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Usually, however, the culprit sat on a low bench with simply his legs confined. Thus securely restrained, he was powerless to escape the jests and jeers of every idler in the community.
The stocks were the scene of many striking figures, and many amusing ones; what a sight was that when an English actor who had caused the playing of the Midsummer-Night’s Dream in the very house of the Bishop of Lincoln, and on Sunday, too, was set in stocks at the Bishop’s gate with an ass’s head beside him and a wisp of hay-in derision of the part he had played, that of Bottom the weaver. This in 1631-after both Plymouth and Boston had been settled.
And the stocks were not without their farcical side in New England. Governor Winthrop’s account of the exploits of a Boston Dogberry in 1644 is certainly amusing.
“There fell out a troublesome business in Boston. An English sailor happened to be drunk, and was carried to his lodging, and the constable (a godly man and much zealous against such disorders), hearing of it, found him out, being upon his bed asleep, so he awaked him, and led him to the stocks, no magistrate being at home. He being in the stocks, one of La Tour’s French gentlemen visitors in Boston lifted up the stocks and let him out. The constable, hearing of it, went to the Frenchman (being then gone and quiet) and would needs carry him to the stocks. The Frenchman offered to yield himself to go to prison, but the constable, not understanding his language pressed him to go to the stocks: the Frenchman resisted and drew his sword; with that company came in and disarmed him, and carried him by force to the stocks, but soon after the constable took him out and carried him to prison, and presently after, took him forth again, and delivered him to La Tour. Much tumult was there about this: many Frenchmen were in town, and other strangers, who were not satisfied with this dealing of the constable yet were quiet. In the morning the magistrate examined the cause, and sent for La Tour, who was much grieved for his servant’s miscarriage, and also for the disgrace put upon him (for in France it is a most ignominious thing to be laid in the stocks), but yet he complained not of any injury, but left him wholly with the magistrates to do with him what they pleased, etc. . .