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Attitudes Towards Homosexuality in the Seventeenth-Century New England Colonies

  • Roger Thompson (a1)

Extract

The first play I attended at my all-boys secondary school was Marlowe's Dr Faustus. The lower boys crammed in the gallery were not wholly engaged by grandiloquent Elizabethan cadences, nor by the laboriously unfolding plot. What stopped the whispering and fidgeting and then brought the house down was the scene in which Faustus, as reward for selling his soul, is allowed to kiss the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Troy. In this production the hell-bent Doctor had to make do with the prettiest boy in the school. Wild whoops, mating calls, indecent suggestions for further action rained down from the gallery. At the curtain call Helen again stole the show. Next morning, the Headmaster, a Scottish Presbyterian whose zeal for the Lord was second only to his zeal for rugby football, rebuked the school for the shameful scenes and prescribed a three-mile run to cool our ardour.

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1 On the intolerance of the period, see Wildeblood, Peter, Against the Law (London, 1955).

2 Prynne, William, Histriomastix, or the Players Scourge (London, 1633). Cf. Rainoldes, John, Th' Overthrow of Stage-Playes (Middleburgh, 1599) and Stubbes, Philip, Anatomy of Abuses (London, 1583), sig. liii. For an overview, see Thompson, E. N. S., The Controversy between the Puritans and the Stage (New Haven, 1903).

3 Journal of Social History, 12 (1978), 268–81.

4 Oaks, , 273.

5 Oaks, , 269–72.

6 Oaks, , 269.

7 Koehler, Lyle, A Search for Power (Urbana, 1981), 82.

8 Italicised word interlined by the magistrate who cancelled the constable's bracketed word.

9 Thompson, Roger, Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County 1649–1690 (Amherst, 1986), 175, 73.

10 Koehler, , 153, records a New Hampshire defamation suit in which a Dover man was alleged to have buggered a servant boy. A Newport, R.I., man was described by his wife as “a filthy man” in 1673 and the same epithet was thrown at a New Hampshire man in 1654. Ibid., 333, 272. It would be rash to accept such accusations at face value.

11 Oaks, , 274–78; Thompson, , 7374. William Hackett in Massachusetts (1642) seems to have been mentally deficient. The evidence against George Spencer in New Haven in the same year was ludicrously unscientific.

12 Oaks, , 271.

13 Bradford, William, Of Plimouth Plantation, ed. Morison, S. E. (New York, 1957), 404–12.

14 E.g. “The Letter-Books of Samuel Sewall,” Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 6th series, Vol. 11, 274: Taylor, Edward “and I were Chamber-fellows and bed-fellows in Harvard College two years: He being admitted to the College drew me thither.” Cf. Quaife, G. R., Wanton Wenches and Wayward Wives (London, 1979), 175–7; Thompson, , 121, 143; Shakespeare, William, Othello, III, iii, 423–27.

15 The New Haven ordinances made mutual masturbation a capital crime. Chapin, Bradley, Criminal Justice in Colonial America (Athens, 1983), 10.

16 Thompson, , 72, 73.

17 Cf. John Kenyon's criticism of Alan Bray's similar claim about the “massive and ineradicable scale” of homosexuality in renaissance England in his 18 September 1982 Observer review of Homosexuality in Renaissance England (London, 1982).

18 Trial and Condemnation of Mervin, Lord Audley (London, 1699), 3; Bingham, Caroline, “Seventeenth-century Attitudes towards Deviant Sex,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 1 (1970–1971), 447–69. A search of sixteen sets of Assize, Quarter Session and Ecclesiastical Court Records widely distributed in space and across the seventeenth century discovered only six cases of sodomy. Cf. Cockburn, J. S. (ed.), Crime in England 1550–1800 (London, 1977), 5859, and History of English Assizes (Cambridge, 1972), 99.

19 Thompson, Roger, Women in Stuart England and America (London, 1974), 2931, 45–47.

20 Thompson, , Sex in Middlesex, Ch. 11, and “‘Holy Watchfulness’ and communal conformism,” New England Quarterly, 56 (1983), 504–22.

21 Quoted in Koehler, , 78.

22 Monter, E. W., “La Sodomie en Suisse Romande,” Annales ECS, 29 (1974), 1023–33. Cf. the findings of A. C. Kinsey and associates in rural areas of the U.S.A.: nearly half the youth on farms had had some sexual involvement with animals. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (London, 1948), 669–70.

23 Hibler, D. J., “Sexual Rhetoric in Seventeenth-Century American Literature” (Ph.D. diss., Notre Dame University, 1970), 6171.

24 The main Biblical texts are: Genesis, 19, vv. 129; Leviticus, 18, v. 22; 20, v. 13; Deuteronomy, 23, v. 17; Judges, 19, vv. 2223; I Kings, 15, v. 12; II Kings, 23, v. 1; Romans, I, vv. 2627; I Corinthians, 6, vv. 910; I Timothy, I, v. 10.

25 Farrand, Max (ed.), The Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts (Cambridge, MA., 1929), 35.

26 Quoted in Leverenz, David, The Language of Puritan Feeling (New Brunswick, 1980), 185. Cf. Similar analogies in Shepard's immensely influential The Sincere Convert, in Albro, J. A. (ed.), The Works of Thomas Shepard (New York, 1853), 29.

27 Cobbet, Thomas, Fruitfull and Useful Discourse (London, 1656), 173; Danforth, Samuel, Cry of Sodom (Cambridge, MA., 1674); Mather, Cotton, Pillars of Salt (Boston, 1699); Addresses to Old Men, Young Men and Children (Boston, 1690), 73; The Pure Nasyrite (Boston, 1723), 1; The Sailours Companion (Boston, 1709), 198; Increase Mather, , Solemn Advice to Young Men (Boston, 1695), 24, 36; Wigglesworth, Michael, Day of Doom, ed. Murdock, K. B. (New York, 1929), 23.

28 The First Century of Scandalous Malignant Priests (London, 1643), 1.

29 Prynne, William, Breviate of the Life of William Laud (London, 1644), 28.

30 Ashton, Robert (ed.), James I by his Contemporaries (London, 1969), 106, 109, 114, 118, 123, 127, 130, 131, 230, 234, 236.

31 Quoted in Bingham, , “Deviant Sex,” 460.

32 Histriomastix, 214.

33 Trial of Lord Audley, 8.

34 Winthrop Papers, 2 (Boston, 1931) 323.

35 Hibler, , “Sexual Rhetoric,” 3037, 61–71, 118–21; Keller, Karl, “Rev. Mr Edward Taylor's Bawdry,” New England Quarterly 43 (1970), 382–90; Thompson, Roger, Unfit for Modest Ears (London, 1979), Ch. 8.

36 Oaks, , 272, 275; Mather, Cotton, Memorable Providences (Boston, 1689), 100–1.

37 Another analogy was recently suggested by San Francisco gay novelist Armistead Maupen. He explained the rise of right-wing, anti-liberal homophobic politics by the support evinced from people suffering from sexual and gender neuroses. Interview, The Guardian, 22 04 1988. Cf. Marmor, Judd (ed.), Homosexual Behavior (New York, 1980), 15, 19.

38 Morison, S. E., The Founding of Harvard College (Cambridge, MA., 1935), 9596, 97; Mather, Cotton, Wonders of the Invisible World (Boston, 1693), 99.

39 Koehler, , 196.

40 Prynne, , Histriomastix, 966; Wagner, Hans Peter, “Puritan Attitudes towards Recreation in Seventeenth-Century New England” (Ph.D. diss., Saarland University, 1979), 115–34, 196.

41 Blythe, Ronald, Akenfield (Harmondsworth, 1972), 3941, 52, 100.

42 Thompson, , Sex in Middlesex, 115–17, 143–46, 161, 175, 185–86.

43 Ibid., 94–96.

44 Leach, Douglas, Flintlock and Tomahawk (New York, 1960), 144–48; Gookin, F. W., Daniel Gookin (Privately printed, 1912), Chs. 14, 15, 16, 18; Thompson, Roger, “The Case of Thomas Danforth,” in Herget, W. and Ortseifen, K. (eds.), The Transit of Civilisation (Tubingen, 1987), 40.

45 Koehler, , 323; Prynne, William, Of the Unloveliness of Lovelocks (London, 1628), and A Gag for the Long-haired Rattleheads (London, 1646).

46 Koehler, , 43; Crowder, R., No Featherbed to Heaven (East Lansing, 1962), 256–57.

47 Demos, J. and Boocock, S. (eds.), Turning Points (Chicago, 1978), 263–64.

48 Thompson, , Sex in Middlesex, 8788.

49 Prynne, , Histriomastix, 168–69.

50 Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher, Good Wives (New York, 1982), 5760, 103, 126–28, 223. Cf. Demos, John, “Underlying Themes in the Witchcraft,” American Historical Review, 75 (1970), 1320–26; Segalen, Martine, Love and Power in the Peasant Family (Oxford, 1984); Thompson, , Sex in Middlesex, 2324.

51 Winthrop, John, Journal: History of New England, ed. Hosmer, J. K. (New York, 1946), Vol. 1, 234, Vol. 11, 225.

52 Demos, John (ed.), Remarkable Providences (New York, 1972), 134.

53 Thompson, , Sex in Middlesex, 143–45, 171.

54 Seasonable Watch-Word (Cambridge, MA., 1677), iii.

55 Thompson, , Women, 104–05; Ulrich, , 202–14.

56 Leverenz, , The Language of Puritan Feeling, 22, 55, 119, 128, 129, 130, 143, 145; Greven, Philip, The Protestant Temperament (New York, 1980), 124–40; Grabo, N. S., “The Veiled Vision,” in Bercovitch, Sacvan (ed.), The American Puritan Imagination (Cambridge, 1974), 1933; Weathers, W. T., “Edward Taylor and the Cambridge Platonists,” American Literature, 26 (1954), 131; Keller, , “Taylor's Bawdry,” 382406; Fender, Stephen, “Edward Taylor and the Sources of American Puritan Wit” (Ph.D. diss., University of Manchester, 1962), 34, 154.

57 Morgan, Edmund S., “The Diary of Michael Wigglesworth,” Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 35 (19421946), 311–40; Crowder, , No Featherbed; Thompson, , “‘Holy Watchfulness,’” 518–19.

58 Ford, Worthington C. (ed.), The Diary of Cotton Mather (New York, 1957), Vol. 1, 7879.

59 McGiffert, Michael (ed.), God's Plot (Amherst, 1972), 72.

60 Marmor, , Homosexual Behaviour, 13.

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  • Roger Thompson (a1)

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