The Provost Marshal's Powers and Duties
The weight and amount of irons necessary to secure each prisoner, were
determined at his condemnation, by the Fiscal, and the Provost was at liberty to
alter the fetters only when a prisoner had attempted to break out, or had in
other ways proved himself dangerous.
The Provost had power to place in confinement any persons brought to him, on
condition that he make a report at once to the Fiscal. Many persons thus
committed were mutinous sailors who had been thrown into irons while on the high
seas, and on landing were handed over to the authorities by their ship captains.
A mariner bringing any strange or foreign passengers to port, was forced to
register them on pain of a fine of forty shillings. He was also commanded to
report pirates ; and "An Act for Restraining and Punishing Privateers and
Pirates" declared that such should be "fellons" and should suffer "pains of
death without benefit of clergy."'
Any soldiers found with drawn swords either within their barracks or on the
street were liable to arrest by the Provost. Any persons drawing knives and
inflicting any wounds whatever were fined fifty florins, or, in default, were
sent, "without respect of persons," to work three months with the negroes in
chains. A few years later, in 1647, the penalties were doubled—one hundred
florin.; or six months' hard labor.
The number of slight offences against which it was thought necessary to issue
ordinances, increased each year, but in most cases only "arbitrary correction"
or "corporal punishment " was threatened. These, however, are mentioned
constantly. It is no wonder that the old prints always represent the whipping
post and pillory, which stood in front of the Stadt Huys, as provided with
incumbents." " Corporal punishment " could be administered " in the discretion
of the magistrates provided it did not endanger Life or Limb," and the whippings
so ordered were applied either by the public whipper or by any other person
desirous of undertaking the same! " A fine opportunity for a personal and yet
For every prisoner committed to jail the Marshal and bell-ringer received one
shilling each, while the Judge's fee was five shillings for each indictment."
The Marshal was paid twelve stivers a day for the support of each prisoner. The
bill of fare was prescribed in advance by the Company, and was to consist,
weekly, of the following rations:'
One and a half lbs. of beef
Three quarters of a lb. of pork
One lb. of fish
One gill of oil
One gill of vinegar
Suitable pottage, and
A Supply of Bread
Persecution of the Quakers
Social offenders were not the only ones who suffered under the Marshal's hands,
or behind his bars. Religious persecution had already set in, and Governor
Stuyvesant, in spite of injunctions issued against him by the mother country,
was busying himself with devising humiliations for the Quakers.
In 1657, a number of them were thrust into the Stadt Huys prison for several
weeks, and Robert Hodgson, who had imprudently tried to preach, was fined and
scourged, thrust into a cell, and chained to a wheelbarrow ; but all in vain. He
refused to acknowledge himself guilty of any law-breaking, and finally, after he
had suffered the most frightful tortures, he was released on the intercession of
the Governor's sister, Mistress Bayard." John Bowne was freed from prison only
to be banished; and many others were thrust upon the wooden horse, or into the
stocks ; while any one housing a Friend was fined fifty pounds.
It was many years later, in 1694, that the persecuted sect seems to have won its
first concession, by an " Act to Ease People that are scrupulous in Swearing."
This new law allowed a solemn "promise before God" to have the force of an oath,
and made false promising the equivalent of perjury."
As the Provost's duties became more and more complicated, he was relieved of
those which lay outside the prison, and they were entrusted to a second official
called the Schout. This personage was directly subordinate, however, to the
Koopman, who acted as secretary and was second in authority to the council.3 The
Schout was sheriff and prosecutor all in one, as may be seen from the following
"... He shall ex officio prosecute all contraveners, defrauders and
transgressors of any placards, laws, statutes, and ordinances, which are already
made and published or shall hereafter be enacted and made public, as far as
those are amenable before the Court of Burgomasters and Schepens, and with this
understanding that having entered his suit against the aforesaid Contraveners,
he shall immediately rise, and await the judgment of Burgomasters and Schepens
who being prepared shall also, on his motion, pronounce the same. ... He shall
take care that all judgments are pronounced . . . according to the stile and
custom of Fatherland, and especially the city of Amsterdam."
The Schout was empowered not only to complain of culprits to the Burgomasters
and Schepens, but also to recommend a suitable penalty for the offence."
Fortunately for the cause of mercy, the magistrates were not bound to accept his
suggestions, many of which seem more severe than the occasion required. For the
crime of impertinence to the Schout, that officer demanded that a sinner be
placed on bread and water for a month. The Schepens' verdict in this case was
fifty guilders, or confinement for three days; whereupon the defendant remarked
that the devil would take him who should first attempt to arrest him.
Another mutinous prisoner who had insulted the Fiscal, De Sille, and his
wife,—"so that they had to have the soldiers called,"— being ordered to pay a
fine of two hundred guilders, exclaimed that he "would rot in prison f1rst! "
And opportunity to do so was promptly afforded him.
For a small theft, the Schout recommended scourging at the post and banishment
for four years, but the culprit was let off with a few days in a certain part of
the Stadt Huys. Another, however, met with all that the Schout asked; was
scourged, gashed on the cheek, and banished for twenty-five years, all for
having noisily demanded wine in a private house.
A little maid of ten, Lysbet Anthony, was arrested by the Schout in the act of
stealing, and brought before the council with vigorous demands for imprisonment
on bread and water. The common-sense verdict, however, was that "Mary her mother
be ordered to chastise her with rods in the presence of the Worshipful
The Sellout's sense of his duty evidently did not stop at the living sinners
under his jurisdiction. He pulled the poor suicide, Hendrick Smith, from the
tree where he had hanged himself, and brought the body to court that it might be
drawn about town on a hurdle and then shoved under the same tree again. But the
Worshipful Magistrates listened to the pleas of the neighbors and the good
reports of the suicide's character, and finally accorded the body decent burial.