B is for Branding


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 the 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.

Some of the accused pleaded “the benefit of clergy” to reduce the severity of their sentence. A branding might be placed on the finger or thumb rather than the cheek or forehead. In 1707, branding was done on the hand as a letter on the face rendered a person unemployable.

Committing any crime on the Lord’s Day upped the severity of where the brand would be placed. A burglar might receive a B on his hand if the crime was committed any day except Sunday.  If the offense was done on the Sabbath, the brand would be burned into the forehead. Obviously, these criminals were supposed to be at services in the meeting-house ALL day on the Sabbath.

England and its colonies went about assigning letters for branding in an orderly and understandable manner.

A for Adultery

B for Blasphemy or Burglary

D for Drunkenness

F for Felon or Forgery

H for Heresy

I for Selling arms, powder or shots to Indians

M for Manslaughter

R for Rogue

S for Slave

SL for Seditious Libeler

SS for Sower of Sedition