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Law and Order: Colonial Style

Back in Bermuda's early days, colonists convicted of offenses such as drunkenness, blasphemy, and slander would be locked in the stocks or forced to stand in the pillory for a set length of time. Either way, the punishment was uncomfortable and humiliating (especially when rapidly thrown rotten fruit was added to the equation!). Today replicas of both stocks and pillory can be found on King's Square in St. George's, and curious souls are welcome to try them out.

It is, however, recommended that you stay well away from the other apparatus townsfolk used to chasten the unruly—the ducking stool—unless you fancy getting wet. Originally reserved for women who nagged or gossiped, the device is essentially an oversize wooden seesaw. The accused would be strapped to a seat on one end, then wheeled out over the harbor, and repeatedly dropped in.

A worse fate was "trial by water," otherwise known as "swimming the witch." In the 1600s suspected witches—typically women charged with such heinous crimes as bewitching hogs or having warts—would have their thumbs tied to their toes and be thrown into the harbor.

Those who sank, for whatever good it did them, were declared innocent. Those who floated were condemned. The unfortunates who fell into the latter category were hauled out to be hanged—and when it comes to the executioners' preferred locations, place names like Gallows Island and Gibbet Island are a dead giveaway.

Updated: 03-2014

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