Crime and Punishment in the New Haven Plantation

The founders of New Haven were mainly gentlemen and merchants, men of education, wealth and influence and many of better character than those who had previously come to the New World.[1] They considered scripture to “holde forth a perfect rule for the directio[n] and governmt of all men in all duet[ies]” and members of the church chose magistrates and officers among themselves, who in turn had the power to deal with all public civil affairs of the plantation, including making and repealing laws. [2] The colony lacked a jury system, allowing judges to determine all questions of fact, evidence and law.[3]

In order to protect society from sin and corruption, New Haven’s criminal justice system was particularly harsh, the punishment for many seemingly minor crimes being severe. New Haven had a conviction rate of about 93%, which it is believed was the highest of any British Colony in North America. [4]  Here are some examples of alleged crimes in the 1630’s and 1640’s, along with their punishments. Ultimately the word of God ruled and these records show people punished mercilessly for their immorality, especially when it came to sexual deviancy.

When Accused Accused Alleged Crime Punishment
Dec 1639 Roger Duhurst and James Stewart, servants to John Cockerill. Stealing 5 pounds, 17 shillings from John Cockerill on the Lords day. Double restitution to Cockerill and whipped.[5]
Dec 1639 Thomas Manchester, servant of Mr. Perry Being drunk and giving master “uncomely” language. Set in the stocks (master having given him some correction).[6]
Feb 1639 Isaiah, Capt. Turner’s man Being drunk on the Lords day. Fined 51.[7]
June 1640 Edward Woodcliff Slandering Masters wife and being a pestilent fellow and corrupter of others. Whipped severely, sent out of plantation.[8]
July 1640 “Daniell Fuller” Neglect of watch (watching out for Indians). Fined 3 Shillings.[9]
July 1640 “Tho: Chambers” Scoffing at religion. Not sufficiently proved. Dismissed with admonition and caution.[10]
Dec 1640 Thomas Franckland Drinking strong liquors to excess and entertaining disorderly persons in his cellar with drinking meetings. Also contempt of court. Whipped, fined 20s, deprived of cellar and lot, his lot and liberty of staying in plantation being only granted to him upon his good behavior.[11]
Jan 1641 “Tho: Badger” Defiling himself with one of his master’s children, who was not above 6 years old. Whipped at a carts acre about the town to make his punishment exemplary.[12]
March 1642[13] George Spencer Bestiality- sow had birthed a piglet bearing resemblance to George. The piglet had one eye and George had only one eye for use as the other had “a pearle in itt, is whitish & deformed”. [Also lying and scoffing at the lord’s day].[14] Hanged on 8th April 1642 at gallows in “Oyster-shell field”. Sow also killed on this day.[15]
Jan1642 Will Harding Filthy dalliances with different young girls and corrupting different servants in this plantations with night meetings and “juncketting”. Severely whipped, fined 5 pounds to Mr. Malbon & 5 pounds to “Will Andrewes” (whose families and daughters he dishonored and wronged in attempting to defile them). Presently to depart plantation and not to return under penalty of severe punishment.[16]
March 1643 Ruth Acie, servant to Mr. Malbon Stubbornness, lying, stealing from her Mrs. and yielding to filthy dalliance with Will Harding. Whipped.[17]
May 1643 Nicholas Gennings Committing fornication with Margaret Bedforde. Severely whipped.[18]
June 1643 Margaret Bedforde Fornication and stealing. Severely whipped and ordered to be married to Nicholas Gennings.[19]
July 1643 Andrew Low Jr. Breaking into Mr. Lings house, breaking open a cup[board] and taking some “strong water”, 6d in money and ransacking house from room to room, leaving doors open. Escaping from prison. (Crimes committed previously: Running from master, stealing fruit out of Goodman Wards lot/garden, breaking Richard Osborne’s cellar and stealing on the Sabbath day[20]). Severely whipped. To work with his father as a prisoner with a lock upon his leg so he may not escape.[21]


You can read more about these and other crimes in Records of the Colony and Plantation of New Haven, from 1638-1649.

[1] J. L. Rockey, editor, History of New Haven County, Connecticut (New York: W. W Preston & Co., 1892), 1: 7, 10 & 11; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 12 March 2012).
[2] Charles J. Hoadly, editor, Records of the Colony and Plantation of New Haven, from 1638-1649” (Hartford: Case, Tiffany and Company, 1857), 12, 15.
[3] Rockey, History of New Haven County, Connecticut, 1: 18-20.
[4] Douglas Greenberg, “Crime, Law Enforcement, and Social Control In Colonial America”, The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Oct, 1982); online archives, Jstor ( accessed 12 March 2012), p. 298-299.
[5] Hoadly, editor, Records of the Colony and Plantation of New Haven, from 1638-1649”, 26.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid, p. 28
[8] Ibid, p. 35
[9] Ibid, p. 38
[10] Ibid, p. 39
[11] Ibid, p. 46
[12] Ibid, p. 61
[13] Although the date given in the Colonial records book is March 1641, this does not coincide with the sequence of entries. The New Year began in March rather than January at this time (Julian calendar), which likely accounts for this discrepancy.
[14] This was not the only time someone was accused of having relations with a pig. In 1646, Thomas Hogg was also accused, two piglets being born that bore a resemblance to him (Hoadly, editor, Records of the Colony and Plantation of New Haven, from 1638-1649”, 295.)
[15] Hoadly, editor, Records of the Colony and Plantation of New Haven, from 1638-1649”, 62-73.
[16] Ibid, p. 81
[17] Ibid, p. 84
[18] Ibid, p. 88
[19] Ibid, p. 89
[20] Ibid, p. 38-39 & 46 & 56. Accused of other crimes in July 1640, December 1640 and August 1641.
[21] Ibid, p. 89-90

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