Crimes And Punishment In Colonial America
In Colonial America the court structure was quite different from Great Britain. The colonial system was a hierarchy of overlapping courts and common law was the law of the land. The common law was greatly influenced by moral law because it was based on moral law which was derived from the Bible.
Crime in Colonial America was similar to the criminal acts prevalent in our society today. There were murders, thefts and disturbance of peace. However, certain crimes were taken very seriously in Colonial America which are not considered so in our society today. For instance, hog theft, slander and public drunkenness were taken very serious.
In most colonies it was against the law to swear, not to attend church services, to display unacceptable behavior between members of the opposite gender, and to behave inappropriately on Sabbath. Blasphemy was dealt with severely and treason was considered a serious crime as the King wanted to keep tight control over the colonies.
The people of a particular town appointed law officials and carried out criminal punishment. Although the colonists considered themselves to be morally upright and religious, Colonial America had crimes and some of the common punishments that were meted out were as follows:
- Ducking Stool -- This was a chair onto which criminals were tied and then ducked into water as punishment for their crimes.
- Whipping Post -- The criminals were tied and then whipped in front of the entire town.
- Stocks -- This referred to a wooden frame with foot holes into which the ankles were locked while the criminal was sitting down.
- Pillory -- This was also a wooden frame which had holes for the head and hands. The criminals were made to stand while his head and hands were inserted into the framework. It was quite common to through rocks and rotten fruits at the criminal making the already uncomfortable punishment even worse.
It was seen that people belonging to higher social strata were punished less severely than a person belonging to a lower strata even if the crime was the same. This also held true for women, who were whipped or publicly shamed for a crime while a man would get away with a fine for the same crime. Slaves were convicted at courts and were handed out physical punishment.
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