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 (deathpenalityinfo.org). 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 (deathpenalty.org). 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 (religioustolerence.org). 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 (legislation.gov.uk). 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 history.org. accessed October 7, 2017. http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/the-age-of-sodomitical-sin/1670s/sodomy-law-connecticut-october
“Criminalizing Same-Sex Behavior.” Religious Tolerance.org. accessed October 7, 2017. http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_laws1.htm.
“Executions by State.” Death penaltyinfo.org. accessed October 7, 2017. https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/ESPYstate.pdf.
“Offences Against the Person Act 1861.” Legislation.gov.uk. accessed October 7, 2017. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Vict/24-25/100/section/61/enacted.