The sodomy trial of Nicholas Sension in 1677 has long fascinated historians, in part because the surviving documentation from this particular case is exceptionally full and richly detailed, but also because it challenges long-held assumptions about attitudes toward sodomy in early America. The trial records cast light not only on the history of sexuality but also on a broad range of themes relating to seventeenth-century New England’s society and culture. Yet until now no complete edition of the documents from Sension’s trial has appeared in print. This edition is intended primarily for use in undergraduate courses. It includes a substantial introduction that discusses attitudes toward illicit sex in early New England, the challenges involved in the legal prosecution of sodomy, what little we know about Nicholas Sension’s biographical details, and the specific circumstances surrounding his prosecution; it also considers the knotty issues of sexual assault and of consent that weave through many of the depositions. A brief time line and questions to guide classroom discussion are also included. The documents themselves have been modernized in spelling, capitalization, and punctuation as an aid to comprehension. For interested scholars, literal transcriptions are printed separately in this issue under ‘‘Consider the Source.’’

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2014

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2014, University of Pennsylvania Press. This article first appeared in Early American Studies: 12:2 (2014), 402-443.

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