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Not-so-good old days
Mainers of the 1800s were certainly not as sensitive to accounts of brutality as we sometimes are today — pain and untimely death from accidents, disease and war. However, judging from the headline, they were not so jaded that the following account wasn't considered unusually brutal. It was carried in the Oxford Democrat of February 12, 1850.
What is called "a case of novel impression," was brought before the Hon. B. F. Halon, U. S. Commissioner. To the complainant it was much more novel and impressive than interesting, making an "impression" which the great eradicator, Time had not obliterated from his memory, even after the lapse of four years spent in the exciting and hazardous vocation of whale-catching.
In the complaint, Capt. Benjamin C. Gardner, master, and Richard C. Gibbs, mate, of the whale-ship Nantucket, recently arrived, were jointly charged with assaulting Elbert Rogers, colored seaman, and inflicting upon him cruel and unusual punishment. On account of indisposition, Capt. Gardner was excused from appearing until the 6th of February, but the examination of Gibbs, the mate, was proceeded with. The main features of the case, as disclosed in the evidence before the commissioners, were as follows: —
At sea, one morning in August, 1845, Rogers was at work on deck, coiling up a new rope, and to make the end bend into the coil he slapped it on the deck. The mate asked him what he ment by slapping the rope about in that manner. Rogers replied that he ment nothing. The mate said if he did it again, he would whip him. Rogers indiscreetly responded, "whip away," and went forward. The defendant and second mate followed him, seized him and dragged him aft.
The muss brought the captain on deck, and the defendant asked him to have Rogers seized up and flogged, without giving any reason for the request. Rogers was then seized up to the mizzen rigging, and left there while the captain was enjoying his breakfast. Having had his morning meal, the captain returned on deck, and arrangements for the flogging were made in a very complete style. A bucket of pickle juice was brought from the harness cask, and a six-tailed cat was dipped into it, and all hands called to the side to witness punishment.
Roger's back was laid bare, and the captain struck three blows upon it with the cat, reeking with the brine. Then the cat was again dipped in the pickle juice, and the complainant's back was swabbed with the same fiery liquid. His bare back was then served with three more blows with the dripping cat; again it was swabbed with the pickle juice, while the cat was lying to soak in the bucket.
Then followed three more blows with the cat, and a third swabbing with pickle juice. Another three blows were laid on with the resoaked cat, and then Rogers was treated to a more general swabbing with the brine, which concluded the performance, and he was cut down. The lashes were well distributed all over the back, the skin broken in several places, and the blood flowed freely.
As to the mode and nature of the punishment, there was no question; but there was much discussion as to holding the mate responsible for it. The commissioner held that though the captain was the chief actor in the cruel torture, the mate was liable as the instigator.
He was also a participator in a secondary degree in the punishment, by sustaining the captain by his presence; and as it was cruel and unusual, he could not excuse himself, under the plea that he was acting under the captain's orders, for the law did not require him to obey orders which were in violation of the laws. He was therefore held for trial in the U.S. District Court. — Boston Post
A few words of explanation might help the reader grasp terms that have passed into disuse. Slapping the rope on the deck might have been intended as "breaking" the new hemp rope, which would have been stiff and hard to tie. The captain, being "indisposed" could have been ill, on a drunken spree, tied up with legitimate business or just had a reasonable excuse that wasn't thought important enough to mention — the term, as used back then, could have meant any of those, rather than merely unwilling. The "cat" was a whip with nine flails, used on ship board for punishment. In this case, dipping it in pickle juice was thought to make it sting, as well as just lacerate the man's skin. Swabbing it on his back periodically would not have brought relief.
As is our custom, we try to exactly reproduce the grammar, spelling, punctuation and style of the original. Commas might appear where least expected and remain absent where we’d expect them if the item was written nowadays. On the other hand, consistency was not considered of utmost importance, so variations of a spelling might appear within one story. In addition, some words were abbreviated differently than today.
Where brief explanations of terms are considered necessary, they are presented in brackets  within the quote. Otherwise, explanations appear at the beginning or at the conclusion, without quotes. Parenthesis () used in a quoted passage appeared in the original.