19 June 2009

Tarring and Feathering

Tar'd and Feather'd

Beginning in 1765 with colonial opposition to the Stamp Act and continuing through the Revolutionary War, a number of men were "tar'd and feather'd." The statements in this resource describe what was typically done to someone who underwent this punishment. These descriptions reveal that being tarred and feathered was rarely all that was done to the person. Often they were paraded about the town or treated with disrespect in other ways. Although rare, women were also subjected to this treatment. There is no record of the total number of Tories (i.e., Loyalists) or rebels who were treated in this way. Consequently, we cannot accurately estimate the number who were killed because of the tarring and feathering process or the acts subsequent to feathering.

"First strip a person naked, then heat the Tar until it is thin, and pour it upon the naked Flesh, or rub it over with a Tar Brush. . . . After which, sprinkle decently upon the Tar, whilst it is yet warm, as many Feathers as will stick to it. Then hold a lighted Candle to the Feathers, and try to set it all on Fire; if it will burn so much the better. But as the Experiment is often made in cold Weather, it will not then succeed--take also an Halter and put it round the Person's neck, and then cart him the Rounds [meaning around to certain places in the community and put on public display]."

At this point the person was usually taken about the streets of the town in a cart surrounded by shouting people. In some cases he might be placed in the stocks, hanged or beaten. If he survived, he was finally left on his own. Most who got this far were barely alive, exhausted and severely burned. The tar was extremely difficult to get off the badly burned skin, which often got infected. Those that survived could not be helped by anyone. Giving comfort or first aid to a survivor often would result in the helper being attacked.

Tarring and feathering was done not only by people who opposed the Crown and actions of Parliament. For example, in March 1775 Crown troops and Loyalists in Boston tarred and feathered a countryman. Holt's New York Journal, March 30, describes the events a reporter witnessed followed by his opinions of what took place:

"After stripping him naked and covering him with tar and feathers, they mounted him on a one-horse truck, and surrounding the truck with a guard of twenty soldiers with fixed bayonets, accompanied with all the drums and fifes of the regiment and a number of officers, negroes, and sailors, exhibited him as a spectacle through the principal streets of the town. They fixed a label on the man's back, on which was written AMERICAN LIBERTY, or A SPECIMEN OF DEMOCRACY; and to add insult they played Yankee Doodle

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