July 31, 1703 – Daniel Dafoe is put in Pillory for Sedition

history robinson crusoe
Daniel Dafoe By Unknown, style of Sir Godfrey Kneller - National Maritime Museum

Before Daniel Dafoe became famous for Robinson Crusoe, he was a spin doctor, who wrote in praise of the government’s policies. But he also wrote about greater tolerance for dissenters and went on to write an anonymous pamphlet called The Shortest Way with the Dissenters. 

The authorities were not pleased with this and his identity as the writer was discovered. He wrote a response in A Brief Explanation of a Late Pamphlet, saying that he had been misunderstood. He was arrested and pled guilty at his trial. He was sentenced to stand in the pillory, pay a hefty fine and remain in prison until he could provide proof for his good behaviour for seven years.

The pillory was used to punish minor offences, such as cheats, liars, rioters and homosexuals, by shaming them in public. They were pelted with rotten eggs and fruits, mud, dead animals and stones. Dafoe was put in the pillory for an hour each of the last three days of July but all that was thrown at him were flowers, while his friends sold copies of his work.

He became bankrupt and could not pay his fine. The government finally realized that he could be useful and secretly paid off his fine. He was then employed to publish a regular newspaper which showed the government in a favourable light and to act as a government spy. He continued to do this for several years and it was later in 1719 that he wrote Robinson Crusoe.

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