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Crime and Punishment in the Massachusetts Colonies

Crime and Punishment in Simsbury

Excerpted from The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors, (Save $201 by ordering through us.) Two volumes. By Judge Oliver Seymour Phelps and Andrew T. Servin. (Eagle Publishing Company of Pittsfield, Mass., 1899). Original spelling and punctuation preserved.) pp 79-80.

"It may be interesting here to notice a few of the laws enacted by our ancestor, Mr. William Phelps, and his associates, and as executed by then, which with others are called the Blue Laws of Connecticut."

"Says Stiles(2), "We find capital crimes more numerous than now. It was a capital offence to worship any other than the True God-to practice adultery-or the crime against nature, or rape, or to blaspheme, or to exercise witchcraft-or to steal amen or women-or for children 'unless brought up in unchristian neglect,' to curse or to smite, or to be stubborn or rebellious toward their parents.

"Lying in those days was deemed a peculiarly heinous offence. In 1641 the General Court stigmatized it as a fowl and gross sin,-and Mr. Webster of Hartford and Mr. Phelps of Windsor are requested to consult with the elders of both churches, to prepare instructions against the next Court, for the punishment of the sin of lying."

In the code of 1650 all persons above the age of 14 years found guilty of lying, are made punishable by fines, stocks or stripes-and punished by parents in presence of officers.

Open contempt for God's holy word or ministers was rigorously dealt with. The 1st. offence with reproof, and bonds for good behavior; The 2nd. 5£, fine, and standing in the pillory on a lecture day, bearing on the breast a paper duly labelled in capital letters, "An open and obstinate contemner of God's Holy Word."

Absence from church was visited by a fine of five shillings.

Forgery was punished by three days in the pillory--payment of double damage to the injured party, and disqualification as a witness or juryman.

Fornication by fine, whipping or prohibition to marry. For censure of the General Court the stocks, and the whipping post, which were peculiar institutions of the older times.

In a case of bastardy tried in the colony in 1639, the Court ordered as follows: "John Edwards, Aaron Stark, and John Williams were censured for unclean practices as follows:

John Edwards and John Williams to stand upon the pillory from the ringing of the first bell to the end of the lecture--then to be whipped at the cart's tail, and to be whipped in a like manner in Windsor in eight days following.

Aaron Starks, to stand upon the pillory and be whipped as Williams, and to have the letter R burnt upon his cheek, and in regard to the wrong done to Mary Holt, to pay her parents £10 and in defect of such to the commonwealth; and it is the will of the Court that Mr. Ludlow, and Mr. Phelps see some punishment inflicted upon the girl for concealing it so long.

Branding was a form of punishment not uncommon -- burglarly and highway robbery was blazoned with the letter B-A. 2nd. offence by second branding, and a severe whipping.

Sept., 1644, James Hallett for his theft, is adjudged to restore four fold for what shall be proved before Captain Mason, and Mr. Wolcott, and to be branded in the hand the next training day at Windsor.

These New England magistrates after the weeks courting and Ordering, entered the meeting house on the Lord's day, and seated themselves in the magistrates pew, and then sang

"O God our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our Eternal home"--etc.

What changes in laws and costumes, characters and worship since that time! Now evil speaking, and evildoing and saying are rampant, and infidelity boldly presents itself all over the land."

(1) From The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors, (Save $201 by ordering through us.) Two volumes. By Judge Oliver Seymour Phelps and Andrew T. Servin. (Eagle Publishing Company of Pittsfield, Mass., 1899)Original spelling and punctuation preserved.) Vol. I, pp 77-89

(2) Henry R. Stiles, A.M., M.D., History of Ancient Windsor, 2 Vols. (Picton Press, Camden, Maine). 1891, 1892.

(3)Trumbull, B. Complete History of Connecticut, Civil and Ecclesiastical. 2 vols. New London,1898.