Monadnock Moments No. 17: Crime and Punishment in Cheshire County
Early Cheshire County court records illustrate that the punishment for criminal offenses was much different in the county more than 200 years ago than it is today. Selling convicted criminals into servitude, branding, and public whipping were accepted punishments. In the later part of the 18th century Keene had a public whipping post and a pillory, a wooden device with holes for the head and hands, in which criminals were locked and exposed to public scorn.
In the late 1780s, for example, Jacob Putnam of Alstead was convicted of passing counterfeit dollars and sentenced to stand in the pillory one hour and to pay a twenty-five pound fine and court costs.
Nearly two decades later, in September of 1806, Nathan Eldridge was found guilty of burglarizing a store in Walpole. He was sentenced to receive nineteen lashes and sold into service if he could not pay the store owners $1500 as well as a $500 fine to the county.
The sentence of mutilation was not as common, but was indeed used in Cheshire County. In May of 1785, Kimball Carleton of Chesterfield was found guilty of forgery and fraud and was sentenced to stand for one hour in the pillory, to have one ear cut off, and to pay a fine of $300. Ears were commonly removed in open court by the sheriff, who cut off the ear and then seared the wound with a hot iron.
The punishments handed out in olden days were used as a way to deter crime. Criminals of today might be relieved should they happen to read New Hampshire court cases of the past and learn what punishment they might have been subjected to had they committed a crime in the 18th century.