Saturday, September 24, 2011

Torture Device: Pillory and Stocks


Stocks and pillories were regularly used to punish minor offences committed by slaves. Although whipping was also a common punishment, some owners were sparing with this for fear of damaging or killing valuable slaves. Here is a personal testimony made to the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1839:

The convict hangs by wrists and ankles two inches from the ground. He is left thus under the tropic sun. The position is excruciating torture which quickly produces unconsciousness.

"A planter, a professor of religion, in conversation upon the universality of whipping, remarked that a planter in G--, who had whipped a great deal, at length got tired of it, and invented the following excellent method of punishment, which I saw practised while I was paying him a visit. The negro was placed in a sitting position, with his hands made fast above his head, and feet in the stocks, so that he could not move any part of the body. The master retired, intending to leave him till morning, but we were awakened in the night by the groans of the negro, which were so doleful that we feared he was dying. We went to him, and found him covered with a cold sweat, and almost gone. He could not has lived an hour longer. Mr.--found the 'stocks' such an effective punishment, that it almost superseded the whip.” (source: Geocities)

Pillory and Stocks

The pillory was a wooden frame on a pole with holes through which a person's head and hands were placed. The frame was then locked and the person was subjected to humiliation and ridicule. Sometimes people also threw unpleasant objects at the person in the pillory. The stocks was a wooden frame with holes through which a person's feet were placed and they were humiliated in the same way. Use of the pillory and stocks went out of favour in the 19th century. The pillory was abolished in Britain in 1837 and the stocks was abolished in 1870 (source: Geocities)

Another personal testimony made to the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1839 concerning the fate of a slave who attempted to escape:

"On the return of his master, some of the slaves were sent for Harry. When he came home he was seized and confined in the stocks. The stocks were built in the barn, and consisted of two heavy pieces of timber, ten or more feet in length, and about seven inches wide; the lower one, on the floor, has a number of holes or places cut in it, for the ankles; the upper piece, being of the same dimensions, is fastened at one end by a hinge, and is brought down after the ankles are placed in the holes, and secured by a clasp and padlock at the other end. In this manner the person is left to sit on the floor. Harry was kept in the stocks day and night for a week, and flogged every morning. After this, he was taken out one morning, a log chain fastened around his neck, the two ends dragging on the ground, and he sent to the field, to do his task with the other slaves. At night he was again put in the stocks, in the morning he was sent to the field in the same manner, and thus dragged out another week."

Stocks and pillories were on occasions used with particular savagery, as the following illustrates:

“In the House of Commons on 1 July 1830, during the course of a speech on slavery in the colonies, an instance was mentioned of cruel treatment meted out by an English gentlewoman to a slave girl. On suspicion of being concerned in a theft, the young negress was imprisoned in the stocks for seventeen days, during which period she was deprived of sleep by rubbing red pepper into her eyes, and she was flogged repeatedly.” (“A History of Torture” by George Riley Scott)

Field stocks were much used as a means of punishing female offenders, when regulations substituting this form of punishment in place of female flogging came into force. These consisted of stocks for the victim’s hands which could be adjusted to any height above her head, while her feet were placed in horizontal stocks. The hand stocks could be raised and secured until only the victim’s toes could touch the ground. The whole weight of her body rested upon her wrists and toes. In Trinidad, to increase the punishment, leaden or iron weights were tied to the wrists.


  1. Wow. That's so interesting! I didn't know what the Pillory and stocks were so i searched it and i now know that it is a terrible punishment!


  3. Thanks for this. Helped me with my school project

  4. White people are a trip........Its a shame.......Maybe they should be put in stocks to see what they invented

  5. In VA, white people were punished in the same way for offenses. For more serious crimes they were branded with the initial(s)of their crime, like a T for theft, etc. While in the pillory, onlookers would often throw rotten fruit/foods and sometimes even rocks at their heads, making the punishment worse. This was done for crimes of drunkeness, fortune telling, cheating, arson, blasphemy and the like. If people were still punished this way now, I bet there would be far less crime. Pillories were called poles of shame and were meant to public embarass the guilty.

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