Pitch and feathers, 1737

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Apr 8 14:14:54 UTC 2010

Although tarring and feathering "was imposed by an ordinance of
Richard I in 1189 as a punishment in the navy for theft", the
specific term was not used in early reported cases.  The OED's
earliest quotation for the verbal application (s.v. tar, v.1) is:

1769 Boston (Mass.) Chron. 30 Oct. 3/2 A person..was stripped naked,
put into a cart, where he was first tarred, then feathered.

and for the materials applied (s.v. tar n.1) is:

1775 P. V. FITHIAN Jrnl. 8 June (1934) II. 25 He hears many of his
Townsmen talking of *Tar and Feathers{em}These mortifying Weapons.

The following is not exactly the phrase, but is interestingly early:

While an informer acting under the Gin Act of 1737 had been put in
the stocks, for presenting a case to a magistrate where the publican
had been suspicious and sold him vinegar instead, a mob

"brought a Pitch-Kettle, pitch'd him all over, and afterwards roll'd
him in Feathers, by which Means he was made a grotesque Figure."

In Jessica Warner, _Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason_
(Random House Trade Paperback, 2003), p.136.  Cited from _Read's
Weekly Journal_, 1 Oct. 1737.


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