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

School Discipline

There were times when it seemed to me as if Master Pormont had eyes in the back of his head, for once when I ventured to ask Susan Freeman for the loan of her quill, while he was looking in the opposite direction, I was speedily called to an account for misbehavior. Then it was he handed me a knife he carried in his pocket, and further command was not needed.

I knew full well that I must go outside and cut a stout switch for use upon my own body, and if peradventure I had been so foolish as to bring back a small one, the first would have been used to switch me with until it was broken, after which it was my duty to go for another of more weight.

My hands smarted a full hour after the punishment had been dealt out, and there were such swellings upon them when I got home that mother tied both up in linen after besmearing them plentifully with ointment.


It was not always that Master Pormont used a switch upon a child who had been foolish enough to speak with his neighbor, for he had what were called whispering-sticks, which were most disagreeable to wear, and caused a great deal of pain, so Susan said; but as for myself, I was never forced to bear such punishment.

These whispering-sticks were stout bits of wood from the oak tree, which could not readily be broken by the teeth, and were put into a child's mouth as you thrust a bit into the mouth of a horse, after which the two ends were bound securely back of the neck. Thus the unfortunate one's jaws were stretched wide open, oftentimes for a full hour.

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