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Friday, January 23, 2009

Tar and Feathering during the Revolution

Wikipedia has a great write-up about tar and feathering. I am going to summarize some of the information found there, along with hopefully adding in some additional resources. I just want to remind everyone that, Wikipedia is written by anyone and everyone (you could go change that page right now if you wanted to), so take what I am about to say for what it is and for where it comes from. If you are using this post as a resource for a paper of some kind, please remember to research for yourself in more reliable places. But, personally, for what I do here, Wikipedia is fine for me!

First off what is tar and feathering? Wikipedia states this:

Both tar, which was used in and around 1774, and feathers from edible fowl sources (such as chickens and turkeys) were plentiful. In a typical tar-and-feathers attack, the subject of a crowd's anger would be stripped to the waist. Hot tar was either poured or painted onto the person while he or she was immobilized. Then the victim either had feathers thrown on him or was rolled around on a pile of feathers so that they stuck to the tar. Often the victim was then paraded around town on a cart or a rail. The aim was to hurt and humiliate a person enough to leave town and not cause any more mischief.

After the tar had cooled, it and the feathers would have to be peeled or rubbed off with lard, usually taking a good deal of skin with them. These would leave ugly scars and infection could set in. Depending on how "complete" the job was done, there was also a risk of heat stroke as the tar would act as a strong insulator and prevent the skin from breathing.

And Wikipedia also has the following for when it may have been used in the late 1800s:

In October 1769, a mob in Boston attacked a Customs service sailor the same way, and a few similar attacks followed through 1774 (the tarring and feathering of customs worker John Malcolm received particular attention in 1774). Such acts associated the punishment with the Patriot side of the American Revolution. In March 1775, a British regiment inflicted the same treatment on a Massachusetts man they suspected of trying to buy their muskets. There is no case of a person dying from being tarred and feathered in this period.

The PBS website had this to say about Tar and Feathering:

Threatening or attacking the Crown-appointed office-holders became a popular tactic against the act throughout the colonies. Though no stamp commissioner was actually tarred and feathered, this Medieval brutality was a popular form of 18th century mob violence in Great Britain, particularly against tax collectors.

Tarring and feathering dated back to the days of the Crusades and King Richard the Lionhearted. It began to appear in New England seaports in the 1760s and was most often used by patriot mobs against loyalists. Tar was readily available in shipyards and feathers came from any handy pillow. Though the cruelty invariably stopped short of murder, the tar needed to be burning hot for application.

It seems that tar and feathering did happen in the colonies, but not to a great extent. It was actually pretty hard to find conclusive information on this subject, so please feel free to share your information with me in the comments as well!

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Hercules Mulligan said...

Yow. Mob rule on either side can be pretty terrible.

Robert S. Paul said...

I'm not sure if you read Boston 1775, but he had a good post about this subject, specifically how it played out in the John Adams miniseries.