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Stocks are devices that were used internationally, in medieval, Renaissance and colonial American times as a form of physical punishment involving public humiliation. The stocks partially immobilized its victims and they were often exposed in a public place such as the site of a market to the scorn of those who passed by. This scorn was commonly represented by throwing rotten food at the victim.
Form and application
The stocks are similar to the pillory and the pranger, as each consists of large, hinged, wooden boards; the difference, however, is that when a person is placed in the stocks, their feet are locked in place, sometimes their hands or head may have been chained also.
With stocks, boards are placed around the ankles and the wrists in some cases, whereas in the pillory they are placed around the arms and neck and fixed to a pole, and the victim stands. However, the terms can be confused, and many people refer to the pillory as the stocks.
The victims feet were usually bare, this caused heightened humiliation.
Since stocks served an outdoor public form of punishment its victims were subjected to the daily and nightly weather. As a consequence it was common for people kept in stocks over several days to die from exposure.
The practice of using stocks continues to be cited as an example of torture and cruel and unusual punishment. Victims may be insulted, kicked, tickled, spat on, or subjected to other inhumane acts at the discretion of passersby.
One of the earliest references to the stocks in literature appears in the Bible. Paul and Silas, disciples of Jesus, were arrested. Their treatment by their jailer was detailed in the Book of Acts: "Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks." The Old Testament's book of Job also describes the stocks, referring to God: "He puts my feet in the stocks, he watches all my paths."
The stocks were also popular among civil authorities from medieval to early modern times, and have been used as punishment for military deserters or for dereliction of military duty. In the stocks, an offender's hands and head, or sometimes their ankles, would be placed and locked through two or three holes in the center of a board. Offenders were forced to carry out their punishments in the rain, during the heat of summer, or in freezing weather, and would generally receive only bread and water, plus anything brought by their friends.
The stocks were popular during the Colonial days in America. Public punishment in the stocks was a common occurrence from around 1500 until at least 1748. The stocks were especially popular among the early American Puritans, who frequently employed the stocks for punishing the "lower class".
In the American colonies, the stocks were also used, not only for punishment, but as a means of restraining individuals awaiting trial.
The offender would be exposed to whatever treatment those who passed by could imagine. This could include tickling of the feet. As noted by the New York Times in an article dated November 13, 1887, "Gone, too, are the parish stocks, in which offenders against public morality formerly sat imprisoned, with their legs held fast beneath a heavy wooden yoke, while sundry small but fiendish boys improved the occasion by deliberately pulling off their shoes and tickling the soles of their defenseless feet."
England's second Statute of Labourers prescribed the use of the stocks for "unruly artisans" in 1350, and required that every town and village erect a set of stocks. Sources indicate that the stocks were used in England for over 500 years and have never been formally abolished.
Finger pillories often went by the name of "finger stocks". Public stocks were typically positioned in the most public place available, as public humiliation was a critical aspect of such punishment. Typically, a person condemned to the stocks was subjected to a variety of abuses, ranging from having refuse thrown at them, tickling to paddling, whipping of the unprotected feet (bastinado).
In Toronto, Ontario, Canada, court records from 1811 required the building of a set of stocks for punishment.
The Spanish conquistadores introduced stocks as a popular form of punishment and humiliation against those who impeded the consolidation of their settlements in the new world. They were still used in the 19th century in Latin America to punish indigenous miners in many countries for rebelling against their bosses.
American courts normally punish offenders by sentencing them to incarceration in jail or prison or to probation, which may include community service. It is not clear whether the stocks are permitted under the U.S. Constitution because the Supreme Court has not yet considered that question. At least one lower federal court, however, has upheld such a sentence.
In United States v. Gementera, the defendant was convicted of mail theft and sentenced, among other measures, to stand in front of a post office for eight hours wearing a sandwich board that read: "I stole mail. This is my punishment." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld this sentence, finding that the district court did not impose it solely for the purpose of humiliation, but also to serve the criminal-justice goals of deterrence and rehabilitation. The Ninth Circuit further found that the alternative sentence did not violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment because it was "within the limits of civilized standards" and was not coupled with a lengthy prison sentence. Gementera suggests, in short, that the U.S. Constitution permits judges to sentence a criminal to the stocks in at least some cases.
In 1989 the Arkansas town of Dermott passed a curfew law punishable by up to thirty days in jail for the offender and up to two days in the stocks for the offender's parents. The city almost immediately removed the stockade punishment because, among other things, the city did not have a stockade and had allocated no funds to build one.
In Colombia in 2012, married thirty-four-year-old Alfreda Blanco Basilio and her eighteen-year-old lover Luis Martinez were placed in stocks by the Sampues tribe in Colombia due to Basilio's adultery. Basilio spent 72 hours barefoot in the stocks for her offense.
Stocks in popular culture
Largely due to their familiarity due to historic uses, the stocks have found their way into modern popular culture and popular media.
In the novel "Ella Minnow Pea" by Mark Dunn, the second offense for using banned letters of the alphabet was a day in "head-stock".
An excellent example of stocks can be seen in Dromore, County Down, in Northern Ireland. They are occasionally preserved in churches though as wooden devices they are naturally subject to rotting and decay.
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- Bible, Acts 16:24. This most likely occurred around the year 57, now nearly 2000 years ago. Paul the Apostle
- Job 13:27. Biblical scholars are unable to agree on when Job lived. But, it is most likely that he lived somewhere between 2350 B.C., and 1400 B.C. -- a period between 4300 and 3700 years ago. 
- Earle, Alice Morse. "Curious Punishments of Bygone Days," (1896), available in digitized form through the Gutenberg project. 
- "Puritan Punishment,"
- Cox, James A., "Colonial Crimes and Punishments", CW Journal, Spring 2003. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
- "Pillory, stocks, and whipping post"
- David Ker's New York Times article, "England in Old Times" (page 11 of New York Times, November 13, 1887)
- Medieval Life and Times (Stocks)
- John May, Reference Wales (1994)
- unknown, Sheffield Daily Telegraph (Friday 14 June 1872)
- "Crime and Punishment in Canada,"
- United States v. Gementera, 379 F.3d 596, 598–99, 606, 608 (9th Cir. 2004).
- "New Ordinance in Arkansas Town Threatens Parents with Stockades". Observer-Reporter. Washington, PA. Associated Press. 13 August 1989. p. A4. Retrieved 1 January 2017.
- "Arkansas City Revises Stockade Ordinance". Associated Press. 22 August 1989. Retrieved 1 January 2017.
- Brian Andrews on NTN24 and RCN, "Couple having an affair put in stocks by Indian tribe in Columbia"
- Time: 6:15 of clip
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Stocks.|