Controversy over the history of post on Waterbury green

WATERBURY -- The post on the Waterbury Green as been an unassuming part of city history for decades, but a performance piece posted to Facebook over the weekend is drawing attention to the fact that it was once also a whipping post.

In the piece, a young community activist is seen bloody and whipped, reenacting what it may have been like for a slave to be whipped at such a post.

Rachel Guest, Library Director of Waterbury's Silas Bronson Library, said every Connecticut town had a whipping post in the 1700s. According to Guest, whipping posts were a part of colonial law in Connecticut until the 1830s. The posts were used as a form of punishment for anyone who committed crimes such as adultery, or did not pay court fees. Certain crimes -- including breaking curfew, or being accused of slander or theft -- were only punishable by whipping if committed by a slave.

"With slander, if you were white, you didn't get whipped," explained Guest. "You just had to pay a fine."

For a slave, Guest said the punishment for slander was likely 40 lashes. For theft, it was 30.

The posts were also legitimately used as places to post town news or bulletins.

"There were people who grew up being told it was a whipping post," said Guest. "But, other people just thought it was a bulletin board."

Community activist Athena Wagner watched the performance piece on the Green over the weekend. Wagner wants to see the whipping post moved to the Mattatuck Museum.

"There's no point in destroying it because it's a vital part of history," said Wagner.

She said the whipping post is fuel for a necessary conversation about racism in Waterbury.

"It's alive and well," said Wagner. "We need to talk about it. We need to deal with it. We need to confront it."

Guest said she had a conversation with Waterbury's Parks Department on Monday. She said the department was unaware of the whipping post's history relating to slavery and is now looking into options for what to do with the post moving forward.

Calls to Waterbury's Parks Department have not yet been returned.