Buggery Law: Massachusetts, May 26, 1697

Death for "buggery"

After the Massachusetts Bay and the Plymouth colonies were joined as the Massachusetts Colony, a revision of the old Massachusetts Bay law of 1672 made a terminological change in the new sodomy statute. The crime was now called "buggery" with man or beast. It was still "detestable and abominable" but it was now also "contrary to the very Light of Nature" (hinting that "Nature" was playing a new, prominent role in legal philosophy). Unlike most earlier laws in which sodomy was distinguished from bestiality, the term "buggery" here applied to both kinds of contacts. And both still remained capital crimes. (1)

This Massachusetts "buggery" law, requiring death for the human participants and, in the case of bestiality, the execution and burning of the beast, was one of a series of provisions which also included acts against murder, rape, and "Atheism and Blasphemie" (the latter punished by "boring through the tongue with a red hot iron").

"An Act for the Punishment of Buggery" read:

For avoiding of the detestable and abominable Sin of Buggery with Mankind or Beast, which is contrary to the very Light of Nature; Be it Enacted and Declared ... That the same Offence be adjudged Felony.... And that every Man, being duly convicted of lying with Mankind, as he lieth with a Woman; and every Man or Woman that shall have carnal Copulation with any Beast or Brute Creature, the Offender and Offenders, in either of the Cases before mentioned, shall suffer the Pains of Death, and the Beast shall be slain and burnt.

This law remained in force until its revision in 1785.(2)

A law of 1805 abolished the death penalty for "Sodomy and Bestiality."



  1. Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 121-22, citing Acts and Laws, Passed by the Great and General Council or Assembly of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay in New England from 1692, to 1719 (London: J. Baskett, 1724), p. 110. Additional information on this law in Samuel Sewall, The Diary of . . . edited by M. Halsey Thomas, 2 vols. (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1973), vol. I, p. 380.
  2. Perpetual Laws of. . . Massachusetts Up to 1789 (Boston: Adams and Nourse, 1789), p. 178.