tarred and feathered
- Richard Baldwin wrote:
<<A freind of mine that does not do reenacting. Asked questions about tar
and feathered. I know that whomever aided the enemy. Would be tared and
feathered. How hot was this tar? Did people live through it? How did it
come off? And why the feathers?>>
Though the Tory judge Peter Oliver of Massachusetts wrote that the American
Whigs invented tarring and feathering, it was actually an old British
custom, reportedly enacted into law as a punishment in Richard the
Lionheart's time. There was also a long tradition of using tar and feathers
against social enemies in the colonies before the Revolutionary period.
Seaport towns had a ready supply of tar because it was used in
shipbuilding, to tar ropes, and to render clothing water-resistant. The
sailors' nickname "Jack Tar" came from the habit of wearing tarred jackets
The feathers were probably added to make the person undergoing punishment
look more ridiculous, as was stripping him or (in very rare cases) her
naked first. There are some reports of teenage boys in revels wearing
costumes that were tarred and feathered, perhaps to resemble the
burry/furry boys of English May Day dances, so the feathers might have some
symbolic meaning as well.
I don't know how hot the tar was, but mobs seem to have used tar from
buckets, not from vats warming over fires. The injuries from tarring and
feathering that I've read about seem to have been due to beatings
administered at the same time rather than the tar. Removing the coating was
probably a matter of scrubbing and waiting.
The punishment wasn't fatal, nor intended to be. One Boston mob simply
carted around a Loyalist merchant, Patrick McMasters, with a bucket of tar
because they perceived that he might not survive the physical ordeal. Other
New England crowds tarred and feathered people over their clothing as a
J. L. Bell JnoLBell@...
- The opening pages of Kenneth Roberts' most excellent book "Oliver
Wiswell" include fairly detailed and horrific descriptions of both
tarring and feathering and riding on a rail. One might survive the
former with some scars (the tar couldn't be painted on unless it was
fairly hot and the feathers may have acted as an insulation to keep
it from cooling too quickly) but often not the latter. I suppose the
mob found it more amusing than a simple hanging.
Loyal American Regiment