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Random Thoughts

Cruel and unusual punishments – part 2


October 18, 2019

Back when the United States was a collection of British colonies, punishment for violators of the law was often harsh. But unless someone committed a terrible crime, punishment often did not mean time spent in jail.

If a criminal was, for example, a married man, his family would suffer if he was incarcerated. Moreover, it might fall to society to help take care of his dependents, which would make them a burden on everyone else.

The solution to this conundrum was to punish those guilty of minor violations of the law in some other way.

Thus, when the Puritans came from England to Massachusetts in 1630, they brought with them a metal framework that would restrict a person’s movements while being uncomfortable and humiliating.

Perhaps such a punishment would straighten out someone who needed it without causing the man’s family to suffer for the sins of the husband and father.

After some regular use, this metal contraption was wearing out and needed to be replaced. Since metal was hard to come by in colonial America, the good folks of Boston decided to use wood to make a similar apparatus.

These wooden appliances – as we noted last week – were called “stockades.” Boston leaders advertised for a carpenter to build them a wooden stockade, and they hired a man named Edward Palmer to do the job.

When Palmer delivered the finished product, he presented city officials with a bill for his labor and materials. The amount was a pound plus a few shillings and pence.

A little internet research discloses that a person could have had four bed frames made at that time for that amount of money. Consequently, almost everyone thought that Palmer’s bill was too high.

So Boston leaders convicted Palmer of extortion and fined him five pounds, more than four times the amount of his bill!

And one more thing. They sentenced him to spend an hour in the town’s stockade, thus making him the first person to be punished in the very apparatus he had just made!


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