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Crime and Punishment In Plymouth Colony

Our immigrant ancestor, William Almy, first resided in Lynn in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1637 he was one of ten men that Plymouth Colony granted the right to settle enough land in Sandwich (on Cape Cod) for three score families.LB

As William was a resident of Plymouth Colony for a period of time, I thought you might be interested in Plymouth Colony life. The following is from Pilgrim News, the newsletter of the Society of Mayflower Descendants in Nebraska.LB

"Many of the court records from the Plymouth Colony still exist today, dating back as early as 1623 and continuing through the end of the Colony in 1691. By examining the laws and the prescribed punishments in the court records, we can get a better understanding of how the judicial system of the Pilgrims worked, as well as the social and religious values maintained by the Pilgrims."LB

"There were five crimes that were punishable by death in Plymouth Colony. They were (1) treason or rebellion; (2) "willful" murder; (3) making a compact with Satan, including witchcraft; (4) arson of houses or ships; and (5) rape. Trial was always by a jury of 12 peers. When Indians were tried, the jury usually consisted of Christianized Indians to avoid the appearance of bias. Serious crimes were usually investigated by a grand jury, which on rare occasions contained women members."LB

"The remaining crimes were generally punished with a fine, a public whipping, or sitting in the public stocks." The following presents a sample of criminal offenses and the associated punishment or fine, taken from pre-1650 court records of Plymouth.LB

Adultery -- LB
severely whipped on two separate occasions, one in public, and to wear the capital letters AD sewn on back of upper garment or sleeve.LB
Fornication -- LB
Unmarried couple who refuse to get married after incident: whipping, fine of 10, and three or less days in prison. Unmarried couple who agree to get married : 10 fine, but no whipping. Couple already engaged to be married at time of incident: fine of 50 shillings.LB
Cursing God -- LB
Three hours (or less) in the public stocks.LB
Lying in public -- LB
Fine of 10 shillings. If can't pay, then 2 hours in stocks.LB
Stealing -- LB
Repay double the value of what was stolen, or be publicly whipped.LB
Getting drunk -- LB
Fined, value to be determined by the magistrates.LB
Gambling with dice or cards -- LB
Fine of 40 shillings.LB
Tearing down or burning someone's fence -- LB
Rebuild the fence, plus a 50 shilling fine for first offense, 5 fine for second offense.LB
Defacing a landmark -- LB
Fine ranging from 20 shillings to 5, depending on severity.LB
Wearing visors or other "strange apparell" -- LB
Fine of 50 shillings.LB
Smoking tobacco in public, or near hay (soldiers exempted) -- LB
first offense, 12 pence. Second offence, 2 shillings.LB
Failing to attend church -- LB
10 shilling fine.LB
Working (laboring) on Sunday -- LB
10 shilling fine.LB
Traveling on Sunday -- LB
20 shilling fine.LB


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