Stories from History: On Fines and other Punishments

Sometimes in life, there are entire stories that you only intersect with a portion of. You see a selection of facts and your brain, so attuned to how the world works, starts to put the pieces together. From very little, conclusions can be drawn. Each of those has a story behind it. That is all I give you today, a series of facts that you can draw your own stories from.

The following are a series of fines from the early days of the colony once known as New Netherlands, during the period which it was governed over by Peter Stuyvesant. This man is still remembered through streets and schools being named after him, and the area the ‘Bowery’ taking its name from his old farm.

  • Knife fighters were punished with six months of hard labour and a hundred guilder fine.
  • If wounds resulted from a knife fight, the fine was increased to 300 guilder.
  • Anyone caught selling liquor to “the Indians” was to be fined 500 guilder. After a year of this failing to decrease the “Indians” still “running drunk”, further punishments were levied upon those selling liquor, including being held responsible for anything the drunk did while under its effects.
  • Jews would have a “friendly way to depart”, so long as they actually did depart from the colonies.
  • Imprisonment for anyone “harbouring Quakers”.
  • Fines upon any who’s house burns down due to their own negligence.
  • The price for selling guns to Aboriginal peoples was four times selling it to others.

Take from these laws what you will.

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