Most people are familiar at least with the concept of tarring and feathering. The man (or woman) is sometimes stripped naked, covered in tar and then feathers. While this had to be a painful in addition to humiliating experience, it was seldom lethal. (I have yet to find an example of any deaths from the experience, so if you know of one, let me know.) Still, as painful as hot tar being poured over you must have been, I’m sure getting it off was no walk in the park either.
One of the other humiliating “punishments” inflicted on Tories was the “riding around on a rail.” I’m sure many of you have heard the term “run out of town on a rail.” I always assumed it was a saying that stemmed from sometime in the 19th or 20th century where someone was tied to a railway car (or found refuge in one) and run out of town. Not until I started researching the 18th century for my novels, did I realize that it stemmed from the American Revolution – decades before trains became a common way to move goods or people.
Running someone out of town on a rail involves tying them to a rail or fence post and then riding them about town with the rail supported on the shoulders of two men, the goal being to humiliate the individual so that they either join your side or leave town.
Sometimes they are tarred and feathered first and other times they are stripped naked. They might be forced to sit astride the rail, which would be particularly painful on some sensitive areas, or they might have their hands and feet bound to the rail and then be carried hanging underneath the rail. (On the latter method, think of the way the cannibals carried people back to their camps in all the B movies and you’ll get the picture.)
While I'm certain tarring and feathering was nothing new in the late 18th century, I haven't found any earlier references (yet) to riding out of town on a rail. Still, humans have a way of being beastly to each other. I doubt it would have taken them until the American Revolution to dream something like that up.
P.S. For those of you who think I must have been a Tory in my previous life, I'm not taking sides here. Wait until I start in on the British!