Criminal codes on the Delmarva Peninsula permitted judges to sentence perpetrators of crimes such as larceny, breaking and entering, wife-beating, and more to lashes on the bare back well into the 20th. Under the original colonial statutes, wrongdoers received this ancient punishment for a broader range of crimes, including forgery, counterfeiting, Sabbath breaking, blasphemy, witchcraft, and dozens of other offenses. As enlightened corrections emerged in the nation largely based on imprisonment, this punishment was dropped from the codes in most states, but it persisted on the Peninsula far longer.
Maryland, perhaps the next to last state to use flogging, moved more quickly than Delaware to eradicate whippings. Until 1809 the post figured prominently in the early administration of justice in the Free State, when the code was repealed and only slaves were whipped, the Baltimore Sun reported. “The constitutional convention of 1864 abolished the entire law of punishment by whipping and it remained dead until the Legislature of 1882 resurrected it and applied it solely to wife beaters.”
Under this law, a convicted wife-beater stood at the whipping post and received ten lashes in 1896. The punishment took place in the jail yard on North Street in Elkton, “opposite where James H. Truss was executed a few months earlier. The yellow pine post had been erected by ex-sheriff Clinton J. White and Sheriff Mackey borrowed a whip from Sheriff Gillis of New Castle, De.
The last time a corporal punishment sentence was handed down in Cecil County was December 1940 when the Circuit Court ordered that a 42-year carpenter convicted of wife-beating serve 60-days in the jail and receive ten lashes at the whipping post. A local newspaper, the Cecil Democrat, remarked that this was the first time in 46-years that a person was sentenced to the whipping post in Cecil. The cat-o-nine-tails were wielded by Sheriff David Randolph, who carried out the punishment in public. The whip was apparently last used on the Western Shore in Prince Georges County in 1945 when Judge Marbury ordered lashes for a prisoner. A Frederick County magistrate in 1952 ordered ten lashes for a defendant but Governor McKeldin pardoned the “barbarous and inhumane” punishment.
Delaware’s criminal code permitted floggings to occur until 1972. That year Governor Russell W. Peterson signed into law a revised criminal code in Delaware, which abolished the outdated punishment. With the passing of that act, Delaware became the last state in the nation to hold onto the pre-Revolutionary punishment. Flogging was last used in 1952 in the first-state, when a wife beater was flogged.
(The photo shows the Delaware whipping post.)