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“Two Suns in One Firmament”: John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, and the 1655 New Haven Sodomy Statute

  • Sandra Slater
Abstract

This piece explores the origins of the anomalous 1655 New Haven statute against sodomy that broke with legal traditions and codes both in England and New England. A lengthy and extraordinarily specific piece of legislation, the New Haven law stands in stark contrast to the minimalist language favored by the English in the early seventeenth century. When viewed within the larger context of clerical animosities, particularly between Thomas Hooker and John Cotton, there is a strong circumstantial case to make for its implementation as an extension of John Cotton's rejected Massachusetts Bay legal code, Moses His Judicials, applied by his friend and admirer John Davenport in New Haven. A devout disciple of John Cotton, John Davenport's New Haven colony relied on Cotton's influence and stood as a rebuke to Thomas Hooker's Connecticut settlements, often criticized as too spiritually lax by those in Massachusetts Bay and New Haven. While seeking to demonstrate greater piety and rigidity, John Cotton and Thomas Hooker sought to exert dominance over the other, with Cotton employing Davenport's colony as an effective castigation of Hooker's perceived liberality. This piece is reflective of trends in studies of sexuality which suggest that ideas and identities related to sexuality do not operate in isolation, but often mirror anxieties not necessarily connected to the regulation of sexual activities. This article situates the 1655 Sodomy Statue within a broader context in order to understand its origins and animosities that potentially motivated its inclusion into the New Haven legal statutes.

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The author wishes to extend sincere gratitude to Richard Godbeer, Monica D. Fitzgerald, Cara Delay, and Francis Bremer who read early drafts of the article. Also, many thanks to Bailey Poletti and John Manke, my copy editors at Church History, whose suggestions and edits improved the piece immeasurable.

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1 Trumbull, J. Hammond, ed., The True-Blue Laws of Connecticut and New Haven (Hartford: American, 1876), 199. Though nineteenth-century historians often censored sexual reference in historical works, the essence of the sodomy statute is consistent.

2 For a thorough discussion of the nuances of Puritan dissension, see Knight, Janice, Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994); Lake, Peter, Moderate Puritans in the Elizabethan Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); and Como, David R., Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in Pre–Civil-War England (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).

3 Knight, Orthodoxies in Massachusetts, 2–3.

4 Bozeman, Theodore Dwight, The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion & Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 233.

5 Bremer, Francis J., Congregational Communion: Clerical Friendship in the Anglo-American Puritan Community, 1610–1692 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1994); and Webster, Tom, Godly Clergy in Early Stuart England: The Caroline Puritan Movement c. 1620–1643 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). An opposing perspective on the dangers and public presence of masculine friendships is: Bray, Alan and Rye, Michel, “The Body of the Friend: Continuity and Change in Masculine Friendship in the Seventeenth Century,” in English Masculinities, 1660–1800, ed. Hitchcock, Tim and Cohen, Michèle (New York: Longman, 1999), 6584. See also Bush, Sargent Jr., “John Cotton's Correspondence: A Census,” Early American Literature 24, no. 2 (1989): 91111.

6 Knight, Orthodoxies in Massachusetts; Foster, Stephen, The Long Argument: English Puritanism and the Shaping of New England Culture, 1570–1700 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991); Winship, Michael, Making Heretics: Militant Protestantism and Free Grace in Massachusetts, 1636–1641 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002); Delbanco, Andrew, The Puritan Ordeal (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989).

7 In reviewing Isabel Calder's collection of Davenport's writings and letters, Perry Miller wrote that, “while Davenport ranked among the ‘great leaders’ of New England,” he did not “measure up to the stature of Hooker, Shepard, or even John Cotton.” See Miller, Perry, “Review of Letters of John Davenport, Puritan Divine by Isabel MacBeath Calder,” New England Quarterly 11, no. 4 (December 1938): 843848. This article challenges the homogeny embraced by Perry Miller and extended by Sacvan Bercovitch.

8 See also Winship, Michael, Godly Republicanism: Puritans, Pilgrims, and a City on a Hill (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).

9 Several historians point to the conflict of the first generations. See Archer, Richard, Fissures in the Rock: New England in the Seventeenth Century (Hanover: University Press of New England, 2001); Breen, Louise A., Transgressing the Bounds: Subversive Enterprises among the Puritan Elite in Massachusetts, 1630–1692 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Cliffe, J. T., Puritans in Conflict: The Puritan Gentry During and After the Civil Wars (London: Routledge, 1988); and Erikson, Kai T., Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1966). Erikson's study is rooted in sociology but points to conflict in New England.

10 Bremer, Congregational Communion, 32.

11 Ibid., 95.

12 Ibid., 96.

13 Williams, Life of Thomas Hooker, 297–298; and Bremer, Congregational Communion, 99.

14 Bremer, Congregational Communion, 54.

15 Reprinted in Bremer, Congregational Communion, 91.

16 Letter from John Davenport to John Cotton, March 6, 1650; reprinted in Calder, Isabel MacBeath, ed., Letters of John Davenport, Puritan Divine (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937), 8486. The only full-length study of Ezekiel Cheever is Gould, Elizabeth Porter, Ezekiel Cheever, Schoolmaster (Boston: Palmer, 1904).

17 Calder, Letters of John Davenport, 84.

18 Bush, Sargent Jr., The Correspondence of John Cotton (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 436.

19 Mather, Cotton, “The Light of the Western Churches; or, The Life of Mr. Thomas Hooker,” in Magnalia Christi Americana; or, The ecclesiastical History of New England, From its first Planting in the Year 1620, Unto the Year of our Lord, 1698, vol. 1 (Hartford: Silas Andrus and Son, 1858), 3233.

20 Discussions of Hooker's sermons appear in Bozeman, Theodore Dwight, The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion & Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 93, 134, 159.

21 Samuel Collins, quoted in Waddington, John, Congregational History, II (London, 1869), 292. William Laud did not become archbishop of Canterbury until 1633, four years after his notice of Hooker.

22 Several friends and acquaintances of John Cotton emigrated to Boston years earlier, making him the more likely choice for the prestigious appointment.

23 Winthrop, 107.

26 Ibid., 126.

27 Ibid., 127.

29 Ibid., 128.

30 Hubbard, William, A General History of New England (Cambridge: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1815), 175.

31 Mason, Louis, The Life and Times of Major John Mason of Connecticut: 1600–1672 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1935), 75.

32 Ibid., 75–76.

33 John Cotton, God's Promise to His Plantation (1630), 14–15.

35 Winship, Making Heretics, 73.

36 Winthrop, 128; reprinted in Miller, Perry, “Thomas Hooker and the Democracy of Early Connecticut,” New England Quarterly 4, no. 4 (October 1931): 663712.

37 Publications, Colonial Society of Massachusetts, VII, 73.

38 Hubbard, A History of New England, 173.

39 Ibid., 306.

40 Anne Bradstreet, “Meditations Divine and Moral,” in Writings of Anne Bradstreet, 312.

42 Emerson, Everett, John Cotton, rev. ed. (Boston: Twayne, 1990).

43 Foster, The Long Argument, 156–157.

45 Lucas, Paul R., Valley of Discord: Church and Society along the Connecticut River, 1636–1725 (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1976), 5.

46 Hooker, Thomas, “In Reply to Governor Winthrop,” in Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, vol. 1 (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1860), 4.

47 Ibid., 3.

48 Ibid., 4.

49 Ibid., 5.

50 Ibid., 6.

51 Winthrop, 277.

53 Winthrop, 200.

54 Ibid., 289.

55 Winship also considers the Antinomian controversy to be “implicated in the migrations that were to define the cultural geography of New England” in relation to Cotton, Hooker, and Davenport. It was also a triumph of Shepard and Hooker's style of preaching over the less tangible style embodied by Cotton. Winship, Making Heretics, 233, 235.

56 John Winthrop, “Short Story,” reprinted in The Antinomian Controversy, 286. Bozeman makes the argument that John Cotton was the critical figure in the crisis and that his previous teachings allowed for the extremes taken by Hutchinson and her followers. Bozeman, The Precisianist Strain, 241.

57 Archer, Fissures in the Rock, 31.

58 Bozeman, The Precisianist Strain, 211. Cotton initially worked to support Hutchinson, but he increasingly separated himself from her due to her disclosures as well as political pressures from within Boston. Thomas Shepard and Thomas Hooker suspected that Cotton influenced the trial to secretly support Hutchinson and provide her an opportunity for exoneration. See Winship, Making Heretics, 204.

59 Bozeman suggests that Davenport, Hooker, and Cotton all “jousted with antinomian doctrines” before emigrating from England. Bozeman, The Precisiant Strain, 184–210.

60 Ibid., 214.

61 The Massachusetts Bay Company resolved to ordeyne, & establish, all m[anner] of wholesome & Reasonable orders, Laues, statuts, ordinances, [directions] & Instrucktyons, not Contrary to the Lawes of the Relme of England, ffor the present gouerment of our plantacon, & the Inhabitants residing wthin ye Lymitts of or plantacon.Records of the Company of Massachusetts Bay from 1628–1641 (Cambridge: Boules and Houghton, 1850), 40.

62 Nathaniel Ward, “Captiall Crimes,” in Body of Liberties (1642).

63 John D. Cushing, ed., Articles of Confederation betwixt the Plantations under the Government of Massachusetts, the Plantations under the Government of Plimouth, the Plantations under the Government of Connecticut, and the Government of New Haven, with the Plantations in Combination therewith in The Earliest Laws of the New Haven and Connecticut Colonies, 1639–1673 (Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1977), 459.

64 Ibid., 10.

65 Ibid., 12.

66 Godbeer, Richard, Sexual Revolution in Early America, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 104.

67 Whiting, Samuel, Abraham's Humble Intercession for Sodom (Cambridge: 1673), 46.

69 See also Warner, Michael, “New English Sodom,” American Literature 64, no. 1 (March 1992): 1947.

70 According to Michael Warner, Danforth, writing during Puritan upheaval and a believer in Puritan declension.

71 Danforth, Samuel, The Cry of Sodom Enquired Into; Upon the Occasion of the Arraignment and Condemnation of Benjamin Goad, for His Prodigious Villany (Cambridge: Marmaduke Johnson, 1674), 1. Godbeer correctly notes that Danforth distinguished between two categories of sin: “fornication” and “going after strange flesh.” See Godbeer, Richard, “‘The Cry of Sodom’: Discourse, Intercourse, and Desire in Colonial New England,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 52, no. 2 (April 1995): 259286.

72 Danforth, The Cry of Sodom Enquired Into, 5.

74 Ibid., 17.

75 For additional work on Rev. Danforth's sermon, see Hiner, N. Ray, “The Cry of Sodom Enquired into: Educational Analysis in Seventeenth-Century New England,” History of Education Quarterly 13, no. 1 (Spring 1973): 322; Bosco, Ronald A., “Lectures at the Pillory: The Early American Execution Sermon,” American Quarterly 30, no. 2 (Summer 1978): 156176; Thompson, Roger, Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649–1699 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986); and Warner, Michael, “New English Sodom,” American Literature 64 (1992): 1947.

76 Danforth, The Cry of Sodom Enquired Into, 3.

77 Hearn, David Allen, Legal Executions in New England: A Comprehensive Reference, 1623–1960 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Company, 1999), 148.

78 John Cotton, An Abstract of the Laws of New England (1641).

79 Ibid., 76–77.

80 Ross, R. J., “Distinguishing Eternal from Transient Law: Natural Law and the Judicial Laws of Moses,” Past and Present 217 (Nov. 2012): 79115.

81 Ibid., 79.

82 Ibid., 86.

83 Ibid., 88.

84 Warden, G. B., “Law Reform in England and New England, 1620–1660,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 35, no. 4 (October 1978): 668690.

85 The Blue Laws of Connecticut: A Collection of the Earliest Statutes and Judicial Proceedings of That Colony; Being an Exhibition of the Rigorous Morals and Legislation of the Puritans, (Philadelphia: Duane Rulison, 1861), 68, enacted on December 1, 1642; and Crompton, Louis, “Homosexuals and the Death Penalty in Colonial America,” Journal of Homosexuality 1, no. 3 (1976): 280.

86 Dayton, Cornelia Hughes, Women Before the Bar: Gender, Law, and Society in Connecticut, 1620–1780 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 30.

87 First Founders, 163.

88 Knight, Orthodoxies in Massachusetts, 2–3. Knight asserts that this group of ministers lost their claim to orthodoxy in the early decades of settlement. For my purposes, this group reflects an increasingly conservative branch of Puritanism that distinguished itself in contradiction to a more liberal brand offered by Hooker and his Connecticut colony. Knight also connects Davenport and Cotton to an emphasis on grace as a transformative experience, which placed Cotton in a precarious position during the Antinomian Controversy.

89 First Founders, 154. See also Bremer, Francis, Building a New Jerusalem: John Davenport, a Puritan in Three Worlds (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

90 Cornelia Hughes Dayton's work on Connecticut law indicates that, while New Haven did “posture as literal followers of Mosaic Law, many of the premises and much of the structure of their legal system came directly from English experience.” Hughes, Women before the Bar, 27.

91 First Founders, 154.

92 Taylor, Robert J., Colonial Connecticut: A History (Millwood, N.Y.: KTO, 1979).

93 Ford, Worthington Chauncey, John Cotton's Moses His Judicials and Abstract of the Laws of New England (Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, 1902).

94 Calder, Isabel M., “John Cotton and the New Haven Colony,” New England Quarterly 3, no. 1 (January 1930): 8294.

95 Haskell, Thomas L., “Litigation and Social Status in Seventeenth-Century New Haven,” Journal of Legal Studies 7, no. 2 (June 1978): 219241.

96 Calder, Isabel M., “John Cotton and the New Haven Colony,” New England Quarterly 3, no. 1 (January 1930): 8294. Cotton briefly considered migrating to New Haven in the latter years of his life.

97 Winship, Making Heretics, 150.

98 Knight, Orthodoxies in Massachusetts, 186.

100 First Founders, 151–152.

101 John Cotton to Samuel Stone, March 27, 1638, in Bush, Correspondence of John Cotton, 272–274. 1638 was also the height of the Antinomian Controversy, in which John Cotton played a pivotal and controversial role as an initial supporter of Hutchinson.

102 Oaks, Robert F., “‘Things Fearful to Name’: Sodomy and Buggery in Seventeenth Century New England,” Journal of Social History 12, no 2 *(Winter, 1978): 269. Michael V. Wells misunderstood the context entirely, positing that Moses, His Judicials “reads in places almost exactly like the Old Testament” and that “if the Puritans had chosen to cast off all English precedents, this code would have been the perfect model for a new legal system.” Wells, Michael V., “Public Administration in Early America: Sex and the Law in Puritan Massachusetts,” Journal of Management History 40, no. 6 (2002): 596602, 597.

103 Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America, 106; and Schweber, Howard, “Ordering Principles: The Adjudication of Criminal Cases in Puritan Massachusetts, 1629–1650,” Law & Society 32, no. 2 (1998): 367408.

104 Historians Richard Godbeer, Thomas Foster, and Kathleen Brown are just a few historians who point to the larger and complex circumstances that influenced cultural, social, and legal understandings of sex and sexuality. See Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America; Foster, Thomas A., Sex and the Eighteenth Century Man (New York: Beacon, 2007); Foster, Thomas A., “Antimasonic Satire, Sodomy, and Eighteenth-Century Masculinity in the ‘Boston Evening-Post,’William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 60, no. 1 (January 2003): 171184; Foster, Thomas A., “Deficient Husbands: Manhood, Sexual Incapacity, and Male Marital Sexuality in Seventeenth-Century New England,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 56, no 4 (October 1999): 723744; and Brown, Kathleen M., Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).

105 The 1655 statute was enacted after the deaths of John Cotton and Thomas Hooker. Rather than dissuading the evidence presented in this article, instead it substantiates the degree of conflict between Hooker and Cotton and Cotton's enduring influence on Davenport and New Haven.

106 Demos, John, A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); and Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America.

The author wishes to extend sincere gratitude to Richard Godbeer, Monica D. Fitzgerald, Cara Delay, and Francis Bremer who read early drafts of the article. Also, many thanks to Bailey Poletti and John Manke, my copy editors at Church History, whose suggestions and edits improved the piece immeasurable.

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