Prosecutions for Fornication in Plymouth Colony with Rev. Dr. W. Becket Soule

Pilgrim historian and author The Rev. Dr. W. Becket Soule (pictured above) offered a fascinating talk about sexual misconduct in early Plymouth at the Alden Kindred reunion on August 5, 2023. Click here for the 65-minute recording. (Please note that the first two minutes have poor video quality but the video quality improves to normal after that.)

The initial laws governing sexual misconduct in Plymouth Colony were part of the 1636 codification of laws. Prior to this date, three cases of sexual misconduct were presented and ruled in the Court,¬†two for fornication before marriage¬†and one for “attempting uncleanes” (PCR 1:12, 15).

Criminal offenses in Plymouth Colony included “fornication and other uncleane carriages”. About half were between adults who never married and half who eventually married. Six percent were between those who were engaged (during contract).

Punishment for fornication varied with each offense but often included some type of public shaming.