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Public punishment in
Revolutionary Portsmouth

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By Charles W. Brewster

Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.

Scenes on Market square--William Pottle the Tory--Whipping of a woman at the town pump.

HERE we are again on Market square, near where was once the old State House. You can see exactly where the State house stood, for this pavement, the obtuse angle of which extends into the street from the front of Robert Gray's shop, terminates abruptly just where the west steps of the State House door used to stand.

It is the 16th of December, 1774. Here are assembled on the Parade some hundred individuals from other towns, as well as our own citizens. It is an important time, not only in the country abroad, but also immediately at home. The town has been in excitement for several days past, in consequence of an express from Boston, stating that two regiments of red coats were coming to take possession of Fort William & Mary. The Sons of Liberty, spurred on by the news, have just stolen a march, captured the fort, and taken away a hundred barrels of powder. The news spreading abroad has brought into town these strangers, who to-day are holding council together on the momentous issue. The Governor and Council are also in session, and give assurance that they know nothing of either troops or war ships visiting Portsmouth. As one after another comes into town on horseback, a person approaches, who, in the view of many, has shown too little opposition to the oppressions of the mother country. It was stated in a former ramble (Ramble #39) that when the landlord of the "Earl of Halifax" fled, he found quarters in Stratham for a fortnight with William Pottle, Jr., the brewer.

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Attack on William Pottle

The man who now appears on horseback is Pottle himself. Some one points him out, exclaiming: "There is a tory--there is an enemy to his country--see how he looks!" Said another: "There is a man who says he will join Gen. Gage in fighting against his country, whenever called!" The voice of Deacon Boardman of Stratham is now heard: "Gentlemen, this villain has appeared an open enemy to his country; he has held mock meetings, when we have held meetings to choose delegates to Congress; he has opposed sending provisions to the poor in Boston; he has opposed the effort to suppress the use of tea. He ought to be made to sign an acknowledgement and ask pardon of this body." Another voice exclaimed: "I would not give one farthing for his acknowledgement; hiss and drive him out of town; that is the best treatment he deserves!"

A loud huzza is now raised, and Pottle,, putting spurs to his horse, soon separates himself from the company; but instead of leaving town he only retires to a more quiet street, and afterwards is seen near the Bell tavern. Deacon Boardman is again upon him, and addressing a company collected: "Gentlemen, this man has conducted in such a manner that we ought no more to use his malt, than we do tea. For my part I am determined I will not; I will not drink his beer, good as it is, made of tory malt."

Pottle is hissed, and again disappears under the pressure of the populace. On church hill he is overtaken, pulled from his horse, roughly handled, and then put upon his horse and pursued until out of town. But Pottle is soon back again, and subjected to further rough treatment before finally taking refuge at his home in Stratham.

Such is an illustration of the feeling existing in those times. While it is a wonder to many that the public generally were for independence, the wonder under the excited state of things was greater that so many submitted themselves to the greater danger they incurred from opposing the strong popular current of patriotic spirit which stirred the sons of liberty in that eventful period.

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Whipping in Market Square

Let the scene change for another of a different character, in the same vicinity, which occurred ten years earlier. It is a cold day in January, 1764. A woman, who had entered a shop in the house on the corner where the dining-room of the Franklin house now is, was seen to secrete beneath her hood-cloak a pair of children's shoes. When she left the shop, the person who saw the act informed the keeper. Out he rushes: "Stop thief! stop thief!" Goodman Newmarch, who lived in the house next east of the Bell tavern, rushes out, seizes the running woman, and she is borne over the way to the house of Hon. Hunking Wentworth, Justice of the Peace, resident next west of the North church. The evidence is produced, the culprit is found guilty, and is sentenced to be publicly whipped! The whipping post was the town pump. Here her hands are tied up to staples, her shoulders and back are bared, and the sheriff applies the cat-o'-nine-tails! Think of such a scene ever occurring on Market square! The newspaper of the next week calmly reports the event as follows:

"Last Friday one of our female pilferers received a flagellation at the whipping post, who had a great number of spectators to see this good work performed; and it is hoped that others, who so justly deserve it, will soon be brought to the same place to receive their deserts."

In contrast with the corporal punishment so common a century ago, when even the public whipping of a white female was looked upon with complacency, we see the good influences which houses of correction and places of reformation are now exerting upon society.

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
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