Riding the rail (also called running out of town on a rail) was a punishment in Colonial America in which a man (rarely a woman) was made to straddle a fence rail (usually the triangular split-rail rather than the modern machine-milled) held on the shoulders of at least two men, with other men on either side to keep him upright. The victim was then paraded around town or taken to the city limits and dumped by the roadside. Intense pain came from the weight of the body resting on the sharp, narrow edge and injuries from the ride could, if the victim were stripped, cut the crotch and make walking painful. Alternatively, the term also refers to tying a person's hands and feet around a rail so the person dangles under the rail.
The punishment was usually a form of mob extrajudicial punishment imposed in connection with tarring and feathering. It was intended to show community displeasure with the victim so he either conformed his behavior or left.
- John S Farmer (1889). Farmer's Dictionary of Americanisms - Old and New. London: Reeves and Turner. p. 448. http://books.google.com/books?id=RTdcQOlzjXAC&dq=riding%20on%20a%20rail%20punishment&pg=PA448#v=onepage&q=riding%20on%20a%20rail%20punishment&f=false. Retrieved 21 September 2010.
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