Of Tar & Feathers.
By John Wilson [ca. 1775], John Robert Shaw [ca. 1778] and Mark Tully [ca. 1999]

Several primary sources make mention of the Continentalís fondness for tarring and feathering their enemies. Here is an interesting account of the possible origins of this peculiar custom:

Mr. Urban [the editor of Gentlemenís Magazine],
As tarring and feathering has been of late much used by way of punishment amongst the inhabitants of North-America, it may not, perhaps, be unacceptable to some of your readers to inform them what gave rise to that custom ; as I believe a great many are ignorant of its original [origins?] and think it a new mode of chastisement.

King Richard the first [1189-1199], called from his great courage Cúur de Lion, or Lionís Heart, not only kept strict discipline amongst his troops, but in his navy also : and, having made a vow to fight against the Sacarcens for the recovery of the Holy Land, in the year 1190, sailed over with his army into France, and had an interview with Philip, King of France, and entered into an alliance with him for that purpose ; and the two armies, of France and England joined at Vezali, according to agreement. King Richard, during his stay in France, at Chinon, a small town in the government of Orleanois, and province of Tourain, standing on the river Vienne, made the following very remarkable orders for preserving the peace in the navy during his expedition to the Holy Lad, viz,

First, If any one killed a man in a ship, he was to be bound to the dead man and flung into the sea.
Second, If any one was convicted to have drawn his dagger, or knife, to hurt another, or fetch blood, he was to lose his hand.

Third, If any one struck another with
his open hand, without effusion of blood, he was to be ducked thrice over head and ears in the sea.

Fourth, If any one gave his companion opprobrious language, so often as he did it, he was to give him so many ounces of silver.

Fifth, If any man stole any thing, his head was to be shaved, and boiling pitch poured upon it, and feathers stuck therein, that so he might be known ; and the first of land the ship touched at, he was to be set on shore.

This I take to be the original form whence tarring and feathering arose, the former being substituted instead of pitch ; the custom being disused for so many centuries, is now again revived amongst Americans.
Chinon, the place where these orders were first made, is also remarkable for being the place where Joan of Arc, the famous Maid of Orleans, who so often defeated the English, and was at last taken and burnt for a witch, first offered her service to Charles the Seventh of France, in the year 1429.

Broomhead,
John Wilson1


Another, more humorous account comes from John Robert Shaw, who relates this story from the vicinity of Bedford, Massachusetts:

In this excursion, among other plunder, we took a store of molasses, the hogshead being rolled out and their heads knocked in, a soldierís wife was stooping to fill her kettle, a soldier slipped behind her and threw her into the hogshead ; when she was hauled out, a bystander then threw a parcel of feathers on her, which adhering to the molasses made her appear frightful enough;ĖThis little circumstance afforded us a good deal of amusement.



SOURCES:
1) The Gentlemenís Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Volume XLV. [45], (London, Sylvanus Urban, Gent[leman], M.DCCLXXV. [1775]) page 565. Printed at St. Johnís Gate for D. Henry and sold by F. Newberry at the corner of St. Paulís Church yard.

2) John Robert Shaw, An Autobiography of Thirty Years, 1777-1807, edited by Oressa M. Teagarden (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1992), pp 23-24.


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