Archive for March 2nd, 2009

Common Scolds and Ducking Stools

March 2, 2009



We learn that the Judge of the Court of Quarter Sessions for this county, on Friday sentenced a woman to be ducked by immersion as a common scold on Wednesday next.

Annexed is the sentence of the Court —

Commonwealth vs. Nancy James.

Indictment for a nuisance — charged with being a common scold.

Oct. 11th, 1824 — Verdict, Guilty.

Oct. 29th, 1824 — The prisoner sentenced to be place in a certain engine of correction called a Cucking or Ducking Stool, on Wednesday next, the third day of November ensuing, between the hours of 10 and 12 o’clock in the morning — and being so placed therein, to be plunged into water — that she pay the costs  of prosecution, and stand committed until this sentence is complied with. Nat. Gaz.

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Nov 10, 1824


Ducking stool, a stool or chair in which common scolds were  formerly tied, and plunged into water, as a punishment. The practice of ducking began in the latter part of the 15th century, and prevailed until the early part of the 18th, and occasionally as late as the 19th century. –Blackstone. Chambers.

The picture is also from this website.



The court of quarter sessions for Philadelphia county, lately sentenced Nancy James, convicted of being a common scold to be placed in a certain engine of correction called a Cucking or Ducking stool, on Wednesday the 3d of November ensuing, between the hours of 10 and 12 o’clock in the morning, and being so placed therein, to be plunged into the water” &c — The case has been carried up to the Supreme Court to try the legal validity of the sentence, we presume.

Ohio Repository, The (Canton, Ohio) Nov 26, 1824



On Monday last, the judgement of the court of quarter sessions in this city, in the case of Nancy James, who was indicted and sentenced to be ducked as a common scold, was reversed by the Supreme Court, on the ground that no law of Pennsylvania, either statute or common, warranted the sentence of the court below.

Judge DUNCAN considered that this inhuman and barbarous part of the English common law had become obsolete; that, at all events, it had never been brought to this country by our ancestors; that it was incompatible with their humane habits, as well as with the enlightened maxims of civil policy introduced into Pennsylvania by WILLIAM PENN; and that even if the punishment formerly inflicted upon common scolds had ever obtained here, it had, by implication, been repealed by the general spirit of our mild penal code. The decision of the Supreme Court must give universal satisfaction.

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Jan 12, 1825


A famous scold:

The United States vs. Ann Royal.

Another case came up yesterday before the Circuit Court, which, by the unusual crowd that thronged the Hall, appeared to excite much interest. Mrs. Ann Royal, against whom a bench warrant was issued last week appeared to answer an indictment found against her during the term, by the Grand Jury, for certain alleged improprieties of conduct, denominated in legal phrase ‘common scold’ ‘common slanderer,’ ‘brawler’ ‘common nuisance,’ &c. The defendant’s counsel entered a demurrer to two out of the three counts of indictment, which the counsel for the prosecution agreed to submit to the court without argument. The defendant also asked a continuance of the trial to Friday next, on the ground of the absence of two witnesses material to her defense. The indulgence was granted, on the understanding that if she was convicted, the expense, (growing out of the repeated attendance of many witnesses) would be paid by her. The trial was accordingly postponed to Friday, — Gaz.

On the 18th Mrs. Royal was heard first by her counsel, 2dly by her witnesses, and lastly by her eloquent self. Nevertheless the jury ungallantly found her guilty, and the Bench still more ungallantly ordered her to jail, until she found bail for her appearance to receive judgment, which was arrested by her counsel. “This is a pretty country we live in,” said she, as she heard the mandate for her incarceration.

Ohio Repository, The (Canton, Ohio) Jul 31, 1829


For more on scolds and ducking, see my “To Punish Scolds” post. There will also be two more posts on this topic, later this week.

10 Year-Old Slave Girl Goes on a Murdering Spree

March 2, 2009
Unprotected Spring

Unprotected Spring



Otho Shipley, of Baltimore county, 23 miles from the city of Baltimore, on going to the spring about 5 weeks since, found one of his children, three years old, dead in the spring, the water in which, was not more than three or four inches deep; suspicions resting upon no particular person, it was supposed to have been an accident. The spring was afterwards covered with boards, sufficient room only being left to dip out the water. About two weeks afterwards, another child named Jemima, about six years old, was found dead in the spring; from which the boards had been removed, the face of the child was in the water, and had upon it marks of violence. Suspicion then attached to a black girl, who had nursed the children, but not sufficient to enable them to extort a confession from the negro, in consequence of her age, which was only ten years. Mr. Shipley, however determined upon sending the black girl, to his father’s from whence he had got her, and mentioned the circumstances. The negro girl had not been at her master’s more than two weeks, before a black child was found dead, having been suffocated; she afterwards requested another negro child to lay her head upon a block, and taking an axe, said she would show her how they killed chickens; the child became alarmed,  and ran from her. At night she was discovered in a room in which some of the ladies of the house usually slept, and was turned out; in about an hour afterwards, she was discovered, getting in at the window, and being asked what she wanted, she said, that she came to tell them, that it was she who had killed Jemima, (the child of Mr. Shipley, mentioned above) and on being questioned, acknowledged that she had also killed the negro girl, and related the particulars of the murder of Jemima, as follows” —

She was with the child in the garden, and struck her — the child returned the blow, she (the negro) then took a handful of sand, and stuffed it into her mouth and took her to the spring, where she immersed her face in the water, until she supposed she was dead; she then left her, and went towards the house; but, hearing the child cry, to make use of her own words, “she went back and finished it.”

The above narration we have had from a source that entitles it to full credit, and we do not remember ever to have heard of a transaction in which at so early an age, such shocking depravity has been displayed.
Baltimore Chronicle.


We understand that the Girl, of whose depravity so shocking a detail was given in our paper of yesterday, has been examined by the proper authority and has substantiated by her confession every part of it, with the exception of getting in at the window, her hands having only extended up toward it.

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) May 30, 1827