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Stocks and Pillory

Stocks and Pillory

Stocks and pillory were used in Europe hundreds of years before the colonization of the United States. Stocks had become common in England by the mid-14th century and when the British settled the thirteen colonies, they brought with them their system of government, which included the use of stocks and pillory. Laws in Colonial America were very strict and punishment for breaking them was very severe.

A stock is a wooden board with one or more semicircles cut into one edge. When adjoined to another stock, the semicircles form holes and become stocks (plural). The pillory is a device made of a wooden or metal framework erected on a post, with holes for securing the head and hands (stocks).

A major part of punishment in stocks and pillories was public humiliation and they were commonly found in the town square. The Stocks were used to publicly humiliate people that had committed petty crimes. As the offender sat in the stocks, the townspeople would often pelt them with rotten food, dead animals or stones while jeering, mocking, and ridiculing them.

The Pillory was also used for public humiliation, but the comfort level was more severe than the leg stocks and often times was used in conjunction with other punishments such as branding, whipping or having an ear cut off.

As laws and public opinion concerning punishment changed, the use of stocks and pillory declined. The last recorded instance of the stocks being used in England was in Newbury in 1872. The pillory was abolished in Britain in 1837 and most European countries abolished stocks and pillories by the middle of the 19th century, as did most American states. Delaware used the pillory until 1905.