Leviticus provided their guidance and that Old Testament book is not exactly nuanced. Sodomy? Death. Bestiality? Death. Man has sex with his daughter-in-law? Death. Adultery? Death. You get the picture.And woe betide him who was really kinky....
The laws of Plymouth Colony echo Leviticus. You could be sentenced to death for sodomy, rape, buggery and, for a time, adultery. (Sodomy and buggery might be synonymous to us, but buggery apparently referred more to bestiality.)
Some Christian preachers today quote Leviticus 20, approvingly arguing that both the Old and New Testament are the infallible word of God.
In practice, though, even the Pilgrims did not typically enforce death for sex. In fact, only one person was put to death for a sex crime in the colony, poor Thomas Graunger, a teenage farm boy who, perhaps flush with the surge of hormones, turned to those he knew best. His story could make you look at the Thanksgiving turkey in a whole new way.Poor guy. I can sympathize. Many's the time I've laid in bed alone as a teenager, wondering if I'd ever get a date, and having odd thoughts about sheep...
Governor William Bradford recounted the tale:
“He was this year detected of buggery, and indicted for the same, with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey … He was first discovered by one that accidentally saw his lewd practice towards the mare. (I forbear particulars.) Being upon it examined and committed, in the end he not only confessed the fact with that beast at that time, but sundry times before and at several times with all the rest of the forenamed in his indictment.”
As punishment, he was forced to watch all the animals killed. At first, the court had a problem figuring out which sheep Thomas favored — sheep looking pretty much alike — but Thomas helpfully pointed out his sex partners. After being killed, they were buried in a pit, and then Thomas himself was hanged. If you wonder what the animals did to deserve it, Leviticus was cited by the court: “If a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death; and ye shall slay the beast.”
And yet, as in modern times, there seems to be no dearth of people who refused to control their urges:
The story of Plymouth’s sex life isn’t all men and horses. There were also men and men, and men and women, or at least that seems to have been Edward Michell’s theory. He was put on trial “for his lewd [and] sodomitical practices tending to sodomy with Edward Preston, and other lewd carriages with Lydia Hatch.” He was sentenced to be publicly whipped, first at Plymouth and then Barnstable.[...]You'll notice that the punishment for NOT wearing the mark of the beast is much more severe than for earning it.
“Mary, the wife of Robert Mendame, of Duxborrow” was put on trial for “using dalliance diverse times with Tinsin, an Indian, and after committing the act of uncleanness with him … the Bench doth therefore censure the said Mary to be whipped at a cart’s tail through the town’s streets, and to wear a badge upon her left sleeve during her abroad within this government; and if she shall be found without it abroad, then to be burned in the face with a hot iron; and the said Tinsin, the Indian, to be well whipped with a halter about his neck at the post, because it arose through the allurement [and] enticement of the said Mary, that he was drawn thereunto.”
Well, keep that in mind as you stuff your bird today: as a nation, we've grown no more or less sexually than any random group of religious zealots. My best to you and yours on this holiday.
Me, I'm thankful for my friends, my daughter, the blogs that linked to me (even the ones stupid enough to unlink me because they take offense at my comments in defense of myself) and the fact my car still works. Oh...and my readers. Thank you.