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Skimmington

“A common custom” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, writes historian B. Howard Cunnington, was a skimmington.  According to Glossary of Wiltshire Words, a skimmington was a “serenade of rough music got up to express disapproval in cases of great scandal and immorality.”  Cunnington explains the reasons for a skimmington and defines it as follows: “When it became known in a village that a man was ‘henpecked,’ or a husband and wife had been unfaithful, the inhabitants would form a procession in which were carried effigies of the person or persons objected to, accompanied with an improvised band of youths making ‘rough music’ by beating tin kettles, pans, or other domestic utensil that would make a noise.”  He continues, “The whole party [then] would assemble outside the house of the offender, and, in some cases, capture the man or woman . . . and duck him or her in the village pond.”  Simply put, a skimmington served as a reminder for spouses to perform certain societal roles and behave within social boundaries and thereby secure social order.

Political protests many times included skimmingtons as a reminder to public officials to perform their proper roles.  A well-known incident occurred in North Carolina in 1768.  After Sheriff Hawkins (first name unknown) seized a farmer’s mare as a substitute for unpaid taxes, approximately eighty Piedmont farmers, unhappy with excessive legal fees and government corruption, searched for and eventually seized the sheriff.  They took him to Hillsborough and then made him ride backward on a horse throughout the town. 

This use of the traditional protest embarrassingly reminded North Carolina public officials that they should constrain their legal activities to within their proper sphere.  


Sources:

B. Howard Cunnington, “’A Skimmington’ in 1618” in Folklore, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Sep. 30, 1930), 287-90; Marjoleine Kars, Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 2002); Wayne E. Lee, Crowds and Soldiers in Revolutionary North Carolina: The Culture of Violence in Riot and War (Gainesville, 2001).

By Troy L. Kickler, founding director of the North Carolina History Project


See Also:

Related Categories: Women, Colonial North Carolina
Related Encyclopedia Entries: Charles Woodmason (1720?-1776?), Herman Husband (1724-1795), Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), Edmund Fanning (1737-1808), Watauga Association, Edward Vail (1717-1777), Sandy Creek Baptists, John Sevier (1745-1815), Marriage, History of, Shubal Stearns (1706-1771), Johnston Riot Act, Hillsborough Riot (1770), Hillsborough Confrontation (1768), American Revenue Act, Angus W. McLean (1925-1929), James Emerson (1736-1786), Battle of Alamance, James Few (1746-1771), The Nutbush Address (1765), Henderson Walker (1659 - 1704), Salem Brass Band, Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith (1921-), Earl Scruggs (1924 - ), Avery County (1911), Doc Watson (1923 - 2012), The National Hollerin' Contest
Related Commentary: Nothing Says It Better Than A Good Quote, A New Light "Infestation": Charles Woodmason on Colonial Piedmont Religion, Tryon's Ferry: Myth or Fact, Schoolmaster Yorke and The Tories, Comparing the Occupy Movement to Our Regulator Rebellion, 1771 Alamance: The First Battle of Our American Revolution
Related Lesson Plans: A Missionary of English Civilization to the Piedmont: Backcountry Religion and One Manís Perspective, Can God Be on Both Sides?: The Role of Religion and Politics during the North Carolina Regulation
Timeline: 1585-1663 , 1664-1775
Region: Piedmont Plateau

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