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

Other Tools of Torture

It seemed to me then, and does even now, that Master Pormont spent more time devising means of punishment than in teaching us our lessons, for he had as many torture tools of various kinds as would have served to make a heavy load for either of us children.

That which the lads most feared was the flapper, and truly it was well contrived to cause pain. It was a piece of stout deer hide, or thick leather, four or five inches wide, and twice as long, with a hole in the center about as large as the end of my thumb. One end of this was tied to a stout handle, and, when applying it, Master Pormont forced the child who had disobeyed the rules of school, to lie over one of the benches in such a manner that he could come at the lad's bare skin. When the flapper was laid on vigorously, at each blow the flesh would puff up through this hole in the center of the leather, in a way most painful to behold.

There is little need for me to say that Master Pormont had a number of dunce's caps made of bark from the birch tree, on which were painted different inscriptions to suit the offence, such as "Stupid Boy," for one who could not readily answer the questions he asked concerning the day's lessons; "A Silly Dunce," to fit one who was slow in learning; "A Wicked Liar," for some lad who had not told the truth.

In fact, I cannot set down all the names which Master Pormont had written on these dunce's caps, and there was hardly an hour during the day when at least one of them was not in use.

That contrivance which he had for children who would not sit quietly on their benches, was, seemingly, the most innocent, and yet, as I know to my sorrow, caused a vast amount of pain. It was a small square of puncheon plank with a single stick in the center as a leg, and on this the culprit was forced to sit, balancing himself or herself as best might be by the feet, without being allowed to touch the hands to anything.


As I thus set down the poor description it seems a harmless thing, and a punishment too mild to meet a grave offence, but yet if you were to try to balance yourself on this unipod, as Master Pormont called it, for the space of an hour, every joint in your body would cry aloud with pain.

As for myself, I know that more than once I would rather have fallen headlong from this unipod, than have endured the torture a single moment, even had I not known that more severe punishment would follow such a disregard of the rules of school.

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