During North Carolina's early history, authorities used jails to house inmates before they could be tried or have their sentences carried out. Unlike today, jails were not usually used to punish offenders. Instead, corporal punishment was the norm and often involved stocks, pillory, and whipping post, all designed to inflict both pain and embarrassment upon the convicted. The sheriff often administered the punishment the same day the sentence was handed down.
A prisoner sentenced to the pillory inserted his or her hands and head into holes between two boards. Once secured, onlookers harassed the prisoner verbally and physically, often throwing rotten fruits and vegetables and even small stones. More severe infractions might involve nailing ears to the boards to help hold the prisoner's head in place and severing them upon completion of the sentence.
Stocks required that the prisoner sit on a wooden rail, often honed to an uncomfortable ridge. His or her feet would be secured between two boards. Depending on the severity of the crime, a person remained in this uncomfortable position for hours, days, or weeks, subject to the catcalls and taunts of neighbors and townsfolk.
The whipping post was not reserved for the enslaved community. Persons of all races could be sentenced to this punishment. Authorities constrained the prisoners by tying their hands above their head before the lash was administered, usually to the bare back.
For being a horse thief, the sheriff administered the following sentence to Thomas Richardson of Halifax on October 1788:
· Both ears nailed to the pillory
· Both ears cut off
· Branded with letter "H" on right cheek and letter "S" on left cheek
· 39 lashes on his bare back, "well laid on"