is time now to make some reflections, were it not only for the sake
of form; just as the clergyman who divides his text into several heads,
and then adds, "we shall conclude with an improvement of the whole;
or with a few practical observations or reflections." In early
life, when long sermons tired me, the young mind not capable of long
attention, I used to look out for this peroratory part of the discourse,
with much anxiety; not that I valued it more than any other, for the
intrinsic worth of it, but merely because it was the last. It appeared
to me an unconscionable thin in a man to speak too long, when it was
left with himself how long he should speak. Ah! if it was known how
many curses I have given tedious speakers even in the pulpit itself,
in my time, I should be thought a very wicked man. Perhaps some may
think that I am a tedious writer. Well; but have not readers it in their
power to lay down the book when they think proper, and begin again?
But as I was saying, it has become time to make some reflections, of which
it must be acknowledged, I have been sparing in this the latter part of
my performance. But upon what shall I reflect? The vanity of things, doubtless.
But in what mode shall I present this vanity? In moralizing on the disappointment
of the Captain and the revenue officer, with the waiting man Duncan Ferguson,
coming forward to establish offices, and all at once made prisoners, and
treated as the meanest culprits? or shall it be on the mistaken patriotism
of even good though uninformed men, opposing an obnoxious, and unequal
law, not by remonstrance, but by actual force, and thereby sapping all
principle, or rather overthrowing all structure of a republican government?
No: these are exhausted topics. I shall rather content myself at present,
with a dissertation, on that mode of disgrace, or punishment, which was
chosen in the case of the revenue officer; tarring and feathering.
I find no trace of this mode of punishment amongst the ancients, I mean
the Greeks, Hebrews, and Romans. Having had occasion lately to look over
the whole book of Deuteronomy, I have paid attention to this particular,
and have discovered no vestige of it. Amongst the Greeks, so far as my
memory serves me, there is nothing like it. I recollect well the sanctions
of criminal law amongst the Romans. And what appears to me to come nearest
to this of tarring and feathering, is the punishment of the sewing up
the culprit in a sack, with an ape, a serpent, and a fox; and throwing
him into a river, or a bason of the sea, to drown, if he had escaped death
by his companions in the mean time.
As to the origin of tarring and feathering, I am at a loss to say.* It
would seem to me, that it took its rise in the town of Boston, just before
the commencement of the American revolution. Unless, indeed, it should
be contended that Nebuchadnezzar was tarred and feathered; of which I
am not persuaded; because though it is said that "his nails had grown
to eagles claws," and in that case presenting the talons of a bird,
which a tarred and feathered man resembles, yet at the same time it is
added, he eat grass like an ox. Now a turkey buzzard, or a bald eagle,
does not eat grass like an ox; nor do I know that these fowls eat grass
at all or at least so obviously as to make the eating grass a distinguishing
characteristic of their nature. I shall therefore give up the hypothesis
of Nebuchadnezzar being tarred and feathered.
It would appear to me to be what may be called a revolutionary punishment,
beyond what in a settled state of the government may be inflicted by the
opprobrium of opinion; and yet short of the coercion of the laws. It was
in this middle state, that it took its rise with us; answering the same
end, but with a more mild operation, than that of the lanthern, at the
commencement of the revolution in France. It took rise in the sea coast
towns in America; and I would suppose it to be owing to some accidental
conjunction of the seamen and the citizens, devising a mode of punishment
for a person obnoxious. The sailors naturally thought of tar, and the
women, who used to be assisting on these occasions, thought of bolsters
Let it suffice that I have suggested the question, and leave it to be
settled by some other person, at some future period.
mode of punishment is said to be alluded to in the laws of Oleron.