“The colonists’ bete noir was the horse thief. A North Carolina act of 1786 provided that ‘for the first offense the culprit should stand in the pillory for one hour, be publicly whipped with 39 lashes, nailed to the pillory by the ears, which were afterwards to be cut off, and be branded on the right cheek with the letter “H” and on the left cheek with the letter “T.” ‘
“Such penalties proved to be insufficient, and four years later the penalty was changed to death without benefit of clergy.”
— From “The Fruited Plain: The Story of American Agriculture” by Walter Ebeling (1979)
Coincidentally, maybe flogging is making a comeback.
On this day in 1786: A judge in Pasquotank County certifies that “John Rose, an inhabitant of this county and State aforesaid, being with part of his left ear left off, had the misfortune to be deprived of that by a bite of a Malicious Mare… “
As late as the early 1800s, N.C. courts commonly punish offenders by loss of one or both ears. A perjurer in Ashe County, for example, is fined 10 pounds and sentenced to “stand in the pillory for one hour, at the expiration of which time both his ears be cut off and entirely severed from his head, and… be nailed to the pillory and there remain till the setting of the sun.”
To avoid being taken for convicted criminals, citizens such as John Rose petition the courts to certify that their missing or maimed ears resulted from other causes.