1642: Boys Will Be Boys
In March of 1642 a Plymouth Colony Court heard a case brought against Edward Michell and Edward Preston for “lewd & sodomitical practices tending to sodomy.” The precise wording was important: sodomy itself was punishable by death, but practices which fell short of sodomy itself (which required proof of penetration and emission), were deemed merely “sodomitical” or sodomy-like. According to surviving records:
Edward Michell, for his lewd & sodomitical practices tending to sodomy with Edward Preston, and other lewd carriages with Lydia Hatch, is censured to be presently whipped at Plymouth, at the public place, and once more at Bamestable, in convenient time, in the presence of Mr. Freeman and the committees of the said town.
Edward Preston, for his lewd practices tending to sodomy with Edward Michell, and pressing John Keene thereunto (if he would have yielded), is also censured [sentenced] to be forthwith whipped at Plymouth, and once more at Bamestable (when Edward Michell is whipped), in the presence of Mr. Freeman & the committees of the same town.
John Keene, because he resisted the temptation, & used means to discover it, is appointed to stand by whilst Michell and Preston are whipped, though in some thing he was faulty.
1656: Onan You Don’t. Not In New Haven
New Haven Colony legislation was unique in the English-speaking world for mandating the death penalty for women as well as men for acts “against nature,” as well as for masturbation and anal sex among heterosexual couples. The act read as follows:
If any man lyeth with mankinde, as a man lyeth with a woman, both of them have Committed abomination, they both shall surely be put to death. Levit. 20. 13. And if any woman change the naturall use, into that which is against nature, as Rom. 1. 26. she shall be liable to the same Sentence, and punishment, or If any person, or persons, shall Commit any other kinde of unnaturall and shamefull filthines, called in Scripture the going after strange flesh, or other flesh then God alloweth, by canall knowledge of another vessel then God in nature hath appointed to becomp one flesh, whether it be by abusing the contrary part of a grown woman, or Child of either sex, or unripe vessel of a Girle, wherein the naturall use of the woman is left, which God hath ordained for the propagation of posterity, and Sodomiticall filthinesse (tending to the destruction of the race of mankind) is committed by a kind of Rape, nature being forced, though the will were inticed, every such person shall be put to death. Or if any man shall act upon himself, and in the sight of others spill his owne seed, by example, or counsel, or both, corrupting or tempting others to doe the like, which tends to the sin of Sodomy, if it be not one kind of it; or shall defile, or corrupt himself and others, by any kind of sinfull filthinesse, he shall be punished according to the nature of the offence; or if the case considered with the aggravating circumstances, shall according to the mind of God revealed in his word require it, he shall be put to death, as the Court of Magistrates shall determine.
New Haven Colony also applied the death penalty for adultery. This law remained in effect for the next ten years, until 1665 when New Haven Colony joined Connecticut and came under Connecticut law, which specified the death penalty for “man lying with man” only.