Gateway to the Classics: Ruth of Boston by James Otis
Ruth of Boston by  James Otis

Punishing Thomas Morton

What happened there my father does not know; but certain it is that when the Lyon  came on her second voyage, she brought among her passengers this same Thomas Morton, and from the moment he arrived our people had trouble with him.

He brought considerable property in the way of firearms, powder and shot, and, without asking permission from the chief men of our town, set about trading these goods with the Indians for furs, as he had done at Merry Mount, which was not only a menace to all the white people in this new country, because of furnishing the savages with arms that might be used to kill us, but directly against the law which forbade trafficking with the Indians.

He must have been a wicked man indeed, for, not content with doing that which our people had forbidden, he cheated the savages by selling them black sand for powder, and demanding more of furs than was fair and just for such goods as he gave them.

Of course one may think that his crime against us was lessened when he weighed out worthless sand, instead of powder that might be used to our harm; but the chief men of Boston claimed that the savages must be dealt with fairly, otherwise would they look upon us, who were willing to trade honestly, as rogues and thieves.

Therefore it was that our people seized this Thomas Morton, gave him fair trial before the court, and sentenced him to four and twenty hours in the bilboes, after which he was again to be sent as prisoner to England.

It may be that some do not know what bilboes are, and I can explain because of having seen them while they were on Thomas Morton.

A bilboe is a long bar of iron, on which are two heavy clamps, in shape not unlike bracelets which ladies of quality wear upon their arms, fastened by a ring to the bar in such manner that they may slide back and forth. These clamps, or clasps, are placed upon the prisoner's ankles, and pushed apart until his legs are stretched wide. His hands are tied behind his back, and he is forced to sit upon the ground, unable to give relief to his aching limbs, because of the bar's being too weighty for him to move it.


All of Thomas Morton's goods were seized to pay the charges of the trial, and also to make good to the Indians what they had lost through his knavishness. The house which he had built, and it was a fair one made of heavy logs, was burned in the presence of the prisoner and the court, as a sign that we of Boston would not countenance dishonest tricks, even when they were played upon the savages.

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