked into place. Other stocks were wooden, and the offender would have a chair to sit on.
The pillory, much like the one pictured here, shows how the offender's head was placed between their two hands. It was common practice for the offender to have stones or rotten food thrown at them while in the pillory.
Offenders would remain in the stock or pillory for the duration of their punishment.
Punishment for What Crimes?
Stocks and pillory were considered a form of public punishment. But what crimes earned these sentences?
In the 1700's, it was considered illegal for men to pose as women and women to pose as men. Offenders would be sentenced to prison time, and in addition to the prison sentence, they would be sentenced to time in the pillory. The offenders that were sentenced to time in the pillory would typically be paraded over to the pillory at noon.
The shops and businesses would close at noon and watch the offenders parade past. The law enforcement officers would then place the offenders in the pillory and then throw mud or rotten food at them. Once the law enforcement officers were done, the town residents were allowed to parade past.
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Stocks were often used as a punishment when slaves attempted to escape. When the slave was returned to their owner, the owner would place the slave into a stock. The stocks were kept in the basement, in the barn, or on the property of the owner.
Other offenses that were punishable by stocks and pillory include the following:
Cheating (on a spouse or at a parlor game)
The type of crime determined how much time the offender had to spend in the stocks or pillory. An extreme crime in the Colonial times was public intoxication. Public intoxication was punishable by up to six hours, while swearing would be punished by an hour in the stock or pillory.
One of the earliest forms of punishment was not only public but also humiliating. Stocks were wooden or metal devices with foot holes used as punishment until the beginning of the 19th century and were used to restrain offenders' feet and hold the legs straight out. The other form of punishment was a pillory, which was a wooden or metal device with holes to lock the convicted individual's head and hands in place while keeping the offender standing.
Often times the stocks and pillory were in public places so that the residents of the town would see the offender. Pillory were also used in conjunction with prison time. The offenders were paraded over to the town square for the residents and law enforcement officers to throw mud, stones, or rotten food at the offenders.
Crimes punishable by stock or pillory included public intoxication, especially in colonial times, blasphemy, fortune telling, arson and slave escape, which was primarily punished by use of the stocks.
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