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  • Writer's pictureAccokeek Foundation

The Curtain Rises at the National Colonial Farm

Tales from the Pillory

Walking through the picnic area mid-morning last Saturday, I faintly heard someone singing. It sounded a bit like some sort of Irish drinking song paired with some toe tapping and finger snapping. I curiously followed the music around the corner, past the Visitor Center and toward Colonial Road when I saw a figure – a person with long hair dangling over his face, wearing tights and a long sleeved linen shirt with his head and arms locked in a pillory. I then remembered that the Museum Theatre Program was in full swing, and this must be one of their performances.

As I approached the singing figure, he looked up at me with one eye through his long blond locks. “Perjury!” he scoffed. “What kind of crime is that?!” I stopped and watched for a bit thinking he must be really hot and uncomfortable in all those clothes. “Well, you all can see me!” he shouted, “I guess that’s the point.” I had to laugh a little because he seemed like a crazy person to me,  with his hair covering his face and shouting loudly in a British accent. He explained how and why he had landed himself in the pillory, committing some crime that by today’s standards would seem quite silly. To this man though, it was 1775 and he was being punished in public as a result of his crime. He was lucky no one had any rotten tomatoes or garbage to throw his way. Apparently, that’s how certain crimes were dealt with during colonial times, with the amount of time spent in the pillory directly proportional to the crime committed. Stealing chickens, for instance, only garnered someone ten minutes in the pillory.

The poor man being punished on Colonial Road last weekend has since been set free – but someone like him is bound to land himself in trouble again. I’ll be sure to check the pillory the next time I take a walk down by the National Colonial Farm to see if other poor souls will have landed themselves in the pillory to tell their own tales of crime and punishment.

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