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Deviant Sex in Colonial Connecticut

The following story of deviant sex in Colonial Connecticut is definitely not for the faint of heart, the weak of constitution, or those offended by the baser side of the human condition.

To begin with: bestiality. Surely a repulsive and unimaginable act. But in colonial times, several documented cases were prosecuted. An abnormally sized piglet with one large eye and no hair on its entire body was born in New Haven in 1642. The curious creature was taken before court magistrates for examination, who thought that the piglet bore a resemblance to George Spencer. Spencer was a servant on the farm where the piglet’s sow had resided – and had one deformed eye himself.

After a series of interrogations, Spencer confessed to having sex with the sow. A few months later, with a noose around his neck, Spencer was forced to watch the sow pierced by a sword before he was hung.

This and other salacious stories are brought to life in The Case of the Piglet’s Paternity: Trials from the New Haven Colony, 1639-1663, a new book by Jon Blue. Blue is a judge in the Connecticut Superior Court system, and has uncovered more than 30 obscure and lurid cases from that era.

Describing himself as “a library rat,” Blue ran across an 1850s publication in a rare book vault that described a range of cases from the 17th century that sparked his curiosity. While they were “not just the bizarre cases,” he says, “these need to be written about in plain language.”

His resulting book brings to light scandals that (excepting bestiality) might well be from contemporary society. The table of contents tantalizes, with chapters like “The Frisky Couple,” “The Billingsgate Slut,” “The Lecherous Swineherd,” and “The Boat Sex Case.”

Blue said “The Billingsgate Slut” is a case about a woman accused of promiscuity that sued for slander. The “Frisky Couple” is “a pair of consensual lovers who eventually were married” but were accused of having sex before marriage. “They were harshly punished,” Blue says.

Of the disturbing bestiality case, Blue says he doesn’t think it uncommon in that time.

“We know other colonies like Massachusetts had prosecutions,” he says. Indeed, the Spencer case may not even be the most sensational. In 1662, a respected founder of New Haven Colony, William Potter, was caught when “his teen-aged son saw him buggering one of their sows and went to get his mother, who confirmed what father was doing.” It goes on, “He admitted to a lifelong fondness for this activity beginning in England at about age ten.”[1]

It was believed “that sexual unions between humans and animals, and between different species of animals, could produce offspring.”[2] The law stipulated that any animal so violated should be killed in the presence of the accused. Thus Potter, “On the day of his execution, a cow, two heifers, three sheep, and two sows all died with him.”[3]

There were a lot of sex cases in that era. In that severe puritan society, people were sort of de facto spies, always looking for signs that their neighbor might be misbehaving. “In sex cases,” Blue says, “they did not distinguish between forcible or consensual, or adult vs. child.” If it was before marriage or adultery, several whippings were proscribed by law as punishment. “The New Haven Colony was very brutally run,” he says.

Jon Blue will discuss these and other remarkable legal cases of the 1600s at the New Haven Museum on Tuesday, October 20, at 6 p.m., in a free lecture and book signing

[1] Things Fearful to Name: Bestiality in Colonial America, paper by John M. Murrin, Princeton University, 1998, pg 26

[2] Ibid, pg 10

[3] Ibid, pg 26

Image Credits: Wesleyan University Press

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