Puritan sentences for crimes were harsh indeed! Branding with a hot iron might be considered unthinkable to the modern American, but it certainly presented a visible warning to all the colonists. It was another part of life considered normal for the Puritans. Everyone knew what each branded letter represented, and the bearer was treated accordingly.
Branding was considered legal in England and all of her colonies and often took place in the courtroom right after the magistrate rendered the verdict. A group of spectators could always be counted on to witness the event.
My new series of blog posts will go through the alphabet as I describe the interesting crimes and punishments that took place in the early colonial period in Essex County, Massachusetts. The blogs will also be a permanent page under the title “The ABC’s of Crime and Punishment in Puritan New England.
“A for Adultery”
Hester Prynne made the Scarlet Letter of “A for Adultery” well known in Early American history. This fictional single woman was forced to sew a scarlet colored “A” on her bodice as punishment for her adulterous affair with a married man.
The Essex County Court Records from the early colonial period contain numerous accusations of fornication. The records sometimes use euphemisms such as “insinuating or wanton dalliance”, “unlawful familiarity” and “committing folly.”