Legal Case: Allexander Roberts, Plymouth, August 6, 1637
Last edit: June 15, 2022, 6:19 AM ET
"Lewd behavior and unclean carriage"
The Plymouth court found John Allexander and Thomas Roberts guilty of "often spending their seed one upon the other."(1) The Plymouth crime of "sodomy" was not mentioned in connection with the case, for "sodomy," then, required "penetration," not mere emission, even if this emission was mutual, and "often."
The class difference of the parties was also suggested; Allexander, presented as the instigator, was apparently a free man, Roberts an indentured servant. Whether this intermingling of social orders, as well as of seed, lent gravity to the crime in the eyes of the judges was not disclosed. The record states:
John Allexander & Thomas Roberts were both examined and found guilty of lewd behavior and unclean carriage one with another, by often spending their seed one upon another, which was proved both by witness & their own confession; the said Allexander [was] found to have been formerly notoriously guilty that way, and seeking to allure others thereunto. The said John Allexander was therefore censured [sentenced] by the Court to be severely whipped, and burnt in the shoulder with a hot iron, and to be perpetually banished [from] the government [territory] of New Plymouth, and if he be at any time found within the same, to be whipped out again by the appointment [order] of the next justice, etc., and so as oft as he shall be found within this government. Which penalty was accordingly inflicted. Thomas Roberts was censured to be severely whipped, and to return to his master, Mr. Atwood, and serve out his time with him, but to be disabled hereby to enjoy any lands within this government, except he manifest better desert
The last five qualifying words were added, as an afterthought, in the margin.
Later, on October 2, 1637, Thomas Roberts was one of four men charged by the Plymouth Court with "disorderly living, & therefore to be required to give an account how they live."
Four years later, on January 5, 1642, a "Thomas Roberts," possibly the same individual cited above, was mentioned in the Plymouth Court records:
Thomas Roberts, of Duxborrow, is ordered by the Court that he shall lodge no more with George Morrey, a diseased person, and betwixt this and the next Court of Assistants provide himself of lodging; and then make report to the Court how it may be probable he may live without being chargeable.
In 2009, the Plymouth Colony historic site commemorated this bit of LGBTQ US history.(2)
1. Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), pp. 75, citing Nathaniel B. Shurtleff and David Pulsifer, eds., Records of the Colony of New Plymouth (Boston: William White. 1855). vol. I. p. 64. For charge of Oct. 2. 1637: same. vol. I. p. 68. For charge of Jan. 5. 1642: same, vol. 2. p. 6.
2. Mark Arsenault, "At Plimoth Plantation, lessons in gay history," Boston Globe, Sep. 24, 2009. "PLYMOUTH - In the summer of 1637, two working men at the English colony at Plymouth faced the possibility of execution, convicted of what the law books said was a grave moral crime. / John Alexander and Thomas Roberts had been caught in a homosexual relationship."