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‘The Marks of Severe Whipping’
The Plight of the Native Sons of Plantation Maryland

“…people already in the colony were often sold into servitude for various terms because they could not pay their fines and the costs of their prosecutions after they had been convicted of crimes or if they could not pay the costs of the proceedings against them whether they were guilty or not.”

—C. Ashley Ellefson, The Private Punishment of Servants and Slaves In Eighteenth-Century Maryland

The following is sourced from C. Ellefson’s Private Punishments and Seven Hangmen

Ultimately the living conditions and laws of servitude that governed Plantation Maryland derived from the many acts to limit freedom and punish masterless men, such as The Act for Punishing Vagabonds enacted by Parliament in 1547, which “provided that the runaway servant or vagabond [homeless, penniless or jobless person] become a slave for two years, that if he absented himself for two weeks during that time he become a slave for life, and that if he ran away again he could be adjudged a felon [executed]. 1 Edward VI, c. 3, in Danby Pickering, The Statutes at Large (109 vols.; Cambridge: Joseph Bentham and Others, 1762-1869), V, 246-247. The Parliament did distinguish between a servant and a slave.

In Maryland, from 1704, servants had to reimburse the owner in labor for the cost of catching them.

Notable Servant Whippings from the Maryland archives

-May of 1746: Benjamin Tasker’s runaway convict servant Henry Kirk had been “lately Whipt for his Roguery, and the Stripes remain fresh on his Back.”

-June 1746: runaway servant Charles Smith had “the Scars of Whipping on his Back.”

-May of 1753: runaway servant William Beall had “several Marks of Correction upon his Back” for running away twice before.

-August 1753: runaway servant Darby Mahoney had “several Scars on his Back, occasioned by whipping,” and had “always been a notorious Rogue and Thief.”

-September of 1758: he pointed out that John Syms was an old offender, as could “be seen by the Marks on his Back.”

-October of 1768: John Hoget, a runaway in Alexandria “bore the marks of a recent whipping.”

-March of 1747: runaway servant John Hyde had already “lost a Piece of one of his Ears,” was “as great a Villain as . . . [the] Age . . . [could] produce” and had recently been severely whipped

-April 1758: runaway convict servant Sarah Davis had “many Scars on her Back occasioned by severe Whippings from her former Master.” [1]

-November 1767: runaway convict servant Joseph Haines’ body was “much scarified.”

-August 1769: runaway convict servant Thomas Moore had been “severely whipt, which appears on his Back now in Scars.”

-December 1770: runaway convict servant Thomas Burn was “remarkably cut on the Buttocks by a Flogging he received from a former Master.”

-July, 1771: runaway convict servant William Springate wore “the Marks of a severe whipping given him lately for breaking into a house.” [2]


1. It was common for a servant to be owned by two or more masters at varying times, not all consecutively, as a landless person could fall into servitude and be sold for debts, poverty, homelessness or any number of minor crimes.

2. Breaking into a house was a capital crime and he could have been executed, so the boy got off lucky.

Stillbirth of a Nation: Caucasian Slavery in Plantation America: Part One

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