Execution of George Spencer

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George Spencer (c.1600 – April 8, 1642) was the first non-native person to be executed in Connecticut. Amongst his charges was sodomy after an alleged sexual act with an animal.

Biography[edit]

George Spencer is described as an ugly, balding servant with a glass eye.[1][2] He is believed to have lived for a time in Boston and while there was found guilty of receiving stolen goods.[1] His punishment was a flogging. He then moved to the New Haven Colony,[1] and continued to be a "habitual troublemaker".[2] He was open about his lack of faith, never praying in the years of being in Connecticut and only reading the Bible when forced to by his master.[1][3]

Trial and execution[edit]

When a sow gave birth to a malformed, one-eyed piglet it was considered a manifestation of God's proof of Spencer's sins. Spencer was arrested, and the Puritan authorities deemed the birth a work of God. They believed that this was irrefutable evidence that an act of bestiality had taken place.[4] He was charged with "prophane, atheistical carriage, in unfaithfulness and stubbornness to his master, a course of notorious lying, filthiness, scoffing at the ordinances, ways and people of God".[3]

Spencer was told that "he that confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall finde mercie",[1] but it was never made clear to him whether this mercy related to the proceedings of the court or those of God.[4] Having witnessed a repentant child molester being whipped for his crime Spencer believed that his best option was to confess.[1] On the realisation that this might lead to a death sentence he retracted his statement. He repeated this confession and retraction again, trying to find the best solution to his situation.[1][2][5]

When the trial began the magistrates knew the necessity of having two witnesses to the crime. They used Spencer's retracted confessions as one witness and the stillborn piglet as the other, ruling that this was sufficient to determine his guilt.[1][2][3][5][4] On April 8, 1642, the sow was put to death by the sword and Spencer was hanged.[1]

Spencer's death was early in the history of Connecticut and is reported to be only the second execution to take place in Connecticut and the first of a non-Native American.[6]

Similar case[edit]

In 1645, Thomas Hogg, another servant in New Haven, was imprisoned for several months for very similar crimes. A sow gave birth to two deformed piglets that resembled Hogg. However, Hogg never confessed to the crime, and the requirement of finding two witnesses could not be met.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Murrin, John M. "Things Fearful to Name": Bestiality in Colonial America. Princeton University. Accessed November 1, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d Graham, Judith S. Puritan Family Life: The Diary of Samuel Sewall. UPNE. 2003. p.76. Accessed November 1, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c Cressy, David. Coming over: migration and communication between England and New England in the seventeenth century. Cambridge University Press. 1987. p.101. Accessed November 1, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c Chapin, Bradley. Criminal Justice in Colonial America, 1606-1660. University of Georgia Press. 2010. pp.38–39. Accessed November 1, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Dikes, Jason. Massachusetts Sex Ways: Puritan Ideas of Flesh and the Spirit. Austin Community College. p.4. Accessed November 1, 2011.
  6. ^ Executions is the U.S. 1608-2002: The ESPY File. Death Penalty Information Center. p.1. Accessed November 1, 2011.