.

Gallows Lane

A lesser charge once meant the pillory,
With head and wrists securely set in blocks;
For just the legs and feet, a pair of stocks;
Or stripped and strapped against the whipping tree,

Then branded “A” as in Adultery.
Offense to God or Christ the great Redeemer
Would call for “B,” to signify Blasphemer,
Paraded round the town for all to see.

But three for murder went to Gallows Lane.
With cart pulled out from under them, they dropped.
They gagged, while eyeballs from their sockets popped,
As strangulation magnified the pain.

Although today these methods seem abhorrent,
One must admit—they were a huge deterrent.

.

Poet’s Note: The pillory, stocks, and whipping post were common punishments in Puritan New England. The rope used for the executions was a “short drop.” An Irish doctor, Samuel Haughton, later developed a more humane method using a “long drop”, six-foot rope, which caused the neck to snap.

.

.

Tapping Reeve

The first American school of law
__was Litchfield’s Tapping Reeve.
The rustic village was a draw
__for young men to achieve
Proficiency in jurisprudence
__based on common law.

Well-versed in Latin, Greek, and classics,
__as well as common sense;
What would they think of current students
__mired in woke semantics?

.

Poet’s Note: The Law School (1775-1833) was located in Litchfield, Connecticut. Tapping Reeve, an educator and later Superior Court judge, was married to the sister of his first student—Aaron Burr. At least 800 (and perhaps 1,000) students from all over the country are known to have attended the lectures. They rose to prominence and included two Vice Presidents, three U.S. Supreme Court Justices, Congressmen, Cabinet officials, Governors, State judges, college presidents, businessmen, and others.

.

.

Cheryl Corey is a poet who lives in Connecticut. “Three Sisters,” her trio of poems about the sisters of Fate which were first published by the Society of Classical Poets, are featured in “Gods and Monsters,” an anthology of mythological poems (MacMillan Children’s Books, 2023).


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The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.


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16 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    These are two wonderful historical poems that are at once educational and praiseworthy. I particularly like your conclusion to “Gallows Lane.” There were indeed “a huge deterrent” that has much to recommend it as a modern law enforcement device. “Tapping Reeve” students and alumni are exactly what is needed today with “the current students mired in woke.” No one seems to understand these days constitutional law means adherence to the constitution or that social justice means strict and proper application of the laws of the land. These two poems are gems.

    Reply
    • Cheryl Corey

      Roy, students who attended the school were serious men for serious times. They would probably be appalled at the state of today’s education for the legal profession. Prior to the establishment of the school, one had to apprentice under another lawyer or judge. Tapping Reeve (who himself studied under another judge) provided an opportunity to learn legal principles. A graduate of Yale, for example, would take room & board in town and attend a course of about eighteen months’ worth of lectures. The original building was a one-room schoolhouse with no heat!

      Reply
  2. jd

    “Gallows Lane” creates quite the panorama and yes, the last line offers an effective solution. I enjoyed reading both for their historical aspect also.

    Reply
    • Cheryl Corey

      Thanks, jd. I enjoy the historical research when I write these poems. It’s a learning experience for me as well. When the individual was placed in the pillory or stocks, they were subjected to public humiliation. They might be spat on or have items such as stones, fruit, or even dung thrown at them. They might also receive lashes – usually about 10. An elm at the corner of the old jail was called the “whipping elm”. There’s no sense of shame for anything anymore.

      Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    Two excellent pieces on two inseparable subjects: Law and the Gallows. I had known nothing about Tapping Reeve’s law school, but from what Corey tells us it sounds like one of those wonderful things created spontaneously by a dedicated human being, without the aid of government agencies or big business or bureaucratic institutions — just an intelligent man teaching the law.

    As for the gallows or any method of capital punishment, law cannot exist without it. And such punishment is justified by traditional sanction, legal precedent, explicit biblical support, and our innate sense of justice and retribution. No matter what some addle-brained idiot in Rome says.

    Reply
    • Cheryl Corey

      Just wondering – are Latin and/or Greek even required for a degree in Classics anymore?

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Not on the undergraduate level. We assume that most students who sign up as Classics majors already have some knowledge of the two languages, but it’s not always the case.

  4. Margaret Coats

    Tapping Reeve not only had students already well-versed in Latin and Greek; he also used the lecture method and probably allowed questions only at rare moments indicated by him. No facilitation of learning for undisciplined noise-makers! I made English grammar the pre-requisite to my dining-room Latin classes for younger students. There were full-day drills to get in.

    In student years, Cheryl, you may have heard “the deterrence argument” denied. After a summary like yours, my thought was, “Wait a minute–these things deter me!”

    Reply
    • Cheryl Corey

      It’s on full display today- if you don’t prosecute people for petit theft, you tend to get more of it.

      Reply
  5. Shamik Banerjee

    Dear Cheryl, these are very unique subjects, and I enjoyed both, especially Gallows Lane. To me, its diction seemed to be a finely-weaved mixture of modern and classical English. Poems on historical topics pique my interest, but this was something unique. Your note prompted me to read a bit more about these frightening methods. Thank God we weren’t born in that era.

    Also, I loved the rhyme paid Redeemer-Blasphemer and abhorrent-deterrent. Sometimes, it’s very satisfying to come across rhyme pairs such as these that not only harmonize well with respect to their sound but also are the best-fitting words for their contexts.

    Reply
    • Cheryl Corey

      Thank you for your comments, Shamik. I find that reading about history and other non-fiction topics can often spur your imagination for the poetic. The Tapping Reeve story is local to where I reside. Further research led me to the details which became the basis for the Gallows Lane poem.

      Reply
  6. Brian A. Yapko

    Two terrific poems, Cheryl, which touch on legal themes that are of particular interest to me. The gallows and the whole concept of public execution may seem archaic but, as you point out, what a great deterrent! Out society has become so chaotic and consequences have become so diluted that it’s time we come up with something better than the catch-and-release we’re presently plagued by.

    I especially like your Tapping Reeve story. Your closing question — what would they think…? I know what they’d think. They’d think the woke DEI are NUTS. And it’s worse than you think. Less than one month ago the Great State of Washington decided to eliminate the Bar exam because it’s results were disproportionately adverse to minorities. The Bar Licensure Task Force found that the traditional exam “disproportionally and unnecessarily blocks” marginalized groups from becoming practicing attorneys and is “at best minimally effective” for ensuring competency, according to a news release from the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts.

    But hey, who needs competent attorneys, anyway? So long as every group is represented. Maybe they’ll do the same for Medical and Pilot licenses. And maybe other states will follow suit. What a just society that will result in.

    Reply
    • Cheryl Corey

      Liberal do-gooders are freakin’ insane. When will they stop infantilizing minorities? The dumbing down of education hurts all of us. There will always be that doubt as to whether or not a minority is truly qualified or if they only got the job because of the color of their skin; but perhaps the pendulum is swinging back, as Yale, for example, has reinstated the SAT requirement for 2025. God help us.

      Reply
  7. David Whippman

    Cheryl, “Gallows Lane” explains why capital and corporal punishment was indeed no doubt a deterrent, at least to some.

    Re your reference to Haughton, there was also a British pathologist, Bernard Spillsbury, who did some work into the optimum drop distance for a hanging. Bit of a morbid subject, though I guess someone had to consider such things!

    Reply
    • Cheryl Corey

      I think it’s interesting to note that both came from the medical profession.

      Reply
  8. C.B. Anderson

    I loved both of them, Cheryl. They were sharp and illuminating.

    Reply

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