Posted by ESC on February 24, 2002
In Reply to: Rode out on a rail posted by James Butters on February 24, 2002
: Where did the saying "Rode Out Of Town On A Rail " come from ?
Tarred and feathered and rode out of town on a rail. It refers to publicly shaming and injuring a transgressor.
TARRED AND FEATHERED - "At Salem, on September 7, 1768, an informer named Robert Wood 'was stripped, tarred and feathered and placed on a hogshead under the Tree of Liberty on the Common.' This is the first record of the term 'tarred and feathered' in America. Tarring and feathering was a cruel punishment where hot pine tar was applied from head to toe on a person and goose feathers were stuck into the tar. The person was then ignited and ridden out of town on a rail (tied to a splintery rail), beaten with sticks and stoned all the while. A man's skin often came off when he removed the tar. It was a common practice to tar and feather Tories who refused to join the revolutionary cause, one much associated with the Liberty Boys, but the practice was known here long before the Revolution. In fact, it dates back even before the first English record of tarring and feathering, an 1189 statute made under Richard the Lionhearted directing that any thief voyaging with the Crusaders 'shal have his head shorne and boyling pitch powred upon his head, and feathers or downe strewn upon the same, whereby he may be known, and so at the first landing place they shal come to, there to be cast up.' Though few have been tarred and feathered or ridden out of town on a rail in recent years, the expression remains to describe anyone subjected to indignity and infamy." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).
Today in the U.S. when someone does something odious, he or she is instantly forgiven and is featured on the next cover of "People" magazine. Public shaming is dead in America.