Sodomy Laws in Connecticut

Author: Nicole Fontaine

It is hard to imagine that the “Blue” state of Connecticut once utilized the death penalty for homosexual behavior. In the era of Puritan law, colonial Connecticut and New Haven used England’s 1533 statute against homosexuality as an example. With this statute, homosexual acts became a capital crime (Crompton 277). It was not until the post-revolutionary period that Connecticut and the other colonies loosened their sodomy laws.

The colony of Connecticut followed its English predecessors by making sodomy a capital crime in 1642 (Gay/Lesbian Almanac 85). The General Court of Connecticut had twelve capital crimes in this era.  Homosexuality was equated with crimes such as murder, rape, kidnapping, and treason (The Book of General Laws). The colony of New Haven even went a step further to include not only men, but also made women liable for committing such an “abomination”(True Blue Laws of Connecticut and New Haven). As a result of the Connecticut 1642 statute, four men were hanged: George Spencer on April 1, 1642, two unknown in 1655, and William Potter on June 6, 1662 ( Connecticut law followed British laws’ synonymous language for sodomy or buggery as bestiality. These four men were charged with not only sodomy, but also with bestiality. Equating the “crime” of homosexuality with murder, rape, and other higher crimes exemplifies the religious nature of this law.

William Potter was the last to be executed for sodomy in Connecticut, but the laws continued to make homosexuality a capital crime ( In 1672, the General Court of Connecticut clearly defined sodomy in their list of capital crimes. At this time, Puritanism consumed Connecticut. Laws were religious to protect the community’s salvation. However, the laws were beginning to loosen as exceptions were beginning to be considered. The famous 1677 trial of Nicholas Sension proved how lenient the General Court of Connecticut was when it came to men of prestige. Sension was a married man and one of the wealthiest men in Windsor, Connecticut (Gay/Lesbian Almanac 117). After his servant, Daniel Sexton, accused Sension of attempted sodomy, more eyewitness testimony followed.  Although sodomy was deemed a capital offense, Sension was let go on “good behavior,” most likely due to his place in society (“Crimes and Misdemeanors”).

Britain wanted the colonists to intensify their sodomy laws to include not only death, but other extreme measures. By 1718, death was not typically the sentence for sodomy in the colonies (Cromption 283). For an example, the last death for sodomy in Connecticut was in 1662, but that’s not to say homosexuals were free from punishment. Sodomy laws in the colonies became more lenient because of the Quakers in Pennsylvania. When England used stoning, whipping, and castration for those convicted of sodomy, the colonists were supposed to follow their lead. Yet on January 12, 1705, Quakers dropped “castration” from its Pennsylvania sodomy law (Crompton 283). Thus, this began the elimination of inhumane sodomy laws throughout the colonies.

By 1791, the original thirteen colonies made sodomy a criminal offense and limited sentencing ( Although, homosexuals were still considered “criminals” in early America, this could be seen as somewhat progressive. The American Revolution paved the way for the break in English law which helped many people who were accused of sodomy. If the colonists did not break from England, sodomy would have been a capital offense until Britain’s passing of the 1861 Person Act ( In 2017, Connecticut celebrates advancements in LGBTQ+ law. Marriage equality was passed in 2008 and, thereafter, political leadership has advocated for an inclusive society. It is important for Connecticut residents to acknowledge its darker history to reveal the true path towards equality.

Recommended for Further Reading:

Benenmann, William. Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships. Binghamton: Harrington Park Press, 2006.

Connecticut. General Court. The Book of General Laws, for the People within the Jurisdiction of Connecticut. Published by Samuel Green. Hartford: Connecticut State Library, 1673.

Connecticut State Archives. “Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1662/1663-1789.” Published by Effie Mae Pricket. Hartford: Connecticut State Library, 1913. See pages 365,366, 388.

Crompton, Louis. “Homosexuals and the Death Penalty in Colonial America.” Journal of Homosexuality 3, no. 1 (1976) : 277-293.

Dynes, Wayne R. and Stephen Donaldson, ed. History of Homosexuality in Europe and America. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992.

Foster, Thomas A., ed. Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

Katz, Jonathan Ned. Gay American History: Lesbians & Gay Men in the U.S.A. New York: The Penguin Group, 1976.

Katz, Jonathan Ned. Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary. New York, Harper & Row Publishers, 1983.

Trumbull, J. Hammond 1821-1897. The True-blue Laws of Connecticut And New Haven And the False Blue-laws Invented by the Rev. Samuel Peters. Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company, 1876.


“Colonial America: The Age of Sodomitical Sin.” Out accessed October 7, 2017.

“Criminalizing Same-Sex Behavior.” Religious accessed October 7, 2017.

“Executions by State.” Death accessed October 7, 2017.

“Offences Against the Person Act 1861.” accessed October 7, 2017.


The 1776 Election of Hartford’s Black Governor

Author: Chris Menapace

Monument to Black Governors located in the Ancient Burying Grounds in Hartford.

From 1749 to 1855, Black communities around Connecticut elected leaders, named “Black Governors.” Little information is available on the men who held the title of Black Governor, but there is evidence of at least 27 individuals from 11 different towns, including Farmington.  This position of leadership among free and enslaved black people was not unique to Connecticut.  Black Governors, sometimes referred to as Black Kings, were elected in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire; yet Connecticut had the longest and most robust tradition lasting 106 years.  How the position began is still a mystery; the office modeled white politics, but the election itself was a merger of both European and African traditions with grand parades and celebrations.  On election nights, food and drinks would be provided for all those in attendance and the community would celebrate, often times well into the night.  As Black Governor a black man had the power to dole out punishments, act as a mediator between white and black communities, and appoint lieutenant governors and deputies to carry out these duties.

Although there is no evidence of how and why the tradition of Black Governors was created, whites attempted to use the position to control the black population.  By having black individuals carry out the punishments on their own communities, whites hoped to diminish the appeal of resistance to the slave institution.  A similar method was used by southern plantation owners when they employed slaves as overseers, known as drivers. Most Black Governors elected in the eighteenth-century were enslaved by prominent men such as John Anderson’s owner, Philip Skene, who was a wealthy British officer.  Although the institution of the Black Governors was used by whites as a method of controlling the black population, the black community was able to use the tradition to organize and give a voice for black people in Connecticut especially during the 1776 election of John Anderson.

Artist depiction of Black Governor’s Election Day parade..

On May 8th, 1776, white men in Connecticut elected Jonathan Trumbull as governor, and soon after, black men recognized John Anderson as their governor.  The installation of John Anderson became a controversial subject for two reasons, one of which was the fact that no election had been held.  A passage from the journal  of Major French, a prominent Connecticut man, dated May 11, showed that Cuff had resigned as governor and appointed John Anderson, therefore subverting the election process.  This discovery upset the black population because the office of the Black Governor commanded respect in the community.  Black people had been denied a right to vote for their representatives in the state and colony of Connecticut, and now, in 1776, they had been denied the opportunity to select their own community leader.  The white population of Connecticut had attempted to use the Black Governor tradition to control the black population, but in 1776 the choice of the governor had caused considerable turmoil.  Whites around the colonies had always been fearful of black revolts, especially during the Revolutionary War.  The British government had used the threat of arming the enslave population in the colonies to keep control of the colonists.  Once the Revolutionary War began, the British acted upon this threat, freeing and arming thousands of enslaved people throughout the colonies.  With the controversy of the election for Black Governor, whites in Connecticut became afraid of violence from the angered communities.  Yet the subversion of the election was only the first layer to this controversy.

When John Anderson took over the Black Governorship, there were concerns among both the white and black populations because John Anderson’s owner, Philip Skene, had previously been imprisoned for suspicion of being a Tory.  The people of Hartford were alarmed, thinking that Skene had designs to use John Anderson’s position as the Black Governor to bring the black population of the state to the British cause.  The white governor and council of the colony appointed a committee to investigate the matter.  Through their enquiry they determined that Skene had attempted to bribe people to elect John Anderson, but there were a number of blacks who refused to vote for a Tory as governor; they assumed that if John Anderson’s owner was a Tory that he would be one as well.  Since the black population would not vote for John Anderson, Cuff decided to appoint him.  Skene was able to convince the committee that he did this for sport and had no malevolent intentions.  Fear of the power of black communities and the Black Governor had created fear among the whites in Connecticut, and had launched an intensive investigation from the government.  The Black Governors were used to oppress the black population, but the tradition had evolved into a more complex system that gave black communities symbolic power that whites did not take for granted.

Map of Main Street in Hartford showing African American presence during the American Revolution

Further Reading.

Greene, Lorenzo J. The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776. New York: Columbia University Press, 1942.

Harris, Katherine. “In Remembrance of Their Kings of Guinea: The Black Governors and the Negro Election, 1749 to 1800.” In African American Connecticut Explored, edited by Elizabeth J. Normen, 35-44. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2013.

Piascik, Andy. “Connecticut’s Black Governors.” Connecticut, accessed October 3, 2017.

Daggett’s Charge: The Revolution in New Haven

Author: Ian Long

On the morning of July 5th British ships with troops under the command of Major General William Tryon sailed into New Haven’s harbor, bringing the Revolutionary War to the Connecticut college town. A great deal of local legend has grown up around the events of that unusually hot summer day and no small figure in these stories is that of Dr. Naphtali Daggett. This Yale College professor, like a number of New Haven residents, took up arms against the British in an attempt to defend their homes against Tyron’s raid. The small resistance, numbering no more than a few hundred, had little chance against the 2,500 British regulars that advanced on their homes.  The stories surrounding Naphtali Daggett ring of both bravery and academic wit. Like so many local legends the veracity of the tale is questionable but it seems there is some truth to the legend.

Naphtali Daggett was born on September 8, 1727 in Attleboro, Massachusetts. He was a Yale graduate, Presbyterian minister and divinity professor at Yale. In 1766, following the resignation of Thomas Clap, Dr. Daggett was appointed President pro tempore. Dr. Daggett remained in the role for nine years, until Ezra Stiles took his place in 1777.

During the summer of 1779 there were rumors circulating in New Haven of a planned British attack coming from occupied New York. Many in New Haven hoped the British would simply pass by in favor of more tempting targets further up the coast. Stiles recorded in his diary some of the events of July 5th and from his vantage point in a steeple drew a map detailing the British invasion. A small group of fighting men were organized under Captain Hillhouse, Yale students making up a large number of the volunteers. Whether Dr. Daggett was among these volunteers is unclear, but what is clear is that he went out to fight.

The legend surrounding Daggett comes from a report of his actions given by, a then Yale senior, Elizur Goodrich. At eighty-nine years old Goodrich dictated a letter to his son describing “Old Daggett” as riding past the Yale volunteers on his black mare, with his fowling piece in hand, ready to put his principles into action in a gallant and manly fashion.

Goodrich related that he heard the rest only after the events. He claimed that Daggett took a position on a hill and gave battle to the whole column of British troops singlehandedly and was very efficient with his gun. The soldiers were shocked to find only a single man under cover of bushes and demanded to know why he was firing on them. He retorted with his quick wit that he was “exercising the right of war.” They asked him if they let him go if he would fire at them again, Daggett defiantly proclaimed, “nothing more likely”. This being too much for the soldiers they dragged him to the head of the column and compelled him with bayonets to show the way to New Haven. Only when he reached the green of New Haven, nearly dead from their blows and exhaustion, did they let him go.


The story written down in 1849 by Goodrich’s son is compelling and others have taken it up and added their own embellishments. Osterweis, in his Three sentries of New Haven, has it that Daggett was seventy-two. Charles H. Townshed in his account says that Daggett told the soldiers that he was a minister and that he made the sincerest prayers of his life against the British. It seems unlikely that soldiers would let a man who spoke to them like that live. So, what is the truth?

While some confusion does remain, Daggett swore an affidavit that was published in local newspapers just after the attack. In it he detailed the events as he experienced them. Daggett claimed that the British repeatedly shot at him and captured him after firing only one shot from his musket. He was taken, beaten badly and cut to the bone on his head and stabbed, though not deeply, by bayonets. All the while he pleaded for his life. They then stole his shoes, buckles and a few other items. The soldiers then took Daggett to an officer who questioned him and he again pleaded for his life. The soldiers then marched him at the front of a column of troops forcing Daggett to show them the way into New Haven. Beating him with a stick and insulting him saying the whole time that they would kill him on the spot. He collapsed from exhaustion and blood loss once they reached the New Haven Green. He was taken into a nearby home where he remained in bed for the next day and night. While Daggett would recover from the immediate wounds he never seemed to fully recover his health. He returned to preaching for a short time but died sixteen months later at the age of fifty-four.

The story of Dr. Daggett as told by Goodrich and others is romantic and says a great deal of how people would like to remember the events of July 5th 1779.  A valiant professor fighting the good fight and using his rapier wit when violence failed. The truth tells us more about the real experience of the Revolution and those who experienced it, a harsh and violent war and not the romantic war that it is so often seen as.

Recommended Reading:

Osterweis, Rollin G. Three Centuries of New Haven. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953

Townshend, C. Hervey. The British Invasion of New Haven, Connecticut: Together with Some Account of Their Landing and Burning the Towns of Fairfield and Norwalk, July, 1779. publisher not identified, 1879.

Sprague, William Buell. Annals of the American Pulpit; or, Commemorative Notices of Distinguished American Clergymen of Various Denominations, from the Early Settlement of the Country to the Close of the Year Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-Five. Vol. 1. New York: R. Carter and Brothers, 1866.

Bell, J. L. “Naphtali Daggett: Professor with a Gun.” accessed November 14, 2017

Paper and Provisions: Christopher Leffingwell and Connecticut during the American Revolution

Author: Amirah Neely

Connecticut is often referred to as “the Provision State” and the nickname comes from the era of the American Revolution. During this time, Connecticut, the third smallest state, provided more food and cannons for Washington’s army than any other state. Its location between Boston and New York City was ideal for collecting, storing, and transporting goods. The pathways that were used by early traders in Connecticut became the trade routes during the war. When the British gained control of New York City, the Patriots lost their traditional trade routes, creating a need to reroute them through Connecticut.

Connecticut was relatively untouched by the Revolution, with only a few major battles occurring within state lines. This allowed for manufacturers and farmers to keep producing as they had been. Many of Connecticut’s residents were farmers and their towns had communal meadowlands, crop lands and pastures. The number of livestock was reduced to a manageable number during the winter months and wool was used to produce clothing. There was a surplus of production in Connecticut, and when much of what was produced could no longer be sold to Great Britain and the Caribbean, Connecticut turned towards supplying for the war effort. The Revolution inspired an increase in manufacturing. One of the manufacturing hubs was located in Norwich. Christopher Leffingwell’s manufacturing is the reason for its expansion.

Christopher Leffingwell was a well-known businessman in Connecticut, and not only that, he was an outspoken Patriot. He was connected throughout the war and commanded the 20th Regiment of the State Militia, where he was a Colonel. He was highly skilled at war strategy and became an advisor to Governor Trumbull. He was seen as such an asset to the effort that he developed a relationship with General Washington who would often reach out for counsel. Washington, who made several stops in Connecticut during the war, would stay in Norwich and Leffingwell would provide him with provisions. Connecticut provided the best prices and supplies on goods such that even John Hancock would often write to Leffingwell about goods.

Christopher Leffingwell erected the first paper mill in Connecticut in 1766. It was located on the Yantic River in Norwich. The mill was erected to meet economic necessity, but it was not financially successful at the start and only proceeded to get worse. It required government aid to keep it running, which eventually ran out, causing the mill to close. In the short period that it was open (1766-1772), the mill produced paper for wrapping, writing, printing, and sheathing and it was able to turn out 1300 reams per year. It employed ten to twelve people. Papermaking started early on in Connecticut, because the area had easy access to waterpower and had a publishing industry. Hartford was a regional center for printing, and the fourth largest in the country. The New London Gazette published on December 10, 1766 stated, “The paper on which this Gazette is printed was manufactured at Norwich…proof that this Colony can furnish itself with one very considerable article which has heretofore carried thousand of pounds out of it,” and a 1775 edition of The Connecticut Gazette about the battle of Lexington and Concord was printed using paper that came from the mill. Along with running the paper mill, Leffingwell also had a chocolate factory, a felt-manufacturing plant, several fulling mills, a comb-making mill, a nail factory, a bookbindery, and a clock factory, all started between 1766 and 1774 and continuing through the Revolution.

Leffingwell encouraged and aided several artisans and mechanics to start new businesses. He inspired and supported the creation of a pottery kiln for making stone and earthen ware. Soon after that, iron works were beginning to be established and mechanics, carpenters, joiners, blacksmiths, silversmiths, shoemakers and tailors were all over town. This continued after the Revolution and led to Connecticut becoming an industrial state. While parts of Connecticut are presently struggling due to their loss of manufacturing, the legacy of Connecticut during the Revolution lives on through its nickname of “the Provision State.”

Map of Norwich and the Leffingwell House Museum

Recommended Reading:

Caulkins, F. M. History of Norwich, Connecticut: From Its Settlement in 1660, to January 1845. Norwich: Thomas Robinson, 1845.

Marshall, Benjamin Tinkham. A Modern History of New London County, Connecticut, Volume 1. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1922.

Connecticut in the American Revolution: An Exhibition from the Library and Museum Collections of The Society of the Cincinnati. Washington D.C.: Anderson House, October 27, 2001-May 11, 2002.