Puritan punishments for children

Puritans were a group of deeply religious protestants stemming from the Church of England that came about in the 16th and 17th centuries. Between 1620 and 1640 over 21,000 puritans came from Britain to New England. During this time puritans founded many colonies in the New England region of North America.

Puritans were known for strict religious morals, and for public punishments when laws were broken. Many children suffered the same punishments as adults.

Binding Out

Often children of poor families would be "bound out." This would be the punishment for a crime that either the child or his parents committed. The act of binding out is essentially a court or church decree that the child shall serve as an apprentice or slave labour for a specific amount of time to a prominent colony member, often for a number of years. If a child from a poor family had to appear in court, this punishment was the most common because the child wouldn't have any prominent colony member to speak for him or her.


Generally, puritans left punishments up to the child's parents, unless the court felt that the child new right from wrong. Whippings were typically the harshest punishment a child could receive, but more serious forms of punishment were used. During colonial times, public whippings were a part of puritan life. These whippings were typically carried out on a whipping post, usually in the town centre, or outside of the court, church or schoolyard. The whippings were given by horsewhip and the number of lashes varied depending on the crime.


The pillory was used in England as well as in New England puritan colonies. Some early puritan schools had a pillory outside in the schoolyard for misbehaving children. Offenders would place their head and hands into the three holes on the pillory, and the top would be closed, forcing them to stay in a standing, bent position. Often, onlookers or passer-by were encouraged to ridicule the offender, or throw garbage at them.


The stocks were generally used for minor offences. These wooden devices are similar to a pillory, except the stocks lock an offenders feet rather than arms and head. Stocks could be found outside of puritan courtrooms, churches and in playgrounds. The offender would be seated, then his ankles locked into the stocks while his feet were held straight out. For children, if whipping wasn't satisfactory, or if the child was habitually misbehaving, the stocks or pillory would be the next punishment used.